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Chinese leader's blunt book sets stage for housecleaning

China has a new best seller. The initial print run of 12 million copies is selling fast and, although it will never win accolades in the (London) Times Literary Supplement, in China it is literally a must for everyone who is anyone.

A generation after the publication of the ''Selected Works of Mao Tse-tung'' - and their little red offspring - China has a new ideological Bible. And the timing shows as much political shrewdness and portent as the late Chairman's burst into print.

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The ''Selected Works of Deng Xiaoping'' is a collection of speeches, articles , and interviews given by China's new supreme leader since 1975. But more than a collection of thoughts, most of them already well known, the book sets a landmark in Mr. Deng's remarkable return to power and signals an imminent campaign to purge the Communist Party of remaining opposition to his reforms.

When the first four volumes of Mao's works appeared in the early 1960s, they presaged the devastating Cultural Revolution. Faced with mounting hostility over his failed economic policies and dissent among his lieutenants, Mao moved to shore up his leadership by throwing the country back to its revolutionary roots. He used the mass publication and study of his writings as a foundation and justification for the campaign that led to hundreds of thousands of deaths and social and economic chaos.

Mr. Deng has now decided that the tactic is still valid. But Mao's move was the act of an embattled leader. Publishing Deng's works is the act of a leader, assured of supremacy, who is ready to launch a major housecleaning.

In the five years since he firmly took the reins in China, Deng has achieved great success. He has led sweeping reforms in agriculture and industry, doubled personal incomes, and put China on a sound footing to exploit foreign investment and trade.

Perhaps more significant has been his achievement in restoring political order after the purges and instability of the Cultural Revolution. He has systematically reformed the state bureaucracy to bring in younger and better educated administrators, championed the introduction of a new constitution and legal codes, and promoted new respect for intellectuals and scientists.

In the process, Deng has built himself into a position of enormous personal power. His proteges firmly control the hierarchies of the state bureaucracy, the party, and the military, and the influential provincial leaderships have been almost completely reformed.

The last major area Deng has still to restructure is the rank-and-file membership of the Chinese Communist Party. That task is expected to dominate China's internal political affairs over the next few years.

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The party has a membership of 39 million, 20 million of whom are people who joined during the Cultural Revolution. The party is seen as a continuing reservoir of ''leftism'' - the somewhat incongruous label now applied in China to those who are not committed to the new regime's priorities of economic pragmatism, increasing contact with the West, and promotion of youth and talent above age and old revolutionary credentials.

The party is still tainted by the excesses of the Cultural Revolution when it was bloated and manipulated by Mao and the infamous ''gang of four,'' led by his wife Jiang Qing. Once a prestige reward for the faithful, membership has lost its glamour. Many are now reluctant to admit they carry the card.

The 12th party congress last September endorsed plans for a campaign of ''rectification.'' For three years beginning later this year, every membership will be reviewed. It is expected that about 4 million people will lose their membership. Those deemed to still harbor ''leftist'' sympathies or to be ambivalent towards the Deng line will be replaced.

It is a measure of the lingering opposition to the new regime that the campaign is being prepared with such patience and care. While Deng firmly controls the hierarchy, there are still significant numbers of people in the middle and lower levels of the Chinese power structure whose loyalties are uncertain.

The publication of Deng's works is providing a foundation for the rectification campaign. While Deng's views on economic and social reform are generally well known, they have now been set down in black and white as a reference and a rule.

Since the first copies appeared in bookstalls across the country several weeks ago, there has been saturation publicity in the Chinese press and on radio and television. A circular from the Central Committee of the party on July 12 put it plainly: ''The study of the selected works of Deng Xiaoping is an important ideological preparation for an overall party consolidation to be started this fall and winter.'' All party members have been ordered to read the book, and the articles have become the focus of the weekly political study sessions which all Chinese adults are required to attend.

But parallels with the propagation of the thoughts of Mao end there. Deng has decreed that personality cults must give way to the rule of law. He holds no title equating with his real power, except his chairmanship of the Central Military Commission, and he has left the positions of highest leadership to his juniors.

The works of Deng show little of the lavish rhetoric and allegory favored by Mao. There are no symbolic gun barrels or revolutionary leaps. The writings are as blunt and pragmatic as the diminutive chain-smoker from Sichuan is in life.

The thrust of Deng's arguments is essentially about the practical steps China must take to quickly become a modern industrial state where ordinary people prosper: ''We will persist in developing democracy and a legal system. This is our party's unswerving policy. But achieving democracy and a legal system, as with achieving modernization, cannot be done with a great leap.''

He demands continued economic and legal reform and better education. He rails against corruption and laziness. He lambasts bureaucratic pettiness, inefficiency, and waste. He even complains about the trains running late because crews will not work through lunch.

To justify communist China's embracing of Western economic techniques, and to lay to rest the more doctrinaire aspects of Maoism, Deng engages in some deft verbal twists. Mao Tse-tung thought, he declares, is ''a system of thought'' which the Chairman himself was not always in command of. He says Mao made many mistakes in later life: ''There is no such thing as an individual being absolutely correct and everything he says being right.''

By turning such conventional wisdom on its head, and setting his own ideological stamp on ''Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse-tung thought,'' Deng aims to ensure that his chosen successors will have the ammunition to fight off lingering opposition.

For his own part, Deng shows an unusual indifference to the personal benefits of power. In a 1979 speech, he says: ''If the party would permit me to retire today, I would retire immediately. This is the truth. But looking at the whole undertaking I still cannot retire. I think everyone would disapprove.''

His decision to stay on, and the reason for China's new plunge into the thoughts of Deng Xiaoping, is put with typical succinctness: ''We must seize this time when we are still around to select successors.''

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