Burmese - History and Cultural Relations

The Burmans apparently migrated south from Yunnan, along with several other linguistic and cultural groups, more than 3,000 years ago. The Mons, the Tai, and the Burmans, the predominant population, were all of the same physical type called southern Mongoloid. The history of Burma begins with King Anawratha in 1057, when the king conquered the Mons in southern Burma and brought back, according to legend, a complete copy of the three books of the Pali canon, the basis of Theravada Buddhism.

Anawratha proceeded to make Theravada Buddhism the official religion of his kingdom, driving out other varieties of Buddhism and attempting to suppress and regulate forms of animism. This dynasty reigned for about two and one-half centuries.

The conquest of Yunnan by Kublai Khan shook the Burmese throne along with the rest of mainland southeast Asia, and after the fall of the capital at Pagan various principalities under shifting Tai, Mon, and Burman rulers held sway in various parts of the country. A new Burmese dynasty arose in Pegu and later shifted to Ava as its capital, giving an inland central-valley orientation to this and future Burmese regimes.

European trade and frontier squabbles led to three Anglo-Burman wars; the peacock throne was toppled and the last king Thibaw and his queen were sent into exile. Under British rule Burma became a province of India. Lower Burma was turned into one of the world's largest exporters of rice, while teak, rubies, and other products continued to enter world markets. A sort of ethnic division of labor took place with Europeans at the economic and political top, and most of the Burmans locked into the lower spaces of the classic plural or export economy. This export economy was hard hit by the world depression of the 1930s, and a rising nationalism combined with hard times led to the Saya San rebellion, suppressed by the British.

In World War II the Japanese occupied Burma and granted it nominal independence. The Japanese trained the "Thirty heroes" who became the military leaders of the independence movement called the "Thakins." Burma received independence in 1948 and proceeded to attempt to rebuild a war-ravaged country.

Upon its founding, the Union of Burma was plagued by ethnic unrest from separatist movements among the Karens (KNDO was the name of the armed insurgency) and various Communist and other insurgent groups, as well as vicious political in-fighting among the Thakins and other Burmese leaders. The hero of the independence movement, Aung Sang, and members of his cabinet, were assassinated by opponents. U Nu was elected prime minister, but the troubles with separatists, insurgents, and political disunity continued, leading to a caretaker government of the army under the command of General Ne Win. U Nu won another election, but in 1962 the army again took control, and a single-party government under Ne Win, as of 1990, runs Myanmar, despite a recent election which gave a majority to the opposition party.

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