Skip to content Skip to navigation

Vocal Government Critic Dismissed from China’s Top Think Tank

December 21, 2009

On December 21, 2009, Zhang Boshu (张博树), political philosopher and constitutional scholar, was asked to leave his post at the Philosophy Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), China’s largest think tank and a state-run institution. Zhang joined CASS in 1991 as an assistant research fellow. Two years later, he published an article in Hong Kong that was critical of the government’s 1989 June Fourth crackdown. Zhang has held the same title for the past 18 years. The dismissal notice says Zhang now has three months to “transfer out” of CASS.

Zhang said in a statement that although the official reason for his expulsion was “his absence without leave” in 2009 – referring to research trips to Japan and the United States in July and August – the real reason is that his numerous articles advocating constitutional reform contravene the “political discipline” of the Communist Party committee at CASS, which requires adherence to the central government’s position. (Below is an English version of Zhang’s statement translated by Human Rights in China.)

Zhang’s recent article “What Type of ‘Soft Power’ Does China Need?” will appear in the forthcoming issue of China Rights Forum (2009 no. 4), Human Rights in China’s quarterly journal. In the article, Zhang highlights the distinction between the “genuine soft power” based on universal human values and what he considers to be “bogus” soft power, which co-opts traditional culture in order to prettify China’s current one-party political structure.

Zhang is also the author of ten books, including From May 4 to June 4: Criticism of Chinese Despotism in the 20th Century (Vol. I) and Feasibility Studies on China’s Constitutional Reform. In December 2008, Zhang was among the first group of Charter 08 signatories.

Statement by Zhang Boshu Regarding the Decision to Transfer within a Set Time Limit
Issued by the Institute of Philosophy of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
[Translated by Human Rights in China, December 21, 2009]

This morning (December 21, 2009), I was invited to the Institute of Philosophy by its Deputy Director Yu Yong, Deputy Director Sun Weiping, and the Personnel Office Director Xu Xiuting, who in my presence read the Decision by the Institute of Philosophy of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Regarding the Transfer of Zhang Boshu within a Set Time Limit. The full text of the decision is as follows:

“Zhang Boshu, male, of Han ethnicity, born in November 1955, began work at our institute in July 1991. In the course of this year, he repeatedly violated work discipline, leaving the country on his own initiative, without asking for leave or receiving permission, being absent from work for more than a month in one stretch and for approximately two months cumulatively.

“In accordance with the provision allowing dismissal for “continuous unjustified absence without leave in access of 15 days, or cumulative absence without leave in excess of 30 days in one year” as stipulated in Article 3, Section 4 of the Provisional Regulations on the Dismissal of Professional and Technical Staff and Management Personnel from Work Units under Collective Ownership by the People issued by the Personnel Office, and the provision that “anyone who leaves the country of their own accord without undergoing the approval process, while on vacation, will be treated as an absentee without leave” as stipulated in Item 4, Article 2 of the Regulations of the Institute of Philosophy Regarding Requests for Time Off, Zhang Boshu is being transferred from the Institute of Philosophy and is to find employment by himself within the time limit of three months (starting from December 21, 2009, and ending with March 20, 2010). After this period allotted for finding employment, the Institute of Philosophy will no longer maintain relations with nor keep personnel files on Zhang Boshu.”

Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
Institute of Philosophy (official seal)
December 15, 2009

The following is my special statement regarding the preceding Decision:

  1. I received invitations from Keio University in Japan and Roger Williams University in the U.S., and I traveled from July 13 to July 20 and from August 27 to October 17 of this year to Japan and to the U.S. respectively on separate scholarly visits. Prior to both trips, I had submitted applications to leave the country on scholarly exchange in accordance with the relevant regulations of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, but the Institute of Philosophy did not approve them because “the exchange topics involved politics and were excessively sensitive.”  I of course could not comply with such absurd and unreasonable decisions. This is the truth of the matter behind the so-called “two months of absence without leave.”
  2. The Decision uses “absence without leave” as the reason for “organizational punishment” of “transfer within a set time limit,” but is actually covering up the real reason for “sweeping me out of the door.” According to the Decision of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Regarding the Strengthening of the Building of Political Discipline, as issued in print by the CPC Party Organization of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences on November 30, 2006, Academy scholars must observe certain “norms of political discipline in their behavior.” For instance, they “must adhere to the guiding role of Marxism in philosophical and social science research, and may not publicly proclaim views which oppose or violate the fundamental theory, direction, or platform of the Party”; “during international scholarly exchange, [they] must strictly follow Regulations of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences on Foreign Academic Exchange. Prior to publishing any books overseas, or publishing any articles or opinions in any foreign media or publications, members of the Academy must report them to their unit leaders for review and approval”; “may not fabricate or spread political rumors or reactionary, erroneous points of view; may not participate in illegal organizations or in individually-initiated activities in breach of political discipline, such as sponsoring petitions,  establishing ties, or ‘commemorations’”; “may not violate policies of the Party and state toward religion and ethnic minorities, and are not allowed to publish views that affect social stability,” etc. I have published a large amount of essays, books, and opinions during the past few years which have criticized China’s current political system, and I have advocated and pushed for reform of China’s constitutional government. In the eyes of the conservative leaders of the Academy, I have clearly violated the aforementioned political discipline. This is the real reason why the Academy, having hesitated and vacillated for quite a few years and having passed “motions” that it did not follow through with a few times, ultimately still had to “sweep me out.”
  3. Almost no explanation is necessary as to why such “political discipline” is not fit to be placed on the table or see sunlight. It completely violates the principles of free speech and academic freedom; it violates the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China’s provisions on civil rights; it violates the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the Chinese government has already solemnly signed; and it violates the basic norms of the modern civilized world. The time has come for these objectionable practices and vile methods of the Academy to be thoroughly abolished.
  4. In view of this, I am not accepting this Decision of the Institute of Philosophy. The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences is an academic institution that depends on public financing and it is the post where I can best develop my knowledge and abilities, and where I can make a contribution to the development of our country and the advancement of our nation. I will not “transfer within a set time limit,” and I reserve the right to react further to this Decision.

In order to promote the reform of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, for the freedom of expression and academic freedom in China, and to prevent even more people from suffering the harms of autocracy, I am making the Institute of Philosophy’s Decision and this statement public online. At the same time, I am publishing two letters that I had sent to the leadership of the Institute of Philosophy a year ago, so that the public can comment on them. I am convinced that no one wishes to be the buffoon or the villain of history in this present era of such great transformation. After all, we will all have to pass the test of history and assume our historical responsibility, whether that responsibility be positive or negative.

 (December 21, 2009, 4:00 P.M., Beijing)