References to Project 211, Project 985, and C9 frequently crop up during conversations with Chinese universities and university presses. As a matter of fact, Chinese universities are divided into three types: Project 211, Project 985, and ordinary university.

Project 211

The name is derived from a slogan for a project aimed at raising the research standards of high-level institutions and developing new strategies for socioeconomic development in modern China. The 21 in 211 refers to the 21st century, and the 1 represents the about 100 institutions planned to come about under the project.

Launched in 1995, Project 211 currently covers approximately 118 participating universities, or about 6% of China’s higher education institutions. Those that fall under this project have to meet certain scientific, technical, and human resources standards and offer advanced degree programs.

Project 211 universities are responsible for training four-fifths of doctoral students, two-thirds of graduate students, half of overseas students, and one-third of undergraduates. Altogether, these selected institutions hold 96% of China’s key laboratories and use 70% of the country’s scientific research funding. A sum of 18.76 billion CNY has been earmarked for this project.

Project 985

The name refers to the date on which the project was first announced: May 1998, which is written 98/5 in the Chinese date format. Initiated that year by Jiang Zemin, China’s president at the time, for the 100th anniversary of Peking University, Project 985 is about accelerating the development of universities while elevating their global reputation. It involves allocating massive amounts of funding from governments at the local, provincial, and national levels to selected universities to build new research centers, improve facilities, hold international conferences, attract world-renowned faculty and visiting scholars, and help Chinese faculty attend conferences abroad.

The project’s initial phase funded only nine universities, which went on to form the C9 League in 2009. By 2011, the project closed its doors to new members while continuing to sponsor a total of 39 universities.

C9 League

The Chinese equivalent of the U.S. Ivy League, this alliance of nine elite universities includes Fudan University, Harbin Institute of Technology, Nanjing University, Peking University, Shanghai Jiaotong University, Tsinghua University, the University of Science and Technology of China, Xi’an Jiaotong University, and Zhejiang University. These are considered to be research-intensive universities.