The Academia Sinica

Founded in 1927

The Academia Sinica was set up in 1927 but the beginning of strong scientific policy in China goes back to 1911 when the last emperor gave way to the establishment of the Republic. Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925), the first leader of Republican China, was a physician and philosopher who believed strongly in science and this led to the founding of learned societies, scientific journals and science departments in several universities. The Academia Sinica, also known as the Central Academy of Sciences, was a consequence of this move towards science. The Academia Sinica, first proposed in 1922, was actually established in July 1927 but did not hold its first meeting until 9 June 1928. Four Institutes were established in January 1928, five more by 1929 and by 1947 it had thirteen research institutes [7]:-
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.
The Institute of Physics was founded in January 1928, as was the Institute of Astronomy which was the successor of the Peking Central Observatory. The Institute of Chemistry was also founded in 1928 as was the Institute of History and Philology which was initially founded in Canton but had to move several times before ending up in Nanking in 1946. The Institute of Social Sciences was founded in Shanghai in 1928 but moved to Nanking in 1932. The Institute of Engineering was also founded in 1928, partly in Kunming and partly in Shanghai.

The Institute of Mathematics was organised in March 1941 under the directorship of Li-Fu Chiang as part of the Academia Sinica. Because of the difficulties in recruiting personnel and obtaining equipment during war time, it was formally established only in July 1947. At this time Lifu Jiang (1890-1978) helped found this Institute and became its first director. The other major figure in founding the Institute was Shiing-shen Chern who had returned to China from the United States in 1946. He briefly acted as director of the Institute of Mathematics but left China for the United States in 1948 when life became difficult due to the civil war.

The first President of the Academia Sinica was Tsai Yuan-Pei. He [7]:-
... 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 organisations 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 organisational 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.
In 1949 the civil war was won by the Chinese Communist Party in mainland China and the Nationalist government moved to Taiwan. At this time the Academia Sinica became part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in mainland China but in Taiwan an Academy was set up named the Academia Sinica which can also be considered to be a continuation of the Academy founded in 1927. In fact only the members and the library of the Institute of History and Philology and part of the library of the Institute of Mathematics were taken to Taiwan when the Nationalist Government moved there in 1949. The overview of Academia Sinica after setting up in Taiwan is given in [5]:-
The growth of Academia Sinica during the transition period was initially slow due to political instability and meagre budgets. Thanks to the great efforts of the past and former Presidents, Academia Sinica overcame many difficulties to reach its present success. It is now a modern research institution with a worldwide reputation and a proud tradition. Academia Sinica is making further progress in improving research conditions and results. Many of the twenty-four research institutes and seven research centres are now headed by world-renowned scholars and staffed by highly trained, motivated, and creative young investigators. Major strides have also been made toward raising the standards of academic research, and Academia Sinica is presently positioning itself to move its research activities to the international level. Aside from placing greater emphasis on opening up new areas of intellectual endeavour, Academia Sinica is also taking a leadership role in launching new initiatives in applied areas to meet a broad spectrum of social needs in Taiwan. In order to fulfil these goals, Academia Sinica has adopted various measures to promote the internal integration of research activities in the three research disciplines of mathematics and physical sciences, life sciences, and humanities and social sciences; to improve the planning, implementation, and evaluation of long-term projects in order to enhance the impact of the research activities; to harness basic research results for applications and technology transfer; to engage the entire academic and research community in Taiwan in a modern and forward-looking collective academic vision; to cultivate an intellectual environment that is conducive to the nurturing of young scholars and the recognition of outstanding scholarship in Taiwan; and to promote international cooperation and scholarly exchanges that will accelerate the overall development of academic research in Academia Sinica and the Republic of China.
In 1954 construction work started on a new campus in Nankang, Taipei, for institutes of the Academia Sinica and the campus gradually expanded to both banks of Sifen Stream, creating the main site at the present time. Some institutes, however, were located on the National Taiwan University campus.

We gave some indication above of the setting up of the Institute of Mathematics before the civil war. The development of the Institute of Mathematics as part of the Academia Sinica in Taiwan was very restricted for many years. Initially Hong Jing Chou acted as director from 1949 to 1957 but at the beginning of this period [6]:-
... research activities almost came to a standstill due to the difficulties caused by unstable political circumstances. When the situation improved a few years later, the Institute immediately began training younger talents. Within a few years, staff members of the Institute began pursuing research in many areas of pure and applied mathematics. When Dr Y S Chow assumed the directorship in 1970, efforts were made to improve the funding of research as well as to extend research activities to include Probability and Statistics. Since 1978, under the directorship of Dr Ky Fan, emphasis has been put on fundamental research (this being possible with the increase of research funding following the first Five-Year Plan of the Academia Sinica). Between 1984 and the conclusion of the third Five-year plan in 1996, research areas have been rapidly expanded under the directorship of Dr Fon-Che Liu, Dr Ko- Wei Lih, Dr Chii-Ruey Hwang and Dr Tai-Ping Liu, to include many major areas of mathematics. At the same time, facilities have improved significantly during that period. In December of 2009 the Institute of Mathematics moved to the newly completed Astronomy-Mathematics building located on the main campus of the National Taiwan University. The building is shared with the Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics, the Departments of Mathematics and of Astronomy of the National Taiwan University, creating a centre of intense mathematical activities in Taipei. Over the years, the Institute of Mathematics has continued to nurture mathematical talents in Taiwan through its extensive post-doc, research assistant, and summer school programs.
At the present time the Academia Sinica has three Divisions: the Division of Mathematics and Physical Sciences; the Division of Life Sciences; and the Division of Humanities and Social Science. The Division of Mathematics and Physical Sciences has eleven units: the Institute of Mathematics; the Institute of Physics; the Institute of Chemistry; the Institute of Earth Science; the Institute of Information Science; the Institute of Statistical Science; the Institute of Atomic and Molecular Sciences; the Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics; the Research Centre for Applied Sciences; the Research Centre for Environmental Changes; and the Research Centre for Information Technology Innovation.

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References (show)

  1. The Academia Sinica and its national research institutes (Academia Sinica, Nanking, 1930).
  2. S Chen, Government and Academy in Republican China: History of Academia Sinica, 1927-1949 (Ph.D. thesis, Harvard University, 1998).
  3. Zhong yang yan jiu yuan, Taiwan's Academia Sinica: Research in Free China, 1927-1961 (Heritage Press, 1969).
  4. Academia Sinica (1928-48), Nature 164 (30 July 1949)196-197.
  5. Overview, Academia Sinica.
  6. Brief History, The Institute of Mathematics, Academia Sinica.
  7. Pursuing Excellence: Eighty Years of Academic Sinica, Digital Taiwan - Culture & Nature.

Last Updated September 2018