Myanmar's history can be said to begin when Burmese
immigrated from the north and founded the capital Pagan (Bagan)
in 849. Buddhism and Hinduism became dominant religions. In
the 1000s, the country was united into one kingdom. Mongols
briefly conquered Pagan in 1287 and the country was
dissolved into smaller kingdoms. In the 16th century, the
kingdom of Pegu (Bago) in Lower Burma gained control of most
of the country, and in the 18th century the av empire in
Upper Burma increased its power.
In 1852 the British took coastal provinces and the
Burmese kingdom consisted of Upper Burma. In 1885 the
British moved in and the following year the country became
part of British India. In 1937, Burma was separated as a
separate province. It was occupied by the Japanese in 1942
and recaptured by British forces in 1945. Burma became an
independent republic in 1948.
A military junta seized power in Burma in 1962 and
introduced a one-party state. Protests were beaten down hard
by the military, and in 1974 the country was renamed Burma.
The party ruled unanimously until 1988, when a new military
coup deposed the entire political leadership and distributed
all ministerial posts to military leaders. The following
year, the country changed its name from Burma to Myanmar. See abbreviationfinder for geography, history, society, politics, and economy of Myanmar.
At the beginning of our era were two cultural people in
the current Myanmar: mon along the coast, and pyu (a Tibeto-Burmese
people) further inland. Both were exposed to Indian cultural
influence early on and adopted Buddhism from India. The
Burmese immigrated from the north and founded their capital
Pagan (Bagan) in 849. During Anawrahta (1044-1077), they
succeeded in unifying the country into one kingdom, and
Bagan became one of the most magnificent cities in Asia in
the following 200 years.
The Mongol conquest of Pagan in 1287 was short-lived, but
led to the state disintegrating and gradually leaving the
city. Pagan now fell apart in smaller kingdoms. One of these
was the kingdom of Ava, which was further up the Ayayarwady
River, a few miles northeast of Pagan. In the 16th century,
Ava became subject to the kingdom of Bago, but around 1750
it tore loose and conquered little by little the coastal
landscapes of Bago, Taninthayi and Rakhine.
Soon there were border disputes between Ava and the
United Kingdom. In the first and second Anglo-Burmese wars
(1826 and 1852), the British conquered coastal provinces in
the area they called Burma, and the Burmese kingdom was
reduced to include Upper Burma with the city of Mandalay as
its capital. The last king, Thibaw, sought an approximation
to France, but when he put difficulties in the way of
British trade, Britain in the Third Anglo-Burmese War
entered Mandalay (1885). On January 1, 1886, the country was
drawn into British India.
In 1937, Burma was excreted as its own province, and by
the constitution of 1937 the country was given its own
national assembly and government. Foreign and defense
policy, however, was left to the British governor. A
national bloc was formed that fought against British rule.
In October 1941, the national movement demanded dominion
status for Burma.
The Japanese occupation during World War II, in
1942-1945, was seen as an opportunity for secession from the
United Kingdom. In August 1943, the Japanese gave Burma
formal independence, and the Japanese-friendly government
declared war on the Allies. Towards the end of the war, the
British organized a partisan force that took up the fight
against the Japanese. The soldiers in this force were
largely recruited from ethnic minorities.
British forces recaptured Burma in the spring of 1945.
The country suffered heavy losses. Agricultural production
declined sharply, the mining industry stopped altogether,
and the infrastructure suffered from military operations.
After the liberation, the country remained under military
administration for a short time, but in October 1945 the
civilian government was reinstated.
A constitutional assembly elected in April 1947 decided
that Burma should be released from the British regime. The
British government had already promised Burma full dominion
status as early as May 1945, but the nationalists were not
satisfied with this. After protracted negotiations, Burma
became an independent republic on January 4, 1948, organized
as a federal state.
In the first few years after independence was proclaimed,
Burma was threatened by civil war. Two conflicting groups of
communists sought to secure control over the state. The
Karen people also opposed the central government's authority
through the armed group Karen National Union (KNU).
Eventually, several ethnic minorities revolted and more
civil wars and bloody clashes broke out. Prime Minister U Nu
retained power until 1958. Then the organization he
supported, the People's Anti-fascist Freedom League, was
U Nu became dependent on the support of an alliance of
several left parties, and in October 1958 General Ne Win
took over the actual power in the country. After 18 months,
he let U Nu return as head of state. The board was labile,
Burma was characterized by growing unrest and in March 1962
Ne Win carried out a new coup. This marked the beginning of
49 years of military rule.
In the period from 1962 to 1966, energetic attempts were
made to streamline the state administration. The
Revolutionary Council started an action program to introduce
socialism, based on Marxist and Buddhist ideals. The state
secured control over the means of production and the entire
economy. Tough measures led foreigners, including hundreds
of thousands of Indians and Chinese, to leave Burma in the
mid-1960s. Foreign investment was banned in Burma, and
extensive construction projects were halted. The economic
situation was poor throughout most of the 1960s, and the
government's position was under threat. At the same time,
the civil wars between the military and a number of
different groups of communists and ethnic minorities
In 1974, the country was given a new constitution
following a referendum which stated that Burma was a
one-party socialist country. In the mid-1970s, there were
several bloody riots among students and workers, mainly due
to dissatisfaction with economic policy, called the "Burma
Road to Socialism". In 1981, Ne Win resigned as head of
state and was succeeded by General San Yu. However, Ne Win
continued as leader of the country's only allowed party.
An economic crisis in 1988 became a trigger for a broad
popular uprising against the military regime. After bloody
clashes between the military and protesters, Ne Win resigned
as party leader and left the reins to security chief Sein
Win. Subsequent student-led demonstrations were brutally
beaten, and thousands are believed to have been killed.
Following popular pressure, Sein Win was deposed by a
military coup on September 18, 1988. The military regime was
reorganized and a junta called the State Council for the
Restoration of Law and Order (SLORC) took charge. Junta
leader Saw Maung became head of state and government. The
junta admitted to the opposition, which formed political
parties and engaged in limited political activity.
Leading opposition formed the National Democracy League (NLD)
with Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of freedom hero Aung San, as
secretary general. In July 1989, she was arrested and
subsequently held under house arrest.