My book project, “Modernization and Cultural Democratization in East Asia,” focuses on the universal democratization thesis. I examine the political puzzle of why East Asia remains cursed with democratic underdevelopment while blessed with socioeconomic development. I argue that leading theories of modernization inadequately capture the complexity of the democratization process in East Asia because the state-led development model in the region prioritized economic growth over cultural and political maturation. More specifically, I contend that (1) East Asians’ understandings of democracy significantly differ from those of their western counterparts and (2) East Asian countries struggle with cultural democratization due to the strong role of the state in their development process, which altered the ways in which individuals conceptualize, support, and defend democracy.
I develop an original notion of democratic citizenship consisting of three dimensions: cognitive, affective, and behavioral. The first observes how individuals understand and conceptualize democracy, the second measures individuals’ feelings about democracy, and the third analyzes commitment to defending democracy. I offer new typologies for each dimension of democratic citizenship and compare them based on income and education as a way to assess whether support varies by socioeconomic class.
To test this theory, I utilize data from the World Values Survey and the Asia Barometer Survey and compare three democracies (Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan) with three non-democracies (China, Singapore, and Vietnam). The results show that East Asians view democracy far differently from their western counterparts and from one another, with substantial country-level differences based on regime type and significant individual-level differences based on socioeconomic status. These findings imply that the classic causality between modernization and democratization is unlikely to be universally applicable to different cultural contexts.