CEAS 325/GOVT 305: Challenges to Democracy in East Asia 

East Asia is home to a remarkable diversity of political regimes, economies, religions, and cultural traditions. Some of the most economically successful and democratic countries are in East Asia, including Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. It is also home to one of the most repressive countries in the world (North Korea) as well as authoritarian regimes that can claim political stability and economic growth, foremost among them being China.

Democracy has been in decline around the world, even in the United States—the former vanguard of liberal democracy. Although many assume democracies die “at the hands of men with guns,” political scientists Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt stress that “democracies may die at the hands not of generals but of elected leaders—presidents or prime ministers who subvert the very process that brought them to power.”[1] Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan represent the fully consolidated democracies of East Asia, but these three countries have also witnessed their own share of challenges. Moreover, the Chinese Communist Party has recently expanded its efforts to use digital media to promote its authoritarian ideals both at home and abroad. Is democracy safe in East Asia?

To gain a good understanding of the workings and challenges of democracy in East Asia, we will explore the following questions in this course:

  • How does democracy look like in East Asia? What are some salient features and issues that define and impact the existing democracies in East Asia (Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan)?
  • Do these challenges pose threat to the stability and maturity of these democracies in the region? Are they unique to East Asian democracies?
  • Why do some people find authoritarianism appealing? How are authoritarian political systems and leaders supported and promoted in East Asia?

[1] Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. How Democracies Die. New York: Crown, 2018.

CEAS 205/GOVT 281: Democracy and Social Movements in East Asia

Despite East Asia’s reputation for acquiescent populations and weak civil society, the region has been replete with social movements. This course assesses the state of civil society in both authoritarian and democratic societies in East Asia by surveying contemporary social movements in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea. The course is designed for students to gain a general understanding of how civil society looks like in East Asian countries and its role in social and political changes in the past and present times. Although the course will not be able to cover the entirety of social movements in the region, the course is to equip students with contextual knowledge as well as empirical and theoretical tools to take a critical approach in examining current and future social movements in the region.

There are three major themes that will be emphasized in the course. First is “problematizing” Western concepts and theories of civil society and social movements in the East Asian context. Civil society is a notion rooted in early experiences of Western Europe. The dominant social movements theories were also developed by Western scholars studying social movements in (democratic) Western Europe and the United States. How do state-society relations in East Asia differ from those of the West? How can we apply the concepts and theories derived from Western societies to understand the state-society relationship in the Confucian world? What role do history and culture play in shaping the dynamics of social movements in East Asia?

The second theme is “problematizing” the democratic nature of civil society and social movements in the authoritarian context. Vibrant civil society is often hailed as a strong pillar of democracy, but civil society also exists and even helps civic life to flourish in authoritarian societies such as contemporary China. How can we apply social movements theories derived from democratic societies to understand the role and effect of civil society and social movements in authoritarian societies?

Third and lastly, we will explore whether and how globalization and advancement in technology facilitate or dampen social movements in the region. What role can transnational advocacy groups play in advancing their causes? How do the Internet and new social media facilitate mobilization and how effective are they?

CEAS 206/GOVT 295: Korean Politics Through Film 

This course explores the contemporary politics of Korea through academic sources and films.  Students will discover how the tumultuous history of modern Korea has contributed to the present political conditions in South and North Korea. The course will focus on issues surrounding major political events in both South and North Korea, including Japanese colonialism, Korean War, military dictatorships, economic development, democracy movement, globalization, inter-Korea relations, and the recent political crisis in South Korea. Films and documentaries spanning from the 1990s to the present will highlight these political issues and events through the eyes of Korean filmmakers. The course will reveal how films problematize political issues and how a film’s storytelling compares to actual history and scholarship on Korea.

CEAS 160: Social and Political Changes in Korea 

Korea is currently the only divided country in the world, with two different political systems – democracy and dictatorship. This course explores dynamic transformations on the Korean peninsula in the modern to the contemporary period. We will cover the demise of Choson dynasty at the end of the 19th century, the Japanese colonial period (1910-1945), the Korean War (1950-1953), and the contemporary period (1960-present). The course is divided into two parts: Part 1 will introduce students to Korea’s political and economic development and Part 2 will cover social and cultural changes.

Parts 1 and 2 together will cover a range of issues related to Korean identity, modernity, social changes, forms of political rule, and Korea’s position in East Asia and the world. Part 1 is aimed at understanding how Korea, a country that is comparable in size to the state of Minnesota, come to have a pivotal role in East Asian and global politics. By uncovering Korea’s past, we will explore how the two Koreas took such divergent paths of political and economic development. Part 2 will explore the vast social and cultural changes happening in South Korea to understand how it has transformed from one of the poorest countries to the 11th largest economy in the world. We will also discuss how these changes are shaping Korea’s identity and role in a globalized world.

This course utilizes secondary sources (written by historians, sociologists, and political scientists) as well as primary source materials (written by leaders and ordinary people) – to understand the multifaceted nature of the major events and development on the Korean peninsula. The course will pay attention not only to domestic factors but also international factors that have shaped the political, economic, social, and cultural development of modern Korea. Upon completing the course, students will have a thorough grasp of the major social and political changes Korea underwent since the late 19th century to the present, and be able to place contemporary issues in their historical context.

“Class Explores Korean Missionary Archival Materials at Special Collections & Archives,” The Wesleyan Connection, November 11, 2016. https://newsletter.blogs.wesleyan.edu/2016/11/11/koreanmissionaries/

CEAS 385/GOVT 391: Legacies of Authoritarian Politics 

This course explores the challenges and legacies faced by new democracies due to their authoritarian pasts. To rigorously examine authoritarian legacies, we will first study the key features and hypothesized causes of democracy to understand the differences between democratic and authoritarian regimes. Subsequently, we will look at the different types of authoritarian regimes, how authoritarian regimes undergo a regime transition, and how they consolidate as a democracy. Lastly, we will explore authoritarian legacies including authoritarian successor parties, political participation, authoritarian nostalgia, civic engagement, and policing in the post-authoritarian era. Throughout the course, we will examine concepts and theories that are developed based on cross-national or case-specific studies in comparative politics and apply them to East Asian and/or Post-Communist cases with a greater focus on East Asia.