Pursuing Excellence: Eighty Years of Academic Sinica

Tags: Academia Sinica | development | research

In 1928, the National Government in Nanking officially established Academia Sinica as the highest research organization of the nation. After overcoming many difficulties and many changes of venue during the war years, in 1949 a portion of its members and facilities were settled in Taiwan. Academia Sinica managed to surmount further difficulties and continue to develop to the point where today it numbers among the top academic institutions in the world. This special exhibition focuses on five topics - the major events of Academia Sinica's history, its presidents, its academicians and the Academician Convocations, its various institutes, and the physical campus - bringing together written sources, digital images, and computerized archives in order to illustrate the progress made over the last eighty years since Academia Sinica was founded.
Major Developments in the History of Academia Sinica
Of the 80 years since Academia Sinica was founded, the first 20 years took place in Mainland China. In the initial period between 1928 and 1937, Academia Sinica began to develop robustly, but with Japan's invasion of China, it had to move behind the lines. Then when the war ended and its return was underway, Academia Sinica faced the civil war between the Nationalists and the Communists. Only the members and the library of the Institute of History and Philology and a portion of the library of the Institute of Mathematics were transported to Taiwan, together with the Nationalist Government around 1949. This marks the beginning of the Taiwanese era of Academia Sinica. Conditions were initially harsh, but with the gradual stabilization of political conditions and economic development, the organizational structure of Academia Sinica has become increasingly solid and its research has become increasingly innovative and broad over time. The history of Academic Sinica thus epitomizes to a degree the developments in modern China's politics, economics, and academic culture.

The Presidents

The President of Academia Sinica, directly designated by the Presidential Office of the Republic of China, is in charge of all administrative and executive affairs. The first president, Tsai Yuan-Pei, was appointed by the Nationalist Government in 1928. In March 1940 the Council of Academia Sinica selected 3 candidates, and then in September Chairman Chiang Kai-shek appointed one of them, Chu Chia-Hua, to be acting president of Academia Sinica. Hu Shih, the third president, was appointed by the President of the Nationalist Government in November 1957. Since then, it has been the rule that candidates for the Academia Sinica presidency were chosen from the Academicians and appointed by the President of the country. In October 2001, Academia Sinica revised the organizational regulations to establish the president's term of office. Lee Yuan-Tseh served two terms, the seventh and eighth, and now Wong Chi-Huey is the present and ninth term president.

Of the eight presidents of Academia Sinica, the backgrounds of Tsai Yuan-Pei, Hu Shih, and Wang Shi-Chieh were in the social sciences, while the backgrounds of Chu Chia-Hua, Chien Shi-Liang, Wu Ta-You, and Lee Yuan-Tseh were in mathematics and physics, while that of the current president, Wong Chi-Huey, is in the life sciences.

Tsai Yuan-Pei
(1928 – 1940)
Chu Chia-Hua
(1940 – 1957)
Hu Shih
(1957 – 1962)
Wang Shi-Chieh
(1962 – 1970)

Chien Shi-Liang
(1970 – 1983)
Wu Ta-You
(1983 – 1994)
Lee Yuan-Tseh
(1994 – 2006)
Wong Chi-Huey
(2006 – Present )

Academicians and the Convocation of Academicians

With the establishment of Academia Sinica, the first president, Tsai Yuan-Pei had the idea of granting membership and honorary membership to scholars who had made great contribution's to their fields - in accord with the practice of many academic organizations in the United States and Europe. These scholars were encouraged to further academic research and to form a self-governing academic body. On the basis of the organizational regulations of Academia Sinica and the regulations of the Convocation of Academicians, academicians are appointed to this honorary position for life, and their rights include selecting academicians and honorary academicians and members of the Council of Academia Sinica, giving advice in regard to national academic policies, and being tasked by governmental or other relevant agencies to carry out academic design, investigation, screening, and other research agendas. Since the first Convocation of Academicians was held in 1948, as many as twenty-six groups have been elected, meeting on twenty-seven occasions, with a total of 392 members.

Current Institutes/Preparatory Offices/Research Centers


There are 31 research units in Academia Sinica:

Division of Mathematics and Physical Sciences: 11 units
7 institutes:
Institute of Mathematics
Institute of Physics
Institute of Chemistry
Institute of Earth Science
Institute of Information Science
Institute of Statistical Science
Institute of Atomic and Molecular Sciences
1 preparatory office:
Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics
3 research centers:
Research Center for Applied Sciences
Research Center for Environmental Changes
Research Center for Information Technology Innovation
Division of Life Sciences: 8 units
5 institutes:
Institute of Plant and Microbial Biology
Institute of Cellular and Organismic Biology
Institute of Biological Chemistry
Institute of Biomedical Sciences
Institute of Molecular Biology
3 research centers:
Agricultural Biotechnology Research Center
Genomics Research Center
Biodiversity Research Center
Division of Humanities and Social Science: 12 units
9 institutes:
Institute of History and Philology
Institute of Ethnology
Institute of Modern History
Institute of Economics
Institute of European and American Studies
Institute of Chinese Literature and Philosophy
Institute of Taiwan History
Institute of Sociology
Institute of Linguistics
2 preparatory offices:
Institute of Political Science
Institutum Iurisprudentiae
1 research center
The Campus
When Academia Sinica was first established in 1928, the Central Office of Administration was located in Nanking, the capital city, though some of the institutes were located in Shanghai and Peking. Soon after the Sino-Japanese war broke out in 1937, some institutes were moved to Guangxi, Yunnan, and Sichuan provinces. Some institutes - moving many times - actually had no sites of their own but only temporary offices. At the end of the war in 1946, some of the institutes moved back to their original sites in Nanking, but some institutes decided to move to the Zaijun Laboratory and Xingfo Laboratory in Shanghai. In 1954, construction work started on a new campus in Nankang, Taipei, and the campus gradually expanded to both banks of Sifen Stream, creating today's campus. Located also on National Taiwan University campus are the Institute of Atomic and Molecular Sciences, part of the Institute of Biological Chemistry, and the preparatory office of the Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics, due to their collaborative work with the university. Additionally, the Institute of Cellular and Organismic Biology runs a Marine Research Station in Yilan County.

President Tsai Yuan-Pei and colleagues in Peking, China; 1932.

Central Office of Administration, Nanking, China; 1936.

Land purchased in Nankang, Taiwan to establish Academia Sinica; 1953.


A bird's eye view of Nankang campus; 1962.

The oldest (1st) section of Nankang campus; 2004.

The Middle Gate with its palm-lined boulevard and 2nd section of Nankang campus.


The main gate of Nankang campus.

The newest (3rd) section of Nankang campus.


For more information, please go to Pursuing Excellence : Eighty Years of Academia Sinica