Andrew Nathan describes two of the many trenchant observations in Doh Chull Shin's new study of democracy in East Asia, (Confucianism and Democratization in East Asia). From Nathan's review:
In China, 65 percent of respondents endorsed democracy in principle, but only 28 percent considered the opportunity to change governments through elections to be essential to democracy, and fewer than four percent said that the freedom to criticize people in power is essential.
The values of people in Confucian Asia are no more Confucian than those of people elsewhere; indeed, they are often less so. Smaller proportions of citizens in the region are devoted to paternalistic meritocracy than in non-Confucian Asia, which Shin defines as Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, the Philippines, and Thailand. Compared with six other regions studied in the World Values Survey, Confucian Asia is only the fourth-most hierarchical, after the Muslim world, Africa, and Latin America. A plausible interpretation of such findings is that so-called Confucian values are not distinctively Asian at all; instead, they belong to a more universal category of traditional values. That interpretation gains support from the fact that the countries of Confucian Asia are far from monolithic in their norms and beliefs. Fewer than seven percent of Japanese adhere to hierarchical values, compared with more than 40 percent of Vietnamese; more than half of South Koreans are egalitarians, compared with only 30 percent of Chinese.
Shin uses data from extensive surveys conducted in 2005–08 by the World Values Survey Association and the Asian Barometer Survey. Nathan argues in favor of (carefully conducted) surveys as a better tool for studying the beliefs "of" a society than pronouncements by public intellectuals and ideologues:
The survey method remains indispensable. No other approach does as good a job of finding out what large numbers of people actually believe. And it is less reductive than the older method of gesturing in the direction of an entire nation and claiming that all its members share some vaguely defined set of norms.
Andrew J. Nathan, "Confucius and the Ballot Box." Foreign Affairs, July/August 2012. On line at http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/137723/andrew-j-nathan/confucius-and-the-ballot-box?page=show, accessed 20120818.