China's Communist Party has launched a drive to re-register its 40 million members, aiming to discipline - or perhaps expel - those deemed either corrupt or in opposition to senior leader Deng Xiaoping's economic reforms.
This second phase of a three-year disciplinary campaign came sooner than expected, indicating a desire to speed up the urban-industrial reforms announced last month.
The campaign's task of achieving ideological unity in the party originally involved attacking the ''errors of the left and the right'' - but in practice the emphasis has been on negating the ''leftist'' influences remaining from the years of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76). Half of the party's members were recruited during these years when factional fighting and ''ultra-left'' thinking was at a peak.
Now it seems most of what happened then can be forgiven - if the people in question wholeheartedly embrace the new policies, which began with agriculture reforms in 1978.
Thus the rectification campaign and Mr. Deng's reforms have been closely linked.
A circular from the party's ''rectification guidance committee,'' publicized in leading Chinese newspapers over the weekend, called for ''serious disciplinary actions'' against those members who have violated party rules and harmed party interests. The notice advised those party organizations which had completed the first phase of the rectification campaign, which began 13 months ago, ''to seriously carry out organizational disciplinary actions in re-registration.''
Party members will face the reselection process over the next two years and those considered unsuitable for membership can be expelled, the New China News Agency said. The party circular said that members must be shown written assessments of themselves and must be able to defend themselves if accused of misdoings.
Explusions in Phase 2 of the campaign are likely to be few. Party General Secretary Hu Yaobang said earlier this year that eventually only about one-tenth of 1 percent of the party's members, or about 40,000 people, would be expelled. Mr. Hu said in July that 3,000 people had been expelled in the first eight months of the campaign.
On Sunday, Deng called on the country's aging leadership to step aside for a new generation.
''Promote and make way for the young,'' the People's Daily newspaper quoted the 80-year-old Deng. ''This will involve the reassessment of members in party organizations from the top of government to the grassroots level.''
Promotion of younger people might require ''bending the rules a little,'' he said.
''Making way for the young means that old people must be enlightened persons and of their own accord give up a few positions,'' Deng said.
The party rectification campaign began in October 1983 to correct the problems and failings of the party, according to the statement issued then by the party's Central Committee.
However, the campaign has been widely interpreted as a purging of opposition to Deng and the reforms he has initiated over the past six years. A large portion of the study documents for the first phase of the campaign were speeches and writings by Deng.
According to the original plan, a major purpose of the campaign was to identify and to remove three types of persons associated with the Cultural Revolution:
* People who then rose to prominence by forming factions and siezing political power ''in rebellion;''
* Those who promoted the ''leftist'' ideas of the ''gang of four,'' lead by Mao Tse-tung's widow;
* And those who indulged in violence against people and property.
In principle, these people are to be expelled from the party, unless they mend their ways.
Apparently most such party members have mended their ways.
Except for a few prominent cases, the party has not used this campaign to purge members caught up in the madness of the Cultural Revolution - perhaps because the scale of such a purge would be so massive. It would be too difficult to prosecute the large volume of cases in a way that would not divide the party and disrupt social order.
The rule for the party's discussion and ''self criticism'' sessions this past year has been for everyone to agree that everyone was wrong in those political disputes and that it is pointless to harbor resentments or to try to even the score after eight years or more have passed. Only the highest level and most unrepentant ''leftists'' have been held responsible for their behavior and disciplined.
Party members' political attitudes have come to be tested by their support for and implementation of the economic reform programs. In this way the reformers have identified those opposed to them and their policies with the excesses of the Cultural Revolution and the policies of the ''gang of four.'' And the reformers have consolidated their political support.
The more practical disciplinary work tied to the rectification campaign has involved cracking down on such mundane crimes as abusing party privileges, bribery, and other violations of party work rules. For instance, thousands of such cases were ''corrected'' in the northeast province of Hebei since the campaign began, the People's Daily reported last month.
The newspaper did not say how many were expelled or jailed for the corrupt practices. The abuses included giving hard-to-get jobs to children of party members, maintaining housing space in excess of entitlements, the illegal transfer of residential registration from rural to urban areas, and accepting bribes in the form of goods and services.