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The academy was established in 1945 as an art institute for the cultivation of professionals in theater arts, traditional opera, film, television and dance and has around 3,000 students and a faculty of 480. 

It has three campuses at Huashan Road, Lianhua Road, and Hongqiao Road, with most international students residing on the Huashan campus, in the central downtown area in a beautiful environment. This campus has a complete range of teaching facilities, including an academy theater, the Duanjun Theater, a New Experiment Space, and Black Box Studio, suited to various types of teaching and performances.

Its library has a collection of 340,000 books, mostly on opera and the arts. There are other student facilities, dining rooms, and fitness centers to meet various student needs.

The school also has relations with many drama colleges and organizations in at least a dozen countries and has frequent academic exchanges and activities. The International Student Office is responsible for foreign student affairs. The international student drama society often holds repertoire rehearsals and performances.