Myanmar Old History

By | January 2, 2023

Burma is an independent nation in Southeastern Asia. With the capital city of Naypyidaw, Burma 2020 population is estimated at 54,409,811 according to countryaah. Until the 19th century, a number of different groups of people lived essentially separate from each other and developed their own culture and character. On three occasions, however, the majority of Burmese people succeeded in unifying one area in the larger kingdoms. When Britain colonized the area during the 19th century, minority people joined British service while the Burmese resisted. After a brief Japanese occupation, the country became an independent federation in 1948.

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The earliest known peoples who have left traces of significant cultures in Myanmar are pyu and mon who lived in Irrawaddy’s delta area a few hundred years before Christ. After them came the Tibetan Burmese people, who are the ancestors of today’s Burmese. Other ethnic groups immigrated in stages from long before the birth of Christ until the end of the 18th century. Essentially, they lived apart from each other. Each people has therefore developed their own culture and character. For Burma political system, please check carswers.

Since the 9th century, Burmese have been in the majority and dominated politically and culturally. Three times they managed to unite Myanmar into a kingdom. During the first Burmese dynasty, Pagan, from the 11th century until the Mongol invasion in 1287, Buddhism gained entry and with it came an Indian-influenced culture. This period was Myanmar’s “golden age”.

In the 16th century, the country united again during the Burmese dynasty Toungoo. Constant wars weakened the kingdom, which in turn was dissolved in fighting between peoples groups where no one was strong enough to take power. At the end of the 18th century, however, the third Burmese dynasty, Konbaung, emerged. Border conflicts with the British East India Company in the 19th century led Britain to gradually succumb to the area. By 1885 the entire country had been conquered and later incorporated as a province of British India.

Buddhism as resistance to colonial rule

During the colonial era, Burma, as the British called the colony, developed into the world’s leading rise exporter. Administratively, the Burmese regions became heavily centralized by subjugating local communities in the plain previously governed by chieftains. Tens of thousands of Indians were sent to Burma to take care of the economy, trade and administration. Most minority people, who had not fought colonial power, were rewarded with a large measure of local self-government. They volunteered in British service as soldiers and lower officials, while the national self-conscious Burmese resisted colonial rule.

An important channel for resistance was the Buddhist traditions. The Burmese, among other things, demanded that even Europeans take off their shoes before entering the pagodas (Buddhist shrines). After a couple of monks attacked a few Europeans in a pagoda in 1919, the colonial administration had to give in to the shoe issue, which strengthened the self-esteem of the Buddhist camp.

A true independence movement emerged in the early 1930s. Its members called each other thakin (lord, master, a title otherwise reserved for the colonial lords). To the population, they became known as the Thakins. Their ideas were a mixture of socialism, nationalism and fascism. But above all, they were based on Buddhist tradition: in a socialist welfare society, the people could devote themselves to spiritual things rather than material concerns. In addition, the welfare of the people would be a merit to the ruler in the continued self-migration.

During the 1930s, there were repeated unrest and strikes aimed at colonial rule as well as against Indian money lenders and guest workers. The British tried to appease the nationalists by giving them increased autonomy. The residents got their own parliament through general elections in 1936 and a prime minister appointed by parliament in 1937. But the British governor retained great powers.

Japanese invasion

At the outbreak of the Second World War, the Japanese contacted Burmese nationalists and promised them support in the struggle for independence. A group of Thakins, led by Aung San, were smuggled out of Burma and received military training from the Japanese intelligence service. They then formed the core of special allies that, with raids in Burma, supported the Japanese invasion in 1942. After the Allies had been expelled from almost the entire country, Burma was proclaimed an independent state. But independence became only formal. In practice, Japan’s imperial army ruled, and many residents were forced into forced labor and brutally abused.

The powerless Burmese regime contacted the British, who were still in the Kachin state in the north, and the Allies were willing to cooperate. A new group, the Anti-fascist Popular Freedom Association (AFPFL), was formed by many different nationalist groups as well as communists. The AFPFL was led by Aung San who was now Burmese commander. On signal from the British commander in Southeast Asia, Louis Mountbatten, the Burmese troops mutated and attacked the Japanese. Aung San’s forces then participated in the Allies’ recapture of Burma in 1945.

After the war, the arms brothers no longer agreed. The British government did not want to surrender power to Aung San and the Freedom League, because it was dissatisfied with the communist element of the movement. Instead, the British governor let some hand-picked conservative Burmese politicians form government. The position of minority people was also a matter of contention. Several of them, including the Kars, did not want to be part of an independent nation.

Burma becomes independent

The British attitude changed when unrest broke out and became so extensive that a general uprising threatened. After the Communists came into conflict with the Freedom League and left the coalition, the British Government signed an agreement with Aung San to hand over power to the AFPFL. The question of the status of minorities was solved by making the independent Burma a federation with some formal autonomy for the minority people in the different states. In practice, however, the constitution gave the central government a strong position of power.

Aung San and six other leading AFPFL members were murdered in 1947 in a conspiracy led by the conservative politician U Saw, who was disappointed in power by the agreement with the British. Another AFPFL leader, Thakin Nu (later known as U Nu), instead took over government responsibility at independence on January 4, 1948.



The president criticizes the state administration

In a televised speech, Thein Sein accuses the public administration of curbing democratization. According to him, many officials exercise poor leadership and act as if military rule never ceased. According to the president, local officials in particular are guilty of mystery making, do not listen to the views of the population and bypass laws and regulations. The result is corruption and delays in reform.


Police strike protesters

Police receive sharp criticism for brutal interventions against protesters at a copper mine in the northwest. The protesters, including many monks, protest that hundreds of families have been forced to move when the China-backed mine would expand. Many are injured in the police operation, which is the hardest since the change of power in 2011.

Barack Obama visits Myanmar

US President Barack Obama visits Myanmar to show US support for the reform process there. Before the visit, more than 450 prisoners are released, but it is unclear if any of them were sentenced on political grounds.

Financial support from the World Bank and the EU

For the first time in 25 years, the World Bank is providing assistance to Myanmar (around $ 80 million) and promises additional financial support in the form of loans. The EU offers over $ 100 million in development aid to Myanmar.


New unrest in Rakhine

In new outbreaks of violence between Buddhists and Rohingyas, more than 80 people are killed and more than 22,500 people are forced to flee their homes, the vast majority of Rohingyas. In total, around 100,000 people have now become homeless since the fighting broke out in June. Entire neighborhoods and villages are reported to be obliterated.


The President visits the United States

President Thein Sein travels to the United States on his first state visit there in 46 years.

Hundreds of prisoners are released

The government releases over 500 prisoners, including several political prisoners and foreign nationals.

Parliament dismisses judges

Parliament forces all judges in the Constitutional Court to resign. The background is that the Court has tried to limit Parliament’s powers, including its ability to monitor the work of government members through hearings, for example. Both the military-backed USDP and the NLD vote to dismiss the judges.


Pre-censorship is abolished

The Ministry of Information announces that the prior censorship will be abolished for printed publications. Radio and TV should continue to be able to be previewed. After publication, all media can still be subjected to review.

Demonstrations for democracy are allowed

Around the country, manifestations on the 24th anniversary are being held by the mass demonstrations for democracy in 1988 (see Modern History). The manifestations receive government approval.


Human rights violations and increased violence in Rakhine

Human Rights Watch criticizes the government soldiers for conducting a systematic campaign of violence against Muslims, especially the stateless Rohingy, in Rakhine where the violence and the refugee stream continued since May. Soldiers are said to have killed and raped Rohingya. The government rejects the allegations, but the head of the UN Commission on Human Rights, Navi Pillay, calls for an independent investigation into the actions of the security forces. One month later, the government appoints one.

The United States raises more sanctions

The United States is also easing financial sanctions against Myanmar. US companies are allowed to “do responsible business” in the country. Every year, those who invest more than half a million dollars in Myanmar must certify to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that their activities take into account human rights, workers’ rights and the environment.


Economic reforms are presented

President Thein Sein announces that the ongoing political reforms must now be followed by economic reforms. The state’s economic role will be reduced, a privatization commission will be set up and it will be easier for foreign companies to invest in Myanmar.

Suu Kyi does Europe travel

Aung San Suu Kyi makes a round trip to the UK, Switzerland, Ireland, France and Norway. In Geneva, she speaks before the UN Labor Organization working against child slavery in Myanmar, and in Oslo she receives the Nobel Peace Prize she was awarded in 1991.

Outbreak of violence in Rakhine

Old contradictions between Buddhists and Muslims (mainly the Rohingy group) in the western state of Rakhine are resurfacing, with dozens dead as a result. The trigger is a rape and a murder of a Buddhist woman. The murder is followed by an attack on a bus carrying Muslim passengers, of which at least ten are killed. The conflict is escalating rapidly, and soon hundreds of Buddhist and Muslim homes have been burned down. When violence spreads around Rakhine before President Thein Sein’s state of emergency in the state. By that time tens of thousands of people have moved from Rakhine.


Suu Kyi travels abroad

Aung San Suu Kyi travels to Thailand to meet Myanmar guest workers and refugees and to attend the World Economic Forum. It is her first trip abroad since 1988. She now considers that she can travel abroad without fear of not being able to return.

Government of India visiting

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh makes the first official visit to Myanmar by an Indian head of government since 1987. A series of cooperation agreements in trade and diplomacy are signed.

The United States eases sanctions

The United States raises a number of sanctions against Myanmar and facilitates US investment in the country. The United States also appoints an ambassador to Myanmar.

The NLD is taking up parliament

NLD members are sworn into parliament. In the past, they have refused to promise to “protect the constitution”. Aung San Suu Kyi gets a passport and the government says she is now free to travel wherever she wants.


The EU eases the sanctions

The EU abolishes all sanctions against Myanmar for one year, with the exception of the arms embargo.

David Cameron visits Myanmar

Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron visits Myanmar. It is the first time since independence in 1948 that the country receives a British Prime Minister. Cameron supports a proposal by Aung San Suu Kyi that the sanctions against Myanmar should be suspended to encourage the government to continue democratization. However, the sanctions should not be completely abolished, both emphasize, because the conservative forces within the regime should know that they can be re-introduced if the reform process is stopped.

Devaluation of the currency kyat

The central bank decides to allow the Myanmarian currency to float, which in practice means that its value falls sharply. With the measure, the USDP government hopes to be able to increase foreign investment and reduce corruption.

Aung San Suu Kyi is in parliament

When electoral elections are held in 46 constituencies, of which 40 are for Parliament’s lower house, the NLD wins 43 seats. Aung San Suu Kyi is one of those selected.


Aung San Suu Kyi says that electoral fraud is occurring

Two days before Election Day, Aung San Suu Kyi claims that the authorities are cheating with voting lengths, saying election materials were destroyed and election workers harassed. She still describes the election as a step towards democracy.

Foreign election observers are invited

Myanmar offers the United States, the EU and the Southeast Asian cooperation organization Asean to monitor filling elections to be held on April 1. This is the first time the regime has invited foreign election observers.


Aung San Suu Kyi holds a general election

Aung San Suu Kyi holds its first general election in the city of Dawei. It is the first time in several months that she is leaving Rangoon.

The EU raises visa bans

The EU rewards Myanmar’s “remarkable political reform program” by lifting the visa ban for Myanmar’s leading politicians.

Hundreds of political prisoners are released

Several hundred more political prisoners are released, including leading student activists from the protests in 1988. President Thein Sein says they “can play an important role in the political process”. It is unclear how many political prisoners remain in the prisons.

Burma Old History