CHANG Teh-Kuang

The Library at Peking (locally known as Beida) University. The future chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, Mao Zedong, was working in the library when he met the party’s founders, former students themselves but professors by that time. PHOTO BY JOAN LEBOLD COHEN.

Peking University, China’s oldest university and today one of its best, was crucial to the development of Marxism in China. University professors Li Dazhao and Chen Duxiu, co-founders of the Chinese Communist Party, and Mao Zedong, eventual leader of the CCP, then working in the university’s library, all attended the school. The name “Peking University” lives on despite the modern usage of Beijing.

Peking University is the oldest and one of the best universities in China. It was founded in 1898 under the Qing dynasty (1644–1912) and was originally named Metropolitan University. After Republican China (1912–1949) was established, the university changed its name to Peking University in May 1912; it retained this name after the People’s Republic of China was established in 1949 and after usage of Beijing became more commonplace among Westerners.

Peking University has a tradition of academic freedom. From 1915 to 1923 it played a prominent role in the May Fourth Movement for intellectual and social change—the movement is most often associated with the demonstrations on 4 May 1919 for which it was named—and it became a center for the Chinese New Culture Movement to adopt a popular speaking language instead of the language of classical literature. The development of Marxism in China was begun at the university by professors Li Dazhao (1889–1927) and Chen Duxiu (1889–1942), and by Mao Zedong (1893–1976), who then worked in the university’s library but would go on to become leader of the Chinese Communist Party.

When Japan invaded China in World War II, Peking University was moved to Kunming in Yunnan Province. When the university moved back to Beijing in 1946, it consisted of six colleges with a total enrollment of three thousand students. By 1952 enrollment had increased to 10,671 students but declined during Mao’s Cultural Revolution (1966–1976).

Today Peking University is a comprehensive university offering five fields of study: social sciences, humanities, science, medicine and information, and engineering. With a total enrollment of 36,982 students, it has 16 colleges, 19 departments, 80 undergraduate programs, 177 masters programs, and 155 doctoral programs. It also has 126 research centers and 98 research institutes.

The presidents of Peking University have included well-known scholars, including Yan Fu, the most famous Chinese translator of Western classics to Chinese; educator Cai Yuanpei, philosopher and author Hu Shi, and economist Ma Yinchu.

Further Reading

Nee, V. (1969). The cultural revolution at Peking University. New York: Monthly Review Press.

Peking University. (2007). About Peking University. Retrieved February 3, 2009, from

Source: Chang, Teh-Kuang. (2009). Peking University. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 1738–1739. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

The central administration building at Peking University. The co-founders of the Chinese Communist Party—Li Dazhao and Chen Duxiu—are counted among the university’s alumni. PHOTO BY KENT WANG.

The scenic campus at Peking University. The presidents of Peking University have included well-known scholars—notably Cai Yuanpei, an educator who became part of China’s cultural and political elite. PHOTO BY KENT WANG.

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