China wages uphill battle against corruption among party cadres

''Stick to principles, and you'll get a lot of complaints,'' says a jingle making the rounds of Communist Party units. ''Be a goody-goody, and you'll get a lot of votes. Flatter and favor, and you'll get a lot of friends.''

The People's Daily, which aired this jingle Oct. 17, is spearheading a campaign to restore rectitude to Communist Party ranks and to win back for the party the prestige it has lost because of the high living and corruption of some of its cadres.

It seems to be an uphill battle. The central party leadership has just begun a three-year ''rectification'' drive to purge party ranks of the corrupt and the incompetent. But, said the People's Daily, the official party newspaper, too many cadres are more interested in ''planting flowers'' than in ''planting thorns'' - that is, in taking resolute actions that might offend comrades and superiors.

From time to time newspapers here publicize cases of egregious corruption and of crime by high officials. But many more officials are accused not so much of crime or of unprincipled behavior themselves as of turning a blind eye to the derelictions of their comrades because they are afraid of being isolated or of getting themselves into trouble.

A Central Committee directive on rectification published Oct. 12 refers to such people as ''eating three meals a day, yet doing no work,'' and says ''their serious neglect of duty'' has caused ''horrifying waste'' and ''huge economic and political losses for the party and government.''

A commendation given to an accountant who did not turn a blind eye to misappropriations of funds shows what bulldog tenacity is required to correct wrongdoing.

Zhao Fan is an accountant in the Taiyuan electric machinery plant who has been working there since 1954. In January 1978 she exposed misappropriation of funds by the branch party secretary of the factory to higher authority, but ''it was like dropping a stone in the wide ocean.''

The party secretary and several others misappropriated profits that should have gone to the state in order to build an office building and staff housing. When Miss Zhao expostulated with the party secretary, who was her direct superior, he angrily said, ''Go ahead and report me.''

There followed a series of investigations during the course of which Miss Zhao was ostracized and a pay increase denied her. Last year she was fired from her job. But she stuck to her guns, appealing to echelon after echelon in the pyramid-like bureaucratic system.

Not until this year was she finally vindicated and called to Peking to be personally commended by Finance Minister Wang Bingqian.

By that time, it was disclosed, the total of funds misappropriated by the party secretary had reached 4 million yuan ($2 million). The prosecutors office is now reported to be preparing a court case against the party secretary and his associates. The People's Daily carried Miss Zhao's story in its Aug. 20 issue and referred to her again in its comment on the jingle Oct. 17. Here was someone who stuck to her principles, it said, and who never lost her faith in the party.

The question is, how many people are really prepared to follow in Miss Zhao's footsteps and to carry on a struggle for more than five years against their own branch party secretary?

The government has just announced it will begin a nationwide checkup this month, focusing on ''tax evasion, inappropriate tax reduction, unauthorized withholding of profits, illegal appropriation of capital construction funds, waste, extravagance, bribery, embezzlement, and theft of state property,'' according to the official Xinhua News Agency last week.

State-owned enterprises in industry, such as the one where Miss Zhao works, as well as in communications, commerce, food, foreign trade, marketing and supply, and banking, will be subject to the checkup.

The government has also recently announced that auditing bodies are to be established throughout the country at the provincial and municipal levels.

What is needed, the People's Daily says, is to popularize another jingle: ''Stick to principles, and you'll get a lot of support. Dare to fight wrongdoing , and you'll get a lot of votes. Be at one with the masses, and you'll have a lot of friends.''

Well, comrades, what do you say?

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