Peking University in the 1930s

1927 - 1937

From 1927 to 1929, PKU struggled in turmoil. After seizing Beijing, the Feng-faction warlords resorted to a reign of terror. They outrageously murdered Li Dazhao and other fighters, and deemed the university with a democratic legacy as a thorn in the flesh. In August 1927, they ordered the merger of PKU with eight other national universities in Beijing to form the National College of Peking . In June 1928, they were chased out of the Shanhaiguan Pass by the Kuomintang (KMT) troops who took over Beijing. The faculty and students initiated a reinstatement campaign and issued the Declaration of Peking University, saying that “We at Peking University have been tortured by the evil forces of the warlords for a whole year... But we could never forget our university as how it is supposed to be. The inherent spirit of PKU still stands out as ever.” However, the Nanjing National Government first decided to rename the National University of Peking to Chinese University, and later to Beiping University, placing it under the jurisdiction of Beiping University Zone. The change of name was firmly opposed by the faculty and students, who established a re-commissioning committee and prevented the authorities from a forceful take-over. In 1929, the Ministry of Education under the Nationalist Government conceded by changing the name to School of Beida under National Beiping University. With its organization unchanged, PKU was allowed to keep its original English name in foreign exchanges. Nine months after the forced suspension, the university resumed classes on March 11. In June, the National Government rescinded the university district system. In August, the reinstatement campaign was successfully concluded with its name of National Peking University officially restored.

In December 1930, Jiang Menglin became the president of PKU and proposed the guideline of “academic governance by professors, learning by students, general affairs by clerks, and overall governance by the president.” The academic senate was replaced by the university council as the decision-making body for major policies of the university. In addition, an administrative council and provost council were established and management became standardized. In June 1932, an Organization Outline for National Peking University was promulgated and a school system was implemented. The Institute of Liberal Arts, Institute of Science, and Institute of Law became the School of Liberal Arts, School of Sciences, and School of Law. Hu Shi, Liu Shuqi and Zhou Binglin were appointed the deans. The three schools consisted of 14 departments including Department of Philosophy, Department of History, Department of Chinese Literature, Department of Foreign Languages (English, French, German, and Japanese) and Department of Education for the School of Liberal Arts; Department of Mathematics, Department of Physics, Department of Chemistry, Department of Geology, Department of Biology and Department of Psychology for the School of Sciences; Department of Law, Department of Politics, and Department of Economics for the School of Law. The faculty was reorganized and first-rate domestic scholars employed as full-time professors, making possible a rapid development of the university in teaching and scientific research. In 1932, Regulations of National School of Peking University was enacted. The newly-implemented credits system required the students to acquire basic knowledge in literature and science. Compulsory courses “Introduction to Science” and “Chinese Language” were offered to freshmen of the School of Liberal Arts and School of Sciences respectively. According to the statistics of 1935, a total of 288 courses were offered. During this period, despite the increasingly strengthened efforts of the KMT government to promote “partisan” politics, PKU retained some of its theoretical courses on social sciences since the May 4th Movement including “Marxist Theory,” “Marxist Theory of Economics,” and “Materialism and Education.” In 1932, a Research Institute was established with three departments: Department of History reorganized from the Department of Chinese Studies, and the newly-established Department of Natural Sciences and Department of Social Sciences. In 1934, the three departments became three institutes—Institute of Liberal Arts, Institute of Sciences, and Institute of Law. Graduate admission examinations, thesis defense and other systems were gradually improved.

In July 1931, PKU and China Foundation for the Promotion of Education and Culture set up a joint research fund to purchase books and instruments, subsidize construction facilities, instate research professors (employing a total of 29), hold academic lectures, and establish student grants and scholarships. The funding played a catalytic role in promoting teaching and research at PKU. In 1935, the university built a new library that could house 300,000 books and seat 500 readers. The teaching and research facilities of various departments in the School of Sciences were also improved. Famous geologist Li Siguang served as the director of the PKU Department of Geology from 1931 to 1937, and made important contributions to the development of geological studies at the university and even the entire country. Li’s legacy include a new geology hall, several mineral and paleontological labs, a geological exhibition hall and some research rooms. Professor Yan Renguang established more than ten laboratories for general physics and specialized physics after being placed in charge of the Department of Physics, turning it into a domestically leading department with adequate equipment. In 1936, a new dormitory called the Grey Building was built as an improvement to the students’ accommodation. Overseas academic exchanges were promoted. Lecturers invited include Professor Wilson from Harvard University, Professor Smith from the University of London , Professor Paul Langevin from University of Paris, and Nils Bohr, a renowned Danish physicist with great contributions to the establishment and interpretation of quantum mechanics. Research findings during this period were represented by Discussion on Quaternary Climate in China and East Asia by Li Siguang and other monographs that laid the foundation for Quaternary glacial research in China, Permian in China and the Significance of Permian Stratification by Ding Wenjiang and Amadeus William Grabau that was read out to the 16th International Geological Congress in Washington. In addition, achievements in physics and chemistry by Rao Yutai, Zeng Zhaolun, and Sun Cheng’e sparked the interest of scholars both at home and abroad. The schools of liberal arts and law also saw the publication of many influential academic monographs.

During this period, the Japanese imperialists stepped up their aggression against China and the PKU faculty and students actively engaged themselves in the anti-Japanese campaign for national salvation. In the wake of the September 18th Incident, the PKU Students Union immediately sent an anti-Japanese circular telegraph, calling for “instantaneous ceasefire in the civil war for unanimous efforts in resisting Japanese invaders.” On December 1, 1931, a Demonstration Team to South China consisting of about 230 students went to Nanjing for protests against Chiang Kai-shek. They issued “A Letter to Our Fellow Chinese,” demanding the government to immediately “recover the lost land in Northeast China” and “mobilize the entire nation to sever diplomatic relations with Japan.” In December 1935 when North China was in imminent danger of capture by Japanese aggressors, teachers and students of Tsinghua University, Yenching University, PKU and other colleges and universities in Beijing as well as Northeastern University, under the leadership of the CPC, brought the anti-Japanese campaign to its climax. On December 9, the patriotic students broke through the military and police blockade and gathered in front of the Xinhua Gate for protest against the governmental policy of “an autonomy against the communists,” requesting the government to publicize China-Japan negotiations, ensure the safety of local authorities, stop all civil wars, and grant people the freedom to speech, assembly, association and publication. The parade was suppressed by military police; over 30 people were arrested and more than 100 injured. Students making it back to the campus from the demonstration held a general assembly and passed the resolution for a general strike. On December 16, the Municipal Students’ Federation organized student demonstrations in Beijing to oppose the establishment of the Ji-Cha Administrative Council. The third brigade of over 2,000 students led by PKU broke through barriers to the pedestrian bridge to join their fellow students from 20 other universities including Tsinghua University and Yenching University. The concurrent citizen convention was attended by over 30,000 people from all walks of life in Peiping and compatriots in exile from Northeast China. “A Letter to the People” was issued at the gathering, and resolutions of “Renunciation of the Ji-Cha Administrative Council” and “Recovery of Lost Land in Northeastern China” were adopted. After the meeting, a parade consisting of students and citizens launched a general demonstration. The “December 9th Movement” promoted the awakening of the Chinese nation, marking a new upsurge in the Chinese people's anti-Japanese democratic movement. In the latter half of the campaign, the Students’ Federation of Beiping (Peking) and Tianjin organized a Publicity Team to South China. The first delegation headed by PKU walked over 350 kilometers to Gu'an, Renqiu, Baxian and Baoding in Hebei for national salvation against the Japanese invaders. These PKUers initiated the establishment of a Vanguard for National Liberation which, upon their return to Peking, became part of the Vanguard of China Youth for Salvation initiated by the third delegation. On February 1, 1936, the Vanguard for Chinese National Liberation was formally established and various anti-Japanese publicity campaigns were launched in suburban Beijing. After the July 7th Incident broke out, over 60 members from the Vanguard went to Yan'an or the anti-Japanese bases, contributing to the victory in national liberation and revolution.