Special: W.E. Talk
By An Yingzhao from CNS
The “Resolution of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China on the Major Achievements and Historical Experience of the Party over the Past Century”,the third such resolution since CPC’s founding, has been recently released in full. The Resolution stressed that China’s fine traditional culture is a prominent strength of our nation that enables us to stand firm amidst global cultural interaction. We must adapt to new conditions to carry on our traditional culture in the new era.
From today, the “W.E. Talk” of China News Service launches a column of exclusive interviews with some famous scholars on the fundamental nature of Chinese civilization that has shaped the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics, with the purpose of allowing readers at home and abroad with multiple perspectives to understand the new model for human advancement created by the CPC.
The “Resolution of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China on the Major Achievements and Historical Experience of the Party over the Past Century” has been recently adopted at the Sixth Plenary Session of the 19th CPC Central Committee of the Communist, asking all Party members to adapt the basic tenets of Marxism to China’s specific realities and its fine traditional culture. Looking back on the 100-year history of the Party, the guiding principle of seeking truth from facts can be called a model of China’s efforts in adapting the basic tenets of Marxism to China’s specific realities and its fine traditional culture.
Researcher Fang Ning from the Institute of Political Science (IPS) at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) had an exclusive interview with the “W.E. Talk” of China News Service. He said, “The thought of seeking truth from facts is not only a product of adapting Marxism to China’s realities of revolution and construction, but also one of adapting Marxist practical materialism to China’s fine traditional culture. This thought ascended to a higher level at each and every critical historical juncture throughout Chinese history. As Chinese civilization is moving towards rejuvenation, the Chinese people are once again leading the efforts in exploring human civilization. In the future, China will continue to carry on and further the guide line of seeking truth from facts for tackling unknown problems together with the rest of the world.
Here are excerpts from the interview:
CNS: From the earliest record in the “Biography of the Prince Xian of Hejian, Liu De” in the Book of Han to the inscribed tablet of Yuelu Academy, and to the prevailing Shixue (literally “real learning”) in Ming and Qing Dynasties, how does the thought of “seeking truth from facts” become an important ideological and cultural tradition in China?
Fang Ning: In Chinese history, especially in the contemporary era, seeking truth from facts, as an epistemological philosophy and political philosophy, is indeed unique. It has played a significant role in political practice and national development. It is a very unique “Chinese phenomenon”.
Looking back on history, we see that the thought of seeking truth from facts has roughly evolved through three stages in China.
Initially, seeking truth from facts was an academic thought, a method put forward by the ancients in textual research and exegesis. In the early years of the Han Dynasty, Liu De, a son of Emperor Jing of Han and a brother of Emperor Wu, devoted himself to the organization and textual research of ancient documents. His rigorous academic attitude was recorded in the “Biography of the Prince Xian of Hejian, Liu De” in the Book of Han as follows, “Prince Xian of Hejian enjoyed studying classics from earlier years, and sought truth from facts.”This is generally considered the earliest written record of “seeking truth from facts” by the academic circles.
During the Southern Song Dynasty, the country was facing hard times. The Huxiang school, represented by Hu Anguo, stressed that knowledge should be used to put forward ways of coping with difficult situations. This pragmatic style of study was later carried forward in Yuelu Academy, the center of Huxiang culture. During the late Qing Dynasty, the country again fell into a huge crisis. Zeng Guofan, Zuo Zongtang and others inherited this style of study, and combined the thought of “seeking truth from facts” with Zhu Xi’s thought of “fathoming principles in things” and Wang Fuzhi’s thought of “studying the truth according to the facts”. In this manner, it worked as a method and way of governing the country and understanding things. As a result, seeking truth from facts was uplifted from an academic method to an epistemological philosophy. In 1885, Bian Baodi, the governor of Hunan, wrote in his preface to the General Annals of Hunan that “I do not dare not to exert myself in seeking truth from facts”. Zeng Jize, son of Zeng Guofan and a Chinese diplomat, said that “We should learn from foreign countries to study things for knowledge, so that we can seek truth from facts”, which further enriched the thought of seeking truth from facts at the methodological level.
People visit the Yuelu Academy in Changsha, central China’s Hunan Province. (Photo: China News Service/Jia Tianyong)
After the Revolution of 1911, Bin Bucheng, president of Hunan Public Polytechnic College (today’s Hunan University), inscribed “Seeking Truth from Facts” as its motto. It was established on the former site of Yuelu Academy, and Mao Zedong resided here twice as a student of Yang Changji. Therefore, he was much influenced by the Huxiang culture. Later, Mao Zedong developed “seeking truth from facts” into a political philosophy in his practice of leading the Chinese revolution, and made it the motto of the Party School of the Central Committee of C.P.C.
Hence, in the political practice of Chinese history, the thought of seeking truth from facts has been elevated in times of crisis, and gradually becomes the essence of Chinese thought and culture.
CNS: How does the thought of seeking truth from facts manifest itself in different historical periods of adapting Marxism to the Chinese context?
Fang Ning: The formation and establishment of the guiding principle of seeking truth from facts by the CPC was a long process. In 1930, Comrade Mao Zedong published the article “Oppose Book Worship” in the Jiangxi Soviet, in which one of his best-known axioms – “No investigation, no right to speak” – was coined. He said that “It is quite wrong to take a formalistic attitude and blindly carry out directives without discussing and examining them in the light of actual conditions simply because they come from a higher organ”, and that “these ideas are absolutely wrong and have nothing in common with the idea that Communists should create favorable new situations through struggle”. Hence, we see that as early as that time, Mao Zedong had linked “proceeding from reality” with the Party’s guiding principle.
In 1938, Mao Zedong made a report titled “On the New Stage” to the Sixth Plenary Session of the 6th Central Committee of the CPC, stressing that “Communists should set an example in being practical as well as visionary.” This is generally considered the first time that Mao Zedong put forward “being practical”, or the more commonly known “seeking truth from facts”, in public. After setbacks and failures in the course of the Chinese People’s War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression, Chinese communists represented by Mao Zedong realized that they must oppose and get rid of dogmatism and proceed from China’s reality.
In 1941, Mao Zedong made a report titled “Reform Our Study” to an officials’ meeting in Yan’an, making a theoretical summary of “seeking truth from facts” as follows: “Facts” are all the things that exist objectively, “truth” means their internal relations, that is, the laws governing them, and “to seek” means to study. Since then, the thought of seeking truth from facts has been constantly developed and carried forward, and has become the guiding principle that the CPC has long adhered to.
After launching reform and opening-up in 1978, the CPC’s second generation of central collective leadership with Comrade Deng Xiaoping at its core re-established and further carried forward the guiding principle of seeking truth from facts, which once again played a key role. In December 1978, Deng Xiaoping delivered his historic speech “Emancipate the Mind, Seek Truth From Facts and Unite as One in Looking to the Future” at the closing session of the Central Working Conference, stressing that “Only if we emancipate our minds, seek truth from facts, proceed from reality in everything and integrate theory with practice, can we carry out our socialist modernization program smoothly”, which made preparations for the Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh Central Committee of the Communist Party of China that immediately followed.
According to Deng Xiaoping’s view, seeking truth from facts has two characteristics: one is to admit backwardness, and the other is to adhere to principles. Deng Xiaoping pointed out in the early years of China’s reform and opening-up that, “For many years we have neglected the study of political science, law, sociology and world politics, and now we must hurry to make up for our deficiencies in these subjects.” It took great courage to admit backwardness in the ideological environment at that time, but this is exactly the essence of seeking truth from facts. More importantly, Deng Xiaoping emphasized the necessity of upholding the four cardinal principles in the drive for the Four Modernizations. These two characteristics embody the integration of seeking truth from facts with visionary, and are the basis of the political logic of China’s reform and opening-up.
At present, the CPC is leading people of all ethnic groups across the nation to march toward the Second Centenary Goal. Standing at a new historical starting point, President Xi Jinping has spoken many times about why and how to adhere to the thought of seeking truth from facts. In his speech at a ceremony marking the centenary of the Communist Party of China, Xi said that “We must continue to adapt Marxism to the Chinese context” and “We must continue to adapt the basic tenets of Marxism to China’s specific realities and its fine traditional culture”, which opened up a new frontier in seeking truth from facts. Throughout the Chinese nation’s tremendous transformation from standing up and growing prosperous to becoming strong, the guiding principle of seeking truth from facts will certainly continue to play an important role.
CNS: Are there propositions similar to seeking truth from facts in Western philosophy and political practice? Why can practical materialism become a part of Marxist philosophy?
Fang Ning: The materialist epistemology in Western philosophy is close to the thought of seeking truth from facts. There is also a tradition of naive materialism in the West, but, there was no theoretical generalization similar to “seeking truth from facts” before Karl Marx did it. Marx said in his “Theses on Feuerbach” that, “The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical question.”It should be said that this statement contains the idea of seeking truth from facts, which is also considered as a starting point of practical materialism.
Marxism believes that matter is primary and human thinking is secondary, and it needs proving by practice whether human thinking can reflect the objectively existing material world and objective truth. This is obviously consistent with the connotation of “seeking truth from facts”. Karl Marx once famously said that “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.”Later, in their work The German Ideology, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels put forward the idea of “practical materialism”. Different from the old materialism in the West, Karl Marx’s practical materialism contains the underling ontology of “practice”, which can guide people to change the world more actively.
CNS: In the course of accomplishing the Second Centenary Goal and striving toward the great goal of national rejuvenation, how should Chinese communists adapt the basic tenets of Marxism to China’s specific realities and its fine traditional culture? What are the world benefits from the theory and practice of socialism with Chinese characteristics from the perspective of civilization?
Fang Ning: To sort out the thoughts related to “seeking truth from facts” in all ages of China and inherit them in itself is a practice of adapting the basic tenets of Marxism to China’s fine traditional culture.
President Xi’s report to the 19th CPC National Congress stated that “As socialism with Chinese characteristics has entered a new era, the principal contradiction facing Chinese society has evolved. What we now face is the contradiction between unbalanced and inadequate development and the people’s ever-growing needs for a better life.” This is also a major judgment based on the guiding principle of seeking truth from facts. Why is development unbalanced and inadequate? This is not a new problem. Famous Chinese geographer Hu Huanyong proposed the Aihui-Tengchong Line in 1935, revealing the objective reality of uneven distribution of population and resources in China. Throughout history, Chinese people have made unremitting efforts in response to such imbalance and unevenness. For example, the First Emperor of Qin unified the sizes of wheels of all carriages and the characters of all writing, rulers of later dynasties opened canals for water transport between north and south of China, and ancient Confucians developed the tradition of “Great Unity”. These historical traditions have become important resources for advancing the modernization of China’s system and capacity for governance today. We should address the practical problem of unbalanced and inadequate development faced by China through the methodology of adapting the basic tenets of Marxism to China’s specific realities and its fine traditional culture. That’s where the practical significance of this thought lies.
Recognized as one of the four great ancient civilizations of the world, China is the only ancient civilization that has continued to this very day. It is rich in fine cultural merits of human civilization. The Chinese nation has experienced and witnessed various problems encountered in human history. More importantly, Chinese civilization has survived all the challenges instead of dying out. Throughout its history, the Chinese nation aims to solve not only individual problems, but the more complex problems at the institutional and civilization level. Therefore, it has reference value worldwide.
China did learn a lot from the Western experience in its industrialization from an agrarian society. Today, China is at the forefront of world civilization. In particular, after realizing industrialization and completely building a moderately prosperous society in all aspects, China is facing many new situations and issues that are commonly encountered all over the world, and there is no successful experience to refer to. As Chinese civilization is moving towards rejuvenation, the Chinese people are once again leading the efforts in exploring human civilization. In the future, China will continue to adhere to and carry forward the guiding principle of seeking truth from facts, so that we can solve unknown problems together with the rest of the world at this historic juncture.