Progressive setback in East Asia: why and how urban citizens challenged the new politics

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Referring to the short-term survival of new progressive governments, ‘progressive setback’ has been a remarkable political phenomenon in many East Asian countries during the recent decades. Regarding this phenomenon's background, this paper investigates why and how urban citizens challenged their progressive governments in Thailand, South Korea, and Japan. First, this paper argues that the progressive setback across East Asia reflects the difficulty progressive governments faced in overcoming the legacy of longstanding conservative regimes, which had locked urban citizens into specific modes of subsistence. The progressives invoked the protest of urban populations as their new socioeconomic policies undermined these populations’ traditional basis of subsistence. Second, an investigation of the primary modes of urban subsistence in each country makes the cross-national comparison of progressive setback possible. Urban middle classes in Thailand, as an exclusive group incorporated into the mainstream political economy, engaged in a fierce contest with a progressive government that denied their privileged status in Thai society. In Korea, the self-employed turned to the conservative party since market restructuring programs of the progressive government made it difficult for these self-employed to maintain profits and sustain their livelihood. Finally, Japan's urban workers could not welcome the welfare expansion of the new labor-friendly government, because this class was too dependent upon wage incomes to agree with the consumption tax hike that welfare expansion required as its precondition. This paper implies that the old habits of urban citizens are an important hurdle for East Asia's progressives to overcome.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)655-678
Number of pages24
JournalPacific Review
Issue number5
StatePublished - 20 Oct 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 Taylor & Francis.


  • Japan
  • Progressive setback
  • South Korea
  • Thailand
  • habitation
  • urban challenge


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