Nankai is a comprehensive and national key university, directly under the administration of the Ministry of Education of the People's Republic of China. It is also the alma mater of Zhou Enlai, the first prime minister of the People’s Republic of China. Nankai University was founded by the patriotic educators Zhang Boling (1860-1951) and Yan Fansun (1876-1951) with the aim of rebuilding the country through education. Planning began in 1904 and the university was founded in 1919, with an educational policy of ‘knowing China to serve China’, focused on both innovation and comprehensiveness. Now, the university maintains the spirit of this original mission by developing art to regulate the country, science to strengthen it, and business to enrich it.
When the university was initially founded, there were only three disciplines (liberal arts, science, and business) and ninety-six students. In 1929, the disciplines were divided among four colleges: the School of Arts, the School of Sciences, the School of Business and the Preparatory Medicine School, with thirteen departments in total. In its early years, as a private institution, Nankai’s finances relied mainly on donations from groups and individuals, with some income coming from government subsidy, tuition and revenues from the university’s assets. Nankai became widely-admired for its advanced academic environment and its pragmatic spirit. The University has cultivated generations of talented people, including Premier Zhou Enlai, Dr. Shiing-Shen Chern, Dr. Ta-You Wu and Cao Yu.
In July, 1937, while still in a period of expansion and improvement, Nankai University was bombed by the Japanese Army, causing it to start a journey to the South. In August of that year, Nankai, together with Peking and Tsinghua universities, united in Changsha to form Changsha Temporary University. In April, 1938, Changsha Temporary University was moved to Kunming and changed its name to Southwest Associated University, which was described as ‘The North Star of Higher Learning’. In 1939, the Economic Institute of Nankai was transferred to Nankai Middle School, located in Shapingba, Chongqing, and began recruiting graduates. During the period of the Southwest Associated University, the three universities worked together to cultivate a generation of scientific talents and patriotic revolutionaries.
In 1946, Nankai University moved back to Tianjin and was reformed into a national university. After the establishment of the People's Republic of China, and in response to the national changes to higher education, Nankai University became a comprehensive institution with emphasis on both the arts and sciences. It was divided into four schools (of Arts, Sciences, Politics and Economics and Engineering) and sixteen departments besides the Economic Institute, the Institute of Applied Chemistry, and the Research Center of Frontier Humanities. In 1952, after the reshuffling of university organization, Nankai became a comprehensive university of Arts and Sciences, with fourteen departments and three professional specialties in total. Until the 1980s, Nankai University had nine departments: Mathematics, Physics, Biology, Chemistry, Chinese, Foreign Languages, Philosophy, Politics and Economics, and History.
After China’s Open and Reform Policy, especially after 1980, Nankai added a number of new specialties and institutes to promote the socialist modernization drive. In the humanities, applied specialties in finance were set up and the School of Economics was reopened in 1983, while in the sciences, interdisciplinary, marginal and high and new technological specialties were added. By the late 1980s, Nankai had grown to be a comprehensive university embracing the humanities; natural, applied and life sciences; management and art. Later, the Tianjin Foreign Trade College and CTMI were merged into Nankai successively. Co-supported by the Ministry of Education and the Tianjin Government, the university developed into a comprehensive and national key university of Project 211 and Program 985.
With the motto “Dedication to public interests, acquisition of all-round capability, and aspiration for progress with each passing day”, the tradition of “Patriotism, dedication, innovation and unity” as well as the principle of art to regulate the country, science to strengthen it, and business to enrich it, Nankai University takes knowing China to serve China as its educational policy and the outstanding alumnus Zhou Enlai as a model, dedicating itself to the construction of a world-class university.