History of Burma

Learning the history of a country before traveling is always the great tip for a meaningful and memorable journey to the new lands.
It helps us not only have a good interaction with local people, understand the backstory to good context to what is happening now but also to understand cultural values of the country.
Let’s visit Myanmar together by going back to the past to see how the country taking shape and develop until now.

The era of electrical innovation

Feudalism in Burma was formed very early. Burmese historical and archeological documents have proved that it was the ethnic groups who migrated from different regions to Burma such as Mon, Burmese, Pyu, Shan, and Rakhine ethnic groups did form the brilliant feudal dynasty and play an important role in advancing forming process of Burma country.
Around the 3rd century BC, Mon people from the land of Thailand and Cambodia (as today) entered Burma, emigrated to the plains of Ayeyarwady to form the kingdoms of Thanlwin and Sittang. They cultivated and sold rice, Teakwood, mineral, and ivory to India, China, Middle East, and Indochina. They are the first people exposed to Buddhism.
In the first century BC, several Tibetan-Burmese tribes including the Pyu and their allied tribes left their homeland on the Southeastern slope of the Tibetan Plateau and emigrated toward the South, into the valley upstream the Ayeyarwady River established feudal states in Central Burma such as Beikthano, Hanlin, Sri Ksetra (Thayekhittaya). Pyu dynasties flourished for about 400 years.
From the 6th to 12th century, the Rakhine (Arakanese), Burmese from the Eastern Himalayas, the Shan, or Tai, from Yunnan – China in turn came to Burma and established their nations in Northeastern, Central… of Burma.
It can be said that the nations of the aforementioned ethnic groups were the first feudal dynasties of Burma. The following centuries were the periods of witnessing the development and decline of Burmese feudal dynasties. The history of the Burmese feudal is marked by three powerful feudal empires:
The first Burmese empire - the Bagan Dynasty (1044-1287)
The second Burmese empire - the Toungoo dynasty (1551-1752)
The third Burmese empire - the Konbaung dynasty (1752-1885)

The period under the rule of a colonial empire

In the process of searching the colonial markets, British colonists found in Burma what the British needed. Since the end of the 18th century, the trading and commerce activities and the periods of preaching were conducted by British colonists. When the French helped the Mon to capture the capital of the Burmese people, they had the plot to annexing this fertile land. Facing this risk the British colonialists were determined to carry out their ambition.

The first British – Burmese War (1824-1826 and the Yandabo treaty.

Britain took over Singapore in 1819 before annexing Neepan in 1820 and Burma became the object of British aggression. The conflict between the 2 sides in Xahpuri Island of Naaf River - the natural border between Rakhine (Burma) and Bengal (British colony) makes the Tensions between the Burmese feudal dynasties with Britain increased. 
In 1824, the Burmese army with rudimentary rifles and cannons built in the 17th century, could not stand up to machine guns, modern artillery, and British warships. Taking advantage of this victory, the British troops crossed the Ayeyarwady River into Rakhine, then proceeded to Yandabo (only 130km from Inwa) in early 1825.
Burma lost the game, forced to accept the harsh British conditions. The Yandabo Treaty has 2 terms: 
- Burma cedes to the British the sovereignty of Rakhine, Taninthayi, and Atxam lands.
- Burma compensates the British war for 1 million Sterling, paid four times in two years.
The rapid defeat in the war with Britain was a big surprise for all Burmese people, triggering the movements here, especially in the lands that were ruled by the colonial. General Henry Burney came to Burma to implement the policy of division and rule of British colonialists in 1830.

burma history

The second British – Burmese War (1852-1853)

With the ambition to annex all Burma to connect Calcutta with Singapore, British colonialists continued to look for opportunities to wage a war of appropriating land.
In 1851, in the power abuse of British merchants, King Pagan Min arrested the British captain on murder.
At that time, the British colonists had pacified the Sikhs in India, they considered this time as a suitable opportunity to attack Burma.
In the next year, Lambert - Deputy Commander of the British navy - sent an ultimatum to the Burmese government asked unreasonable demands. King Pagan Min knew about the inferiority military of the country but could not endure, accepting the war.
From February 1852, British infantry and Indian mercenaries were supported by naval cannons, continuously launching offensive operations to occupy Yangon, Bassein, Bago, and then follow the Ayeyarwady River to attack the capital of Burma. One year later, the British continued to ascent the Northward and captured Myede which is only 50 miles from the Prom capital. Learning from the experience of the previous war, the Burmese troops both fought head-on and guerrilla while retreating, slowed down the attacking speed and
caused British troops to lose too much.
In the meantime, the internal Burmese government broke up between the warring and the pacifist faction. Crown Prince Mindon – leader of the pacifist faction won and acceded to the throne. The Burmese government negotiated with Lambert and the two sides have the ceasefire agreement that made the second war ended itself.
During the Second War, the British enlarged their occupation to all of Yangon, Toungoo, and the vast Irrawaddy plain.
Burma and its people had to pay dear for the inferiority and weakness of the Burmese government. They had to follow the unequal treaties of 1862 and 1867, in which the British enjoyed not only many preferential rights of trade but also the inviolable right in Burma’s land.

The third British – Burmese War (1885)

After being cut the land for the British twice, the Burmese feudal court at that time was rotten, unable to serve the people, and cannot stand up to dislodge the British colonialists.
After gaining the right to move the capital to Mandalay in 1857, King Thibaw Min - the last king of the Burmese dynasty - rose to power in 1878, but in fact, the control of the country was in the hands of the army. Impotent, King Thibaw Min asked the French for help but he had failed.
Enlisting the turmoil in Burma and be afraid that the French intervention would affect the monopoly on teak wood, in October 1885, Dufferin - the Governor-General of India - making an excuse to attack the capital city of Mandalay.
With the powerful army and modern equipment, after less than two weeks of fighting, the British troops captured Mingla, Bagan, and Myingan. In November 1885, King Thibaw Min ordered surrender and the British troops invaded the capital Mandalay. Soon then, the whole family of King Thibaw Win was taken into exile to India by British troops. The third Anglo-Burmese war ended quickly and British colonialists completed control of Mandalay and northern Burma.
In 1886, British colonists annexed Burma as a state of British India (the Burmese called it "the colony of a colony.") Burmese feudalism ended and Burma entered a new phase – the period of fighting against British colonialism for independence).

Fighting for Independence (1886 -1941)

In the early 20th century, there were spontaneous movements against the rule of British colonial. The uprisings which were initiated by farmers, monks, workers, and youth and led by monks or Burmese intellectuals, took place throughout the country.
Next, Burmese intellectuals followed the trend of using political struggle against the British colonialists instead of other forms of fighting.
After the Xaya Xan uprising, British colonists were forced to decide to administratively separate Burma from India. On March 2, 1935, the British Parliament passed a law permitting Burma to be a separate government under the control of the British governor-general from April 1, 1937.
In 1947, the Aung San - Attlee Treaty was signed in England. A month later, follow to the Aung San - Attlee treaty, a meeting between the Anti-Fascist People's League and representatives of ethnic minorities was held in Panlong – the South Shan country. With his charisma, General Aung San has dealt with the conflict between the races.
In April 1947, to the amazement of the British and other Union rivals, Burmese people went to the constitutional parliament for the first time. General Aung San's Anti-Fascist People's League (AFPEL) won 172 seats out of 225 seats. (The Burmese Communist Party has 7 seats, the Burmese opposition led by U Saw is 7 seats. The remaining 69 seats are divided among ethnic minorities.)
On May 9, 1947, the Burmese Constitutional Assembly met for the first session, ratifying the Aung San - Attlee treaty, declaring Burma to give up the British community. U Tin Tut was sent to England to receive the power transfer.
While the whole country of Burma was eagerly waiting for Independence Day, a tragic event occurred. On July 19, 1947, when Prime Minister Aung San was meeting with his new cabinet, an armed team broke into the inn to shoot and kill Prime Minister Aung San and six other ministers. In that year, Aung San was 32 years old and Saung San Suu Kyi - his youngest daughter was 2 years old. The whole country of Burma was stunned.
The prime suspect in the assassination was the opposition forces led by U Saw. U Saw hoped that after destroying Aung San, he would be invited to join the new government by the British colonial. In 1948, in the indignation of the Burmese people, U Saw was judged and hung out to die by the British authorities.
The period of fighting against British colonialism and fascist Japanese to gain the independence of Burma was not only a persistent struggle process of the Burmese people in general but also being General Tung San's tireless struggle career in particular. General Aung San is worshiped as a national hero by the Burmese people, is respected and reverenced by all races and parties in Burma.
On January 1, 1948, the Burmese legislative assembly ratified the Treaty of Atllee - U Nu. Since then, the later governments in Burma, even military ones, have taken January 4 every year as Burma's Independence Day.


40 years in independence and two military coups (1948-1988)

U Nu was Burma's first civilian prime minister after the country gained independence; he was also a loyal follower of Buddhism with a strong following to Marxism. He applied the Buddhist and Macsxit philosophy to manage the multi-party democratic parliamentary government and lead the Burmese Union from 1948 to 1962.
He implemented a Buddhist bias policy that dissatisfied other religions and ethnic minorities, and also implemented the economic development policy of voluntarism that made Burma’s economy more and more depleted and the ethnic contradictions deeper and deeper.
Due to the post-war poverty, and also was provoked by the Communist Party's white flag (led by Than Tun - who publicly criticized the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League, and was being arrested), thousands of farmers in Southern Burma armed uprising against the government. The uprising led to the revolt of military units that have many ethnic minority soldiers; The Coalition of Karen ethnic people also demanded to create a separate Karen state that covering the entire southernmost territory of Burma and used force against the government; In Dec of 1947, the Mon people also established the Mon Unification Front, in association with the Coalition of Karen openly opposing the government of Prime Minister U Nu, invaded many villages, towns and cities in the south of Burma; In September 1948, the Karen and Padaung people in the south of Shan countries also revolted against the federal government; In the Rakhine region, conflict occurred between Buddhists and Muslims that supported by the British. In August 1948, the movement led by the Islam people developed quickly and they controlled most of Northern Burma by mid-1949.
The government of Prime Minister U Nu is powerless to stabilize the situation in the country. In the summer of 1949, Ne Win went to England and the United States, asking for financial aid and weapons to suppress the rebel forces.
In the summer of 1950, Prime Minister U Nu announced the slogan "Peace in a year", and actively reduced military activities with dissident forces and the civil war situation in Burma temporarily subsided.
The intervention of Taiwan and the United States divided the country into many groups and parties with many different selfish interests and plots, makes the civil war in particular and the political situation in general increasingly complicated in Myanmar.
In the late 1950s, nearly 10 years after the independence, Burma's population increased by 21%, but its total national income was only 81% of the one in the pre-war period. As a result of the Pidotha Plan and the Four-Year plan, since the mid-1950s Burma had been in a political crisis caused by corruption in the country.
All of these problems led to the coup event in 1962. At 9 am on Mar 2, 1962, the Burmese radio reported that the Burmese federal government was in the hands of the Revolutionary Council which General Ne Win was the chairman.
Since July 1962, a completely new political system that was unlike the parliamentary democracy under Prime Minister U Nu has been set up in Burma. The government of Prime Minister Ne Win eliminated the opposing parties and carried out the country management based on the strength of the military and police forces.
With many changes in the development policies of economic, social, agricultural, open industrial, and thanks to external financing since 1977, the Burmese national economy has shown signs of recovery that GDP increased by 1.5%, economic growth reached 8.3% by 1981.
However, after only five years of prosperity, from 1983 onwards, Burma's national economy began to decline at a faster pace each year. The main cause was the government of Prime Minister Ne Win.
During the 26 years of existence, the government of Prime Minister Ne Win had to constantly deal with the armed uprising of the ethnic states Kachin, Shan, Karen, Mon, Coalition of ethnic minorities, and remnants of Nationalist Party (KMT) and opposition forces led by former Prime Minister U Nu.
From 1974 to 1988, because of dissatisfaction with the poverty, the students and workers of the capital of Yangon protested and it was spread out to other provinces and cities, leading to the crackdowns by the police. The conflict of government and people had the chance to flare up again.
The inability of the domestic political security situation and the economic difficulties made the Burmese socialist party conduct an extraordinary congress in which the Party President Ne Win announced to abandon politics.
Then some new prime ministers came to power but could not change the situation of the country. During the tense, chaotic and complicated situation, on Sep 18, 1988, the Minister of National Defense - General Saw Maung, and his close generals conducted a military coup to overthrow the government after a 26-year reign.

Myanmar nowadays

From 1988 until now, the power has been transferred with the administration of some prime ministers who wished and tried to create a country of peace, rich and powerful. So far, the country has been peaceful, united and Myanmar's government is making great efforts to develop the economy and improve life quality for people. After achieving democracy and opening the economy in 2011, Myanmar always recorded a growth rate of 6-7% per year.
We know Myanmar to be a country with not so prominent developed economy but it used to be the country with the largest territory in Southeast Asia, long history, unique culture especially Buddhism. Myanmar is like a forgotten country.
During the glorious period, the Kingdom of Myanmar was very powerful. It is expressed through many beautiful architectural works that were built by the hands of talented craftsmen, inlaid with tons of gold, and so much diamond and gemstone.
Although the glorious time has receded with the thick dust of time, the majestic ancient beauty of the temples cannot be erased and the beauty of the marvelous natural scenery cannot be hidden. In recent years, the number of tourists to Myanmar has increased significantly, it might be the pilgrims coming back to the Buddha land, the adventurers who like to explore the wild features of a mysterious land or people who simply come to the architectural works of a glorious time despite experiencing many ups and downs of history, keep unchanged the intact shimmering beauty.
In this sacred land of Buddha, the most outstanding is the Buddhist architecture. It can be said that wherever we go in Myanmar we can also see ancient temples and towers with rich history and traditional culture that are preserved intact.
The forgotten country - Myanmar is dim in the morning mist and sparkling by golden light shining from thousands of gold-covered temples across the country. Having fallen into oblivion, Myanmar does not have beautiful titles like Thailand's "Golden Temple Country" or Cambodia's “Pagoda Country”, but most of the temples here are inlaid with gold, studded with diamonds, and gemstones as the proof for the glorious times in history.

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