Chinese intellectuals are spooked. The recent sudden dismissal of Communist Party General Secretary Hu Yaobang, and the party's expulsion of three prominent intellectuals, have threatened the ability of intellectuals to contribute to China's modernization effort.
``If Hu Yaobang was betrayed by his close colleagues, can you imagine how vulnerable the rest of us now feel?'' a Peking intellectual asked recently.
The removals came less than six months since those balmy days last summer when the party newspaper for intellectuals, the Guangming Daily, proclaimed on its front page: ``Our socialist system not only does not fear people speaking out but also encourages them to do so.''
It's also been exactly three decades since a fierce campaign against so-called counterrevolutionaries decimated intellectuals' ranks, vanquishing many into years of uselessness during the ``antirightist campaign.'' Next came the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), when many more were humiliated and exiled because of political views labeled bourgeois. Thousands were killed and some committed suicide.
Now another political chill has gripped China. This one appears to be more broadly based than the short-lived crusade in the winter of 1983-84 against Western cultural influences known as the ``antispiritual pollution campaign.''
The current propaganda drive to attack Western political ideas and capitalism and has reinforced party discipline and socialist orthodoxy is now being waged more fiercely than any political offensive since the end of the Cultural Revolution.
It's not surprising that many of China's best educated and most accomplished men and women are worried. Intellectuals have been in the eye of this political storm, though Vice-Premier Li Peng has denied they are the target of the fight against ``bourgeois liberalization.''
Some of the university-trained elite expressed shock at the political weakness of those more open-minded leaders they thought were holding their own against party ``conservatives.''
``Before he was removed, many people didn't pay much attention to Hu. Now they appreciate what he was up against and his reputation has soared,'' says one Peking-based writer.
So far, literary critic Wang Ruowang, astrophysicist Fang Lizhi, and journalist Liu Binyan have been expelled from the party, and their names are vilified daily in the press.
The expulsion of Mr. Liu, a nationally known investigative reporter with the Communist Party newspaper, the People's Daily, was announced last weekend. Liu was accused of attacking Marxism as an ``outdated ideology'' and saying that the four principles, which have become the cornerstone of the new orthodoxy, are ``rigid and dogmatic concepts and worn-out phrases that have led China to calamities several times.''
Chinese observers expect that a number of other intellectuals will be expelled and a larger number will be criticized, including senior university professors and members of the Academy of Social Sciences, the government's leading think tank on social and political affairs. The political offensive is expected to continue through the year.
``Intellectuals are confused and worried about their future,'' says Liang Heng, editor of Chinese Intellectual, a US-based magazine. ``They thought Hu's policies reflected Deng's thinking, but now they don't know what Deng is thinking or what he wants.'' Mr. Liang added a note of caution, however, saying that the political atmosphere could improve in the near future as China's leaders try to reassure intellectuals.
Hu was popular among intellectuals for his relaxed attitudes on academic and artistic freedom and toleration for a measure of dissent. His policies led to some criticism of socialism and the party's leadership.
A drive to counter these trends began with the party's propaganda initiatives after last month's student protests. The stakes were quickly raised, and the official press says the issue now is the ``fate of the party and the future of socialism.''
Observers say it is especially distressing to see close colleagues and party bureaucrats turning on others in a pattern of betrayals similar to past ultra-leftist campaigns. Such political attacks are recasting the intellectual climate and have dashed hopes for academic freedom.
As the party's grip is tightened in the name of socialism and political loyalty, the role of intellectuals has been debated.
Professor Fang has come under heavy personal attack for advocating a more active role for intellectuals as social critics and fighters for democracy.
In a November lecture at Shanghai's Jiaotong University, he said: ``During the 1950s, idealism prevailed among Chinese intellectuals. That was valuable. But that generation was strongly influenced by the doctrine of obedience. No matter how they were treated, they would work hard without protest. This attitude is not conducive to our society. One should strive for what is one's due.''
Fang also contended that democracy and human rights are just as natural to Chinese as to Westerners and are not achieved by waiting on the authorities to grant them to a willing citizenry.
Since his expulsion from the party last week, Fang has been forbidden to speak to the press. But sources close to him say he has not changed his views.
The Guangming Daily said Fang advocated ``total Westernization'' or the wholesale borrowing of Western ideas, including capitalism. It accused him of wanting to change the Communist Party by admitting like-minded intellectuals, steering it from away the ``socialist road.''
``Only socialism can save China,'' the commentary said. ``The mission of Chinese intellectuals ... cannot be separated from the socialist road.''
Fang and other intellectuals who are under political attack are not typical, some Chinese observers say, since they are not compliant toward authority.
``Chinese intellectuals are not like those in the West. They traditionally have been subservient to the state,'' a Peking academic says. Intellectuals are often ``tools'' of the party leaders, another informed observer says. Hu tried to cultivate intellectuals' support, he says, for political ends. Even now, he asserts, the political attacks on intellectuals are an attempt by Deng and others to divert attention from factional fighting over the all-important succession issue.
The latest political chill thus compounds the dilemma of Chinese intellectuals. On one hand, many want the recognition and influence denied them in the past and more say in determining China's future. On the other, the educated elite seem bound by their society and politics to serve the country's modernization in ways defined by others.