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Based on Great Leader Mao Zedongs expectation to build a university in his hometown, Xiangtan, Xiangtan University (XTU) was established. On September 10, 1958, the founding year, Chairman Mao inscribed the name of the university. He encouraged managers to "do their best to make it an outstanding university". In 1959, XTU was suspended for some reasons. Now XTU has developed into a key comprehensive university.

In 1974, Central leaders Li Xiannian drafted, and Deng Xiaoping and Hua Guofeng approved the document to reconstruct XTU. In October, 1974 during Chairman Maos last return to Hunan, he asked about the development of XTUs reconstruction. He pointed out that XTU should be reopened and revitalized. From 1974 till now, XTU has become Chinas first institution of higher education to get the approval from the State Council to reopen, and the first one for the State Council to send official document to call for nationwide supports to its development.

In 1978, the University was listed as one of the 16 key comprehensive universities in China by the State Council. It began to enroll students for master degree the same year.

In Dec. 2005, the Ministry of Education and the Hunan Provincial Peoples Government signed an agreement to provide combined support to the university.
In July 2013, the Hunan Provincial Peoples Government and the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense reached a cooperation agreement on developing XTU.

In the past 50 years, XTU maintained its position among China’s Top 100 institutions of higher education in terms of comprehensive strength.