Thirty years ago an article called Practice Is the Sole
Criterion for Testing Truth, aimed at emancipating Chinese people's
minds, ignited a nationwide "Debate on Standards for Judging the
Truth". This article changed the author's fate and also served as
an important guide for China, a country then standing at a
The year of 2008 is the 30th anniversary of China's reform and
Thirty years ago, 43-year-old Hu Fuming, an associate professor
at the Philosophy Department at Nanking University, wrote the
historic article Practice Is the Sole Criterion for Testing Truth.
This article, aimed at emancipating Chinese people's minds, gave
rise to a nationwide "Debate on Standards for Judging the
This article challenged the "two whatevers" (which refers to the
statements that "we will resolutely uphold whatever policy
decisions Chairman Mao made, and unswervingly follow whatever
instructions Chairman Mao gave") and ushered China into an era of
reform and opening up.
When the article was first published on the Guangming
Daily, some people called it "ridiculous" while some others
praised it as "a bomb that completely destroyed the reactionary
ideological system of the Gang of Four".
This article changed Hu Fuming's fate, transforming him from a
university professor into a statesman. To some extent this article
also acted as a significant guide for China, a country then at a
After the "Gang of Four" was smashed at the end of the "Cultural
Revolution", China stood at a historic juncture. Like many other
ordinary people, Hu Fuming celebrated these great events with his
friends. As a Party member and a philosophy researcher, he felt
quite clearly that "China was at a critical turning
Hu had enthusiastically written articles criticizing the absurd
theories and reactionary ideas of the Gang of Four. Starting from
the end of 1976, Hu Fuming began seriously considering China's
fate: although the Gang of Four had been smashed, China was still
confronted with harsh political situations. Excessive personal
admiration was still rife within the Party; many unjust, false or
wrong cases had not yet been rectified.
How to smash the "Gang of Four" from its very roots? What
hindered readdressing unjust, false and erroneous cases? Finally Hu
Fuming came to the conclusion that the key to the above problems
was to break through the bondage of the "two whatevers". He decided
to write an article criticizing them. But after reconsideration, he
chose "Practice is the sole criterion for testing truth" as the
main theme for his article.
The author's recollection on writing this
"This article reflected the voice of the Chinese people and the
entire Party as well. I just voiced what people had wanted to say.
Someone had to speak out or write articles criticizing the "two
whatevers". Whether you believe it or not this was how it happened
historically," Hu Fuming explained.
"When I was planning to write the article to criticize the "two
whatevers", I was very worried.
And at that time I didn't realize that Hua Guofeng advocated
them in the name of holding high the banner of Mao Zedong Thought.
Criticizing "two whatevers" meant denying Chairman Mao and Mao
Zedong Thought. This was a great crime at that time.
I could consult with neither my colleagues nor my families. But
I decided to write the article anyway.
I suffered a lot during the "Cultural Revolution" and I was
worried I'd be punished again. So I didn't say that the "two
whatevers" were wrong; that would have been a declaration of war
against them. I simply tried to avoid using the term. Instead I
chose other terms such as "genius theory" to replace "two
Finally, I choose "Practice is the sole criterion for testing
truth" as both the title and theme of my article.
Because I had learned from their works that Marx, Engels, Lenin
and Mao Zedong always used practice to verify their theories to:
uphold the correct ones; abandon the wrong ones; and correct any
incomplete ones. They admitted that they were just ordinary people.
Sometimes they made mistakes, so not all of their theories or
policies were correct.
When I began writing the article in 1977, in late June, my wife
fell ill. I wrote down an outline for this article while looking
after her in the hospital. I finished it at the end of July and
posted it to Wang Qianghua, an editor with the Guangming
Daily in September.
I got no response from the Guangming Daily for three to
four months. But in January 1978 the Guangming Daily sent
the article back and told me to revise it.
I sent back my corrected copy and then they returned it again
for further revisions.
After I edited this article about 6 to 7 times, Yang Xiguang,
the chief editor of the Guangming Daily, told me that it
would be published in the Theoretical Trends first and
then in the Guangming Daily, and in the People's
Daily and the Liberation Daily. Actually, Hu Yaobang
approved the final version. Even with all these corrections the
basic ideas of my article were not altered at all.
I was prepared to go to prison for writing this article. When
the article was finally published on May 11, 1978, I felt very
worried. But later, while listening to Deng Xiaoping's speech at
the All-army Conference on Political Work on June 2 I noted that
Deng pointed out the need to unite theory with practice. I felt
relieved and so did my wife. She had been worrying about me after
this article was published.
This article has changed the direction of my life. In 1979 the
government decided to transfer me to the Publicity Department of
the Central Committee of the CPC (Communist Party of China) and
later said to transfer me to the Party School of the Central
Committee of the CPC. I declined because I thought I was more
suited as a university teacher.
But in November 1982 I received a transfer and began to act as
the vice director of the Publicity Department of the CPC Jiangsu
Provincial Committee. Later I was elected as a CPC Jiangsu Standing
Committee member at the Jiangsu Party congress at the end of
(China.org.cn by Zhang Ming'ai, January 19, 2008)