During college acceptance season, I was chatting with friends and accidentally boasted about being able to claim a full set of (清北复交)“Tsinghua University, Peking University, and Shanghai Jiao Tong University” alumni in my direct family lineage for three generations, or a total of seven individuals.

However, we should not delve into everything. Did people of my grandfather’s generation monopolize top universities like Tsinghua and Peking University during the Republic of China, just like they do today?

Strictly speaking, there isn’t any.

One, History. Link to heading

The ranking of 20 universities in the Republic of China circulating on the internet is actually quite one-sided, based on vague criteria and not including private universities.

However, what is the true fact?

The fun part about history is that trying to reconstruct the truth is a bit foolish, because the truth is long gone.

Interpreting it from one’s own perspective is what makes it interesting.

From a certain perspective, Southwest Associated University actually saved the declining Peking University. Peking University was financially constrained, lagging far behind the elite American-style Tsinghua, Concordia, and Yanjing universities in the same city, and even struggling in comparison to both Beiping University and Beijing Normal University.

Regarding the pre-liberation Fudan University, some people applaud while others criticize it heavily. It is certain that it cannot make it to the top ten universities. However, it is also excessive to call it a low-quality university.

In 1952, following a reorganization of academic departments, Peking University and Fudan University emerged as the main beneficiaries, with one located in the north and the other in the south, both reaching the top of the humanities and sciences, a position they have maintained until today.

2. Engineering Ranking Link to heading

Three years ago, I had fun using web metrics to create the “Times Higher Education World University Rankings”. So why am I ranking Republican-era science and engineering universities today?

Because no one has done it before.

Before the liberation, the probability of ordinary people’s names appearing on the Internet was extremely low, so when I accidentally discovered my grandfather’s name appearing in the database of Republican engineers compiled by Leipzig University in Germany (CERD 1912-1949), it ignited my curiosity.

This database has collected information about 17,339 engineers who graduated from 657 universities worldwide and worked in China before the liberation. The information includes their birth year, graduation year, and workplace.

It should be noted that prior to the liberation, illiteracy rates in China were between 80-90% and there were far fewer engineers compared to today’s number of professors. How elite is this list, you ask? For instance, nearly 300 individuals on the list have graduated from both Harvard and MIT.

Therefore, we can rank engineering universities by calculating which ones have cultivated more engineers.

Three, Top 20. Link to heading

Let’s take a look at the top twenty first:

Ranking School name. Alumni counts
1 交通大学(上海) 1687
Jiao Tong University (Shanghai)
2 北洋大学 1142
Beiyang University
3 山西大学 979
Shanxi University
4 交通大学(唐山) 793
Jiao Tong University (Tangshan)
5 交通大学(北京) 762
Jiao Tong University (Peking)
6 北平大学 719
Beiping University
7 中央大学 621
Central University
8 浙江大学 517
Zhejiang University
9 南通大学 507
Nantong University.
10 山西工专 506
Shanxi Industrial Vocational and Technical College
11 同济大学 422
Tongji University
12 东北大学 421
Northeastern University
13 中山大学 421
Sun Yat-sen University
14 湖南大学 375
Hunan University
15 复旦大学 369
Fudan University
16 勷勤大学 311
Xiangqin University
17 北京大学 303
Peking University
18 清华大学 282
Tsinghua University
(美)康奈尔大学 246
Cornell University, USA
(日)东京工业大学 234
Tokyo Institute of Technology, JPN
(美)麻省理工学院 221
(MIT) Massachusetts Institute of Technology
19 武汉大学 175
Wuhan University
20 河南水利工专 171
Henan Water Conservancy Engineering Specialist

(Note: The blue color represents Tsinghua University and Beijing Jiaotong University, while the green color represents the school mentioned in the comment below.)

Three universities of transportation occupy three spots in the top five. In those years, it was estimated that locomotives, ships, and internal combustion engines were the crowning achievement of industry.

In the 1950s, Jiaotong University (Shanghai) moved to Xi’an, causing a split, but now it has regained its glory with two spots in the prestigious C9 league. It can be said that Jiaotong University’s status as a giant in engineering is well-deserved.

After Jiaoda (Tangshan) moved to the southwest, education in Hebei collapsed. The re-establishment of Jiaoda in Hsinchu, Taiwan was relatively late and its inheritance was unclear, which will not be elaborated here.

What catches one’s attention is that Shanxi University has entered into the top 3. Why is it so amazing? Upon my research, Shansi University was one of the earliest universities established during the Qing dynasty, and with the long-standing emphasis on education by Yan Xishan and the development of industry, Yan had personally served as the school’s president for many years. Therefore, it must be well funded. Similarly, the 12th ranked Northeastern University had Zhang Xueliang serving as its president for eight years.

Four, Gossip Link to heading

The sixth-ranked Beiping University is worth mentioning. This university now has no presence due to the fact that during the resistance against Japan, it relocated to the northwest to form the “Northwest United University” and never returned to Beijing.

As early as 1928, the National Government of Nanjing had a grand plan to merge Peking University, Peking Normal University, Peking Agricultural University, Peking Medical University, Peking University of Technology, Peking University of Law and Politics, as well as Beiyang University into one, called “Zhonghua University”. However, it was unexpected that Peking University, with its proud spirit, firmly opposed the plan. Perhaps the Ministry of Education felt that the name “Zhonghua University” would not hold up without Peking University, so some of the major universities were merged to form “Beiping University”.

The glory of “Southwest Associated University” has overshadowed “Northwest Associated University”, and few people know about Xuaba of Fudan and Lizhuang of Tongji. Similar flow effects still exist today, such as everyone knowing that Yuan Longping has made other outstanding agricultural experts unknown.

Peking University’s expansion to Xi’an led to the establishment of several prominent universities such as the industrial powerhouse Xi’an Jiaotong University, as well as Northwest University, Xi’an Medical University, and others, all of which trace their origins back to the Northwest United University mainly founded by Peking University. This is also the root of Xi’an’s developed higher education system today.

Ranked second, Beiyang University was also a part of the Northwest Associated University along with Beijing Normal University. After the Anti-Japanese War, the engineering college of Beiyang University returned to Tianjin and was reorganized as Tianjin University in 1952.

After the Japanese occupation of Beiping, the Wang puppet government reconstructed “Peking University.” The prose master Zhou Zuoren served as the library director and dean of the School of Literature, which is the source of his collaborationist label. And Yu Min, one of the pioneers of the atomic bomb and hydrogen bomb, was admitted to this “false Peking University” at that time.

The 9th place Nantong University is not the present-day Nantong University. The former private Nantong University was the leading institution in the textile industry. Its successor, Donghua University, remains a leading institution in textile engineering.

Not many people have heard of Xiangqin University, ranked 16th, but its architecture and civil engineering programs are exceptional. Its offshoot, the architecture department of South China University of Technology, has consistently ranked among the top tier.

“Peking University and Tsinghua University are only ranked 17th and 18th, fun isn’t it? On one hand, Southwest Associated University, ranked 24th, did not merge, but that is not the main reason for their lower ranking. I guess both universities were more focused on humanities and social sciences, which affected the results due to the smaller number of students in engineering.”

Five, ranked 21-50.

Ranking School name. Alumni count.
(美)密歇根大学 162
(US) University of Michigan
21 焦作工学院 146
Jiaozuo Institute of Technology.
22 河北工学院 145
Hebei Institute of Technology.
23 西北工学院 143
Northwestern Polytechnical University
24 西南联合大学 137
Southwest United University
(美)普度大学 127
Purdue University,USA
25 国民大学 113
National University
26 圣约翰大学 109
St. John’s University
27 重庆大学 100
Chongqing University
(美)哥伦比亚大学 98
Columbia University,USA
28 南开大学 98
Nankai University
(德)柏林工业大学 97
(Germany) Berlin University of Technology
29 香港大学 93
The University of Hong Kong
(美)伊利诺伊大学 93
University of Illinois (USA)
30 震旦大学 87
Chung Shan Medical University.
31 天津工商学院 85
Tianjin University of Commerce
32 浙江工专 84
Zhejiang Vocational College
33 中法工学院 77
Chinese-French Engineering Institute
34 江西工专 74
Jiangxi Vocational College
(美)哈佛大学 69
Harvard University (USA)
35 云南大学 68
Yunnan University
36 吴淞商船学校 65
Wusong Merchant Marine School
37 岭南大学 64
Lingnan University
38 之江大学 60
Zhejiang University.
39 河海工程大学 59
Hohai University
(日)东京帝国大学 58
(Japan) Tokyo Imperial University.
40 福中矿务大学 54
Fukang Mining College
40 大夏大学 54
Daxia University.
42 广西大学 53
Guangxi University
43 雷士德工学院(上海) 45
Shanghai Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts
44 北洋山海关铁路学堂 40
Beiyang Shanhaiguan Railway School
45 南京高等师范 36
Nanjing Normal University
46 山东大学 35
Shandong University
47 江苏工专 21
Jiangsu Institute of Technology
48 唐山路矿学堂 18
Tangshan School of Mines
49 东陆大学 17
East Lushan University
50 齐鲁大学 16
Qilu University
50 东南大学 16
Southeast University

From a large number of records from foreign universities, it can be seen that studying abroad was quite common at that time. The total list of this database is particularly long, with more than 500 schools, perhaps including some that I am not familiar with, such as Claident. (To avoid the table being too long, many foreign schools were omitted from the table.)

Saint John’s, Zhendan, Tongji, and Zhijiang University are all listed universities. I wonder if anyone still remembers their names today. In theory, their engineering legacy is largely continued by Jiao Tong, Tongji, and Zhejiang University today.

A situation that I am a bit confused about is that the reputed National Henan University is not among the top 50 universities, but Henan Water Conservancy and Hydroelectric Power College is quite strong. Perhaps the engineering discipline of Henan University is relatively weak, coupled with the fact that in 1952, Henan University was split and lost its reputation, which garnered widespread sympathy in the province.

Another university that did not make the list is Sichuan University. The reason is likely similar to that of Chongqing University, where Sichuan University mainly focused on liberal arts, science, agriculture, and medicine before the liberation, while Chongqing University had a stronger emphasis on engineering (ranked 27th). Later on, when the Central University was relocated during the Anti-Japanese War, it merged with Chongqing University and occupied its campus. As a key institution for the Kuomintang, the Central University was obviously the focus of dismantling during the reorganization of faculties and departments in 1952, and its affiliated Chongqing University also could not avoid the fate of making contributions.

The legacy of the School of Engineering of Central University has been passed down to prestigious universities such as Southeast University, Hohai University, Xi’an Jiaotong University, and University of Electronic Science and Technology of China. However, based on this ranking, its School of Engineering should be considered as part of the second tier of universities after Jiaotong University and Beiyang University.

During the departmental adjustments of the 1950s, Tsinghua suffered tremendous losses. Its renowned schools of literature, science, law, agriculture, and others were all sold off, and even its School of Engineering did not remain intact. It sponsored the establishment of North Aviation, Geology, Petroleum, and Steel institutes. According to statistics, Tsinghua lost 97 academicians, far exceeding other universities. It should be noted that academicians at that time were not as numerous as they are today.

It is a mystery how Tsinghua University, Peking University, and Yanjing University’s School of Engineering, which were once considered weak, managed to turn the tide and become the undisputed leaders in engineering today.

Those who have read “Jin’s World University Rankings” should know that I actually disdain university rankings. Therefore, what is the significance of making such an outdated ranking that is a century old?

For most people, it really doesn’t have any meaning.

This is similar to the vast amount of information we receive every day. We think we have gained “knowledge” by reading them. But in fact, we haven’t. You are just being indoctrinated with other people’s thoughts and emotions, and even implanted with their likes or dislikes and anger.

Until one day, these pieces of information interacted with the accumulated knowledge stored within the brain for many years, resulting in the emergence of something new, which began to be output in reverse.

Just like this article. It is full of bias and definitely has its flaws, but this is precisely a type of freedom to let one’s thoughts soar.

University is a place to shape one’s outlook on life and the world: daring to question outdated textbooks and teachers, establishing one’s own cognitive system, is likely much more important than being indoctrinated with “knowledge” and learning to solve problems using formulas.

“Stay faithful to your goals, and never lose sight of your thoughts while pursuing them”—A shared motivation with classmates.