Graduation Year


Date of Submission


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


International Relations

Second Department

Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE)

Reader 1

Jennifer Taw

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This thesis explores how domestic factions and authoritarian regimes in Japan and Korea in the period from the 1850s to 1970s appropriated the concept of “modernity” to gain normative superiority over their competitors. The appropriating entity revised the concept of modernity to suit its own worldview. Across the case studies, the propaganda of modernity created a hierarchy that privileged those who are “more modern,” encouraged martial masculinity, and attached itself to existing domestic norms, such as ethno- nationalism. Under authoritarian regimes, modernity helped justify the mobilization of capital, manpower, and other critical resources in the name of nation-building or defense. Many factions and demagogues may have initially used the concept of modernity for domestic gains, but using this narrative later devolved into foreign conquests and imperialist expansion, for otherwise, their call for modernization would have become an empty promise in the eyes of the masses. This paper examines five cases along these dimensions, namely the rise of reformist samurais in feudal-era Japan, the failure of Joseon Korea’s ruling regime to adopt modernity in a timely manner, Imperial Japan’s colonial practices in Korea and Manchuria, the ideological divergences among factions in Colonial Korea, and a South Korean dictator’s attempts to gain legitimacy following a coup d’etat. Each case follows how domestic factions or individuals were motivated by an inferiority complex and how they produced their own version of modernity that favored their ascendance.