A long-jailed editor branded by the government as "chief criminal instigator" of last year's crushed democracy movement was charged Saturday with two of China's most serious crimes: sedition and spreading counterrevolutionary propaganda.

Word of the formal arrest and indictment of Wang Juntao, 32, was contained in a one-page notice sent to his wife by the Beijing Public Security Bureau, his wife told United Press International.The notice, dated Nov. 24, said Wang would be brought to trial on charges of intent to overthrow the communist government and dissemination of counterrevolutionary propaganda.

Under China's socialist legal system, the filing of formal charges generally is tantamount to conviction and defendants are expected to earn leniency by confessing their errors.

The severity of the charges against Wang suggests the hard-line government continues to regard Wang as one of a core of behind-the-scenes agitators who directed last year's protests, since other activists who played more public roles have been freed.

Although Wang was seldom seen in Tiananmen Square during the massive 1989 protests, he has been vilified by the government as a "black hand" and "chief criminal instigator" of the democracy movement.

Execution and lengthy prison terms are among the sentences that have been meted to Chinese convicted of counterrevolution or insurrection, which are considered extremely serious crimes because they challenge the communist government's legitimacy.

Wang's wife, Hou Xiaotian, 27, has campaigned tirelessly on her husband's behalf, preparing collections of his writings that she believes demonstrate his patriotism and commitment to change under socialism.

Wang, until last spring the editor of the path-breaking magazine Economics Weekly and one of its most prolific intellectual contributors, was arrested in October 1989 in south China, having been betrayed by a colleague.

He has been held without charge for 13 months at the Qincheng political prison outside Beijing, even though Chinese law limits such detentions to just a few days.