Photograph of Cai Yuanpei. As chancellor of Beijing University from 1917 to 1926, Cai created a vibrant cultural environment that made the university the powerhouse of the New Culture Movement. He encouraged physical and aesthetic education in addition to science and technology in hopes of training a new generation of well-rounded intellectuals. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS.
Cai Yuanpei, an accomplished student in the Confucian tradition, became part of China’s cultural and political elite at Beijing’s Imperial Hanlin Academy, where he was exposed to translated works from the West. As chancellor until 1926 of Beijing University, he was renowned for his commitment to intellectually diversity, center of the New Culture Movement.
Born in Shaoxing District, Zhejiang Province, to a family of bankers, Cai Yuanpei lost his father when he was only eleven years old. Despite declining fortunes, his family was able to support his education in Confucian traditions at several private schools. In 1892 Cai passed the highest level of the civil service examinations and earned the Jinshi degree at age twenty-four. In 1894 Cai was appointed as a compiler at Beijing’s Imperial Hanlin Academy, which brought him to the circle of national cultural and political elites. Also in Beijing he gained easy access to translated works from the West, including Yan Fu’s translation of Thomas Huxley’s Evolution and Ethics, which Cai read more than once.
Cai’s most significant impact on modern Chinese history was his tenure as chancellor of Beijing University between 1917 and 1926. He adopted an inclusive policy of staffing the faculty with people of widely diverse intellectual orientations, hence creating a vibrant cultural environment that made Beijing University the powerhouse of the New Culture Movement. In hopes of training a new generation of well-rounded intellectuals, he especially encouraged physical and aesthetic education in addition to science and technology. He was a vocal advocate of the vernacular and argued for the independence of education from political intervention.
During the reorganization of the Guomindang (Chinese Nationalist Party) in the early 1920s, Cai was in Europe but was elected in absentia to the Central Supervisory Committee. Although in 1927 he supported the Guomindang’s suppression of the Communists, he later regretted the brutal killing of the radicals. He was appointed president of the National Academia Sinica in 1928 when it was founded by the national government. In 1932 Cai joined with other liberals to organize the China Civil Rights Protection Alliance in protest of the national government’s repression of dissidents. Cai’s health began to decline in the mid-1930s, and he went to Hong Kong after the War of Resistance against Japan broke out in 1937. He died from a stomach tumor in 1940.
Cai Yuanpei. (1984–1989). Cai Yuanpei quanji [Complete collection of works by Cai Yuanpei] (P. Gao, Ed.). Beijing: Zhonghua shuju.
Duiker, W. J. (1977). Ts’ai Yuan-pei: Educator of modern China. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.
Sun Changwei. (1997). Cai Jiemin xiangsheng Yuanpei nianpu [A chronological biography of Mr. Cai Yuanpei (Jiemin)]. Taipei, Taiwan: Yuanliu.
Zhongguo, C. Y. Y. (Ed.). (1998). Cai Yuanpei jinianji [Memoirs of Cai Yuanpei]. Hangzhou, China: Zhejiang jiaoyu chubanshe.
Zhou Tiandu. (1984). Cai Yuanpei zhuan [A biography of Cai Yuanpei]. Beijing: Renmin chubanshe.
Display one’s proficiency of axe in front of the master carpenter.
Bān mén nòng fǔ
Source: Lu, Yan. (2009). CAI Yuanpei. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 257–258. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.
CAI Yuanpei (Cài Yuánpéi 蔡元培)|Cài Yuánpéi 蔡元培 (CAI Yuanpei)