Myanmar History

By | January 9, 2023

Burma – Prehistory

Burma National Flag

Burma’s prehistory is among the worst explored in Southeast Asia, and dating of finds is fraught with great uncertainty. In 1937-38, an American expedition found a series of roughly hewn tools from both the older and younger Paleolithic in the river terraces along the east side of the Irrawaddy River from Magwe south of Mandalay to Nyaung-Oo near Bagan north of Mandalay.

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In 1969, excavations of the Padah-Lin Caves west of the Shan Plateau near Taunggyi began. The finds belong to the Hoabinh culture, known throughout mainland Southeast Asia. Most interesting about the Padah-Lin caves, however, are some cave paintings of people and animals, but it is unknown to what period or culture they belong. Sharp stone axes from the Neolithic are known as loose finds from many places in the country, which also applies to surface finds of bronze axes. These especially show similarities from similar types from Yunnan in southern China and from northern Thailand. Boiler drums have been used and produced all the way up to modern times.

Burma – History

The first great kingdoms of present-day Burma were dominated by the Pyu people of Upper Burma and the monks of southern and present-day Thailand. Pyu and Mon had close contact with India, and from here Buddhism was introduced before the year 500 AD. First Mahayana and then Theravada Buddhism left their mark on the social order of the country. The kings built monasteries and pagodas, and the king’s power was built on his karma, which in turn depended on support for Buddhism in the form of gifts to the monastic order.

According to a2zgov, the Bagan Empire was the first kingdom to be ruled by a Burmese ruler, Anawratha (regent 1044-77). Anawratha built a large-scale temple building in the capital Bagan, which fell after the Mongol invasion in 1287. Thereafter, the Shan people came to power, and the capital moved in 1364 to Ava. The following centuries were marked by economic decline. A new dynasty expanded from Toungoo and conquered in the mid-1500’s. Pegu and Ava with the help of Portuguese soldiers. In addition, the Burmese invaded Thailand and conquered the capital Ayutthaya. In the early 1600’s. the Portuguese ruled the Brito (d. 1613) using cannons and only 400 soldiers in southern Burma.

In the 1700’s. Burma was again subjected to a central power, this time the Konbaung dynasty, founded by King Alaungpaya (1714-60), who ruled 1753-60. He conquered the last monarchy and fought hard with a revolt that sent thousands of monk and Karen refugees into Thailand. Alaungpaya allowed the British to set up timber stations and factories at Bassein and at Cape Negrais, but he then launched a massacre on them because he suspected them of supporting the monopoly. He and his sons invaded Thailand several times, seizing more direct power over border areas and minorities, and building a new capital, Amarapura.. In 1824, British rulers in India sought to halt Burma’s expansion. The Burmese made strong resistance until 1826; the British lost approximately 15,000 men and sought and received help from Karen. Burma ceded Arakan (present-day Rakhine) and the Tenasserim Peninsula to the British, who were particularly interested in the country’s extensive teak forests for shipbuilding. In 1852, Burma and Britain returned to war. Conversely, American and British missionaries had a number of Karen, and the King of Burma feared that the conversion would undermine Buddhism, monarchy, and Burmese culture. The British conquered Rangoonand the entire Irrawaddy Delta as well as central Burma, which became part of British India. Under King Mindon (regent 1853-78) trade with the British expanded. Several border conflicts and Burmese opposition to British rule triggered the last war between the countries in 1885. Concessions on the teak trade were a major cause of the conflict, and moreover, the British feared growing French influence. The weak King Thibaw underestimated the British, who easily captured Mandalay. Thibaw was sent into exile, the royal palace and its temples were transformed into respectively. officers’ club, church and prison, and the crown regalia were sent to London. The Burmese were the most stubborn of all peoples, the British colonized, and their revolt continued, with the participation of Buddhist monks. In 1930, the resistance culminated in a major uprising led by the former monk Hsaya San (1876-1931). The British crushed the revolt; approximately 10,000 Burmese were killed and Hsaya San and 125 rebels executed.

The British largely administered Burma without involving Burmese. Instead, doctors, engineers, merchants, money lenders, and workers came in large numbers from India and China. ‘Share and rule’ was the model, and the minority areas of Shan, Kayah, Chin and Kachin were administratively separated from central Burma and given better terms than the Burmese – a legacy that continues to torture the Union of Burma. In the 1930’s, the organization Dobama (‘We Burmese’) was formed by young students under the leadership of Aung San. The movement supported Japan during World War II, perceiving the war as anti-colonial. The brutal occupying power of the Japanese, however, caused General Aung San and his “30 comrades” to change sides. But the British were skeptical of conversion and distrustful of Aung San and his Anti-Fascist League. The British believed that the ethnic minorities were entitled to self-government, while Aung San fought to keep the country united. British companies and individual officers wanted to preserve the colony, and some secretly supported Aung San’s political opponent U Saw, who in 1947 was behind the assassination attempt on Aung San and seven of his closest associates.


After independence in 1948, Burma was divided into a tangle of insurgency. The country was already heavily affected by the devastation of the war, and Aung San’s successor, U Nu, sought to create peace and build a democratic tradition, inspired by Buddhism. In the 1950’s, remnants of the nationalist Chinese Guomindang army moved south to Burma and continued to fight Chinese Communists from there. The uprisings in the country continued and many feared that the Shan State would leave the union. This led in 1962 to the army taking power in a coup. Ne Winformed the Burma Socialist Program Party as a civilian facade, but the military and its intelligence ruled dictatorially and arbitrarily. Ne Win nationalized the economy and cut off the country from the outside world. The missionaries were expelled, Indians and Rohingya were deprived of their citizenship. The students tried to change the regime in several uprisings. In 1988, the economy collapsed, and Ne Win formally withdrew, dissolving his party and repealing the constitution. The military retained power and a popular uprising was brutally defeated. At least 3,000 were killed, approximately 4000 were imprisoned, and thousands fled. In 1990, the regime held elections. The opposition was led by Aung San’s daughter, Aung San Suu Ky i, and her National League for Democracy, NLD, which won 80% of the seats in the new parliament. But the regime, the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), ignored the result and brutally persecuted the election winners. In the years 1989-2010, Aung San Suu Kyi was under house arrest for a total of over 15 years. Her employees and friends were persecuted and imprisoned. In 1997, SLORC changed its name to the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), whose strongman remained General Than Shwe.

During the 1990’s and earlier zeros, the military junta entered into ceasefire agreements with a number of ethnic rebel movements. A constitutional convention was initiated, ostensibly for the sake of democracy; Aung San Suu Kyi’s supporters boycotted the meetings, which did not lead to a relaxation of the regime. The regime’s powerful man, Prime Minister Khin Nyunt, was surprisingly removed in 2004, convicted of corruption and placed under house arrest. Than Shwe took over the formal management of the country. Without notice, in 2005 the capital was moved from Rangoon to near Pyinmana. Extensive demonstrations against the regime in 2007 again led to brutal crackdown, not least by Buddhist monks, who spearheaded the protests. In May 2008, Hurricane Nargis struck southern Burma, killing at least 138,000 people and causing extensive material damage in the Irrawaddy Delta. For three weeks, the military government opposed international aid. The disaster coincided with a referendum on a new constitution that – after 20 years without a constitution – should legitimize military rule in the future.

On November 7, 2010, the regime held elections, which the military party for the occasion, the Union and Solidarity Party, USDP, won with 80% of the vote. The election was mostly peaceful, but there were many irregularities. The leading opposition party, Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, NLD, boycotted the election. Democracy activists complained about election fraud. Shortly after the election, clashes broke out between the army and first Karene rebels, since conflicts in the Shan and Kachin states also flared up.

Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest a week after the election, and in March 2011, a nominal civilian government led by former General Thein Sein inserted; he met in August with Aung San Suu Kyi, and mutual trust paved the way for a bizarre pairing of democratization and reforms. In October and again in January 2012, a large number of political prisoners were released. The outside world’s support for the renewals was clear with the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton’s visit in December 2011 and, for example, Denmark’s Minister for Development Aid, Christian Friis Bachs shortly after. Subsequently, demonstrations have been allowed, the parliament has passed a large number of constructive laws, censorship has been significantly reduced, and in December 2011 and January 2012 the government signed ceasefire agreements with, respectively. shan and karen groups.

Parliament has proved far more resilient and headstrong than the profile-less blue-stamping body predicted. The military’s quota allocated 25% of members as well as USDP people ask critical questions and also sometimes vote against the government’s proposal. The NLD gave up its boycott and ran in the by-elections on April 1, 2012, gaining two-thirds of the vote, which, in line with Burma’s electoral system, gave the party 43 out of 44 possible seats in parliament. Aung San Suu Kyi thus became opposition leader in the Legislative Assembly instead of just outside.

In June 2012, violent conflict erupted between the Buddhist majority and Muslim Rohingya in the southwestern state of Rakhine. The violence flared up again in March 2013 and spread to other parts of the country. A radical Buddhist movement led by rabid monks tried to isolate the Muslims, and numerous violent assaults claimed the lives of hundreds of people, most of them Muslims, and more than 100,000 were forced to flee.

In the November 2015 election, the NLD under Aung San Suu Kyi won a landslide victory (approximately 60% of the vote) and the party was given sufficient representation to form a government. In April 2016, the NLD’s Htin Kyaw became the country’s first civilian president since 1962. Aung San Suu Kyi was prevented from occupying the post due to a rule in the constitution. In return, she became a special state adviser and it is considered that she is the actual leader of the government.