Peking University (PKU)
北京大学

China

A beacon for Chinese higher education

When Peking University (PKU) was founded in 1898 as the first modern university established by China’s central government, its reputation as a national beacon for higher education was set up. In the 120 years since, this premier university has led academic freedom and research innovation in China by fostering young minds, generating ideas that advance human civilization and producing cutting-edge science and technologies.

In the early republic years of China, PKU was the birthplace of the ideas of modern science and democracy. Following the principles of academic freedom and integration of varying ideas, which still carry on, it has attracted many leading figures of contemporary Chinese history, including Mao Zedong, Lu Xun and Hu Shi.

PKU established itself as a multidisciplinary research university after the restructuring of national higher education in 1952. Today, a comprehensive research university featuring a diverse range of subjects, including basic and applied sciences, medicine, social sciences, humanities, management and education, PKU is internationally renowned for its excellence and is placed among the top 50 in many world university rankings.

Selected as a key university for the national plan of building world-class universities, PKU launched comprehensive reforms at its centenary, which have led to significant progresses in research, student training, social service, team building and international collaboration. In 2000, it merged with Beijing Medical University, leading to a new chapter.

Advancing research

PKU has improved academic planning with its reform. Underlining its traditional subject strengths, it also promotes integration of subject areas to grow interdisciplinary programmes and cutting-edge research. Examples of its efforts include the establishment of the Beijing International Center for Mathematical Research, International Center for Quantum Materials, Institute of Molecular Medicine, the Biodynamic Optical Imaging Center, and the Institute of Social Science Survey. With novel management mechanisms, these research institutes have gathered world-class research teams for PKU. Reform of the human resources system has further stimulated researcher creativity, enhanced the faculty team, and contributed to the emergence of a wave of bright scholars with international impact.

As a result, PKU has made significant results in a range of research fields, including nonlinear and ultrafast photonics, the discovery of the brightest quasar and a massive black hole, theoretical research on quantum singularity, rare Earth functional materials, total synthesis of complex natural products and high-throughput single cell genome sequencing. The development of novel drugs, viral vaccines, a high-speed, high-resolution, two-photon fluorescence microscope, and new energy materials have demonstrated PKU’s research excellence in both basic and applied research. The university has also contributed to the development of humanities and social sciences by compiling several Chinese masterpieces and social survey databases. The burgeoning cross-disciplinary research in clinical medicine, regional studies, big data analytics and artificial intelligence demonstrate PKU’s commitment to interdisciplinarity.

Serving national needs

Many of PKU’s research results are widely applied in industry and are in line with national development needs. The pressure swing adsorption technology for gas separation is used by manufacturers around the world to make high-purity oxygen and in oil refineries; advances in the atomic clock improve the accuracy of GPS; the development of carbon-based nanoelectronics has the potential to transform the microchip industry; a new tumour-imaging agent developed at PKU allows early detection of cancer; and improved intervention in pregnancies with likely birth defects promotes reproductive health nationwide.

Furthermore, PKU researchers have contributed to policy-making by providing advice to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and offering potential solutions to international financial crises and regional conflicts. Domestically, their policy research has played a significant role in national health system reform, economic management system reform, and mid- and long-term strategic planning of economy, education, science and technology for local and central governments. The university has established strategic cooperation agreements with 24 provincial regions, with a focus on collaborative development of the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region.

As China’s leader in higher education, PKU also actively promotes China’s educational system reform by piloting reform policies on campus. In support of the central government’s ‘Belt and Road’ initiative, it has set programmes to bolster the higher education development in remote areas like Tibet and Xinjiang.

Improving student training

With the goal of fostering future leaders, PKU strives to provide the best learning experience for students. The university has effectively combined research with student training to increase opportunities for exploratory experiments and hands-on practice. By building interdisciplinary courses and programmes, encouraging double-degrees, and enabling selecting courses across campus, PKU seeks to improve its general education system and reinforce the subject area core curriculum, providing interdisciplinary education and enabling students’ individualized development. For graduate students, the university has improved its financial aid and scholarship system to support the construction of academic programmes. By differentiating academic and professional tracks, setting separate evaluation systems for them, it makes graduate education more targeted.

Broadening international collaboration

PKU has established a broad, multi-level network for international communication, with partnerships extending to 380-plus universities and research institutions in more than 60 countries/regions. Many of these have led to joint educational or research platforms with the world’s top academic institutions. Examples include the Kavli Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics, the IDG/McGovern Institute for Brain Research and the Cambridge Peking University China Centre. PKU is also an active member of various international university alliances, giving China a voice in the international education arena.

With enhanced international collaboration, the work of more and more PKU researchers is recognized globally. Many have won major international awards or honorary titles, or taking important roles in international agencies, academic institutes and journals. These have significantly boosted PKU’s international profile and expanded its academic impact.

As China’s cradle for high-quality and creative talent, a major base for cutting-edge research and knowledge innovation, and an important bridge for international communication, PKU is proud of its achievements. But it is aiming higher; with a goal to join the world’s top universities. “We want to lead world-class universities,” said Lin Jianhua, PKU’s president. “We cannot just follow others, but must lead the way ourselves.” Building on its past success, PKU is walking its own path by collaboration, integration and innovate, surpassing itself continually.

Peking University’s Custom Publishing on Nature: You can find more information on Peking University: Leading academic innovation in China for 120 years.

1 October 2017 - 30 September 2018

Region: Global
Subject/journal group: All

The table to the right includes counts of all research outputs for Peking University (PKU) published between 1 October 2017 - 30 September 2018 which are tracked by the Nature Index.

Hover over the donut graph to view the FC output for each subject. Below, the same research outputs are grouped by subject. Click on the subject to drill-down into a list of articles organized by journal, and then by title.

Note: Articles may be assigned to more than one subject area.

AC FC
1375 402.46

Outputs by subject (FC)

Subject AC FC
Chemistry 551 186.99
Physical Sciences 612 155.26
Life Sciences 239 84.40
Earth & Environmental Sciences 189 46.86

Highlight of the month

Mercury rising in China’s waters

© View Stock/Getty

© View Stock/Getty

Wildlife in China’s rivers faces rising mercury levels as changing land-use patterns increase soil erosion.

Much of the mercury in soils today was deposited by human activities, such as mining and burning fossil fuels. But the processes driving mercury transfer between land, water and air are poorly understood.

A team including researchers from Peking University analysed soil erosion data and mercury measurements across China and found that rainfall-induced erosion, which in some regions was enhanced by deforestation, flushes vast quantities of mercury from the soil. The amount of mercury unleashed nearly doubled between 1990 and 2010 to reach 420 tonnes, with some 300 tonnes flowing into streams. This is problematic as mercury becomes extremely toxic to humans and animals when it reacts with bacteria in soil or water.

A better understanding of how past and present human activities affect the mercury cycle will help guide efforts to reduce mercury pollution.

Supported content

  1. Environmental Science and Technology 52, 6945−6956 (2018). doi: 10.1021/acs.est.8b01319

View the article on the Nature Index

See more research highlights from Peking University (PKU)

More research highlights from Peking University (PKU)

1 October 2017 - 30 September 2018

International vs. domestic collaboration by FC

  • 63.3% Domestic
  • 36.7% International

Note: Hover over the graph to view the percentage of collaboration.

Note: Collaboration is determined by the fractional count (FC), which is listed in parentheses.

Affiliated joint institutions and consortia

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