BEHIND the high vermilion walls that enclose Zhongnanhai lies a land that time forgot. Here Chairman Mao's pyjamas and socks are exhibited in glass display cases, frogmen patrol the placid lake in search of unwelcome intruders, and the loyal servants of the nation's leaders work 14-hour days for a fraction of the salary they could earn in the outside world. For while the rest of Beijing is already firmly established on the reform bandwagon, Zhongnanhai some how seems immune to change. Denizens of China's centre of power and influence say the tranquil lakeside compound exerts an almost mystical influence over its inhabitants, bringing to the fore all those socialist values of loyalty, hard work and self sacrifice that Chairman Mao so admired in his subjects. ''Whoever takes up a job behind these red walls is eventually enveloped in this peculiar atmosphere which edifies the soul and nurtures the spirit,'' they say. A more down-to-earth explanation for the ossification of Zhongnanhai is that while the compound's most famous resident has been personally responsible for inspiring the remarkable changes that have swept the rest of China over the past decade, the man they call Comrade Xiaoping is at heart a traditionalist who likes his home just the way it is. The ''chief architect of reform'' insists that all his family members dine together at a set time each evening and generally behave as a traditional extended family should. So while the rest of China is busy trying to get rich and glorious, Mr Deng and his cohorts can afford to sit back and relax in their ivory tower, safe in the knowledge they will be well looked after, no matter what happens outside. Or can they? Rumours of discontent in paradise are starting to filter down the grapevine. While we are a long, long way from seeing a palace coup, there can be no doubt that many of the loyal workers behind the wall are not very happy with their lot. Even the Communist Party's magazine Fortnightly Chats had to admit, life for the loyal servants of revolution is not as rewarding as it could be. Junior employees earn about 100 yuan (about HK$135) a month. This is half the average salary of a factory worker. And they often have to work 14 to 15 hours a day, the magazine's internal edition revealed. The daughter of one party stalwart who has worked in Zhongnanhai for more than 30 years said her father was finding it increasing difficult to adjust to the rapidly changing pace of life outside the wall. Very few young people in Beijing are now willing to sacrifice the money-making opportunities that exist in the city to serve the party in Zhongnanhai. ''Just about the only way they can get new blood into the compound is by recruiting poor, uneducated peasants from the countryside,'' the official's daughter said. Unless something was done to improve pay and conditions behind the wall, she added wistfully, there might come the day when the Deng family had to cook its own dinner.