Four Great Academies of Ancient China
The concept of four great academies of ancient China originated in the Song Dynasty, while there were different opinions about which four are indeed the greatest. In modern China, people generally accept that the four great academies of ancient China are the Yingtian Academy in Shangqiu, Henan province, Yuelu Academy in Changsha, Hunan province, Shigu Academy in Hengyang, Hunan province, and Bailudong Academy in Jiujiang, Jiangxi province.
Located in Shangqiu, Henan province, Yingtian Academy is considered the leading academy of ancient China for having a long history, large scale and its large number of successful talents. History from the Song Dynasty indicates that the establishment of schools and the development of education in the Song Dynasty started in Shangqiu. Yingtian Academy was established in late Jin Dynasty by Yang Que and was originally named Nandu School. Then it gradually developed into the most influential academy of the Song Dynasty. Also, Yingtian Academy was upgraded to an imperial academy, the only Chinese ancient academy to do so. The most renowned scholars relating to Yingtian Academy are Yanshu, the famous poet and litterateur, as well as Fan Zhongyan, a litterateur, ideologist, politician, militarist, and educator.
Yuelu Academy located in Changsha, Hunan province, is arguably the best presered academy on the list. Yuelu Academy was established in early Northern Song Dynasty by Zhu Dong on the basis of a school set by some Buddhists. It gradually attracted the government's attention with Song emperors offering books to the Yuelu Academy and encouraging its development, making the academy very much sought after all over the country. In the late Qing Dynasty, Emperor Guang Xu changed Yuelu Academy into Hunan Institutions of Higher Education and since 1926, it has been officially named as Hunan University. The famous neo-Confucianist and philosopher Zhu Xi used to give lectures in Yuelu Academy. Many famous graduates have come from this academy such as Wei Yan, Zuo Zongtang and Zeng Guofan, among others.
Shigu Academy was established in the Tang Dynasty, in Hengyang, Hunan province. In the Song Dynasty, Shigu Academy paced into its peak and earned its right to be on the list of the four great academies of ancient China. The academy experienced six dynasties including Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming, Qing and the Republic of China. Besides the crucial status in China's educational history, Shigu Academy is also famous for its beautiful landscape and gathering of talents. The most well known teachers of the Shigu Academy are Su Shi (Su Dongpo), Zhou Dunyi and Zhu Xi. Graduates include Wang Juren, Peng Yulin and Qi Baishi. Also, many celebrities have been attracted by its reputation and have paid visits, such as Zhuge Liang, Du Fu, Han Yu, Liu Zongyuan, Liu Yuxi, Xin Qiji and Wen Tianxiang.
Bailudong Academy was established in the late Tang Dynasty. Scholar Li Bo and his brother chose a place in Mt. Lushan, surrounded by mountain peaks, and chose to study there. Li Bo raised a white deer, so he built a platform and called the place Bailudong, literally meaning "the cave of the white deer". Since the late Tang Dynasty, many scholars came to study and read. In the Song Dynasty, the place was expanded and was regarded as one of the four great academies of ancient China. The famous neo-Confucianist and philosopher Zhu Xi came to give lectures and set a Principle of Bailudong Academy, which was the earliest education regulation. Bailudong Academy then became increasingly popular and was given the title as "The Top Academy". In tandem with the development of Chinese history, Bailudong Academy was in use until the Qing Dynasty and became a key cultural heritage site and a popular tourist attraction in modern China.