Political Development in the Republic of China on Taiwan, 1985-1992: An Insider's View

By Soong, James Chul-Yul | World Affairs, Fall 1992 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Political Development in the Republic of China on Taiwan, 1985-1992: An Insider's View


Soong, James Chul-Yul, World Affairs


The basic facts are beyond dispute. Since the beginning of its export-oriented economic growth in the mid-1960s, the real gross national product of the Republic of China (ROC) on Taiwan grew at an average rate of nearly 9 percent a year. In fact, Taiwan has successfully transformed its socioeconomic structure from pre-dominantly rural and agrarian to one of urban and industrial. More impressively, this growth has been accompanied by a favorable pattern of income distribution, low unemployment, universal literacy, and the near elimination of poverty that usually alienates the poorest social strata in other less developed countries (LDCs). It is little wonder that scholars of development often speak of the "economic miracle" in Taiwan (Gold, 1986).

Following its impressive economic growth, there has been increasing demand in Taiwan for more political openness (Scalapino, 1987:77). Rules upon which social and political activities were sanctioned can no longer address the population's near-feverish demand for political participation. Overseeing the society's rapid transformation and the appropriate management of this new-found vitality and enthusiasm is a matter of critical importance for the ruling Kuomintang (KMT). Simply stated, the KMT's goal is to institutionalize political processes and to strengthen the rule of law operating under a democratic, constitutional framework.

In analyzing the relationship between socioeconomic growth and political development, the most commonly assumed paradigm is that the likelihood of political democracy increases as the level of socioeconomic development improves (Lipset, 1959). Indeed, Taiwan's rapid socioeconomic progress has brought democratic inclinations and has produced an environment conducive to full democracy. Mass education, urbanization, and internationalization have all contributed to the emergence of a democratic political system in Taiwan. However, because democracy is a foreign import and it needs to operate under Taiwan's Chinese socio-cultural traditions, there are inevitable contradictions and tensions that would affect its structural underpinnings and effectiveness.

DEMOCRACY AND CHINESE CULTURAL TRADITIONS

In spite of ethnic and religious diversity, there is a background culture that binds people together in Taiwan, a culture deeply rooted in Confucianism. Unlike others, Confucianism is a code of ethics and standard of conduct, developed to guide the relationships between people (Han, 1984). It emphasizes mutual respect and common acknowledgement of mutual obligations. Within these relationships, a common understanding of what is mutually expected reduces the need for much forthright, direct communication.

In politics, Confucianism views government as an extended family, with individuals knowing their place and responsibility (Hicks and Redding, 1984). As Lucian Pye explains, "Just as the Confucian concept of the ideal government was an extension of the ideal family, so the prime tasks of government were the same as those of the family: to provide security, continuity, cohesion, and solidarity" (1985:63).

Against such an inherent cultural backdrop, the notion of a participatory pluralist society where an actively involved citizenry compete for favorable policy outcomes by open, frequently hostile confrontation appears peculiar to most Chinese on Taiwan. In particular, Confucian emphasis on group harmony rather than individualism sets the socio-political context in stark contrast with many of the early-industrialized, parliamentarian democracies in Western Europe and North America. Using the United States as a case in contrast, Samuel Huntington explains the difference succinctly:

In such a society, the critical need is to avoid

competition and disharmony, and hence elaborate

consultation within the group is required

before a decision can be reached. Americans,

on the other hand, are comfortable with open

conflict, majority votes, and a more individualistic,

"lone ranger" style of leadership [Huntington,

1981:56].

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Political Development in the Republic of China on Taiwan, 1985-1992: An Insider's View
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?