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Western Theories versus East Asian Realities:Political System Preferences among East Asians


What types of political systems do people in East Asia favor most and least? Throughout the region, do most people uniformly prefer democracy to nondemocratic systems, as advocates of universal democratization theses claim? If they do, do they prefer liberal democracy to non-liberal democracy? If they do not favor democracy more than other types of political systems, what type do they favor most? Is it meritocracy or a hybrid system, for which proponents of Confucian democracy or the Asian Values Thesis have recently advocated? To address these questions, I first review previous studies on democratic system support and highlight their limitations in unraveling the meanings of avowed democratic system support and comparing its levels across different countries and regions of the world. Then I propose a new typology of citizen preferences for a variety of political systems, including democracy and autocracy. Unlike all other typologies, it ascertain in sequence the types and subtypes people prefer without using the word “democracy” (“the D-word” hereafter). Finally, I attempt to evaluate the relevance of universal and liberal democratization theses in the context of East Asia, analyzing the 3rd wave of the Asian Barometer Survey conducted in 13 democratic and nondemocratic countries. The analysis reveals that these theses serve merely as prodemocracy rhetoric, not as theoretically meaningful propositions.

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