East Asia is a dynamic region with significant diversity in peoples, cultures, environments, economies, political systems and potential. My studies focus on pressing issues in the East Asian region that span cultural politics, identity politics, religion & politics, and the rise of populism.
"Waving Israeli Flags at Right-Wing Christian Rallies in South Korea" (with Sarah Cho) The impeachment of President Park Geun-hye and the ensuing power shift to a liberal administration triggered massive far-right rallies in South Korea. The rally participants waved the Korean flag to invoke their patriotism and the US flag to show their support for the Korean–US alliance; however, a group of Protestant Christians fronting the pro-Park rallies waved Israeli flags, which was perplexing to non-participants. To explore why the Israeli flag was waved at the rallies, this study examined video recordings of the Christian group’s public prayer meeting during which participants carried Israeli flags. An analysis of the attendees’ spoken language, signs, and edited captions reveals that the Israeli flag first symbolises the ancient Israel in the Bible, from which stories and metaphors legitimise the Christians’ participation in the right-wing rallies. Second, the Israeli flag symbolises the modern State of Israel that was restored in 1948 together with the Republic of Korea, which supports the right-wing stance on the origin of the South Korean government. Finally, by waving the Israeli flag with the other two national flags, the Christians were attempting to make their group identity salient without harming the right-wing identity of the rallies.
"Promoting majority culture and excluding external ethnic influences: China’s strategy for the UNESCO ‘Intangible’ Cultural Heritage List" China’s enthusiasm for having many World Heritage–listed sites is well-known as a national strategy of cultural soft power, economic development, and incorporating minority groups into the Han-dominated Chinese state. Relatively understudied are China’s efforts related to UNESCO’s lists of “intangible” cultural heritage, which inscribe people’s living culture—such as dances, costumes, and songs—as world heritage. This study focuses on how some ethnic groups’ intangible culture has been objectified for the World Heritage Lists by the Chinese state. This study argues that by enlisting ethnic minorities’ culture under the name of Chinese state, the state can reinforce state borders that often run across ethnic and cultural boundaries, reducing external influences on minorities from their trans-border ethnic or cultural kin. Concomitantly, the majority’s cultural prominence is further entrenched in this process by the emphasis placed on minorities’ folklore in contrast to the Han’s culture of civilization.
"Municipal-level determinants of suicide rates in South Korea: Exploring the role of social capital and local government policies" Suicide is a major public health concern in South Korea. While more and more studies have examined factors associated with suicidal behavior in South Korea, most have focused on either individual- or national-level determinants, ignoring variations in suicide rates across South Korean localities. This study investigates social and economic factors influencing suicide rates in 231 South Korean cities, counties, and districts from 2010 to 2015. Among these factors, the study primarily focuses on the role of social capital, as measured by the number of social organizations that have proven to be useful in solving public health problems. Moreover, in searching for policy implications at the municipal level, the study also tests the effect of municipalities’ governmental welfare spending, poverty rates, and income levels on suicide rates. The results of a panel data analysis indicate that the number of social organizations did not have a significant effect on suicide rates; however, among six types of social organizations, social/recreational organizations showed a strong negative impact on suicide rates, suggesting that not all social organizations equally created social capital that addresses community health problems. Moreover, both poverty and income are two strong predictors of municipal-level suicide rates, and municipal governments’ welfare spending significantly reduced suicide rates only in rural areas. Finally, number of social/recreational organizations, poverty rates, income levels, depression, and living in rural areas affected suicide rates among male populations, and poverty rates, income levels, alcohol use, and living in urban areas affected suicide rates among female populations.
"Still a new democracy? Individual-level effects of social trust on political trust in South Korea" (with Daniel Yi) The social capital theory holds that there is a positive relationship between social and political trust; however, despite the prominence of this postulation, this relationship has often been disputed among political scientists. While recent studies on advanced democracies have shown a strong positive relationship between social and political trust, studies on East Asian democracies, which previously showed a weak or negative relation, remain scant, separating these countries into their own category of new democracies. The motivation of this study is based on the importance of revisiting the relationship between social and political trust using recent data from one such country—South Korea—to determine the nature of this previously studied negative or weak relationship. The results of this study indicate that generalized social trust in South Korea is positively associated with political trust. This result is in line with recent findings in advanced democracies. While this positive relationship is consistent and significant across models, a greater portion of political trust is explained by economic and political performance, including factors such as the economy, corruption, inequality, and the welfare system, making institutional performance a critical predictor of political trust.
"State policies toward private entrepreneurs and the emerging social class in China’s reform era" (Master's thesis) Chinese private entrepreneurs have emerged in three paths. The “individual household entrepreneurs” (getihu) have grown into the private entrepreneurs since the early reform era. They have multiplied in the early-1990s through the Chinese Communist Party's policy that privatizes the small and inefficient state-owned companies. Moreover, they emerged through venture companies in the intelligence technology sector that boomed in the mid1990s. This process of emergence could have enabled them to establish special relationships with the party state. As a class, they formed the “state-corporatist relationship” with the state with the state’s strategy co-opting and controlling the emerging entrepreneurs. As individuals, they formed the “clientelist relationships” with local governments that characterized them by diverse symbiotic networks. Through these relationships, they became “embedded” in the party state and included in the elite group. Although composed of diverse groups characterized by different occupational backgrounds, size of businesses, as well as political networks and attitudes, the Chinese private entrepreneurs increasingly have a class identity that carries among themselves common goals and challenges as business owners in China. The sense of sameness and distinction has oriented the Chinese private entrepreneurs to observe class consciousness. The Chinese private entrepreneurs are not a representative group of the Chinese middle class in terms of population, social position, and education level. They are small in number and are positioned upper level in the middle class. They are sometimes alienated by other groups in middle class due to their uncultured characteristics. Their being embedded in the party state renders them unlikely to become agents of democratization. However, their political attitude and actions can be the key in determining the future stability of the political regime. They possibly coalesce for their common interests such as more institutionalized regulations, more freed market, rule of law, and protection of private property. These provide some political implications in that private entrepreneurs can change their supportive attitude toward the Chinese Communist Party when it loses their source of legitimacy based on economic performance.