In 1919, with the assistance of all walks of life, Nankai University was founded by the patriotic educators Mr.Zhang Boling and Mr. Yan Fansun on the principles of art to regulate the country, science to strengthen the country, and business to richen the country. Combined with Chinese reality and Western mode of running school, Nankai University set up Chinese history and society as its academic setting and solving native problems as its educational objective. In 1920s and 1930s Nankai University grew to be the most famous private university.
Ever since its foundation, the University has held as its objective a well-balanced development in morality, intelligence, physical education and art. In accordance with its motto of dedication to the public interests, acquisition of all-round capability and aspiration for daily progress, the university has been dedicated to cultivating the students' public virtues of patriotism and collectivism and developing their abilities to serve the country. By advocating sporting, science, plays, publication and a variety of societal activities, Nankai University attaches great importance to personality cultivation and moral training as well as capability development, and thus stands out in modern Chinese educational history. Having put forward the educational policy of knowing China to serve China, the University has opened a series of specialties catering to social demands and, after long-term hard work, has made a name for its high-level academic environment, prudent scientific training and down-to-the-earth style. The University has produced batches of prominent talents such as late Premier Zhou Enlai, Dr. Shiing-shen Chern, Dr. Ta-you Wu and playwright Cao Yu.
When the University was founded, there were only three disciplines, Arts, Sciences and Business, with the number of students totaling 96 and Zhou Enlai being among the first Arts enrollees (student number 62). In 1920 a fourth discipline of Mineralogy was added but stopped in 1926. In 1927 the Committee of Social Economic Research (later Economic Research Institute) and Research Committee of Manchu and Mongolia (later North-eastern Research Institute)were set up. The Economic Research Institute focused on field work and economic statistics mainly on price index and published Economic Weekly and Yearbook of Nankai Index, which were frequently referred to by domestic and international adademies. In 1929 the disciplines were merged into 4 schools, viz. School of Arts, School of Sciences, School of Business and Medical Prep, with 13 Departments in total. In 1931 the School of Business was merged with the Department of Economics and the Committee of Social Economic Research into the School of Economics, and the Department of Chemical Engineering and Department of Electrical Engineering were established within the School of Sciences. In 1932 the Institute of Applied Chemistry was founded.
In its early years, as a private university, the School's sources of financing relied mainly on funds groups and personal donations, with some sources coming from government subsidy, tuition and revenues from the School's assets. The School was kept in small scale with its enrollment in 1937 no more than 429. Nevertheless, it boasted a strong group of faculty, such as Ling Bing and Zhang Pengchun in Education, Jiang Lifu and Liu Jinnian in Mathematics, Rao Yutai in Physics, Qiu Zongyue and Yang Shixian in Chemistry, Li Jidong and Xiong Dashi in Biology, Jiang Tingfu in History, Li Ji in Anthropology, Xiao Gongquan and Xumo in Politics, He Lian, Fang Xianting, Chen Xujing, Li Zhuomin in Economics, Huang Yusheng in Psychology, Liu Wuji and Situ Yuelan in English, Feng Wenqian in Philosophy, Zhang Kezhong and Zhang Hongyuan in Chemical Engineering. Such eminent figures as Zhu Kezhen in Geology and Meteorology, Tang Yongtong in Philosophy, Fan Wenlan in History, Luo Longji in Politics and Ta-you Wu in Physics also lectured in Nankai.
In July, 1937 Nankai University was bombed by Japanese Army, two thirds of its buildings were ruined. In August, Nankai University, Peking University (Beijng University) and Tsinghua University (Qinghua University) united in Changsha to form Changsha Temporary University, and the three Presidents worked together as members of the Standing Committee to chair the School. 1n April of 1938 Changsha Temporary University was moved to Kunming and was changed into Southwest Associated University. In 1939 the Economic Institute of Nankai was transferred to Nankai Middle School located in Shapingba of Chongqing city and kept recruiting graduates. In July of 1942 the Research Center of Frontier Humanities was set up in Kunming and Frontier Humanities was published. During the Southwest Associated University period, the three schools, standing through thick and thin, produced a great amount of noted scientists and patriotic revolutionaries.
After the victory of Anti-Japanese War, the three schools was moved back to their respective site. In 1946 Nankai University became to be financed by the State, and was divided into 4 schools and 16 departments apart from the Economic Institute, Institute of Applied Chemistry, and Research Center of Frontier Humanities. More famous professors came to lecture, Wu Daren, Wang Yuzhe, Bian Zhilin, to name a few.
After 1949 Nankai opened a new page in its history. It has long been given much attention by the central government. Chairman Mao wrote the name for Nankai University in 1950 and came to Nankai for inspection in 1958, while Premier Zhou Enlai came to Nankai successively in 1951, 1957 and 1959. Chinese top leaders like Jiang Zemin, Li Peng, Zhu Rongji, Wen Jiabao and Jia Qinglin all came to Nankai for inspection.
In 1952 after the reshuffling of organizations in universities, Nankai University became a comprehensive university of Arts and Sciences, with 14 departments and 3 professional specialties in total. Since then, such scholars as Zheng Tianting, Lei Haizong, Wu Tingqiu, Li Helin, Zhu Weizhi, Jiang Ancai, Chen Renlie, Li Jiye, JI Taoda, Gu Changdong, Wen Gongyi, Zeng Dinghe and Yang Zongpan were transferred successively to Nankai and a group of overseas scholars came to join Nankai, such as Wang Ganyu, He Binglin, Chen Rongti, Chen Ruyu, Chen Tianchi, Wang Jitao, and Yan Zhida.
From 1966 to 1976 the School's normal life was out of order due to the Cultural Revolution. Even worse, in 1976 a catastrophic earthquake broke out in Tangshan bordering Tianjin, causing damages of varying degrees to the School's buildings.
However, Nankai University soon stepped into a new era after China's Open and Reform policy. After 1980, in order to meet the demands for socialist modernization, the School added a batch of new specialties and institutes. In Arts, applied specialties on financing were set up and the School of Economics was reopened in 1983, while in Sciences, interdisciplinary, marginal and high and new technological specialties were added. By the late 1980s, Nankai University had grown to be a comprehensive university embracing Humanities, Natural Sciences, Applied Sciences, Life Sciences, Managements and Art.
In 1994 Tianjin Foreign Trade College was incorporated into Nankai University.
In the past few years, to cater to demands of fast social economic development, the University has created various brand-new modes of running school which have extended its education far into all walks of life. In 1999 under the combined efforts of Nankai University and TEDA, TEDA College was set up, which was entitled the SAR of higher education. In 2000 the State Ministry of Education signed an agreement with Tianjin Municipal Government on jointly establishing and developing Nankai University. Experimental cooperation between Nankai University and Tianjin University was initiated on the principle of independent school-running and close cooperation. In 2002 under the cooperative efforts of Nankai University, Shen Zhen Municipal Government and UC Berkeley, Financial Engineering College was established in Shenzhen. In 2003 Nankai University joined with Dagang District government of Tianjin to set up Binhai College.
In 2002 the University laid down objectives for the few years to come. By 2010 Nankai University will have been developed into a comprehensive, research-oriented and creative high-level university with appropriate scale, reasonable structure and unique characters. Given a considerable improvement in education, research and administration, Nankai will become the stronghold for providing original talents, scientific and technological innovation and serving economic and social development. Given some other Five-year Plans, by the mid of 21st century, the University will have been listed among the world universities of first order.
To achieve these objectives, the University has devised a development philosophy of excellence, powerfulness and characteristics and five strategies are taken in force to enhance its core competitiveness, that is, talent strategy, leading specialty strategy, education quality improvement strategy, scientific and technological innovation strategy and internationalization strategy.
He Lian, Yang Shixian, Zang Boping, Teng Weizao, Mu Guoguang, Hou Zixin and Rao Zihe succeeded to the President of Nankai University after Zhang Boling. The present President is Gong Ke.