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Do Asians Understand Democracy? Findings from Surveys Tianjian Shi Department of Political Science Duke University.

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Presentation on theme: "Do Asians Understand Democracy? Findings from Surveys Tianjian Shi Department of Political Science Duke University."— Presentation transcript:

1 Do Asians Understand Democracy? Findings from Surveys Tianjian Shi Department of Political Science Duke University

2 Debates About Asian Values Background –Collapse of the former Soviet Union –End of History by Fukuyama –Interview of Minister Mentor Lee Kew Yue of Singapore by editor of Foreign Affairs Fareed Zakaria. In the Interview, Mr. Lee pointed out that Asian Culture has significant impact on regime type and political development in Asia

3 What are the Issues? Is political culture in Asia really different from Western political culture? If the answer is yes, is Asian culture an obstacle to democratic development, as suggested by Mr. Lee? Even if Asian culture differs from that of the Western culture, will economic development in Asian societies change such culture?

4 Problems in Asian Value Debate The arguments of both sides rely on theoretical deduction. –Modernization or structural theory. –Institutional theory; cultures are shaped by efforts of regime. Common problem, no empirical support –Data become available for the first time in history -- East Asian Barometer Survey.

5 Do People in Asia Want Democracy?

6 Traditional Measures Which of the following statements comes closest to your own opinion? –Democracy is always preferable to any other kind of government. –Under some circumstances, an authoritarian government can be preferable over a democratic one. –It does not matter whether we have a democratic or a non-democratic regime.


8 Findings The Commitment to democracy for people in Asia is not less than for people in other continents. Demands for democracy in China is high, but it is not the highest of Asian societies. Demands for democracy in Thailand is of is highest among all Asian Societies.

9 Issues of Democratic Suitability While people may have a desire for democracy, they may also think that democracy is not suitable for their country. Even though people believe that democracy is inherently good, it may not be suitable for their own countries due to structural or institutional reasons.

10 Democratic Suitability Here is a scale of 1 to 10 measuring the extent to which people think democracy is suitable for their country. If 1 means that democracy is completely unsuitable for [name of country] today and 10 means that it is completely suitable, where would you place your country today?


12 Findings II The majority of people in Asia believe that democracy is suitable for their country. In Asia, people in China think democracy is most suitable for their country. People in Taiwan think democracy is most unsuitable for their society! Countries in communist and former communist societies think democracy is most suitable.

13 Democratic Supply There is another side of the story – democratic supply. 1 means complete dictatorship and 10 means complete democracy, where would you place our country under the present government?


15 Findings III The popular evaluation of democratic supply in China ranks third in Asia. The popular evaluation of democratic supply given by people in China is higher than what is given by people in Japan.

16 Gap between Democracy Supply and Demand The most important factor for democratic transition in a society is not how much democracy people in that society want but the gap between supply and demand.


18 Puzzle The majority of people believe democracy is suitable for China. But at the same time, the majority believes that the level of democracy in China at the current stage of development is pretty high. The gap between democratic supply and demand in the minds of people in Mainland China is smaller than the gap in Mongolia and in Hong Kong. In Taiwan, we found a reverse relationship. People believe the region is too democratic.

19 Rational Choice Explanation For rational choice scholars, the puzzle can be explained by the incentive structure deduced from the behavior logic of utility maximization. Since the regime in China does not hesitate to suppress unauthorized expression, people dare not tell interviewers their true feelings in the survey for fear of possible political persecution. Thus, the question asking people to evaluate the level of democracy in their own country becomes a proxy of political fear.

20 Table 1. Perception of Performance of the Current Government As Compared to that of 1979 BetterNo ChangeWorseB-W Civil Liberty Freedom of Expression 85.0 (2,174)12.1 (310)2.9 (73)82.1 Freedom of Residence 82.5 (2,118)14 (358)3.6 (91)78.9 Freedom of Religion 75.7 (1,569)20.4 (422)3.9 (80)71.8 Freedom of Association 74.2 (1,435)21 (406)4.8 (93)69.4 Political Rights Personal Political Rights 69.3 (1,664)24 (576)6.7 (162)62.6 Independence of the Legal System 61.8 (988)21.1 (337)17.1 (273)44.7 Equal Treatment by the Government 60.5 (1,489)23.3 (574)16.2 (398)44.3 Influence on Government Policy 39.0 (766)47.1 (926)13.8 (272)25.2 Economic Performance Economic Development 96.6 (2,804)1.6 (47)1.8 (52)86.3 Inequality 21.2 (600)4.1 (115)74.7 (2,109)-53.5 Corruption 12.4 (319)4.4 (113)83.2 (2,138)-70.8 Social Order Public Security 45.3 (1,293)6.1 (175)48.5 (1383)-3.2 Source: 2002 Mainland China Survey Note: Entries are Percentage. Entries in parentheses are Ns. Missing values are excluded.

21 An Alternative Explanation An alternative interpretation for the puzzle of why people in mainland China gave a high evaluation of the level of democratic supply and demand in their own country is that their preferences, i.e., understanding of democracy, are different from that of people in other societies. In other words, people in China also want democracy but the democracy in their mind is a different democracy from that which is in our minds. Understanding the reason behind the puzzle is critically important for different interpretations, which have different implications for the future political development in Asia.

22 Detachment from Authoritarian Rule As you know, there are some people in our country who would like to change the way by which our country is governed. We would like to know what you think of their views. Do you strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree, or strongly disagree with each of the following statements? –We should get rid of a parliament and elections, and have a strong leader make decisions. –No opposition party should be allowed to compete for power. –The military should come in to govern the country. –We should get rid of parliament and elections and have the experts make decisions.


24 Two Definitions of Democracy Procedural democracy –The nature of the relationship between individuals and state is one of exchange. –Election is the only source of legitimacy. –Different interests compete with each other and a government makes decisions according to the procedural justice. Substantive democracy –The nature of the relationship between individuals and state a hierarchical one. –Legitimacy comes from the substance of its policy. –Leaders need to constantly prove themselves to their people. –Policy is evaluated by their substance rather than procedure.

25 Table 2 Meaning of Democracy for Respondents in China and Taiwan Mainland China Taiwan To you, what does democracy mean? PercentN N Freedom Freedom and/or Equality22.9739 48.6687 Parental Care Soliciting People's Opinions when Making Decisions17.1 544 5.781 Joint Decision Making 16.9538 6.896 Government for the People7.2 229 7.8111 Procedures, Obligations, or Rights Listen to People's Opinions when Making Decisions 13.5 429 13.4190 Elections and Participation in the Decision Making Process11.6 371 10.4147 Rights6.3 200 456 Don't Know42.1 1340 17241 Source: 2002 Asian Barometer Study Note: Total exceeds 100 percent due to multiple answers being allowed for each respondent

26 Conclusion Yes, people in Asia also want democracy. However, the Asian understanding of democracy is different from our understanding. The regime in Asian countries have a high capacity to manipulate its people by redefining democracy to deprive it of our understood connotations.

27 Conclusion-Continued Political Implication: –Chinese political culture makes people in China trust the government more than how people in other societies would. –Chinese political culture makes the threshold for peoples engagement in unconventional political acts higher. –Chinese political culture makes people understand democracy in a different way, and this gives the regime much manipulating space. Altogether, Chinese political culture makes a bottom to up democratic transition more difficult.

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