China's already shrill campaign to discredit the Falun Gong spiritual group reached a new pitch today, with the strongest accusations yet that the group is colluding with Western forces seeking to vilify and destroy the nation. At the same time, some intellectuals here, including some Communist Party officials, are complaining that the heavy-handed propaganda blitz -- which recalls Maoist campaigns of the 1950's and 60's -- may discredit the party itself and harm China's interests abroad. "'Western anti-Chinese forces have spared no effort to engage in ideological infiltration to achieve their goal of overturning our socialist system and subverting our state,'' said a front-page essay in the Liberation Army Daily, the official mouthpiece of the military. ''How closely this chimes with Li Hongzhi's political ambitions!,'' the article said, referring to the group's founder and theorist, who lives in exile in New York. "'We can say that whatever these Western anti-Chinese forces think is also in the minds of Li Hongzhi and his Falun Gong,'' the essay continued. ''And what Li Hongzhi and Falun Gong are attempting is precisely what the Western anti-Chinese forces scheme at.'' Another article, in today's Legal Daily, dredged up epithets from the Cultural Revolution, calling sect members ''running dogs of foreign anti-Chinese forces.'' Ever since it banned Falun Gong in July 1999... the government has kept up a drumbeat of attacks, appealing for support at home and abroad against a group that had drawn millions of Chinese to meditative exercises that are said to harness cosmic forces for one's well-being. But despite widespread arrests and harassment of members, with thousands shipped to ''re-education through labor'' camps, large numbers have continued practicing and have embarrassed the authorities with public protests. In the last week, the campaign has shifted into overdrive. Trying to capitalize on public shock over the attempted self-immolation by seven apparent believers on Jan. 23, which left one woman dead and four others including a 12-year-old girl severely burned, the authorities have resorted to tried Communist methods. In a typical news report today, 18 former believers described as government workers are quoted as saying their eyes were opened to Mr. Li's perfidy by months of ''re-education,'' apparently in labor camps. Nearly every group in the country has been required to hold meetings and issue statements against the group... Many people were repulsed by the attempted suicides and accept the government's assertion that the seven were Falun Gong protesters, despite denials by group leaders abroad. But many people have also been skeptical of the government contention that this meditation group -- which was banned only after it showed an alarming capacity for illegal organizing -- is such an overwhelming threat to the nation. And now, some are distressed by the example the vitriolic campaign is setting in a country that is supposedly striving for the rule of law and more freedoms. ''The way they've used these people for ideological ends in such a crude way is really off-putting,'' said a Communist Party official. ''Every time a problem blows up, the government reaches for the same old tricks. But it's unwise in the long run. You go too far and people get fed up.'' An editor who is a party member said: ''They have this mentality that the only worthwhile victory is a total one, with no survivors on the enemy side. But this isn't the civil war any more. These days things are much more complicated, society is so complicated.'' ''The propaganda leaders always want to take things too far,'' the editor continued, voicing the widely shared unhappiness with the Communist Party's powerful and conservative Propaganda Department. The United States and other Western countries have not embraced Mr. Li's philosophy, but they have condemned the way China has bludgeoned followers who peacefully expressed their views, and the treatment of Falun Gong has emerged as a major human rights issue. To Beijing's frustration, the American government has refused China's request to extradite Mr. Li... Just today, the Dutch foreign minister angrily postponed his imminent visit to Beijing because Chinese officials had warned a Dutch official not to meet with Falun Gong members in Hong Kong. The Chinese government is also worried that Falun Gong protests could mar the visit later this month of International Olympic Committee officials, who are evaluating candidate cities for the 2008 games, for which Beijing desperately wants to be the host. The above are excerpts from the original article published in The New York Times.