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Originally known as Guangdong Provincial Xiangqin Normal College founded in 1933, South China Normal University (SCNU) has developed into a comprehensive teaching and research university with a wide range of disciplines covering philosophy, economics, law, education, literature, history, science, engineering, agriculture, medicine, management, art, etc., thanks to the contribution and dedication of generations of SCNU’s faculty and students.

In 1933, Mr. Lin Liru, a famous contemporary educator, founded Guangdong Provincial Xiangqin Normal College, the precursor of South China Normal University and served as the dean for many years. In 1935, Xiangqin Normal College was renamed Xiangqin College of Education. 1938 saw the separation of Xiangqin College of Education from Xiangqin University and its transformation into Guangdong Provincial College of Education. In 1939, its name was changed into Guangdong Provincial Liberal Arts College and in 1950, it was renamed Liberal Arts College of Guangdong. In October 1951, with the approval of the Ministry of Education of the Central South Military and Political Committee, the Liberal Arts College of Guangdong, the Teachers College of the National Sun Yat-sen University and the Education Department of the Private Southern China United University were incorporated into a new South China Teachers College. 1952 witnessed the further incorporation of the Russian Department of Southern University, the Education Department of the Private Lingnan University, the National Hainan Normal University, the Education Department of the National Guangxi University, the Geographical Specialties of Hunan University, Nanchang University, and Hainan Normal College. In 1970, South China Teachers College was renamed Guangdong Normal College but the name was changed back in 1977. Finally, in 1982, it was renamed South China Normal University.

Since its foundation, South China Normal University has preserved its characteristic of being focused on teacher education, and has been devoted to cultivating talents with moral integrity, independent thinking, innovative ability and sense of social responsibility. In 1978, the college was approved as a key provincial college in Guangdong. In the new era, taking advantage of the momentum of China's economic rise, the faculty and the students of SCNU stick to the ideals of the university, shoulder the social responsibility, strive for excellence and endeavor to learn. In 1996, it became a member of "Project 211", a national project aiming to establish 100 well-acknowledged key universities and colleges in China. 2015 witnessed the co-construction of SCNU by the Guangdong Provincial Government and the Ministry of Education as well as its entry into the Guangdong High-Level University Sponsoring Project. 

Since the foundation of the university, excellent masters and renowned mentors have dedicated themselves to it. Among all the famous teachers who have taught here, the most outstanding ones are: Du Guoxiang, Chen Weishi, Wang Yanshi, and Ma Xiaoyun, famous educators who served as dean of the college successively; Luo Jun and Wang Deliang, famous educators; Kang Baiqing, one of the pioneers of the May Fourth new poetry; Li Jingchi, a scholar of Chinese ancient culture; Wu Sanli, an expert in Classical Chinese; Wang Yue, a historian; Jao Tsung-I, a leading authority on studies of Chinese ancient civilization; Li Kuangwu, a logician; Ruan Jingqing, a psychologist; Ye Peihua and Zhu Bo, educators; Ye Shuwu, a mathematician; Huang Youmou and Liu Songhao, renowned physicists. Throughout the years, numerous generations of faculty and students of SCNU have been adhering to the tenet: “Immerse ourselves in advanced academic research and cultivate special talents for the society”. And through inheriting from Southern University the revolutionary spirit to "Be loyal and united; Seek truth from facts" and practicing the school motto of "Foster the spirit of working hard; Pursue studies with utmost rigor; Seek truth from facts with innovation; And be a model of virtue for others", SCNU will carry on the time-tested tradition and continue to promote the further development of the school.