This chapter provides connotations associated with the term university in the European historical experience, and develops a contrasting picture of traditional Chinese higher education, its characteristic values and patterns, and its commonalities with other Eastern civilizations. It discusses the terms that will be used in telling the story of China's universities, and focuses on the underlying patterns of persisting cultural values in Chinese higher education, which may be helpful for interpreting some dimensions of the story. A historically accurate use of the term in China would have to limit itself to the period since the late nineteenth century, when modern higher institutions were established on a new basis, as traditional ones gradually disintegrated. In China, a very different set of scholarly values arose over a long historical process. This chapter concludes with the consideration of a kind of higher institution unique to China.