Among the famous universities in mainland China today, Nankai University in Tianjin also has quite a history, and its founder is Zhang Bo-ling, who not only founded Nankai University, but also Nankai High School, Nankai Girls’ High School, Nankai Primary School, Nanyu High School (Chongqing Nankai High School) and other Nankai series of schools, which became a model of private schools in China during the Republican era.
Zhang Boling once described himself, “I have neither genius nor specialty, my lifelong efforts of small achievements are only because I have faith and interest in education.” The story of his relationship with Zhou Enlai, who studied at Nankai, has also been repeatedly hyped by the Communist Party’s official media. However, what many people do not know is that Zhou Enlai was expelled by Zhang Boling in the past and then went to France to study. Before the establishment of the Chinese Communist Party, Zhang Boling chose to stay in mainland China instead of going to Taiwan because he mistakenly believed in Zhou Enlai, which led to a depressed death, and his sons were also persecuted and died during the Cultural Revolution.
Founding Nankai High School
Born in Tianjin in April 1876, Zhang Boling joined the Beiyang Naval Academy in his early years to study European and American science and culture, and after graduation, he joined the naval service, hoping to make China strong through the navy. The Sino-Japanese War shattered Zhang Boling’s dream of “saving the country through the navy” and he decided to return to Tianjin to pursue education. According to the comment of one of his Korean friends, “Zhang Boling was an extremely simple person who could not compete with his outstanding contemporaries for a day, but he worked hard on his feet and achieved extraordinary results in his scope of work.” This scope of work is “education”.
After returning to Tianjin, Zhang Boling first took up a home school teaching position at the home of Yan Xiu, who had been the school administrator of Guizhou, the director of education today, teaching mathematics, science and chemistry and English. This was a big news at that time. And in addition to teaching, Zhang Boling also played soccer with his students, played Whist together (the predecessor of bridge), took them out of town to ride bicycles, etc. However, because Yan Xiu and his educational philosophy were the same and both were passionate about education to save the country, the two hit it off immediately. 1904 saw the change of the family school to the Jingye Middle School. In 1906, Yan Xiu bought a new school in Nankaiwa and renamed it Nankai Middle School, with Zhang Boling as the supervisor (i.e. principal).
Nankai High School implemented Western-style education. Under the management of Zhang Bo-ling, it maintained a good academic style, not only the teachers taught seriously and were strict with students, but also the extracurricular activities were colorful and won a high social reputation.
At that time, Nankai High School had many rich and official children. It was fashionable for rich students to smoke paper cigarettes at that time. Every time they came back from the training class during the holidays, the school had to check the smoky yellow of the students’ fingers and the smell of cigarettes in their pockets. Once, a student questioned Zhang Boling: “You told me not to smoke, why do you still smoke?” Zhang Boling was speechless for a moment, so he broke the cigarette pouch and said, “I do not smoke, and you do not smoke!” From then on he never smoked again in his life.
He liked to go to the students’ washroom early in the morning and teach the students from rural areas to use toothbrushes and tooth powder. He also often invited students to his home for dinner, which included Zhou Enlai, whose family was not well-off.
In Nankai High School, Zhang Bo-ling also strictly censored pornographic novels, forbade students to enter brothels, and sent inspectors to the streets where there were many brothels. Students who stayed off campus at night for no reason were required to report their movements in detail and even to go to the school doctor’s office for verification.
With such a strict management system, the reputation of Nankai High School spread outside. As a result, students from all over the world came to take the examination, including Liang Qichao, Feng Yuxiang, Duan Qirui, Yuan Shikai, Huang Xing, Hu Shi, Ye Shengtao, Zhang Zizhong, Zou Taofen and other famous people also assured to send their children to Nankai High School, some students even from Southeast Asian countries. In a few decades, the number of students grew to nearly a thousand.
And Nankai High School in the 100-year period, teachers and students grew into various types of science and technology academicians (including a few foreign academicians) as many as 60 people, including Mei Yiqi, Tao Menghe, Wu Dayou, Qian Siliang, Yin Hongzhang, etc. who became academicians of the national government.
Founding Nankai University
In August 1917, Zhang Boling went to the United States to study education at the Teachers College of Columbia University in New York, and in April of the following year, Yan Xiu also went to the United States for a study tour. The two of them traveled around the United States and Canada, investigating schools of all levels and types, checking their education system in detail, interviewing many principals and teachers, as well as inspecting education-related facilities such as libraries, museums and educational administrative institutions, in preparation for the establishment of Nankai University.
After returning to China, the first priority in front of Yan Xiu, Zhang Boling and others was to raise the large sum of money needed for the soon-to-be-established Nankai University. According to “Yan Xiu’s Chronicle” and “Zhang Boling’s Chronicle”, before May 1919, Yan and Zhang went to Tianjin, Beijing, Taiyuan, Baoding, Nanjing and other places to raise funds, and met with various military and political dignitaries. Finally, Nankai got donations from Xu Shichang, Li Yuanhong, Li Chun, Yan Xishan, Liang Shiyi and others. “Cao Rulin, whose house was burned by the students during the May Fourth Movement, was a member of the Nankai Council.
Besides raising funds, Zhang Boling also knew the importance of good teachers for a university. As early as in the United States, he hired some students to teach at Nankai, and then he also recruited teachers from famous universities in China, promising to provide good treatment.
After much preparation, Nankai University was officially opened in September 1919 with 96 students, including Zhou Enlai, and was divided into three disciplines: Arts, Science and Commerce. The motto of the university was “to be fair and just, and to change with each passing day”.
Nankai University, of which Zhang Boling was the president, advocated Western-style education and student-teacher relations. Not only were most of the teachers young scholars who had studied in the United States, but also “the curriculum, textbooks, experiments, experimental equipment, including earthworms for experiments, all came from the United States.
In addition, in the management of school affairs, Zhang Bo-ling also respected the opinions of teachers and proposed the policy of “open school affairs, shared responsibility, and cooperation between teachers and students”. Soon after the establishment of Nankai, he set up a study group for teachers and students on school affairs to consult teachers regularly. Later, he also printed a letter of opinions for teachers and students, divided into motions, reasons and methods, so that teachers and students could make positive suggestions on school affairs and then discuss them in categories for early implementation. What makes the teachers more satisfied is that Nankai has a streamlined and efficient organization. The administrative staff is very lean, and all of them can work hard. As a result, more and more famous scholars have come to Nankai to teach.
For himself, Zhang Bo-ling was strict. In Nankai High School, he only took one salary from the principal. After the establishment of the university, he only received 30 or 40 yuan more at the university, which was one half of the salary of university graduates at that time. Whenever he went to Beijing, he always stayed in an ordinary inn in Shijia Hutong outside Qianmen to save money for the school, with a daily room charge of one yuan. He never enriched himself with the donated money. In November 1919, St. John’s University in Shanghai awarded him an honorary degree of Doctor of Letters.
However, Zhang Boling was criticized for introducing Western dramas and performing with his students on stage, which corrupted the “scholarly tradition” and violated the “dignity of the teacher”. In addition, he was also criticized for placing too much emphasis on Western education at the expense of traditional Chinese humanities education.
Because of the criticism, Zhang Boling began to rethink the method of Chinese education, thinking how to use western education to do Chinese affairs, and thus he developed the line of industrial development. He also offered a number of practical courses: lecturing, office management, sales science and advertising. At that time, chemical industry was the pillar of industry in Tianjin, so Zhang Boling established the Department of Applied Chemistry in Nankai, and the research results were provided to relevant manufacturers for free, and even manufacturers in Yunnan came to Nankai for help.
With this line of industrial development, Nankai University rose to fame in the late 1920s, which also made no unemployed students graduate from Nankai University. However, Zhang Boling was also criticized for his “profit-oriented” approach to “industrial development”.
It is said that the tuition fee of Nankai, a private university, was very high at that time, “90 yuan for one academic year, and 120 yuan for one year with other fees, which was equivalent to the income of a middle-income family for four or five years, so the average person could not afford to go to school. Beijing University is just over 30 yuan a year.” However, its accounts were completely open and placed in the library for people to see. Zhang Boling once said that if anyone checked the accounts for the month, he could tell them within five minutes.
On December 24, 1930, Zhang Boling went to Nanking for the first time to meet with Chiang Kai-shek and other people in order to obtain subsidies for Nankai University, and Chiang readily agreed. Since 1932, the national government began to grant subsidies to Nankai University, which amounted to 62,000 yuan per year in 1932 and 1933, and 140,000 yuan in 1934, plus 40,000 yuan from the Ministry of Education and 6,000 yuan from the Hebei Provincial Education Department, totaling 186,000 yuan. At that time, the annual income of Nankai University was only 400,000 yuan.
Later, after the internal relocation of Nankai, Chiang Kai-shek and other Kuomintang dignitaries also donated money to support it, Chiang personally donated 50,000 yuan in French currency, and Executive President Kong Xiangxi, Sichuan Provincial Chairman Zhang Qun, and Seventh War Zone Commander Liu Xiang also generously donated.
After Zhang Boling successfully founded Nankai University, Nankai Girls’ High School was established in 1923. In 1928, Nankai Primary School was established. By now, Nankai finally became a series of schools including four departments.
Nankai under the fire of war
Soon after the outbreak of the war against Japan in 1937, Pingjin fell and the Nankai campus was bombed by the invading Japanese air force on July 29. Rumor has it that the Japanese destroyed Nankai because the word “Nankai” alludes to the fact that it is “open to the south” and is the business of the emperor. At that time, the Japanese army held a press conference before razing Nankai University to the ground. At that time, Zhang Boling was seeking financial support from Chiang Kai-shek in Nanjing.
When he heard the news of the bombing of Nankai University, Zhang Boling was devastated, and on August 1, Chiang Kai-shek, then chairman of the National Government, met with Zhang Boling, Jiang Menglin, Hu Shi and other members of the Pingjin education and academic community. Zhang Boling made a generous statement: “Nankai has been burned down by the Japanese, and all my efforts for decades are finished. But as long as the country has a way to fight on, I will be the first one to raise my hand in favor of it. As long as the country has a solution, what is Nankai? After the war, another Nankai will be built.” Jiang immediately reassured Zhang Boling: “Nankai sacrificed for China, and if there is China, there is Nankai!” This promise later became a mandatory phrase when Zhang Boling applied for funding from Chiang Kai-shek.
Later, Zhang Boling said in an interview with the Central Daily News: “The enemy’s bombing of Nankai has destroyed the materials of Nankai, but the spirit of Nankai will be more and more encouraged by this setback. Therefore, I will not be concerned about the material losses suffered by Nankai, but I will be determined to build a new life for Nankai in the spirit of the founding school. With such spirit, I am convinced that it will not be difficult to establish a new scale in a short period of time, and have now set up a Nankai office in Beijing.”
Soon after, Nankai University was ordered to move west to Changsha, together with Tsinghua and Peking University to form Changsha Provisional University, and later to Kunming to form the famous National Southwest United University. In 1938, Nankai High School was renamed as Chongqing Nankai High School.
At this time, Chiang Kai-shek and the national government also gave assistance to Zhang Boling. According to the book “The Greatness of Masters: Southwest United University and the Spirit of Scholars”, in addition to financial support, from 1938 to 1946, Chiang visited Nankai High School twice and visited Zhang Boling five times, and also lent Nankai High School’s large sports field for military parades.
In January 1944, the National Government awarded Zhang Bo-ling the Order of King Star, First Class, as a token of commendation for his lifelong commitment to education.
During the war, Zhang Bo-ling made his position clear at all times – “Chiang Kai-shek is the anti-Japanese leader of the nation”. He also joined the Kuomintang in 1941.
At that time, many Nankai students began to scatter, either joining the army to fight against the war, or going west to resume classes, or waiting and wondering, or joining the Chinese Communist Party, and many Nankai students died for their country.
Nankai after the war
After the victory of the war, in 1946, Tianjin Nankai Middle School and Nankai Girls Middle School (later the second Nankai Middle School) were reopened in Tianjin, and Chongqing Nankai Middle School was renewed in Chongqing, forming four sister schools of Nankai system with Sichuan Zigong Shuguang Middle School, which was undertaken according to Nankai system during the war against Japan.
In April 1946, Chiang Kai-shek signed the document to turn Nankai into a national university. This was to fulfill a promise Chiang Kai-shek had promised to Zhang Boling: to compensate for the cultural devastation the university had suffered from the Japanese invading army in Tianjin on July 29-30, 1937. At the same time, the budget for the demobilization of the three universities was approved, with 7 billion yuan for relocation travel and 3 billion yuan for construction (1 billion yuan for Peking University, 1.2 billion yuan for Tsinghua and 800 million yuan for Nankai).
In the summer of 1948, Zhang Boling became the director of the National Government Examination Yuan, and resigned soon after.
Zhang Boling and Zhou Enlai
Zhou Enlai was admitted to Nankai High School in the autumn of 1913. After entering the school, he was appreciated by the school director Yan Xiu for his outstanding performance in studies and extracurricular activities. Yan Xiu also waived his tuition fees because of his family’s hardship. It is said that Zhou Enlai was the only free student at Nankai High School at that time. During his time at the school, Zhang Boling also invited Zhou Enlai and others to his home for dinner from time to time.
After graduating in June 1917, Zhou Enlai went to Japan to study with the financial support of Yan Xiu and Zhang Boling, etc. In September 1919, before the establishment of Nankai University, Zhou Enlai was recalled to China by Yan Xiu and took the entrance examination, becoming the first student of Nankai University. In early 1920, Zhou Enlai and four others were arrested by the Tianjin authorities for organizing student protests and thrown into prison for six months. After his release, the Ministry of Education of the Beiyang government ordered Nankai University to expel Zhou Enlai from the university, which was accepted by Zhang Boling, who did not approve of what Zhou Enlai had done.
Zhou Enlai, who was expelled from Nankai University, then went to France to study with the financial support of Yan Xiu. Zhou Enlai failed to meet Yan Xiu’s expectations for his education and joined the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in France, presided over the activities of the European branch of the CCP, and led violent activities such as the Chinese Consulate in France and the University of Lyon, where Chinese students stayed in France. From then on, Zhou Enlai’s fate was tightly linked with the CCP.
After the Japanese invasion of China in 1937, Zhang Boling rejoined Zhou Enlai in Wuhan and Chongqing to raise funds for the Nankai School. During the civil war of the Communist Party, the contact between the two sides was again interrupted.
Mistakenly believed that Zhou Enlai stayed in mainland and died of depression
In November 1949, when the Chinese Communist army was about to invade Chongqing, Chiang Kai-shek, who was concerned about Zhang Boling, came to Nankai High School in Chongqing for the second time to urge Zhang Boling to come to the United States. Chiang Kai-shek also said, “You can go to Taiwan, no matter where you go, and I will think of everything for your life!” Zhang Boling bowed his head, his wife said, “We are not going anywhere, he can not let go of his children and grandchildren, and more importantly, his Nankai School!”
I don’t know if this was an excuse, because just before that, Zhang Boling had just received a letter from Zhou Enlai saying that “the old principal would not be allowed to move”. Zhang Boling finally believed Zhou Enlai and stayed on the mainland, and this choice was the beginning of tragedy for his family.
At first, under the care of Zhou Enlai, Zhang Boling temporarily returned to live in Beijing. His second son Zhang Xiyang asked Zhang Boling to write a statement of support for the new regime “for the sake of Nankai and for the sake of his family”, but Zhang Boling said he had to take a second look at the new Chinese Communist regime, and he disagreed that “it is only after breaking up with Mr. Chiang that he cursed Mr. Chiang like the Communist Party, he needs to think more about it. He disagreed with the idea that “we need to think more about this. And this should be the reason why he was treated coldly by the CCP.
After the establishment of the Chinese Communist Party, the private Nankai series of schools were all nationalized by the Chinese Communist Party. The day after he returned to Tianjin in September 1950, Zhang Boling went to Nankai High School, but he was treated coldly and eventually booted out. When he went to Nankai Girls’ High School, the students gathered around him and raised a ruckus.
Half a century later, Liang Jisheng, who has studied Zhang Boling for decades, told this history in the teachers’ apartment of Nankai University: “Zhang Boling said, ‘I was abandoned by the new China’. Nankai was built by him and was almost his private property. Do you know that when he came back to Tianjin from abroad in 1947, the whole city welcomed him. Thousands of people arrived at the Tianjin East Station and the YMCA almost decided to ring the bells of the whole city.”
October 17, 1950, was the school celebration of Nankai High School. Zhang Boling was refused to attend, and he could only sit disheveled in his chair without saying a word. Did Zhang Boling, who had mistakenly believed in Zhou Enlai, begin to regret at this time?
Four months later, on February 23, 1951, Zhang Boling died of depression. Except for a brief report in the Tianjin Daily, the mainland press adopted a collective silence on him. His last will and testament wished Nankai teachers and students to “support freedom, build a free and democratic China, and resist to death the totalitarian power”. Sadly, his wish has not been realized so far, but does this show that he had already seen the face of the Chinese Communist Party before he died?
In addition, Zhang Bo-ling’s last wish was to be buried on the campus of Nankai University, but some people refused to do so, saying that Nankai University is the people’s, not Zhang Bo-ling’s. And Zhou Bo-ling, who attended the condolence service in a low profile, was buried in Nankai University. And Zhou Enlai, who attended the condolence in a low profile, said when he saw Zhang Boling’s will, “It is a pity that two sentences are missing, namely, that Zhang Boling should show remorse and bow down to the people.”
On March 31, the Central Reform Committee of the Kuomintang held a grand memorial meeting for Zhang Boling in Taipei, and Chiang wrote an elegiac couplet: “Shouzheng is unyielding, and many scholars are clinging to it.” to express his condolences. Nankai alumni in Taiwan have been commemorating him with memorial collections and eulogies. In the future, every 10th birthday anniversary of Zhang Boling, Taiwan will hold a memorial meeting.
After Zhang Bo-ling’s death, his family did not escape the movement of the Chinese Communist Party. During the Cultural Revolution, his eldest son, Zhang Xilu, who was a mathematician, his second son, Zhang Xiyang, who was a businessman, and his third son, Zhang Xizhao, were all destroyed and persecuted to death. And such a fate was sealed from the moment Zhang Boling chose to believe in Zhou Enlai.