Myanmar Recent History

The discovery of Burma can be traced back to Marco Polo who, although he did not reach Pagan, at that time capital, had stayed at the Mongolian court in 1275. Polo revealed to Europe not only the existence of the region but also its magnificent monuments.

According to Abbreviationfinder, an acronym site which also features history of Myanmar, a century and a half later another Italian, Nicolo ‘de’ Conti, arrived in the territory while following other exploratory undertakings, and he described the tattoos of the Burmese and the famous white elephant.

Between 1496 and 1499 two other Italians landed in Burma. They were Girolamo di Santo Stefano and Girolamo Adorno, Genoese. They arrived by sea in Burma, reached Pegu and, as Adorno died here, the other continued his journey to Sumatra. In 1502/1508 still an Italian, a Bolognese, Ludovico di Varthema, was hosted at the Burmese court on his way from India to Malacca and Sumatra.

In 1567 Cesare Federici, coming from Malacca, arrived in Martaban, at the mouth of the Salun river, where he stayed for almost two years. And then during another long stay in Pegu, he described the magnificence of everything he saw: the court, the palaces, the pagodas and the capture of wild elephants. And finally another Venetian, Gasparo Balbi, completed, in great detail, a report on Burma, following in the footsteps of Federici’s descriptions.

Other details came to us from the English R. Ficht and then in the seventeenth century the description of the crossing of the Arakan Yoma, due to Sebastian Manrique, arrived on site in 1612 together with three other Augustinian missionaries.

Many other Burmese finds were important because they broadened the horizons of European culture in relation to the history of this ancient land.

In fact, in ancient times not much was known about Burma, indeed it was often confused with India. Around 1750 a Burmese peasant started a revolution, the result of which was that from 1762 to 1771 a single monarchy reigned in Pegu, Burma and other neighboring lands, including Siam.

Burma Recent History

This monarch, of the Alompra dynasty, resided in Rangoon, after setting aside the ancient capital of Ava. He soon found himself in conflict with the British East India Company, as many refugees from the subdued provinces often made raids and raids on the new state.

In 1818 the Burmese, taking advantage of the fact that the Company was committed to taming uprisings from other peoples, wanted to advance towards Assam and threatened the Chittanong area, ceded to the Company by the Bengal Nabab. But they were beaten by the Siamese and had to withdraw from the enterprise. In 1822 the Burmese resumed hostilities against the British; two years later General Campbell conquered Rangoon, and with mixed ups and downs, waged a war, eventually victorious, and in 1826 forced the Burmese king to peace.

Not only that, he also had to cede two provinces, that of Tenasserim and that of Arakan, to the British, and he also had to accept Ava from the East India Company.

The possession of Tenasserim was very important for the British because, developed on the whole west coast of the long peninsula, it allowed the British to carry out an active and thriving trade.

This did not satisfy the Burmese at all, who instead organized an insurrection. And when in 1851 General Dalhouse sent a warship to Rangoon to protect his compatriots, he was greeted with cannon fire. The Company immediately waged a conflict at the end of which a large part of Burmese territory was in the possession of the British, including all ports. And the British, in 1852, proclaimed the annexation of Lower Burma, or Pegu, and the defeated sultan had to resign himself to having no more outlets on the sea; but he never failed to cause trouble for the winners.

When the East India Company was suppressed, Lower Burma became a province of the Anglo-Indian Empire.
The king of Burma, since France had meanwhile conquered a part of Indochina, in 1884 he opened his country to French trade.

At this point, Lord Dufferin, representative of His British Majesty, ordered the king to abolish all relations entered into with other powers since this, having not been authorized by the Crown, was to be considered arbitrary. The king of Burma did not obey and therefore another bloody war broke out in which English human losses were significant. But the Burmese had to surrender and in 1919, as a result of the India Act, and a subsequent resolution of 1924, Burma was declared a province of the Empire. It was submitted to a governor, assisted by two councils, one executive and one legislative. The latter consists of 103 members, of whom only 24 appointed by the government and the other electives.

On April 1, 1937, the new Constitution came into force declaring Burma Crown Colony.

In 1939 strikes and demonstrations of discontent began against the government of U. Pu, which proceeded very slowly in the reforms and in the application of the self-government foreseen by the Constitution.

In the same year, international relations began to deteriorate, especially those with Japan, also as a consequence of the growing tension between the latter state and Great Britain. And in anticipation that Burma would be a theater of war, it was thought to strengthen territorial defense by immediately creating a military navy and an aviation corps.

But the Burmese defenses did nothing against the preponderant Japanese forces which had occupied the whole country in May 1942.

A large part of the population welcomed the Japanese and they promoted the teaching of their language in the country, in order to send young people to study in the universities of Japan. Then they openly declared that they wanted to make Burma an independent state and then removed the military occupation government and accredited even Burmese diplomatic representatives in Japan.

This tactic conquered Burma so much that he ended up signing an alliance treaty with Japan and consequently declared war on Great Britain and the United States.

But the Japanese occupation was there and in some sectors it also proved quite oppressive, so much so that the Burmese population, initially favorable to the alliance, limited themselves to passively undergo the Japanese “reprimend” and finally, towards 1945, approaching the end of the war, to rebel and oppose a tenacious resistance until the liberation, under the command of General U. Aung San, former minister of war.

In 1946 Aung San became Councilor for Defense and Foreign Affairs and in 1947 a Burmese delegation went to London to discuss the essential points of the formation of the constitutional state.

And an agreement was reached with Great Britain: the future of the country would be established by the forthcoming elections. These took place on April 9, 1947 and awarded the victory to the “Popular Anti-fascist League for Freedom” (AFPFL).

On July 19, 1947 U. Aung San was assassinated in Rangoon; his work was continued and in fact on September 24, 1947 the new Constitution was promulgated.

On 17 October 1947 Takin Nu, successor of U. Aung San, continued dialogue with Great Britain; chose to stay in the Commonwealth.

Groups of right-wing and left-wing extremists created continuous crises in the economy and social reforms: the abolition of land ownership, the nationalization of industries was requested and the economic and social relations with the Soviet Union were resumed.

On January 4, 1948 independence was proclaimed: government powers passed from the British representative to the President of the Burmese Union.

The new republic immediately found itself facing serious and urgent difficulties. In August 1948 two battalions of the first Burma Rifles Regiment mutinied, starting an insurrection prepared by the Communists, to which also the Karen ethnic groups joined, even if declared anti-communists. So united they fought against government troops. The civil war brought Burma into chaos, in the midst of which formations of brigands also found their place, cutting the populations and plundering entire villages.

In 1950 Chinese nationalist troops entered Burma to help the rebels, but, despite their overwhelming number, Takin Nu reported several successes and in 1951 he was able to reassure India about the now-concluded revolt.

In October, in accordance with the Karen’s requests, the Constitution was amended, and they had their autonomous state, always within the Burmese Union.

In September 1958 the Prime Minister resigned and his successor, General Ne Win, opposed to any form of amnesty, continued the fight against some rebel groups who did not yet intend to end the fight definitively.

The consequence of all this was a profound economic crisis that could have had a fair solution when the Colombo Plan was established, for the economic development of southern and south-eastern Asia, organized between the Commonwealth countries.

In January 1960 new elections were called. AFPFL won again. The Communist Party left the political scene. The internal economic situation, even with the restoration of a democratic government, did not improve much. Burma remained one of the most backward countries. On March 2, 1962 the military took over the government, arrested the Prime Minister, dissolved Parliament and elective assemblies.

A Revolutionary Council was established which decreed the country’s exit from the British currency system, thus bringing about a slight recovery.

In 1967 there were anti-Chinese demonstrations in Yangon. Beijing moved to openly support the communist guerrillas. Relations deteriorated and several armed clashes occurred at the borders between the two countries.

Former Prime Minister U Nu returned to Burma from Thai exile and took over the reins of the government. With appropriate nationalizations and four-year plans, the economic situation improved, especially in agriculture. The tension with China then disappeared when Ne Win met in 1971 with Mao Tse Tung.

On January 4, 1974, a new Constitution entered into force which defined Burma as a Socialist Republic, with a unicameral Parliament operating with single party lists. And on the occasion of the twelfth anniversary of the coup, General Ne Win was elected President of the Republic.

In 1975 two opposition groups arose: the pro-Chinese Burmese Communist Party and the Progressive Popular Party ideologically on the right of the regime.

In May 1976, continuing economic difficulties, Burma opened up to international markets and asked for financial aid from the World Bank.

Between the late seventies and the early eighties, what was called the “green revolution” was implemented to improve agriculture above all. This however did not bring a favorable result so much so that, in 1983, the enormous scarcity of rice, basic food, also drastically decreased imports and many development plans failed. And the situation did not improve even in 1986 when special and privileged commercial agreements were made with China.

In foreign policy, Burma, while adopting “non-alignment”, did not want to risk isolationism. So Ne Win, president of the single party, in 1987 visited the United States and Federal Germany and San Yu, head of state, visited Romania and Yugoslavia.

In 1988 various protests from the people and also from Buddhist monks, who wanted a more democratic government, forced Ne Win to resign and his post passed to Sein Lwin, former secret police chief. Continuing the demonstrations, repressions were carried out so harsh as to cause real bloodbaths.

On 18 September 1988 the military returned to take over the government and power passed into the hands of General Saw Maung.
Opposition parties were born, but they had a hard life. The only one that registered any chance of survival was the National League of Democracy which, however, was successful in the elections of May 1990. The military, then, did not allow the convening of the People’s Assembly for the establishment of a civilian government, but they promised the elaboration of a new, more democratic Constitution, whose approval would be submitted to the people by referendum.

Instead, in the following months the government continued with its repressions and the leaders of the oppositions were arrested first, then the universities were closed and a curfew was instituted.

In October 1991 the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi, mobilized international public opinion; this increased the isolation of Burma which, on the other hand, intensified its relations with the People’s Republic of China.

Then there was an opening to the opposition when, in April 1992, Saw Haung resigned and General Than Shwe arrived in his place. He immediately convened a National Convention which had the task of drafting the new Constitution; then he granted amnesty to more than 500 political prisoners. The Convention began work in January 1993. There were many interruptions because the oppositions contested above all the leading role of the government entrusted to the military.


In November 1995 the League withdrew from the works and meanwhile, with the resumption of armed clashes between the regular army and the rebels, between 1996 and 1997 there were hundreds of thousands of refugees to Thailand.

In 1997 Burma intensified relations with the countries of Southeast Asia, with which it integrated perfectly in the economic field, while ties with the West diminished considerably.

In the same year, the military junta was dissolved but no major changes took place in the government, carried out by the nascent State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). In fact, the martial law was not revoked and the democratic institutions provided for by the Constitution, which had been in force since 1974, were not restored. The repressions that led to constant arrests and that in particular struck throughout the arch were also maintained against the oppositions. of 1998, the members of the Student Movement.


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