CORE COMPONENTS | Duke Kunshan University


The Duke Kunshan University Common Core courses are designed to engage critical...

Common Core Courses

Opportunities for students and faculty to develop common knowledge and shared experiences are a key component of a Duke Kunshan education. These experiences ensure that, as Columbia University professor Andrew Delbanco has written, “no student is a complete stranger to any other.” One dimension of this commonality is a set of core courses that focus on big questions, critical challenges, and issues with which every student should engage.

The Duke Kunshan University Common Core courses engage critical thinking skills and draw on experiences beyond the classroom. These courses integrate humanistic and scientific knowledge as a pre-requisite for understanding what our challenges are and a means for addressing them. Common Core courses also provide guided practice in writing, speaking, and listening for non-specialist audiences throughout the first three years. Students take these courses one per year in sequence so that the common experience and development of communication skills extend across time.

The three courses are:

  • China in the World, which focuses on the historical and contemporary commercial, intellectual, and scientific exchanges between China and multiple locations around the world.
  • Global Challenges in Science, Technology, and Health, which addresses key developments in fields such a biotechnology, nanotechnology, and information technology, highlights the global environmental challenges of our time, and teaches strategies for critically evaluating scientific claims.
  • Ethics, Citizenship and the Examined Life, which explores traditional Asian and Western ideals and contemporary analyses of moral self-cultivation, democracy and meritocracy, and pluralism and uniformity.

Chinese Society and Culture Courses (Optional for International Students)

Chinese Humanistic Spirit and Institutions

This course explores the humanistic spirit inherent in Chinese culture and the forms and changes of historically influential political systems. Topics will be closely linked to two aspects of the humanistic spirit and social institutions. On the one hand, it allows students to understand the philosophical spirit and moral reasoning characteristic of Chinese culture, as well as the Chinese political system along with its changes. On the other hand, it enables students to appreciate the intrinsic spirit of Chinese culture featuring introspection, learning, tolerance and constant change, therefore revealing the internal spiritual forces for China’s social institution reforms as well as the universality and uniqueness of contemporary China’s social, political and legal institutions.

Social Changes in China

This course reviews the history in which how China, as an ancient civilization, has revived from the fallen state in modern times to a mighty power in today’s world, helping students to understand and perceive Chinese society along with its changing trends with longer-term vision, the connotation of the Chinese national spirit, and the reason why today's China cherishes independence while vigorously promoting opening up.

During the delivery, the students will be guided to read Chinese history books and relevant historical documents, and be encouraged to conduct discussion with peers and professors, so that they can specifically understand and think about the following questions: As a big oriental country, what brilliant achievements did China make in ancient times and how did it contribute to the development of human civilization? Since the world's great geographical discoveries and the European industrial revolution, China gradually fell behind the trend of the times, what were the manifestations and root causes? 110 years after the Opium War, how did the Chinese people endure all kinds of internal and external sufferings while persistently struggling and fighting to get rid of bad fortune and making unremitting efforts to explore the road of national revival amidst tremendous hardship; and during this process, what great changes took place in Chinese social structure, systems, ideas, economy, culture and education? What was the crucial significance of the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949?

Language courses

As an international university located in China, Duke Kunshan requires all students to develop at least conversational fluency in Mandarin Chinese. Courses are taught in English and applicants must demonstrate a level of English proficiency that enables them to be successful in an academic setting. Language courses will also be available at different levels for students who desire to learn or develop existing skills in languages other than English or Chinese.


Divisional Foundation courses focus on knowledge and skills essential to advanced work in the arts and humanities as well as the social and natural sciences. These courses provide guided practice and specialized communication skills in specific academic disciplines.

Interdisciplinary Studies are characterized by distinct curricular pathways that span several traditional disciplines. These are broad but defined areas of study that encourage integrative and multidisciplinary habits of inquiry and knowledge acquisition.

Students will also develop disciplinary expertise which provides the tools and methods of a traditional academic field and further enables students to be competitive for graduate school or other advanced work.


Besides the Common Core courses, Duke Kunshan’s curriculum provides a wide range of flexibility for students. Students may elect to expand their horizons or to dive deeper into specialized training. Students will be required to take one course in each of the two areas outside their broad divisional area.

Study Abroad

Duke Kunshan students will have the opportunity to study at Duke University in Durham, usually during their third year of study. Study at Duke provides Duke Kunshan students the option to gain advanced training in their areas of specialization or to broaden their studies by sampling the breadth of offerings available on Duke University campus.

Signature Work and Experiential Education

Duke Kunshan graduates will have experience addressing complex problems outside the classroom as well as within, developing these skills through what the American Association of Colleges and Universities terms “Signature Work.” Signature Work encourages students to seek creative alignments between curricular pathways, centers of research excellence and engaged, experiential learning that can lead to the creation of new knowledge and new products. During the second year of undergraduate study, students work with advisors and faculty mentors to begin identifying the major questions, problems, or issues they would like to address, and to develop a Signature Pathway that includes both coursework and one or more co-curricular experiences. This Signature Pathway will be articulated in an e-portfolio, which includes both the students’ signature products and a narrative that explains the larger inquiry informing their pathway at Duke Kunshan. Signature Work will result in at least one required Signature Product, defined as a substantial scholarly or creative product that incorporates some form of mentored scholarly research, and one or more related co-curricular experiential learning components such as internships, community-based fieldwork or other civic projects.