Theory and Society

, Volume 36, Issue 1, pp 55–83 | Cite as

Economic development in East Asia and a critique of the post-Confucian thesis



Some scholars have put forward what they call a post-Confucian thesis to explain East Asia’s successful economic development. The thesis makes two important arguments: first, that Confucianism has enabled East Asian countries to take a different type of capitalism and a different path to modernity than did the West; second, that Confucianism has been the source of those ethics such as activism, hard work, thrift, and the like that have been conducive to economic development in East Asia. This article calls into question the first argument of the thesis by taking the example of the employment systems in Japan and Korea and showing that Confucianism has not been an important factor in defining their central features. In order to evaluate the second argument, this article investigates two major modernization campaigns in Japan and Korea, claiming that those supposedly Confucian virtues can be better seen as the products of the states’ social engineering for modernization and economic development.


Saving Rate East Asian Country Economic Campaign Confucian Tradition Employment System 
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I thank Erik Wright, Pamela Oliver, and the Editors of Theory and Society for their valuable comments.

Copyright information

© Springer Science+ Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sociology Department, Social Science BuildingUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA

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