During the World War II, three of Republican China’s best universities, Peking University, Tsinghua University, and Nankai University were forced to abandon their home campuses in Beijing (then Beiping) and Tianjin, as they were occupied by Japanese troops. They migrated together to the southwestern hinterland and merged to form the National Southwest Associated University (Lianda). Convening the country’s best scholars, the university was also widely acclaimed to be the “bastion of democracy” in Nationalist China, holding up its spirit of free inquiry and liberal education inherited from the ethos of its three components, despite the impoverishment and isolation of wartime China. Traditionally, Lianda has been praised for its principled resistance to an authoritarian and corrupted government, especially its encroachment on academic freedom, even though it is at the same time the only internationally recognized government leading Free China through eight years of unyielding resistance to Japanese invasion. By exploring the confrontation between Lianda and the Kuomintang government on educational ideology and how it affected China’s nation-building process during World War II, my project seeks to answer the following question: is the ideal of liberty and democracy compatible with nationalism for a state waging a war that threatened its national unity and survival? Is it a unifying force – as in the case of France and the United States – or a divisive force in the process of nation-state building?