Cai Yuanpei

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Cai Yuanpei-loc-nodate-crop.jpg
BornJanuary 11, 1868 (1868-01-11)
DiedMarch 5, 1940 (1940-03-06) (aged 72)
OccupationPresident of Peking University
Known forChinese educator
Courtesy name
Traditional Chinese鶴卿
Simplified Chinese鹤卿
Literal meaningLone Citizen

Cai Yuanpei (Chinese: 蔡元培; pinyin: Cài Yuánpéi; Wade–Giles: Ts'ai Yüan-p'ei) (January 11, 1868 – March 5, 1940) was a Chinese educator, Esperantist and the president of Peking University. He was known for his critical evaluation of the Chinese culture that led to the influential May Fourth Movement. In his thinking, Cai was heavily influenced by Anarchism.


Born in Shānyīn Village, Shaoxing Subprefecture, Zhejiang, Cai was appointed to the Hanlin Imperial Academy at 26. In 1898, he became involved in administering institutes and became:

  • Superintendent of Shaoxing Chinese-Western School (紹興中西學堂監督)
  • Head of Sheng District Shanshan College (嵊縣剡山書院院長)
  • Director-Teacher of the Special Class of Nanyang Public School (南洋公學特班總教習)

He established Guangfuhui in 1904 and joined Tongmenghui the next year. After studying philosophy, psychology, and art history in the Universität Leipzig of Germany in 1907 under Karl Lamprecht, he served as the provisional Republic's Minister of Education in January 1912, but later resigned during Yuan Shikai's presidency. Subsequently, he returned to Germany, and then went to France.

Cai returned to China in 1916 and served as the President of Peking University the following year. It was during his tenure at Peking University that he recruited such famous thinkers (and future Chinese Communist Party leaders) to the school as Chen Duxiu and Li Dazhao. In 1927, he co-founded the National College of Music, which later became the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. In April 1928, he became the first president of the Academia Sinica.

Cai advocated the equal importance of five ways of life — "Virtue, Wisdom, Health, Collective, and Beauty" (德、智、體、群、美) — core values that are still taught in schools today in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau. He was also a proponent of women's right to divorce and remarry, he strongly opposed foot binding and concubinage that were widely practiced in China at the time.

Cai Yuanpei died at the age of 72 in Hong Kong.


  • Cai Jianguo (1998). Cai Yuanpei: Gelehrter und Mittler zwischen Ost und West (in German). translated by: Stichler, Hans Christian. Münster [u.a.]
  • Wang Peili (1996). Wilhelm von Humboldt und Cai Yuanpei: eine vergleichende Analyse zweier klassischer Bildungskonzepte in der deutschen Aufklärung und in der ersten chinesischen Republik (in German). Münster, New York: Waxmann.

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Government offices
Preceded by
Position created
President of the Control Yuan
Succeeded by
Zhao Daiwen