Skip to main content
Log in

The Need for More than Role Relations

Queer Lives, Social Group Identities, and Confucian Self-cultivation

  • Published:
Dao Aims and scope Submit manuscript


This article argues for the necessity of a social group ontology in Confucian ethics. The heart of Confucian ethics is self-cultivation begun in familial relations. Social group categories can disrupt family structures in ways that can only be ignored at a high cost to the well-being of biological family members who do not share the dominant group identities. To make this disruption clear, I will articulate the challenge queer lives pose for classical Confucian self-cultivation. This discussion will give rise to an account of queer chosen kin and its compatibility with the existing Confucian role-relational ontology. The incorporation of social group identities and an account of the sociopolitical constitution of persons is necessary not only for the development of Confucian social and political philosophy, but also for illustrating the significant ways in which Confucianism can shape cross-cultural discussions of ethical self-cultivation.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Similar content being viewed by others


  • American Psychiatric Association. 2017. “Mental Health Disparities: LGBTQ.” (last accessed on June 30, 2019).

  • Ames, Roger T., and Henry Rosemont Jr. 1998. The Analects of Confucius: A Philosophical Translation. New York: Ballantine Books.

  • Angle, Stephen C. 2012. Contemporary Confucian Political Philosophy. Malden: Polity Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Angle, Stephen C., and Michael Slote, eds. 2013. Virtue Ethics and Confucianism. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ásta. 2018. Categories We Live By: The Construction of Sex, Gender, Race, & Other Social Categories. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Baams, Laura, Bianca D. M. Wilson, and Stephen T. Russell. 2019. “LGBTQ Youth in Unstable Housing and Foster Care.” Pediatrics 143.3. (last accessed on June 30, 2019).

  • Behuniak, Jim. 2021. “Sameness, Difference, and the Post-Comparative Turn.” In One Corner of the Square: Essays on the Philosophy of Roger T. Ames, edited by Ian M. Sullivan and Joshua Mason. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press.

  • Butler, Judith. 2004. Undoing Gender. New York: Routledge.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Chan, Sin-Yee. 2016. “Would Confucianism Allow Two Men to Share a Peach? Compatibility between Ancient Confucianism and Homosexuality.” In The Bloomsbury Research Handbook of Chinese Philosophy and Gender, edited by Ann A. Pang-White. New York: Bloomsbury.

  • Cline, Erin M. 2013. Confucius, Rawls, and the Sense of Justice. New York: Fordham University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Connolly, Tim. 2015. Doing Philosophy Comparatively. New York: Bloomsbury.

    Google Scholar 

  • Crane, Sam. 2013. Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Dao: Ancient Chinese Thought in Modern American Life. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Fan, Ruiping 范瑞平, and Jue Wang 王玨, eds. 2018. The Issue of Same-Sex Marriage: Ethical Discourses 同性婚姻的倫理爭論 (special issue). International Journal of Chinese & Comparative Philosophy of Medicine 中外醫學哲學 16.2.

  • Foust, Mathew A., and Sor-hoon Tan, eds. 2016. Feminist Encounters with Confucius. Boston: Brill.

    Google Scholar 

  • Human Rights Campaign. 2017. “LGBTQ Youth Homelessness.” (last accessed on June 26, 2017).

  • Interagency Working Group on Youth Programs. 2019. “LGBT.” (last accessed on June 30, 2019).

  • Jacobs, Jason. 2014. “Raising Gays: On Glee, Queer Kids, and the Limits of the Family.” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 20.3: 319–352.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lugones, María. 2010. “Toward a Decolonial Feminism.” Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy 25.4: 742–759.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mattice, Sarah A. 2016. “Confucian Role Ethics in the 21st Century: Domestic Violence, Same-sex Marriage, and Christian Family Values.” In Feminist Encounters with Confucius, edited by Mathew A. Foust and Sor-hoon Tan. Boston: Brill.

  • McWeeny, Jennifer, and Ashby Butnor, eds. 2014. Asian and Feminist Philosophies in Dialogue: Liberating Traditions. New York: Columbia University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mencius. 2003. Revised ed. Trans. by D. C. Lau. New York: Penguin Classics.

  • Olberding, Amy. 2012. Moral Exemplars in the Analects: The Good Person is That. New York: Routledge.

  • Pang-White, Ann A., ed. 2016. The Bloomsbury Research Handbook of Chinese Philosophy and Gender. New York: Bloomsbury.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rosemont, Henry Jr. 2015. Against Individualism: A Confucian Rethinking of the Foundations of Morality, Politics, Family, and Religion. Lanham: Lexington Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Rosemont, Henry Jr., and Roger T. Ames. 2009. The Classic of Family Reverence: A Philosophical Translation of the Xiaojing. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press.

  • _______. 2016. Confucian Role Ethics: A Moral Vision for the 21st Century? Göttingen, Germany: V&R Unipress.

  • Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. 2008. Epistemology of the Closet. Berkeley: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Solomon, Andrew. 2012. Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity. New York: Scribner.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sullivan, Ian M. 2016. “Simone de Beauvoir and Confucian Role Ethics: Role-Relational Ambiguity and Confucian Mystification.” Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy 31.3: 620–635.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Topley, Marjorie. 1975. “Marriage Resistance in Rural Kwangtung.” In Women in Chinese Society, edited by Margery Wolf and Roxane Witke. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

  • United Nations Development Programme. 2016. “Being LGBTI in China: A National Survey on Social Attitudes towards Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Gender Expression.” (last accessed on June 30, 2019).

  • Warner, Michael. 1993. “Introduction.” In Fear of A Queer Planet: Queer Politics and Social Theory, edited by Michael Warner. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

  • Weston, Kath. 1991. Families We Choose: Lesbians, Gays, Kinship. New York: Columbia University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wrisley, George, and Samantha Wrisley. 2016. “Beyond Sexism: The Need for an Intersectional Approach to Confucianism.” In Feminist Encounters with Confucius, edited by Mathew A. Foust and Sor-hoon Tan. Boston: Brill.

  • Young, Iris Marion. 1990. Justice and the Politics of Difference. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to I. M. Sullivan.

Additional information

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Sullivan, I.M. The Need for More than Role Relations. Dao 20, 269–287 (2021).

Download citation

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: