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  • Democracy on Trial: Social Movements and Cultural Politics in Post-authoritarian Taiwan by Ya-Chung Chuang
  • Xinzhi Zhang
Democracy on Trial: Social Movements and Cultural Politics in Post-authoritarian Taiwan, by Ya-Chung Chuang. Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press, 2013. 292 pp. US$39 (Hardcover). ISBN 9789629965464.

The dynamics between political structures and individuals during social change have become a significant line of research in political science, with one of the most dominant themes being how ordinary people engage in politics. Among a number of scholars and their canonical works, such as Samuel P. Huntington (The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century), Annabelle Sreberny-Mohammadi and Ali Mohammadi (Small Media, Big Revolution: Communication, Culture, and the Iranian Revolution), Nick Couldry and James Curran, eds., Contesting Media Power: Alternative Media in a Networked World), and Teresa Wright (The Perils of Protest: State Repression and Student Activism in China and Taiwan), Ya-Chung Chuang’s recent monograph, Democracy on Trial: Social Movements and Cultural Politics in Postauthoritarian Taiwan, examines how individuals interacted with institutions in attempting to develop a democratic society in Taiwan in their daily lives and provides crucial insights into this line of research.

Democracy on Trial consists of three parts, with a total of seven chapters. Part I addresses the topic of “State and Civil Society,” which presents the political context for the democratization in Taiwan. In Chapter 1, the author states that the ruling power of the Kuomintang began to decline at the end of the 1970s, and until the late 1980s different alignments of political and social forces struggled for leadership but none could reach a dominant hegemony within the society. In particular, the author provides a cogent review of the rise of Lee Teng-Hui, a “historical puzzle” who was the first ethnic Taiwanese president. The author adopts the theoretical framework of the “passive revolution” by Antonio Gramsci, the Italian Marxist theoretician and politician. Lee co-opted different possible hostile forces, making possible the process of state rebuilding. The author examines the process of Lee’s reform via two typical aspects of comparative politics—the alternation of the central-local relationship (i.e., the dualistic power structure between the central administration and local elites was broken) and the alternation of the voting system (i.e., representatives in both the National Assembly and the Legislative Yuan could be re-electable). Having put forward the state-centered political context, the author then moves to focus on social organizations in Chapter 2. He addresses the “professionalization of [End Page 265] social movements,” beginning with the May Insurgency of 1997 when thousands of demonstrators, infuriated by the death of Pai Hsiao-yen, marched on the streets of Taipei. People protested against police incompetence in the rescue and failure to maintain social security. Using the analytical framework of social movements, i.e., David S. Meyer and Sidney Tarrow, eds., The Social Movement Society: Contentious Politics for a New Century (1998), the author discusses how activism had become a vocation and how movement organizations became interwoven with urban society in Taiwan beginning in the 1980s and flourished by the 1990s. Consequently, Chapter 3 focuses on the “talking public,” with the unit of analysis moving from the state (Chapter 1), social organizations (Chapter 2), to individuals. The author highlights the importance of everyday political discussions, which were transformed into multipurpose social forces “capable of adjusting themselves to counteract problems emanating from the complexities and multiplicities of daily life.” (pp. 19 –20)

Part II tackles “Identity and Ethnicity.” The author argues that the politics of bentu identity was a process to reconnect people to culture, and such identity-based political actions encouraged people to position themselves in political life. Literally, identity refers to the political aspect of a social-psychological belief in collective identity. In the case of Taiwan in particular, as the author suggests, the political identity of the Taiwanese was strongly influenced by an identity perception linked with mainland China versus an “indigenous” identity (Chapter 4). On the other hand, by referring to “ethnic identity” in Chapter 5, the author examines two cases of ethnic struggles for recognition in Taiwan. One is the struggle by the aboriginal...


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pp. 265-269
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