BY starting to use executions as a way to crush the democracy movement, Beijing has given liberal student activists the ultimate lesson in the awesome power of China's security apparatus. Several pro-democracy partisans, however, have already learned the lesson first hand.
Yang Tao learned the extent of police power with the failure of his desperate hegira for freedom. For Liu Gang that lesson came at the hands of two self-appointed police informers in the garden of a city park. For Zhou Fengsuo and Liu Qiang it has come in the form of betrayal by family members.
The lesson packs a fearful message for all Chinese, even those whom the state will not execute for believing in democracy.
The message is that police in this totalitarian state find fugitives no matter how far they flee across the vast land or how hard they try to blend into the human swarm of the world's most populous country.
With powers subordinate only to the Communist Party and honed during thousands of years of state oppression, China's police have broken families, stripped away disguises, and closed great distances in their hunt for liberal protesters.
After ordering the massacre of pro-democracy activists in Beijing, China's leadership revitalized a pervasive police force that had been comparatively dormant during the past 10 years of economic reform and eased state regimentation. As a result, police have hauled in more than 1,600 worker and student activists since the June 3-4 massacre.
The judiciary, which several Chinese lawyers have privately acknowledged is manipulated by the party, swiftly sentenced 11 protesters to death for allegedly joining disturbances stemming from pro-democracy rallies. Ten of the protesters have been executed since Wednesday.
Premier Li Peng, underscoring how the current campaign is one of the party's most severe political crackdowns ever, said Monday that pro-democracy activists ``will be dealt with without mercy,'' according to the New China News Agency.
Also, the supreme court Tuesday ordered the judiciary to ``severely punish the `counter-revolutionary' elements who have been charged.'' Although the pro-democracy movement publicly sought moderate reforms, China's leadership claims that before June 3 liberal activists planned to overthrow the party and wipe out socialism in a ``counter-revolutionary rebellion.''
The leadership has girded the arm of its police and judiciary with a heavy propaganda effort to whitewash the massacre and induce Chinese to turn in activists whom it portrays as ``hoodlums,'' ``ruffians,'' and ``thugs.''
The state has established a hotline for informers and, according to state-run TV, has rewarded those who told on their neighbors with money equivalent to $270, a prize that exceeds the annual wage of most urban Chinese.
Communist leaders 40 years ago took over a state apparatus that for centuries had cultivated and exploited perfidy. Before modern times, despotic emperors relied on a nationwide network of informers and held villages and families accountable for the actions of their members.
Along with this legacy of oppression, fugitives today face police using modern technology and fellow citizens held firmly under the party's command. They have few safe places or trustworthy people to turn to despite China's immense size and population.
Mr. Yang tried to beat one of the world's most pervasive security networks by staying on the run. In 12 days, the history student at Beijing University traveled some 1,200 miles, from Beijing north to Inner Mongolia, east to Shenyang, back to Beijing and west to Lanzhou - a city in the remote, impoverished province of Gansu where he had once studied, according to official reports.
Yang bought contact lenses in Lanzhou to change his appearance and traveled to a small hamlet where he checked into a boarding house under an alias. But the local Communist Party secretary grew suspicious on June 16 and turned him into the police, who matched him up with a state circular distributed nationwide.
Liu Gang, a physics major at Beijing University, tried to hide beneath the faded and worn blue denim clothes of a typical worker.
But while Mr. Liu was resting in the city park at Baoding on June 19, volunteer ``security activists'' of the local police noticed that although Liu wore the clothes of a worker, he had the smooth, uncalloused hands of an intellectual. They took him to the police for interrogation, according to the June 21 issue of People's Daily, the party newspaper.
The current crackdown recalls the partial success of Mao Zedong in uprooting the strongest rival to total state power in China: the family.
Through extreme, mass political campaigns like the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), Mao broke ancient, Confucian values and turned many families against themselves.
China's reigning autocrats have done so once again.
Mr. Zhou, a student at Qinghua University, was arrested on June 13 at his older brother's home in Xian one hour after his name was broadcast on nationwide TV on a ``most wanted'' list of 21 student leaders.
His older sister and brother-in-law, a propaganda official with the air force, turned him in, according to the June 15 issue of People's Daily.
Liu Qiang, a leader of an independent trade union, fled Beijing on June 9 to Hohot, Inner Mongolia to stay with an uncle. Five days later, after Mr. Liu went to another uncle in a neighboring county, his former host went to the police after learning from TV that Liu was wanted, according to the same issue of People's Daily.
Not all families have been fractured under the iron fist of the police.
Liu Qiang was arrested with his father, who had stayed with him during his entire flight.
And the mother of Xiong Wei rushed her son home to Shenyang after the massacre in Beijing only to persuade him to turn himself in on June 13, after hearing his name on the most wanted list. Then she went with the Qinghua University student on the 380-mile trip back to the capital.