Cai Yuanpei 蔡元培

An educator who is inclusive and creates a new trend


Chinese Name: 蔡元培

English Name: Cai Yuanpei

Other Names: Cai Zhen 蔡振、Zhou Ziyu 周子余、A Pei 阿培

Born: January 11, 1868

Died: March 5, 1940


Establish the bourgeois-democratic education system in China 建立中国资产阶级民主教育体制

Serve as president of Peking University and reform Peking University 担任北京大学校长,革新北大

Serve as the first director general of education of the Republic of China 担任中华民国首任教育总长

Establish Nanjing Museum 创建南京博物院

Main Works:

the history of Chinese ethics 中国伦理学史

Cai Yuanpei 蔡元培
Cai Yuanpei 蔡元培

Brief Biography of Cai Yuanpei

Cai Yuanpei 蔡元培 is an educator, revolutionary, politician, democratic progressive, executive member of the Central Committee of the Kuomintang 国民党, member of the national government of the Republic of China and president of the supervisory department., the first director-general of education of the Republic of China and one of the four senior members of the Kuomintang.

Cai Yuanpei, courtesy name 字 Heqing 鹤卿, Zhongshen 仲申, Minyou 民友, and Jiemin 孑民 is a vegetarian. He was born in Shanyin 山阴 County, Shaoxing 绍兴 Prefecture, Zhejiang 浙江 Province (now Shaoxing, Zhejiang Province). He was a scholar of the Qing Dynasty 清朝. His ancestral home is Zhuji, Zhejiang Province.

In 1889, when Cai Yuanpei was 22, he passed the imperial examinations at the provincial level. In the same year, he married his first wife Wang Zhao 王昭.

In 1904, at the age of 37, Cai Yuanpei organized and established the restoration society 光复会 in Shanghai 上海. In 1905, at the age of 38, the League 同盟会 was established and the restoration association was merged. Sun Yat-Sen 孙中山 appointed Cai Yuanpei as the head of the Shanghai Branch of the league.

Cai Yuanpei 蔡元培
Sun Yat-sen 孙中山

In May 1907, at the age of 40, Cai Yuanpei went to Berlin 柏林, Germany to attend classes and study psychology, aesthetics, philosophy and other disciplines at Leipzig University 莱比锡大学. During his four years in Germany, he compiled a number of academic books such as the history of Chinese ethics 中国伦理学史.

From 1917 to 1927, he was the president of Peking University 北京大学, innovating Peking University and opening up the style of “academic” and “freedom”.

Cai Yuanpei 蔡元培
Peking University 北京大学

From 1920 to 1930, Cai Yuanpei concurrently served as president of China France University 中法大学. In his early years, he took part in the struggle against the imperial system of the Qing Dynasty. In the early years of the Republic of China, he presided over the formulation of the first decree on Higher Education in modern China – “University decree 大学令”.

From 1928 to 1940, he was the full-time president of Academia Sinica, carrying out the proposition of academic research. Cai Yuanpei went to Germany and France to study and investigate for several times, studying philosophy, literature, aesthetics, psychology and cultural history, which laid an ideological and theoretical foundation for his commitment to the reform of feudal education.

In 1933, Cai Yuanpei proposed to establish the Nanjing Museum 南京博物院 and served concurrently as the chairman of the First Council. In the early days of the outbreak of the war of resistance against Japan, Cai Yuanpei and other famous figures in Shanghai cultural circles jointly organized and established the Shanghai cultural circles National Salvation Association to actively organize and mobilize cultural circles and people to participate in the Anti-Japanese national salvation movement.

Cai Yuanpei 蔡元培
Nanjing Museum 南京博物院

On March 5, 1940, Cai Yuanpei died of illness in Hong Kong 香港 and was buried in the Chinese Cemetery. After Cai Yuanpei’s death, major political parties and organizations in China, as well as dignitaries and celebrities, sent messages of condolence.

Personal Life and Major Contributions

Establish the bourgeois-democratic education system in China

On January 4, 1912, the first year of the Republic of China, the interim government of the Republic of China was established in Nanjing 南京, and he became the chief Education officer of the interim government of Nanjing.

Cai Yuanpei 蔡元培
the interim government of the Republic of China 中华民国临时政府

On January 19, 1912, the first year of the Republic of China, Cai Yuanpei promulgated the Interim Measures for general education and presided over the formulation of the University decree and the middle school decree, which were China’s first university and middle school decree. He stressed the need to build middle schools and universities into schools for sound citizens.

Cai Yuanpei served as the Chief Education officer of the Nanjing interim government, advocated the adoption of the western education system, abolished the worship of Confucius and the study of scriptures, implemented the reform measures of coeducation, and established the Chinese bourgeois-democratic education system.

Serve as president of Peking University and reform Peking University

On December 26, 1916, Cai Yuanpei was appointed president of Peking University. He supported the new culture movement, advocated academic research, advocated “freedom of thought and inclusiveness”, and implemented Professor governance. During the May 4th movement 五四运动, students were supported to take patriotic actions, and arrested students were rescued in various ways.

On January 9, 1917, Cai Yuanpei delivered an inauguration address, which put forward three requirements on students: first, holding to the purpose; second, cultivating virtue; third, respecting teachers, and put “holding to the purpose” in the first place.

Cai Yuanpei 蔡元培
Cai Yuanpei delivered an inauguration address 蔡元培发表就职演说

In 1917, Cai Yuanpei hired Chen Duxiu 陈独秀, the editor in chief of new youth, as the chief of liberal arts, and “new school” figures such as Li Dazhao 李大钊, Hu Shi 胡适 and Qian Xuantong 钱玄同 to teach at Peking University. In the same year, he invited the famous philosopher Liang Shuming 梁漱溟 to teach Indian philosophy at Peking University. At the invitation of Cai Yuanpei, Xu Beihong 徐悲鸿 returned to Beijing 北京 from Tokyo 东京, Japan, and served as a tutor of the Painting Institute of Peking University.

Freedom of thought and inclusiveness 思想自由,兼容并包

Cai Yuanpei was generous and compassionate and thoroughly observed Chinese society and vulgar customs. He has traveled to Europe twice and studied the scientific spirit after the Renaissance and the ideological trend after the French Revolution. He advocated civil rights and women’s rights, advocated free thought, worked hard to get rid of the old custom of “reading as an official”, opened a scientific research atmosphere, and attached importance to civic moral education and the accompanying world outlook, outlook on life and aesthetic education.

Cai Yuanpei 蔡元培
Freedom of thought and inclusiveness 思想自由,兼容并包

Liang Shuming once said that Cai Yuanpei created a new trend for the Chinese people in terms of ideology and scholarship, broke through the old customs and promoted the overall politics, which is definitely correct. It is precisely because of Mr. Cai’s inclusiveness and freedom of thought that new culture has a foothold, making Peking University a fortress of the new culture movement, and the idea of scientific democracy has been spread. Therefore, in this sense, Cai Yuanpei is not only the founder of Modern Peking University, but also the founder of the concept and spirit of modern Chinese universities.

As an outstanding pioneer in modern Chinese cultural circles, Cai Yuanpei’s famous cultural thoughts and academic views have had an important impact on the historical process of China. Cai Yuanpei’s academic thought of “all-embracing” when he was president of Peking University has not only become an important guiding ideology for him to preside over the education work of Peking University, but also a school running principle he adheres to.

Video: Cai Yuanpei – Chinese History EP10

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