TO William Hinton, considered by the Communist Party to be one of China's closest ``foreign friends,'' China's leadership began loading the guns for the Beijing massacre more than 10 years ago. An agricultural adviser to China over the course of more than 40 years, Mr. Hinton says that in 1978 he predicted the Communist Party would lead China to social upheaval when it started renovating socialism with facets of a market economy.
Hinton, a Marxist and farmer from Pennsylvania, said in an interview that the June 3-4 massacre has shown China's leaders to be fascists and exposed the naivet'e of many Americans who had hailed the so-called ``liberalization'' engineered by senior leader Deng Xiaoping.
``The massacre was like a flash of lightning in the darkness. It lit up the whole scene and made clear what sort of government we're dealing with,'' says Hinton, an eyewitness to the onslaught. Hinton has toiled and talked farming with China's peasants perhaps more than any other foreign expert. He left China on June 23.
``I think it's a fascist government. It abandoned socialist construction 10 years ago and in that sense it changed color. And as social problems get more acute, it is relying more on force and repression,'' he says. He vows he will not advise the government again until it condemns the Army's assault on Beijing.
Yet a look at how Hinton has viewed China's leadership since 1937 through the book ``Fanshen'' and his other accounts of rural society suggests that he may have underestimated the willingness of China's Communist Party to use its autocratic powers fully.
Like foreign China analysts who depicted Mr. Deng before June as one of the communist world's most enlightened reformers, Hinton has seen the party sully his glowing view of their goals through its abuse of totalitarian controls.
The contradiction between the Americans' rosy view of China's leadership and the subsequent tyranny of these rulers suggests that many US ``opinion-makers'' may misperceive the communist leadership by projecting US values onto China's politics.
The party's promise of dramatic progress for China, first under Mao Zedong's communes and later under Deng's reforms, appears to have distracted Americans from the potential brutality of the leadership, some observers say.
Like many Americans of his generation who ventured to China in the '30s, Hinton says he was enthralled by the sweeping social change and the bold anti-imperialist struggle against Japan.
Hinton's ``Fanshen,'' a book based on his extraordinary observation of the party's land reforms in 1948, sparkles with enthusiasm for the minions of Mao.
Now, with undisguised sentimentality, Hinton recalls the months he spent with communist cadres unseating landlords and helping peasants to claim power.
``Those first years after liberation when we began the reconstruction of the country - those were great days,'' he says.
``And you know, there was tremendous morale, tremendous unity, and tremendous hope, hard work done, dramatic changes, a whole new world - those were great days.''
``Shenfan,'' the sequel to Hinton's first book, offers a contradictory message that shows that although Mao had betrayed his promise of progress for China, he did not lose the faith of a ``foreign friend.''
Today, Hinton still defends the aims of Mao's titanic failures in socialism. Although he acknowledges that the Cultural Revolution degenerated into civil war, he says the nationwide political struggle was justifiably aimed at overthrowing the self-interested bureaucrats who now rule China.
Many Americans have been beguiled by the talk of China's communist leaders about profound advances for poor and backward China, historians say.
``Coming from an optimistic society accustomed to the ideals of aggregate betterment, social movement, and democratic progress, [Americans in China] speculated about [China's] future with expectations of ... improvement in the well-being and intelligence of the masses,'' says writer Kenneth Shewmaker.
Most recently many Americans failed to recognize the potential Stalinist brutality of Deng because he had flattered America by mimicking aspects of capitalism, Hinton says. ``The American media jumped on Deng's bandwagon almost to a man - they were so elated to find that China is going for privatization that they bought the whole thing,'' he says.