Yuelu Academy, also as known as the Yuelu Academy of Classical Learning, is situated at the eastern foot of Yuelu Mountain on the campus of Hunan University in Changsha, the capital of Hunan Province. Survived the Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties, the Yuelu Academy is honored as a “one-thousand-year-old academy”. It is one of the four greatest academies in ancient China, and the only one of the ancient Chinese academies of classical learning to have evolved into a modern institution of higher learning.
Yuelu Academy was founded in 976 AD during the Northern Song Dynasty (1127-1279). For more than 1,000 years, Yuelu Academy has been a divine spot for Confucianism education and a center of culture and literature. There have been countless talented students learning here. Especially in the late 19th century and 20th century, it witnessed a great number of patriotic thinkers, politicians, militarists, industrialists and diplomats. Mao Tse-tung studied there at his young age.
Facing the Xiang River with its back to Yuelu Mountain, Yuelu Academy mainly comprises the Main Gate, the Lecture Hall, Yushu Library, Banxue Building, Six Gentleman Hall, Hexi Platform, and Xiangshui School Academy, etc. Most of the existing buildings were constructions of the Ming and Qing dynasties.
The words Yue Lu Shu Yuan (Yuelu Academy) on the horizontal board of the Main Gate were the handwritings of Emperor Zhenzong of the Song Dynasty (960AD-1279AD). From then on, Yuelu Academy became well-known all around the country and students came to study in an endless stream. On the two door posts is a couplet, which read “Kingdom of Chu, the unique home of talents; Academy of Yuelu, the very cradle of all”. This couplet originates from Chinese classics and gives the fact that talents have been brought up continuously by the Academy since its establishment.
The Lecture Hall is a core building of the Academy. Located at the heart of the Academy, the Lecture Hall is the most important place for teaching and momentous ceremony. Between 1165 and 1173, Zhang Shi and Zhu Xi, famous scholars of Neo-Confucianism, made a joint lecture here, which was the first joint lecture in the Confucian academies of China.
There are also many valuable culture relics of steles in the Lecture Hall. On the inner walls of the hall are engraved four big Chinese Characters – Zhong, Xiao, Lian, Jie (loyalty, filial piety, honest and clean, and moral integrity) which were written by the great scholar Zhu Xi. Others, such as the school regulations, the administrations and way to read were masterpieces of the masters of the academy. Hanging on top are two horizontal tablets, which were inscribed respectively by Emperor Kangxi and Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Qynasty.
The famous Lushan Temple Stele is stored in the Stele Pavilion to the left of the Yuelu Academy. It is 2.72 meters high and 1.33 meters wide, with over 1,400 inscribed characters. Carved by Huan Xianhe in 730 during the Tang Dynasty (618-907), the stele’s inscriptions were composed and etched by the famous calligrapher Li Yong. The Lushan Temple Stele is reputed as Sanjue Stele (Stele with Three Superb Works) because it is perfect in literary talent, calligraphy and engraving. It holds an important position in Chinese calligraphic history.
In 1903 the academy was transformed from a school of traditional Confucian learning to an institute of higher learning and was officially renamed Hunan University in 1926. The historical transformation from Yuelu Academy to Hunan University can be seen as the epitome of the development of China’s higher education, a change which mirrors the vicissitudes of education system in mainland China.
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