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This article considers a particular moment in world history when an instant of epoch-making triumph in the non-West – Japan's defeat of Russia in 1905 – coincided with a period of intense national anxiety in Britain in the wake of the South African War (1899–1902). One outcome of this historical intersection was the emergence in Britain of a euphoric ‘cult of Japan’ that saw many Edwardians, obsessed with the idea of ‘efficiency’, deploy Japan as both a referent for British shortcomings and a model for reform. The article asks why proponents of ‘efficiency’ – most of them ardent imperialists – deemed it acceptable, even strategically advantageous, in such domestic debates to draw upon examples from Japan – an ‘Oriental’ race and former protégé – in apparent contradiction of Western supremacism. The article contends that Britain's emulative attitudes were underpinned by an emergent plural conception of ‘civilization’, which appraised Japan's attainment of civilization as consistent with Western standards whilst at the same time recognizing elements of Japanese particularity – an outlook that justified reciprocal learning.


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Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge, cb2 1ta


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* The author would like to thank Peter Mandler, Harumi Goto-Shibata, Riho Isaka, David Motadel, Kaz Oishi, and the anonymous referees for their advice and comments on the article in its various stages of development. The research presented in this article was first started at the University of Tokyo, and forms part of the author's doctoral project on Japanese ‘civilization’ and conceptions of ‘progress’ in British thought and culture, c. 1880–1945, supported by the Cambridge Commonwealth, European & International Trust.



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1 Members included: Leo Maxse, Leo Amery (Unionists); Richard Haldane, Edward Grey, Halford Mackinder (Liberal imperialists); H. G. Wells, Bertrand Russell (Fabians). For a detailed account of the club's activities, see Bernard Semmel, Imperialism and social reform: English social-imperial thought, 1895–1914 (London, 1960), pp. 72–82.

2 W. A. S. Hewins, The apologia of an imperialist (2 vols., London, 1929), i, p. 65.

3 Coefficients' Club minutes, ‘For what ends is a British empire desirable’, 15 June 1903, British Library of Political and Economic Science (BLPES), London School of Economics, London, ASSOC 17.

4 Coefficients' Club minutes, ‘How far is it possible to evolve a system of national ethics for the British empire?’, 12 Dec. 1904, BLPES, ASSOC 17.

5 Edward W. Said, Orientalism (London, 1978); David Cannadine, Ornamentalism: how the British saw their empire (London, 2001); Mandler, Peter, ‘The problem with cultural history’, Cultural and Social History, 1 (2004), pp. 94117 . For an overview of this debate, see Potter, Simon J., ‘Empire, cultures and identities in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Britain’, History Compass, 5 (2007), pp. 5171 .

6 G. R. Searle, The quest for national efficiency: a study in British politics and political thought, 1899–1914 (London, 1990), pp. 57–60; Holmes, Colin and Ion, Hamish, ‘Bushido and the samurai: images in British public opinion, 1894–1914’, Modern Asian Studies, 14 (1980), pp. 309–29; Yorimitsu Hashimoto, ‘White hope or yellow peril?: Bushido, Britain, and the Raj’, in John W. Steinberg and David Wolff, eds., The Russo-Japanese war in global perspective: World War Zero (2 vols., Leiden, 2005–7), ii, pp. 379–402. Much of the extant literature on national efficiency has instead focused on the importance of Germany as a rival and model; for Searle, national efficiency was above all an attempt to ‘commend…a social organization that more closely followed the German model’, Quest for national efficiency, p. 54; similarly in Semmel, Imperialism (especially pp. 234–5). Searle does not develop any further on Japan in his later works: Country before party: coalition and the idea of ‘national government’ in modern Britain, 1885–1987 (London, 1995); A new England?: peace and war, 1886–1918 (Oxford, 2005). The theme of efficiency only receives fleeting reference in Philip Towle's ‘Race, culture and the reaction to the Japanese victory of 1905 in the English-speaking world’, in Rotem Kowner and Walter Demel, eds., Race and racism in modern East Asia: Western and Eastern constructions (Leiden and Boston, MA, 2013), pp. 281–306.

7 C. A. Bayly, The birth of the modern world, 1780–1914: global connections and comparisons (Malden, MA, and Oxford, 2004), p. 10.

8 Spectator, 16 Aug. 1902, p. 4.

9 Searle, Quest for national efficiency, p. 54.

10 Harvey, A. D., ‘The Russo-Japanese War, 1904–1905: curtain raiser for the twentieth-century world wars’, RUSI Journal, 148 (2003), pp. 5861 , at p. 58.

11 A. L. Haldane, ‘The battle of Liao-yang  Fourth Japanese Army. Operations from the 29th August to the 4th September 1904’, in The Russo-Japanese War: reports from British officers attached to the Japanese and Russian forces in the field (3 vols., London, 1908), i, p. 320.

12 Shoichi Matsuo, Jiyu minken shiso no kenkyu [Studies on the idea of freedom and people's rights] (Tokyo, 1990), pp. 182, 188, 193, 209, 249; Janet Hunter and S. Sugiyama, ‘Anglo-Japanese economic relations in historical perspective, 1600–2000: trade and industry, finance, technology and the industrial challenge’, in Janet E. Hunter and S. Sugiyama, eds., The history of Anglo-Japanese relations, 1600–2000: economic and business relations (New York, NY, 2002), pp. 1–109, at p. 24.

13 Saburo Toyama, Nihon kaigunshi [A history of the Japanese navy] (Tokyo, 2013), pp. 25–48.

14 Toshio Yokoyama, Japan in the Victorian mind: a study of stereotyped images of a nation, 1850–1880 (Basingstoke, 1987).

15 Ian H. Nish, The Anglo-Japanese alliance: the diplomacy of two island empires, 1894–1907 (London, 1985), p. 226.

16 Julian Amery, The life of Joseph Chamberlain (6 vols., London, 1932–69), iv, p. 165, qu. in Nish, Anglo-Japanese alliance, p. 226.

17 House of Commons Deb., 9 Aug. 1911, Hansard, 5th series, vol. 29, col. 1179.

18 The progress of the world’, Review of Reviews (RR), 31 (1905), pp. 113 , at p. 2.

19 Times, 7 Oct. 1905, p. 9.

20 Daily Express, 3 Aug. 1905, p. 5; Times, 6 June 1904, p. 10; Spectator, 21 Jan. 1905, p. 5.

21 ‘Episodes of the month’, National Review (NR), 45 (1905), pp. 193–224, at p. 210.

22 Chamberlain, Joseph, ‘Nelson's year and national duty’, Outlook, 15 (1905), pp. 323–5, at p. 325.

23 Alfred Stead, Great Japan: a study in national efficiency (London, 1906).

24 Lodge, Oliver, ‘Public service versus private expenditure’, Fabian Tract, 121 (1905), pp. 1011 . In the same year, the Fabian Society organized a lecture on Japan to be given by Percy Alden who had visited the country in 1898; Fabian Society Executive Committee minutes, 7 Apr. 1905, BLPES, FABIAN SOCIETY/C/9.

25 Times, 14 Oct. 1905, p. 9.

26 Cain, Peter J., ‘Empire and the languages of character and virtue in late Victorian and Edwardian Britain’, Modern Intellectual History, 4 (2007), pp. 249–73; H. John Field, Toward a programme of imperial life: the British empire at the turn of the century (Westport, CT, 1982).

27 Benjamin Kidd, Social evolution (London, 1894), p. 287.

28 Peter Mandler, The English national character: the history of an idea from Edmund Burke to Tony Blair (New Haven, CT, and London, 2006), p. 120.

29 Inazo Nitobe, Bushido, the soul of Japan: an exposition of Japanese thought (Tokyo, 1900). Nitobe, a Quaker, indicates in his preface that his objective is to expound an ethical system comparable to Christianity in the West, attributing the book's origin to a conversation with a Belgian jurist over the nature of Japanese morality in the absence of religious instruction in schools.

30 Holmes and Ion, ‘Bushido and the samurai’.

31 Times, 6 June 1904, p. 10.

32 Notably, Stead in Great Japan and his contributions to magazines, e.g. ‘Bushido, the Japanese ethical code’, Monthly Review (MR), 14 (1904), pp. 52–62. See also military correspondent Charles à Court Repington in The Times, 4 Oct. 1904, p. 6; and ‘Letters to the editor’ in The Times, 8 Oct. 1904, p. 8; 13 Oct. 1904, p. 6; 15 Oct. 1904, p. 4; and 20 Oct. 1904, p. 13 for (largely appreciative) reader responses. Repington later expanded on the theme in The war in the Far East, 1904–1905 (London, 1905). For Japanese efforts to promote bushido in Britain, see Hashimoto, ‘White hope or yellow peril?’, pp. 390–3.

33 Coefficients' Club minutes, ‘How far is it possible to evolve a system of national ethics for the British empire?’

34 Robert Baden-Powell, Scouting for boys: a handbook for instruction in good citizenship (London, 1908), p. 239.

35 H. G. Wells, The new Machiavelli (London, 1911), p. 337; H. G. Wells, A modern utopia (London, 1905).

36 Suzuki, Koshi, ‘Meijiki nihon ni okeru bushido no soushutsu’ [The invention of Bushido in Meiji Japan], Tsukuba Daigaku Taiiku Kagakukei Kiyou [Bulletin of Health and Sport Science, University of Tsukuba], 24 (2001), pp. 4756 . Although prominent in the West as the chief Anglophone architect of bushido, Nitobe's impact on bushido discourse in Japan was limited: Yuzo Ota, Taiheiyou no hashi toshiteno Nitobe Inazo [Inazo Nitobe as a bridge across the Pacific] (Tokyo, 1986), pp. 23–5, 61.

37 Oleg Benesch, Inventing the way of the samurai: nationalism, internationalism, and bushido in modern Japan (Oxford, 2014). Benesch also notes Nitobe's limited influence on the content of bushido discourse in Japan, p. 229.

38 As with Holmes and Ion in ‘Bushido and the samurai’, Jenny Holt's recent discussion of the bushido narrative in Anglophone literature focuses on the figure of the samurai: Holt, Jenny, ‘Samurai and the gentlemen: the Anglophone Japan corpus and new avenues into Orientalism’, Literature Compass, 11 (2014), pp. 3646 , 47–59.

39 Basil Hall Chamberlain, The invention of a new religion (London, 1912).

40 Sun-struck’, Saturday Review (SR), 100 (1905), pp. 596–7, at p. 596.

41 Ian Hamilton, Staff officer's scrap-book during the Russo-Japanese War (2 vols., London, 1905–7), ii, p. 21.

42 Culverwell, Edward P., ‘Japanese education and character’, NR, 46 (1905), pp. 319–31; see also The marvel of Japanese education’, RR, 32 (1905), p. 394 .

43 House of Commons Deb., 16 Mar. 1909, Hansard 5th series, vol. 2, col. 997.

44 ‘General report on the Japanese system of military education and training’ (1906), The National Archives (TNA), London, WO 33/407, pp. 3, 26.

45 Ibid., p. 15.

46 Ibid., pp. 10–11.

47 A. M. Murray to Leo Amery, 14 May 1906, Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge, papers of Leopold Amery, AMEL 2/5/5. Cf. A. Hamish Ion, ‘Japan watchers: 1903–1931’, in John F. Howes, ed., Nitobe Inazo: Japan's bridge across the Pacific (Boulder, CO, 1995), pp. 79–106, at pp. 89–90, which stresses the primacy of British military interest in ‘traditional Japanese values’ in the immediate aftermath of the war and regards sceptical discussions of Nitobe's conception of bushido in 1910 (in Bannerman, Alexander, ‘The creation of the Japanese national spirit’, Journal of the Royal United Services Institute, 54 (1910), pp. 697719 ) as evidence of considerable change of contemporary opinion.

48 Holdich, Thomas, ‘England's strength in Asia’, Fortnightly Review (FR), 78 (1905), pp. 640–55, at p. 652.

49 House of Lords Deb., 20 Feb. 1905, Hansard 4th series, vol. 141, col. 549.

50 Nitobe, Bushido, pp. v, 126.

51 Mandler, English national character, p. 130.

52 Ibid., pp. 130–1; J. H. Grainger, Patriotisms: Britain, 1900–1939 (London, 1986), pp. 27–47.

53 Shee, George F., ‘The organisation of the national resources’, MR, 17 (1904), pp. 2232 , at pp. 27–8.

54 Dyer, Henry, ‘Education and national efficiency in Japan’, Nature, 71 (1904), pp. 150–1, at p. 151.

55 Ibid.

56 Times, 6 Sept. 1905, p. 7.

57 Ibid.; ‘I am beginning to understand the secret of these people being so successful in war: they work on exactly opposite ideas to us. We do all we can to exalt individuality, whereas they…require absolute self effacement as a condition of leadership’, Murray to Amery, 14 May 1906, AMEL 2/5/5.

58 Garvin, J. L., ‘Imperial and foreign affairs: a review of events’, FR, 87 (1910), pp. 1633 , at p. 32.

59 Times, 16 Nov. 1905, p. 7.

60 Hamilton, Staff officer's scrap-book, ii, p. 33.

61 The curse of party?’, The Speaker: The Liberal Review, 13 (1905), p. 26 ; Persons and politics’, The Speaker: The Liberal Review, 12 (1905), p. 619 .

62 Musings without method’, Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, 178 (1905), pp. 710–17, at p. 714.

63 The childish public’, SR, 98 (1904), pp. 195–6, at p. 195.

64 Times, 5 June 1905, p. 9.

65 Christine Bolt, Victorian attitudes to race (London, 1971), pp. 1–28; J. W. Burrow, Evolution and society: a study in Victorian social theory (Cambridge, 1966); Catherine Hall, Civilising subjects: metropole and colony in the English imagination, 1830–1867 (Cambridge, 2002); Peter Mandler, ‘“Race” and “nation” in mid-Victorian thought’, in Stefan Collini, Richard Whatmore, and Brian Young, eds., History, religion, and culture: British intellectual history, 1750–1950 (Cambridge, 2000), pp. 224–44; Mandler, English national character, pp. 72–86; Douglas Lorimer, ‘From Victorian values to white virtues: assimilation and exclusion in British racial discourse, c. 1870–1914’, in Philip Buckner and R. Douglas Francis, eds., Rediscovering the British world (Calgary, AB, 2005), pp. 109–34; Douglas Lorimer, ‘From natural science to social science: race and the language of race relations in late Victorian and Edwardian discourse’, in Duncan Kelly, ed., Lineages of empire: the historical roots of British imperial thought (Oxford, 2009), pp. 181–212; Douglas A. Lorimer, ‘Race, science and culture: historical continuities and discontinuities, 1850–1914’, in Shearer West, ed., The Victorians and race (Aldershot, 1996), pp. 12–33; Douglas A. Lorimer, ‘Science and the secularization of Victorian images of race’, in Bernard Lightman, ed., Victorian science in context (Chicago, IL, and London, 1997), pp. 212–35. For an alternative formulation of the ‘civilisational perspective’ that identifies technology as the primary marker of civilization, see Michael Adas, Machines as the measure of men: science, technology, and ideologies of Western dominance (Ithaca, NY, and London, 1989).

66 Lorimer, ‘Natural science to social science’, pp. 181–212; Lorimer, ‘Race, science and culture’, pp. 12–33; Lorimer, ‘Victorian values’, pp. 109–34. On race and immigration, see Marilyn Lake and Henry Reynolds, Drawing the global colour line: white men's countries and the international challenge of racial equality (Cambridge, 2008).

67 Lorimer, ‘Natural science to social science’, pp. 186–8.

68 Lorimer, ‘Science and secularization’, pp. 228–9; Lorimer, ‘Race, science and culture’, p. 25.

69 Lorimer, ‘Science and secularization’, p. 228; Lorimer, ‘Natural science to social science’, p. 192.

70 Lorimer, ‘Victorian values’, p. 117.

71 Bill Schwarz, The white man's world (Oxford, 2013), p. 229.

72 Times, 6 Sept. 1905, p. 7.

73 The books of the month: are there any superior races?’, RR, 31 (1905), pp. 538–42, at p. 538.

74 Wilson, H. W., ‘Japan's Trafalgar’, NR, 45 (1905), pp. 782805 , at p. 804.

75 Times, 4 Sept. 1905, p. 7.

76 Times, 7 Jan. 1905, p. 9.

77 Courtney, Leonard, ‘The regeneration of parliaments’, Contemporary Review (CR), 87 (1905), pp. 761–72, at p. 761.

78 Coefficients' Club minutes, ‘What part are the coloured races destined to play in the future development of civilization’, 16 Jan. 1905, BLPES, ASSOC 17.

79 Barber, W. T. A., ‘The coming of age of Japan’, London Quarterly Review, 12 (1904), pp. 226–37, at p. 227; Avebury, ‘Excessive national expenditure’, Nineteenth Century and After (NC), 58 (1905), pp. 706–15, at p. 714.

80 Leonard T. Hobhouse, Social evolution and political theory (New York, NY, 1911), p. 144.

81 Benjamin Kidd, The science of power (London, 1918), pp. 111–12. See Kidd, Social evolution, pp. 243–334, for his original assertions.

82 Benjamin Kidd, Principles of Western civilisation: a sociological study (London, 1908), p. xx.

83 Times, 6 Sept. 1905, p. 7. September 1905 also saw the outbreak of the Hibiya Riot in Tokyo in protest of the terms of the peace treaty with Russia. However, unwavering in their appraisal of the Japanese character, The Times described the disturbances as ‘superficial and transitory’ amongst a race ‘not accustomed to suffer their feelings to dominate their reason and their sense of duty’, Times, 7 Sept. 1905, p. 7; see also Times, 9 Sept. 1905, p. 5.

84 H. G. Wells wrote in A modern utopia (1905), ‘Mr. Kidd did not anticipate Japan’, p. 346.

85 Times, 7 Oct. 1905, p. 9.

86 Macdonell, John, ‘The future Hague Conference’, CR, 88 (1905), pp. 848–56, at p. 856.

87 Beatrice Webb, Our partnership, ed. Barbara Drake and M. I. Cole (London, 1948), entry for 22 Dec. 1904, p. 299. For a more detailed account of the Webbs' positive assessment of the Japanese including their later first-hand observations during their 1911 visit, see Winter, J. M., ‘The Webbs and the non-white world: a case of socialist racialism’, Journal of Contemporary History, 9 (1974), pp. 181–92.

88 Japan's challenge to Christendom’, RR, 32 (1905), pp. 502–3.

89 Is the moral supremacy of Christendom in danger?’, Hibbert Journal: A Quarterly Review of Religion, Theology and Philosophy, 4 (1905), pp. 1941 , at pp. 22–3.

90 Macdonell, John, ‘International questions and the present war’, NC, 56 (1904), pp. 142–51, at p. 145.

91 Eltzbacher, O., ‘The Red Cross Society of Japan’, CR, 86 (1904), pp. 324–32, at p. 324.

92 Ibid.

93 Ibid., pp. 325–6. On the activities of the Japanese Red Cross, see Naoko Shimazu, Japanese society at war: death, memory and the Russo-Japanese War (Cambridge, 2009).

94 Times, 12 Feb. 1906, p. 9.

95 ‘Is the moral supremacy of Christendom in danger?’, pp. 30, 39.

96 Times, 17 Oct. 1905, p. 9.

97 Colquhoun, Archibald R., ‘The secret of Japanese patriotism’, MR, 26 (1907), pp. 7082 , at pp. 80–1. The significance of the ‘newly invented’ Japanese religion of Shinto to state propagation of national morality was noted more explicitly and critically later by Basil Hall Chamberlain in The invention of a new religion (1912). For a secondary discussion of this point, see Helen Hardacre, Shinto and the state, 1868–1988 (Princeton, NJ, 1989).

98 Longford, Joseph H., ‘The commercial morality of the Japanese’, CR, 87 (1905), pp. 705–11; Hamilton, Staff officer's scrap-book, ii, p. 161.

99 G. K. Chesterton, Heretics (London, 1905), p. 300.

100 Times, 5 June 1905, p. 9.

101 Joseph M. Henning, Outposts of civilization: race, religion, and the formative years of American–Japanese relations (New York, NY, 2000), pp. 137–64.

102 Times, 6 Sept. 1905, p. 7.

103 Coefficients' Club minutes, ‘What part are the coloured races destined to play in the future development of civilization’.

104 Ibid.

105 Ibid.

106 Ibid.

107 Eltzbacher, O., ‘The yellow peril’, NC, 55 (1904), pp. 910–25; Times, 7 Sept. 1904, p. 7; Times, 28 Sept. 1904, p. 7.

108 Another common argument against ‘yellow peril’ was to view Japan as the true upholder of civilization and to identify Russia instead as the ‘real peril’; see for example Times, 25 Nov. 1903, p. 9; Times, 25 May 1904, p. 7; Boulger, D., ‘The “yellow peril” bogey’, NC, 55 (1904), pp. 30–9; Eltzbacher, ‘Yellow peril’.

109 Times, 6 Sept. 1905, p. 7.

110 Spectator, 14 May 1904, p. 4.

111 For an overview of the impact of the Russo-Japanese War on the rise of nationalism in the non-West, see Cemil Aydin, ‘A global anti-Western movement? The Russo-Japanese War, decolonization and Asian modernity’, in Sebastian Conrad and Dominic Sachsenmaier, eds., Competing visions of world order: global moments and movements, 1880s–1930s (New York, NY, 2007), pp. 213–36.

112 House of Commons Deb., 21 June 1905, Hansard 4th series, vol. 147, col. 1288; House of Commons Deb., 20 July 1906, Hansard 4th series, vol. 161, col. 600; House of Commons Deb., 26 Feb. 1906, Hansard 4th series, vol. 152, cols. 837–8; House of Commons Deb., 5 Nov. 1906, Hansard 4th series, vol. 164, col. 88; House of Commons Deb., 1 Apr. 1909, Hansard 5th series, vol. 3, col. 579; Spectator, 18 Aug. 1906, p. 6; Spectator, 22 Sept. 1906, p. 5; Spectator, 16 May 1908, p. 5; Times, 24 Apr. 1906, p. 9; Times, 19 May 1906, p. 13; Giles, Lionel, ‘The awakening of China: a street placard from Hunan’, NC, 60 (1906), pp. 521–32; Lawton, Lancelot, ‘Imperial and foreign affairs: China – the stirrings of the waters’, Academy and Literature, 81 (1911), pp. 549–50; Houghton, Bernard, ‘The renaissance in Asia’, Westminster Review, 177 (1912), pp. 19 .

113 Asiatic students in Japan’, RR, 37 (1908), p. 271 ; Dillon, E. J., ‘China’, CR, 100 (1911), pp. 256–76, at p. 273; Diosy, Arthur, ‘The Chinese revolution’, CR, 100 (1911), pp. 704–11, at p. 707.

114 Viator, ‘ Asia contra mundum ’, FR, 83 (1908), pp. 185200 . For Pearson's original thesis, see Charles Henry Pearson, National life and character: a forecast (London, 1893).

115 Dillon, E. J., ‘Foreign affairs’, CR, 86 (1904), pp. 281–98, at pp. 286–90.

116 Dillon, E. J., ‘Foreign affairs’, CR, 93 (1908), pp. 236–56, at p. 246.

117 Ibid., p. 243.

118 Spectator, 23 May 1908, p. 9.

119 Times, 19 Aug. 1909, p. 9.

120 Ibid.

121 Spectator, 28 Dec. 1907, p. 4; Dillon, ‘Foreign affairs’, CR, 93 (1908), pp. 244–5.

122 Lawton, Lancelot, ‘Imperial and foreign affairs’, Academy and Literature, 81 (1911), pp. 27–9, at p. 28.

123 Times, 28 Oct. 1907, p. 9.

124 Spectator, 13 July 1907, p. 4.

125 Viator, ‘Asia contra mundum’, p. 195. Valentine Chirol (formerly at The Times) similarly recognized this tension between ‘race’ and ‘civilization’ in discussing Japanese immigration to the United States; see Japan among the nations’, Living Age, 277 (1913), p. 818 .

126 On the Racial Equality Proposal (1919), see Naoko Shimazu, Japan, race and equality: the racial equality proposal of 1919 (London, 1998).

127 Times, 15 Jan. 1907, p. 9.

* The author would like to thank Peter Mandler, Harumi Goto-Shibata, Riho Isaka, David Motadel, Kaz Oishi, and the anonymous referees for their advice and comments on the article in its various stages of development. The research presented in this article was first started at the University of Tokyo, and forms part of the author's doctoral project on Japanese ‘civilization’ and conceptions of ‘progress’ in British thought and culture, c. 1880–1945, supported by the Cambridge Commonwealth, European & International Trust.

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