Myanmar


Myanmar
/muy ahn"mah/, n.
Union of, official name of Burma.

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I
or Burma officially Union of Myanmar

Country, Southeast Asia, on the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea.

Area: 261,228 sq mi (676,577 sq km). Population (2002 est.): 42,238,000. Capital: Yangôn (Rangoon). Inhabitants are chiefly Burman; others include Chin, Shan, and Karen. Languages: Burmese (official), many indigenous languages. Religions: Buddhism (the majority), Christianity, animism, Islam, and Hinduism. Currency: kyat. Myanmar may be divided into four main regions: the northern and western mountains, the central lowlands, and the Shan Plateau in the east. Its major rivers are the Irrawaddy and the Salween. Myanmar's tropical climate is greatly influenced by the monsoons of southern Asia, and only about one-sixth of its largely mountainous land is arable. It has a centrally planned, developing economy that is largely nationalized and based on agriculture and trade. Rice is the most important crop and principal export; teak is also important. It is ruled by a military regime; its head of state and government is the chairman of the State Peace and Development Council. The area was long inhabited, with the Mon and Pyu states dominant after the 1st century AD. It was united in the 11th century under a Burmese dynasty that was overthrown by the Mongols in the 13th century. The Portuguese, Dutch, and English traded there in the 16th–17th centuries. The modern Myanmar state was founded in the 18th century by Alaungpaya. Conflict with the British over Assam resulted in a series of wars, and Myanmar fell to the British in 1885. Under British control, it became Burma, a province of India. It was occupied by Japan in World War II and became independent in 1948. A military coup took power in 1962 and nationalized major economic sectors. Civilian unrest in the 1980s led to antigovernment rioting that was suppressed by force. In 1990 opposition parties won in national elections, but the army continued in control. Trying to negotiate for a freer government amid the unrest, Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.
II
(as used in expressions)
Union of Myanmar
Mountbatten of Burma Louis Mountbatten 1st Earl

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▪ 2007

Area:
676,577 sq km (261,228 sq mi)
Population
(2006 est.): 47,383,000
Capital:
Yangon (Rangoon) until March 27, when Naypyidaw (site near Pyinmana) was officially proclaimed capital
Head of state and government:
Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council Gen. Than Shwe, assisted by Prime Minister Lieut. Gen. Soe Win

      Throughout 2006 there were persistent rumours of infighting within Myanmar's ruling junta, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). Some personnel changes to the leadership of the government and the military were made. The United States and the European Union continued to be vocal critics of the junta and renewed a range of sanctions already in place. Washington led international efforts to force Myanmar to end human rights violations and release the main opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Aung San Suu Kyi (who had spent 11 of the past 17 years under house arrest) and 1,100 other political prisoners. The junta's practice of using forced labour on infrastructure projects drew fresh criticism from the International Labour Organization.

      The SPDC agreed to the May visit of UN Undersecretary General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari, who held talks with Aung San Suu Kyi and junta leaders. Though the meeting raised hopes for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, soon thereafter the junta extended her house arrest for another year. U.S. Pres. George W. Bush responded by renewing economic sanctions against Myanmar for three more years. On September 15 the UN Security Council added Myanmar to its list of countries considered a threat to international peace and security. In October the SPDC reconvened the National Convention, which was tasked with drafting a new constitution with the purpose of legitimizing the military's influence in any future government. The NLD boycotted the convention. The junta continued to play on the anxieties and ambitions of its neighbours. India stepped up its engagement in return for the junta's cooperation in flushing out separatist groups using Myanmar's dense jungles as a sanctuary. Myanmar approved a Sino-Myanmarese oil pipeline linking the deepwater port of Sittwe with Kunming in China's Yunnan province, and military ties with North Korea were upgraded.

      With annual per capita income of about $175, Myanmar was one of Asia's most impoverished countries. Rising gas, mining, and forestry exports to Thailand, China, and India boosted the regime's teetering financial position, but the huge investment in the construction of a new capital city added to the deficit. Eleven government-run enterprises were privatized, and in May electricity prices were raised to increase government revenue. Though industrial output rose, inflation increased and exerted downward pressure on the kyat's exchange rate.

Mohan Malik

▪ 2006

Area:
676,577 sq km (261,228 sq mi)
Population
(2005 est.): 46,997,000
Capital:
Yangon (Rangoon); movement to new capital complex at Pyinmana began in 2005
Head of state and government:
Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council Gen. Than Shwe, assisted by Prime Minister Lieut. Gen. Soe Win

      Internal bickering and tensions within Myanmar's ruling junta, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), escalated in 2005 following the sacking of former prime minister and once-powerful intelligence chief Gen. Khin Nyunt in late 2004. Rumours of coups accompanied the purge of Khin Nyunt's supporters; the general himself received a 44-year suspended sentence for corruption. In July former home, agriculture, and foreign ministers were also arrested on corruption charges. Security concerns about future invasions or uprisings prompted the SPDC's decision to move the military headquarters, together with several government ministries, from Yangon to Pyinmana, a location about 320 km (200 mi) to the north in the remote Mandalay division.

      Tasked with drafting a new constitution, the National Convention met in February–March and was scheduled to resume before the end of the year. Myanmar's constitutional talks lacked any credibility, however, because a number of political and ethnic groups, including Myanmar's main opposition party, the National League for Democracy, were not involved. Some cease-fire agreements with armed rebel ethnic groups showed signs of unraveling. Several bomb blasts rocked Yangon and Mandalay in April–May. The U.S. and the EU maintained sanctions against Myanmar. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice branded the country an “outpost of tyranny” because of its poor human rights record and continuing repression of democracy, including its detention of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. According to UN human rights investigator Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, Myanmar was holding more than 1,100 political prisoners. In June China and Russia used the threat of a veto to block a U.S. move in the UN Security Council to impose sanctions on Myanmar. Russia also reportedly resumed talks on helping Myanmar build a nuclear research reactor. In August the UN Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria withdrew from Myanmar because of fresh travel restrictions on aid workers. AIDS had become a “generalized epidemic” in the country, with 1.2% of the population infected with HIV. About 100,000 new cases of tuberculosis were also being detected every year in Myanmar.

      Faced with intense pressure from fellow member states in ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), Myanmar agreed to forgo its turn on the rotating chairmanship in 2006. This decision avoided a major rupture in ASEAN's relations with the U.S. and the EU, which had threatened to boycott ASEAN meetings if Myanmar assumed the chair. The final communiqué of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) expressed concern over the slow pace of democratic reform and national reconciliation in Myanmar. However, in a gesture of camaraderie with Myanmar and disapproval of ASEAN pressure on Yangon to give up its ASEAN chairmanship, Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing chose to skip the ARF's security deliberations and travel to Myanmar to express solidarity with the beleaguered military regime.

      Myanmar's economy would have been in an even more parlous state were it not for the support of fellow ASEAN countries, China, India, and the country's large illegal trade in narcotics. The UN ranked it among the least-developed countries in Asia, on a par with Cambodia and Bangladesh. The only sector that registered strong growth was oil and gas, owing to Chinese, Thai, South Korean, and Indian investments. Thailand's imports from Myanmar (mostly consisting of gas) rose in 2005 by 51.2% year on year. In September the kyat fell to a record low of 1,330 to the U.S. dollar, from about 880 at the start of the year, pushing the price of oil imports yet higher. Inflation again returned to double digits, driven by rising global prices for oil and rice.

Mohan Malik

▪ 2005

Area:
676,577 sq km (261,228 sq mi)
Population
(2004 est.): 42,720,000
Capital:
Yangon (Rangoon)
Head of state and government:
Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council Gen. Than Shwe, assisted by Prime Ministers Gen. Khin Nyunt and, from October 19, Lieut. Gen. Soe Win

      In 2004 Myanmar's growing isolation and international pressure for political reform created fissures inside the military junta, known as the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), forcing it to consolidate its control over power and neutralize domestic and external threats. After 14 months in office, the intelligence chief and prime minister, Gen. Khin Nyunt, was sacked on October 19 and put under house arrest on corruption charges. He was replaced by a hard-liner, Lieut. Gen. Soe Win.

      Khin Nyunt had promoted a “road map to democracy” in UN-brokered contacts between the government and Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy. The talks reached a stalemate, however, and critics accused the junta of using stalling tactics to retain its monopoly over power. Despite repeated assurances, the junta excluded the political parties from the constitutional drafting process and kept Suu Kyi under detention. Yangon also refused entry to both Kofi Annan's special envoy for political reform in Myanmar and the UN human rights envoy for Myanmar. The junta sentenced three Burmese citizens to death for having contacted representatives of the International Labour Organization.

      In 2004 the United States and the European Union imposed tough new sanctions that extended a visa blacklist for all of Myanmar's military leaders, froze their overseas assets, and banned all commercial links. These measures had a severe impact on the garments and textiles sector. Myanmar's Association of Southeast Asian Nations neighbours, China and India, refused to cut off commercial ties with Yangon, however. Regional trade gave the military government just enough income to maintain its hold on power. Myanmar exported nearly a billion dollars a year in natural gas—well over twice the potential windfall from trade with the U.S. or the EU. In early 2004, rice exports were banned, apparently to curb inflation. Industry continued to suffer from acute power shortages. On the positive side, opium production in Myanmar was expected to fall in 2004 by 50%, largely owing to a combination of factors such as bad weather, police crackdowns, and public-awareness campaigns. Following a last-minute compromise whereby the government agreed to send a lower-level delegation to the Asia-Europe Meeting held in Hanoi in early October, Myanmar was finally admitted into the ASEM.

Mohan Malik

▪ 2004

Area:
676,577 sq km (261,228 sq mi)
Population
(2003 est.): 42,511,000
Capital:
Yangon (Rangoon)
Head of state and government:
Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council Gen. Than Shwe; on August 25 Gen. Khin Nyunt became prime minister

      In 2003 Myanmar became even more isolated owing to international outrage over the rearrest of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on May 30. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) broke from its traditional stance of noninterference in internal affairs when Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Mahathir bin Mohamad publicly threatened Myanmar's expulsion from the regional organization if Yangon did not release Suu Kyi and 1,400 other political prisoners. Myanmar had become a major embarrassment that tarnished ASEAN's reputation internationally.

      As part of a large-scale government reshuffle on August 25, Gen. Than Shwe gave up the prime ministership but retained the chairmanship of the military-dominated State Peace and Development Council. Gen. Khin Nyunt, hitherto the chief of military intelligence, replaced Than Shwe as prime minister.

      The United States imposed new sanctions, including a ban on all imports from Myanmar, a freeze of the assets in U.S. banks of Myanmar's rulers, and an expansion of the U.S. visa blacklist. In addition, the U.S. opposed IMF and World Bank loans to Myanmar. The U.S. bans on imports, mainly textiles and footwear, could result in the loss of some 350,000 jobs and substantial revenue, which had totaled $356 million in 2002. Japan, Myanmar's top donor, stopped all new humanitarian and developmental aid, and the European Union extended and intensified sanctions for another year. The International Labour Organization expelled Myanmar because of its flagrant use of forced labour; it was the only nation ever to experience such censure.

      The kyat was trading at a record low 1,000 to the U.S. dollar, inflation was running high, and the banking system was in deep crisis. In November the UN human rights envoy, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, met Suu Kyi in Yangon before submitting his report to the UN secretary-general.

      Yangon relied on its Asian neighbours, especially its main trading partner, China—which controlled 60% of the Myanmar economy—for diplomatic, military, and economic support. Exploiting India's rivalry with China, Yangon welcomed New Delhi's plans to build a modern highway linking India's Nagaland to Myanmar's Mandalay and Yangon and on to Bangkok. Indian Vice Pres. B.S. Shekhawat visited Myanmar in November. ASEAN's, Australia's, and India's policies of “constructive engagement” of the military junta not only undermined sanctions imposed by the U.S. and the EU but also failed to prevent Myanmar's rapid slide into China's orbit.

Mohan Malik

▪ 2003

Area:
676,577 sq km (261,228 sq mi)
Population
(2002 est.): 42,238,000
Capital:
Yangon (Rangoon)
Head of state and government:
Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council Gen. Than Shwe

      The major event in Myanmar in 2002 was the release on May 6 of Aung San Suu Kyi, the National League for Democracy (NLD) leader, from a 19-month-long house arrest. The State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) apparently buckled under the threat of tougher economic sanctions. In April the European Union (EU) extended its economic embargo by six months, and the U.S. Congress was considering tightening its ban on imports from Myanmar, in addition to existing economic and travel restrictions.

      The decision to release Suu Kyi had apparently created rifts within the military. In April the SPDC charged four relatives of former dictator Ne Win with treason for their role in a failed coup in early March. The news of the coup was greeted with skepticism and widely interpreted as a move against factions of the military opposed to a deal with the NLD and as a way to bring an end to the influential Ne Win family-business empire. Ne Win, who had been under house arrest since March, died suddenly in December. (See Obituaries (Ne Win, U ).)

      While welcoming the release of Suu Kyi, the U.S. and the EU refused to lift economic sanctions until all the estimated 1,500 political prisoners had been freed and restrictions on political activities lifted. Japan and Australia, however, agreed to provide financial support for targeted developmental programs and dispatched their foreign ministers to Yangon after almost two decades. Tokyo began releasing part of a $28 million aid package for a hydroelectric dam. In April 2002 the foreign ministers of India, Myanmar, and Thailand agreed to link a highway between the three countries.

      In May and June border tensions escalated between Thailand and Myanmar as army troops and ethnic minority rebel insurgents engaged in sporadic armed clashes that led to a worsening military and diplomatic row.

      Besides a 40% growth in military expenditures, the only other growth was in the illicit trade in drugs (opium production reportedly netted $150 million annually), gemstones, and timber. During 2001–02 many investors withdrew from Myanmar, including 18 Australian companies. In September 2002 Britain's Premier Oil pulled out of its controversial $650 million investment in Myanmar.

      The World Health Organization ranked the health services in the country the second worst among 191 countries. Inflation shot up from 21% to 34.2%; the government foreign-exchange reserves were less than $25 million; and market prices for basic foods rose by more than 20%. Gas exports expanded rapidly, however, a slowdown in overall gross domestic product growth was expected in 2002–03.

Mohan Malik

▪ 2002

Area:
676,577 sq km (261,228 sq mi)
Population
(2001 est.): 41,995,000
Capital:
Yangon (Rangoon)
Head of state and government:
Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council Gen. Than Shwe

      In Myanmar the year 2001 saw the continuation of the ruling military junta's talks aimed at resolving the 10-year standoff with opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Since talks began in October 2000, almost 200 political prisoners had been released (though about 1,500 still remained in detention), and the media's virulent attacks on the opposition had ceased. Frustrated with the slow pace of the talks, and with little hope of a breakthrough after 12 months, the NLD in September called for the immediate release of Suu Kyi from house detention and the recognition of the party's 1990 election victory.

      Following a fact-finding team's visit to Myanmar in early 2001, the European Union (EU) renewed sanctions on the country for a further six months, citing human rights violations. The EU, however, increased humanitarian aid funding. Myanmar allowed access to an International Labor Organization delegation to evaluate progress on banning forced labour. Religious riots between Buddhists and Muslims claimed the lives of an unknown number of people in October.

      The first half of the year saw a marked deterioration in Myanmar-Thai relations, with fierce border skirmishes taking place. After 19 years of being oriented toward Thailand's eastern border, Thai and U.S. Special Forces staged joint military exercises on Thailand's western border with Myanmar in May. Myanmar troops also exchanged fire in the west with Bangladeshi forces.

      While China remained the main supplier of military hardware and economic aid to Myanmar, the junta also strengthened its ties with Russia, North Korea, Pakistan, and India. Yangon was reportedly purchasing a nuclear reactor and sophisticated MiG-29 fighters from Russia and conventional arms from North Korea. Pakistani chief executive Gen. Pervez Musharraf's visit on May 1–3 was preceded by calls by three Pakistani naval ships to Myanmar ports. India's external affairs minister visited Myanmar to strengthen economic ties and inaugurated an Indian-built highway. A joint Indo-Myanmar military offensive against rebel groups operating in India's northeast was also undertaken. On December 12–15 Chinese Pres. Jiang Zemin visited Myanmar, the first such trip by a Chinese chief of state since 1988.

      Political uncertainty, high inflation, declining foreign investment, and sluggish agricultural growth worsened Myanmar's economic situation. The value of the kyat slipped more than 20% in mid-August, and tourism declined significantly.

Mohan Malik

▪ 2001

Area:
676,577 sq km (261,228 sq mi)
Population
(2000 est.): 41,735,000
Capital:
Yangon (Rangoon)
Head of state and government:
Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council Gen. Than Shwe

      Ten years after Myanmar's ruling military regime nullified the decisive 1990 national election victory of the opposition National League for Democracy, the power struggle between the regime and the NLD continued to dominate the country's political affairs. Early in 2000 NLD leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi announced that her party would not recognize any constitution devised by the government or any state-run elections. The regime's harassment of Suu Kyi and her followers subsequently escalated. The most notable incident came in late August, when Suu Kyi attempted to leave Yangon to attend a party meeting and authorities stopped her two-car caravan just outside the capital. Refusing to return to Yangon, she and 14 supporters camped out in the cars for nine days before troops transported them back to the capital. The government later accused the NLD of provoking the confrontation. Suu Kyi, in response, condemned the regime for denying her the freedom to travel within her own country.

      In September the regime detained NLD deputy leader Tin Oo and eight other NLD members for two weeks. Meanwhile, Suu Kyi was confined to her home in Yangon. Suu Kyi emerged from her confinement vowing to continue challenging Myanmar's military rulers. She made a second attempt to travel outside the capital late in the month when she tried to board a train bound for Mandalay, but authorities refused to issue her a ticket. Days later the UN special envoy to Myanmar, Razali Ismail, met with both Suu Kyi and military leaders during his four-day visit to the country. Despite his attempts to reconcile differences between the two sides, it was certain that the NLD leader's movements would remain heavily restricted.

      The government was successful in eliminating the threat posed by the Karen rebel group God's Army during the year. The guerrillas, led by 12-year-old twin brothers Johnny and Luther Htoo—who were considered by their followers to be the reincarnations of ancient Karen warriors—allegedly took part in seizing a hospital along the Thai border on January 24. The jungle base of God's Army was overrun by Myanmar government forces on January 27, although the Htoo brothers managed to elude capture. By midyear it had been reported that the twins were living in a Karen village in Myanmar near the Thai border and had decided, for the time being, to lay down their arms.

      Sanctions and embargoes imposed on Myanmar by Western countries continued to hurt the economy and stymie development. Sharp criticism of the military regime came from Great Britain, which urged Premier Oil, a British-owned exploration company, to drop its $200 million stake in a gas project in Myanmar. In April British Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister John Battle described the regime as “disgraceful” and cited its alleged record of killings, forced labour, control of the media, and repression of minorities.

Editor

▪ 2000

Area:
676,577 sq km (261,228 sq mi)
Population
(1999 est.): 48,081,000
Capital:
Yangon (Rangoon)
Head of state and government:
Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council Gen. Than Shwe

      Although Myanmar's military regime continued to be reviled in most of the Western world, it comfortably survived 1999 and, if anything, appeared even more secure than before. The effect of sanctions and embargoes by Western countries hurt the economy and stymied development, but the regime weathered the situation and was bolstered by support from fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. A new foreign minister, U Win Aung, was more articulate than his predecessors in presenting his government's views to the world.

      The process toward democratic rule and a free-market economy, which had begun a decade earlier, remained stalled, and few seemed to know how to get it restarted. There were several attempts during 1999, including visits by a European Union delegation, a U.S. congressman, and a UN representative, but little, if any, progress was made.

      The economic boom of the early 1990s had petered out—and the regional downturn exacerbated the situation. Property prices fell, businesses closed, many foreign investors left, hotels mothballed floors, and the national airline teetered on the edge of folding. Worst of all was the ongoing lack of an adequate power supply. Except for privileged enclaves, the entire city of Yangon had power rationing, and Mandalay and Mawlamyine had lengthy power outages every day. What kept things going was the so-called unofficial economy—the essentially unmonitored sector focused on the lucrative border trade with China, Thailand, and India. Tourists began drifting back, and the rice harvest was good, but few saw the economy improving until the political situation was resolved.

      Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD), endured a difficult year. Her husband, Michael Aris, died in March, and her party continued to suffer from harassment by the regime. Suu Kyi's movements in Yangon were relatively unrestricted, but she was not allowed to venture outside the capital. Although many NLD members were kept under government detention, the NLD did appear more conciliatory in 1999, with Suu Kyi no longer insisting on being present at any meeting between the regime and the NLD and also conceding that if her party came to power, she would not necessarily be its leader. Nevertheless, the state-controlled media mounted a relentless condemnation of her.

Roger Mitton

▪ 1999

      Area: 676,577 sq km (261,228 sq mi)

      Population (1998 est.): 47,305,000

      Capital: Yangon (Rangoon)

      Head of state and government: Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council Gen. Than Shwe

      Myanmar witnessed in 1998 increased confrontation between the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC; a military junta) and the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD). Although the SPDC attempted to present a less-authoritarian image than the preceding ruling junta, it nevertheless suppressed dissension as harshly and swiftly as its predecessor. In April San San, a prominent NLD member who was elected to the parliament in 1990, was sentenced to 25 years in prison for having criticized the country's military government in a radio interview.

      On June 23 the NLD sent an ultimatum to the SPDC calling on the government to convene by August 21 the parliament, in which the NLD had won a majority in the 1990 elections that were subsequently annulled by the government. The SPDC ignored the demand and instead clamped down on opposition dissent. On July 17, dozens of MPs were arrested for defying the new government restrictions requiring them to report twice a day to authorities in their respective townships.

      On July 24 the government prevented NLD leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi from attending a meeting with other party colleagues, blocking her car approximately 50 km (30 mi) from the capital. Suu Kyi refused to back down and remained in the car for six days until government forces forced her to return to her home. On September 2 almost 4,000 students, demanding the convening of the parliament, staged the biggest protest against the government in nearly two years. In a move to preempt further opposition action, including the convening of the parliament, the government arrested 110 NLD members on September 6.

      By September 9 the number of party members arrested had increased to 220, and, according to NLD sources, by mid-September more than 900 NLD members had been detained since May, with 196 of them MPs elected in 1990. This was the biggest wave of arrests since the pro-democracy demonstrations of 1988. Undeterred by the SPDC's arrests, a 10-member NLD committee, including Suu Kyi, declared that it would act as the country's legitimate government until a formal parliamentary session was called and that all laws issued by the SPDC were null and void. There were 54 more arrests in October following street demonstrations at the university and near the Sule pagoda in Yangon. The UN human rights investigator for Myanmar was again denied entry into the country in November. Rumours circulated in late December that the SPDC might be planning to deport Suu Kyi and close down the NPD early in 1999.

CLAUDE RAKISITS

▪ 1998

      Area: 676,577 sq km (261,228 sq mi)

      Population (1997 est.): 46,822,000

      Capital: Yangon (Rangoon)

      Head of state and government: Chairman of the State Law and Order Restoration Council (from November 15, State Peace and Development Council) Gen. Than Shwe

      In 1997, as in the previous year, Myanmar's military junta, the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), arrested more than 250 supporters of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD). Eager to show signs of flexibility, however, the head of the SLORC's military intelligence, Lieut. Gen. Khin Nyunt, met with the NLD chairman, Aung Shwe, prior to the July 25 summit meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), at which Myanmar was officially admitted as a new ASEAN member.

      In an attempt to placate growing U.S. and European Union (EU) criticism of its human rights record, the SLORC allowed the NLD to hold its party congress for the first time in seven years. Although the SLORC had authorized only 300 delegates to attend the congress, which was held on September 27-28 at the Yangon residence of NLD leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, about 600 party members were eventually allowed to participate. Suu Kyi, fearing that the SLORC might attempt to divide the party leadership, later rejected an invitation to a meeting between the SLORC and the NLD's Aung Shwe. Suu Kyi declared that all future meetings between the SLORC and the NLD would have to include her. In an attempt to infuse new blood into the government and accelerate the rate of economic development, the SLORC was dissolved on November 15 and replaced by an all-military, 19-member State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). Only the four senior members of SLORC were included in the SPDC.

      While Myanmar's relations with the U.S. and the EU continued to deteriorate over the SLORC's human rights abuses and its alleged profiteering from the drug trade, relations with countries in Southeast Asia steadily improved. In January Myanmar and China signed an agreement to exchange military intelligence information. Former strongman U Ne Win met with Indonesia's President Suharto in Yangon in February and again in Jakarta in September. Philippine Pres. Fidel Ramos met with the SLORC leadership on an official visit to Myanmar in October.

      Over 20,000 refugees from Myanmar fled to Thailand in January and February as a result of the SLORC's military offensive against the Karen National Union, the last remaining ethnic guerrilla group refusing to negotiate with the government.

CLAUDE RAKISITS
      This article updates myanmar, history of (Myanmar).

▪ 1997

      Myanmar is a republic of Southeast Asia with coastlines on the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea. Area: 676,577 sq km (261,228 sq mi). Pop. (1996 est.): 45,976,000. Cap.: Yangon (Rangoon). Monetary unit: kyat, with (Oct. 11, 1996) an official rate of K5.94 to U.S. $1 (K9.36 = £1 sterling) and (Jan. 1, 1996) unofficial free rate of K125 to U.S. $1 (K194 = £1 sterling). Chairman of the State Law and Order Restoration Council in 1996, Gen. Than Shwe.

      In late May Myanmar's military junta, the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), arrested more than 250 members of the National League for Democracy (NLD). The NLD had planned to hold a three-day meeting on the anniversary of its 1990 landslide victory in the parliamentary elections, which the SLORC annulled. This was the most severe crackdown on the banned opposition since the release in 1995 of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the NLD leader who had been under house arrest for six years. The SLORC promulgated a new law banning rallies by the NLD and prohibiting it from drafting a new constitution.

      Nevertheless, more than 10,000 supporters rallied at Suu Kyi's house, and the NLD held its meeting. It proceeded with the drafting of a new constitution that would deny the armed forces any role in a future civilian government. Suu Kyi's invitation to enter into a "constructive dialogue" with the government was rejected by the SLORC. Instead, the SLORC promised to present a new constitution in 1997 that would guarantee a role for the military in the country's political affairs.

      In October in an attempt to prevent the NLD from holding a party congress, the SLORC arrested more than 500 NLD members and cut Suu Kyi's telephone and severely restricted outside access to her, particularly by diplomats. Hundreds of students demonstrated in the capital in December for the right to form a union and for the release of students held by the military authorities. (CLAUDE RAKISITS)

      This article updates myanmar, history of (Myanmar).

▪ 1996

      Myanmar is a republic of Southeast Asia with coastlines on the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea. Area: 676,577 sq km (261,228 sq mi). Pop. (1995 est.): 46,527,000. Cap.: Yangon (Rangoon). Monetary unit: kyat, with (Oct. 6, 1995) a free rate of 5.66 kyats to U.S. $1 (8.94 kyats = £ 1 sterling). Chairman of the State Law and Order Restoration Council in 1995, Gen. Than Shwe.

      On July 10, 1995, Myanmar's military junta, the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), released Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD), who had been under house arrest since July 1989. Suu Kyi's unconditional release, however, did not change the SLORC's tough stance on political dissent. It rejected Suu Kyi's call for talks, kept in place all martial law regulations banning political debate, and continued to hold hundreds of political dissidents in jail. Even though Suu Kyi's house arrest had prevented her from leading the NLD in the 1990 campaign, her party won the 1990 legislative elections by a landslide. The SLORC subsequently annulled the results and jailed many of the NLD politicians who had been elected.

      The SLORC-controlled National Convention continued its work on a new constitution. The military ensured itself a leading role in the country's political affairs with a clause allowing it to appoint a quarter of all future parliamentarians. In December the SLORC expelled the NLD from the convention after the NLD had walked out in protest over SLORC's opposition to political reform. The draft of the new constitution stipulated that anyone who had not lived in Myanmar for 20 consecutive years, was married to a foreigner, or had children who held foreign citizenship could not run for the presidency. This disqualified Suu Kyi, who was married to a Briton, had lived abroad most of her life, and had two children who held British citizenship.

      The SLORC overran the Karen minority rebel headquarters in Manerplaw in January. The fall of Manerplaw was a major defeat for government opponents because it was also the base for several umbrella organizations comprising rebel ethnic armies and pro-democracy activists. The Mong Tai Army was the only remaining significant insurgent group.

      Because the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was concerned that China was using Myanmar as a springboard to extend its influence in the region, ASEAN adopted a policy of "constructive engagement" with the SLORC government. In January the Thai foreign minister visited Yangon, and SLORC chairman Gen. Than Shwe, who visited Indonesia and Singapore, attended the ASEAN summit in Bangkok, Thailand, in December. In July Myanmar acceded to the ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, a step toward full membership in the organization. (CLAUDE RAKISITS)

      This updates the article myanmar, history of (Myanmar).

▪ 1995

      Myanmar is a republic of Southeast Asia with coastlines on the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea. Area: 676,577 sq km (261,228 sq mi). Pop. (1994 est.): 45,573,000. Cap.: Yangon (Rangoon). Monetary unit: kyat, with (Oct. 7, 1994) a free rate of 5.82 kyats to U.S. $1 (9.26 kyats = £ 1 sterling). Chairman of the State Law and Order Restoration Council in 1994, Gen. Than Shwe.

      Myanmar's ruling junta met with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Sept. 20, 1994; it was their first face-to-face meeting since the Nobel Peace Prize laureate was put under house arrest in July 1989. After Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy won a landslide victory in the 1990 general election, the junta refused to allow the winners to take their seats in the National Assembly. Although the junta and Suu Kyi were reportedly eager for a reconciliation, there was no report of a rapprochement.

      The draft of a new constitution adopted at a 700-member convention called for an executive president assisted by two vice presidents, all to be elected by an electoral college drawn from the parliament. The president's parents, children, and spouse could not be citizens of any foreign country or entitled to rights and privileges of another nation. The president also had to have resided in Myanmar for at least 20 consecutive years prior to the election. These provisions would disqualify Suu Kyi, who was married to a Briton and had spent most of her life abroad.

      Amnesty International reported continued arrests of dissidents and severe restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly in 1994. Dissident writers and journalists were also subjected to long prison terms. Although about 2,000 prisoners had been released since a limited amnesty was announced in 1992, hundreds of political prisoners were still being held.

      In July the 1,400-strong Kayan New Land Party formally halted its insurgency, the 12th rebel group to do so. Only two major rebel groups, from the Mon and Karen minorities, continued to fight. In August Myanmar and Cambodia restored diplomatic relations, which had been severed in 1975 when the communist Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia. (DILIP GANGULY)

      This updates the article myanmar, history of (Myanmar).

▪ 1994

      Myanmar (Burma until May 26, 1989) is a republic of Southeast Asia with coastlines on the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea. Area: 676,577 sq km (261,228 sq mi). Pop. (1993 est.): 44,613,000. Cap.: Yangon (Rangoon). Monetary unit: kyat, with (Oct. 4, 1993) a free rate of 6.25 kyats to U.S. $1 (9.48 kyats = £ 1 sterling). Chairman of the State Law and Order Restoration Council in 1993, Gen. Than Shwe.

       Myanmar's ruling military junta in 1993 ignored calls from the U.S., the European Community, the UN, and Australia to release pro-democracy leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. Instead, they extended her house arrest on July 20 for a fifth year. They did, however, allow a visit with her British husband, Michael Aris. In January the junta opened a constitutional convention of 700 delegates, mostly chosen by the junta. The delegates promised to usher in multiparty democracy, but they also approved measures that would allow the military to participate actively in government and to take over in emergencies. In principle, at least, there would be an executive president chosen by an electoral college, a two-chamber parliament, and power sharing between the central government and 14 regional governments. Freedom of expression and worship also would be guaranteed. Observers, however, viewed the entire process as a sham because the military had jailed or otherwise barred key victors in the 1990 election from taking part in the constituent assembly.

      Amnesty International reported that more than 40 people had been arrested for political reasons in 1993. It urged the immediate release of two dissidents sentenced in October to long prison terms for their political activities. Ma Thida, a novelist, and Aung Khin Sint, a convention delegate, were named "prisoners of conscience" by Amnesty International, which already had given the designation to Suu Kyi. In May Foreign Minister U Ohn Gyaw had criticized the West for trying to impose its human rights standards on Myanmar and for not helping to stem the production of illegal drugs. The country's minister for national planning and economic development said his country could not effectively eradicate poppy growing and crack down on drug manufacturing without foreign assistance. (DILIP GANGULY)

      This updates the article myanmar, history of (Myanmar).

* * *

Introduction
also called  Burma 
Myanmar, flag of    country, located in the western portion of mainland Southeast Asia. In 1989 the country's official English name, which it had held since 1885, was changed from the Union of Burma to the Union of Myanmar; in the Burmese language the country has been known as Myanma (or, more precisely, Mranma Prañ) since the 13th century. The English name of the capital, Rangoon, also was dropped in 1989 in favour of the common Burmese name, Yangon. In 2005 the government began to shift its administrative centre, first to the city of Pyinmana (some 200 miles [320 km] north of Yangon) and then to Naypyidaw, a newly constructed city near Pyinmana; Naypyidaw was proclaimed the capital of Myanmar in 2006.

Land
 Stretching from latitude 10° N to about 28° 30′ N, Myanmar is the northernmost country of Southeast Asia; it is shaped like a kite with a long tail that runs south along the Malay Peninsula. The country is bordered by china to the north and northeast, Laos to the east, Thailand to the southeast, the Andaman Sea and Bay of Bengal (Bengal, Bay of) to the south and southwest, Bangladesh to the west, and India to the northwest. Its total length from north to south is about 1,275 miles (2,050 km), and its width at the widest part, across the centre of the country at about the latitude of the city of Mandalay, is approximately 580 miles (930 km) from east to west.

Relief
 Myanmar slopes from north to south, from an elevation of 19,296 feet (5,881 metres) at Mount Hkakabo (the country's highest peak) in the extreme north to sea level at the Irrawaddy (Irrawaddy River) (Ayeyarwady) and Sittang (Sittang River) (Sittoung) river deltas. The mountain ranges generally run from north to south. The country as a whole can be divided into five physiographic regions—the northern mountains, the western ranges, the eastern plateau, the central basin and lowlands, and the coastal plains.

      The northern mountains consist of a series of ranges that form a complex knot at Mount Hkakabo. In terms of plate tectonics, this knot marks the northeastern limit of the encroaching Indian-Australian Plate, which has been colliding with the southern edge of the Eurasian Plate for roughly the past 50 million years and thrusting up the mountain ranges of Myanmar and beyond. This region contains the sources of several of Asia's great rivers, including the Irrawaddy, which rises and flows wholly within Myanmar, and the Salween (Salween River) (Thanlwin), which rises to the north in China. The upper courses of these rivers all flow through deep gorges within a short distance of each other, separated by steep, sheer peaks.

      The western ranges traverse the entire western side of Myanmar, from the northern mountains to the southern tip of the Rakhine (Arakan) Peninsula, where they run under the sea and reappear as the Indian territory of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Their average elevation is about 6,000 feet (1,800 metres), although some peaks rise to 10,000 feet (3,000 metres) or higher. The mountains consist of old crystalline rocks surrounded by hard, tightly folded sedimentary rocks on either side. From north to south, the Patkai Range, Naga Hills (Nāga Hills), and Chin Hills form the border between India and Myanmar. To the south of these are the Rakhine Mountains (Arakan Mountains), which lie entirely within Myanmar and separate the coastal strip from the central basin.

      The Shan Plateau to the east rises abruptly from the central basin, often in a single step of some 2,000 feet (600 metres). Occupying the eastern half of the country, it is deeply dissected, with an average elevation of about 3,000 feet (900 metres). The plateau was formed during the Mesozoic Era (248 to 65 million years ago) and thus is a much older feature than the western mountains, but the plateau also shows more-recent and intensive folding, with north-south longitudinal ranges rising steeply to elevations of 6,000 to 8,600 feet (1,800 to 2,600 metres) above the plateau surface. Northward, the plateau merges into the northern mountains, and southward it continues into the Dawna Range and the peninsular Tenasserim Mountains (Tanintharyi Mountains), each a series of parallel ranges with narrow valleys.

 The central basin and lowlands, lying between the Rakhine Mountains and the Shan Plateau, are structurally connected with the folding of the western ranges. The basin was deeply excavated by the predecessors of the Irrawaddy, Chindwin (Chindwin River), and Sittang rivers; the valleys are now occupied by these rivers, which cover the ancient soft sandstones, shales, and clays with alluvial deposits. In the deltaic regions formed by the Irrawaddy and Sittang rivers, the landscape is absolutely flat, and the monotony is relieved only by a few blocks of erosion-resistant rocks that are never more than 60 feet (18 metres) high. The basin is divided into two unequal parts, the larger Irrawaddy valley and the smaller Sittang valley, by the Bago Mountains. In the centre of the basin and structurally connected with the Bago Mountains and their northern extension is a line of extinct volcanoes with small crater lakes and eroded cones, the largest being Popa Hill, at 4,981 feet (1,518 metres).

      The coastal areas consist of the narrow Rakhine and Tenasserim plains, which are backed by the high ranges of the Rakhine and Tenasserim mountains and are fringed with numerous islands of varying sizes.

Drainage and soils
 Like the mountains, Myanmar's main rivers run from north to south. About three-fifths of Myanmar's surface is drained by the Irrawaddy (Irrawaddy River) and its tributaries. Flowing entirely through Myanmar, it is navigable for nearly 1,000 miles (1,600 km). At the apex of its delta, the Irrawaddy breaks up into a vast network of streams and empties into the Andaman Sea through multiple mouths. Its great tributary, the Chindwin, drains the western region. The Bassein River (Pathein River) drains the southern Rakhine Mountains, and the Yangon River (Rangoon River) drains the Bago Mountains; both enter the Irrawaddy at the delta. The Sittang (Sittang River) flows into the Gulf of Martaban of the Andaman Sea, and, for a comparatively short river, it has a large valley and delta. The Shan Plateau is drained by the Salween River, which enters Myanmar from southern China and empties into the Gulf of Martaban southeast of the Sittang. It is deeply entrenched and crosses the plateau in a series of deep gorges. Many of its tributaries are more than 300 miles (480 km) long and join the Salween in cascades. The Rakhine coastal plains are drained by short, rapid streams, which, after forming broad deltas, flow into the Bay of Bengal. The Tenasserim plains also are drained by short and rapid rivers, which enter the Gulf of Martaban.

 Myanmar has two major lakes. Indawgyi Lake, in the northern hills, runs some 15 miles (24 km) from north to south and 8 miles (13 km) from east to west; it is one of the largest natural inland lakes of Southeast Asia. Somewhat smaller is Inle Lake, stretching about 14 miles (22 km) from north to south and 7 miles (11 km) from east to west, on the Shan Plateau. Inle Lake is fed by dozens of streams.

      The highland regions of Myanmar are covered with highly leached, iron-rich, dark red and reddish brown soils. When protected by forest cover, these soils absorb the region's heavy rain, but they erode quickly once the forest has been cleared. The lowland regions are covered with alluvial soils—mainly silt and clay. Low in nutrients and organic matter, they are improved by fertilizers. In the dry belt of the central region are found red-brown soils rich in calcium and magnesium. In the same region, however, when the soil has a low clay content, it becomes saline under high evaporation and is recognizable by its yellow or brown colour.

Climate
      Although Myanmar is located in the monsoon region of Asia, its climate is greatly modified by its geographic position and its relief. The cold air masses of Central Asia (Central Asia, history of) bring snow to the northern mountains for two months of the year, but this mountain wall prevents the cold air from moving farther south, so that Myanmar lies primarily under the influence of the monsoon winds. The north-south alignment of ranges and valleys creates a pattern of alternate zones of heavy and scanty precipitation during both the northeast and southwest monsoons. Most of the precipitation, however, comes from the southwest monsoon. The west coast is subject to occasional tropical cyclones (tropical cyclone).

      Myanmar has three seasons: the cool, relatively dry northeast monsoon (late October to mid-February), the hot, dry intermonsoonal season (mid-February to mid-May), and the rainy southwest monsoon (mid-May to late October). The coastal regions and the western and southeastern ranges receive more than 200 inches (5,000 mm) of precipitation annually, while the delta regions receive about 100 inches (2,500 mm). The central region is not only away from the sea but also on the drier, lee side—in the rain shadow—of the Rakhine Mountains. Precipitation gradually decreases northward until in the region's dry zone it amounts to only 20 to 40 inches (500 to 1,000 mm) per year. The Shan Plateau, because of its elevation, usually receives between 75 and 80 inches (1,900 and 2,000 mm) annually.

      Elevation and distance from the sea affect temperature as well. Although Myanmar generally is a tropical country, temperatures are not uniformly high throughout the year. The daily temperature range is greater than that in nearly all other parts of Southeast Asia, but no locality has a continental type of climate (i.e., one characterized by large seasonal differences in average temperature). Mandalay, in the centre of the dry zone, has some of the greatest daily temperature ranges, which span about 22 °F (12 °C) annually. In broader perspective, however, average daily temperatures show little variation, ranging from 79 °F (26 °C) to 82 °F (28 °C) between Sittwe (Akyab) in the Rakhine region, Yangon near the coast, and Mandalay in the northern part of the central basin. At Lashio, on the Shan Plateau, the average daily temperature is somewhat cooler, around 71 °F (22 °C).

Plant and animal life
      According to official estimates, about half of Myanmar remains covered with forests of various types (depending on elevation and the amount of precipitation), even after centuries of rice cultivation involving the clearing of forested areas; actual coverage may be less, however. Subtropical and temperate forests of oak and pine are found at elevations above 3,000 feet (900 metres). In the northern mountains, above 6,000 feet (1,800 metres), are forests of rhododendrons. Tropical evergreen rainforests (rainforest) of hardwood trees occur in areas receiving more than 80 inches (2,000 mm) of rain annually. In regions where the rainfall is between 40 and 80 inches (1,000 and 2,000 mm) are found broad-leaved tropical-deciduous monsoon forests (monsoon forest), the trees of which shed their leaves during the hot season. They produce valuable woods, notably teak. Where rainfall is less than 40 inches, the forests gradually open into scrubland. There are no true grasslands in Myanmar, but bamboo, bracken (ferns), and coarse grass grow in areas where the forest has been cleared and then abandoned. In the Irrawaddy and Sittang deltas are found tidal forests of mangrove trees that grow as high as 100 feet (30 metres) and supply firewood and bark for tanning.

      The jungles of Myanmar are home to a profusion of birdlife, including pheasants, parrots, peafowl and other wild fowl, and grouse. The Asian two-horned rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis), the wild water buffalo, the gaur (a species of wild cattle), and various kinds of deer were once plentiful but are now reduced in number and protected. Elephants are numerous, and many are trained for work. Tigers, leopards, and wildcats are still common. Bears are found in hilly regions, and gibbons and monkeys of various kinds inhabit the thicker parts of the forests. Snakes include pythons, cobras, and vipers, and crocodiles are found in the deltas. Turtles live in coastal regions, and edible fish abound in every stream.

People

Ethnic groups
       Myanmar is a country of great ethnic diversity. The Burmans, who form the largest group, account for more than half of the population. They are concentrated in the Irrawaddy River valley and in the coastal strips, with an original homeland in the central dry zone.

      The Karen are the only hill people who have settled in significant numbers in the plains. Constituting about one-tenth of the population, they are the second largest ethnic group in Myanmar. They are found in the deltas among the Burmans, in the Bago Mountains, and along both sides of the lower Salween River. The Kayah, who live on the southern edge of the Shan Plateau, were once known as the Red Karen, or Karenni, apparently for their red robes. Although ethnically and linguistically Karen, they tend to maintain their own identity and hereditary leadership.

      The Shan of the Shan Plateau have little ethnolinguistic affinity with the Burmans, and, although historically led by hereditary rulers, their society was less elaborately structured than that of the plains peoples. The Shan represent a small but significant portion of the country's population.

      The Irrawaddy and Sittang (Sittang River) deltas were once peopled by the Mon, who likely entered the country more than two millennia ago from their kingdoms in the Chao Phraya River valley in Thailand. The Mon were conquered in the 11th century by the Burmans, and by the end of the 18th century they had largely been incorporated into Burman society—by intermarriage as well as by suppression. A sizable number still remain in the Sittang valley and in the Tenasserim region; although they continue to call themselves Mon, most have assimilated virtually imperceptibly into Burman culture and no longer speak their original language.

      Numerous small ethnic groups, most of which inhabit the upland regions, together account for roughly one-fifth of Myanmar's population. In the western hills and the Chindwin River valley are various groups called by the comprehensive name of Chin. The upper Irrawaddy valley and the northern hills are occupied by groups under the comprehensive name of Kachin. These peoples long have had an association with the Burmans.

      The ethnographic complexity of the highlands occasionally leads to misgroupings of some of the smaller communities with their more prominent neighbours. For example, the Wa and the Palaung of the Shan Plateau are often grouped with the larger—but ethnically and linguistically distinct—Shan community. Similarly, the Naga (Nāga) on the Myanmar side of the frontier with India sometimes are mistakenly placed with the Chin, and the Muhso (a Lahu people) in northeastern Myanmar are grouped with the Kachin.

      During the period of British colonial rule, there were sizable communities of South Asians and Chinese, but many of these people left at the outbreak of World War II. A second, but forced, exodus took place in 1963, when commerce and industry were nationalized. In the early 21st century the Chinese constituted a small but notable portion of Myanmar's people.

Languages
      Many indigenous languages—as distinct from mere dialects—are spoken in Myanmar. The official language is Burmese (Burmese language), spoken by the people of the plains and, as a second language, by most people of the hills. During the colonial period, English became the official language, but Burmese continued as the primary language in all other settings. Both English and Burmese were compulsory subjects in schools and colleges. Burmese, Chinese, and Hindi were the languages of commerce. After independence English ceased to be the official language, and after the military coup of 1962 it lost its importance in schools and colleges; an elementary knowledge of English, however, is still required, and its instruction is again being encouraged.

      The local languages of Myanmar belong to three language families. Burmese and most of the other languages belong to the Tibeto-Burman (Tibeto-Burman languages) subfamily of Sino-Tibetan languages. The Shan language belongs to the Tai (Tai languages) family. Languages spoken by the Mon of southern Myanmar and by the Wa and Palaung of the Shan Plateau are members of the Mon-Khmer (Mon-Khmer languages) subfamily of Austroasiatic languages.

      Speakers of Burmese and Mon (Mon language) historically have lived in the plains, while speakers of a unique dialect of Burmese (that perhaps retains some archaic features of pronunciation) have occupied the Rakhine and Tenasserim coastal plains. The hills were inhabited by those speaking Shan (Shan language), Kachin, Chin, and numerous other languages. In the plains the ancient division between northern and southern Myanmar ( Upper Burma and Lower Burma, respectively) was based not only on geographic differences but also on a linguistic one. The Mon (now a small minority) lived in southern Myanmar, while the majority Burman population lived in the northern dry zone.

      Until colonial times only Burmese, Mon, Shan, and the languages of the ancient Pyu kingdom of northern Myanmar were written. Writing systems for the languages of the Karen, Kachin, and Chin peoples were developed later.

Religion
  Although Myanmar has no official religion, some three-fourths of the population follows Theravada Buddhism. The vast majority of Burmans and Shan are Buddhist. There is, however, a significant Protestant Christian minority, concentrated primarily among the Karen, Kachin, and Chin communities. Many of the other hill peoples practice local religions, and even those who adhere to world religions typically incorporate local elements to some degree. Muslims, mostly Burman, and Hindus are among the smallest religious minorities.

Settlement patterns
      Myanmar is a land of villages. Except for a few large cities—notably Yangon, Mandalay, and Mawlamyine (Moulmein) (Moulmein)—the towns essentially are large villages. Although the hill peoples generally practice shifting agriculture (called taungya in Burmese), most have settled in upland villages at some distance from the fields. On the Shan Plateau and in the neighbouring river valleys, the fields adjoin the villages. Older villages are circular in shape, but along the banks of the delta streams and along railways the villages are rectangular. Houses are built of timber and bamboo, the roofs being thatched or tiled. In the past, houses typically were built on piles, the original purpose being protection from wild animals or floods. The style persists in many villages, especially those on the hills, and farm animals are kept under the houses at night. In small towns the piles have been replaced by a supporting brick structure with concrete flooring, with the upper story still being made of timber. Houses entirely of brick were few in number before the mid-20th century, but later many sprang up in Yangon, Mandalay, and larger towns on the rubble of buildings destroyed during World War II. Life in villages is in some respects communal because of custom, the influence of Buddhism, and the redistributive and reciprocal nature of agrarian society.

Demographic trends
      The majority of Myanmar's population is rural, with the density of settlement in each region related to agricultural production, particularly of rice. Thus, the most populous regions are the Irrawaddy delta and the dry zone, and the highest densities are found in the upper delta, between Yangon and Hinthada (Henzada). Settlement in the Sittang delta, the sedimented hinterland of Sittwe, and the regions of both sides of the lower Chindwin River is moderately dense. The Rakhine region (except the Sittwe area), the west bank of the Irrawaddy at the base of the Rakhine Mountains, Tenasserim, and the less accessible parts of the western and northern mountains and the Shan Plateau are sparsely inhabited. Although city populations have been growing, the pace of urbanization has not been as rapid in Myanmar as it has been in most other countries of Southeast Asia.

      The population of Myanmar remains fairly youthful, with roughly one-fourth of the people under age 15. However, the proportion of young people has been decreasing steadily since the late 20th century, as the birth rate has dropped from notably above to significantly below the world average. Life expectancy, on the contrary, has been on the rise, with most men and women living into their 60s.

Economy
      Myanmar's economy, based on the kyat (the national currency), is one of the least developed of the region and is basically agricultural. Much of the population is engaged directly in agricultural pursuits. Of those who are employed in other sectors of the economy, many are indirectly involved in agriculture through such activities as transporting, processing, marketing, and exporting agricultural goods.

      Nearly half of Myanmar's economic output—notably all large industrial enterprises, the banking system, insurance, foreign trade, domestic wholesale trade, and nearly all the retail trade—was nationalized in 1962–63. Agriculture and fishing were left in the private sector. In 1975–76, however, the government reorganized nationalized corporations on a more commercial basis and instituted a bonus system for workers. The overall economic objectives of self-sufficiency and the exclusion of foreign investment also were revised. Foreign investment was permitted to resume in 1973, although only with the government. Following a military coup in 1988, both foreign and indigenous private enterprise was encouraged.

      Myanmar also has an extensive informal economy. Considerable quantities of consumer goods are smuggled into the country, and teak and gems are exported both legally and illegally. In addition, northern Myanmar is one of the largest producers of opium in the world.

Agriculture, forestry, and fishing
      Agriculture, forestry, and fishing together constitute the largest contributor to Myanmar's economy. About half of all agricultural land in Myanmar is devoted to rice, and to increase production the government has promoted multiple cropping (sequential cultivation of two or more crops on a single piece of land in a single year), a system that is easily supported by the country's climate. As a whole, the sector accounts for nearly one-half of the country's gross domestic product (GDP) and employs about two-thirds of the labour force.

      Myanmar may be divided into three agricultural regions: the delta, where cultivation of rice in flooded paddies (paddy) predominates; the largely irrigated dry zone, an area primarily of rice production but where a wide variety of other crops also are raised; and the hill and plateau regions, where forestry and cultivation of rice and other crops through shifting agriculture are most important.

      Although the dry zone was Myanmar's most important agricultural region in the past, the rice production of the Irrawaddy River delta now provides much of the country's export earnings and the staple diet of the country's people. The delta's traditional agriculture consisted primarily of rice in normal years, with the substitution of millet in drier years when there was insufficient moisture for rice; both grains yielded good returns on the alluvial soils. After Burma was officially annexed to British India in 1886, however, colonial policy called for a more commercially oriented and extensive cultivation of rice. Since the indigenous labour force was thought to be insufficient to support the colonial export economy, the immigration of Indian and Chinese labourers was officially encouraged during the early decades of the 20th century. Despite the departure of much of the immigrant labour force and the relatively low growth in rice production after World War II, rice remained both the basic food and, until the 1990s (when it was overtaken by dry beans), the principal agricultural export of Myanmar.

      Crops raised in the dry zone, in addition to rice, include sugarcane, fruits (such as plantains), legumes, peanuts (groundnuts), corn (maize), onions, sesame, rubber, and allspice. To cultivate much of this land successfully, however, irrigation (irrigation and drainage) is required. The earliest known irrigation works were constructed in the 1st century and greatly improved in the 11th century; though their maintenance lapsed somewhat after the fall of the monarchy in the late 19th century, many are still in active service. As in the delta, the arrival of the British in the dry zone led to increased commercial and public-works activities. British authorities repaired and extended parts of these ancient systems during the early 20th century. Most of Myanmar's irrigated land is in the dry zone, and almost all of it is planted in rice. The portions of the dry zone that are not irrigated are utilized for the production of crops that are less sensitive to the seasonality or irregularity of rainfall than rice. In addition to the crops mentioned above, cotton and millet are cultivated, although neither is of considerable significance. Cattle also are raised there.

      The third agricultural zone, the hill and plateau country, occupies perhaps two-thirds of the area of Myanmar. This land has less economic significance than the other two zones; it is the home of many of the country's non-Burman ethnic groups, most of whom are engaged in shifting cultivation. More-sedentary modes of agriculture also exist, however, and have been imposed with the advance of agricultural technology, increased population, and central planning. Outside the forest areas of these highlands, the principal crops raised are rice, yams, and millet, and large numbers of pigs and poultry are kept. Bullocks and buffalo are used as draft animals (draft animal), and goats, pigs, and poultry are raised for food in all parts of the country.

      The second most important element in the diet, after rice, is fish—fresh or in the form of ngapi, a sort of nutritional paste that is prepared in a variety of ways and eaten as a condiment. Marine fisheries are not well developed, although the industry's reported commercial catch is much greater than that reported from inland waters. Much private, noncommercial fishing is provided, however, in virtually every type of permanent, seasonal, or artificial body of inland water of any size. Nonindigenous fish, including the European carp and the tilapia (originally brought from Thailand), have become the focus of a growing aquaculture industry.

 Forestry has been particularly important as a source of foreign exchange. Myanmar is estimated to have the bulk of the world's exploitable teak supplies. Teak is found in the tropical-deciduous forests of the hills. Although the forests are owned and regulated by the state, concern has been raised about indiscriminate and illegal logging.

Resources and power
      Myanmar is rich in minerals, including metal ores, petroleum, and natural gas, and also has significant deposits of precious and semiprecious stones. Although production generally has been increasing since the late 20th century, mining accounts for only a tiny fraction of the country's GDP and a comparable portion of the workforce.

      Large-scale exploitation of Myanmar's mineral deposits began in the mid-1970s. Deposits of silver, lead, zinc, and gold are concentrated in the northern Shan Plateau, tin and tungsten in the Tenasserim region, and barite around the town of Maymyo in the central basin. Copper mining at the town of Monywa began in the early 1980s and has been growing, despite intermittent setbacks caused by shortages of fuel and supplies as well as by economic sanctions imposed by foreign governments.

      Rubies and sapphires have been mined in the northern Shan Plateau since precolonial times. Jade is mined in the northern mountains. The country also produces smaller quantities of spinels, diamonds, and other gemstones.

      When Myanmar was colonized by the British in the late 19th century, the extraction of petroleum from the country's central region already was an established local practice. The industry was expanded by the British and, since the mid-20th century, by the government of independent Myanmar. Although exploration for onshore petroleum resources since independence has not proved particularly fruitful, exploration for natural gas has been especially productive. Exploitation of onshore gas fields began in the 1970s, and in the 1990s extensive gas fields were opened offshore—especially in the Gulf of Martaban—and a pipeline was constructed to serve Thailand. There are oil refineries at Chauk, Syriam, Mann, and other locations.

      Myanmar also has major deposits of coal, and production rose sharply in the early 21st century. Coal is mined primarily in the upper Irrawaddy and Chindwin valleys.

      The demand for electricity chronically has outstripped capacity. Although much of the country's energy is drawn from fossil fuels, hydroelectricity accounts for a significant and rapidly expanding segment of Myanmar's total power supply. The government has built several hydroelectric power plants, including those on the Balu River (a tributary of the Salween), at Taikkyi near the city of Bago (Pegu), in the northern Rakhine region, and near Mandalay.

Manufacturing
      There was little industrialization in Myanmar until the mid-20th century, when a limited program was initiated after the country achieved independence. Yangon, Myingyan (in the dry zone), and the Rakhine area were selected to become the new industrial centres. Although the manufacturing sector has expanded, it has not grown as rapidly in Myanmar as it has in other countries of the region.

      A major enterprise in Myanmar is tobacco production, consisting of government-owned factories, which manufacture cigarettes, and cottage industries, which produce cheroots (a type of small cigar). Other important industries include steel processing, the manufacture of nonelectrical machinery and transportation equipment, and cement production. Textile factories have been established in Yangon, Myingyan, and other cities, but growth of the industry has been hindered since the late 20th century by intermittent sanctions by foreign governments. Myanmar also produces lumber, paper, processed foods (mainly rice), and some pharmaceuticals. Cottage industries are encouraged by subsidies.

Trade
      The government's decision in the early 1960s to limit foreign trade reversed the export orientation of the British colonial period. However, the subsequent relaxation of trade restrictions, notably the legalization of trade with China and Thailand in the late 20th century, allowed trade again to become a significant component of the national economy. Natural gas is Myanmar's primary export, followed by pulses (mostly dried beans), teak, and minerals and gems. Its principal imports include machinery and equipment, industrial raw materials, and consumer goods. Owing largely to the sanctions imposed by the United States and members of the European Union since the end of the 20th century, Myanmar's Asian neighbours—including Thailand, Singapore, China, Hong Kong, India, and Japan—have become its chief trading partners.

Taxation
      Businesses remaining in the private sector after nationalization account for only a small fraction of the country's tax income. The balance is collected from the public sector. The principal sources of revenue are taxes (income, commercial, and customs) and receipts from state enterprises.

Transportation
      The country's trade in rice is dependent on water transport. The Irrawaddy River is the backbone of Myanmar's transportation system. The Irrawaddy is navigable year-round up to Bhamo and to Myitkyina (Myitkyinā) during the dry season, when there are no rapids. The Chindwin (Chindwin River) is navigable for some 500 miles (800 km) from its confluence with the Irrawaddy below Mandalay. The many streams of the Irrawaddy delta are navigable, and there is a system of connecting canals. The Sittang (Sittang River), in spite of its silt, is usable by smaller boats, but the Salween (Salween River), because of its rapids, is navigable for less than 100 miles (160 km) from the sea. Small steamers and country boats also serve the coasts of the Rakhine and Tenasserim regions.

      The first railway line, running from Yangon to Pyay (Prome) and built in 1877, followed the Irrawaddy valley. The line was not extended to Mandalay; instead, after 1886 a new railway from Yangon up the Sittang valley was constructed, meeting the Irrawaddy at Mandalay. From Mandalay it crossed the river and, avoiding the Irrawaddy valley, went up the Mu River valley to connect with the Irrawaddy again at Myitkyina. A short branchline now connects Naba to Katha on the Irrawaddy below Bhamo.

      The Yangon-Mandalay-Myitkyina railway is the main artery, and from it there are branchlines connecting the northern and central Shan Plateau with the Irrawaddy. Other branches run from Pyinmana across the Bago Mountains to Kyaukpadaung and from Bago (Pegu) to Mawlamyine (Moulmein) to Ye. The Pyay-Yangon railway has a branchline crossing the apex of the delta to Hinthada and Pathein (Bassein).

      The road system, until independence, was confined to the Irrawaddy and Sittang valleys, duplicating the railway route. A road goes from Pyay along the Irrawaddy to the oil fields, and many roads extend into the rural areas. These rural roads, however, are often impassable during the wet season. There were originally three international roads in use during World War II: the Burma Road from Lashio to Kunming in china; the Stilwell (Stilwell Road), or Ledo, Road between Myitkyina and Ledo in India; and the road between Kengtung, in the southeastern Shan Plateau, and northern Thailand. These roads subsequently became neglected but more recently were rebuilt and extended.

      The state-run Myanmar Airways International runs frequent domestic flights between Yangon and other cities; it also has international service from Yangon to several major Southeast Asian cities. There are also small privately owned airlines that offer domestic and very limited international service. International airports are located in Yangon and Mandalay.

      Yangon, as the terminus of road, rail, and river-transport systems, is the country's major port, with up-to-date equipment and facilities. Pathein, Mawlamyine, and Sittwe are also important ports.

Government and society

Administrative framework
 Myanmar's constitution came into force on Jan. 4, 1974, the 26th anniversary of the country's independence, and was suspended following a military coup on Sept. 18, 1988. Since then, the country has been ruled by a military junta, first known as the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) and then, after 1997, as the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC).

      Under the 1974 constitution, supreme power rested with the unicameral People's Assembly (Pyithu Hluttaw), a 485-member popularly elected body that exercised legislative, executive, and judicial authority. The Council of State, which consisted of 29 members (one representative elected from each of the country's 14 states and divisions, 14 members elected by the People's Assembly as a whole, and the prime minister as an ex officio member), elected its own secretary and its own chairman, who was ex officio president of the country. The secretary and the president were also, respectively, the secretary-general and the chairman of the Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP), which, under military leadership, was the only official political party from 1964 to 1988. Civil servants, members of the armed forces, workers, and peasants belonged to the BSPP, and senior military officials and civil servants were included in the party's hierarchy.

      After the military took control of the government in 1988, it established the SLORC as the new ruling body, and all state organs, including the People's Assembly and the Council of State, were abolished and their duties assumed by the SLORC. The law designating the BSPP as the only political party also was abolished, and new parties were encouraged to register for general elections to a new legislative assembly. More than 90 parties participated in the elections, which were held in May 1990; of these the most important were the dominant BSPP, which had changed its name to the National Unity Party (NUP), and the main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD).

      The NLD won some four-fifths of the seats in the new assembly. However, after the NLD's victory the SLORC announced that the elections were not actually for a legislative assembly but for a constituent assembly charged with drafting a new constitution; furthermore, the SLORC did not permit the assembly to meet. Instead, in 1993 the SLORC convened a National Convention of handpicked participants—rather than the elected assembly of 1990—to formulate a new constitution. This constituent assembly met several times over the next 15 years, and early in 2008 it finally declared that a completed draft of the constitution was ready to be put to a referendum.

Local government
      Myanmar is divided administratively into seven states largely on the basis of ethnicity—Chin, Kachin, Kayin (Karen), Kayah, Mon, Rakhine (Arakan), and Shan—and seven more truly administrative divisions of Myanmar proper—Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy), Magway (Magwe), Mandalay, Bago (Pegu), Sagaing, Taninthary (Tenasserim), and Yangon. These states and divisions are subdivided further into townships, urban wards, and village tracts.

      Until 1988, at each level of local government there was a People's Council that followed the pattern of the People's Assembly. Every local government council also had an Executive Committee, and all but the village or ward councils had a Committee of Inspectors. Local and national elections were held simultaneously. In 1988 the SLORC dissolved these bodies and assumed control of local administration, establishing in their place military-dominated Law and Order Restoration Councils.

Justice
      The highest court under the 1974 constitution was the Council of People's Justices, members of which were drawn from the People's Assembly. Every local government council had a Judges' Committee, which sat as the local court, exercising criminal and civil jurisdiction. These courts were abolished along with other government bodies following the coup of 1988, and a nonindependent Supreme Court was established as the central judicial authority, with justices appointed by the SLORC. Since that time, the judiciary has remained bound to the executive branch of government.

Security
      Myanmar's armed forces, which consist of an army, a navy, and an air force, have expanded rapidly—nearly quadrupling in size—since the mid-20th century. The army is by far the largest and best-equipped of the three branches, and for a number of years it has borne the chief responsibility for combating armed insurgency within the country. Volunteers for the armed forces are recruited from throughout the country, and military service is a prime means of improving socioeconomic status; the military maintains an extensive education, health, and procurement system for its members and their dependents. The police force, although armed and equipped and often used as a branch of the army in emergencies, remains essentially civilian in character and regional in organization.

Health and welfare
      With the majority of the population living in rural areas with unreliable infrastructure and transportation, rural health care has remained both a challenge and a priority for the Myanmar government. A lack of adequate sanitation, although improving, and an underutilized health care system have contributed to relatively high rates of gastrointestinal diseases, tuberculosis, and malaria. The rate of HIV infection rose to epidemic proportions between the early 1990s and the beginning of the 21st century. However, the pace of infection has been slowing, owing largely to an aggressive government-sponsored public awareness campaign and the promotion of the use of condoms. The BSPP government gave special attention to workers and peasants and to the hill peoples and, in spite of a shortage of imported building materials, succeeded somewhat in stabilizing the housing problem that had afflicted the country.

Education
      Myanmar has a long tradition of educational achievement, and about nine-tenths of the population is literate. Five years of primary education, beginning at age five, are compulsory; in some remote rural areas, however, formal schooling may not be available. Secondary education consists of a four-year cycle followed by a two-year cycle. Tertiary institutions include a number of public universities and colleges as well as public and private technical institutes and vocational schools. The University of Yangon (1920) and the University of Mandalay (1925; until 1958 a branch of the University of Yangon) are the oldest and best-known institutions of higher education.

      Educational programs have suffered under the military regimes. Since the coups of 1962 and 1988, universities have been closed for extended periods—sometimes years at a time—to prevent student disturbances. As a result, the higher education of most students has been interrupted and prolonged over many years, and there is an immense backlog of secondary-school graduates waiting to enroll at universities. The official education system has been supplemented by a large number of privately operated tutoring programs designed to make up for public-school deficiencies.

Cultural life
   Buddhism has been a part of Myanmar's culture since the 1st century CE and has blended with non-Buddhist beliefs. The most conspicuous manifestation of Buddhist culture is the magnificent architecture and sculpture of Myanmar's many temples and monasteries, notably those at Yangon, Mandalay, and Pagan (Bagan), the site of the ancient kingdom of west-central Myanmar. Myanmar's culture also is an amalgam of royal and common traditions. Although the dramatic (theatre) traditions of the Burman court might have appeared to be dying after the elimination of the monarchy in the late 19th century, the tradition survived in a nonroyal context, among the masses. With the growth of nationalism and the regaining of independence, it gathered new strength. The most popular dramatic form is the pwe, which is performed outdoors. There are a variety of pwe genres, including both human and puppet theatre, and most draw subject matter from the Jataka (Jātaka) tales—stories of the former lives of the Buddha.

      Music and dance are integral to most dramatic forms of the Burmans. The various pwe are accompanied by music of the hsaing waing, a percussive instrumental ensemble with close relatives in neighbouring countries of mainland Southeast Asia. The leading instruments in the hsaing waing include a circle of 21 tuned drums called pat waing, an oboelike hne, a circle of small, horizontally suspended tuned gongs known as kyi waing, and another set of small gongs called maung hsaing. These instruments are supported melodically by other gongs and drums, while a wooden block and a pair of cymbals set the tempo and reinforce the musical structure. Dance styles that are accompanied by hsaing waing are derived in part—and indirectly—from southern India. Much of the Burman dance tradition was adapted from the styles of Thailand and other “Indianized” (or formerly Indianized) states of Southeast Asia, especially during the 18th century.

      Softer instruments commonly heard in nontheatrical indoor settings, such as the saung gauk (harp) and pattala (bamboo xylophone), typically accompany singing from a compendium of Burmese songs called Mahagita (“Great Music”). Since colonial times, musicians of Myanmar also have incorporated various instruments of Western origin into their indigenous musical traditions, reworking the instruments' sound, repertoire, and playing technique to reflect local aesthetics. For example, a significant repertoire of music has been developed for the piano, locally called sandaya, that is stylistically evocative of the circle of tuned drums, the harp, and the xylophone.

      Wood carving, lacquerwork, goldwork, silverwork, and the sculpting of Buddhist images and mythological figures also survived during colonial rule; there has been a revival of these and other indigenous art traditions under government patronage. Both the arts of bronze casting among the Burmans and of making bronze drums among the Karen and Shan, however, disappeared. The cinema and rock-based popular music are two international art forms that have been accepted into the cultural life of Myanmar.

       Burmese literature is an intimate blend of religious and secular genres. It remained alive throughout the colonial period and, in both verse and prose, has continued to thrive. A later (though not entirely new) development was biography, which has become more popular than fiction. Government-sponsored awards are given annually for the best translation, the best novel, and the best biography.

      Among Myanmar's most prominent cultural institutions are the state schools of dance, music, drama, and fine arts at Yangon and Mandalay, as well as the National Museum of Art and Archaeology at Yangon. There also is an archaeological museum at Pagan. A number of other museums focus on state and regional history.

      Since 1962 the government has strictly controlled and censored all media. The New Light of Myanmar (published in English and Burmese), which is the most prominent of several daily newspapers, is the official voice of the government. Several underground print newspapers circulate irregularly, and the opposition newspaper BurmaNet News is available electronically, although it is difficult to obtain in Myanmar. The government-operated Myanma TV and Radio Department has television programming in Burmese and Arakanese and radio programming in Burmese, English, and a number of local languages. Some foreign radio services—most notably Radio Free Asia, Voice of America, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), and the Democratic Voice of Burma (an opposition station operated out of Norway by Burmese expatriates)—are an important source of international as well as domestic news. Internet use is highly restricted.

Maung Htin Aung Michael Arthur Aung-Thwin David I. Steinberg

History
 Myanmar has been a nexus of cultural and material exchange for thousands of years. The country's coasts and river valleys have been inhabited since prehistoric times, and during most of the 1st millennium CE the overland trade route between china and India passed through Myanmar's borders. Merchant ships from India, Sri Lanka, and even farther west converged on its ports, some of which also were the termini of the portage routes from the Gulf of Thailand (Thailand, Gulf of) across the narrow Isthmus of Kra (Kra, Isthmus of) on the Malay Peninsula. Thus, Myanmar has long served as the western gateway of mainland Southeast Asia.

      The Indian merchants brought with them not only precious cargoes but also their religious, political, and legal ideas; within just a few decades after the first of these merchants arrived, Indian cultural traditions had remolded indigenous society, thought, and arts and crafts. Yet important components of Myanmar's local ways were retained, in synthesis with Indian culture. Surrounded on three sides by mountains and on the fourth by the sea, Myanmar always has been somewhat isolated; as a consequence, its cultures and peoples have remained distinct in spite of the many Indian influences and in spite of its close affinity with the cultures of the other countries of Southeast Asia.

      Myanmar was one of the first areas in Southeast Asia to receive Buddhism, and by the 11th century it had become the centre of the Theravada Buddhist practice. The religion was patronized by the country's leadership, and it became the ideological foundation of the Myanmar state that blossomed at Pagan on the dry central plains.

The origins of civilization in Myanmar
      The first human settlers in Myanmar appeared in the central plain some 11,000 years ago. Little is known of these people except that they were a Paleolithic (Paleolithic Period) culture, using stone and fossilized-wood tools that have been labeled Anyathian, from Anyatha (another term for Upper Burma). A discovery in 1969, by workers from the government's Department of Archaeology, of some cave paintings and stone tools in the eastern part of Shan state shows that that area too had Paleolithic as well as early Neolithic (Neolithic Period) (about 10,000 years ago) settlements, both of which bore similarities to the Hoabinhian culture, which was widespread in the rest of Southeast Asia from about 13,000 to about 4,000 BCE. Crude shards and ring stones found at the site appear to have been attached to stonecutting tools to make them more suitable for digging. The woodcutting tools in the find probably were used to clear patches of forest for cultivation, which would indicate that the shift from gathering to agriculture had already begun.

The Pyu state
      Between the 1st century BCE and the 9th century CE, speakers of Tibeto-Burman languages known as the Pyu established city-kingdoms in Myanmar at Binnaka, Mongamo, Shri Kshetra, and Halingyi. At the time, a long-standing trade route between China and India passed through northern Myanmar and then across the Chindwin River valley to the west. In CE 97 and 121, Roman embassies to China chose this overland route through Myanmar for their journey. The Pyu, however, provided an alternative route down the Irrawaddy to their capital city, Shri Kshetra, at the northern edge of the delta. From there, the route extended by sea westward to India and eastward to insular Southeast Asia, where the China trade connected with the portage routes on the peninsula and with maritime routes within the archipelago. Chinese historical records noted that the Pyu claimed sovereignty over 18 kingdoms, many of them in the southern portions of Myanmar.

      The same Chinese records emphasized the humane nature of Pyu government and the elegance and grace of Pyu life. Fetters, chains, and prisons were evidently unknown, and punishment for criminals was a few strokes with a whip. The men, dressed in blue, wore gold ornaments on their hats, and the women wore jewels in their hair. The Pyu lived in houses built of timber and roofed with tiles of lead and tin; they used golden knives and utensils and were surrounded by art objects of gold, green glass, jade, and crystal. Parts of the city walls, the palace, and the monasteries were built of glazed brick. The Pyu also appear to have been Buddhists of the Sarvastivada (Sarvāstivāda) school. Their architects may have developed the vaulted temple, which later found its greatest expression at Pagan during its golden age, from the 11th to the 14th century. Pyu sons and daughters were disciplined and educated in monasteries or convents as novices. In the 7th century the Pyu shifted their capital northward to Halingyi in the dry zone, leaving Shri Kshetra as a secondary centre to oversee trade.

The Mon
      To the south of the Pyu lived the Mon, who were speakers of an Austroasiatic language (Austroasiatic languages). The Mon were closely related to the Khmer, who lived to the east of the Mon in what is now Cambodia. The capital of the Mon probably was the port of Thaton, which was located northwest of the mouth of the Salween River and not far from the portage routes of the Malay Peninsula; through this window to the sea the Mon saw India, in its full glory, under the Gupta dynasty (early 4th to late 6th century CE). Earlier, in the 3rd century BCE, the great Mauryan (Mauryan empire) emperor Ashoka apparently had sent a mission of Buddhist monks to a place called Suvarnabhumi (the Golden Land), which is now thought to have been in the Mon region of the Isthmus of Kra. The ancient monastic settlement of Kelasa, situated near Thaton in southern Myanmar and claimed by Burmese and Mon chronicles to have been founded by Ashoka's missionaries, was mentioned in early Sinhalese (Sinhalese language) records as being represented at a great religious ceremony held in Sri Lanka in the 2nd century BCE.

      With the expansion of Indian commerce in Southeast Asia between the 1st and 4th centuries CE, Thaton's prosperity and importance increased. Indian merchants and seamen went to Thaton as traders rather than as conquerors or colonists. The number of Indians was never great, and their settlements were of a commercial, not military, nature. As a result, Indian culture was readily accepted by the Mon.

      However, the Mon culture was not displaced by Indian ways; the Mon blended the old with the new. They integrated many of their own beliefs into those of Theravada Buddhism, which arrived in Southeast Asia already replete with local South Asian beliefs. The power and prestige of the Mon kingship were enhanced by the notions of kingship found in India. The Mon developed a new art of sculpture by blending indigenous traditions with Gupta conventions of iconography. They built stupas (stupa) (Buddhist ceremonial mounds) according to Indian models, which were adapted to Mon aesthetic tastes. The Mon subsequently became one of the most culturally advanced peoples in Southeast Asia. They assumed the role of teachers to their neighbours, spreading Theravada Buddhism and their new culture over the entire region.

      The Mon centre eventually shifted to Bago (Pegu) (Pegu), located on the Bago River, about 50 miles (80 km) northeast of present-day Yangon (Rangoon). From there the Mon were able to control the trade of southern Myanmar.

The kingdom of Pagan (849–c. 1300)
The advent of the Burmans at Pagan
      Another group of Tibeto-Burman speakers, the Burmans, also had become established in the northern dry zone. They were centred on the small settlement of Pagan on the Irrawaddy River. By the mid-9th century, Pagan had emerged as the capital of a powerful kingdom that would unify Myanmar and inaugurate the Burman domination of the country that has continued to the present day.

      During the 8th and 9th centuries the kingdom of Nanzhao became the dominant power in southwestern China; it was populated by speakers of Lolo (or Yi), a Tibeto-Burman language. Nanzhao mounted a series of raids on the cities of mainland Southeast Asia in the early decades of the 9th century and even captured Hanoi in 861. The Mon and Khmer cities held firm, but the Pyu capital of Halingyi fell. The Burmans moved into this political vacuum, establishing Pagan as their capital city in 849.

      By that time the Mon apparently had become supreme in southern Myanmar. They may have occupied the whole of the region and controlled the port of Pathein (Bassein) in the west and the city of Bago in the centre. They could have stepped into the void caused by the destruction of the Pyu kingdom, but their power was linked to the trade of southern Myanmar and not with the agrarian-based economy of northern Myanmar.

The unification of Myanmar
      Nanzhao acted as a buffer against Chinese power to the north and allowed the infant Burman kingdom to grow. The Burmans learned much from the Pyu, but they were still cut off from the trade revenues of southern Myanmar. Theravada Buddhism had disappeared from India, and in its place were Mahayana Buddhism and a resurgent Hinduism.

      In 1044 Anawrahta came to the throne at Pagan and began the unification process in Myanmar that would recur in cyclic fashion until the British conquered the country in 1886. Anawrahta first strengthened his defenses on the north—the “front door” of Myanmar—and created alliances through marriage with the neighbouring Shan to the east. He then harnessed the economic resources of northern Myanmar by repairing old irrigation works and building new ones. Finally, he declared himself the champion of Theravada Buddhism and used that ideology to justify his conquest of southern Myanmar, which was accomplished with the defeat of the Mon city of Thaton in 1057.

      Thus, by the mid-11th century the core of present-day Myanmar had been united into a single kingdom centred at Pagan, and Myanmar's longest-surviving dynasty had been established. Anawrahta's work was continued by his great commander Kyanzittha (ruled 1084–c. 1112) and by another great ruler, Alaungsithu (ruled c. 1112–c. 1167). Pagan's consolidation of the Irrawaddy valley southward to the ports of southern Myanmar divided most of mainland Southeast Asia into two great empires, Khmer and Burman. Anawrahta's dynasty of kings lasted until the 13th century. By that time, their great temples had been built, and their message of Theravada Buddhism had been carried not only to the Shan but also to the Khmer.

      Centuries of temple building and of donations of land and manpower to the tax-exempt sangha (monkhood), however, had diverted many of the state's most valuable resources. Yet the legitimacy of state and society depended on continued patronage of the sangha. As a result, Pagan had become weakened by the end of the 13th century, precisely when a threat arose from the Mongols (Mongol) of Central Asia. Pagan had lost its northern buffer in the early 1250s when Nanzhao was destroyed and subjugated by the Mongols under Kublai Khan. The Mongols demanded submission by and tribute from Pagan, which refused to comply. It is not clear that the Mongol armies actually reached Pagan, but by 1300 Pagan no longer was the centre of power in Myanmar.

Pagan state and society
 Pagan was a fabulous kingdom even to its contemporaries; although he did not visit it, the 13th–14th-century Venetian traveler Marco Polo (Polo, Marco) was impressed by the tales of its splendour that were recounted to him. By the time of its conquest, Pagan had an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 temples and monasteries. Hundreds of these still stand today and testify to the prosperity of its people and the richness of its culture. The conquest of the Mon kingdom of Thaton was the foundation of both Pagan's economy and its culture, for it delivered into Burman hands all the ports of the country and the core of artisans who built Pagan's magnificent temples. These artisans were paid in wages of gold and silver, as well as in kind (food, horses, and elephants). Their clothing, shelter, health, comfort, and safety were the responsibility of their employers (as evidenced by details provided in contemporaneous inscriptions).

      The Mon craftsmen, artisans, artists, architects, goldsmiths, and wood-carvers who were captured at Thaton and taken to Pagan taught their skills and arts to the Burmans. Mon monks and scholars taught the Burmans the sacred Pali language (Pāli language) and the Buddhist scriptures, and the Burmans soon became scholars themselves, making Pagan the centre of Theravada learning. Some of their religious commentaries came to be accepted as part of the Pali canon by other Theravada countries. The women of Pagan also took part in these activities, particularly in the building and endowment of temples and monasteries.

      While the people of Pagan made Buddhism their way of life, they retained many indigenous and other unorthodox beliefs. The result was a unique blend of principles that persisted for generations as the foundation of religion, government, and society in Myanmar.

Myanmar from the end of Pagan to 1885
The first Ava kingdom, 1364–1527
 After the decline of Pagan as a major political force, small centres of power emerged by the first decade of the 14th century from polities that once had been under Pagan suzerainty. The political situation remained fragmented, however, until one of these centres, Ava, became the seat of authority in 1364. Ava was located in the northern Irrawaddy valley at the entrance to the rice-producing region of Kyaukse, near present-day Mandalay. The kings of Ava resurrected the traditions of Pagan, encouraging scholarship and learning and making the period a great age of Burmese literature. Without a northern buffer, however, they could not control the coasts for any length of time and were thus deprived of shipping revenues.

      Also following Pagan's fall from political authority, the Mon reestablished themselves at Bago (Pegu), and by the 15th century they were experiencing their own golden age under leaders such as Dhammazedi (ruled 1472–92). Bago became a major centre of Theravada scholarship and of commerce in Southeast Asia, attributes that protected it from conquest. Ava, however, was vulnerable; it was sacked in 1527 by the Shan, who had been moving southward down the Irrawaddy and Chao Phraya (Chao Phraya River) valleys since the destruction of Nanzhao several decades earlier. Refugees from Ava fled south to Toungoo, a city on the Sittang River that had been a seat of Pagan and Ava authority.

The Toungoo Dynasty, 1531–1752
      The Toungoo Dynasty, although considered by some to have been founded by King Minkyinyo (ruled 1485–1531), was inarguably solidified by his successor Tabinshwehti (ruled 1531–50). By the time Tabinshwehti took power, the new kingdom had become strong enough to wrest control of northern Myanmar from the Shan and southern Myanmar from the Mon. In 1511 the great trading entrepôt of Malacca (now Melaka) on the Malay Peninsula was conquered by the Portuguese, which led to a renewal of interest in trade in Myanmar's coastal waters. Tabinshwehti transferred his capital southward to Bago in order to tap this commercial potential, and he attempted to unite Burmans, Mon, and Shan into a single state. He died in 1550, however, and was succeeded by his brother-in-law, Bayinnaung (ruled 1551–81).

      Meanwhile, the Shan in the Chao Phraya valley had consolidated their power under the Tai kingdom of Ayutthaya (Ayudhia, Ayudhya), at the time known regionally as Siam. Like the Burmans, the Shan recognized the potential value of controlling the renewed commercial activity in the area; Ayutthaya and Bago thus became rivals. In addition, the Ming (Ming dynasty)-dynasty Chinese were active in Southeast Asian waters during the 14th and 15th centuries, further stimulating economic growth—and competition—in the region.

      Bayinnaung twice marched on Ayutthaya and had conquered the entire Chao Phraya valley by 1569, using Portuguese mercenaries and Portuguese cannon to accomplish his goals. Bayinnaung's wars exhausted Myanmar's resources, however, and after his death the kingdom began to break up. Manipur—a Hindu princely state to the northwest of Myanmar (now in India) that had been subjugated in 1560—declared itself independent, and Ayutthaya also regained its independence. Toungoo, joined by forces from the Rakhine ( Arakan) region, proceeded to ravage Bago. When the Portuguese subsequently founded a small centre of power at Syriam, on the Bago River across from the site of present-day Yangon, the rulers of Toungoo decided to return to the predictability, security, and comfort of the agrarian dry zone of northern Myanmar.

      By the end of the 16th century, Ava had been resurrected and the second Ava dynasty established, and by 1613 Bayinnaung's grandson Anaukpetlun had reunited Myanmar. Anaukpetlun's successor, Thalun, reestablished the principles of the Myanmar state created half a millennium earlier at Pagan. Heavy religious expenditures, however, weakened Ava politically, much as they had done in Pagan. In the meantime, southern Myanmar had been rejuvenated by the new commercial activity spurred by the British and the Dutch. Bago had grown stronger while Ava was preoccupied with reviving the northern region. Finally, encouraged by the French in India, Bago rose in rebellion. Assailed internally as well as externally, Ava—and the Toungoo dynasty—fell in 1752.

The Alaungpaya Dynasty, 1752–1885
      It was soon apparent that with the sacking of Ava only the centre of power had been destroyed, not the system or the wherewithal for power; before the year had ended, a popular Burman leader, Alaungpaya (ruled 1752–60), had driven Bago's forces out of northern Myanmar, regained the Shan states, and established the Alaungpaya (also called Konbaung) dynasty. By 1759 he also had regained Manipur and defeated Bago. The Siamese became alarmed and attempted to rouse the Shan chiefs to rebel. In the south, Alaungpaya overtook Tenasserim, the site of the old portage kingdoms, and invaded Siamese territory. Although Alaungpaya's invasion failed and he himself died during the retreat in 1760, the people and rulers of Myanmar now felt that, unless the Siamese were conquered, the coastal cities of southern Myanmar could not be retained. Alaungpaya's son Hsinbyushin (ruled 1763–76) sent his armies into Siam in 1766, and they captured Ayutthaya in 1767. China, agitated by the growing power of Myanmar, invaded the country four times during the period 1766–69, but without success.

 Myanmar then conquered Rakhine and occupied the princely state of Assam to the northwest of Manipur, thus coming face to face with British (British Empire) power in India. The result was the First Anglo-Burmese War (Anglo-Burmese Wars) (1824–26), in which the Siamese fought on the British side. Myanmar eventually had to sue for peace and relinquish Assam, Manipur, Rakhine, and Tenasserim.

      The Second Anglo-Burmese War (1852) was provoked by the British, who wanted access to the teak forests in and around Bago and also wanted to secure the gap in their coastline stretching from Calcutta (Kolkata) to Singapore; it resulted in the British annexation of Bago province, which they renamed Lower Burma. As the British became increasingly interested in the legendary trade with China through its back door—as well as in the teak, oil, and rubies of northern Myanmar—they waited for a suitable pretext to attack. In 1885 Britain declared war on Myanmar for the third and final time. To meet the criticism of this action that arose in Parliament, the British government gave the excuses that the last independent king of Myanmar, Thibaw (ruled 1878–85), was a tyrant and that he was conspiring to give France greater influence over the country. Neither of these charges seems to have had much foundation.

The administration of dynastic Myanmar
 During Myanmar's dynastic era, the king was the chief executive and the final court of appeal, but there were checks on his power. He could not make laws, only issue administrative edicts that might or might not be upheld after his death. Custom was a strong and recognized source for proper behaviour, along with codified bodies of civil and criminal law called, respectively, the Dammathat and the Rajathat.

 The king, as the head of state and the patron of Buddhism, was expected to be both a conqueror and one who renounced the world. Buddhist monks were formally organized and headed by a patriarch who, although appointed by the king, sometimes proved to be the king's sternest critic. Although monks technically were supposed to remain outside the sphere of politics, they gave sanctuary to political exiles. Monasteries also served as schools for boys, and monks educated the people and molded public opinion regarding the state and the king. Because the state and the monkhood owned virtually all the productive land in Myanmar, there were no landed hereditary nobles who could weaken the power of the state. The king's officials were appointed, and their appointments could lapse with the king's death.

      A council called the Hluttaw, or Hlutdaw (“Place of Release”), was the centre of government. It had several integrated functions—including fiscal, executive, and judicial responsibilities—and it was the final court of appeal; in theory and often in practice the king presided over its deliberations. All proclamations and appointments that were made by the king became valid only when orders giving effect to them were issued by the Hluttaw.

      Every province had a governor, to whom were delegated certain powers by the Hluttaw. There always was a right of appeal against decisions of the governor to the Hluttaw. Local government was in the hands of hereditary headmen, who were advised by village elders. The position of the headman was officially confirmed by the king.

The British in Burma, 1885–1948
 The third of the Anglo-Burmese Wars lasted less than two weeks during November 1885, with the British taking Mandalay, which had become the capital of northern Myanmar in 1857, with remarkable alacrity. The hopelessly outmatched royal troops surrendered quickly, although armed resistance continued for several years. The people of Myanmar believed that the British aim was merely to replace King Thibaw with a prince who had been sheltered and groomed in India for the throne. This did not come to pass, however, as the British finally decided not only to annex all of northern Myanmar (which they called Upper Burma) as a colony but also to make the whole country a province of India (effective Jan. 1, 1886). Rangoon (now Yangon) became the capital of the province, after having been the capital of British Lower Burma.

The initial impact of colonialism (colonialism, Western)
      The chain of events following the Third Anglo-Burmese War dealt a bitter blow to Myanmar. The loss of independence was painful enough; worse still were the British decisions to eliminate the monarchy—in the process sending Thibaw into exile—and to detach the government from religious affairs (church and state), thus depriving the sangha (monkhood) of its traditional status and official patronage. Moreover, the British eliminated the office of the patriarch of the Buddhist clergy. The demise of the monarchy and the monkhood, the twin pillars of the society of Myanmar, was perhaps the most devastating aspect of the colonial period.

      Many refused to accept the British victory and resorted to guerrilla warfare against the British army of occupation. The guerrillas were led mainly by former officers of the disbanded royal army, former officials (including village headmen), and royal princes, and they considered themselves to be royal soldiers still fighting the Third Anglo-Burmese War. To the British, however, the war had ended legally with the annexation of the kingdom; those opposing them, therefore, were considered rebels and bandits. For the next five years the British military officers acted as both judge and jury in dealing with captured guerrillas. Villagers who aided the rebels also were sternly punished. British troops carried out mass executions and committed other atrocities.

      As the guerrillas fought on, the British adopted a “strategic hamlet” strategy, whereby villages were burned and families who had supplied villages with their headmen were uprooted from their homes and sent away to Lower Burma (which had been under British control since the Second Anglo-Burmese War). Strangers loyal to the colonial government were appointed as headmen for the new villages established by the British. The guerrillas resorted to desperate measures against the new village officials. By 1890, however, with more than 30,000 British and Indian troops engaged in the campaign, the military part of the struggle was over.

The religious dilemma
      The colonial period was one of relative civil order, but it also was one of great social disintegration. Chief among the reasons for this was the British-imposed separation of the sangha and the state (church and state). The British did not wish to touch the issue of religion—given their experience in India that had led to the Indian Mutiny beginning in 1857—and thus they were unwilling to patronize Burmese Buddhism as the monarchy had done.

      Under the monarchy, the monkhood and the state had shared a symbiotic relationship. Royal patronage of Burmese Buddhism had included both financial and moral support, which had extended legitimacy and authority to the religious institution. The king had had the right to appoint the patriarch, who exercised supervision and discipline among the ranks of the clergy. In addition, the king had been given the right to attach two royal officials to the patriarch: a commissioner of ecclesiastical lands and an ecclesiastical censor. The duty of the land commissioner had been to see that ecclesiastical lands were exempted from payment of taxes, at the same time ensuring that false and illegal endowments did not escape taxation. The duty of the censor had been to maintain a register of monks, which had given the king indirect control over the clergy. The power to defrock a wayward monk had rested largely with the patriarch, but the same result could be achieved if the king declared the monk to be impure, which was one of the king's prerogatives. This arrangement was designed to prevent the abuse of the exemptions granted to the clergy.

      The British refusal to heed a plea by the clergy and religious elders to continue the traditional relationship between the monkhood and the state resulted in the decline of the sangha and its ability to instill discipline in the clergy. This in turn lowered the prestige of the clergy and contributed to the rise of secular education and of a new class of teachers, depriving the sangha of one of its primary roles. Added to this, the colonial government of India founded secular schools teaching in both English and Burmese and encouraged foreign Christian missions to found schools by offering them financial assistance. Many mission schools were founded; parents were compelled to send their children to these schools, as there were no realistic alternatives. The teachers were missionaries, and the lessons they gave were marked by repeated criticism of Buddhism and its culture. In the government schools the first teachers, British and Indian, were mere civil servants, unable and unwilling to continue the older traditions.

The colonial economy
      Under the monarchy, the economy of Myanmar had been one of redistribution, a concept embedded in local society, religion, and politics. Prices of the most important commodities were set by the state, and in general the mechanism of supply and demand was relatively unimportant. Agrarian self-sufficiency was vital, while trade was only of secondary importance. The British impact on this system proved disastrous, as Burma's economy became part of the vast export-oriented enterprise of western colonialism (colonialism, Western). With the British—rather than the people of Burma—as the intended beneficiaries of the new economy, the traditional Burmese economic system collapsed.

      The British dream of a golden road to China through Burma could not be realized, but the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 created a much higher international demand for Burma's rice than had previously existed. The Irrawaddy delta was swiftly cleared of its mangrove forests and in a matter of decades became covered with rice fields. The area of productive rice fields in Lower Burma rose from approximately 60,000 acres (24,000 hectares) to nearly 10,000,000 acres (4,000,000 hectares) between the mid-19th century and the outbreak of World War II, while the price of rice increased rapidly and continuously until the Great Depression of the 1930s. This tremendous increase in production created a significant shift in population from the northern heartland to the delta, shifting as well the basis of wealth and power.

      In order to prepare the land for cultivation, however, the farmers had to borrow capital from Indian moneylenders from Madras (Chennai) (Chennai) at exorbitant interest rates. The British banks would not grant mortgage loans on rice land, and the British government had no policy for establishing land-mortgage banks or for making agricultural loans. Prevailing prices were high in the international market, but the local price was kept down by a handful of British firms that controlled wholesale trade and by Indian and Chinese merchants who controlled retail trade. With land values and rice prices soaring, the Indian moneylenders foreclosed mortgages at the earliest opportunity, especially when the Great Depression disrupted trade.

      The dispossessed farmers could not find employment even on their lost lands because, with their higher standard of living, they could not compete with the thousands of Indian labourers who went to Burma. Burmese villagers, unemployed and lost in a disintegrating society, sometimes took to petty theft and robbery and were soon characterized by the British as lazy and undisciplined. The level of dysfunction in Burmese society was revealed by the dramatic rise in homicides.

      Thus, although the Burmese economy and transportation infrastructure developed rapidly from 1890 to 1900, the majority of Burmese people did not benefit from it. A railway had been built through the entire valley of the Irrawaddy, and hundreds of steamboats plied the length of the river, but the railway and the boats belonged to British companies. Roads had been built by the government, but they were meant for the swift transport of troops. A British company worked the ruby mines until they became nearly exhausted. The extraction of petroleum and timber was monopolized by two British firms. The balance of trade was always in favour of Burma, but that meant little to Burmese people or society.

The emergence of nationalism
      Those Burmese who attended the new schools established by the colonial government or by missionaries managed to gain admission to the clerical grades of government service, but even in those lower grades they encountered competition from Indians. Because science courses were not available, the professions of engineering and medicine were closed to the Burmese. Those who advanced to the government liberal arts college at Rangoon ( Yangon) entered the middle grades of the civil service, while a few went on to London to study law. When these young barristers returned to Burma, they were looked upon by the people as their new leaders. Their sojourn in the liberal atmosphere of London had convinced these new leaders that some measure of political independence could be regained by negotiation.

      The new leaders first turned their attention to the national religion, culture, and education. In 1906 they founded the Young Men's Buddhist Association (YMBA) and through it began establishing a number of schools supported by private donations and government grants-in-aid (the YMBA was not antigovernment). Three years later the British, attempting to pacify the Indian National Congress (a broadly based and increasingly nationalist political party in India), introduced some constitutional reforms in India. Only a few minor changes were made in the Burmese constitution, but these confirmed the young leaders' faith in British liberalism. In 1920, however, when it was learned that Burma would be excluded from new reforms introduced in India, the barristers led the people in a countrywide protest, which involved a boycott of British goods.

      Also in 1920 Rangoon College was raised to the status of a full university by the University Act. However, because the accompanying changes in the school's administration and curriculum were viewed as elitist and exclusionary of the Burmese population, its students went on strike. Younger schoolchildren followed suit, and the general public and the Buddhist clergy gave full support to the movement. The strikers camped in the courtyards of monasteries, reviving memories of days when education was the concern of the monks. The University Act eventually was amended and the strike settled, but many strikers initially refused to go back to mission and government schools. The YMBA schools, now calling themselves “national” schools, opened their doors to the strikers.

      Constitutional reforms were finally granted in 1923, but the delay had split the leaders, some of whom, like the masses, were beginning to doubt whether political freedom could be attained by peaceful protest. At the University of Rangoon itself, students began to resent their British professors. A radical student group began organizing protests, which came to be known as the Thakin movement. The name for this movement was purposely ironic: the Burmese word thakin (“master”) was the term that the Burmese were required to use when addressing the British.

Maung Htin Aung Michael Arthur Aung-Thwin David I. Steinberg
      Late in 1930 Burmese peasants, under the leadership of Saya San (San, Saya), rose in rebellion. Armed only with swords and sticks, they resisted British and Indian troops for two years. The young Thakins, though not involved in the rebellion, won the trust of the villagers and emerged as leaders in place of the British-educated Burmese elite. In 1936 university students again went on strike, and two of their leaders, Thakin Nu (later called U Nu (Nu, U)) and Aung San, joined the Thakin movement. In 1937 the British government separated Burma from India and granted it its own constitution, independent of that of India; the masses interpreted this as proof that the British planned to exclude Burma from the next phase of Indian reform.

World War II and after
      When World War II erupted in Europe in 1939, the Burmese leaders wanted to bargain with the government before giving their support to the British. A warrant was issued for the arrest of Aung San, but he escaped to China, where he attempted to solicit support from radical groups. Assistance came instead from the Japanese government. Aung San returned to Burma in secret, recruited 29 young men, and took them to Japan, where these “Thirty Comrades” (including Ne Win (Ne Win, U), who later became head of state) received military training. The Japanese promised independence for Burma; hence, when Japanese troops reached Bangkok ( Thailand) in December 1941, Aung San announced the formation of the Burma Independence Army (BIA). The Japanese advanced into Burma and by the end of 1942 had occupied the country. They subsequently disbanded the BIA and formed a smaller Burma Defense Army, with Aung San still as commander. Meanwhile, Thailand was given territory in the Shan states for its support of Japan's wartime efforts; those lands were returned to Burma in the postwar period, however.

       Ba Maw, the first prime minister under the 1937 constitution and later the leader of the opposition, was appointed head of state by the Japanese, with a cabinet including Aung San and Thakin Nu. In 1943, when the tide of battle started to turn against them, the Japanese declared Burma a fully sovereign state. The Burmese government, however, was still a mere facade, with the Japanese army ruling. Meanwhile, Aung San had contacted Lord Louis Mountbatten (Mountbatten, Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl, Viscount Mountbatten Of Burma, Baron Romsey Of Romsey), the Allied (Allied Powers) commander in Southeast Asia, as early as October 1943 to offer his cooperation, and in March 1945 Aung San and his army—renamed the Burma National Army (BNA)—joined the British side.

      During the war Aung San and the Thakins formed a coalition of political parties called the Anti-Fascist Organization—renamed the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League (AFPFL) after the war—which had wide popular support. After the defeat of the Japanese in Burma in May 1945, the British military administration and members of the prewar government who had returned from exile demanded that Aung San be tried as a traitor. Mountbatten, however, recognized the extent of Aung San's hold on the BNA and on the general populace, and he hastily sent the more conciliatory Sir Hubert Rance to head the administration. Rance regained for the British the trust of Aung San and the general public. When the war ended, the military administration was withdrawn, and Rance was replaced by the former civilian governor, who formed a cabinet consisting of older and more conservative politicians. The new administration arrested Aung San and charged him with treason. Surprised and angered, the Burmese people prepared for rebellion, but the British government in London wisely reinstated Rance, who had proven himself a sensitive and successful administrator in Burma, as governor.

      Rance formed a new cabinet, including Aung San, and discussions for a peaceful transfer of power began. These were concluded in London in January 1947, when the British (British Empire) agreed to Burma's independence. By June the Burmese had decided to leave the British Commonwealth of Nations.

      The communist and conservative wings of the AFPFL were dissatisfied with the agreement. The communists broke away and went underground, and the conservatives went into opposition. In July Aung San and most members of his cabinet were assassinated by gunmen sent by U Saw (Saw, U), a former prime minister and now a conservative. Rance asked Thakin Nu to form a new cabinet. A new constitution was written, and on Jan. 4, 1948, Burma became a sovereign, independent republic.

Since independence
The unsettled early years, 1948–62
      With its economy shattered and its towns and villages destroyed during the war, Burma needed peace. A foreign policy of neutrality was decided upon, but, because of internal strife, no peace resulted. The communists were the first insurgents, followed by some of Aung San's veterans and then the Karen, the only ethnic minority on the plains. The other minorities— Chin, Kachin, and Shan—who had been ruled separately by the British but who had enthusiastically joined the union, stood firm in support of the government.

      At the United Nations, Burma endeavoured to show impartiality. It was one of the first countries to recognize Israel, as well as the People's Republic of China (China). Meanwhile, a division of Chinese Nationalist troops occupied parts of the Shan Plateau after their defeat by the Chinese communists in 1949. Because of the general support given to Nationalist China ( Taiwan) by the United States, Burma stopped accepting U.S. aid and rejected all other foreign aid.

      By 1958 Burma was well on the road to internal peace and economic recovery, but the ruling AFPFL had become divided by personal quarrels between U Nu (formerly called Thakin Nu) and his closest associates. Amid rumours of a military takeover, U Nu invited the army chief of staff, Ne Win (Ne Win, U)—who had been a Thakin, one of the Thirty Comrades, and Aung San's second in command—to assume the premiership. This move sometimes has been called a “constitutional coup.” Ne Win established internal security, stabilized the military situation, and prepared the country for general elections, which took place in February 1960. U Nu was returned to office with an absolute majority.

The socialist state, 1962–88
      In March 1962, however, Ne Win led a military coup and arrested U Nu, the chief justice, and several cabinet ministers. He justified his actions as a means of keeping the union from disintegrating. Suspending the 1947 constitution, which had been in effect since independence, he ruled the country with a Revolutionary Council consisting of senior military officers. Ne Win's stated purpose was to make Burma a truly socialist state. A military-controlled one-party (Burma Socialist Programme Party [BSPP]) system was established. In April 1972 Ne Win and other members of the Revolutionary Council retired from the army, but they retained their positions of power in the BSPP.

      Land had been nationalized under U Nu's administration, and much of the country's commerce and industry was nationalized under Ne Win. Ultimately, Ne Win implemented a type of command economy—a system whereby the means of production are publicly owned and economic activity is controlled by the government—that was in some ways reminiscent of the redistributive economy of the monarchy. These measures did not improve the economy, however, particularly as investment in agriculture generally was sacrificed in favour of industrial growth, and as the military replaced civilians in key administrative positions.

      Ne Win had promised a new constitution, and in September 1971 representatives of the party's central committee, of the country's various ethnic groups, and of other interest groups were appointed to draft a document. A referendum to ratify the new constitution was held in December 1973, with more than 90 percent of eligible voters signifying approval, and the constitution was promulgated in January 1974. Elections to the People's Assembly (Pyithu Hluttaw)—the supreme legislative, executive, and judicial authority—and to local People's Councils were held early in 1974; the new government took office in March with Ne Win as president.

      After the establishment of the new political organization, Burma's economy grew steadily at a moderate pace. A notable policy change was a partial relaxation of the ban on foreign financial aid, and considerable funding was received from the Asian Development Bank and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (part of the World Bank), as well as from Japan. By the early 1980s, however, growth increasingly was being hindered by mounting trade deficits caused largely by falling commodity export prices, the increasing costs of imports, and rising external debt payments. A series of economic reforms proposed in 1987–88 were intended to reverse the socialist policies enacted in the early 1960s. Chief among these were the active encouragement of foreign investment and a considerable liberalization of foreign trade.

      Communist and ethnic insurgencies had expanded in the eastern and northern parts of the country throughout the BSPP period. In May 1980 Ne Win offered full amnesty to all political insurgents inside or outside Burma who reported to authorities within a 90-day period. Most notable among those accepting was U Nu (Nu, U), who, after having gone into exile in India in 1969, returned to enter a Buddhist (Buddhism) monastery. Most insurgents, however, chose to continue opposing the government, and repeated attempts by government troops to suppress them met with only limited success. After four decades, insurgency had become a way of life.

Myanmar since 1988
      Ne Win retired as president and chairman of the Council of State in November 1981 but remained in power until July 1988, when he resigned as chairman of the BSPP amid violent protests. Student and worker unrest had erupted periodically throughout the 1980s, but the intensity of the protests in the summer of 1988 made it seem as if the country were on the verge of revolution. On September 18 the armed forces, led by Gen. Saw Maung, seized control of the government. The military moved to suppress the demonstrations, and thousands of unarmed protesters were killed. Martial law was imposed over most of the country, and constitutional government was replaced by a new military body called the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). Saw Maung became chairman of the SLORC as well as prime minister.

      The SLORC changed the name of the country to Myanmar, implemented the economic reforms drafted by the previous government, and called for election of a new legislature and revision of the 1974 constitution. In May 1990 Myanmar held its first multiparty elections in 30 years. Of the dozens of parties that participated, the two most important were the government's National Unity Party (NUP), successor to the BSPP, and an opposition coalition called the National League for Democracy (NLD). The result was a landslide victory for the opposition NLD, which won some four-fifths of the seats.

      The SLORC, however, would not permit the legislature—which it now declared to be a constituent assembly tasked with drafting a new constitution—to convene. Moreover, the military regime did not release the NLD's leaders, Tin U, a former general and colleague of Ne Win, and Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of the nationalist leader Aung San, both of whom had been under house arrest since July 1989; another leader, Sein Win, remained in exile in the West. International condemnation of the military regime was strong and widespread, both for its bloody repression of the demonstrations in 1988 and for its actions in connection with the 1990 elections. Worldwide attention continued to be focused on Myanmar after Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize (Nobel Prize) in 1991. (She remained under house arrest until 1995 and thereafter was detained periodically.) In April 1992 Saw Maung was reported to be in poor health and was replaced as chairman of the SLORC and as prime minister by Gen. Than Shwe.

Michael Arthur Aung-Thwin David I. Steinberg
      Throughout the 1990s, the military solidified its political and economic hold of the country. In 1993 the SLORC appointed a new National Convention to formulate a constitution that would give the military control of the reorganized state. By 1996, however, the convention had failed to complete its task; it did not reconvene until 2004. Also in 1993 the military government sought to ensure its continued support by forming a new social organization, the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA), the aims of which paralleled those of the SLORC. By the early 21st century, more than one-fifth of the country's population belonged to the organization. To guarantee its control of the economy in the event that it relinquished titular power, the military also formed two conglomerates, comprising various domestic businesses and joint ventures with foreign firms. The military itself more than doubled in troop strength between 1988 and 2000; moreover, the SLORC initiated a variety of cease-fires with most ethnic insurgent groups, thus giving the government greater control over peripheral areas while increasing border trade. In 1997 the military revamped the organizational structure of its ruling body and changed its name from the SLORC to the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC).

 The political stalemate carried over into the 21st century, with the SPDC continuing to harass the NLD and the military maintaining stringent control. Calling on the SPDC to honour the results of the 1990 elections, the United States invoked economic sanctions against Myanmar in 1997 and restricted contact between the two countries. The European Union (EU) subsequently restricted trade and interaction with the SPDC, and the United Nations continued to condemn human rights violations and forced-labour practices in Myanmar. Late in 2000 the SPDC initiated secret talks with Aung San Suu Kyi (during another period of house arrest), and in 2001 it released approximately 200 political prisoners, evidently as a result of its negotiations with her. The potential for further democratic advancement emerged when Gen. Khin Nyunt was named prime minister in 2003. He promised to usher the country toward a new constitution and free elections, but his rule was cut short by allegations of corruption. In late 2004 he too was placed under house arrest and was replaced by Gen. Soe Win.

      After decades of self-imposed isolation and international neglect, Myanmar nevertheless assumed greater strategic and economic importance in the Asian region in the years leading up to the 21st century. The migration (human migration) of more than one million Chinese into Myanmar, massive Chinese support for the SLORC (and, later, the SPDC) in the form of military equipment and assistance in infrastructure development, and the ability of the Chinese to open trade through Myanmar to the Bay of Bengal (Bengal, Bay of) concerned the Indian government. In an effort to lessen Chinese influence, India shifted its policy from opposing the SLORC to supporting it. In 1997 Myanmar was admitted into the Association of Southeast Asian Nations ( ASEAN), a group that tacitly sought to strengthen economic and political conditions within Myanmar and also to curb Chinese influence.

 Despite its increased global interaction since 2000, Myanmar remained hampered by international sanctions—including intensified U.S. and EU sanctions in 2003 after the SPDC again detained Aung San Suu Kyi. It was clear that Myanmar's prospects for further economic growth and acceptance by the international community were contingent on democratic progress and an improved human rights record. When in September 2007 the monastic community staged a large-scale demonstration calling for democratic reforms, the harsh response from the military drew widespread international criticism. In the wake of this unrest, the National Assembly finally approved a draft of a new constitution to be ratified or rejected by public referendum in May 2008. Assuming the adoption of the constitution, the SPDC promised elections in 2010.

      The referendum, although held as scheduled, was disrupted by natural disaster. On May 3, 2008, a powerful cyclone (Nargis) struck the Irrawaddy delta region of south-central Myanmar, obliterating villages and killing tens of thousands of people. The hesitation of the government to accept foreign aid or to grant entrance to foreign relief workers elicited harsh criticism from the international community, as disease threatened to increase the death toll significantly.

David I. Steinberg

Additional Reading

Geography
Frederica M. Bunge (ed.), Burma: A Country Study, 3rd ed. (1983), is an overview of the country prior to the coup of 1988. Many of the English-language works on Myanmar's geography were produced by the British during the colonial period. Among these are the still invaluable Burma Gazetteer, 30 vol. (1868–1935), with detailed surveys of different administrative districts; The British Burma Gazetteer, 2 vol. (1879–80, reprinted as Gazetteer of Burma, 1987); J. George Scott and J.P. Hardiman (compilers), Gazetteer of Upper Burma and the Shan States, 3 vol. in 5 (1900–01, reprinted 2 vol. in 5, 1983); and H.L. Chhibber, The Physiography of Burma (1933, reprinted 1975). Michael Aung-Thwin, Irrigation in the Heartland of Burma (1990), examines the productive capacity and geography of precolonial Myanmar. Agriculture is detailed in M.Y. Nuttonson, The Physical Environment and Agriculture of Burma (1963), a brief technical study; Cheng Siok-Hwa, The Rice Industry of Burma, 1852–1940 (1968), one of the few substantial studies in English covering the topic during that period; and U Khin Win, A Century of Rice Improvement in Burma (1991), a more-recent study.

History
Studies of the pre-Pagan and Pagan periods include G.H. Luce, Phases of Pre-Pagán Burma, 2 vol. (1985), which explores the 9th century in detail; Aung Thaw, Historical Sites in Burma (1972), a study of the pre-Pagan period; G.H. Luce et al., Old Burma—Early Pagán, 3 vol. (1969–70), which remains a classic study of this kingdom; and Michael Aung-Thwin, Pagan: The Origins of Modern Burma (1985), an assessment of the kingdom's institutional history. Victor B. Lieberman, Burmese Administrative Cycles: Anarchy and Conquest, c. 1580–1760 (1984), analyzes the Toungoo dynasty; and William J. Koenig, The Burmese Polity, 1752–1819 (1990), is an examination of the early period of the last Myanmar dynasty. Analyses of colonial conflicts include Oliver B. Pollak, Empires in Collision: Anglo-Burmese Relations in the Mid-Nineteenth Century (1979), which treats British policy and its effects on later colonization; and Dorothy Woodman, The Making of Burma (1962), which reveals theretofore secret British decisions in the colonization of Burma. Michael Adas, The Burma Delta: Economic Development and Social Change on an Asian Rice Frontier, 1852–1941 (1974), traces the agricultural development of this area and its significance in modern history. John F. Cady, A History of Modern Burma (1958, reissued 1965), is a landmark text on the early years of the present-day country. Josef Silverstein, Burmese Politics: The Dilemma of National Unity (1980), offers a Western perspective on Burmese politics prior to the coup of 1988. More-recent political studies include Robert H. Taylor, The State in Myanmar, new ed. (2008); David I. Steinberg, Burma: A Socialist Nation of Southeast Asia (1982); and Martin Smith, Burma: Insurgency and the Politics of Ethnicity, rev. and updated ed. (1999).David I. Steinberg

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Universalium. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

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  • Myanmar — Birmanie Wikipédia …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Myanmar — La Unión de Myanmar es un país del Sudéste asiático antiguamente conocido como Birmania. Limita al norte con China, al sur con el mar de Andamán, al este con Laos y Tailandia, y al oeste con la India, Bangladesh y el golfo de Bengala. * * *… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Myanmar — /ˈmiənma/ (say meeuhnmah) noun 1. Also, Burma. a republic in South East Asia, bordered by Bangladesh, India, China, Laos and Thailand; part of British India until 1937, then a separate British dependency until independence in 1948; military rule… …   Australian English dictionary

  • Myanmar — noun a mountainous republic in southeastern Asia on the Bay of Bengal much opium is grown in Myanmar • Syn: ↑Union of Burma, ↑Burma • Members of this Region: ↑dacoity, ↑dakoity, ↑Sino Tibetan, ↑ …   Useful english dictionary

  • Myanmar —  Burma. Burma is the former official name of the Southeast Asian nation and the one preferred by most publications and other informed users outside Burma. Myanmar was for a time used by many publications, but now its use is mostly confined to the …   Bryson’s dictionary for writers and editors


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