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Empire of culture : contemporary British and Japanese imaginings of Victorian Britain

By Waiyee Loh


Since the 1980s and 1990s, cultural commodities produced in both Britain and Japan have enjoyed an upsurge in global popularity, giving rise to notions of “Creative Britain” and “Cool Japan.” As a result of this boom, British and Japanese governments have attempted to develop and/or collaborate with both domestic and foreign cultural industries as a solution to national economic decline. This turn to culture as a means of generating economic revenue is part of a global trend where neoliberal economic ideas converge with the rise of a “creative economy.”\ud \ud This thesis argues that the image of Victorian Britain in Japanese shōjo manga, as well as in British neo-Victorian fiction, suggests that the history of free trade and British imperialism in East Asia in the nineteenth century underpins this increasing emphasis on cultural commodity production and export in Britain and Japan. In other words, British and Japanese neo-Victorian texts published in the period 1980-present demonstrate that what we call “globalisation” today is deeply informed by economic relations and cultural hierarchies established between distant places in the nineteenth century.\ud \ud Recognising these connections between past and present helps us understand why the Japanese today “choose” to consume British “high” cultural goods, and why the Japanese state and cultural industries “choose” to focus their energies on exporting popular culture products. These “choices,” I argue, are historically conditioned by Japan’s encounter with the West, and especially Britain, in the nineteenth century, and the perception of British cultural superiority that this encounter has fostered. In examining the transnational networks that connect Britain and Japan in the nineteenth century and in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, this thesis uses a “global history” framework to expand existing approaches to neo-Victorianism, girl culture in Japan, and World Literature

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