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China tightens controls on literature and the arts

Chinese Communist leaders are tightening controls on literature and the arts as culture again becomes a forum for political skirmishing, Western diplomats say. They said speeches at an official writers meeting late last month indicated the party was increasing restrictions on publications after nearly a year of a relatively liberal line on literary creation.

The conservative trend in the arts reflects anxiety among some leaders about the effects of current economic reforms, including corruption, the increasing influence of Western culture and cynicism among youth, the diplomats said.

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Performances of a controversial play were stopped after criticism of its content were made -- the way it dealt with such subjects as alcoholism and youth, and the lack of good or bad characters.

The tone of the meeting constrasted with a promise by leading Communist Party official Hu Qili last year that authors could choose their subjects and style without being persecuted. The meeting stressed Mr. Hu's comments that authors should uphold socialism.

China Writers Association Vice Chairman Wang Meng attacked what he called a trend toward vulgar writing. He criticized authors who tried to separate politics and art. He said they undermined patriotism and the revolutionary spirit.

Western diplomats said they did not expect a repeat of the 1983 anti-spiritual pollution campaign, which frightened intellectuals before the party hastily called it off.

Chinese authors said in private they do not fear a return to rigid restrictions.

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