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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Classing Ethnicity: Class, Ethnicity and the Mass Politics of Taiwan’s Democratic Transition


In this essay I offer a sharply revisionist account of Taiwan’s transition to democracy, based upon an empirically derived neo-Weberian class-analytic framework. My analysis reveals that the conventional accent on the middle class was largely misplaced. Instead, the true heroes in the struggle for democracy, even in prosperous, placid Taiwan, were the island’s urban and rural working classes, although proper recognition of this fact requires us to look beyond the politics of the workplace. While the better-educated middle classes in fact displayed the highest normative affinity for democratic values, as the primary beneficiaries of the State they were also among the most politically conservative sectors in society. In contrast, working class support for the opposition was driven primarily by a generalized sense of disaffection with the existing social order, although its lack of a coherent agenda also proved consequential for the opposition’s mobilizational strategy and policy orientation after the initial political opening.

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