The Deng Xiaoping line has triumphed. The short, scrappy, tart-tongued party veteran from peppery Sichuan (Szechwan) has established his mastery over the Communist Party and hence over China's billion people in all but name.
It is a leadership different both in style and in content from that of Leonid Brezhnev over the Soviet Union or of Nicolae Ceausescu over Romania. Twice purged, Mr. Deng knows better than most other politicians the ephemeral nature of power. His concern has been:
First, to establish a party line that would be acceptable to the vast majority of Chinese.
Second, to form a collective leadership capable of carrying out that line -- a collective that would continue to function in unity and discipline regardless of Mr. Deng's own retirement or demise.
The party line has been enunciated on many occasions by Mr. Deng and other leading Politburo members and was reaffirmed by the plenum. It is to achieve the "four modernizations" (of agriculture, industry, science and technology, and defense) by the end of the century by relying heavily on economic incentives.
There is every indication that the incentives are widely popular both among villagers and city dwellers. Politically, however, Mr. Deng has cracked the whip. The party must maintain unity and discipline, and though divergent views are permitted, dissidence will not be tolerated.
"The individual party member is subordinate to the party organization, the minority is subordinate to the majority, the lower level is subordinate to the higher level, and the entire party is subordinate to the Central Committee," reads the plenum's communique.
Mr. Deng, who last year christened "democracy wall," this year wants the provision permitting "the four bigs" removed from the Constitution. The Central Committee dutifully supported this view.
The four bigs, so called because each starts with the Chinese character meaning big, are: the right to "speak out freely, air their views fully, hold great debates, and write big-character posters." Here is a paradox: Mr. Deng and the Dengist collective leadership seem to be afraid of relaxing the party's tight restrictions on political freedom because they do not want a repetition of the anarchy of the Cultural Revolution, a period when big-character posters flourished.
Most people agree that the Cultural Revolution was disastrous for China. They also fear that the tight controls reaffirmed by the plenum will not release the initiative and enthusiasm Mr. Deng and his friends require in order to achieve the four economic modernizations.
In other words, can Mr. Deng win his economic goals for China without allowing somewhat more freedom in the political field? So far, there is no indication he perceives the dilemma or intends to do anything about it.
The Fifth Plenum of the party's Central Committee, held behind closed doors here in Peking form Feb. 23 to 29, reflected both concerns. It will probably be looked back upon as a historic meeting, marking the end of the transition period following the passing of Mao Tse-tung in September 1976 and the beginning of what, for want of a better term, may be labeled the Dengist collective leadership.
Two Deng proteges, Zhao Ziyang and Hu Yaobang, were elevated to the Politburo standing committee, which will henceforth have seven members instead of six. An 11- man secretariat has been established to run the day-to-day affairs of the party under the leadership of the Politburo standing committee.
The Politburo remains the top decisionmaking body, but it will be increasingly concerned with overall strategy. The secretariat, headed by Hu Yaobang under the revived title of general secretary, is also a Dengist collective.
Liu Schochi, prime target of rampaging Red Guards unleashed by Mao Tse-tung in the mad turmoil known as the Cultural Revolution, has been posthumously restored to honor.
Four Politburo members, some of whom played important roles in the Cultural Revolution and all of whom were considered hostile or lukewarm toward the Dengist line, have been removed from both party and government positions. They are Wang Dongxing, a vice-chairman of the party and onetime chief bodyguard to Mao, Ji Dengkui, Wu De, and Chen Xilian. Ji Dengkui was a vice-premier; Wu De was once mayor of Peking; and Chen Xilian used to head the Peking garrison command.
Hua Guofeng, chairman of the party, commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and prime minister, presided over the plenum. He was listed as having made an important speech, along with Deng Xiaoping, titular chief of state Ye Jianying, and deputy premiers Chen Yun And Li Xiannian.
But Chairman Hua is not generally regarded as a Dengist, and a number of observers believe he will eventually step down from the premiership to concentrate on his party role. Other observers believe his relations with Mr. Deng are good and that he has successfully made the transition from being Mato Tse-tung's anointed successor to loyal membership in the Dengist collective.