Peking students defy government at ballot box

Students at Peking University have openly defied the Chinese Communist Party by electing the wife of an expelled party member to a local assembly seat. The election result is widely regarded as a show of support for Fang Lizhi, a prominent intellectual accused of spreading Western ideas of democracy and of human rights among Chinese youth and of inciting students to demonstrate last year. Mr. Fang was one of three intellectuals expelled from the Communist Party in January and was dismissed from his post as a university vice-president.

Fang's wife, Li Shuxian, received almost 90 percent of the votes in an election subdistrict of Haidian, a district in Peking with large numbers of students. The election was held last Wednesday and the results were announced Saturday.

According to Hong Kong press reports, Fang himself received sufficient write-in votes to win a seat in the Haidian district People's Congress, the lowest-level assembly with deputies chosen directly by popular vote. Officials deny Fang received so many votes. But the reports of support tend to confirm student and faculty comments that he has enjoyed widespread popularity at Peking universities.

Since his expulsion, Fang has been a principal target of Communist Party propaganda. He has been accused of spreading ``bourgeois liberalization,'' ideas the party says undermine its leadership and the socialist system.

A university source said the district elections were delayed for more than a month as local officials tried to prevent a show of support for Fang. Since Fang's candidacy was blocked, observers say students rallied behind his wife. In a recent interview with the Associated Press, Mrs. Li said her husband's views on how to reform the political system have not changed and he has not admitted to making political errors.

China-watchers in Hong Kong said that Li's election was an ``extraordinary act of defiance'' by the students, showing that student admiration for Fang and his ideas has survived an intense propaganda effort in recent months. The party's propaganda department published an anthology of Fang's writings and speeches and distributed them to party members to help them refute Fang's ideas.

But Chinese sources say the party's propaganda tactics have given wide exposure to Fang's writings. One source told of a military officer who had previously accepted the party's condemnation of Fang, but after reading Fang's writings concluded that he agreed with his arguments for more democracy.

One journalist here said that senior leader Deng Xiaoping allowed the election of Fang's wife in a bid to moderate the propaganda drive against liberal ideas that has demoralized many reformists.

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