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True Knowledge Comes From Practice

— The experiences of expert cotton-grower Lu Chen-hsiang

[This article is reprinted from Peking Review, #32, Aug. 11, 1972, pp. 9-10.]

BY studying and applying Marxist philosophical thought to growing cotton, production team leader Lu Chen-hsiang has through long practice succeeded in mastering many of its laws and obtaining higher yields. From 1966-70, each hectare of his production team’s land—in the Tunghai People’s Commune, Chitung County, Kiangsu Province—yielded 1.5 tons of ginned cotton. Experimental plots under his care in the last two years have produced over 2.25 tons per hectare. Lu’s fame as an expert cotton-grower has spread, and his experience is being used over a wide area.

Forty-five this year, Lu comes from a poor peasant family. He started experimenting with other peasants on cotton-growing about ten years ago, out of a strong desire to supply more cotton to the state to expedite socialist construction. By 1961, they had brought per-hectare yields up from 0.2 to 0.75 tons.

In 1962 Lu started to tackle the problem of how to make the cotton plants bear fruit on all three parts—upper, middle and lower. He sowed the seeds on two experimental plots at separate periods and applied fertilizer in different ways. But only the upper and middle parts of the plants produced bolls.

Someone told Lu that all the data available affirmed that this type of cotton could only fruit on these two parts. Lu did not take his word for it. He turned over and over in his mind Chairman Mao’s teaching to “discover the truth through practice, and again through practice verify and develop the truth.” (On Practice.)

With heightened confidence, he searched through the cotton fields and eventually discovered one plant which not only had bolls on all three parts, but had as many as six at the bottom. Overjoyed, Lu showed it to his comrades: “See that? It shows that everything in the world can be known sooner or later; it’s just a matter of time. Right now, we don’t know its laws of growth, so we can’t make the plants on a large area bear bolls on all three parts, but if we link our study of Marxist philosophy with practice and research, we’ll certainly accomplish it some day.”

Analysing the reasons, Lu and other commune members discovered that where much fertilizer had been applied during the seedling stage, the plants grew tall and robust but failed to yield anything at the bottom, whereas less fertilizer yielded less robust plants which carried bolls there. This led them to the conclusion that, though healthy growth of the plants is desirable, excessive growth stunts fruiting on the lower part. The second year on their experimental plots they frequently loosened the soil during the seedling stage and applied less fertilizer. The desired result was finally obtained.

Contradictions of things, however, are rather complicated. Drawing one-sidedly on his experience, Lu not only applied less fertilizer in the seedling stage, but also used less in the fruiting stage. The upshot was the plants wilted before their time, and though the bottom part grew some bolls, the middle and upper parts bore comparatively few. The net result was that yields suffered, that year.

Lu again turned to On Practice in face of this failure. Chairman Mao pointed out in it: “If a man wants to succeed in his work, that is, to achieve the anticipated results, he must bring his ideas into correspondence with the laws of the objective external world; if they do not correspond, he will fail in his practice.”

Studying Chairman Mao’s teaching with the other commune members, Lu summed up the experience and lessons gained until then, visited advanced units in other places, and started experiments anew.

He adopted different measures according to the different conditions at each stage of growth: less fertilizer during the seedling stage to quicken fruiting on the lower part of the plants but a great amount of nutrients during the fruiting stage to ensure healthy growth. After a repeated process of practice, knowledge, again practice and again knowledge, Lu finally mastered the laws of making all three parts bear fruit. Using this knowledge on large tracts of the production team’s cotton fields, Lu and his comrades raised per-hectare yields in 1966 to 1.5 tons. An average of 40 per sent more bolls grew on each cotton plant.

Through his practice, Lu realized that mastering the laws of applying fertilizer was only one of the important factors for increasing cotton production. Deep ploughing, he found through experiments, was another. It helped the lateral roots of the cotton plants grow profusely in the team’s fields and absorb more nutrients from the soil. This resulted in another increase in bolls, and opened up yet another way to raise yields.

Not at all complacent with his success, Lu continued the experiments, bearing in mind Chairman Mao’s teaching that “in the fields of the struggle for production and scientific experiment, mankind makes constant progress and nature undergoes constant change; they never remain at the same level.”

One promising plot later yielded bolls that rotted at the stem. Lu found by careful observation that the reason was insufficient light due to the leaves at the top which covered the bolls in the middle and lower parts of the plants.

To remedy this, he tried topping the plants at different times according to different types of soil and conditions of growth in order to find out the amount of light they needed in the latter period. By 1968, he had basically solved the problem, and average per-hectare yields went up to 1.7 tons, a 10 per cent increase over the previous year.

Lu has visited the more than 200 production brigades throughout his county to pass on his experience as well as learn from others. Starting in 1969, he began to experiment on grafting and artificial pollination based on his own practice and others’ advanced experience. He has now succeeded in cultivating a fine new cotton strain, taking another stride forward on the road to still higher yields.

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