19 Years as an Assistant Researcher
Zhang joined the CASS in 1991 as an Assistant Researcher after getting a PhD. By 1993, if not for political reasons, he should have been promoted to the next rank. He explains how the system works:
The position at CASS (research grade) is comprised of four ranks: Researcher, Deputy Researcher, Assistant Researcher and Research Intern, respectively corresponding to senior, deputy senior, middle and junior ranks. According to regulations at CASS, fresh PhD graduates can join as Assistant Researcher. Two years later, they can apply for promotion to Deputy Researcher. At the end of 1993, I can apply for a Deputy Researcher position. Although I haven’t published any articles in China after 1989, I have already published one major work, one translated work and over ten articles before the ‘June Fourth Incident. In 1993, my English work was also due to be published. According to the norms at CASS, one book or just one to two influential articles would be sufficient to get you to a Deputy Researcher position. Despite my plenty of research, I was not promoted because of my insistence on political principles.
He applied for a promotion in 1994, but was rejected again. This had financial implications, and between 1995 and 2000, he ventured into businesses, which included opening two schools and one private enterprise. But throughout this period, he was still officially affiliated with the CASS, and his plan to start a private university in 2000 made his relationship with the CASS closer. It is under this background that he applied for a promotion again in 2000, only to fail once more.
Between October 2001 and January 2002, he went to a university in Michigan as a visiting scholar. Upon returning to China, he started working on the sensitive book From May Fourth to June Fourth. In 2004, 2005 and 2006, he made applications for promotion, which were all unsuccessful. As a result, he had been an Assistant Researcher for a total of 19 years, from 1991 to 2009.
The June Fourth memorial article
In 2004, the 15th anniversary of the June Fourth Incident, Zhang wrote an article on Beijing Spring calling for the authority not to forget history. The article was published in March. In May, he was summoned for a discussion with the Party Secretary at the Institute of Philosophy. In early June, he was summoned for another discussion, together with another scholar Xu Youyu, this time with the Deputy Head of CASS, Li Zhenming.
Li said at the beginning: could we first have a gentleman’s agreement that today’s discussion will not be made public? Youyu replied that it depends on the actual content and outcome of the discussion. Li then talked a lot about his views on Eastern Europe and Russia, and that China’s treatment of the ‘June Fourth’ problem is correct. Otherwise, China will face a fate similar to that of the Soviet Union. I said that China’s media discussion on the problems of Eastern Europe and Russia is very biased, which is not good for the country’s development. I would very much like to conduct field works there, though the CASS would not approve it. Youyu then said that he was very clear about my position on these issues, and the opinions that are in support of or against mine. Li then said that he does not support writing articles or collecting signatures publicly on the ‘June Fourth’ issue. ‘You can research on your thoughts, and discuss through internal channels. But you cannot publicize them as it would damage CASS’s image.’ Li also said he believes that our actions are with good intentions; the institute will not investigate them, but they must not be repeated. He said that one should think about his action’s effect on the nation; if you insist, sometimes it would have negative effects on the country. Though it seems that the last sentence was out of his care for us, it had certain elements of threat. But overall, Li seemed to be trying to solve the problem in a soft way and avoiding any escalation. In response, Youyu and I did not maintain a harsh stance and expressed a wish to communicate.
During the same year, Zhang also received an invitation from the Chinese University of Hong Kong to visit for one month in June. While he secured a visa in the name of the CASS, it was subsequently revoked but he nevertheless went there with a tourist visa.