Few universities in the world are so intimately tied to a nation’s founding and development as is the National Southwestern Associated University, known as Xinan Lianda in Chinese. Though it was only open for several years, its history and graduates have played a key role in modern China.
On May 29, a documentary called One Day When We Were Young invited 16 alumni – all famous scholars – to share their stories about the university. A TV series to be released, The National Southwest Associated University And Us will tell stories of students in the university who study hard to serve our motherland.
The National Southwestern Associated University was born during wartime. In 1937, Japan invaded northern China. To escape Japanese blockades and aerial bombardments, the remaining students and faculty at Peking University, Tsinghua University and Nankai University retreated to Changsha, Hunan province, and later headed south to Kunming, Yunnan province. As they worked together, the three universities merged into National Southwestern Associated University.
Studying there was never easy. Students were short of food, books and clothing. Forty students had to live in a big thatched room. Bugs were everywhere. Sometimes they were subjected to sporadic bombing by the Japanese.
Even so, the university still served “as a beacon of hope during the bleakest hours of the Japanese invasion” for students, noted the Global Times. Here they could continue their study and animatedly debate the future of China with teachers.
According to the Global Times, Xinan Lianda had five colleges and 26 departments, with 179 elite professors. They included famous figures like linguist Chen Yinke, historian Qian Mu, architect Liang Sicheng and philosopher Feng Youlan. Three principals of the university, Jiang Menglin, Mei Yiqi and Zhang Boling, received both Chinese and Western education. Students here could have a higher education based in large part on the American model. It sought to provide general education and academic freedom.
Though Xinan Lianda was disbanded and each school moved back to its original home in 1946, the experience of studying there had an everlasting impact on students.
Two of its students, Yang Zhenning and Li Zhengdao, shared the Nobel Prize in physics in 1957. Yang has said many times in the past that his experience in Kunming profoundly influenced his career and that he would not have been as successful without it.
该校的两名学生 —— 杨振宁与李政道于1957年获得诺贝尔物理学奖。杨振宁此前曾多次提及，他在昆明的经历深刻地影响着他的职业生涯，没有这段经历他也无法取得成功。
“The National Southwestern Associated University set a good example for contemporary Chinese universities, and there are many treasured legacies for us to inherit, to cherish, and to share,” Li Zhong, vice-president of the university’s Beijing alumni association, told the Global Times.