Written by Jonathan Sullivan.

Taiwan is one of a number of democracies that began their transition around the same time; sometimes referred to in Huntington’s terminology as ‘Third Wave’ democracies. Taiwan’s experience of democracy has rendered it an increasingly common subject of comparative research, further aided by participation in a number of cross national data collection projects. One of the most popular areas of comparative research is popular attitudes towards democracy. Chu et al 2008compares attitudes in Taiwan to seven other East Asian countries, not all of them democracies, using the East Asian Barometer survey collections which are based in Taiwan. South Korea and Taiwan share a number of features in common; Confucian cultural heritage, a former developmental state, similarly timed economic miracles and transitions to democracy etc. As such they are frequently compared. Diamond and Shin 2014 (my review) is the most recent example of comparative research on various aspects of the two cases’ experience of democracy, now entering the “maturing” phase, in terms of the economy, foreign relations and politics.

Kim 2000 provides a comparison of Taiwan and Korea’s experience of democratization and environmentalism. Although environmentalism and democratization co-evolved in both cases, the environmental movements developed in very distinct ways. Tsai 2009 examines the two polities’ political development and the relationship between democratization and corruption. Political cultural and institutional arrangements in Taiwan and Korea have produced substantially different levels of corruption. Wong 2004 compares the connections between the two democratization paths on social policymaking and outcomes in the area of health and welfare. Another common topic of comparison is the KMT as a “dominant party”. Like the KMT in Taiwan, former hegemonic parties in Mexico and Japan also survived the transition to democratic competition only to weaken later on, as Solinger 2001 examines. But written just after the KMT lost the presidency in 2000, it does not prefigure the KMT’s resurgence since 2008. As a former Japanese colony with numerous aspects of the political system inherited from the former colonizers, comparisons between Taiwan and Japan are also common. Lin 2006 examines the two polities’ reform trajectories, while Grofman et al 1999 compare the nature and effects of the SNTV electoral system on party and voting behaviour.

Taiwan is a predominantly Chinese cultural context where the political and developmental trajectories are distinct from those in China. As such, there has been much interest in what Taiwan’s democratization might mean for China. Tsang and Tien 1999 collects a number of perspectives on the implications of Taiwan’s successful transition to democracy for mainland China, where economic reform and remarkable economic growth has not, as yet, been accompanied by political liberalization. Gilley and Diamond 2008 approach the issue from a slightly different starting point, looking first at developments in China and comparing them to what has previously gone on in Taiwan. Dickson 1997 presents a detailed comparative analysis of the authoritarian KMT and CCP with a view to identifying similarities and differences in the reform trajectories of each.

Scholars are not alone in their interest in Taiwanese elections, which have been closely monitored by various interested parties in China. Han 2007 investigates how Chinese media report on “presidential” elections in Taiwan. Authorities in China have long been keen observers of political developments in Taiwan; this article provides an empirical study of how Taiwan’s experience is framed in state and commercial media in China. Diamond and Myers 2001 present a range of different assessments on the prospects for political reform in China, with reference to developments in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Focusing on individual attitudes, rather than the KMT and CCP, Shi 2001 compares a range of cultural values and political attitudes among Taiwanese and mainland Chinese citizens. Shi’s empirical investigation based on survey data collected in the early 1990s, compares the effects and implications of culture on political trust in two polities with cultural similarities but different political systems.

Jonathan Sullivan is Associate Professor of Contemporary Chinese Studies, University of Nottingham.


Chu, Yun-han, Larry Diamond, Andrew J. Nathan, and Doh Chull Shin (Eds.) How East Asians View Democracy. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008.

Diamond, Larry, and Ramon H. Myers (Eds.) Elections and Democracy in Greater China. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Diamond, Larry and Gi-Wook Shin (Eds.) New Challenges for Maturing Democracies in Korea and Taiwan. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2014.

Dickson, Bruce Democratization in China and Taiwan: The Adaptability of Leninist Parties. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Gilley, Bruce and Larry Diamond (Eds.) Political Change in China: Comparisons with Taiwan. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2008.

Grofman, Bernard, Shung-Chull Lee, Edwin A. Winckler and Brian Woodall (Eds.) Elections in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan Under the Single Non-Transferable Vote: The Comparative Study of an Embedded Institution. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1999.

Han, Gang. “Mainland China Frames Taiwan: How China’s News Websites Covered Taiwan’s 2004 Presidential Election”.Asian Journal of Communication 17, No. 1 (2007): 40-57.

Kim, Sun-hyuk. “Democratization and Environmentalism: South Korea and Taiwan in Comparative Perspective”. Journal of Asian and African Studies 35, No. 3 (2000): 287-302.

Lin, Jih-wen. “The Politics of Reform in Japan and Taiwan”. Journal of Democracy 17, No. 2 (2006): 118-131.

Shi, Tianjian. “Cultural Values and Political Trust: A Comparison of the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan”.Comparative Politics 33, No. 4 (2001): 401-419.

Solinger, Dorothy J. “Ending One-Party Dominance: Korea, Taiwan, Mexico.” Journal of Democracy 12, No. 1 (2001): 30-42.

Tsai, Jung-hsiang. “Political Structure, Legislative Process, and Corruption: Comparing Taiwan and South Korea”. Crime, Law and Social Change 52, No. 4 (2009): 365-383.

Tsang, Steve, and Hung-mao Tien (Eds.) Democratization in Taiwan: Implications for China. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1999.

Wong, Joseph. Healthy Democracies: Welfare Politics in Taiwan and South Korea. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2004.

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