How East Asians View Democracy

In This Review

How East Asians View Democracy
By Yun-Han Chu, Larry Diamond, Andrew J. Nathan, and Doh Chull
Columbia University Press, 2008
328 pp. $26.50
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Students of democracy have always been dogged by the question, Does culture influence people's views of democracy? This puzzle is particularly intriguing for understanding the development of democracy in East Asia, a region that has delivered economic miracles but produced a mixed record on democratization. How East Asians View Democracy, a collaboration of leading American and East Asian scholars of democracy and public opinion, is a pioneering effort that relies on standardized survey methods to measure East Asians' support for democracy. This rigorously designed study, which will surely become a classic in the field, offers both good news and bad for democracy in East Asia. Contrary to those who believe that East Asians are uncommitted to democracy, the surveys show that they express relatively strong support for democratic principles. East Asians reject authoritarian values and expect their countries to become more democratic in the future. To be sure, the level of commitment to democratic values varies across the eight countries and regions surveyed: it is highest in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand and relatively weak in Hong Kong. The bad news is that East Asians have, on average, little commitment to the rule of law. Respondents in Hong Kong, Japan, and South Korea reported a slightly above-average commitment to the rule of law, whereas those in China and Thailand scored well below average. Perhaps the cultural relativists are right -- up to a point -- after all.