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March 15, 2004

Social Capital in Ten Asian Societies

Takashi INOGUCHI (Professor, University of Tokyo)

This is a summary of Prof. Inoguchi's presentation at the AsiaBarometer Symposium, Sanjo Conference Hall, University of Tokyo, January 21, 2004.
(His powerpoint slides are available in PDF form.)

AsiaBarometer's Aim

In this paper I will explain some results of our survey of the AsiaBarometer project, and maintain that the concept of social capital seems to be a good concept to gauge democratic, developmental and regionalizing trends in Asia.

As I mentioned in my previous article on AsiaBarometer (, the aim of our AsiaBarometer opinion poll project is to focus on the daily lives of ordinary people in Asia, where Asia includes East, Southeast, South and Central Asia. The aim is to monitor periodically their happiness and satisfaction, their joys and worries, their anger and sadness, along with their place and identity in society, their trust in other persons, their confidence in social institutions, etc.

There are three thrusts for the AsiaBarometer project: (1) generating empirical data on people's views and activities, (2) developing a social science research infrastructure, and (3) building a community of scholars in Asia. AsiaBarometer will forecast Asia's longer term trends of Asia in terms of democracy, development and integration.

We have completed some empirical analysis of the data acquired from AsiaBarometer 2003. This includes analysis of the concept of social capital, which means trust or confidence in other persons as well as in social groups and social institutions. This concept is one key political culture component, and can be empirically examined in three broad ways: (1) system support; that is, people's confidence in government, political parties, mass media, police, etc., (2) communitarian; that is, citizens' trust in themselves, joint activities, etc., and (3) emancipative, that is, gender equality and other anti-discrimination action, interest in global issues such as environmental concerns, etc.

Social Capital Questions

For example, we asked the following questions related to social capital:
Q9: Do you think people generally can be trusted?
Q10: Do you think that people generally try to be helpful?
Q11: If you saw somebody on the street looking lost, would you stop to help?
Q12: If you had no descendants, would you think it desirable to adopt somebody in order to continue the family line, even if there were no blood relationship?
Q13: Suppose that you are the president of a company. In the company's employment examination, a relative of yours got the second highest grade, scoring only marginally less than the candidate with the highest grade. In such a case, which person would you employ?
Q14: If the main breadwinner of your household should die or become unable to work due to illness, how would your household maintain the household budget?
Q18: Do you think that on the whole men and women are treated equally in your country?
Q26: What should a person who needs a government permit do if the response of the official handling the application is "just be patient and wait"?

In order to interpret answers to these questions we focused on three major dimensions of social capital in Asia: (1) general trust in humankind, (2) trust in meritocracy and mutual utility, and (3) trust in social systems. The following are some of our findings:

Locations in Three Dimensions

First, in terms of general trust, China, Vietnam and South Korea are ranked very high, whereas Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Thailand and Uzbekistan are ranked relatively low. Japan is ranked relatively high in this regard. Second, in terms of merit-based utility, India, Sri Lanka, Uzbekistan and Myanmar are ranked very high, while China, South Korea and Thailand are ranked relatively low, and Japan is the lowest in this dimension. Third, in terms of trust in social systems, China, Vietnam, India, Malaysia and Myanmar are ranked very high, but Japan is at the bottom.

After examining how the ten countries located along the above three dimensions, we can highlight some key factors that tend to influence their locations in terms of ranking: (1) Confucian heritage affects Japan, South Korea and at least partly China; (2) English-speaking countries with former British colonial heritage such as India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Myanmar, tend to show somewhat similar responses, and (3) communist countries such as China and Vietnam exhibit some distinct patterns.

Applying a hierarchical cluster analysis and using discriminant functions regarding locations along the three dimensions, we have shown that (1) China and Vietnam are very close to each other, (2) Sri Lanka and Uzbekistan are very close, (3) Malaysia, Myanmar and India are very similar, (4) Japan and South Korea are very close to each other, and (5) Thailand is somewhat similar to Japan and South Korea. In other words, we can identify these five groups in Asia at this point, according to our AsiaBarometer research.

Longer Term Changes

Having analyzed the current data as described above, we will try to understand longer-term changes in Asian societies. For that purpose we need at least the following three kinds of indicators: (1) democracy indicators to gauge how democracy is improving in Asia, (2) developmental indicators to indicate how fast and in what direction economic development might go in Asia, and (3) interdependence/integration indicators to show how a society is isolated or integrated in sub-regional or regional contexts under globalizing forces.

In this respect, social capital is a good concept to gauge Asia's democratic, developmental and regionalizing prospects. AsiaBarometer is a fascinating, rich and useful laboratory, where much needed empirical data are produced regularly.

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