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"China must have a number of top-class universities at the international level", former President Jiang Zemin (1998), at the 100th centenary celebrations of Peking University

Since the cultural revolution brought the closure of China's then roughly 200 universities, China has now developed the largest higher education system in the world.

Project 985, which gave additional funding to an initial nine elite universities was formed to achieve the goal of China having a number of internationally elite universities.

These initial nine universities, known as the C9, are comprised of the following: Fudan University (Shanghai), Harbin Institute of Technology, Nanjing University, Peking University, Shanghai Jiaotong University, Tsinghua University, Xian Jiaotong University and Zhejiang University.

Note that 'Jiaotong' means transport in Mandarin, and is commonly used in the name of universities with a traditional specialty in the sciences. 'Normal' ('Shifan') universities meantime are traditionally teacher/academic training universities. Most universities have broadened from their specific core purpose of origin.

An additional 30 universities meantime have since also received enhanced funding.

In 2009, the group united around a formal C9 concept, and will now recognise each other's course credits, share resources and allow students to attend courses on each other's campuses.

While in many ways the C9 emulates America's Ivy League, it differs in the following ways:

  • the C9 universities are all public; Ivy League universities are private;
  • the C9 answer to the Ministry of Education; the Ivy League to their boards;
  • the C9's initial formed around academia; the Ivy League around athletics;
  • the Ivy League is comprised of eight schools, and the C9 nine.

The additional thirty universities comprise the following:

  1. Beihang University
  2. Beijing Institute of Technology
  3. Beijing Normal University
  4. Central South University
  5. Central University for Nationalities
  6. China Agricultural University
  7. Chongqing University
  8. Dalian University of Technology
  9. East China Normal University
  10. Huazhong University of Science and Technology
  11. Hunan University
  12. Jilin University
  13. Lanzhou University
  14. Nankai University
  15. National University of Defense Technology
  16. Northeastern University
  17. Northwest A&F University
  18. Northwestern Polytechnical University
  19. Ocean University of China
  20. Renmin University of China
  21. Shandong University
  22. Sichuan University
  23. South China University of Technology
  24. Southeast University
  25. Sun Yat-sen University
  26. Tianjin University
  27. Tongji University
  28. University of Electronic Science and Technology of China
  29. Wuhan University
  30. Xiamen University