Harmony Lab

The Humanities Research Center Harmony Lab is a nexus of philosophical research undertaken by Duke University, Duke Kunshan University, and Wuhan University, and generously funded by the Houtu Research Fund, at Duke Kunshan University. It builds on and extends the Harmony Lab at Duke University’s Franklin Humanities Institute.


The broad theme of our research is harmony. It is far from an overstatement that the modern world is plagued with disharmony of all varieties. TV news and social media bombard audience with irreconcilable divisions in domestic and global policies. Identity politics, which emerged as measures to consolidate and empower oppressed minority groups, gradually degenerates into fuels for indifference, hostility, and hatred towards outsiders. Individuals and groups find themselves at an increasing risk of becoming victims of cancel culture, which, albeit inducing agents to be more careful about the effects of their speeches and behaviors, obstructs one of the most crucial foundations of democracy, i.e., open debates. Cultural and ideological hegemonies prevent the general public from having access to many brilliant yet underrepresented traditions, thereby paving way for further misunderstanding, miscommunication, and animosity between different cultures, ethnicities, and countries. In spite of the dire challenges posed by climate change, some countries and corporates attempt to shift, avoid, or even deny their proper shares in taking concrete measures to slow down or reverse its deleterious effects on the entire human race and the planet earth.


Within the overall theme of harmony, the project at DKU will focus on
the theme of gender and family harmony. Our research builds on a recent conference held at Wuhan University, involving the four Co-PIs on the role of Confucianism in promoting marriage and the production of offspring. The declining birth rates across East Asia  (China, Japan and Korea) is well documented, and a pressing concern for the governments of all three countries. Our aim is to investigate the role of Confucian
philosophy, ethics, and values with respect to the changing gender norms and family structures that are emerging in contemporary East Asian societies.

While it might be assumed that Confucian values are intrinsically conservative and support traditional family structures, gender roles, and the production of offspring, this assumption has not been properly investigated from a philosophical perspective. We will investigate the ways that Confucians have historically addressed issues of family and gender in East Asia and pay attention in particular to the work of female Confucian scholars in China and Korea. In this way, we will produce a nuanced understanding of how Confucians have historically understood family structures and the ways in which contemporary Confucian philosophers are paying attention to contemporary issues such as gender diversity and declining birthrates. This historical-analytical work is the first phase of our research.

The second phase brings this work into a constructive comparative engagement with contemporary Western thinking about gender identity and family structures. Our research aims to demonstrate how Confucian thinking can produce new understandings of gender and family that can address the changing understandings of these issues in modern society without falling into the divisive identity politics of contemporary Western society.

If we are successful, we will have demonstrated that the Confucian tradition has a dynamic role to play in fostering a more harmonious understanding of gender and family in contemporary East Asian society and that East Asian society does not need to follow the norms and values that have emerged in the modern West when it faces similar challenges of changing gender and family identities.

Research Team

  • Hwa Yeong WANG, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Duke Kunshan University
  • James MILLER, Professor of Humanities, Duke Kunshan University
  • Yong LI, Professor of Philosophy, Wuhan University
  • Qin LIU, Associate Professor of Philosophy

Advisory Board

  • David WONG, Professor of Philosophy, Duke University
  • Wenjie LIU, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Duke University
  • Roger AMES, Professor of Philosophy, Peking University
  • Sor Hoon TAN, Professor of Philosophy, Singapore Management University
  • Heisook KIM, Professor Emerita of Philosophy, Ehwa Womans University