Located in the western suburbs of Beijing, it is the first national university and the earliest higher education and scientific research center in China.
Over the past century, it has been a cradle for fostering outstanding scholars and academic elite with many learned professors and experienced teachers gathered there. Peking University has been a pioneer in China's process toward modernization. It has also been noted for its academic tradition and advanced research results in education and academic circles around the world.
The 100-year history
It was first named the Metropolitan University, a product of political reform-the Constitutional Reform and Modernization of 1898-initiated by Chinese bourgeois in the dying days of imperial rule. In February 1898, Emperor Guangxu of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) accepted the suggestion of Kang Youwei and Liang Qichao and some other reformers and ordered a university be set up. It 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.
Over the past century, Peking University has played a significant role in influencing and promoting the process of Chinese higher education. In 1903, the Metropolitan University sent the first 46 students to study abroad, starting a trend which has seen the graduates of many universities gaining further experience overseas. In 1917. Peking University set up institutes of mathematics, physics, chemistry and Chinese studies, becoming the first university in the country to set up scientific research organs. Three years later, the first group of female students were enrolled by Peking University to study on the same campus with males, another brave action in the country at that time. It was also the first university in China to open an aesthetics course and introduce Einstein's Theory of Relativity, which exerted a profound influence on many other institutions of higher learning.
After the adjustment of departments and institutes of universities nationwide following the founding of New China in 1949, Peking University became one of several comprehensive universities with a strong faculty and a complete set of departments of liberal arts, science and foreign languages.
In the 1960s, the university cooperated with other research institutes to successfully produce synthetic bovine insulin. It was the first synthetic protein with biologos in the world and was significant in the exploration of life sciences. In 1973, the first computer in China able to achieve a million operations per second was manufactured by researchers of the university, which helped to foster, the first generation of personnel well versed in computer and semi-conductor physics and practical applications. In the 1980s, it made a breakthrough in a computer-programed composing and typesetting system for Chinese characters, which signified an end to the use of hot metal in China's printing history and the beginning of a new era of electronics. Its Founder Group Corp. has become the largest university subordinate enterprise in China and the largest Chinese-character publishing system development and supply base in the world. The achievements made by its Center for Nanometer Science and Technology Research last year ranked first in the world.
Besides the accomplishments of science departments, outstanding achievements have been made by the departments of liberal arts, including the New Population Theory set forth by Prof. Ma Yinchu in the 1950s, and research in Chinese tradition and culture, philosophy, psychology, sociology, and socialist democracy and justice in recent years.
Over the past 100 years, it has fostered a great many politicians, economists, scientists, educators, philosophers, diplomats, writers and entrepreneurs. According to President Chen Jiaer, more than 300 academicians with the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and the Chinese Academy of Engineering were once lecturers and students of Peking University, and 42 of the academicians of the CAS Earth Science Division and two-thirds of the members of its Mathematics and Physics Division were graduates of the university.
Toward the world
Heads of state or heads of government from 45 countries have visited Peking University since 1990, some of them receiving honorary professorships or doctorates.
Frequent international academic exchanges occur. Cooperation and exchange relations exist with 143 colleges and universities from some 40 countries and regions. The university signed 13 exchange agreements with Britain's Cambridge University, Auckland University of New Zealand, the University of Vienna and some other institutions in 1997, and received visiting presidents from more than 100 overseas university. Nearly 300 foreign experts from 19 countries teach at the university. The 40 new courses taught by these experts involve latest international academic research results and fill in the gap of the university in some fields. The university also hosted and sponsored 17 high-level international academic seminars in 1997.
Staff who are sent abroad by Peking University bring back the latest research results and methods, new academic trends, fields of study and research methods. Last year, 2,960 scholars visited 48 countries and regions, the highest figure ever.
Peking University set up an Annual Fellowship for Advanced Research in Chinese Studies last year to aid North American doctoral candidates. This is the first scholarship granted by a Chinese university to foreign students. The first four American students will arrive this spring.
Facing the Future
Some key projects are being built on the campus now. The new library, with a donation from Hong Kong taipan Lee Ka-shing, will become the largest in universities across Asia with a total construction area of 26,000 square meters. The 12,000-square-meter Hundred-Year Auditorium and the 80,000-square-meter science building complex are also under construction.
Peking University is making efforts to build a trans-discipline education and research center and high-tech research base that will be the leader in China and also influential in the outside world. As the new century is around the corner, the 100-year-old institution is confronted with a favorable historical opportunity for new development. It has made more than a dozen firsts in China over the past 100 years, and it will surely produce more records in China and the world in the next century.