In search for an East Asian model
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Civil society is a concept that is originated in the western historical and political traditions. In East Asia, where the idea of separation of the state and society has long been absent, recently there has been a rapid growth of the citizens’ voluntary organizations in China, Japan and South Korea, especially in China. Strong evidence shows that in the three countries since the 1990s the number of non-government organizations (NGOs) has increased at unprecedented speed compared with the previous decades. What is more significant is the fact that, civil society organizations, i.e. citizens’ groups and voluntary organizations are playing an increasingly important role in social and political affairs. Although China, Japan and South Korea have similar cultural traditions, each of them has a distinctive type of civil society. At the same time, the development of the civil societies in East Asia does not readily fit into the conventional wisdom about the evolution of the civil societies in western countries. This dissertation is aimed at seeking an East Asian model of civil society development by looking at the evolution of the civil societies in three East Asian countries: China, Japan and South Korea. By using the “most-similar-case” scenario, the dissertation tries to explain the differences in the momentum of growth and the nature of the NGO (non-government organization) sector in the three countries since the 1990s. Paying particular attention to the growth of the NGO sector in China and comparing the Chinese experience with the recent development of the civil society organizations in Japan and South Korea, the dissertation reveals the major cause(s) for the NGO boom that occurred in East Asian countries since the 1990s to the present, and explains the national idiosyncrasies in the nature of the NGO sector as the result of the institutional constraints. Finally it argues that the recent development of the citizens’ voluntary associations in East Asia is part of the transformation of the developmental state.