An article accusing the Chinese of being lazy is causing a furor in the state-run press, sparking one paper to launch its own attack on the work habits of one-quarter of mankind.

"Our offices have turned into free tea houses for tea tasting, newspaper reading and gossip," went the editorial in the Worker's Daily on Tuesday. "Our workshops have become clubs for poker, chess, reading and sweater knitting."Another paper, Economic Information, has twice in the past week printed batches of readers' letters about the article.

"Our system needs radical surgery if we are going to eradicate this old disorder and dispose of this chronic disease," wrote one reader.

"We must sweep away the old system that encourages this laziness and push reform to its limits," wrote another.

The article that started the ruckus was first published in September in a Singapore newspaper and has since appeared in several Chinese publications.

It tells the story that in some Japanese companies, bosses warn workers exhibiting slothful tendenices: "Do not study the Chinese."

"We have no choice but to admit," the article says, "that Chinese are the lazy bones of East Asia."