As one of the four most prestigious academies over the last 1000 years in China, Yuelu Academy has been a famous institution of higher learning as well as a centre of academic activities and cultures since it was formally set up in the ninth year of the Kai Bao Reign of the Northern Song Dynasty (976). Yuelu Academy, surviving the Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties, was converted into Hunan Institute of Higher Learning in 1903, and Hunan Normal College, Hunan Public Polytechnic School in succession, and was finally named Hunan University in 1926. The Academy has witnessed a history of more than one thousand years without a break, so it is called a "one-thousand-year-old academy". The historical transformation from Yuelu Academy to Hunan University is an epitome of the development of China's higher education, which mirrors the vicissitudes of China's education system.
Shortly after its establishment, Yuelu Academy was known throughout the whole of China for its style of school management and its role in the dissemination of academic learning. When Emperor Zhenzong of the Northern Song Dynasty summoned the dean, Zhou Shi, to an interview, and conferred upon the Academy his Majesty's inscription, Yuelu Academy vaulted into great fame, and enjoyed the reputation "xiao xiang zhu si", meaning it was a place in Hunan where great scholars assembled. It is right here that the renowned "Huxiang School of Learning" in the history of the li philosophy (the philosophy of principle) began to gain currency when Zhang Shi lectured in the Academy in the Sorthern Song Dynasty. And when Zhu Xi came here twice to give lectures, so popular were the lectures that there were too many visitors for the Academy to seat, and the water in the Yinma Pond (the Horse-Watering Pond) was drained by their horses. Later on, the Academy saw other learning and ideas promulgated and exchanged such as the Yangming School in the midst of the Ming Dynasty, the Donglin School in the last years of the Ming dynasty, the Han School of the Qian Long and the Jia Qing Reigns (1736-1821) and the New Learning of the last years of the Qing Dynasty. The academic learning and education system of Yuelu Academy have had a far-reaching impact on the formation and development of Hunan's cultural tradition.