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Higher Learning Dilemma> Archive
UPDATED: May 4, 2008 Web Exclusive
Peking University: Setting New Standards
Peking University is rapidly upgrading to a truly world-class university

"The cultivation of innovative talents is the core mission of Peking University. In our 110-year history, the hunger and pursuit for innovation never stops despite minor frustrations. Our students are outstanding, but whether they will become innovative talents or not depends on various factors. What we care about more are their capabilities in analyzing and solving problems as well as their exploratory and innovative spirits," observed Xu.

"There is an old Chinese saying--It takes ten years to grow a tree; and a hundred year to educate men. The cultivation of talent needs time. After all, haste makes waste," he added.

A new starting point

On May 4, 1998, the day of Peking University's 100th anniversary celebration gala, the then President Jiang Zemin initiated Project 985, a constructive project for founding world-class universities in the 21st century.

According to Xu, a world-class university should play a positive role in leading scientific and social developments, have influential masters and scholars worldwide, and influence the community with its alumni.

Under the project, in the initial phase, nine of China's leading universities were given special three-year grants in excess of 1 billion yuan ($124 million) for quality improvements. The second phase, launched in 2004, expanded the project some more; today almost 40 universities are part of the project.

Peking University, as one of the key national universities, is at the center of the project. At present, the University consists of 30 colleges and 12 departments, with 93 specialties for undergraduates, 2 specialties for the second bachelor's degree, 199 specialties for master's candidates and 173 specialties for doctoral candidates. It also has 216 research institutes and research centers, two national engineering research centers, 81 key national disciplines, and 12 national key laboratories. Moreover, its financial support reached 650 million yuan ($82 million) in 2005, compared to less than 100 million yuan and 320 million yuan in 1996 and 2000 respectively.

"When I took office, we were on the threshold of the new century. I had graduated from Peking University and knew clearly that the University would gradually lose energy if there no reforms occurred," said Xu.

According to the first phase of Project 985, the main task of the University is to "build a world-class university, based on building a world-class teaching team." The idea was further explored and implemented in the second phase. The net result is two rounds of personnel system reforms since 1998.

"The aim is to improve staff quality and better meet our goal, rather than cutting people out," said Xu. "There are several reforms on the way. There is no doubt that reform solutions need frequent adjustment, and the results should be judged by time. We will stick to policy consistency and the reforms will be implemented step by step, firmly.

"Peking University as a comprehensive research university is enhancing its strengths in discipline and talent. We can see the gap between other renowned universities abroad and us, which means that we have to work hard continuously," concluded Xu.


Peking University was founded in 1898. It was first named the Metropolitan University; and was not only the sole institution of higher education, but also the supreme education administrative organ in charge of all schools throughout the country at the time.

Beginning in 1915, a patriotic movement known as the New Culture Movement was launched in Peking University under the banner of democracy and scientific development to fight against feudal ideology and old-fashioned culture. Cai Yuanpei, a democratic revolutionary, famous educator and thinker who became the university's president in 1917, advocated the principle of free thinking and an all-embracing approach that considered nothing as closed. The movement helped people of lofty ideals break the yokes of the old feudal thinking which had prevailed for over two millennia and spread new ways of thinking and new cultural ideas. Most of the leaders of the New Culture Movement, such as Chen Duxiu, Li Dazhao, Hu Shi, Lu Xun and Liu Bannong, gathered at Peking University, making it the center of the movement.

On May 4, 1919, the university's students held a demonstration against the central government's acceptance of the Treaty of Versailles, a document of national betrayal and humiliation. It marked the beginning of the renowned May 4 Movement, which then spread first throughout Beijing before engulfing the whole nation. The May 4 Movement raised the curtain of China's democratic revolution.

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