Classical academies were cultural and educational institutions that existed in China from the Tang and Song dynasties through the Ming and Qing dynasties. They were established either by the public or the government to serve the multiple purposes of education, research, and library service. Their origins were Buddhist monasteries and private libraries in the Tang Dynasty. Classical academies flourished in the Song Dynasty. In the early years of the Southern Song Dynasty, Zhu Xi, Zhang Shi, Lü Zuqian, Lu Jiuyuan, and some other scholars established academies that served as teaching and research centers of their respective schools of thought. The academies were independent of government schools and were located mostly in tranquil and scenic places. Under the supervision of learned Confucian scholars, the academies pursued academic freedom and innovation. Teachers taught by both precept and example, and laid stress on shaping their students’ moral character, rather than encouraging them to win degrees in the imperial civil examination system. By the end of the Southern Song Dynasty, however, the academies became increasingly government-oriented and were linked with the imperial civil examination system. The rise and decline of the academies was in harmony with the rise and decline of the School of Principle during the Song and Ming dynasties.
In 1901 the Qing government ordered all the academies be changed to schools in modern sense. Having existed for more than 1,000 years, the academies greatly helped develop traditional Chinese culture and education, and convey Chinese culture abroad.
Places where earlier Confucian scholars taught, or where distinguished men of virtue lived and left behind stories and legacies, or wealthy families who were willing to support scholars with money and food, could all contribute to the establishment of classical academies. (The History of the Yuan Dynasty)