THE conversion of Shanghai Communist Party cadre Zhu Fumin shows the depths of dissidence coursing through a changing China.
Two years ago on a party-sponsored trip to Singapore, the Communist loyalist turned political activist openly criticized to local reporters the Chinese leadership's brutal crackdown on 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations. Back home, he ignored a disciplinary warning and joined the underground Human Rights Association of Shanghai.
On March 3, Mr. Zhu, who works for a party-run business consulting service, wrote a letter to China's paramount leader, Deng Xiaoping, demanding an apology to the whole nation for the massacre of Tiananmen Square protesters on June 4, 1989, and gave a copy to local party officials.
A week later, he electrified a karaoke nightclub crowd when he stood up, threw out his arms in a victory sign and shouted, ``Reassess June 4!'' and ``Rehabilitate Zhao Ziyang!'' referring to the reformist Chinese prime minister ousted for backing reforms five years ago. His clarion was echoed through the Shanghai nightclub.
On March 12, he was arrested and thrown into a Shanghai detention hospital. He remains there today, unseen by family and friends.
Tremors of discontent are jarring China and rattling nervous Communist leaders determined to survive at any cost. On April 5, the government heightened its confrontation with dissidents and the United States by announcing that Wei Jingsheng, the country's most-famous dissident, is under criminal investigation and signalled that he could face a new jail term.
Mr. Wei, released last September after serving more than 14 years in prison for demanding democratic change, has now become a thorn in the government's side by resuming his pro-democracy campaign. He has written articles for overseas publications and met frequently with foreign reporters and diplomats.
Since meeting a deputy of US Secretary of State Warren Christopher in Beijing last month, Wei has been under mounting pressure. After security officials apparently forced him to leave the Chinese capital ahead of the annual meeting of China's parliament and Mr. Christopher's visit to China in March, the activist was detained April 1 as he attempted to return to Beijing.
A police announcement, carried by the official All China News Agency, said Wei is being ``interrogated and placed under surveillance by the Beijing Public Security Department in accordance with the law because he violated the law on many occasions and is suspected of having committed new crimes.''
A possible new prison sentence for Wei further complicates the dilemma facing the United States over whether to extend to China most-favored-nation trading privileges in June. The Clinton Administration has pegged renewal to an improvement of China's human rights record.
Beijing's hardening against US pressure underscores the Communist leadership's belief that the desire for access to the booming Chinese market will override American human rights concerns. Western diplomats and Chinese activists also say it signals that the Communist Party is ready to sacrifice some trade to curb a tide of dissidence swelling toward the fifth anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown.
Activists say the climate differs from the weeks leading up to the June 1989 showdown because people are still cowed by the government's brutal retribution and, with broadening economic reforms and increasing prosperity, are more interested in business.
Still, dissidents, feeling bolder in recent months, say the government is deeply worried that discontent over rising prices and corruption and labor instability in several major cities could gain national momentum by June.
Shanghai activist Yang Zhou was arrested in Beijing last November for helping launch a pluralist movement known as Peace Charter and spent a month and a half in a detention center and labor camp. Since then he has been detained frequently.
In a telephone interview with the Monitor from Shanghai, Mr. Zhou says he thinks the impending American decision on China's trade privileges will prevent a harsh government crackdown. But he says the recent detentions in several provinces in China show that ``what authorities fear is the south and north echoing each other over a distance.''
Another 1989 activist in Jiangsu province, who was removed from Beijing by security officials last fall, says he was prevented from returning to the capital in March when his confinement in his home town ended. Security officials caught up with him in Tianjin, just east of Beijing, and ``took him on a so-called tour for twenty days,'' says a family member who said the activist is now headed for the more open climate of southern Guangdong province.