The Academy of Yingtian Prefecture (Yingtianfu shuyuan 應天府書院) was one of the oldest private educational institutions in China, and one of the four great academies of the Song period 宋 (960-1279). It was also called Suiyang Academy 睢陽書院 or Academy of the Southern Capital (Nanjing shuyuan 南京書院). The first designation is derived from the Tang-period 唐 (618-907) name of the city of Shangqiu 商丘 (modern Shangqiu, Henan), where the academy was located. In 1006 Shangqiu was elevated to the status of prefecture (fu 府) with the name of Yingtian 應天, and in 1014 it was given the designation of Southern Capital (Nanjing 南京), as one of the major commercial centers of northern China.
The beginnings of the academy reach back to the times of the Later Jin 後晉 (936-946), one of the Five Dynasties 五代 (907-960), when a certain Yang Que 楊愨, who was fond of education and teaching, was able to gain the support of general Zhao Zhi 趙直 to organize regular lessons for students in an institution called Nandu Xueshe 南都學舍 (School of the Southern Capital). After Yang Que's death his disciple Qi Tongwen 戚同文 (903-976 or 912-985) continued the lectures and raised the funds necessary to provide scholarships for students like Zong Du 宗度, Xu Xiang 許驤 (943-999), Chen Xiangyu 陳象輿, Gao Xiangxian 高象先, Guo Chengfan 郭成范 and Wang Li 王礪. The famous writer and politician Fan Zhongyan 范仲淹 (989-1052) had also visited the Yingtianfu Academy.
After Qi Wentong's death in 976 the Academy was closed for some time. During the reign-period Dazhong Xiangfu 大中祥符 (1008-1016) the wealthy book collector Cao Cheng 曹誠 decided to take over the responsibility of financing the academy and had erected a building with more than 150 rooms, and a vast library. In 1009 he was granted the allowance to open the academy with public support, and the emperor bestowed the institution an official board inscribed with the name of the academy. Qi Tongwen's grandson Qi Shunbin 戚舜賓 was director, erudite of the Chamberlain for Ceremonials (taichang boshi 太常博士) Wang Du 王瀆 was head of teaching (zhangjiao 掌教), and Cao Cheng functioned as assisting teacher (zhujiao 助教).
During the reign of Emperor Renzong 宋仁宗 (1022-1063), the writer Yan Shu 晏殊 (991-1055) was appointed prefect (zhifu 知府) of Yingtian. He asked the Wang Zhu 王洙 (997-1057) to become a teacher at the Academy, as successor of Sun Fu 孫複. During Wang's professorship the number of students increased considerably, and the Yingtianfu Academy became the most important educational institution in northern China. Its curriculum included the Confucian Classics, historiography, the "masters and philosophers", Yin-Yang teaching 陰陽, astronomy, and philology. In 1035 the Academy was transformed into a prefectural school (fuxue 府學). Yan Shu asked the famous writer and politician Fan Zhongyan, who was "visiting professor" at the Yingtian Academy, to write an introductory text to the school, the Nanjing shuyuan timing ji 南京書院題名記. Graduates from the Academy participated in the state examinations.
In 1043 the institution was made the Directorate of Education (guozijian 國子監) of the Southern Capital. When Zeng Zhao 曾肇 (1047-1107), a younger brother of the writer Zeng Gong 曾鞏 (1019-1083), was prefect of Yingtian, large amounts of funds supported the institution. It occupied an important role in the educational system of the Northern Song period 北宋 (960-1126).
In 1126 the buildings were destroyed by Jurchen troops during their invasion of northern China, and the school fell into decay. Only during the Ming period 明 (1368-1644), in 1531, censor (yushi 御使) Cai Ai 蔡靉 reorganized the school and gave it the name Yingtian Academy 應天書院. It was given up in 1579 an only revived by prefect Chen Xilu 陳錫輅. It ceased to function as a school soon thereafter.