- From the Editors
The significant changes experienced by Myanmar in the past three years keep the country on the front pages of the world’s newspapers. Journalists and commentators work to explain ethnic unrest, border clashes, economic difficulties, and political disarrays. In so doing, they often forget that Myanmar’s long history illuminates these and other developments, as the content of the current issue of The Journal of Burma Studies indicates. The articles provide measured and thoughtful assessment of topics in Myanmar’s history, arts, culture, literature, and politics, sometimes showing how earlier generations handled current travails’ antecedents. This issue also illustrates the international flavor of Myanmar scholarship. French, Thai, American, Myanmar, and Japanese scholars bring unique perspectives to their chosen concerns, united in an endeavor to focalize hitherto neglected aspects of the country’s past and present.
Matthew J. Walton’s article explores the ways in which the concept of “unity” had developed and fixed and glorified place in Burmese intellectual and political life. He works to unpack the concept and its history through explorations of Buddhist ideas as well as contemporary usage. Walton argues that a discourse of unity has been used throughout the 20th century to limit dissenting opinions and promote a single approach to national identity. He hopes that by documenting the genealogy of this discourse, he can help create possibilities for a more flexible concept of unity to promote greater reconciliation.
In a similar vein, Mikael Gravers’s article equally examines issues of nationalist identity, tracing concepts of order and disorder in ways parallel to Walton’s exploration of unity. He discusses the history of Karen discourse and the history of the civil war in Karen State to look at how violence, victimhood, and order have worked to promote divisions internal to the Karen community as well as divisions between the Karen and other groups, equally impacting the current attempts at reconciliation. [End Page 258]
Chris Clark’s article turns the focus to the history of the Sixth Buddhist Council, looking to understand both how the purpose of the recitation of the Pāli canon was understood at the time and how it was presented to the public. He explores a number of underused sources on the history of the event to try to understand the editorial practices behind the creation of the now commonly used Chaṭṭhasaṅgīti Piṭaka.
Ruling what was 19th-century Burma was a challenge to British authorities. The 1887 Upper Burma Village Regulation Act was an effort to recast ancient governance methods on behalf of a modernizing state. Japanese scholar Takahiro Iwaki casts a gimlet eye on what the actual content of the legislation aimed to accomplish and how real life situations necessitated adjustments and compromises. Thai scholar and anthropologist Samerchai Poolsuwan examines the content of a poorly preserved 13th-century temple in a small upper Myanmar town called Sale. During the heyday of the Pagan kingdom, Sale was a prosperous community whose local grandees imitated their Arimadanna’s counterparts and endowed numerous structures to house Buddha statues. They financed the decoration of these structures along patterns evidenced elsewhere at the time. But structure number 36 underwent a major overhaul about two centuries after its completion, which Poolsuwan compares with other 15th-century decorative patterns. In his article, he argues for the existence of transregional artistic practices, originating in Sri Lankan, and spreading into areas of today’s Thailand, and lower Burma during the 14th and 15th centuries.
A much later counterpart of such ideational exchanges is the subject of François Robinne’s innovative examination of Chin memorial stones. Robinne, an anthropologist, brings a diverse tool kit to study objects testifying to the region’s exceptional cultural diversities. By bringing to bear artistic, linguistic, ideational, and confessional considerations to examine these memorial stones, he shows how treating them as archival documents in an oral setting brings us closer to their creators and users. In so doing, he shows how memorial art, when examined as an anthropological object, enriches our insight into people’s lives. A careful study of these forms [End Page 259] of commemorative art, as a vector of what Robinne...