Founded in 1911 with part of the Gengzi indemnity returned by the U.S.A., Tsinghua University was initially a prep school whose students were to study in the U.S.A. after graduation. The University was founded in 1923, and the Institute of Chinese Studies in 1925, whose faculty included the Four Tutors, Wang Guowei, Liang Qichao, Chen Yinke, and Zhao Yuanren, and a couple of lecturers such as Li Ji and so on. Wu Mi was Director of the Institute, who had made clear the aims of the Institute in its cradle, "What I mean by Chinese studies refers to the entire Chinese scholarship and culture, and the way of research puts emphasis on the right and precise method, which is what people of today call scientific method. It also draws materials from European and American scholarship in Oriental languages and Chinese culture, which is where our Institute differs from other scholars in Chinese studies at home.' Wang Guowei's course "Ancient History and New Evidence," Liang Qichao’s "Method of Historiography," Chen Yinke’s "Bibliography of Western Sinology," Zhao Yuanren's "Modern Linguistics" and "Dialectology," and the like are all characterized by applying modern scientific methods of the West to the interpretation of traditional Chinese culture. At that time, Wang Li, Wu Qichang, Liu Pansui, Jiang Liangfu, and so on were students at the Institute. The Institute was closed in 1928, but in spite of that, it had educated a group of outstanding scholars who excelled at using new thinking in Chinese studies, and are in the front positions in the history of Chinese scholarship and education.
The University at Tsinghua began to enroll students in 1925, and in 1926, the Departments of Chinese Language and Literature, Foreign Languages, History, Philosophy (changed to Philosophy and Psychology in the time of the National Southwest Associated University), and Sociology were set up, and the School of Literary Studies was founded in 1928.
It followed a different education principle from other universities, and many departments stressed the importance of "studying both the Chinese and the Western," in the hope of bringing out graduates with a superior mastery of Chinese and foreign culture and history. For instance, the Chinese Department "gave emphasis to studying both the old and new literature, and Chinese and foreign literature," and the Department of Foreign Languages aimed to cultivate "gentlemen of erudition and distinction" "with a thorough knowledge of the Western mind," and the History Department "highlighted a balanced study in both Chinese and foreign history," and the Department of Philosophy underscored an interpretative relationship of mutual illumination between Eastern and Western philosophy, and the Department of Sociology insisted that its students have a broad knowledge. All the departments put foreign languages and culture at the center of their curriculum. For instance, one fifth of the required courses of the Chinese Department were courses in foreign languages and culture. The aim of studying foreign languages and culture lay in studying the "Western method” and using it on the redaction of ancient Chinese books, or starting a new school. In accordance with this education principle, the faculty's research reflected the characteristics of this modern hermeneutics in the interpretation of the ancient. For instance, Professor Zhu Ziqing, whose main work is On "Poetry Speaks One's Intention", insisted on learning the best of the Beijing school and the Shanghai school alike to seek a broad perspective as well as the exactitude of textual criticism. Wen Yiduo was bold in raising questions, but conscientious in answering them, and his study of the mythology in archaic times, the Book of Poetry and Chuci is a blend of rich historical consciousness and the sense of urgencies in his day. The same is true of Yang Shuda's study of the Chinese language, Yu Pingbo's study of The Dream of the Red Chamber, Xu Weiyu’s study of Guanzi and Book of Documents, as well as Pu Jiangqing’s and Yu Guanying's works. The major achievement of the Department of Foreign Languages is to have started the teaching and research in comparative literature in China. The courses offered in the Department, such as Wu Mi's A Comparison of Chinese and Western Poetry, I. Richards's Literary Criticism and Comparative Literature, have become famous landmarks in the field of comparative literature in China, and particularly, Wu Mi's Literature and Human Conditions has made breakthrough contributions to the method of mutual illumination between Chinese and Western cultures. Graduates from the Department, such as Wu Dayuan, Zhao Luorui, Ji Xianlin, Li Funing, and so on have become the main force in the field of comparative literature, and a special mention should be made of Qian Zhongshu, who has elevated the modern Chinese hermeneutics to a new height with his On the Arts and Guan Zhui bian. The Department of Philosophy gave priority to a synchronical approach to philosophical issues, and foregrounded proof, logic, and conceptual analysis, which are where the Chinese tradition is weak. The most influential works are Jin Yuelin’s Logic and On the Way, and Feng Youlan's Six Books of the Zhenyuan Period and History of Chinese Philosophy. Pleading for New Historiography, the History Department inherited the legacy of the Institute of Chinese Studies and has brought out such important studies as Chen Yinque's A Political History of the Tang Dynasty and A Brief Study of the Origins of the Political Systems in the Sui and Tang Dynasties, Zhang Yinlin's studies of the history of archaic times, Lei Zonghai's study of the general history of China, Wu Han's study of the history of the Ming dynasty. Different as they were in their perspectives and conclusions, they did not fail to probe into the historical phenomenon to find out causes that were deeply rooted in its time and society. To sum up, Tsinghua School of Literary Studies has creatively inherited the splendid scholarship formed in the time of the Institute of Chinese Studies and, in its application of modern scientific thinking and methodology to the interpretation of traditional Chinese culture, it has never shied away from seeking a broad and solid perspective. It has shown prudence in establishing the thesis, but never allowing itself to be bogged down by pointless details, and it strove to provide an interpretation of Chinese history and cultural phenomena that faithfully reflected the reality and at one and the same time spoke for their time. Famous scholars who have taught in the School of Literary Studies include Wen Yiduo, Chen Yinke, Zhu Ziqing, Liu Wendian, Yu Pingbo, Pu Jiangqing, Wang Li, Yang Shuda, Chen Mengjia, Wang Yao(Department of Chinese Language and Literature); Wu Mi, Wang Wenxian, Ye Gongchao, Zhai Mengsheng, Winter, Ivor Armstrong Richards, William Empson, Qian Zhongshu (Department of Foreign Languages); Chen Yinke, Lei Haizong, Jiang Tingfu, Liu Chonghong, Zhang Yinlin, Wu Han, Zhou Yiliang(Department of History); Jin Yuelin, Feng Youlan, Shen Youding, He Lin, Zhang Dainian(Department of Philosophy); Chen Da, Pan Guangdan, Fei Xiaotong(Department of Sociology), Famous scholars, writers, and artists who attended the School of Literary Studies include Qian Zhongshu, Yang Jiang, Ji Xianlin, Zhao Luorui, Wang Yao, Lin Geng, Ji Zhenhuan, Fei Xiaotong, Cao Yu, He Zhaowu, Li Xueqin, Fu Xuanzong, He Bingdi, Duanmu Hongliang, Wu Dayuan, Wu Zuxiang.
The faculty and students in the humanities and social sciences at Tsinghua inherit a superior revolutionary tradition of patriotism and progress. As early as the May Fourth Movement, Wen Yiduo posted a ci poem "The River Is Red" by Yue Fei to call upon the students at Tsinghua to fight against the hegemonic power from abroad and expunge traitors at home. Wei Jiesan, a student in the Chinese Department, died a heroic death in the March 18 protest against the Japanese invaders who had fired cannons at Dagukou in 1926; Jiang Nanxiang and Yao Yilin, two students in the School of Literary Studies, were among the leaders in the December 9 Protest that had shaken the entire nation. Actively participating in the students movements during the period of the National Southwest Associated University and the Liberation War, the faculty and students in the humanities and social sciences at Tsinghua have played a pioneering role in the fight for the independence, peace, and democracy of our nation. Some of them sacrificed their precious lives. Wen Yiduo rose to his feet in anger, staring down the enemy who was holding a pistol at him, and would rather die than give in. Zhu Ziqing, seriously ill, chose to starve to death rather than take the American relief food. They all showed the unbending fighting spirit and noble patriotism of Chinese intellectuals. They have set good examples for contemporary Chinese intellectuals, and are the pride and honor of the faculty and students of our university.
From 1952 to 1978, Tsinghua University was a polytechnic institution as a result of the 1952 restructuring for higher education in China and its humanities departments being sent off to other universities and research institutions.
Although the humanities programs were suspended for this period of time, the humanistic tradition and superior scholarship have persevered and remain as strong as before. Since 1978, Tsinghua University has either restored or founded the Departments of Foreign Languages and Literatures, Sociology, Chinese Language and Literature, the Institute of the Humanities, the Institute of Education, the Institute of Science, Technology and Society, and the Art Center. In December 1993, the School of Humanities and Social Sciences was formed, covering the entire range of disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, including literature, history, philosophy, law, economics, management, and so forth. The attainment has transformed the School into an important institution to demonstrate what the university has achieved in the humanities and social sciences, and particularly, in the humanities.
The School was closed in July 2012, however, and in the meantime the School of Humanities and the School of Social Sciences were founded.