During the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), He Jingzhi, poet and playwright, was a nonperson. He worked, like many of his fellow intellectuals, at a menial task ''under supervision,'' in his case at Peking's Capital Iron and Steel Works.
Today, Mr. He is a full member of the Communist Party's Central Committee and deputy director of its powerful propaganda department. He is one of the overseers of the campaign to make writers toe the party line against ''mental pollution'' - also called spiritual contamination - and alienation.
A pleasantly relaxed man in a blue Mao suit, Mr. He fielded questions at a recent tea party for journalists and writers sponsored by the All-China Journalists Association. Not even the most pointed of questions seemed to faze him.
So what did Mr. He think of the current campaign? Already a number of literary works, mostly by younger writers, have been condemned by the official People's Daily newspaper. There seems to be a pervasive uneasiness among writers that the content and style of their creative activity faces severe constraints.
''Well,'' said Mr. He, ''in the first place, we are not waging a campaign. We are engaged in party work - very serious party work.''
(The word ''campaign'' rouses memories of excesses committed during the Cultural Revolution and is eschewed by the leadership, but ordinary people have a hard time describing the latest movement as anything other than a campaign. The leadership does not like the word ''movement'' either, except in connection with such innocuous affairs as the ''movement to be civilized and courteous.'')
Explaining, Mr. He said that in all fairness one could not compare the treatment he and many others received during the Cultural Revolution with what is going on today. No one is having labels pinned on them, no one is being beaten or put away because of what he has written.
Nevertheless, there are problems. While most writers uphold socialism (i.e., communism), a small handful espouse ideas similar to those expressed by poster-writers, many of whom are now jailed, during the more liberal days of ''Democracy Wall'' (l978-79). There are others who doubt socialism and who use terms fashionable in the West such as ''alienation'' to imply that socialism would ''come to an end.''
It was one thing for veteran Communists like Zhou Yang, former director of the party propaganda department and for many years considered China's literary czar, to write about alienation in a socialist society. (Mr. Zhou expressed these views in an article in the People's Daily earlier this year.) Mr. He thought Zhou was wrong, but he respected his years of service to the Communist cause and his ardent desire to perfect socialist society.
It was quite another thing for people who were in reality opposed to socialism to talk about alienation in terms suggesting that socialism would eventually turn into its opposite. Mr. He had seen Mr. Zhou that very morning, and knew Mr. Zhou was deeply concerned about some of the negative consequences of his article. Mr. He was sure that, after thoroughly considering all factors, Mr. Zhou would reach ''new conclusions.''
(The campaign against mental pollution is widely believed to represent an effort to assert more rigid control over writers and to silence the kind of redefinition of Marxism Zhou and his supporters seemed to be engaged in.)
''In pre-Communist China,'' Mr. He was asked, ''you yourself chose communism, even at great personal risk, because you were convinced communism was the truth. Why not give the same freedom of choice to young people in China today? How can they be sure communism is the truth if they have no chance to try any other system of thought?''
Mr. He thought a moment, then replied: ''You may not be satisfied with my answer, because the angle of your approach to this question is different from mine. In my youth the people of China were victims of Kuomintang oppression and of Japanese imperialism. It was my own experience that convinced me, as it did almost all Chinese - that only the Communist Party could save China.
''Some young people today have feelings different from those of my youth. A handful of them want to do away with the leadership of the Communist Party, to put aside the idea that only socialism can save China.
''Yes, young people in China can choose for themselves, even today. They can be Roman Catholics or Buddhists or Muslims. They can be Marxists or they can doubt Marxism.
''But China is a socialist state, and these people are not free to make propaganda against socialism, propaganda which harms socialist construction and damages fundamental national interests. That would violate our Constitution, and we won't allow that.''
Mr. He's comments reflect the party leadership's concern that as China opens its doors to Western technology, investment, and management methods, bourgeois ideas creep in, spreading their contamination especially among the young.
At the same time Mr. He and other higher-placed leaders are unanimous in saying that the open-door policy itself is here to stay, that it will not be reversed.
Well, then, how far would the anti-pollution, anti-alienation campaign go? Mr. He smiled. ''Every once in a while,'' he said, ''we need to clean up our physical environment. In literature and art, we need to do the same.''
Among other writers at the crowded tea party in the elegant former French bank building were the poet Ai Qing and the novelists Wang Meng and Shen Rong.