Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

East Asian Languages & Civilizations

First Advisor

Eugene Y. Park


This dissertation examines how Koreans received and consumed the Olympic Games under Japanese colonial rule (1910–1945). Although a growing body of research on colonial Korea addresses a range of topics beyond politics and economy, sports is still a relatively neglected topic in this field. By exploring Olympic fever in colonial Korea, this study shows how multifaceted aspects of Korean society became a part of the global sports world. Korean athletes participated in the 1932 Summer, 1936 Winter, and 1936 Summer Games as part of the Japanese delegation, attracting much attention from members of all walks of life in colonial Korea. Public figures as varied as political leaders, intellectuals, sport journalists, and athletes recognized and promoted the Games through the burgeoning mass media. As the Olympic Games were a powerful tool for promoting Korean nationalism, Korean athletes’ performance was in the spotlight of Korean vernacular media, which also pursued commercial interests in featuring scandals of athletes. Nevertheless, many advocates of public gymnastics criticized what they perceived as the bourgeois-oriented, if not elitist, nature of the Games. Ahead of the 1940 Tokyo Olympic Games, Koreans were not passive spectators, but active participants and consumers eager to promote their nation to the world. The occasion also allowed the Japanese colonial regime and Korean collaborators to praise Korean athletes in the context of Japan’s official policy of “harmony between Japanese and Koreans” (naisen yūwa) and “assimilation” (dōka). Indeed, sports played a powerful role in propagating Japanese assimilation policies in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Overall, the Olympic Games during the Japanese occupation of Korea were a contested space in which a variety of discourses clashed, reflecting the variegated nature of colonial Korea as it interacted with global commodities and cultural influences. Embracing the international mega-sporting event fueled debates about nationalism, racism, commercialism, class conflict, and collaboration, among others.