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After 45 Years, Beijing Tries to Polish Ideology


FORTY-FIVE years ago, Sidney Shapiro was swept up in China's communist movement and has stuck with it.

But today, Mr. Shapiro, an expatriate lawyer from the United States and one of a handful of Western Marxists to have lived through a turbulent half-century of Chinese communism, sees few remnants of the idealism that helped lift the Communists to victory in 1949. In its place, he says, is a disturbing passion for money rooted in the capitalist-style reforms instituted 15 years ago by paramount leader Deng Xiaoping.

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``No one wants to talk [about communist idealism] these days. Then, what Mao [Zedong] used to say was construed as the `Sermon on the Mount,' '' says Shapiro, an author and translator of Chinese classics and fiction, speaking at his home here. ``Now, they say it's all right to make money. The whole ethical and moral structure seems to be going. I'm not sure whether they can build a new moral structure.''

As China's socialism flags amid the race to make money, the country's leaders are struggling to shore up their party in the face of communism's collapse elsewhere in the world and mounting economic and social disarray at home.

On the eve of the 45th anniversary of the founding of communist China on Oct. 1, the Chinese leadership has issued a new clarion to rejuvenate the party and has planned for tomorrow an old-style propaganda extravaganza to rally the Chinese public.

This week, the Communist Party's senior officials met in a four-day plenum and called for renewed efforts to halt corruption, bolster sagging local party support, and develop a new generation of young party leaders to take charge after the death of the ailing Mr. Deng.

In recent years, the disintegration of the Soviet Union and communist Eastern Europe, Beijing's loosening control over the provinces, a deluge of official bribery, embezzlement and nepotism, and party divisions over China's growing economic woes have thrown Chinese Communists into turmoil.

Capitalist-style re-forms have undermined socialist ideology and central planning and have fueled graft, despite repeated anticorruption campaigns. Recently, the government reported that corruption cases rose more than 16 percent in the first half of 1994 and that Beijing authorities face obstruction from local officials in ending abuses.

Many Chinese eschew politics to get rich quick and acquiesce to Communist rule out of fear of the chaos presently gripping Russia. But rapid economic change has also marginalized and embittered many farmers, the core of traditional party support, who struggle to make a living on the land or flood the cities looking for jobs.

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``It is necessary to continue to improve the Party's work style and deepen the struggle against corruption in a sustained way,'' said the party communique, which did not deal with the problems of inflation and economic overheating now splitting the party leadership. ``It is also necessary to further carry forward the fine tradition of hard work and link the Party closely with the masses.''

To mount a brave front, the government tomorrow will stage a Chinese-style pep rally of dancing, singing, speeches, and fireworks for 100,000 Chinese officials and foreign guests in Tiananmen Square. For the festivities, which will be broadcast nationally to ordinary Chinese who are not allowed to attend, a giant dragon mascot has been built in the square, and even Mao's portrait overlooking Tiananmen Square has been exchanged for a larger version.

The spectacular has excited many Beijing residents, who receive a four-day holiday and, in many cases, a hefty increase in their usual monthly pay, to participate in the preparations. ``People are getting extra work and know this will be a big event because it only happens every five years,'' says one city worker.

But the festivities have been overshadowed by a security crackdown to ensure that no dissidence or violence disrupts the holiday. In an onslaught against official corruption and the country's worsening crime wave, large numbers of executions have taken place in many Chinese cities, according to press reports here.

The New China News Agency reported that more than 60,000 people ``who posed dangers on the city's security'' have been arrested in the run-up to the National Day observance in Beijing.

For old Marxists like Shapiro, such extravaganzas cannot mask the cynicism that has accompanied rapid change in China and stands in marked contrast to the idealism of 45 years ago when people ``hoped for a society in which they could have a chance to earn their livelihood.

``They wanted the anarchy of crime and corruption in the [pre-1949] society to be stopped,'' he says, referring to conditions under the Nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek.

But many Western and Chinese analysts are comparing today's conditions to those preceding the Communists' victory. Shapiro maintains that China is groping to redefine itself amid changing world conditions, although he questions if the communist ideology he believes in can survive.

``Each person is protecting his own turf,'' he observes. ``When money comes in the door, ideology goes out the window.''

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