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Evaluating the Role of Confucian Tradition in the Prospects and Limits of Political Change in Four East Asian Societies

WU, HSIN-CHE (2013) Evaluating the Role of Confucian Tradition in the Prospects and Limits of Political Change in Four East Asian Societies. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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Confucian society is one of the major cultural and social systems of East Asia. There have been long-standing scholarly debates about whether Confucian societies can produce or maintain a democratic regime; and in more recent years discussion of why there are several Confucian societies that can democratise yet some of them cannot. In order to contribute to these debates, this thesis conducts an analysis of China, Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea to explore and explain the following issues by comparative strategy: why have some Confucian societies democratised yet some of them have not? What is the role of traditional legacies from the pre-democratic dynasties and how does this political culture shape contemporary Confucian societies and their capacity to produce and sustain democratic politics? What is the role of economic and social modernisation in contemporary Confucian societies in the development of democracy? What role is played by ruling parties and leader’s attitudes and choices when they face claims for democracy from society? How do these three factors - legacies, modernisation and ruler’s choices - shape successful and unsuccessful cases of democratic change in East Asia?

Evaluating these factors by comparative qualitative and quantitative strategy, this thesis concludes: the ruling parties and leaders strategies for democracy are quite different between successful and unsuccessful cases. In China and Singapore, the leadership can unite and deploy a pseudo-democracy to respond to democratic claims of society; yet in Taiwan and South Korea, non-democratic leaderships could not sustain their rule, and they even chose to cooperate with opponents for survival. Secondly, the traditional legacies that emerged from the pre-democratic imperial system are the elements to hinder development of democracy rather than Confucianism itself. In China and Singapore, these legacies are selectively chosen by leaders to serve their official ideologies, yet in Taiwan and South Korea, rulers could not sustain their ability to manipulate these legacies. Modernisation in China and Singapore is controlled officially so it serves and consolidates non-democratic rule; but in Taiwan and Singapore, the modernisation process was not totally controlled by non-democratic rulers and instead promoted democratisation in these societies.

Comparing these factors, the attitude and unity of rulers seems the influential factor for this debate. If non-democratic rulers can remain united in their strategy, traditional legacies for serving non-democratic rule will be strengthened, and the effects of modernisation for democracy will continue to be limited. However, because the younger generation demonstrates positive attitudes to democratic values and against traditional legacies, this situation could still change in the long run.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Government and International Affairs, School of
Thesis Date:2013
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:15 Mar 2013 12:47

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