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China Launches Hunger Campaign

Policy illustrates how conservatives have regained control of propaganda apparatus

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BEIJING is trying to make the trash can a symbol of impending hunger every bit as dire as the locust cloud or drought-seared earth. As part of a campaign planned for all of China, state propagandists are urging Beijing residents to stop wasting food.

Beijing officials recently set up scores of booths across the capital, where more than 1,000 activists stumped for ``food conservation'' beneath large posters of a little girl with wide eyes and upraised arms grasping for a steamed bun.

In an onslaught of pamphlets and shrill appeals, the activists deplored the prodigality that enables peasants in West Beijing to daily root out 880 pounds of rice, wheat buns, and other food from a dump and feed it to their pigs. Some families from this ``raking army'' have become rich by selling the rotting victuals to their neighbors, they said. Leaders try old methods

China would sooner compel citizens to be thrifty by freeing controls on prices: allowing market forces rather than bureaucrats to determine the price of food, say economists.

But prices would rocket with such measures and trigger unrest, say Chinese officials. So, as with other economic problems, China's embattled, conservative leaders are relying on heavy-handed socialist measures to combat hunger.

Widespread famine no longer ravages China, but at least 40 million Chinese living mostly in remote rural areas don't have enough to eat, the government says. Wealthier Chinese, meanwhile, annually discard 22 million tons of grain, according to the Beijing Grain Bureau. By the measure of China's per capita grain supply, the spurned leftovers could feed not only all of the country's hungry but 14 million more people besides.

``The masses of peasants say they work very hard in the fields and if grain is wasted it is a great shame,'' says Liang Wei at the grain bureau.

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