Mei Yibao was born in Tianjin on November 5, 1900. His older brother, Mei Yiqi, born in 1889, served as president of Tsinghua University in Beijing from 1931-1948.
He received a primary education in Chinese classics and secondary education at the Nankai Middle School begun by Zhang Boling. When he was in his early teens he converted to Christianity. After graduating from Tsinghua University in 1922, he spent a year as a traveling secretary for the YMCA in China.
Mei then went to the United States, where he received a B.A. from Oberlin College, Ohio, in 1924 and a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Chicago in 1927. He spent one year in Germany,where he was the only Chinese student at the University of Cologne. His studies focused on the Chinese philosopher Mozi (Mo Tse).
When Mei returned to China in 1928, he joined the faculty of Yenching (Yanjing) University in Beijing and taught Philosophy for the next ten years. He also served as Registrar, Director of Admissions, Dean of Studies, and Dean of the College of Arts and Letters. From 1934-35 he was acting President of the Mingxian School (Oberlin-Shansi Memorial School) in Taigu (Taiku), Shansi.
In 1929, Mei married Nyi Yong-Kyih, the daughter of a pastor who graduated from Smith College in 1924. Their son, Mei Zulin, born in 1933, received his Ph.D. from Yale University in 1962 and later taught modern Chinese at Harvard and Cornell.
After the Sino-Japanese war broke out in July 1937, he directed the Gansu Science Education Institute at Lanchow from 1938-39. From 1940-42, he served as the general secretary of the Chinese Industrial Cooperatives, which had oversight of fifteen hundred cooperative societies in eighteen unoccupied provinces.
Yenching University was able to stay open during the first four years after the Japanese invasion of China because of its American connections, but after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Yenching was closed by the Japanese on February 8, 1942. The alumni and board of managers decided to reopen Yenching in Free China. Mei established cooperative relations with West China Union University at Chengdu, which was already hosting three other Christian institutions. After Yenching rented several school buildings, the refugee university was opened in the fall of 1942. From 1942-46 Mei served as acting President and acting Chancellor.
After the war, he returned to Yenching University in Beijing and resumed teaching philosophy. As the Communist forces reached the outskirts of Beijing, he and his family fled by plane to Shanghai. After teaching one term at St. John’s University, he accepted an invitation to teach for a year at the University of Chicago. He was a visiting professor at various campuses, including Oberlin College, Princeton University, and Purdue University. From 1955-59, he became professor and chairman of the Chinese and Oriental Studies Program at Iowa State University.
Mei stepped down from his position in 1968 and retired in June 1970. On September 1, 1970, Dr. Mei began as president of the New Asia College of the Chinese University in Hong Kong, serving until 1973. His publications include: The Ethical and Political Philosophy of Motse (London, 1929); and Motse, the Neglected Rival of Confucius (London, 1934). He died in 1996.
- Howard L. Boorman, ed., Biographical Dictionary of Republican China, Vol. III, 31-32.
- University of Iowa Libraries: Special Collections and University Archives: Yi-pao Mei Papers Finding Aid.