A recent shakeup at China's leading newspaper, the People's Daily, reflects a serious setback for those representing a liberalizing trend within the Chinese Communist Party.
The People's Daily is the official organ both of the Chinese Communist Party and of China's government.
Wang Ruoshui has been relieved of his function as deputy editor in charge of theoretical and ideological questions. A representative of the People's Daily said that Mr. Wang remains on the staff of the newspaper.
Mr. Wang has been a leading advocate of the proposition that humanism should be considered an integral part of Marxism. Allied to this is the idea that alienation remains a problem to be solved in socialist society, as it does in capitalist society.
These may sound like abstract notions. But they go to the heart of the kind of society the Communist Party wants to build in China.
Other changes at the People's Daily include the resignation of Hu Jiwei as director (publisher) of the paper and his replacement by Qin Chuan, hitherto editor in chief. Deputy editor Li Zhuang has moved up to the editorship vacated by Mr. Qin.
Sources at the People's Daily said that Mr. Hu's resignation had nothing to do with Mr. Wang's dismissal. Mr. Hu, the sources said, would focus on his other duties as a member of China's legislature and as deputy chairman of its standing committee on culture and education.
But reliable sources outside the paper said Mr. Hu had resigned to protest Mr. Wang's removal. Mr. Hu became editor in 1977, following the dismissal of Lu Ying, who had presided over the paper during the Cultural Revolution (l966-76). Mr. Wang, who like Mr. Hu had been persecuted during that chaotic, traumatic period, became a deputy editor in l978.
From his position, Mr. Wang became an articulate spokesman for the viewpoint that both the theory and practice of socialism remain to be perfected, that alienation, for instance, can be found not only in capitalist society but also under socialism (i.e., communism). The People's Daily as a whole became a mouthpiece for the liberal viewpoint, speaking out against corruption and ultra-leftism and opening its columns to a variety of opinions within the context of Marxism-Leninism.
Mr. Wang and other advocates of the liberal viewpoint maintained that the whole purpose of Marx was to uplift and liberate man and hence that humanism should be an integral part of Marxist theory.
At first, party leaders such as the outspoken Deng Xiaoping, who had themselves been victims of the Cultural Revolution, seemed sympathetic. But it soon became apparent that the party leadership, while committed to China's modernization through cooperation with the West, was deeply suspicious of anything that smacked of a greater variety of ideological views. ''Seeking truth through facts'' was the slogan of the Dengist leadership, but only within the context of four principles including the dictatorship of the proletariat.
Party leaders stress that ideological questions are to be settled by persuasion and by criticism and self-criticism, not by the harsh methods of the Cultural Revolution. But among intellectual circles, there is growing concern over what looks like an attempt to reimpose an ideological straitjacket they hoped the leadership and the country at large had outgrown.