Peking University after Moving Back to Peking

1946 - 1949

The post-wartime PKU (then known as National Peking University) moved back to its campus in Peking. In July 1946, new president Hu Shi (succeeding Jiang Menglin who resigned in September 1945 and Fu Sinian who was filling in at the time) announced the appointment of important offices. In July and August of 1946, the university implemented the order of the Ministry of Education to enroll Classes 1-4 and 6 of Peking Temporary School of Further Education (PTS). In August 1947, the Peking Campus of Beiyang University was incorporated into PKU. In order to accommodate the teachers and students moving back to north China and the students of PTS, additional school buildings were in dire need. After multi-thronged efforts, PKU managed to secure the reconstructed Xianggong Palace, the former residence of Li Yuanhong in Dongchang Hutong, and the old Council House as school buildings. The expanded school buildings were scattered in over 40 locations in urban and suburban Peking. Meanwhile, the university also employed a number of well-known professors, including Wang Zhuquan, Qian Siliang, Yang Zhongjian, Yuan Hanqing, Ji Xianlin, Ma Jian, and Zhuang Qitai. After intensive preparations, a grand opening ceremony was held on October 10, 1946 in the auditorium at Campus 4 of PKU. After the demobilization, PKU took up the mission to “research on the advanced scholarship, develop specialized talents, and cultivate sound characters.” The Medical School, Agriculture School, and Engineering School were added to the original schools of literature, science and law. As of then, PKU has six schools, 23 departments and two specialized programs. Meanwhile, the graduate schools of liberal arts, sciences, law, and medicine were also established for graduate students. Administrative offices such as the Academic Affairs Office, the Secretariat, and the Discipline Office, as well as the Administrative Council, University Affairs Council, Academic Council, and Professorial Councils were established to perform their respective functions. By mid-December 1946, there were 3,420 registered students, including 564 from the NSAU, 1,562 from PTS, 445 freshmen, 433 preparatory students, and 416 re-enrolled or else. In the first semester of 1947, there were 58 graduate students, and in the second semester, there were 45. It took most students four years to get their bachelor’s degree, except for those in engineering, agriculture and pharmacy (five years), dentistry (six years), and medicine (seven years). Most of the graduate programs were two years.

Both teachers and students were expectant of the reinstatement of the university. The School of Liberal Arts explicitly put forward that “the reinstatement plan is a rejuvenation plan.” The school authority was also forward-looking enough to consider recruiting first-rate scholars of atomic energy to turn the Physics Department into a world-leading research center of atomic physics. None of those enterprising ideas came to any avail because of the KMT government’s insistence on dictatorship and civil war, social unrest, and lack of funding. Despite various difficulties, the teachers and staff stuck to their posts, and offered courses in teaching, some cutting-edge and some introductive. For example, the Department of Geology added X-ray crystallography, paleobotany, human paleontology and Chinese geological discussion to its curriculum. The Department of Chemistry added microchemistry and the Chinese Department added the history of modern literature. Some of those new courses were also the first of their kind in the entire country. The affiliated hospital of the Medical School grew to a considerable scale and the affiliated farm of the School of Agriculture owned several hundred hectares of land. Both became important teaching, internship, and experiment bases for teachers and students. All schools and institutes also tried their best with scientific researches, which turned out remarkable achievements. In 1946, Professor Zhong Huilan and Chief Resident Doctor Weng Xinzhi of the Medical School discovered the first case of subtropical hereditary Gaucher disease in China, opening the prelude to Chinese study of tropical diseases. At the inaugural meeting of the Beiping-Tianjin Branch of China Mathematical Society held in 1947, 60% of papers were submitted by PKU faculty. At the concurrent inaugural meeting of the Peking Branch of China Mathematical Society, papers submitted by PKU teachers exceeded one fifth of the total. The then renowned PKU Institute of Geology carried out a systematic study on stratigraphic paleontological materials in Yunnan, large structures in north China, and the animal populations in cave deposits of the Pleistocene in South China. At the 18th International Geological Congress held in London in 1948, “Pacific as the Main Center of the Early Paleontological Evolution,” a paper submitted by a PKU professor was praised by all participants. The papers written by teachers of the institutes during this period were collected in the Anthology in Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of National Peking University.

After the victory of the War against Japanese Aggression, the KMT government backed by US imperialists once again plunged the Chinese people into the quagmire of civil war, imposing white terror on areas under its control. The Chinese society was in the darkest hour before the dawn. Under the leadership of the CPC underground activists, PKUers inherited and carried forward the spirit of the May 4th Movement and fought an unyielding battle against the dark forces. In the evening of December 24, 1946, Shen Chong, a girl from the preparatory class, was raped by US soldiers at Dongdan Square. The faculty and students of the university, and even the whole nation, were outraged. The “anti-violence campaigns” rose and more than 500,000 students nationwide participated in the demonstration. KMT pooled its resources to fight the civil war, as a result of which, inflation skyrocketed. In the three months after March 1947, the price of corn rose by eight times. The teachers and students were destitute. Some students were forced to suspend class. In May 1947, the PKU students were the first to come up with the slogan “No More Hunger, No More Civil War.” On May 20, the “General Parade against Hunger and Civil War by Students in North China” including university and secondary school students broke out. Back at PKU, the parade members held a conference and decided to name the playground in front of the Red Building “Democracy Square.” Mao Zedong pointed out on May 30 that “the battle between Chiang Kai-shek’s invading army and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is the first battlefield. Now there is a second battlefield, that is, the intensified struggle between the great, righteous student movement and the reactionary government of Chiang Kai-shek.” On March 29, 1948, PKU students held a speech convention at Democracy Square to commemorate the Huanghuagang Martyrs. During the convention, over 5,000 troops, policemen, military policemen and secret agents suddenly besieged the campus, mounting machine guns at the gates of three schools and across the Red Building. The students and teachers were undaunted and continued the speech. On April 3, students of PKU and Tsinghua University protested the barbarity of the reactionary government in outlawing the North China Federation of Students and announced a strike, creating an upsurge in the campaign against hunger and persecution, together with the strikes of the teaching staff in colleges and universities for better living conditions. Strike fights converged to form the climax of the campaign against persecution and hunger. On May 30, students from 11 universities, including PKU, held a “Meeting of Students in Northern China for Opposing US Support to Japan and Commemorating the May 30th Massacre,” and organized on June 9 the parade of “US, Stop Supporting Japan.” In August, the much defeated KMT government imposed stricter control on young students. The “Special Criminal Court” issued a series of subpoenas on August 19 and 20 consecutively, ordering the arrest of 324 students, including 93 from PKU. From August 19 to 24, over 2,000 reactionary military and police officers besieged the Shatan Campus. The students shouted out their slogan—“Arrest one, arrest us all.” In the struggle against persecution, most professors staunchly supported the students and actively covered the transfer and withdrawal of students listed on the arrest warrant.

In November 1948, the PLA laid siege to Peking. Around the siege, the KMT authorities attempted to relocate PKU to the south. Teachers and students started a “university protection movement.” On November 24, the professors’ council passed a resolution against relocation. With its conspiracy foiled, the KMT government plotted an abduction of the administrative principals, Academicians of Academia Sinica, and academically accomplished experts and professors to the south. Dozens of letters were sent to PKU after December 11. Five days later, a plane was dispatched to pick them up. However, “none of them showed up at the airport.” At the decisive moment for a nation, the PKU teachers and students stood by the progressive forces. On December 15, President Hu Shi left Peking for the south and the school administration was left in the charge of Zheng Tianting, Tang Yongtong and Zhou Binglin. Everyone at PKU stood by each other, awaiting liberation with a heart full of faith.