How does an ideology win the hearts of people?

“Prof, can you talk about fascism at a students’ gathering?”

I was surprised to receive such an invitation from a student last month, which I happily accepted. I am not an expert of theories of Fascism, but I have many things to say about various fascist movements in the 1930s and early ’40s, especially those in East Asia. The student body was diverse in their origins, with many exchange students. They were politically and demographically very similar, however: liberal, cosmopolitan, well-educated, and young. I soon discovered that this gathering was organized not because of their academic interests in political ideologies per se, but their everyday fear of the rise of “fascism,” so to speak. One by one, students asked for practical strategies to fight fascism in contemporary society. The room was filled with anxiety.

I felt sympathetic. But at the same time, discussing what might constitute “fascism” appeared misdirected for the purpose of addressing their concern. More urgent is to examine why pseudo-fascism—xenophobia, racism, or exclusive nationalism—resonates so widely today. How could such a violent thought (with detrimental historical baggage) capture people’s hearts? This is also a chance for liberals to step back and question what we take for granted. What specific experiences made liberal ideas convincing and sacred in our own lives?

These questions, or in short, how and why people internalize an ideology, motivate my research on the Japanese empire. It is well-known that wartime Japan had a totalitarian character in many ways, with the wide swaths of people worshipping the emperor and willing to sacrifice their lives. It might be less known that it conducted similarly fervent totalitarian rule over its colonies, Taiwan and Korea. Youth mobilization appeared particularly successful—During World War II, hundreds of thousands of colonial youth applied to Japanese army recruitment each year. Scholars typically depicted this colonial “volunteer fever” as a product of relentless government coercion, persuasion, and brainwashing without much giving thought to the causal mechanism.

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My book, Nation-Empire: Ideology and Rural Youth Mobilization in Japan and Its Colonies, takes a different angle. Instead of assuming the state directly influenced individuals’ behavior, it focuses on thick layers of local social relationships that determined the value of state directives from the viewpoints of people. It offers a fine-grained analysis of twists and turns of social dynamics in four villages across the empire since the late nineteenth century up to the immediate postwar period—how the popularity of urban modernity and the emphasis on agrarianism shaped the mental worlds of young villagers, how the “cult of youth” affected family politics, what the shifts in landlord-tenant relationships meant to young people, how youth programs unexpectedly changed youth’s future prospects, and how these youth survived the postwar chaos, for example. Local battles generated strong emotions, and whatever they were, these emotions were often expressed as a firm belief in the imperial cause. Seen in this way, Japan’s ideological mobilization both in the metropole and colonies was a much more complicated process than previously assumed, but also had a distinct pattern.

Again, it is not the definition of an ideology (Japanese nationalism) that explains the widespread acceptance most persuasively. It is the social complexities that made people emotionally attached to that ideology.

This means that it would take deep investigative work to make an analogy between politics of the 1930s and that of today, far more than merely reviewing what the fascist ideology was. But I hope this would provide a pointer to students who are earnestly trying to account for and confront the rise of pseudo-fascism—go find out social dynamics and emotions at the local level!

NATION EMPIRE COVER

 


 

About the author of this blog post: Sayaka Chatani is  Assistant Professor of History at National University of Singapore, and the author of Nation-Empire: Ideology and Rural Youth Mobilization in Japan and Its Colonies.

How does an ideology win the hearts of people?

East Asia’s unicorn builders: different strategies in Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan

Unicorns are increasingly running the streets of East Asia. In fact, policymakers in Singapore and Hong Kong wave the flag of their first unicorns with pride and Taiwan is on track to have its own unicorn. I am not talking the mythical animals adorning children’s storybooks. In the world of start-ups and venture capital, since 2013 a “unicorn” is understood to be a privately-owned (technology) start-up that achieves valuations in excess of $1 billion. A unicorn is also a validation that a start-up ecosystem is succeeding, and a key performance indicator used by governments.

From myth to reality: unicorns in Singapore, Hong Kong and (soon) Taiwan

Singapore has unicorns inhabiting its island, with Garena, Lazada, and Razer all comfortably achieving $1 billion valuations. But the ever-active and promoting Singaporean state isn’t stopping there. On Monday, October 2nd, the Singaporean parliament approved the “variable capital companies” (VCC) bill in an effort to further project the Lion City’s position as leading destination for asset management firms, particularly venture capital funds, to domicile and operate. In explaining the power of the new VCC structure, the Bill will provide a mechanism for overseas funds to be constituted as Singaporean. The Business Times asserts that one of the benefits to Singapore is that it “enhances Singapore’s position as a full-service international fund management centre”. This is a time-tested strategy in the Lion City.

GoGoVan, a logistics company, excited Hong Kong start-up enthusiasts in September 2017 as it achieved unicorn status. Finally, Hong Kong – and its government – had something to show for the rising support of start-ups and innovation (and within two years of the promotion of the Innovation & Technology Commission to Bureau level status).

For Taiwan, in May 2018 an electric scooter company called “Gogoro” was being picked as the likely candidate. This unicorn excitement came as the Taiwanese government announced in early 2018 that it promised to incubate its first unicorn by 2020 (Japan made a similar promise, through its J-Start-up program which launched in June 2018, that it would help build 20 unicorns by 2023).

These unabashed efforts to build unicorns is not a new phenomenon. In The Venture Capital State: The Silicon Valley Model in East Asia, I detail how each country purposefully, but differently than one another, helped catapult its local VC market to world-class size and operations. They don’t copy the real or imagined Silicon Valley model either. Even the “core elements” of the American legal and tax environment within which Silicon Valley VC emerged were not deployed in each case. Here’s a visual of the unique “yellow brick roads to Oz” – or, policies implemented with the aim of building a local VC market akin to Silicon Valley:

SILICON VALLEY

Why variation amidst convergence?

Though each country had the same aim – of building a local VC market that could support the growth of its local unicorn population – they all took different paths. The phenomenon reminds me of the Seinfeld-inspired play “I love you, you’re perfect, now change”. Each country’s policymakers fell in love with the idea of building Silicon Valley-like venture capital markets. This, they concluded, was part of the recipe for creating innovative firms, as well as ensuring vibrant financial markets. But after falling in love with the model, they changed it.

The Venture Capital State systematically explores why and how this change occurred as it has in these East Asian nations. And crucially, it explains that this adaption has been essential to success in East Asia, as elsewhere. It’s not about copying Silicon Valley in order to build local unicorns. It’s about local competitive advantage and approaches that reflect distinct environments.


 

About the author of this blog post: Robyn Klingler-Vidra is a lecturer in Political Economy at King’s College London, and the author of The Venture Capital State: The Silicon Valley Model in East Asia

East Asia’s unicorn builders: different strategies in Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan