ThenT and nowN

The story of Duke Kunshan University so far,
told in pictures over time

Just a few years ago, Duke Kunshan University was a small start-up school, staffed by a tiny but committed band of pioneers working out of a local hotel.

Today, that ever-growing group of visionaries has transformed Duke Kunshan into an international hub of learning and innovation based on a world-class campus that develops global talent seeking to address the biggest questions facing humanity.

To mark a decade since Duke Kunshan was founded in September 2013, this visual story aims to provide a snapshot of the incredible journey the university has taken so far, with a nod to the vast well of opportunity that lies ahead.

Empty to emphatic

As recently as 2010, the Duke Kunshan campus we know today was just an empty field on the fringes of Kunshan city.

That site is now a stunning 83-acre campus with world-class facilities and a thriving community of nearly 1,800 students and hundreds of faculty and staff.

The equivalent shot taken this year from the same spot features the majestic sight of the Academic Building, a base for teaching and learning and one of the original and largest buildings on campus.

On the left of the frame you can also catch a glimpse of student accommodation recently opened as part of the Phase 2 construction project.

Breaking ground

2010 T

Ground was broken on the Duke Kunshan campus in early 2010 following the signing of a partnership agreement between Duke University and the city of Kunshan.

The Cornerstone Laying Ceremony paving the way for the first phase of construction highlighted the great learning opportunities that would be created as part of a new model of international educational collaboration.

2023 N

In 2023, senior leaders from all three founding partners — Duke University, Wuhan University and the Kunshan government — attended the official opening ceremony of the second phase of development as part of the 10th anniversary celebrations.

Phase 2 emerges

Opening in the first half of 2023, the Phase 2 development significantly upscales the teaching, research and leisure facilities at the university.

In the first picture, looking west in 2018, a 47-acre bare patch of land dominates the foreground where the 22 buildings of Phase 2 would soon sprout from, with the completed Phase 1 campus visible behind.

Fast forward a few years and both phases have merged seamlessly into one as a world-leading example of sustainable development for learning and innovation.

These satellite images taken during and after Phase 2 construction show the scale of the campus expansion.
The new section covers an area equivalent to over 30 American football fields, more than doubling the campus footprint and providing the full spectrum of facilities for a university fast developing into a world-class educational and research institution.

Oasis of calm

One of the most enchanting parts of campus is the oasis of calm that forms the centerpiece of the Phase 1 development. It sits in stark contrast to the boggy wasteland it resembled in 2012.

With its glistening ponds and lush vegetation, the area bordered by the Academic Building, Conference Center, Innovation Building and others is designed to evoke the classical water towns of Jiangnan.

Every year the signature pink of the lotus flower adds a splash of color, before the aquatic plant recedes with the change of season to reveal a shimmering new canvass of clear water.

Sitting at the heart of Phase 1, the Water Pavilion is perhaps the most photographed and symbolic physical feature of Duke Kunshan.

Back in early 2012 it was barely a shell of the landmark and versatile activity space treasured by the DKU community today.


2014 T

Duke Kunshan held its inaugural convocation in August 2014, welcoming the first students and faculty to its newly minted programs.

Convocation that year kickstarted orientation week for the 60 or so undergraduates from more than 20 universities taking the Global Learning Semester (GLS), and a further 40 plus joining the fledgling master’s programs in global health, medical physics and management studies.

About a decade later, the student intake is more than five times bigger.

2023 N

The 2023 convocations celebrated the arrival of more than 400 undergraduates for the four-year bachelor’s degree and another 170 graduate students starting their master’s degree programs, which now number five following the launch of electrical and computer engineering and environmental policy.

“Let’s be a source of support for each other and help each other make the most of our experience here.

“Let’s help DKU become a place that supports growth and development.”

2014 T

Ginny De La Cruz, an American student starting her master of science in global health program, was one of the student speakers at the 2014 convocation.

“We are here for you. Reach out to your peers, DKU faculty, staff and upper-class students.

“DKU is such a tightly knit community; we are here to help each other out and grow together.”

2023 N

Yueqi Dou, a sophomore from China, addressed the Class of 2027 at this year’s convocation.


2015 T

The 32 members of the Class of 2015 were the first students to graduate from Duke Kunshan, all receiving master’s degrees in management studies from Duke University.

2023 N

At this year’s commencement, 276 undergraduate and 131 master’s students were awarded degrees. The undergraduates receive bachelor’s degrees from both Duke Kunshan and Duke; graduates are awarded master’s degrees from Duke.

The 2023 commencement was the first for both undergraduates and graduates to be staged before a live audience of family, friends and supporters after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the 2022 event online.


2018 T

After serving as the inaugural chancellor of Duke Kunshan for six years, Jingnan Liu handed the reins to Youmei Feng.

The transition came just as DKU welcomed its first undergraduate cohort, allowing both chancellors to help usher in the new era.

2023 N

Exactly five years later, it was Youmei Feng’s turn to pass on the baton.

Yaolin Liu assumed the post within days of DKU welcoming its sixth undergraduate class and the official opening of its bigger, better campus.

Humble beginnings, boundless future

The university started life in the humble surroundings of a local hotel.

In fall 2014, a handful of faculty and staff were teaching and supporting the 100 or so GLS and graduate students in conference suites and lounge areas.

The original picture shows the very first library space at Duke Kunshan, based in a hotel room.

Those beginnings are a far cry from the high-specification facilities on campus today, where about 200 faculty support the intellectual development of hundreds of students and involve them in high-level research.

The new library building opened this summer and is home to 280,000 books, an art gallery and even its own traditional Chinese tea house.

Phase 2 also adds another 26 classrooms and 22 laboratories, with the new WHU-Duke Research Institute alone providing 29,000 sq ft of state-of-the-art lab space.

But DKU’s most important assets are its people. They come to Kunshan from all over the world to form a diverse yet tight-knit community of thinkers and doers who are committed to seeking and applying knowledge for the benefit of humanity.

Happy 10TH Anniversary

Produced by the Duke Kunshan Office of Communications and Public Affairs