Repression and Resistance in Asia: Introduction

Repression and Resistance in Asia: Introduction

An illiberal tide is wreaking havoc at both ends of Eurasia. But activists are finding brave and creative ways to push back against authoritarian regimes.

We live in unsettling and discontented times. Pankaj Mishra’s phrase “age of anger” captures the current zeitgeist, not just in the United States and Europe but also many other parts of the world, including the East and Southeast Asian countries that are the focus of this section. Anger can be good for progressive causes. Fury can drive struggles for equality and for freedom, and fuel revolutions that aim to bring down tyrants.

Most recently, it has inspired massive women’s marches, in places as disparate as Warsaw and Washington. It has also fueled giant demonstrations calling for an end to corruption that are underway in Bucharest, as I write, and that recently rocked Seoul. Of late, though, we have been seeing outrage become hitched to darker forces, to xenophobic forms of right-wing populism and muscular nationalist sentiments of the kind that propel strongman leaders to power.

It is easy for European and American readers to think first of Britain’s move out of the European Union and Donald Trump’s move into the White House when reading that last line. It is easy for them to worry, looking forward, about what will happen in coming elections in countries such as France, and perhaps spare a thought for ongoing repression in Hungary and Turkey. One thing that this collection of dispatches on misrule and discontent show clearly, however, is the need to think of the current illiberal tide wreaking havoc at both ends of Eurasia, as well as to consider what happened before votes were cast over Brexit in May and in the U.S. election in November. The following pieces highlight just how widespread the disturbing trends associated with our age of anger are. But progressives will also find rays of hope in these accounts of repression in Asia, which are also full of examples of brave efforts to push back against authoritarian regimes.

On August 3, 2014, thinking largely of wars raging in the Middle East and violence in the United States, the writer Laila Lalami composed a poignant tweet that I have thought of often ever since. “These days,” the novelist wrote, “you have to have a heart of steel to make it through the front page of the newspaper.” That sentiment can feel just as true today as it did in the summer of 2014. But persisting also means, as these pieces on dissent in Asia show, that we’re paying attention to signs of hope.

A Win for South Korea’s Revolution
John Delury

Duterte Unbound
Vicente L. Rafael

Japan’s Antiwar Legacy
Alexis Dudden

An Umbrella Closes in Hong Kong
David Bandurski

The Chairman of Everything
Jeffrey Wasserstrom

Court vs. Crown in Thailand
Tyrell Haberkorn

Jeffrey Wasserstrom is professor of history at the University of California, Irvine and a member of the Dissent editorial board.