22 février 2021
Ecrit par WID.world

Inequality, Identity & Political Cleavages in South Korea, Taiwan & Hong Kong

Inequality, Identity, and the Structure of Political Cleavages in South Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, 1996-2016

In this paper, Carmen Durrer de la Sota and Amory Gethin document how democratization in South Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong since the 1980s has led to the materialization of growing political cleavages. Political integration, manifested by attitudes towards North Korea in South Korea, and towards mainland China in Hong Kong and Taiwan, has been a key issue structuring party competition and electoral behaviors in the three territories. In Hong Kong and South Korea, this issue has sharply divided old and new generations. In Taiwan, it has mostly interacted with ethnicity, with immigrants from mainland China and their descendants being more supportive of the pro-unification Kuomintang than natives. The strength of these cleavages, together with the lack of political mobilization of the working class for historical reasons, have played a key role in explaining the near absence of class cleavages in all three territories.


Key findings


  • Foreign policy and political integration have played a key role in the development of political cleavages in East Asia since democratization.
  • These cleavages have been associated with extreme generational divides in South Korea and Hong Kong, while they have mainly come with persistent ethnic cleavages in Taiwan.
  • In part due to the strength of these divides, class cleavages have remained weak in all three territories, even if this may be changing in the current context of rising inequality.


Figure: Share of votes received by the pro-democracy camp in Hong Kong, by decade of birth


Vote Pro-Democracy Hong-Kong

This figure shows the share of votes received by the pro-democracy camp in Hong Kong, by decade of birth. Support for pro-democracy forces among voters born in the 1940s to 1960s has decreased steadily, from 70% to 80 % in 1998, to 30% to 50% in 2016, while nearly 90 % of voters born in the 1990s voted pro-democracy in 2016.

This implies that the generational composition of the pro-democracy camp has changed dramatically since 1998, as a significant share of older generations have turned towards pro-Beijing parties, while new generations have almost perfectly compensated this decline.




Media inquiries

Olivia Ronsain: olivia.ronsain@wid.world; +33 7 63 91 81 68



The authors thank Joel Campbell, Eui-Young Jung, Karl Ho, Wai-Man Lam, Clara Martínez-Toledano, Sidney Michelini, Thomas Piketty, and Sebastian Veg for their useful comments.