China University Student Dataset (CUSD) Project 中国大学生数据库 

China University Student Dataset (CUSD) Project

The China University Student Database (CUSD) project analyzes the social and geographic familial background of university students in Republican China (ROC) and elite university students in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) including Hong Kong and Taiwan based on a collection of over 300,000 individual university student archival records from 34 Chinese universities as well as a variety of published and archival sources on Chinese students studying abroad as well as domestically.



“Modern” four-year university education began in China with the dissolution of the civil service examination system in 1905 and the systematic introduction of a Western curriculum accompanying the establishment of the first public university in 1898, the first missionary universities in 1900, and the first private universities in 1911. By 1932 there were already 76 recognized four-year universities in China and these numbers grew by 1947 and 1951 to 130 and 206.  Today there are 1219 four-year universities including 112 211-elite universities and 39 985-elite universities in the Peoples Republic of China, 126 universities in Taiwan, and 8 UGC universities in Hong Kong.  According to the 2010 Chinese census, of the 1.33 billion people in China, over 100 million are four-year university graduates.

CUSD Data Series

We distinguish between three categories of university students  – ROC, PRC, and Overseas – and have created or are in the process of creating three different CUSD data series: the CUSD-ROC, the CUSD-PRC and, the CUSD-OS.

The CUSD-ROC includes all or partial student registration records for 35 Republican Chinese universities, all but one of which dates back to the 1930s.  While these represent only one-third of the  universities of that time, they account for 90 percent of the 175,567 surviving student registration records we have located in Chinese university and administrative archives.  As of January 2023, we have entered 169,723 records of 139,612 students for 34 universities.  We are still in the process of completing the data entry for several of these universities, as well as acquiring access to the Republican student records for other universities which we hope to include in the CUSD-ROC.

The CUSD-PRC includes all the student registration records for two Chinese universities: 64,500 who attended Peking University (PKU) perhaps the most prestigious liberal arts university in China in 1952-1955, 1972-87, 1989-1999; and 86,393 undergraduates who attended Suzhou University (SZU) the highest ranked Provincial university in China from 1933 to 2003.  In addition, we have begun data entry for an equally large student population from Zhejiang University.

The CUSD-OS already includes 52,703 overseas Chinese students, that is three-quarters of the 65-75,000 Chinese students who graduated from foreign universities from the beginning of the twentieth century through the early years of the People’s Republic of China.  The current population available for immediate analysis include 64,164 records for 32,543 Chinese students in Japan, 12,457 records for 11,289 Chinese students in the USA, 7,402 records for 7,356 students in Europe, and almost a thousand students in the Soviet Union, for a total of 97,186 entered, processed, and linked records for the 52,703 unique international Chinese students.

The CUSD-OS includes information only on the students themselves since it is based on graduation and immigration records while the CUSD-ROC also includes the names, occupations, and addresses of 50,000 parents, 20,000 grandparents, 10,000 great grandparents, and well over 30,000 guarantors, and the CUSD-PRC includes names and occupations of household head for all SZU students, and names and occupation for both parents for almost all PKU students, since they are based on matriculating student records.

On-Line User Guide

梁晨、任韵竹、 李中清, 2017, 《民国大学生数据库用户手册》。 (unpublished).

Project History

The idea of creating a China University Student Database (CUSD) dates back to Spring 1998 when during Peking University’s Centenary celebrations then PKU Provost, Chi Huisheng, told James Z. Lee about the student archival records in the PKU University Archives.  Lee subsequently obtained permission to enter these records for all undergraduate students from PKU and SZU and recruited HKBU Professor, Ruan Danching (sociology) to be co-I.  Actual data entry for what would become the CUSD-PRC did not however begin for PKU until 2003 under Ruan’s direction, coordinating with PKU Professor Yang Shanhua (sociology), and Yang’s PhD student, Zhang Hao, and for SZU until 2006 / 2007, under the direction of SZU Vice President Yin Aisun and SZU professor, Zhang Zhaoyu (archives), and the supervision of PKU and University of Michigan Postdoctoral Fellow, Liang Chen.

It was Chen LIANG who first proposed in 2010 that we expand our study of proprietary undergraduate student registration cards in the CUSD-PRC and create a CUSD-ROC that would include similar Republican University student records stored in publicly accessible local and provincial archives rather than proprietary university archives.  Chen initially organized the preliminary coding of half the current CUSD-ROC from such sources,[1] supplemented by James LEE and Mingyu ZHANG who added one-quarter of the current CUSD-ROC from university proprietary records.[2]  Most recently, Bamboo REN added another quarter of the current CUSD-ROC including 30,724 publicly accessible student records from ten other tertiary educational institutions,[3] 18,651 from published student records or alumni lists, and 12,073 from publicly accessible archival records, and together with Haozhe HAN and Chengcheng LIANG is completing the recoding of over 30,000 previously incompletely coded archival records.[4]  As of March 2021, we have data for 119,680 students from 22 of 55 MOE recognized universities (daxue大学), 15,408 students from ten of 75 institutes (xueyuan学院), and 1,132 students from two specialized tertiary schools (zhuanke xuexiao专科学校)in the CUSD-ROC for a total of 136,220 unique undergraduate students summarized in Table 1.[5]

[1] These include 80,425 student records from 11 universities, six institutes, and one specialized tertiary school whose data, with two notable exceptions, were publicly accessible. The 11 universities are Utopia, St. John’s, University of Shanghai, National Chi Nan, Soochow, National Sun Yat-sen, Fukien Christian, National Hunan, l’Université Franco-Chinoise, Nanking, and National Peking University Medical Centre.  The six institutes are Hangchow Christian College, Chaoyang College, National Shanghai Institute of Business, Hsiang-Ya Medical College, Ginling College, National Normal College.  The one specialized school is the Municipal Shanghai Institute of Industry.  All of the student records from these institutions except for Ginling College and Nanking University are publicly accessible.

[2] James LEE added 34,829 proprietary student records from Zhejiang University (23,795), Shanghai Jiaotong University (9,932), and Mingxian Institute (1,102). Mingyu ZHANG added 16,462 proprietary student records from Tsinghua University 1921-1951 and 346 from Yenching University 1947-1949.

[3] These ten tertiary institutions include seven universities, five of which are from published sources – Cheeloo (2,265), Fujen (2,239), Peking (12,885), Xiamen (798) and West China Union (464).  The student records from the other two universities,  Lingnan (2,168) and Zhongzheng (6,171), as well as two institutes – Liaodong Law School (2,113), and National Shenyang Medical School (1,381), and one specialized tertiary school – Fengtian Academy of Fine Arts (240) are all from publicly accessible unpublished sources.

[4] Haozhe Han and coders under his supervision added grandparents, great grandparents, and guarantors’ name, place of origin, and residential address to 17,281 existing Sun Yat-sen University records in the CUSD-ROC records while Chengcheng Liang under Bamboo’s and Chen Liang’s direction completed the coding of 17,139 Datong, St. Johns, and Hujiang students whose CUSD-ROC records did not originally include their parents’ and guarantors’ names.

[5] These also include 3224 student records for 2689 unique students from Beiyang University contributed by Li YANG.  We continue to search actively for student data for Yingshi University in Jinhua, Zhejiang and are also hopeful of eventually gaining access to additional student records for Yenching University from the Peking University Archives.


Results from the CUSD have been published as a Chinese article, 无声的革命: 北京大学、苏州大学的学生社会来源 1952-2002 (China’s Silent Revolution: the Social Origins of Peking University and Soochow University Undergraduates, 1949-2002), in the January 2012 issue of 中国社会科学 (Chinese Social Science) and as a book with the same title in August 2013 by Beijing Joint Publishing. These publications inspired over one hundred news and editorial print articles, interviews, webcasts, and broadcasts posted on one thousand Chinese websites in 2012 and 2013 and continue five years later to receive attention in the popular media.  The book version was awarded the 2014 third prize for Outstanding Achievement in Philosophy and Social Science by the Jiangsu Academy of Social Science.  The article version was reprinted by 中国社会科学 in 中国社会科学创刊35周年论文选 in 2017 as an example of the best scholarship in the thirty-five years from 1980 to 2014.

We will soon publish in 2023/2024 a prequel book 梁 晨 (Chen LIANG), 任韵竹 (Yunzhu REN), 李中清 (James Z. LEE).  2023.《启山林者:中国现代知识阶层的形成,1912-1952》(Our forefathers and the formation of the modern Chinese academe). 中国社会科学文献出版社, on the social origins of university students from 1911 to 1949 based largely on student records from 34 universities collected in the CUSD, supplemented with employment records from the China Professional Occupation Datasets (CPOD).

The Jiangsu Academy of Social Science has also awarded two related articles《江山代有才人出,各领风骚数十年:中国精英教育四段论,1865-2014》. 《社会学研究》(Sociological Research第三期 (May/June): 48-70, and《民国上海大学生社会来源量化研究,1913-1949》,  《历史研究》(Historical Research) 第三期 (May): 76-92, a 2017 third prize (三等奖)  and a 2020 second prize (二等奖) respectively for Outstanding Achievement in Philosophy and Social Science.

Project Funding

James Z. Lee PI (Co-I Cameron Campbell, Liang Chen) The Social and Spatial Origins of China’s Educated Elite: 1865-2014. Hong Kong Research Grants Council Project Number 16602117, 2017-2020





James Z. Lee PI (Co-I Hongbo Wang, Liang Chen) Social Origins of University Students in Republican China. Hong Kong Research Grants Council Project Number, 640613; 2014-2016



Danching Ruan PI (Co-I James Z. Lee, Shanhua Yang). Educational Stratification in China–A View from the Top. Hong Kong Research Grants Council Project Number, HKBU 2447/06H; 2006-2008

Research Output

For a summary of our research output from the CUSD, please see Part Two of our on-line course Understanding China, 1700-2000: A Data Analytic Approach – Who Gets Education as well as the books, articles, and presentations below.

Academic Publications: Books

Liang Chen, Zhang Hao, Li Lan, Ruan Danqing, Cameron Campbell, Lee, James.  2013, 《无声的革命: 北京大学、苏州大学的学生社会来源 1949-2002》(Silent revolution: the social origins of Peking University and Soochow University undergraduates, 1949-2002).  Beijing Joint Publishing.  This book was awarded the 2014 third prize for Outstanding Achievement in Philosophy and Social Science by the Jiangsu Academy of Social Science.

Academic Publications: Articles

Lee, James Z., Bamboo Y. Ren, Chen Liang. 2022. “Meritocracy and the Making of the Chinese Academe Redux, 1912-1952.” In Michael Szonyi and Tarun Khanna. Eds. Forthcoming. Making Meritocracy: Lessons from China and India, from antiquity to the present, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 137-169.

梁晨(Chen LIANG),李中清 (James Z. Lee). 2022. “从求实到求是:数字史学的价值与追求 —— 兼与成一农教授讨论”《清华大学学报》(哲学社会科学版)2022年第3期.

梁晨(Chen LIANG), 李中清 (James Z. Lee). 2021.“从微观数据到宏观历史”(From Microdata to Macrohistory)《中国社会科学评价》2: 84-92. Reprinted in 人大复印报刊资料《历史学》2021年10月.

梁晨 (Chen LIANG), 任韵竹 (Bamboo Y. REN), 李中清 (James Z. Lee). 2021. “民国大学生地理来源量化考析” (Quantitative Study of the Geographic Origins of University Students During the Republic of China) 《近代史研究》3 (May): 124-142.

Bamboo Y. Ren, Chen Liang, James Z. Lee. 2020. “Meritocracy and the Making of the Chinese Academe, 1912-1952.” China Quarterly, Vol 244 (December): 942-968.

梁 晨 (Chen LIANG), 任韵竹 (Yunzhu REN), 董浩 (Hao DONG), 李中清 (James Z. Lee)。2017。 <江山代有才人出,各领风骚数十年:中国精英教育四段论,1865-2014>. 《社会学研究》。第三期 (May): 48-70.

梁 晨 (Chen LIANG), 任韵竹 (Yunzhu REN), 王雨前 (Yuqian WANG), 李中清 (James Z. Lee). 2017. <民国上海大学生社会来源量化研究,1913-1949>. 《历史研究》。第三期 (May): 76-92.


梁晨 、李中清,2014, 《大数据, 新史实与理论演进—以学籍卡材料的史料价值与研究方法为中心的讨论》, 《清华大学学报》 (哲社版) 第5期,第104-113页。  2015 Parkson Best Article Award.

梁晨、李中清 等,2012,《无声的革命:北京大学与苏州大学学生社会来源研究,1952-2002》 (Silent revolution: the social origins of Peking University and Soochow University undergraduates, 1952-2002),《中国社会科学》(Social Sciences in China) 第1期,第98-118页。

Academic Presentations

International Confucian Association, Harmony and Cooperation Towards a New Era of Digital Civilization, Tsinghua University, Beijing, September 9, 2022

European Summer School in Chinese Digital Humanities, Aix Marseille University Maison de la Recherche, Aix-En-Provence, June 20-23, 2022

南京大学南京论坛, Nanjing China, December 11, 2021

Aspire Institute, Transforming the Lives of Low-income, First-in-family-to-college Students, Harvard, Cambridge Massachusetts, September 24, 2021

The Role of International Education in the Creation of the Chinese Academe, 1909-1989, Duke-Kunshan University, December 16-18, 2019

ENP-China Workshop on Elites, Knowledge, and Power: The Formation and Transformation of Elites in Modern China, Aix-Marseille University Maison de la Recherche, Aix-En-Provence, October 7-9, 2019

IUSSP Conference on Linking Past to Present: Long-term Perspectives on Micro-level Demographic Processes, Reitaku University, Tokyo, December 9-11, 2016

41st Annual Social Science History Association Meeting, Chicago, November 17-20, 2016

“大学与近代中国”国际学术研讨, Central China Normal University, November 12-13, 2016

China Biographical Database Project (CBDB), Harvard University, November 9, 2016

Asian Pacific Higher Education Research Partnership Senior Seminar on Gender and the Changing Face of Higher Education in Asia Pacific,  the Education University of Hong Kong and Lingnan University, October 27-29, 2016

Roundtable on Elites, Politics and the Economy. American Sociological Association 111th Annual Meeting, Seattle, August 20-23, 2016

North American Chinese Sociologists Association Conference, Seattle, August 19, 2016

International Sociological Association RC 28 Committee Meeting on Social Stratification and Social Mobility, National University of Singapore, May 26-28, 2016

Department of Sociology, Wuhan University, April 16, 2016

School of History and Culture, Central China Normal University, April 15, 2016

“大学与现代中国”, Nanjing University, March 12-15, 2016

南京大学社会学院合美博士论坛, Nanjing University, March 2, 2016

“大数据时代下的历史研究”国际学术研讨会, Qingdao, December 4-6, 2015

第十二届科举制与科举学国际学术研讨会 (12th International Academic Meeting on Keju system and Keju studies), Xiamen University, Xiamen, Fujian, China, November 23-25, 2015

北京大学北京论坛, Peking University, Beijing China, November 5-9, 2015

12th Conference of the European Sociological Association (ESA), Czech Technical University, Prague, August 25-28, 2015

Harvard University and Goldman Sachs Global Education Conference on Opportunity and Equality in the Knowledge Economy, Harvard University, June 17-19 2015

Conference on Higher Education and Chinese Society in the 20th Century, Taishan University, Tai’an, Shandong, China, April 10-12, 2015

Research Center for Chinese Social History, Shanxi University, November 17, 2014

“第十一届科举制与科举学” 学术研讨会 (11th International Academic Meeting on Keju system and Keju studies), Guangzhou, November 15, 2014

Harvard Yenching International Symposium on Modern Chinese Higher Education in a Global Perspective & 150th Anniversary of Tengchow College (全球化视野下的中国近代高等教育暨登州文会馆150周年), Shandong University, Jinan, October 11-15, 2014

近代中國教育史研討會,台灣新竹福華渡假飯店, July 8-11, 2014

首都师范大学青年学人讲坛, Capital Normal University, April 23, 2014

“第四届中国社会与中国研究”国际研讨会, Nanjing, October 27, 2012

“第五届全国青年史学工作者”学术研讨会, Guangzhou, October 15, 2012

“新史料与新史学:机遇与挑战”国际学术研讨会, Hangzhou, August 25, 2012

Data Access

Data from existing university archives are not available for public data release. While the remaining data are potentially available, preference will be given for collaborative research proposals. Interested parties should write directly to Liang Chen, copying Yunzhu Ren and James Z. Lee.