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07 SEA NewEra.indd 133 4/27/10 1:53:51 PM 07 SEA NewEra.indd 134 4/27/10 1:53:51 PM 135 Tin Maung Maung Than and Kyaw Yin Hlaing INTRODUCTION Myanmar’s official name has changed thrice since the country gained independence from Britain on 4 January 1948. The name was then changed from the colonial “Burma” to the “Union of Burma”. In March 1974, it became “The Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma”. The latest change, on 18 June 1989, was to the “Union of Myanmar”. Myanmar’s political system has also changed — four times. Upon gaining independence, colonial rule was replaced by a parliamentary democracy. After 2 March 1962, direct military rule was practised. A one-party socialist system was in place from January 1974 until 18 September 1988. The country then reverted to military rule. Myanmar is divided into seven states (named after the major nonBamar ethnic groups that inhabit them) and seven divisions (areas where the Bamar ethnic group is in the majority). These are further subdivided into districts, townships, and wards (in towns) or village tracts (groupings of villages in the countryside). Each state or division has a designated capital. Nay Pyi Taw (meaning abode of kings) replaced Yangon as the national capital in November 2005. POLITICAL HISTORY Myanmar became distinguishable as a nation around the eleventh century A.D., with the establishment of the Bagan dynasty. However, the traditional 7 Myanmar 07 SEA NewEra.indd 135 4/27/10 1:53:51 PM Reproduced from Southeast Asia in a New Era: Ten Countries, One Region in ASEAN edited by Rodolfo C. Severino, Elspeth Thomson and Mark Hong (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2010). This version was obtained electronically direct from the publisher on condition that copyright is not infringed. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the prior permission of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. Individual articles are available at SOUTHEAST ASIA IN A NEW ERA: Ten Countries, One Region in ASEAN 136 concept of kingship goes back much further and was influenced by Buddhist and Hindu traditions of personalized hereditary rule. The rulers were supposed to abide by moral and ethical codes of conduct to ensure fairness, justice and compassion for all their subjects. After the British had colonized the country in three stages (1824, 1852 and 1885), it was governed as a province of British India. Administratively, British Burma consisted of “frontier areas” (the hill tracts to the west and the hills and plateaus bordering China, Laos and Thailand in the north and east; the combined area of these lands covered about 47 per cent of the country) and “Burma proper” (where the majority of the Bamar ethnic group lived). The former was under indirect rule, which allowed traditional ethnic chieftains to rule their respective territories. This “divide and rule” British policy prevented the development of a sense of belonging to “one nation and one state” among the many ethnic groups. The inflow of Indian migrant labour, following the rapid expansion of rice cultivation and the establishment of Yangon (then called Rangoon in English) as the commercial centre and administrative capital, was a signi ficant feature of the economic reorganization carried out by the colonial government. The expatriate Indians also took on most of the professional positions and jobs at the lower and middle levels of the civil service and were also prominent in money-lending, commerce and industry. The British practice of ruling the country as a province of India (until separation in 1937), as well as the administrative and economic importance of Indians, remained a source of resentment, reinforcing nationalist sentiments up to the 1960s. Myanmar nationalists entered politics in the 1920s and 1930s. Many of them became influenced by socialist and communist ideas. As the Second World War engulfed Southeast Asia, a group of thirty young nationalists sought external help to forcibly expel the British and ended up on Hainan Island for military training. Japanese military intelligence then took them under its wing with the promise of military assistance. The group became the legendary “thirty comrades” led by Aung San, a charismatic student leader. It was the core of the nationalist army which invaded Myanmar from Thailand together with Japanese forces. The Japanese installed a puppet government that lasted some three years, during which the people suffered deprivation and hardships under Japanese militarism and fascist practices. The Myanmar army subsequently rebelled in March 1945, joining forces...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9789812309587
Print ISBN
9789812309570
MARC Record
OCLC
751688379
Pages
281
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
N
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