Peking University was the first public university in China to execute physics higher education and research. In the summer of 1913, the “Physics Division” of Peking University was inaugurated and began to enroll undergraduate students. Under the direction of Professor Yuanli Xia, after several years of hard work, a comprehensive curriculum was established in 1917, incorporating a two-year preparatory program and a four-year undergraduate program. In 1919, during the university wide re-organization, the Physics Division was renamed as the Physics Department. The graduate program in Physics Department was launched in 1935.
During the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression, Peking University, Tsinghua University and Nankai University merged to form Changsha Temporary University in Changsha and later National Southwestern Associated University in Kunming, in China's remote and mountainous southwestern Yunnan province. During the years of the war (1937-1945), Physics Department of the National Southwestern Associated University have graduated many China's most prominent physicists and scientists, including Nobel laureate Tsung-Dao Lee, Chen-Ning Yang and famous condense matter physicist Kun Huang.
In the autumn of 1952, in order to meet the needs of the country's large-scale economic construction, the majority of the physics departments of Peking University, Tsinghua University, and Yen-Ching University merged with the meteorological faculty of the Department of Geology, Geology and Meteorology of Tsinghua University and formed the Department of Physics of Peking University. After this re-organization, the number of students in the Department of Physics had increased greatly. Enrollment reached nearly four hundred in the year of 1958. Adapting the higher education structure from the Soviet Union, the undergraduate program in the Department of Physics was changed from a four-year system to a five-year system. The first four years covered the basic courses, and the last one year or one-and-half years were dedicated to specialized training or graduation thesis. In 1977, China’s college entrance examination was resumed. The undergraduate system was changed to a four-year program. From 1978 to 1982, graduate programs for both master and doctoral degrees were also resumed. Since the 1980s, members of the physics faculty of Peking University have published more than 300 textbooks, books, and translations, and have also won 24 national awards in the past decade.
In May 2001, the former Department of Physics, the nuclear physics major program in the Department of Technical Physics, the Institute of Heavy Ion Physics, the atmospheric physics and meteorological major programs in the Department of Geophysics, and the Department of Astronomy all merged to form the School of Physics of Peking University.
As a leading institution for physics education in China, the School of Physics focuses on academic excellence and has a long history of cultivating top-level physicists in China. More than 120 academicians of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and 12 academicians of the Chinese Academy of Engineering have studied or worked here, far more than any other physics department/school in China.