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PKU Today in History - May 9: PKU President Cai Yuanpei declared resignation

MAY . 07 2011


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PKU Today in History - a daily column featuring historic events regarding PKU and PKUers.



On the morning of May 7, 1919, 32 students under arrested on May 4 were released on bail for the sake of pressure from the society. However, becoming a main target of the authorities, the educational community was under great pressure. As a consequence, on the morning of May 9, President Cai Yuanpei of Peking University (PKU) quitted his post and left Beijing. 

Cai Yuanpei (1868-1940)

Cai Yuanpei was a famous democracy revolutionist, educator, and thinker. He served as the president of PKU from 1916 to 1926 during the critical period when the institution played a major role in the development of a new spirit of nationalism and social reform in China.


The reason why he resigned his job was complicated, but one thing was for sure that he did this in order to protect PKU and his students. As we know, PKU was at the center of the May Fourth Movement (May 4, 1919, an anti-imperialist, anti-feudal, political, and cultural movement influenced by the October Revolution and led by intellectual having the rudiments of communist ideology). At the early stage of the May 4th Movement, students, especially students of PKU played a significant role in it. Undoubtedly, the authorities tried every possible mean to put the movement down, including arresting students by force. However, among those who were put into jail, more than 20 students were PKU students, which greatly aroused President Cai Yuanpei’s concern. To go bail for students involved and assure the safety of PKU, he chose to resign.


He left with a short announcement: “I declare that I am exhausted, so now I formally resign my post as the president of PKU. All the organizations, schools, and assemblies have nothing to do with me from now on. Hopefully those who understand me can forgive me.”


On hearing this news that day, PKU students hold an urgent meeting and made a decision to write to Fu Zenxiang, then minister of education. They requested his refusal to President Cai Yuanpei’s resign. Late in that night, PKU staffs had a meeting. They determined to resign together if President Cai Yuanpei was not reinstated. Li Dazhao, Ma Yinchu, Ma Shulun and others five teachers were selected as representatives to ask the Ministry of Education for President Cai Yuanpei’s stay.



Witten by: Qian Xin
Edited by: Su Juan
Source: PKU News (Chinese), Encyclopaedia Britannica
, and Wikipedia