Shen Minte: The Pursuit of Truth Is Tied in with Freedom of Speech

Among all of China’s official newspapers, Beijing Daily is one of the most tightly controlled media, often a hardcore party propaganda machine. That’s why the following commentary in this paper, written by professor Shen Minte of China Communications Media University, is a newsworthy event. ESWN translated the full essay here:

“Freedom of speech” is written into the constitution of our nation. But some comrades do not have a deep understanding about it. For example, does “absurd speech” enjoy the freedom of speech? That is a frequently asked question. If you reply without thinking that “How can absurd speech be given the freedom?” you will fallen into a “trap.” This “trap” is an unanswerable question: “Please tell me how do you know that an unspoken speech is ‘absurd’ or not, so that you can take away its freedom of speech beforehand?” I think that unless you claim that you are an omniscient god who can judge unspoken speech, you will have fallen into this impossible “trap.”

I want to to remind people about a piece of common knowledge: A certain speech (here, I am referring to rational speech with some basis as opposed to irrational invectives without any basis) cannot be judged as absurd versus not (or progressive versus reactionary) before it is articulated. The pursuit of truth is only possible if it is allowed to be articulated and then people can think, classify and judge its nature. I think this is freedom of speech. This is also the famous saying of Mao Zedong about letting one hundred schools speak.

This leads to another piece of common knowledge: when a certain speech comes out, people begin to think and classify, but they may not be able to judge its nature yet. This is particularly true of certain ideas that appear unconventional or are unacceptable to the majority of the people at the time. Frequently, it will take a certain period of time in history before people become convinced of its veracity (or absurdity). During this process, the worst thing is for some “authorities” to emerge and make a “truth judgment” in the form of a single conclusion about the rights and wrongs of the matter. Then everybody hears that call and engage in either “effusive praises” or “mouth-and-pen condemnations.” The reason why this is the “worst thing” is that the price may be huge, possibly including bloodshed and loss of lives.


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