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 crossroads.
The year of 2008 is the 30th anniversary of China's reform and opening up.
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 Truth".
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 crossroads.
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 point".
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 article
"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 whatevers".
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 1984."
(China.org.cn by Zhang Ming'ai, January 19, 2008)