A nationwide campaign to promote intellectuals and to improve their living and work conditions has been underway in China since the Communist Party's 12th congress opened here in September.
China's leadership recognizes that its ambitious goal of quadrupling agricultural and industrial production by the end of the century cannot be fulfilled without mobilizing intellectuals. This group, as defined here, includes the scientists, engineers, technicians, economists, statisticians, and managers essential to a modern industrialized society.
After many years during which intellectuals were treated with suspicion and hostility and sometimes with downright cruelty, they are now officially being accepted as one of the country's ''three basic forces'' - the others being the workers and the peasants.
In a recent report to the National People's Congress Premier Zhao Ziyang commended two scientists, who passed on this year, for their brilliance and selflessness. And Marshal Nie Rongzhen, who served for many years as chairman of the science and technology commission, was quoted as saying that without intellectuals China could not quadruple agricultural and industrial output by the end of the century.
But official acceptance does not mean that central policy is being implemented at lower levels, particularly in regard to practical matters such as better housing or higher wages.
One intellectual I know lives in one room with her husband, who is a technician in a design institute, and their 10-year-old son. When she works on scientific translations at home, she must share her room with her husband, who is watching television after having cooked supper for her, and their son, who is doing his homework. The son occupies the dining table after the evening meal, so she uses the top of her foot-powered sewing machine as her work table.
There is nothing particularly unusual about this arrangement. The family is fortunate to have a room in a modern building, even though the kitchen is in the hall and there is no private bathroom.
During the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), this intellectual spent three years shoveling manure and toting bricks in a so-called May Seven cadre school in central China. His fellow-inmates were all from Tsinghua University, the MIT of China. They were there because the ''gang of four'' (headed by Mao Tse-tung's wife Jiang Qing) considered intellectuals as the ''stinking ninth category'' who could only be remolded through hard physical labor.
Even before the Cultural Revolution, intellectuals were the targets of the anti-rightist campaign of 1957. And in the early years of the People's Republic, intellectuals were described as people to be ''united with, reformed, and educated.''
In other words, intellectuals were not part of the ''broad masses,'' in those days described as workers and peasants. An intellectual, in China, is a person who has received at least some form of education beyond secondary school. The number of such persons, according to the 1982 national census, is just over 6 million, or 599 per 100,000.
A recent People's Daily article commented that in most developed countries, for each 100,000 people there were several thousand with higher education. ''Mao Tse-tung was an intellectual,'' said a Chinese journalist. Chairman Mao, however , never fully trusted intellectuals, and he was the main impetus behind both the anti-rightist campaign and the Cultural Revolution.
Today the bias against intellectuals is most pronounced among members of the party and government bureaucracy at all levels who are of peasant or worker origin and who, as the news media put it, are still influenced by the ''leftist errors'' of the Cultural Revolution period.
''The crux of the matter,'' said a People's Daily editorial on Oct. 21, ''is that certain comrades are still treating intellectuals as the petty bourgeoisie or the bourgeoisie. A small number of comrades even go so far as to say that 'intellectuals can only be utilized but not trusted, and they must not be allowed to have power,' 'the more intellectuals are admitted into the party, the (more the) party will deteriorate,' and so on. They are making a great mistake.''