THE Communist Party is shutting down hundreds of publishing houses, newspapers, and journals across China in a sweeping crackdown aimed at barring the publication of dissident political works. The drive signals a systematic broadening of the intrusive six-month-old thought-control campaign waged by China's hard-line Communist leaders. Since the Army crushed protests for democracy last June, hard-liners have attempted to purge the public mind of ideas that threaten one-party dictatorship.
The drive also reflects the influence of orthodox Marxist ideologues who have taken over China's propaganda apparatus, one of the party's most pervasive instruments of social coercion.
Two of the most powerful party ideologues, the Marxist theoretician Hu Qiaomu and former propaganda chief Deng Liqun, have reappeared in the official news media. The men were active in campaigns in the 1980s to screen out Western liberalism and strengthen indoctrination in ``Marxism, Leninism, and Mao Zedong thought.''
The government says it will close 10 percent of China's 530 publishing houses, 1,600 newspapers, and 3,000 social science journals in the ``rectification'' campaign.
Moreover, it has virtually stopped authorizing new publications and publishing houses.
``In general, we are not approving applications,'' said Song Muwen, the director of China's Press and Publication Administration, in a recent interview.
Official ``working groups'' are investigating book, magazine, and newspaper publishers across the country. Those found to publish works that ``run counter to the party line'' will lose their licenses, says a State Council circular cited by the official New China News Agency (Xinhua) last month.
The government announced last week that all of China's publishing houses must reregister by the end of January. Publishers denied registration, including those charged with committing ``serious political errors,'' will be shut down immediately, Xinhua says.
In Beijing, authorities began ``rectifying'' all newspapers, journals, and publishing houses beginning last month, the official Beijing Daily reported.
``Some newspapers and magazines with grave problems that ... supported the revolt and turmoil, propagated it on a large scale and added fuel to the flames in Beijing ... will be closed down,'' Mr. Song said.
In the free-wheeling southern province of Guangdong, several liberal newspapers that ran stories sympathetic to student protesters last spring are under attack from Marxist propagandists, says Ming Pao, a Hong Kong magazine.
As part of the crackdown, many editors and journalists are losing their jobs, and some are being detained by police. Most recently, editors of the Beijing-based newspapers Legal Daily and Literary and Art Gazette were dismissed because their staffs took part in student-led democracy protests last spring, Chinese sources say. Journalists demanding a free press were the first professional group to join the student marches in Beijing.
``There is no absolute freedom of the press in the world.... No one is willing to employ others to rebuke himself,'' party General Secretary Jiang Zemin told the Hong Kong newspaper Wen Wei Po Dec. 21.
The hard-line policies reflect the promotion of left-leaning officials to major posts in China's propaganda and cultural establishment.
The newly installed conservatives include You Lin, editor in chief of the party's theoretical journal Seeking Truth; He Jingzhi, a Maoist poet and acting minister of culture; and Xu Weicheng, vice head of the party's propaganda department.
While silencing outspoken periodicals, party ideologues have elevated the journal Seeking Truth by returning it to the direction of the party Central Committee. The move reverses a decision by ousted party chief Zhao Ziyang in 1988 to change the journal's previous name, Red Flag, and place it under the Central Party School.
The party is also attempting to destroy dissident works already on the market. Under a party circular issued last fall, all books, journals, and other reading materials ``with severe mistakes in their political orientation'' are to be eliminated.
The party has banned the publication of works by several Chinese intellectuals, including the investigative journalist Liu Binyan, theoretician Su Shaozhi, political scientist Yan Jiaqi, and writers Su Xiaokang and Dai Qing.
``They openly subverted the government and carried out extremely vicious attacks on the leaders. In China this is a crime, and what they wrote cannot be published,'' said Song.
Nevertheless, books and articles written by well-known Chinese dissidents are still sold and circulated underground in China, Song acknowledged.
The government itself retains copies of dissident works to ``study them,'' Song said. Propaganda authorities in Beijing have urged conservative scholars and journalists recently to write articles attacking the ideas of Chinese dissidents and bolstering the party's criticism of them, Chinese sources say.
While outlawing books by dissidents, party ideologues like Mr. Hu have called for the publication of more books criticizing capitalism, as well as titles from other Asian and third-world countries.
Chinese officials say the crackdown is necessary in part to stamp out pornography and streamline the publishing industry.
``There are too many publishers. We need to cut down,'' said Song, arguing that printers are overburdened and that China spends too much hard currency on the importing of paper.
Yet the campaign has already caused a serious slump in China's printing industry.
Printers who until recently ran their presses overtime, are now idle for a lack of manuscripts, according to Wang Zhiguo, president of the China Printing Corp.
Many publishers, especially those affiliated with universities and academic institutes, ``are doing nothing at all for fear of making mistakes,'' the official China Daily newspaper quoted Mr. Wang as saying.