In 1959, he entered the University of Science and Technology of China, and then became the director of the Institute of Political Research of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, where he published several essays and papers on political reform. In 1986, he published a “theory of leadership”. His most famous book, written in collaboration with his wife, was A Ten Year History of the Cultural Revolution.
He became a political advisor of Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang during the 1980s, and was one of the leading intellectuals supporting the student movement in 1989. After the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, he fled to Paris, France, where he participated in forming the Federation for a Democratic China and was elected the federation's first president. He was expelled from the Communist Party of China in 1991, while in exile.
Books written in Chinese translated into English
- Turbulent Decade Co-authored with Gao Gao, translated by D.W.Y. Kwok. University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, 1996
- Toward a Democratic China translated by David S. K. Hong and Denis C. Mair. University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, 1992
- Yan Jiaqi and China’s Struggle For Democracy, translated by David Bachman and Dali L. Yang. M.E.Sharpe Inc. 1992