This article builds on the ambiguous concept of the autonomy of universities with three historical turns in two dominant types of universities in the world – the Anglo-Saxon and American models, represented by the British and American institutions, and the Continental models, including the recently emerging Chinese University 3.0. Based on empirical data from two comparative case studies with a documentary analysis approach, I investigate the structure of the zhong-yong model of self-mastery, demonstrating how it may differ from the Western models and offering cultural interpretations for these nuances. The article concludes that self-mastery in the Chinese context provides an additional form of autonomy which is rooted in the pragmatic Confucian concept of zhong-yong. It is also found that through the pragmatism of self-mastery, the zhong-yong model enables Chinese universities to directly serve the state and, at the same time, to legitimate the priority given to their development by state power, thus creating abundant space and resources for them to fully unfold their potentialities. With multilayered and multidirectional power relationships, this model of governance has enabled Chinese universities to radically transform themselves in a short period of time and will allow them to eventually become global leaders, although they may have to sacrifice autonomous freedom in some ways.