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Democracy in Asia

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Editor’s Note: In what follows, the author describes an extraordinary workshop designed for educators. The bolded resources at the conclusion of each topic subheader contain digitally accessible materials the author discusses in the subheader narratives.

Cover of 2015 Utah State University Bennion workshop brochure. The cover image is of a group of famous protesters including anonymous and Ghandi.
Cover of 2015 Utah State University Bennion workshop brochure. Source: The Bennion workshop website at

In June 2015, Utah State University hosted a graduate-level workshop for teachers on “Democracy in Asia: A Universal or American System?”1 Eight Asia specialists from three universities convened to share their expertise with local educators. Recognizing that a brief article cannot do justice to a weeklong workshop, we are still committed to extending the fruits of that local outreach to a broader community. What follows are a few highlights from each workshop session, including suggested source material and engagement exercises that we hope are of use to other educators.

Orientation Exercises

Many instructors begin their courses on Asia by referencing a map, but we included an opening exercise with a twist. Workshop participants were provided with a blank map of Asia and a comprehensive list of country names and capitals, with the assignment to label as many of these as possible in black ink without consulting any sources. After labeling those items that they knew, students were then allowed to consult the Internet or other resources to label the remaining items that they didn’t know in red ink. On the whole, students could label China, India, and Japan, and reasonably place their respective capitals, but Southeast Asia and Central Asia became a cluster of red ink. Their results revealed to them just how much there is to learn about this vast region.

We then assigned each student to an Asian country and gave them ten to fifteen minutes on the CIA World Factbook website to gather key data on their country. Then, we went outside, where students were told to arrange themselves like a map, with each student representing the placement of his or her particular country relative to their neighbors. After some checking and rearranging, students were then instructed to line up according to population size, from largest to smallest. Finally, they lined up by geographic size. Variations of this exercise could be done with other national characteristics, including Freedom House rankings (see the map on page 6).

CIA. World Factbook. Last modified August 20, 2015.

Why Asia Matters

How does Asia impact your life? Maps showing Asia’s massive geographic size, pie graphs that display the significant portion of the world population found in Asia, and a few statistics that show the size of Asia’s economy, which includes the world’s second- and third-largest national economies, are useful for demonstrating Asia’s relevance. The website Asia Matters for America, hosted by the East-West Center, offers a great resource for current information and graphics related to this theme.

East-West Center. Asia Matters for America. Accessed January 28, 2016.

Statistic: Global population by continent as of mid-2019 (in millions) | Statista. The graph shows that Asia's population (4.73 billion) is roughly 4x larger than all other continents. Africa is the second largest continent at 1.419 billion.
Source: Statista website at © Statista 2016.

A map titled "Freedom in the World, 2016." Countries are shaded based on their designation of Free, Partly Free, or Not Free.
You can download a pdf or jpeg
version of this “Freedom in the
World 2016” map on the
Freedom House website at

Democracy in Asia

Exploration of the interactive map on the Freedom House website shows the state of freedom across the globe today. We then posed the questions, “Which countries in Asia are free, which are partly free, which are not free, and which are ‘worst of the worst’?” and “What accounts for the very diverse receptions to democracy throughout Asia?”

In 1948, the United Nations adopted a Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document that became the foundation of international human rights law. Article 21 of the declaration stipulates that “everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives . . . The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage. . . .” The UN, with America’s lead, has actively promoted these values across the globe so that today, using Freedom House’s “Freedom in the World 2016” report, 125 of the world’s 195 countries are classified as electoral democracies with 64% of the global population living under “free” or “partly free” systems.2

Yet in much of Asia, it is argued that democracy is inherently a Western value incongruent with Asian cultures and that America’s promotion of democracy around the globe—often in conjunction with a military presence—smacks of hypocrisy and neo-imperialism. China’s rapid economic rise has also provided an attractive alternative to the democratic model for many developing nations. In 1993, the ministers of several Asian nations issued their own Declaration on Human Rights, otherwise known as the Bangkok Declaration. In it, they argued that “all countries, large and small, have the right to determine their political systems” and that “to impose the human rights criteria of one’s own country on other countries [is] tantamount to infringement upon the sovereignty of other countries and interference in the latter’s affairs.” Thus, human rights abuses and the suppression of democratic aspirations can be dismissed as the unfair imposition of foreign standards and interference in a nation’s sovereignty.

Freedom House. Freedom in the World 2016. Accessed April 28, 2016. United Nations.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Accessed April 28, 2016.

Monash University Library. Final Declaration of the Regional Meeting for Asia of the World Conference on Human Rights. Accessed January 28, 2016.

Is Democracy Universally Applicable, or Is It Inherently American and Western?

The workshop critically examined and actively debated both sides of this question by placing democracy in Asia within a historical context that takes into account the uniqueness of Asian cultures, as well as centuries of Western imperialism in Asia, America’s support of anti-communist dictators during the Cold War, and the promotion of Western values by force of arms—all of which contravene the ideals of the UN Declaration on Human Rights. Part 9 of The Pacific Century documentary “Sentimental Imperialists: Americans in Asia” focuses on America as part of the broader Western imperialist agenda in Asia. On the other hand, we offer evidence that when promoted and embraced at the grassroots level, democracy can and does transcend cultures—even Asian ones—and that those countries that have successfully transitioned to stable democracies enjoy relatively greater prosperity and global engagement than nondemocratic Asian states.

The Pacific Century, Part 9, “Sentimental Imperialists: Americans in Asia.” Claremont, CA: Pacific Basin Institute, 1992. Originally aired on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in 1992. Available on YouTube at

Photograph of Ho Chi Minh (front row, first on left) with Communist Party members in Paris. Source: Screen capture
Left: Ho Chi Minh (front row, first on left) with Communist Party members in Paris. Source: Screen capture From the Barrel of a Gun, segment 3 on YouTube at
Right: Sukarno, first President of Indonesia. Source: From the Barrel of a Gun, segment 4 on YouTube at

Democracy in Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia is one of the most populous areas on earth, and one of the most diverse in terms of language, religion, and ethnicity. The region also runs the political gamut from communist states to military dictatorships to fledgling democracies. A good way to introduce students to these complexities is through a simple “identity mapping” exercise. This could be followed by a discussion of what makes a nation or a debate over whether diversity is an obstacle to democracy.

The online documentary From the Barrel of a Gun tells the story of Ho Chi Minh of Việt Nam and Sukarno of Indonesia, each of whom won independence from Western imperialist nations using violence. But since then, they have followed very different paths. After reading the Vietnamese Declaration of Independence drafted by Ho Chi Minh, students can consider the following questions: How is this similar to our own Declaration of Independence? Ironically, how does Ho Chi Minh view America and France, the bastions of modern democracy? How did the actions of leading Western democracies act against our ideals during the Cold War?

Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim nation, recently emerged as a surprising role model for democracy among its neighbors; an accessible 2014 New York Times article is an informative classroom resource on Indonesian democracy. Myanmar’s recent (and ongoing) transition from military dictatorship to democracy under Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi offers further hope for the region. On the other hand (as described in the 2014 article of The Guardian), after a military coup in Thailand, the government pulled the film The Hunger Games from theaters and banned symbols from the film because it portrays a popular uprising that inspired Thai dissidents. The nation of Singapore presents a conundrum: it has been captive to a single party for decades and, according to Freedom House, ranks in the bottom half of the world in terms of democratic participation and personal liberties, and yet it enjoys a level of prosperity higher than that of many Western democracies. Do the material successes in China and Singapore offer a viable alternative to democracy, as some Asian nations argue? What may be the pros and cons of their systems?

Meissner, Caits. “In the Classroom: Exploring Identity.” Well and Often 1 (2012). Accessed March 7, 2016.

The Pacific Century, Part 3, “From the Barrel of a Gun.” Claremont, CA: Pacific Basin Institute, 1992. Originally aired on PBS in 1992. Available on YouTube at

“Document No. 34: Proclamation of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (September 2, 1945).” In Vietnam: The Definitive Documentation of Human Decisions. Edited by Gareth Porter. Stanfordville, NY: E. M. Coleman Enterprises, 1979.

Cochrane, Joe. “In Southeast Asia, Indonesia Is an Unlikely Role Model for Democracy.” The New York Times. September 4, 2014.

Associated Press in Bangkok. “Hunger Games Salute Banned by Thai Military.” The Guardian. June 3, 2014.

Islam and Democracy in Central and Southwest Asia

Despite their individual differences, all of Central Asia’s peoples face similar challenges as they set out to construct or rebuild their states: ethnic and religious diversity, difficult terrain, poor infrastructure, poverty and mostly agrarian economies, and governing regimes that are either authoritarian or ineffectual. As Central Asia’s people consider their future, Islam and democracy both play a central role. However, they are far from agreement about the relationship between these two concepts. For some, Islam is itself democratic at its roots; and the social justice, equality, and governmental transparency associated with working democracy are attainable through an Islamic-based system of government and ethics. For others, Islam demands a morality, discipline, and organization of social relations that are incompatible with Western-style democracy. Thus, Central Asia presents not only a range of ways of being Muslim, but also a variety of debates over how and whether Islam will be integrated into the region’s future. What parallels might be drawn between the debates over the role of Islam in Central Asian societies and debates over the role of Christianity or Christian values in American society?

Of all of the states of Central and Southwest Asia, Afghanistan is the one best-known to Americans. After decades of war, it remains a society very much divided over what its future will be. The US overthrow of the Taliban in the early 2000s put an end to the strict Islamic regime that had been in place since 1992. The regime removed women from the workplace; banned music, cinema, and kite flying; set strict dress codes for men and women; and became known for its graphic executions of those found to be in violation of its laws. Since then, new opportunities have appeared, particularly for women who have opened businesses, sought out higher education, and become part of daily life in the streets of large cities such as Kabul. For examples of this, see the videos “First Woman to Own a Driver’s License in Afghanistan” and “After the Taliban—Afghan Ladies Driving School,” or read an article on a female Afghani taxi driver. Students may also enjoy debating the significance of the hijab—the traditional veil worn by Muslim females. Is it oppressive and a threat to democracy, or is it empowering for women and an emblem of religious freedom? How could it be seen as both?

“CNN: First Woman to Own a Driver’s License in Afghanistan.” YouTube video, 2:01. Posted by CNN. December 27, 2010.

“After the Taliban—Afghan Ladies Driving School—BBC.” YouTube video, 3:45. Posted by BBCWorldwide. June 29, 2007. Associated Press adapted by Newsela staff.

“Afghan Woman Drives Taxi, Defies Threats.” Newsela. Last modified March 12, 2015.

A screen capture of "Untouchability and Casteism." In the screen shot a woman is pictured with her four children. She says " We cannot enter the temples, they are the high lot and we are the lowly ones. We can't enter the temple because of untouchability."
Screen captures from Part II “Untouchability & Casteism (Castes)” on YouTube at

All Men are Created Equal? The Debate over Caste in India

Today, India is the world’s largest democracy. How did it get there, and what unique obstacles did it have to overcome? Begin an examination of caste in India with an exercise in recognizing privilege and opportunity. Students can then read Robert Deliege’s “Caste, Class, and Untouchability,” which provides a fine introduction to the anthropology of caste and how it has evolved,3 followed by a National Geographic article on untouchability in India today. Do we have castes in America? Consider your own social boundaries in endogamy and commensality; do you see trends in yourself, your family, and your communities? As an illustration, invite students to answer questions that demonstrate their own social boundaries. How do you decide who to invite to your birthday parties? How do you decide who to sit by at lunch? When going to school dances, how do you decide who to ask? Why does your family socialize with some neighbors and not with others? After recognizing the existence of social boundaries in our own lives and society, watch Richard Attenborough’s classic 1982 film Gandhi, a dramatization of the life and work of a man who led India to independence, available through online video services such as Amazon Prime and VUDU. How were the fights for independence, the fight against untouchability, and achieving democracy all interrelated?

Pyle, Nathan W. “This Teacher Taught His Class a Powerful Lesson About Privilege.” BuzzFeed. Last modified November 21, 2014.

O’Neill, Tom. “Untouchable.” National Geographic. June 2003.

Democracy in Japan and Environmental Disaster

Provide students with an overview of the Allied Occupation of postwar Japan and the conversion of Japan into a Western-style democracy using readings from John Dower’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book Embracing Defeat, including chapter 12 on the drafting of the Shōwa Constitution by a small group of mostly American civilians, along with part 5 of The Pacific Century documentary “Reinventing Japan,” available on YouTube.4 These provide the opportunity for a debate over the nature of Japanese democracy. Is it a foreign imposition, or did the Shōwa Constitution just give voice to formerly suppressed desires on the part of most Japanese people?

Tomoko and Mother in the Bath is a photograph taken by American photojournalist W. Eugene Smith in 1971. Many commentators regard Tomoko as Smith's greatest work. The black-and-white photo depicts a mother cradling her severely deformed, naked daughter in a traditional Japanese bathroom. The mother, Ryoko Kamimura, agreed to deliberately pose the startlingly intimate photograph with Smith to illustrate the terrible effects of Minamata disease (a type of mercury poisoning) on the body and mind of her daughter Tomoko Kamimura.
Tomoko Uemura in Her Bath by W.
Eugene Smith. Source: Wikipedia at

Then, examine the famous 1954 Japanese film Godzilla, available on Amazon Prime and Hulu, with discussion of the irradiated monster’s relationship to the Japanese being the only people to have suffered nuclear war. This opens up an opportunity to review the relationship between environmental disasters and democracy in Japan. Readings include chapters 7–8 and the conclusion of Timothy George’s Minamata: Pollution and the Struggle for Democracy in Postwar Japan (Harvard University Asia Center, 2001) for the 1950s, Ken’ichi Miyamoto’s “Japanese Environmental Policy”5 for resident movements against pollution in the 1960s and 1970s, and the interview “Fukushima and the Crisis of Democracy” on the 2011 disaster.6 Does the formation of environmental movements and their method of operation utilize democratic processes? Can consumer activism be a form of democracy? Can local democracy be at odds with national democracy and vice versa?

Divide the class into groups for an activity. Display the image of Tomoko Uemura in Her Bath (1971) by W. Eugene Smith, included in the resource list below. Have the students convey what is going on in the picture without speaking or writing—they can only communicate through gestures. Explain that Ishimure Michiko worked as a kataribe, speaking for those without voices, and explain that without help these people would suffer silently. Have students then reflect on situations nearer to home where those struggling may be silenced, literally or figuratively, and ask them to think about how they could lend their voices. Conclude with the question, “When is it our duty to speak on behalf of others, and when must we refrain?”

The Pacific Century, Part 5, “Reinventing Japan.” Claremont, CA: Pacific Basin Institute, 1992. Originally aired on PBS in 1992. Available on YouTube at

See Tomoko Uemura in Her Bath (1971) by W. Eugene Smith from the June 2, 1972 issue of Life magazine at

The left picture shows a screenshot from PSY Gangnam Style. The right picture shows Kim Jong-Un discussing with military leaders.
Left: PSY, “Gangnam Style.“ Source: Screen capture from YouTube video at
Right: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un with military leaders. Source: ABC The World Today website at

Democracy in the Two Koreas: Diverging Paths

A satellite image of North and South Korea at night is a perfect metaphor for the two estranged states (see resources below), with the South brilliantly lit and a veritable black hole to the North. Similarly, while South Korean pop sensation PSY’s hit “Gangnam Style” boasts the most-watched YouTube video ever, the austere Kim Jong-un heads a reclusive and belligerent dynasty in the North. Given that the two Koreas only diverged in 1945, what accounts for such stark differences today?

Two documentary videos, both available online, provide insight into the recent history of each state. Part 8 of the documentary The Pacific Century, “The Fight for Democracy,” available on YouTube, covers the democracy movement under Kim Dae-jung, from the Kwangju Uprising through the 1987 election, with harrowing footage of clashes between protestors and the police/military. Students can consider what explains the failure of earlier attempts to democratize in South Korea (in 1960 and 1980), and what made the difference in 1987.

On the other side of the DMZ, the documentary Welcome to North Korea, available through the link below, provides a haunting and surreal glimpse inside the reclusive regime, with great examples of how the cult of the Kims is perpetuated. Chapter 9 in Barbara Demick’s Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea offers a firsthand account of the famine in North Korea during the mid-1990s, an unfortunate consequence of communist policies seen in the Soviet Union in the early 1930s and China in the early 1960s.7 Having contrasted the two Koreas, students can then discuss to what extent democracy explains their differences.

Griffin, Andrew. “North Korea: It’s Not a Problem That Our Country Goes Dark at Night.” The Independent. February 9, 2015. See the image at

“PSY—Gangnam Style m/v.” YouTube video, 4:12. Posted by “officialpsy.” July 15, 2012.

The Pacific Century, Part 8, “The Fight for Democracy.” Claremont, CA: Pacific Basin Institute, 1992. Originally aired on PBS in 1992. Available on YouTube at

“Welcome To North Korea.” YouTube video, 53:15. Posted by Michael Satok Wolman. December 28, 2011.

Tomoko Uemura in Her Bath by W. Eugene Smith. Source: Wikipedia at

Left image shows a woman kneeling over the dead body of her husband. She is screaming. The middle image is of a rising phoenix through a ring of fire. The right image shows the Tank Man is the nickname of an unidentified Chinese man who stood in front of a column of Type 59 tanks leaving Tiananmen Square in Beijing.
Left to right: Mary Ann Vecchio by the body of fellow student Jeffrey Miller on the campus of Kent State University. (© 1970 Valley News-Dispatch. Photo by Pulitzer Prize winner John Paul Filo). Source: Wikipedia at Mockingjay logo. Source: Movie Wallpapers website at Tank Man by Charlie Cole. Source: Iconic Photos blog at

Beijing Spring and Tiananmen Massacre, 1989

Photograph of the statue of the Goddess of Democracy statue amongst protestors. The Goddess of Democracy, also known as the Goddess of Democracy and Freedom, the Spirit of Democracy, and the Goddess of Liberty (自由女神; zìyóu nǚshén), was a 10-metre-tall (33 ft) statue created during the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.
The Goddess of Democracy.
Source: The Conversation website

Present to students images of student protests, such as Kent State’s in 1970 or the Kwangju Uprising, without explanations or captions. Have the students then write or explain what they think happened. Then, show the last half of the documentary segment China: A Century of Revolution Part 3, 1976–1997, “Born Under the Red Flag,” which offers an insider’s perspective on the Beijing Spring movement that culminated in the Tiananmen Massacre in 1989. What parallels do you see between other protests and Tiananmen? Although it started out similar to other democracy movements in South Korea, Taiwan, and the Soviet Union, why did it fail in China?

Display the mockingjay symbol from The Hunger Games series, and have students explain what it represents. Then, display the famous image of the “Tank Man,” which has become iconic for an individual standing up to oppression. Have students view the story of the Tank Man on the PBS website, which concludes with a fascinating look at Internet censorship in China and a virtual erasure of the massacre from China’s collective memory. Finally, display an image of the Goddess of Democracy from the Tiananmen protests. Have students discuss in small groups the following questions: What do you think this statue symbolizes? Does it bear any resemblance to other art you are familiar with? What is the significance of how she was placed in the square? This discussion could lead to analysis of the familiar but fictional revolution in The Capitol from The Hunger Games in comparison with a historical protest.

The following sources offer a view of each side of the Tiananmen showdown, revealing their very different definitions of democracy. This disagreement still constitutes a major source of tension within China and between the PRC and the United States. For a dissenting perspective, read “The Fifth Modernization” by Wei Jingsheng and “May 13th Hunger Strike Declaration,” drafted by protestors in 1989. For the government’s position, read the Chinese Communist Party’s official response to the protest in People’s Daily. How is the movement portrayed by the state? What is “socialist democracy,” and how does it differ from the democracy of the protestors? Have students make posters that express their disagreement with a school policy. Would you display that poster where the principal would see it? Would it affect your grades or result in your expulsion? What were these students risking by demonstrating against the government?

China: A Century of Revolution Part 3, 1976-1997, “Born Under the Red Flag.” New York: Zeigeist Films, 1997. DVD. Also available on YouTube at

Thomas, Antony. “The Tank Man.” PBS video, 90:00. April 11, 2006.

Jingsheng, Wei. “The Fifth Modernization: Democracy.” Asia for Educators.

“The May 13 Hunger Strike Declaration (1989),” Asia For Educators (Columbia University). Accessed March 7, 2016. “It Is Necessary To Take a Clear-Cut Stand Against Disturbances.”

Renmin Nibao (People’s Daily). April 26, 1989. Available at

Democracy in China’s Popular Culture

How have popular protests changed since 1989? As an example, look at Han Han, a rebel of China’s young generation whose main weapon is his blog. You can read an article on his activism from The New Yorker and watch his CNN interview on YouTube. What role does social media play in mediating new models of mass mobilization and grassroots democracy? Have people ever had a positive or negative reaction to something
you have posted on social media? What are the potential consequences to posting political commentary or criticism online?

Osnos, Evan. “The Han Dynasty.” The New Yorker. July 4 2011.

“CNN: China’s Rebel Blogger Hanhan ½.” YouTube video, 10:55. Posted by “Schwanegans.” June 2, 2010.

Women and Democracy in China

To give students an idea of how women’s rights have evolved in China, have them first read He-yin Zhen’s “On the Question of Women’s Liberation,” which provides background on patriarchy and the role of women in traditional China.8 Then, point them toward a website on communist propaganda posters featuring analysis of the dual portrayal of China’s “Iron Women, Foxy Ladies.” To what extent did the campaign liberate China’s female population to enjoy equal social, economic, and political agency, and to what extend did it merely serve the agenda of a male-dominated party state?

Left to right: Poster of a woman welder with the caption, “We are proud of participating in the founding of our country’s industrialization.” Rosie the Riveter: “We Can Do It!” poster for Westinghouse by J. Howard Miller. Qiu Jin, feminist revolutionary and martyr.                                                               Five feminist advocators who were arrested in 2015. Left to right: Li Tingting, Zheng Churan, Wei Tingting, Wang Man, and Wu Rongrung.
TOP: Left to right: Poster of a woman welder with the caption, “We are proud of participating in the founding of our country’s industrialization.” Designer: Ning Hao 1954. Source: The Iron Women and Foxy Ladies gallery at Rosie the Riveter: “We Can Do It!” poster for Westinghouse by J. Howard Miller. Source: Wikimedia Commons at Qiu Jin, feminist revolutionary and martyr. Source:                                                                                                  BOTTOM: Five feminist advocators who were arrested in 2015. Left to right: Li Tingting, Zheng Churan, Wei Tingting, Wang Man, and Wu Rongrung. Source: GirltalkHQ website at


Have students compare the Iron Girls of China to Rosie the Riveter of WWII America. How were these images used to change the view of women and their role in society? What were the lasting consequences of these campaigns? This can lead into a discussion of recent events, including the spring 2015 incarceration of five feminist advocators. How does this contradict propaganda and the Communist Party’s stated goals? How are women’s rights and democracy intertwined? This question is also prompted by the film The Story of Qiu Ju (1992), which portrays a woman in contemporary China facing a very unfair and apathetic authoritarian state, available online through Amazon and iTunes.

“Iron Women, Foxy Ladies.” Accessed March 7, 2016.

Chinese Democracies: Taiwan, Singapore, and Prospects for Hong Kong

Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong all purport to be Chinese democracies. What is the current state of democracy in each, according to Freedom House? How do they compare to China, and what does this suggest about the argument in the Bangkok Declaration about the incompatibility of Western-style democracy and Chinese culture?

Taiwan has been called a “hyper-democracy” due to its (overly?) active student movements. After watching the following video segments, see if you agree. Start with a video of the 1990 Wild Lily Student Movement, which succeeded in initiating the first popular election in Taiwan. How is this similar to the development of democracy in South Korea and elsewhere at the same time? How does it compare to the Tiananmen protests, and why did it succeed in Taiwan but not China?

A photograph of the Sunflower Revolt in Taiwan.
Screen capture from The Sunflower Revolt: Protests in Taiwan.
Screen capture from China Issues Warning Over Hong Kong ‘Illegal’ Protests. One poster says "You can't kill us all" and :No matter what you do, we keep fighting for democracy until the end."
Screen capture from China Issues Warning Over Hong Kong ‘Illegal’ Protests.
Source: BBC News at







Watch the video on the recent Sunflower Student Movement and note the government’s response. How does this illustrate both the state of democracy in Taiwan today and fears about its future?

Finally, watch the BBC video on recent democracy protests in Hong Kong and consider how it compares to those in Tiananmen in 1989. Interested readers can consider the question of “What is the relationship between prodemocracy movements in Hong Kong and Taiwan, and what role does China play in each?” Through reading the 2014 Economist article available below, what future do you see for Hong Kong—closer to China or closer to Taiwan?

“我們的1990” (Wild Lily Student Movement). YouTube video, 4:41. Posted by “Docunion.” July 13, 2015.

“The Sunflower Revolt: Protests in Taiwan.” YouTube video, 6:25. Posted by “VICE News.” April 12, 2014.

Liu, Jiuliana. “China Issues Warning Over Hong Kong ‘Illegal’ Protests.” BBC News. October, 2 2014.

“Told You So: The Protests In Hong Kong Fuel Taiwan’s Distrust of China.” The Economist. November 4, 2014.


Consider the evolution of Asia’s authoritarian regimes either into democracy (Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Indonesia), communism (China, North Korea, Việt Nam, Laos, Cambodia), or other alternatives. How do these countries compare today in terms of prosperity and global engagement? What accounts for their different trajectories?

Returning to our main question—is Western-style democracy appropriate for Asia?—consider the evidence presented here, as well as the observations of Kim Dae-jung, who after decades of advocating democracy at his own peril, was finally elected president of South Korea. He offers a brief and accessible retort to those who argue that democracy is at odds with Asian culture in “Is Culture Destiny? The Myth of Asia’s Anti-Democratic Values.”

Dae-jung, Kim. “Is Culture Destiny? The Myth of Asia’s Anti-Democratic Values” Foreign Affairs 73, no. 6 (1994): 189–194. Also available at


1. As workshop director, I would like to acknowledge the Ione S. Bennion Foundation and the Mountain West Center for Regional Studies for making the workshop possible. Workshop presenters included Wesley Sasaki-Uemura of the University of Utah; Kirk Larsen and Chad Emmett of Brigham Young University (BYU); Ravi Gupta, Li Guo, Danielle Ross, and R. Edward Glatfelter of Utah State University (USU); and J. Spencer Clark of the USU College of Education, who assisted with curriculum development. Details on the workshop are available at

2. See the “Freedom in the World 2016” report by Freedom House available at

3. Robert Deliege, “Caste, Class, and Untouchability,” in A Companion to the Anthropology of India, ed. Isabelle Clark-Deces (London: Blackwell, 2011), 45–61.

4. John W. Dower, Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II (New York: Dower and Company, 1999).

5. See chapter 12 in Japan at Nature’s Edge: The Environmental Context of Global Power, ed. Ian Jared Miller, Julia Adeney Thomas, and Brett L. Walker (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press).

6. See Katsuya Hirano, “Fukushima and the Crisis of Democracy: Interview with Murakami Tatsuya” from The Asia-Pacific Journal 13, issue 20, no.1 (2015) at

7. Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea (New York: Spiegel and Grau, 2015).

8. Lydia He Liu, Rebecca E. Karl, and Dorothy Ko, eds. The Birth of Chinese Feminism: Essential Texts in Transnational Theory (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013), 50–71.