China finds it hard to wipe out prejudice against intellectuals

As the Chinese leadership pushes its policy of upgrading treatment of intellectuals, regional pockets of resistance are only gradually being eliminated.

A case in point is Hunan University, where faculty members apparently lived for years in terror of a ''leftist'' party committee. Leftism is a code word for the discredited anarchic and arbitrary thinking of the Cultural Revolution (1966 -76).

A long campaign by the Guangming Daily, a national newspaper widely read by intellectuals, aided during the past month by the party and government newspaper People's Daily, has finally borne fruit in the dismissal of a branch party secretary who insisted on being named as coauthor of a scientific treatise although he had not written a word of the text.

''Hunan University begins to liquidate 'leftist' ideological influence,'' read an article in the People's Daily March 25.

The main point of the article was that the purging of ''leftist'' thinking had just begun and that much work remained to be done before mistrust of intellectuals and mistreatment of them was eliminated.

Gong Xianzhang, the branch party secretary whose dismissal was reported by the Guangming Daily March 23, was for many years director of the university's Radio Research Institute and Laboratory as well as secretary of the institute's party committee. He apparently ruled his little bailiwick with an iron hand. When three younger lecturers reported the case of wrongful authorship in a letter published by Guangming Daily last June, it was the lecturers, not Mr. Gong, who suffered.

Now, finally, a new branch party secretary has been appointed and two of the three lecturers who complained about Gong have been appointed to leading positions in their institute.

The close-to-absolute power wielded by party secretaries, most of whom have no academic background, is a major complaint of faculty members at many universities. Recently the party leadership has been trying to answer these complaints.

Fudan University in Shanghai, one of China's top universities, recently appointed as its president Miss Xie Xide, a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who had previously been made a member of the Communist Party's Central Committee and secretary of the Fudan University party committee.

Hunan University has also changed its party committee. Articles in the People's Daily and in the Guangming Daily accused the former party leader of refusing to rehabilitate intellectuals persecuted during the Cultural Revolution , of behaving as a little dictator, and of promoting only those who toadied to him. Guangming Daily cited the case of Li Guochu, a lecturer in the mechanical engineering department who was the son of a revolutionary martyr.

Fifteen years old at the time of liberation (1949), he volunteered for service in the Korean war and lost a leg in battle. He was later decorated for bravery. He then went to Wuhan University and was assigned as a teacher to Hunan University.

But when the Cultural Revolution began, Mr. Li was dragged before a ''struggle session'' of the entire university on charges of being of landlord origin and of having led a bandit gang before liberation. After years of suffering, Mr. Li was finally told that he had been cleared, but he is still awaiting formal notice of rehabilitation.

A more egregious case cited March 25 was that of Chen Guangdi, an assistant instructor who was sentenced to three years of ''labor education'' because he had run afoul of Kang Sheng, former head of the secret police. The university refused to take him back after his sentence was up, and in 1979 he ''disappeared.'' To this day, the People's Daily said, the university has not made any inquiries into his case.

Altogether the Guangming Daily and the People's Daily give a grim picture of the obstacles intellectuals still face ''before winning the real trust of party officials.'' Some are likely to give up the effort and slide into apathy or seek to emigrate. Yet without intellectuals, says the People's Daily, China cannot modernize.

Will the reforms being pushed by the central leadership permeate lower levels soon enough and thoroughly enough to harness the enthusiasm and creativity of intellectuals? The question is likely to be asked with increasing urgency as the campaign for reform proceeds.

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