Future of the Humanities: Keynote Speakers

Duke Kunshan University Humanities Research Center is pleased to announce four outstanding keynote speakers at its conference, “Future of the Humanities: The Gender/Sex Turn 人文学的未来:性/别转向” on September 20-21, 2019.

  • Josephine HO 何春蕤, scholar-activist in gender/sexuality studies
  • Yingying HUANG 黄盈盈, China’s leading sociologist of sex work and HIV/AIDS
  • Yin-bin NING 甯应斌, Taiwan’s leading philosopher and theorist of modernity
  • Yueyue WENREN 闻人悦阅, award-winning author of Amber, a top-ten Chinese novel of 2018

Biographies and Abstracts

Josephine Ho

Josephine HO 何春蕤, Chair Professor and Professor Emeritus, Central University, Taiwan, is one of the foremost feminist scholars in East Asia, writing extensively and provocatively on many cutting-edge issues, spearheading sex-positive views in the region on female sexuality, gender/sexuality education, queer studies, sex-work studies, and transgenderism since the 1990s.  She founded and continues to head the Center for the Study of Sexualities, widely-known for its intellectual stamina and social activism.  Her most recent works document and critique the growing juridification of sexual nonconformity under the guise of a benign and civilizing global governance.

Gender as Governance: Sexual Politics in the Age of Globalization

While gender has been constructed by the feminist movement as a matter of social justice, developments in recent decades have revealed that it could just as easily serve as an instrument for less than benign (global) governance.  The concept of governance was promoted by the UN, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund since the 1990s as a highly rationalized, civilized, modernized, and juridified apparatus that aims to transform local cultures and laws of the Third World so as to comply with transnational/multilateral operations that work to reconfigure the post-Cold-War world order.  Notwithstanding such ideologically potent and suspect implication, the gender equality imperative has taken up the governance model, and garnered exceptional energy and vitality to the extent of becoming key policy protocols in certain locations.  Significantly, gender governance has taken the form of juridification and is most sensitively concentrated in the realm of “sexuality,” where detailed legislations have come into place to regulate all sexual expressions and interactions. This new form of sexual politics, propagated by a globalizing civility that presumes Western values and practices, now makes resistance in the sexual realm ever more difficult. This talk, using the case of Taiwan as a prime example, will delineate the development and consequence of such gender governance.

Yingying HUANG

Yingying HUANG 黄盈盈 is Associate Professor of Sociology, and Director of the Institute of Sexuality and Gender at Renmin University of China. Her work focuses on female sex workers, women’s body and sexualities, social aspects of HIV/AIDS, and qualitative methodology. She has over 60 national and international publications and is the author of Body, Sexuality and Xinggan (sexiness): Study on Chinese Women’s Daily Lives’ (2008), Sexuality/Gender, Body and Sociology of Story-telling’ (2018) and ‘HIV/AIDS and The Way of Living (2018). Dr. Huang has been devoted to promoting sexuality research in China since 1999, including sponsoring the biannual international conference on Sexualities in China and the national workshop on sexuality research in China, both of which started in 2007. 

Changing Sexualities in Mainland China since the 1980s

In this presentation, I will try to address the following questions: what are the key emerging issues of ‘sexualities’ rooted in mainland China since 1980s? How to understand the changes, trends and tensions under certain social, political and economic contexts? What are the local responses from the Chinese academic and the key discourses being formulated? By answering these questions, an overall picture of sex and sexualities in contemporary China since its opening up and economic reform will be drawn. Further, I also expect to think more deeply how to stimulate better situated knowledge, and think broadly how such China experience could enrich knowledge production in global south and contribute to dialogues transnationally, and vice versa.

Yin-Bin Ning

Yin-Bin NING 甯应斌 is Distinguished Professor in the Graduate Institute of Philosophy at National Central University in Taiwan, and is former Chief Editor of Taiwan: Radical Quarterly of Social Studies. Trained in analytical philosophy and philosophy of science at Dalhousie University, Canada (M.A.) as well as Indiana University, USA (Ph.D), Professor Ning has been publishing widely on gender/sexuality theories and critical social theories. His book titles include (in chronological order) Modernity: A Cultural Studies and Applied Philosophy Approach, People in Trouble: Depression, Emotion Management and the Dark Side of Modernity(co-author: Josephine Ho), An Ethical Inquiry Into Prostitution, Sexual Ethics Without Morality, Lectures on Sexuality/Gender Studies in Taiwan, vols. I and II (Collaborative work with Josephine Chuen-juei Ho and Naifei Ding), Sex Work and Modernity, and Body Politics and Media Criticism.  Other edited books include Re-Cognizing China, New MoralismChanging Sexual Landscape: The China Turn, Taking Pornography Seriously.  In recent years, Professor Ning has been advocating a “China turn” in Taiwan’s knowledge production, and his present interests include the revival of the concept of nanse 男色 (male desire) as manifested in Ming and Qing erotic writings.

Sex Work and Modernity: a Recap and Reflection

Why or why not is selling one’s sex alienating one’s self?  This question can be traced back to a more general question which Hegel and others were concerned when paid labor became prevalent, that is, why or why not is selling one’s labor power or service alienating one’s self?  Like sex work, various types of modern work, especially in their emerging stage or in their informal sector, are also full of risks of alienating one’s self in the form of self being appropriated, privacy encroached, or boundary of intimacy violated.  To understand exactly how the alienation of self in question proceeds, the approach of social interactions instead of philosophy is required.  As my speech shall demonstrate, it is through the techniques of self-presentation during the actual human interactions that the private self of the service worker is appropriated by the customer, or vice versa. Hence, for this phenomenon of alienation of self, the Canadian-American sociologist Erving Goffman’s writings provide the most relevant interpretive framework, which will be sketched in my speech.

However, this Goffmanian approach to the question of alienation of sex worker’s self still needs to be located in a wider context concerning the dynamics and structural conditions of the modern self and its formation.  Thus, in the second part of my speech I will situate the interactions and the boundary maintenance of modern selves in five kinds of modern conditions that also constitute the core elements of (late) modernity.  The implication of this discussion is to show that the sex worker’s success in not alienating herself during the interaction is not due to personal idiosyncrasy, but deeply rooted in the conditions of modernity.  Since the main theme of my speech is a recap of my previous works in Chinese (which has not been published in English), at the end I will give a brief self-criticism of my analysis in light of my recent reflection on multiple modernities.


Yueyue WENREN 闻人悦阅 is an award-winning writer with multiple publications in both mainland China and Taiwan. Her works include novels, short stories, children’s stories and essays. She was chosen as one of the “20 under 40” Chinese Writers by UNITAS literature Magazine in 2012. Her novel A Gold Digging Story was selected as one of the top-ten best Chinese novels of 2011 by Asia Weekly, and her latest novel Amber topped the list of top-ten best Chinese novels of 2018 by Asia Weekly. She completed her B.E. degree at The Cooper Union in New York, majoring in electrical engineering, and later got her Master’s degree in financial engineering at Stern Business School, New York University.

Commonsense Morality in History: Stories Sealed in Amber

That amber sealed a moment of history
after a long and forgetful flow of years
still reflecting thrilling lights from the time
However, it is not the whole picture of history
what had happened already disappeared
yet the possibilities in history are in fact endless

History often repeats itself, and what really happened is not always recorded. Novels can be used as a means of not only observing hidden history but also exploring possible outcomes while learning lessons. Amber is an epic novel that connects the historical events and fragments throughout the last century, while weaving together the concepts of basic human values in times of different conflicts when humanity is under attack. It is written from the point of view of a female protagonist, Mo Hsiao Hsien. Her story starts with Soviet involvement in Mongolia in the 1920s when communism took hold in Asia, and ends in New York around 2010 when many still believed globalization was the way to solve world problems. Caught in a complex intelligence service network, involving the Soviet Union, the United States and two Chinese political parties on the verge of the Cold War, Mo Hsiao Hsien eventually positions herself as a bridge, serving as a special channel between different camps. Her role in espionage games opens a new feminine perspective in power struggles, and it transcends gender and ethnicity. She witnesses the regional conflicts in Xinjiang in early the 1930s, the political purge in the late 1930s Soviet Union, World War II in Europe, the Civil War in China, the Cold War and the power struggle in the global markets in contemporary times. Her life becomes an entwined path of hope and struggle, on which commonsense morality played an important role. She always remembered her mother’s motto: “Always believe in the value of humanity built upon common sense.”