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Union of Myanmar
Pyidaungzu Myanma Naingngandaw
CAPITAL: Yangon (formerly Rangoon)
FLAG: The national flag is red with a blue canton, within which 14 white stars encircle a rice stalk and an industrial wheel.
ANTHEM: Kaba Makye (Our Free Homeland)
MONETARY UNIT: The kyat (k) is a paper currency of 100 pyas. There are coins of 1, 5, 10, 25, and 50 pyas and 1 kyat, and notes of 1, 5, 10, 25, and 100 kyats. k1 = $0.17182 (or $1 = k5.82) as of 2005.
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: Both British and metric weights and measures are in general use, but local units also are employed.
HOLIDAYS: Independence Day, 4 January; Union Day, 12 February; Peasants' Day, 2 March; Defense Services Day, 27 March; Burmese New Year, 17 April; World Workers' Day, 1 May; Martyrs' Day, 19 July; Christmas, 25 December. Movable religious holidays include Full Moon of Tabaung, February or March; Thingyan (Water Festival), April; Full Moon of Kason, April or May; Waso (Beginning of Buddhist Lent), June or July; Thadingyut (End of Buddhist Lent), October; and Tazaungdaing, November.
TIME: 6:30 pm = noon GMT.
Situated in Southeast Asia, Myanmar has an area of 678,500 sq km (261,970 sq mi), extending 1,931 km (1,200 mi) n–s and 925 km (575 mi) e–w. Comparatively, the area occupied by Myanmar is slightly smaller than the state of Texas. It is bounded on the n and e by China, on the e by Laos, on the se by Thailand, on the s by the Andaman Sea, and on the w by the Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh, and India, with a total boundary length of 7,806 km (4,850 mi), of which 1,930 km (1,197 mi) is coastline.
Myanmar's capital city, Yangon (formerly Rangoon), is located in the southern part of the country.
Myanmar is divided into four topographic regions: a mountainous area in the north and west, ranging from about 1,830–6,100 m (6,000–20,000 ft) in altitude, and including the Arakan coastal strip between the Arakan Yoma mountain range and the Bay of Bengal; the Shan Highlands in the east, a deeply dissected plateau averaging 910 m (2,990 ft) in height and extending southward into the Tenasserim Yoma, a narrow strip of land that projects some 800 km (500 mi) along the Malay Peninsula, in the southeast; central Myanmar, a principal area of cultivation, bounded by the Salween River in the east and the Irrawaddy River and its tributary, the Chindwin, in the west; and the fertile delta and lower valley regions of the Irrawaddy and Sittang rivers in the south, covering an area of about 25,900 sq km (10,000 sq mi) and forming one of the world's great rice granaries. Good harbors are located along the coastline.
Myanmar is located in a seismically active region of the Eurasian tectonic plate. As such, the nation experiences frequent earth tremors and quakes. Though these are usually minor, below 5.0 magnitude on the Richter scale, a 6.6 magnitude earthquake occurred about 65 miles (110 km) south of Meiktila on 21 September 2003.
Myanmar has a largely tropical climate with three seasons: the monsoon or rainy season, from May to October; the cool season, from November to February; and the hot season, generally from March to April. Rainfall during the monsoon season totals more than 500 cm (200 in) in upper Myanmar and over 250 cm (100 in) in lower Myanmar and Yangon (formerly Rangoon). Central Myanmar, called the dry zone, and Mandalay, the chief city in the area, each receive about 76 cm (30 in). The mean annual temperature is 27°c (81°f); average daily temperatures in Yangon (Rangoon) range from 18–32°c (64–90°f) in January, during the cool season, and from 24–36°c (75–97°f) in April, during the hot season. The climate in upper Myanmar, particularly at altitudes ranging from about 300–1,220 m (1,000–4,000 ft), is the most temperate throughout the year, while lower Myanmar, especially in the delta and coastal regions, is the most humid.
Myanmar has a wide variety of plant and animal life. Teak, representing about 25% of the total forested area, thrives mainly in the mountainous regions; evergreen, bamboo, and palm in the freshwater delta swamps and along the coastlands; mangrove in the salty coastal marshes; mixed temperate forests and rolling grasslands in the Shan Highlands; and scrub vegetation in the dry central area. There are about 12 species of monkeys, as well as tigers, leopards, elephants, and half-wild pariah dogs. Fish abound along the coastline, in the tidal waters of the delta, and in the rivers and streams. As of 2002, there were at least 300 species of mammals, 310 species of birds, and over 7,000 species of plants throughout the country.
In Myanmar the principal environmental threat comes from cyclones and flooding during the monsoon season, and regular earthquakes. Deforestation for farming or illegal economic gain is the most persistent ecological effect of human encroachment. In 1985, 405 square miles were lost through deforestation. By 1994, two-thirds of Myanmar's tropical forests had been eliminated. However, the nation still had the world's eighth-largest mangrove area, totaling approximately half a million hectares. In 2000, about 52% of the total land area was forested.
Little information is available about the long-term effects of industrialization on the natural environment, although evidence of industrial pollutants has been found in the air, water, soil, and food. Myanmar has 881 cu km of renewable water resources. About 95% of city dwellers and 74% of the rural population have access to improved water sources. Inadequate sanitation and water treatment are leading contributors to disease. Environmental concerns have been given low priority by the government.
According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), threatened species included 39 types of mammals, 41 species of birds, 20 types of reptiles, 7 species of fish, 1 type of mollusk, 1 species of other invertebrate, and 38 species of plants. Threatened species included the banteng, pink-headed duck, Asian elephants, Malayan tapirs, freshwater sawfish, the Sumatran rhinoceros, Siamese crocodiles, hawksbill turtles, gaurs, and sun bears. The Javan rhinoceros is extinct.
The population of Myanmar (Burma) in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 50,519,000, which placed it at number 24 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 5% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 29% of the population under 15 years of age. There were 99 males for every 100 females in the country. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 2005–10 was expected to be 1.2%, a rate the government viewed as satisfactory. The projected population for the year 2025 was 59,002,000. The population density was 75 per sq km (193 per sq mi).
The UN estimated that 29% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 3.16%. The capital city, Yangon (formerly Rangoon), had a population of 3,874,000 in that year. The next largest city is Mandalay, with an estimated population of 927,000.
Indians were the most significant Asian minority in Myanmar until World War II, when hundreds of thousands fled the Japanese invasion; although many returned after the war, the Indian minority never regained its prewar proportions, because after independence in 1948 the government of Myanmar instituted rigid restrictions on Indian migration. The Indian population was substantially reduced between April 1963 and June 1965, when 100,000 were repatriated as part of a program to increase the wealth and holdings of Myanmar nationals. (Indians had dominated Myanmar's commerce.) The government has sought to curtail both immigration and emigration, although as many as 500,000 persons may have left Myanmar during 1962–71. About 187,000 Muslims who fled to Bangladesh in 1978 were repatriated with the help of UN agencies by the end of 1981; they had left Myanmar because of alleged atrocities by its soldiers in Arakan State. They lost their citizenship in 1982.
About 500,000 poor urban residents were forcibly relocated to rural areas between 1989 and 1992. Rural residents are also subject to forced resettlement in connection with counterinsurgency operations.
In 1992, some 250,000 Muslim refugees from Myanmar's Northern Rakhine state began arriving in Bangladesh, claiming human rights abuses in Myanmar. As of October 1996, around 50,000 of these refugees were still living in South Bangladesh in five refugee camps. Between 1994 and 1997, some 230,000 of these refugees returned home to Northern Rakhine state. The repatriation resumed in November 1998, following meetings between the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and Myanmar authorities, but returns were limited to some 450 people due to procedural problems. UNHCR has appealed to the governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh to accelerate the repatriation process. In 2004, there were 210 returned refugees
In 2000 the total number of migrants residing in Myanmar numbered 113,000. Myanmar migrants remitted $26 billion in 2002. The net migration rate for 2005 was an estimated -1.8 per 1000 population. The government views the migration levels as satisfactory.
The Burmans, ethnically related to the Tibetans, constitute about 68% of Myanmar's total population. In remote times, the Burmans, migrants from the hills east of Tibet, descended the Irrawaddy Valley and intermarried with the previously settled Mon and Pyu peoples. Since then, however, many other migrant peoples from the northeast and northwest have settled in Myanmar: the Shans, Karens, Kachins, Kayahs, and Chins are among the more numerous. Although much ethnic fusion has taken place among these peoples and the Burmans, most of the later migrant groups remain distinct cultural entities and have sought to preserve their autonomy, sometimes by violent means. According to the latest estimates, the Shan made up about 9% of the population, the Karen 7%, Rakhine 4%, Chinese 3%, Mon 2%, Indian 2%, and other 5%.
Burmese, the official language, is spoken by at least 80% of the population. Pronunciation varies greatly from area to area. Although Burmese is monosyllabic and tonal like other Tibeto-Chinese languages, its alphabet of 10 vowels and 32 consonants is derived from the Pahlavi script of South India; loan words from other languages are common. Burmese is the language of government, but the ethnic minorities have their own languages; according to the 1974 constitution, "if necessary the language of the national race concerned may be used."
Under the government of U Nu (overthrown in 1962), Buddhism was the state religion. Since then the government has been controlled by authoritarian military regimes which have generally placed restrictions on religious freedom. The government has ruled without a constitution since 1988 and shows a strong preference for Theravada Buddhism. All religious publications and sermons are subject to approval and censorship by the government. Proselytizing is prohibited by some Christian groups in some areas. Religious activists are generally monitored by the state.
According to government statistics, Theravada Buddhism is practiced by about 90% of the population. A number of adherents combine their practice with traditional practices such as astrology, numerology, fortune-telling, and the veneration of pre-Buddhist deities called nats. The Chinese in Myanmar practice a traditional mixture of Mahayana Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and ancestor worship; the Indians are Hindus; the Pakistanis are Muslims; and most of the Europeans are Christians. Although Christian missionaries had some success with peoples of the hill areas—the Karens, Kayahs, Kachins, and Chins—conversion among the Burmans and the Shans was negligible. About 4% of the population are Christian, with Baptists, Catholics, and Anglicans being the primary denominations. The government claims that about 4% of the population are Muslim, mostly Sunni. Muslim leaders, however, claim the percentage to be much higher, at about 14–20% of the population. There is a small community of Jews in Rangoon.
Because of Myanmar's near encirclement by mountain ranges, international land transportation is virtually nonexistent. Historically, Myanmar has been dependent on sea and river transport externally and internally, supplemented in modern times by the airplane. The Myanmar Road, connecting Lashio with Kunming in southern China, and the Ledo Road between Myitkyina and Ledo in Assam, northeastern India, are the only land ties between Myanmar and adjacent nations. There were an estimated 28,200 km (17,523 mi) of roads in 2002, but only 3,440 km (2,138 mi) were paved. In 2003, Myanmar had about 6,800 passenger cars and 14,000 commercial vehicles.
Myanmar's railway system, a government monopoly, operates 3,955 km (2,460 mi) of track, all of which was 1.00 narrow gauge in 2004. The main lines are from Yangon (Rangoon) to Prome (259 km/161 mi) and from Yangon to Mandalay (621 km/386 mi) and then to Myitkyina (1,164 km/723 mi from the capital).
Inland waterways, including some 12,800 km (7,961 mi) of navigable passages (25% of which are navigable by commercial vessels), are the key to internal transportation, partly compensating for limited railroad and highway development. Some 500,000 small river craft ply the Irrawaddy (navigable for about 640 km/400 mi), the Salween, the Sittang, and numerous tributaries. The Irrawaddy Delta, the focus of most water transportation, has some 2,700 km (1,679 mi) of rivers and streams, providing a seaboard for all types of craft. The state merchant fleet totaled 37 ships in 2005, with a combined GRT of 429,144.
Ocean shipping, the traditional means of external transport, is controlled by the government, which operates coastal and oceangoing freight-passenger lines. Yangon, on the Rangoon River about 34 km (21 mi) inland from the Andaman Sea, is the chief port for ocean shipping, handling the majority of the country's seaborne trade; it is also the principal terminus for the highways, railroad, inland waterways, and airways. Other ports include Sittwe (Akyab), serving western Myanmar; Pathein (Bassein), serving the delta area; and Mawlamgine (Moulmein), Dawei (Tavoy), and Mergui, which handle mineral and timber exports of the Tenasserim region.
As of 2004 there were 78 airports. As of 2005, a total of 19 had paved runways, and there was also a single heliport. Mingaladon, outside of Yangon, is the principal airport. In 2003, about 1.117 million passengers were carried on scheduled domestic and international airline flights.
The founding of a kingdom at Pagan in 1044 by Anawrahta marks the beginning of the history of Myanmar (Burma) as a distinct political entity. The kingdom survived until 1287, when it was destroyed by the armies of Kublai Khan, and the next five centuries were marked by disunity. In 1754, Alaungpaya defeated the Shan kingdom in northern Myanmar and the Mon kingdom in southern Myanmar and founded the last ruling dynasty, which was in power until the British came in the early 19th century. The British conquest of the land then known as Burma spanned 62 years: the first Anglo-Burmese War took place during 1824–26, when the British East India Company, acting for the crown, took possession of the Arakan and Tenasserim coastal regions. In 1852, at the end of the second war, the British acquired the remainder of lower Burma; and on 1 January 1886, following Burma's defeat in the third war, total annexation of Burma was proclaimed. Incorporated into the British Indian Empire, Burma was administered as a province of India until 1937, when it became a separate colony. At this time, Burma was permitted some steps toward self-government; however, the British governor retained authority over foreign affairs, defense, currency, and the administration of frontier peoples. From 1886 to 1948, many Burmese agitated and fought continually for independence. The nationalists who finally gained independence for Burma were a group of socialist-minded intellectuals, called the Thakins, from the University of Rangoon. They included Aung San, one of the founders of modern Burma; U Nu, independent Burma's first premier; Shu Maung, also known as Ne Win, later U Nu's chief of staff; and Than Tun, a leader of a Communist revolt (1948–50) against the independent government. At the start of World War II, these anti-British nationalists collaborated with the Japanese, and with the aid of the Burma Independence Army, led by Aung San, the capital, Rangoon (now Yangon) fell to Japan on 8 March 1943. They were soon disappointed with the Japanese occupation, however, and the Burma Independence Army was converted into an anti-Japanese guerrilla force called the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League, which later assisted the British liberation of Burma. Many of the ethnic nationalities of the frontier regions, such as the Karens and Kachins, had remained loyal to the British, as valued fighters for the Allies. After the war, Aung San negotiated with frontier ethnic leaders, signing the Panglong Agreement on 12 February 1947 with them, as a pledge of autonomy and other rights.
Having assumed leadership of the nationalist movement following the 19 July 1947 assassination of Aung San and six of his associates, U Nu signed an agreement with British Prime Minister Clement Attlee covering economic and defense relationships between the two countries. On 4 January 1948, the sovereign Union of Burma came into being outside the Commonwealth of Nations. After severe setbacks in 1948–49, the U Nu government was able to control a Communist insurgency and consolidate its own power, and in 1951 the nation held its first parliamentary elections. The decade of the 1950s also brought the implementation of an ambitious land reform program and an attempt to forge a neutralist foreign policy, in the face of sporadic Communist resistance and an intermittent border dispute with China. U Nu appointed Gen. Ne Win to head an interim "caretaker government" during a period of instability from 1958 to the 1960 national election (which U Nu's party won.) Ne Win returned to power with a coup d'etat on 2 March 1962. The U Nu government was overthrown, and a military regime headed by a Revolutionary Council and led by Ne Win assumed control. Student protests following the 1962 coup, and again in 1974, were crushed by the army with many civilian casualties. Most major political figures in the democratic governments of the years 1948–62 were arrested but were released in 1966–68, including U Nu. Ne Win rejected a return to a multiparty parliamentary system and proclaimed the Socialist Republic of Burma on 3 January 1974. Under a new constitution, Ne Win became president, and the government continued to be dominated by the military. Ne Win retired as president in November 1981, with Gen. San Yu succeeding him in office; but Ne Win retained his dominance, as chairman of the country's only legal political organization, the Burma Socialist Program Party (BSPP). Insurgency by the underground Communist Party of Burma (CPB) and numerous ethnic armies had begun just after World War II and continued throughout Ne Win's time in power. The general sought to unify the country by giving it a Burmese-ethnic majority identity, and to defeat insurgency with the "four cuts policy" of taking civilian support away from the rebels. Instead, the tactics of his armed forces in ethnic regions drove more and more inhabitants into rebellion.
Despite President San Yu's reelection in 1985 to a four-year term and his appointment as vice chairman of the BSPP, Ne Win continued to dominate the political scene and to make all major and many minor government policy decisions. One such decision, to withdraw large currency notes from circulation in September 1987, threw the economy and the country into turmoil. The move, possibly aimed against black marketeers who had accumulated large sums of money, made 80% of the country's currency valueless, touching off student-led demonstrations. Citing his personal responsibility for dire economic conditions, Ne Win resigned as BSPP party chairman in July 1988. A protégé of Ne Win, Sein Lwin, was made BSPP chairman and president of the country. Sein Lwin's appointment triggered nationwide revolts. A broad spectrum of the population joined in, marching in the streets and going on general strikes throughout Burma. The army opened fire on unarmed protesters, killing thousands, particularly during the first week of August. Sein Lwin resigned on 12 August and Dr. Maung Maung, a civilian lawyer and journalist, was appointed his successor on 19 August. Although Maung Maung proposed multiparty elections and decreed that government employees could not be members of any political party, his refusal to step down provoked further protests. On 18 September 1988 the army abolished the BSPP, took over the government and imposed military rule under the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) headed by the army Chief of Staff, General Saw Maung. He also named himself prime minister and retained the portfolios of the Defense Ministry and Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Several days of violence occurred countrywide with thousands of civilians, including children, students, and monks, killed by the armed forces. In announcing the takeover, General Saw Maung stated that the military rule would be temporary and that multiparty elections would be held once law and order were reestablished. In February 1989 Japan was the first nation to officially recognize SLORC as the legitimate government. Elections were set for 27 May 1990. On 18 June 1989 the Saw Maung regime renamed Burma "Myanmar Naing Ngan," a formal historical Burmese name for the country. It is colloquially known as "Myanmar," while democracy advocates and the US government continue to use the name "Burma."
With the elections called, political parties formed. First to organize was U Nu's League for Democracy and Peace, later known as the League for Democracy. The BSPP was reformed as the preregime National Union Party (NUP). U Nu had declared an interim government on 9 September 1988, but he garnered little support with his surprise move. In 1988 Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of assassinated legendary hero General Aung San, had returned to Myanmar to visit her ailing mother. In the midst of the chaos of this period of demonstrations and protests Aung San Suu Kyi rose to prominence delivering speeches and establishing a coalition party opposing the military regime. On 24 September 1988 Suu Kyi with U Tin Oo and Aung Gyi formed the National League for Democracy (NLD). In early 1989 Aung Gyi formed his own organization, the Union Nationals Democracy Party (UNDP). In speeches and interviews Suu Kyi challenged Ne Win's record, characterizing it as one of economic and sociopolitical degeneration. She also protested SLORC's repressive laws and actions. Aung San Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest in Yangon (Rangoon) by Ne Win on 20 July 1989.
The top contenders in the elections were the NUP, the NLD, the UNDP, and the League for Democracy. The NUP was the party favored by the SLORC; and other parties had immense difficulty in campaigning and obtaining publicity. Six other parties figured prominently: the Coalition League for Democratic Multiparty Unity; the Democracy Party; the Union of Burma Main AFPFL Party led by the children of former Premier U Ba Swe; the Democratic National Front for National Reconstruction, a former leftist NUF group; the Graduates and Old Students Democratic Association; and the Original Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League. A total of 93 parties fielded 2,209 candidates who, along with 87 independent candidates, contested 485 seats out of a total of 492 constituencies designated for holding elections. Seven constituencies that were excluded from the election represented mostly the ethnic minority states of insurgency. Over 100 candidates were fielded by each of five parties: The National League for Democracy (NLD), 447 candidates; the National Unity Party (NUP) backed by SLORC, 413 candidates; the League for Democracy and Peace (LDP), 309 candidates (another source indicates 325 candidates); the Union Nationals Democracy Party (UNDP), 247 candidates (another source indicates 270 candidates), and the Democracy Party, 105 candidates. Despite its leader's (Aung San Suu Kyi) incommunicado house arrest, the NLD won the 27 May 1990 general elections by a landslide (392 candidates elected out of its field of 447, or 87.7% of the votes). The NUP took 2.4% of the votes for 10 seats out of 413 fielded. The UNDP, with 0.4% of the vote, took 1 seat in Shan State out of the 247 (270) fielded. The Democracy Party with 0.95% of the vote took 1 seat out of 105 fielded. Of the candidates fielded by the LDP none won a seat. On 18 June 1989 Saw Maung indicated that the transfer of power to the winner of the election would not occur until a new constitution was drafted, one which met with SLORC's approval. However, on 13 July the powerful junta member Lt.-General Khin Nyunt denied the initial promise of an immediate transfer of power made by General Saw Maung. SLORC's further response was to alter the purpose of the newly elected assembly from its original function as a legislative body, to that of a constituent assembly formed to draft the new constitution. SLORC would not transfer power until the resulting draft constitution had been approved both by a referendum and by SLORC.
In September 1990 SLORC revealed its intention to remain in power for a further 5 to 10 years. After his mental collapse in December 1991, Senior General Saw Maung resigned due to ill health on 23 April 1992. On the same day he was replaced as Chairman of SLORC by General Than Shwe who was also named (and remains) Chief of State and Head of the Government. The First Secretary was Lt.-General Khin Nyunt and Second Secretary was Lt.-General Tin Oo. Accompanying these leadership changes SLORC initially indicated that an effort was being made to appease criticism of its methods as hundreds of political prisoners were released. Aung San Suu Kyi's family was allowed to visit her. Two martial law decrees imposed in July 1989 also were lifted in September 1992, and a constitutional convention was promised. In early 1993 a National Convention of 700 mostly hand-picked members met to draft a new constitution. Meeting with resistance and presented with a proposal by Yo E La of the Lahu National Development Party suggesting a return to the basic principles of Myanmar's pre-1962 constitution, a bicameral parliament and the granting of basic freedoms, the convention was adjourned until 7 June 1993. Another impasse occurred with further resistance to certain clauses in the new constitution that the ruling military wanted implemented; the National Convention was adjourned until January 1994. On 18 January 1994 the convention met again to approve six objectives and 104 basic principles which would entrench and perpetuate the power of the military.
The plight of Aung San Suu Kyi garnered the attention of human rights groups internationally. In March 1991, the Geneva UN Human Rights Commission passed a resolution to condemn and monitor the human rights abuses of SLORC, and in subsequent years Special Rapporteurs have been appointed to investigate Myanmar's human rights situation. In 1991 Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the 1990 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the European Parliament, the 1990 Thorolf Rafto Human Rights Prize by Norway, and on 10 December 1991 Aung San Suu Kyi's son, Alexander, accepted the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize on her behalf. In December 1993 the UN General Assembly unanimously rebuked the military rulers of Myanmar for their refusal to hand over power to the parliament democratically elected in May 1990, and called for the release of political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, in her fifth year of house arrest. Eight fellow Nobel prize-winners met in Thailand in February 1993 to speak on behalf of Aung San Suu Kyi, but were denied visas to visit Myanmar. US Congressman William Richardson visited with Aung San Suu Kyi, who was still under house arrest in Yangon, on 14–15 February 1994, her first nonfamily visit in four-and-a-half years. Richardson also met with Lieutenant-General Khin Nyunt of the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC).
Another dissenting voice in Myanmar, that of 74-year-old Aung Gyi, founder of the UNDP, was silenced when on 27 April 1993 he was sentenced to a six-month prison term. He had written a series of letters to Ne Win (much as he had paved the way for the pro-democracy movement in 1987–88 with a similar series of letters), and criticized the military regime in interviews with foreign journalists, but was convicted for failing to pay for eggs ordered as supplies for his tea and pastry shops. A type of human rights violation in Myanmar which drew international attention was forced labor, which the government used on tourist projects such as the reconstruction of the palace in Mandalay. Of Mandalay's 500,000 residents each family had to contribute at least three days of free labor each month. The work lasted from dawn until evening and was so strenuous that it took several days to recover from it. Prison inmates were required to work every day. Many military families could be exempted, as could any family that agreed to pay a monthly fine of about us$6, about a week's wages for some families. Forced labor was also used on a vast scale throughout Myanmar, on many building projects including roads and railroads, as well as for carrying supplies and munitions for the SLORC troops in insurgent areas. According to the testimony of escapees, the labor was accompanied by beatings, rape, execution of the ill or slow, and use of civilians as human shields and human mine-detectors. Muslim refugees who fled Myanmar said that Muslims had to pay two to three times as much as others to retain their rice ration card as a fine to escape labor. The SLORC commonly used euphemisms such as "merit-making" or "self reliance" in reference to the forced labor. Asia Watch also reported in 1994 that the government turned a "blind eye to traffic in women and girls from Myanmar to Thailand for forced-prostitution." Corrupt officials on both sides of the border were involved. It was estimated that there were about 20,000 women from Myanmar in Thai brothels, where they were at severe risk of HIV/AIDS infection.
A casualty of the China-Myanmar border agreement of 1988 was the Communist Party of Burma (CPB) which collapsed with the withdrawal of Chinese support and the mutiny of its Wa troops in 1989. The CPB split into four different ethnic armies. SLORC's main objective was to neutralize the border rebel minorities and to prevent urban dissidents from getting access to arms and ammunition. SLORC's strategy was to divide and rule. Karen National Union President Bo Mya held that guerrilla armies should hold joint talks with the government and not negotiate separately. The junta, however, would only negotiate separate agreements or treaties with individual rebel groups. To achieve its objectives SLORC introduced its Border Areas Development Program into ex-CPB areas. Infrastructure improvements of us$11.1 million in roads, bridges, schools, and hospitals were pledged in the state-run media. Necessities such as diesel, petrol, kerosene and rice were distributed. The Wa were the first to negotiate with the junta. In 1989 they were promised development assistance, were allowed to retain their arms, maintain control of their areas, and to engage in any kind of business. In exchange they promised not to attack government forces and to sever their ties with the other dissident groups and students. Throughout the 1990s the cease-fired Wa complained from time to time that little of the promised aid had been delivered, and that their demand to create a separate state was never discussed. The next deal was made with the 2,000-member Shan State Army (SSA), one of the Shan rebel factions, on 2 September 1989. The SSA was followed in December 1990 by a breakaway faction of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). On 23 April 1991 the 600-member Palaung State Liberation Army made a truce with SLORC. The 500-member Pa-O National Army rebel group also signed a peace treaty with the military regime. Accusations were leveled that the smaller forces were pushed into signing accords by the unremitting abuse of their ethnic civilians by SLORC troops. The Tatmadaw, the SLORC's armed force, had increased its own troop strength from approximately 190,000 to well over 300,000 since the suppression of 1988's pro-democracy uprising.
The Karenni rebels, angry over SLORC logging encroachments in their territory, reversed their cease-fire, in September 1992. The government launched a major counter attack on the Karenni that spilled over the Thai border. Since 1984 the rebel Karen National Union (KNU) had its camps near the Thai border; and tens of thousands of Karen civilians fled from SLORC attacks and forced labor, to the Thai side. Manerplaw was the KNU headquarters and also the seat of the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB), set up by fugitive members of National League for Democracy and other pro-democracy Members of Parliament elected in the thwarted 1990 polls.
Far to the north, the Kachins who had been in rebellion since 1961, had been the largest military group in a coalition of anti-SLORC ethnic forces. On 24 February 1994 the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) signed a peace treaty with SLORC. They agreed to a cease-fire in exchange for permission to participate in commerce. Conflict between the SLORC and Shan groups continued. The Mong Tai Army (MTA) of the notorious "opium warlord" Khun Sa fought the Tatmadaw in the mid-1990s, then made a surprise surrender. He was able to spend his "retirement" living in comfort in Yangon (Rangoon). Like another rehabilitated drug lord, Lo Hsing Han, he has engaged in various legitimate business ventures, giving rise to charges of large-scale narcotics money laundering involvement on the part of the junta. Cease-fired Wa officers, from Myanmar's primary opium/heroin production region, are also said to have legitimate business access in Yangon and Mandalay. Some factions of the SSA refused to sign truces with SLORC, and joined in shifting alliances with anti-cease-fire factions of the MTA, continuing to battle the Tatmadaw. In response to Shan and Karenni defiance of the cease-fire policy, the SLORC engaged in enormous forced village relocations in those regions.
Ethnic peoples of western Burma also suffered. The Muslim residents of Arakan, called the Rohingyas, became refugees en masse in the early 1990s. Previously in 1978 the Burmese government had denied them citizenship and launched Operation Naga Min (Dragon King) forcing over 200,000 Rohingyas to seek refuge in Bangladesh. This pattern was repeated in 1991–92. The Rohingyas whose history in the area went as far back as the 9th–15th centuries when Moorish, Arab, and Persian traders arrived and married local women and settled in the area, were displaced from their land and homes. As many as 300,000 Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh when they were forced from their land, their belongings were confiscated and women were raped by government troops. Some co-religionists made statements of protest, but ASEAN offered a policy of "constructive engagement" thus resisting pressures by the United States and European Community (EC) to adopt a stand on human rights abuses. According to this regional attitude, taking a stand would amount to interference in the internal affairs of a neighboring country. The countries of the region for the most part entered into "constructive engagement" with SLORC, gaining trade and investment opportunities, thus altering the status of the Myanmar exiles and refugees within their borders.
The international community has continued to debate the most effective approach for dealing with Myanmar. Up to and following Myanmar's acceptance into ASEAN in July 1997, ASEAN countries and Japan have argued that "engaging" Myanmar is more productive than "isolating" it. This approach gained them controversial timber concessions, energy projects, and some tourism plus manufacturing opportunities. It did not inspire liberalization by the junta. The United States and European Union (EU) have imposed limited economic sanctions, but allowed their petroleum corporations to remain in Myanmar as major investors. Proposals by groups of nations to offer Myanmar's generals economic rewards for steps toward liberalization have been rejected by the junta as "bribery." Aung San Suu Kyi's NLD continues to call for strong economic sanctions as the best way to pressure the junta to the negotiation table, and to deprive the Tatmadaw of the weapons it buys with hard currency (mainly from China and Singapore). The NLD has called for a tourism boycott and for withdrawal of foreign corporations until democracy arrives.
SLORC released Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest on 10 July 1995. Her freedom was short-lived, however. After large crowds of people began gathering in front of her house for weekly speeches, she was forbidden to address such gatherings. In November 1995, the NLD withdrew from the National Convention which was to formulate a SLORC-approved constitution, in protest of undemocratic policies; in turn SLORC permanently barred the NLD from participation and eventually the Convention meetings were suspended. Suu Kyi announced in May 1996 the NLD's plan to draft its version of the constitution, one that would oust the junta and implement new economic policies for the country.
SLORC curtailed Suu Kyi's attempts at movement outside of Yangon, which she protested with car sit-ins in 1998. NLD members have been detained by the hundreds, and many publicly renounced their membership. The Union Solidarity Defense Association (USDA) was formed by SLORC as a "mass organization" modeled after Sukarno's Golkar in Indonesia. It staged rallies denouncing the NLD, and Suu Kyi was physically threatened by some of its members. A steady campaign of insults against Suu Kyi was featured in the state-run press. In 1999, Suu Kyi's terminally ill British husband, Michael Aris, was denied a visa to see her one last time. The junta stated that she was free to leave Myanmar, but the implication was that she would not be permitted back. Aris died on 27 March. Student demonstrations took place in 1996, and institutions of higher learning were closed down by SLORC. Most universities and colleges remained shut down the majority of the time since 1988 (although as of 2000 some were reopening). Attempts by student activists to mark the tenth anniversary of the "four eights" (8-8-88) democracy uprising, and another auspicious date, 9-9-99, were quickly suppressed. Long jail sentences have been handed down for even mild forms of public protest, and human rights groups report that torture of student dissidents is routine in Myanmar's prisons. Min Ko Naing, an important leader of the 1988 demonstrations, remains in prison. Leo Nichols, an honorary consul for European nations, died in a Myanmar prison, where he was held for unauthorized possession of a fax machine. As the junta attempts to control information, Internet access is extremely limited and unauthorized possession of a modem can earn a 17-year prison sentence.
Using a Buddhist breakaway Karen faction, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), against the Christian-led KNU, the Tatmadaw was able to over-run Manerplaw and destroy most of the Karen rebel bases in 1995. Tatmadaw and DKBA troops entered Thailand in late January 1997 and attacked Karen refugee camps. A highly controversial natural gas pipeline across the region of southern Burma called the Tenasserim apparently inspired SLORC military campaigns against Mon and Karen rebels in that area. The Mon rebels signed a cease-fire agreement, but numerous Tatmadaw battalions were brought in to protect the pipeline project from Karen sabotage. The multinational petroleum companies involved, Total of France and Unocal from the United States, were accused by human rights and environmental groups of complicity in human rights violations, including forced labor and forced relocation, committed by the SLORC's security forces. Victims of such abuses sued Unocal, achieving a multi-million dollar settlement, in a groundbreaking US court case. The pipeline began bringing natural gas from Myanmar's Andaman Sea to an electrical generating plant on the Thai side of the border in 1999. Outside economic pressure built up during the 1990s, in the form of consumer boycotts of companies doing business in Myanmar, limited US economic sanctions, and "selective purchasing" laws by cities. Massachusetts' "Burma selective purchasing law" was brought to the Supreme Court in 2000. By that year, foreign investment in Myanmar had decreased markedly, due to sanctions pressures, the Asian economic crisis, and concerns about corruption in the State Peace and Development Council (SLORC was renamed the SPDC in 1997)-controlled economy. In June 1999, the International Labor Organization of the UN essentially expelled Myanmar from its ranks, following a detailed investigation of forced labor under the SPDC. In early 2000, the World Bank issued a report highly critical of Myanmar's economic and political climate. The World Bank and International Monetary Fund have been barred from lending to Myanmar.
The Myanmar government has also come under considerable international criticism for its complicity in the country's massive drug trade. Myanmar is one of the world's largest producers of opium and heroin. Since 1990, the country has also become one of the largest manufacturers of illicit methamphetamine. Thai officials voiced dismay over the flood of "speed" pills into Thailand from Myanmar (particularly the Wa region, where a cease-fire is in effect) and the seeming callousness of the Myanmar government regarding the drug trade. Myanmar is the main source of heroin in China, where addiction grew seven-fold from 1989 to 1997. A 1999 Interpol conference on narcotic suppression, held in Yangon, was boycotted by the United States and other governments as a protest against the junta's apparent profiting from drug trafficking.
With burgeoning drug production in the north of Myanmar has also come a raging HIV/AIDS epidemic. International health organizations estimated the number of Burmese infected in the north alone at 350,000–400,000 in 1996. The HIV/AIDS virus has spread unchecked in Myanmar through the use of contaminated needles by drug addicts, by unsafe medical practices, and by infected Burmese women returning from forced prostitution in Thailand. AIDS education, prevention, and care programs have been a low priority in Myanmar. The United Nation's Global Fund withdrew its AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis program from Myanmar in August 2005, claiming that government restrictions made it impossible for the grants to be implemented effectively.
Aung San Suu Kyi was again placed under house detention in September 2000; she was released in May 2002, and toured the country, speaking out in support of democratization. She urged the international community in August to keep economic sanctions against the SPDC in place until a democratic dialogue reached a more meaningful stage. During 2001, over 200 NLD activists were released from detention; in November 2002, another 115 political prisoners were released. The most violent attack on the NLD occurred 30 May 2003 at Depayin in northern Burma. A convoy carrying Aung San Suu Kyi, who had been touring the north and speaking to large crowds, and her supporters, was attacked by a mob of young men, reportedly under the instigation of the military and USDA. Dozens of NLD supporters were killed in the assault, and many more were arrested. Aung San Suu Kyi was injured and placed under house arrest back in Yangon. A crackdown on the NLD followed, with offices closed and members arrested. The "Depayin Massacre" was condemned by governments and international organizations. The SPDC freed about 40 political prisoners in November 2004. The highest-profile dissident released at that time was Min Ko Naing, one of the main leaders of the 1988 uprising. He had been imprisoned, often in solitary confinement, since 1989. On his release he remained a strong and articulate critic of the regime.
On 5 December 2002, General Ne Win died under house arrest. He had been arrested in March for plotting a coup against the military regime. Ne Win's three grandsons and son-in-law remained in jail, sentenced to death for their plot in the supposed coup.
During 2001 and 2002, relations between Myanmar and Thailand improved. The two countries held talks in June 2001, attempting to ameliorate disagreements over the drug trade and border tensions. By September, Myanmar pledged to eliminate drug trade in the Golden Triangle by 2005. Thailand committed funds to finance a crop substitution program, and the two countries regarded themselves as good neighbors. However, in May 2002, Myanmar closed its border with Thailand after the Thai army fired shells into Myanmar's territory during a battle between the SPDC and ethnic Shan rebels. The border was reopened in October. As Myanmar's turn to take the chair manship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for 2006 approached, calls were heard from the international community for Myanmar to be deprived of that honor because of the SPDC's human rights violations and authoritarian government. In July 2005, it was announced that Myanmar would relinquish the chair position, to focus on "the ongoing national reconciliation and democratization process."
In December 2000, Amnesty International reported that torture was increasing in Myanmar despite official military statements that it is illegal. In November 2001, the International Labour Organization (ILO) sent a mission to Myanmar to investigate governmental measures taken to end its program of forced labor. The mission reported some progress, but expressed "profound concern" that the governmental measures had had a limited impact. On 12 February 2003, the UN marked the anniversary of the entry into force of an international treaty banning child soldiers, but warned that the problem of child soldiers is still prevalent. In Myanmar, an estimated 70,000 children are in uniform in the state army. Many are forcibly conscripted by kidnapping or threats of prison at ages as young as 11.
The Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma was announced on 3 January 1974, after a new basic law had been approved by plebiscite. Under the 1974 constitution (which was suspended in September 1988), the leading organ of state power was the 489-member unicameral People's Assembly (Pyithu Hluttaw). The head of state was the chairman of the Council of State (29 members in 1986), which was elected by the People's Assembly and theoretically responsible to it. The prime minister headed the Council of Ministers (24 members in 1986) and also served on the Council of State. Other main governmental organs were the Council of People's Justices (9 members), the Council of People's Attorneys (6), the Council of People's Inspectors (6), and the people's councils at the level of the state (or division), township, and ward or village tract. Nationwide legislative elections were held in 1974, 1978, 1981, and 1985; in each election, voters either accepted or rejected candidates from a single slate presented by the ruling Burma Socialist Program Party (BSPP). Suffrage is universal at age 18, although the military has taken measures to discourage voter registration. A military coup in September 1988 brought the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) to power. SLORC abolished the previous government and placed the country under martial law. In June 1989, the official title of the country was changed to Myanmar Naing Ngan. The SLORC junta supervised and coordinated the work of the central and local organs of state power. It renamed itself the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) in November 1997.
In the multiparty election held 27 May 1990, Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) received 87.7% of the total vote and took 392 of its 447 contested seats, and the National Unity Party (NUP), the former BSPP re-registered as a new party, took only 10 seats with 2.4% of the votes.
SLORC refused to hand over power to the NLD, instead voiding the election and insisting that a new constitution need be drafted and approved by referendum, and by SLORC, prior to the transfer of power. Senior General Saw Maung resigned due to ill health on 23 April 1992 and General Than Shwe replaced him on the same day as Chairman of SLORC and as Chief of State and Head of the Government. Vice chairman of the SPDC is General Maung Aye. The Foreign Minister is Win Aung, and the Home Affairs Minister is Tin Hlaing. Lt. Gen. Tin Oo, former second secretary of the SPDC and chief of staff of the army, died in a helicopter crash 19 February 2002. The other two "secretaries" of the SPDC were Lt.-General Khin Nyunt and Lt.-General Win Myint. A sudden purge in October 2004 removed Khin Nyunt from power. He was arrested and charged with corruption, with a 44-year suspended sentence. The purge extended to his Military Intelligence apparatus, with MI officers arrested and their assets confiscated throughout Myanmar. The ousting of Khin Nyunt left the SPDC firmly under the control of Than Shwe and the equally "hardline" Maung Aye, who appeared inclined to take a less conciliatory policy toward armed ethnic groups than Khin Nyunt, the architect of the cease-fire strategy. On 7 May 2005 bomb blasts at a convention center and two supermarkets in Yangon killed 11 people. The SPDC blamed opposition groups for the explosions, while some analysts linked the bombings to internal power struggles within the regime itself.
A drastic step was taken on 6 November 2005 when government ministries were compelled to leave Yangon (Rangoon) for a new capital still under construction at Pyinmana in the mountains 400 km north of Yangon. The motives for the large-scale mass relocation to a place with little infrastructure completed were unclear, but speculation ranged from fear of military attack to an attempt at more centralized control of the country to a form of "preventive magic." Civil servants were reluctant to make the move, but were compelled to go, without their families, to the government complex at Pyinmana named Nay Pyi Daw, "Place of Kings."
Between 1948 and 1962, Burma's parties were mostly socialist in economic orientation. The most important of these was the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League (AFPFL), which gained independence for the country and which included within its ranks the distinct Burma Socialist Program Party. The AFPFL governed the country from 1948. In 1958, tensions within the government, and insurgency in the countryside, prompted Prime Minister U Nu to temporarily hand over power to a "caretaker" government headed by General Ne Win. When U Nu's new Union Party won a landslide victory in 1960 elections, Ne Win relinquished power to him. Then on 2 March 1962, Ne Win staged a coup d'etat and began his long rule with the one-party (Burma Socialist Program Party) state.
Other parties before 1962 included two Communist movements, the "White Flags" and the "Red Flags," both of which took up arms early after independence and were later defeated by the government (the White Flags, however, were not completely eradicated until 1975). An above-ground Communist Party existed after 1949 and became the nucleus of the National United Front (NUF) in 1952. Both the Communists and the NUF, like all other parties except the ruling military-dominated Burma Socialist Program Party (BSPP), were banned in 1974. The well-armed Communist Party of Burma (CPB) insurgents based themselves primarily in northeast Burma, along the China border. Chinese support for the Communist party of Burma (CPB) continued well after support for the Communist parties of Malaysia and Thailand was withdrawn, but from the mid-1980s aid did not compare with a decade earlier. In 1989 the CPB was overthrown by its troops, many of whom regrouped as the United Wa State Army, which soon signed a cease-fire deal with the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC).
Burmese independence leader General Aung San had negotiated the Panglong Agreement with representatives of frontier ethnic groups in 1947, but issues of autonomy and federalism have never been resolved. Numerous ethnic parties with armed wings were formed in the mid- to late-20th century, including the Karen National Union, Kachin Independence Organization, New Mon State Party, Karenni National Progressive Party, Shan State Progress Party, Arakan Liberation Party, and Chin National Front. Umbrella groups of the ethnic insurgents were established, notably the National Democratic Front, followed by the Democratic Alliance of Burma. In the 1990s, many ethnic organizations signed cease-fire agreements with the SLORC. A continuous demand of the opposition is "tri-partite negotiations" between the SLORC/SPDC junta, Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, and representatives of the ethnic groups. Most of the ethnic leaders favor a federal union of Burma based on ethnic regions. The SPDC arrested 10 Shan political leaders in February 2005 following a meeting they held in the Shan State. In May 2005, several veteran Shan political exiles issued a declaration of independence for their ethnic group, putting them at odds with the federalist policies of other ethnic activists and the NLD.
The democracy uprising of 1988 ended with the 18 September coup which installed the military officers of the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). The Burma Socialist Program Party was formally abolished, and all governing authority was concentrated in the hands of the military. The earliest formation of the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) was made up of 17 active military commanders of the Defense Services. On 18 September 1988 it was renamed the Organization for Building Law and Order in the State (OBLOS) and two more members were added. On 20 September 1988 the final version of the SLORC government was formed by maintaining the 19 members and adding two nonmembers to the Cabinet, increasing the number of Cabinet ministers from seven to nine. On 24 September 1988 the BSPP was reborn as the National Unity Party (NUP), inheriting the buildings and machinery of the old BSPP. Allied to the NUP were satellite parties, the former supporters of the BSPP.
On 24 September 1988 the National League for Democracy (NLD), a coalition party, was formed in opposition to the military regime. Leaders Aung San Suu Kyi and Aung Gyi soon parted ways over the latter's accusations of communist infiltration of the NLD. On 28 August 1988 U Nu, at age 83, with his followers from the older generation formed the League for Democracy and Peace (LDP), latter known as the League for Democracy. The NLD won the 27 May 1990 elections by a landslide, electing 392 candidates; the NUP took 10 seats; the UNDP and the Democracy Party took 1 seat each; and the LDP did not win any seats. In April/May 1991 the Election Commission dropped the names of the NLD's General Secretary Aung San Suu Kyi and President U Tin Oo from a roster of NLD leaders, as well as the names of all other Central Executive Committee members who were jailed. NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest from 20 July 1989 to 10 July 1995, from 2 September 2000 to 6 May 2002, and from May 2003 onwards. NLD members have been detained and imprisoned in ever-increasing numbers, and many have been pressured to renounce their membership at public rallies of the junta-sponsored Union Solidarity Defense Association (USDA) a mass organization formed in September 1993 to support the ruling military. Aung San Suu Kyi's 60th birthday, 19 June 2005, was marked by international protests of her continuing house arrest, and 24 October 2005, her tenth cumulative year of arrest was another day of protest by overseas Burmese. A campaign to pressure the UN Security Council to put Burma on its agenda was launched by former Czech Republic President Vaclav Havel and South Africa's Archbishop Desmond Tutu, in October 2005.
Dr. Sein Win of the Party for National Democracy, winner of a seat in Pegu District, and seven NLD members legitimately elected to parliament but not recognized by SLORC, fled to border areas and formed a parallel government, the National Coalition Government Union of Burma (NCGUB). Sein Win was named prime minister of the NCGUB, which is now headquartered in Washington, D.C., where it serves as a diplomatic vehicle for the international exiled Burmese democracy movement.
On 29 January 1992 SLORC appointed additional ministers, mostly serving or ex-military, to the original nine-member cabinet, and three new military commanders were added to the original nineteen-member SLORC. Senior General Saw Maung resigned due to ill health on 23 April 1992. He was replaced as Chairman of SLORC by General Than Shwe on 23 April 1992. Than Shwe was named Chief of State and Head of the Government. First Secretary is Major-General Khin Nyunt and Second Secretary was Major-General Tin Oo, until his death in a helicopter crash in February 2002. Lt.-Gen. Win Myint is the other secretary of the SPDC. The SLORC changed its name to State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) in November 1997. The National Convention, aimed at drafting a new constitution has been suspended indefinitely, and the NLD withdrew from the process in protest at its being used to legitimize the junta. Other parties have objected to the National Convention's insensitivity to ethnic rights issues.
Myanmar is a unitary nation, ruled by a military junta, comprising seven states and seven divisions. The main distinction between the two kinds of units, which are functionally the same, is that the states represent an area where a national ethnic minority is the local majority, while the divisions have no such communal basis. The states are Arakan (Rakhine), Chin, Kachin, Karen (Kayin), Kayah, Mon, and Shan. The divisions are Irrawaddy, Magwe, Mandalay, Bago (Pegu), Sagaing, Yangon (Rangoon), and Tenasserim. States and divisions are segmented into 317 townships. Village tracts consist of villages, and towns are divided into wards. Law and Order Restoration Councils (LORCs) serve as local administration, although regional army commanders control the actual decision making process. A LORC was formed for each State, Division, Township Sector and Ward/Village Sector. Military campaigns of forced village relocations, especially in the Shan and Karenni states and Tenasserim Division, have changed the rural map of Myanmar and placed much of the agricultural population under direct army control. In some frontier areas where cease-fire groups (such as the UWSA or KIO) still hold significant territory, administration is by the former insurgent leadership.
The British-style judicial organs with which Burma began its independence, including a supreme court, were disbanded by Ne Win's Revolutionary Council. The 1974 constitution, suspended since 1988, provided for a Council of People's Justices, state and divisional judges' committees, and township, ward, and village tract judges' committees. The Council of People's Justices was elected by the national assembly from among its own members; nominations were made by the Council of State, which coordinated relations between central and local levels of government. Military tribunals which enforced orders issued by the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) were abolished in 1992. Ordinary courts now handle such cases, with heavy military influence. The Supreme Court appoints judges after approval of the SPDC. There are courts at the township, district, state, and national levels. The SPDC has used laws such as the Emergency Provisions Act and the Unlawful Associations Act to crack down on dissent. Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and the United Nations have criticized the SPDC for unfair trials and arbitrary imprisonment, as well as use of torture and summary execution.
The armed forces play the major role in Myanmar's politics and administration; senior members of the government are officers who govern under martial law.
Myanmar's armed forces had 428,000 active personnel in 2005, including the paramilitary People's Militia and People's Police Force, which had 35,000 and 72,000 active personnel, respectively. The Army, with 350,000 personnel, had an equipment roster that included 150 main battle tanks, 105 light tanks, of which an estimated 60 were thought to be serviceable, 115 reconnaissance vehicles, 325 armored personnel carriers, and over 388 artillery pieces. The Navy had an estimated 13,000 members, including 800 naval infantry troops. Major fleet units included 4 corvettes, 71 patrol/coastal vessels, and 11 amphibious landing craft. The Air Force had 12,000 personnel and had 125 combat capable aircraft, including 58 fighters and 22 fighter ground attack aircraft. The service also operated 29 support helicopters. The military budget in 2005 totaled $6.85 billion. Various rebel groups were estimated at perhaps 15,000 and operate inside and outside of northern Myanmar.
Myanmar was admitted to the United Nations on 19 April 1948; it is a member of ESCAP and several nonregional specialized agencies, such as the FAO, IAEA, the World Bank, ILO, UNSECO, UNIDO, and the WHO. Regional bodies to which Myanmar belongs include the WTO, the Asian Development Bank, ASEAN, G-77, the Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Thailand Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), and the Colombo Plan. Myanmar is a member of the Nonaligned Movement. In environmental cooperation, Myanmar is part of the Convention on Biological Diversity, CITES, International Tropical Timber Agreements, the Kyoto Protocol, the Montréal Protocol, MARPOL, the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and the UN Conventions on the Law of the Sea, Climate Change, and Desertification.
Agriculture is the largest sector of the economy, contributing 54.6% of GDP in 2005 and employing about 70% of the labor force. Myanmar is self-sufficient in food. Principal crops are paddy rice, corn, oilseed, sugarcane, and pulses. Traditionally rice was the major product and the major foreign exchange earner, accounting for about 70% of the country's cultivated land. In 1996, rice exports quadrupled to $197 million, and accounted for 22% of merchandise exports. The Asian financial crisis of 1997 hit Myanmar hard, reducing rice exports by about one-third. The major recipients of Myanmar's rice are Indonesia and China. Myanmar is also the world's largest exporter of teak, producing 80% of world supply.
Industries include agricultural processing, textiles and footwear, wood and wood products, petroleum refining, mining production (mainly copper, tin, tungsten, and iron), construction materials, pharmaceuticals, and fertilizer. In 2005, industrial production accounted for 13% of GDP. In the past Myanmar was a net petroleum exporter, but production decreased steadily. Both oil and gas exploration is on-going with the participation of foreign companies, and in 1997/98 the energy sector grew by 37.7% (from virtual nonexistence) due to investment in the Yadana natural gas pipeline to Thailand, which came on-line in 1999. The $1.2 billion pipeline was a joint venture between the California company Unocal and the Myanmar military government. The government has plans to develop a $1 billion Myanmar-Bangladesh-India pipeline. For the most part, Myanmar's significant mineral resources have not been fully developed due to out-dated equipment and poor management.
Infrastructure is a major impediment to economic growth. Water treatment and distribution, sewage disposal, and irrigation systems, as well as power transmission and distribution, require up-grading. Industry faces chronic shortages of electricity. Roads are poor and many are not passable during parts of the year. Telephone facilities are lacking, but a telecommunications modernization program begun in the 1990s included the installation of a cellular telephone system in Yangon; as of yearend 2005, Myanmar had more than 135,000 mobile phones in use. The financial sector suffers from excessive bureaucratic red tape and foot-dragging by state economic enterprises fearing competition. The government drafted new laws on a central banking and financial institutions as steps toward improvement in the financial sector.
The government reported that the economy grew by 6% in 1995 and 6.8% in 1996. Growth was estimated by the US State Department at 1.1% for 1998. In 1999 strong growth of 10.9% was reported, propelled by a 13.8% growth in industry and 11.5% growth in agriculture. The government reported growth in 2000 at 13.6% overall but according to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), independent estimates suggested more modest progress of around 6%. Inflation had averaged about 25% for more than a decade, but a drop in food prices due to a bumper rice crop (and the heavy weight given rice in Myanmar's consumer price index) brought a sharp drop in inflation, to a negative 0.1% according to government statistics. In 2001 a slower annual growth of 5% was reported with a 9.6% resurgence of inflation.
The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that in 2005, the GDP growth rate stood at 1.5%. Official government statistics put the growth rate in 2004 at 13.8%. The CIA estimated the inflation rate to be 18% in 2005.
It should be noted that it is difficult to assess the true economic situation in Myanmar due to the existence of an enormous and all-pervasive informal market. Much of Myanmar's economic activity is illicit, notably the smuggling of drugs. Myanmar, which forms part of the "Golden Triangle" (along with Laos and Thailand), is the world's second-largest producer of illegal opiates. The government's efforts to control poppy production and drug traffic to China and Hong Kong are ineffective. Myanmar is also the primary source of amphetamine-type in Asia, producing hundreds of millions of tablets per year. Since 1989, the only kind of US aid for which Myanmar has been eligible, besides humanitarian aid, is counter-narcotic and crop substitution assistance, because of the human rights issues involved with the imposition of military rule in 1988. Large quantities of smuggled consumer goods are sold in Myanmar's cities, where the black market thrives.
The military regime, SLORC, which took over Myanmar in 1988, proclaimed a market oriented economic policy and invited foreign investment. A 1992 United Nations Development Programme report noted that Myanmar after a few years of recovery from the economic and political upheaval of 1988 was again slipping into recession and hyperinflation. Myanmar's main donors suspended aid. The country has not fully serviced its foreign debt since 1988. Two trends have been apparent in the government's economic policies: the capture of revenues from short term, quick turnover sources such as hardwoods, prospecting rights, and taxes on profits from illegal sources; and spending patterns that emphasize defense spending and acquisition of armaments. An estimated 87% of tax revenues are spent on the military whereas expenditures on health and on education both amount to less than 0.5% of GDP. Myanmar receives no aid from US or EU programs and aid from Japan is run at a maintenance level. The International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) extend no credit to Myanmar. The economy has been hurt by economic sanctions imposed by the United States: the United States imports no goods from Myanmar and bans the export of financial services from the United States to Myanmar. A number of other countries, including member states of the EU, Canada, Australia, Japan, and South Korea, have joined the United States in applying some form of sanctions against the regime.
The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2005 Myanmar's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $76.2 billion. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange based on current dollars. The per capita GDP was estimated at $1,800. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 1.5%. The average inflation rate in 2005 was 18%. It was estimated that agriculture accounted for 54.6% of GDP, industry 45%, and services 50%.
According to the World Bank, in 2003 remittances from citizens working abroad totaled $78 million.
It was estimated that for the period 1990 to 2003 household consumption grew at an average annual rate of 3.9%. It was estimated that in 2000 about 25% of the population had incomes below the poverty line.
In 2005, Myanmar's civilian labor force was estimated at 27.75 million. As of 2001 (the latest year for which data was available), an estimated 70% were engaged in agriculture, primarily rice cultivation, while industry accounted for 7% and services 23%. The unemployment rate was estimated at 5% in 2005.
No trade union or independent labor movement activity has occurred since 1988, when the government banned the workers' and peasants' organizations of the previous government, thereby eliminating any right to bargain collectively. Forced labor is frequently used by the military for building projects. Prison labor is also extensively used, especially in stone quarrying projects. Wage levels continue to be low and have been eroded by inflation.
While the official minimum working age is 13, the presence of child labor is conspicuous in both rural and urban areas. In the latter areas, most children work in small or family-owned businesses, while in rural areas children are employed in agricultural activities. Official data for 2002, shows that 6% of children in urban areas worked, but of that total, only 4% received wages.
Only government workers and employees of a few traditional industries are covered by a minimum wage. As of 2005, salaried public employees had a minimum wage of $0.13 per day for an eight hour workday, an amount that was grossly inadequate to support a worker and a family with a decent living standard. Inadequate wages, even among senior officials, has led to absenteeism and widespread corruption. In the private sector, laborers in urban areas earned about $0.50 to $1.00 per day, while workers in agricultural areas earned about half that amount. A skilled factory worker can earn around $3.00 a day. Health and safety risks in the workplace are prevalent.
Myanmar's exports of food accounted for 15% of its foreign exchange earnings in 2004. About 17% of the land is under cultivation. Agriculture generates roughly 70% of employment and 40% of the recorded GDP.
Rice, by far the most important agricultural product, in 2004 covered about 6 million hectares (14.8 million acres) of land in the fertile Irrawaddy delta region, the lower valleys of the Sittang and Salween rivers, and along the Arakan and Tenasserim coasts. Prior to World War II (1939–45), Myanmar was the world's leading exporter of rice; annual production ranged between 13 million and 14 million tons, of which about three million tons were exported. However, the war caused extensive damage to the economy, and Myanmar did not achieve prewar levels of rice acreage and output until 1964. Rice production totaled 9.57 million tons in 2004/05. Farmers have been instructed by the government to double-crop wet season paddy and triple-crop in areas with year-round access to water. In some areas near the sea, multiple cropping brings saltwater intrusion, high flood risks, and seasonal pest problems. New high-yield varieties of rice have contributed to the increases in recent years, along with the completion of new irrigation systems and flood-control dams in the Irrawaddy delta during the early 1980s.
Other crops in 2004, grown mainly in central Myanmar and the state of Shan, included 6,368,000 tons of sugarcane, 715,000 tons of groundnuts, 600,000 tons of corn, and 550,000 tons of sesame. The use of high-yield varieties of seeds helped to more than triple the output of wheat, corn, and sunflower seeds and to double cotton production during 1976–86. Tobacco and jute are also produced, and rubber is grown on small plantations in the Tenasserim and Irrawaddy delta regions. During the mid-1990s, Myanmar was the world's largest producer of opium and heroin, with opium production estimated at 2,560 tons in 1996. In 2003, opium poppy production was estimated at only 484 tons.
The total amount of land under cultivation declined in the 1970s, but the amount of paddy land increased. The Mu Valley irrigation project, implemented in north-central Myanmar with UNDP aid in the 1970s, irrigated 1.7 million hectares (4.2 million acres) of farmland. With the completion of the Nawin Dam in 1982, about 40,000 hectares (99,000 acres) of new irrigated land in the Prome region, north of Yangon (Rangoon), were added to the cultivated area. With IBRD and Asian Development Bank aid, new rice storage facilities, a system of drainage canals in the heavy-rainfall paddy land of lower Myanmar, and gravity irrigation systems in dry zones were constructed.
Despite Buddhist prohibitions against any kind of animal slaughter, the Myanma eat beef and other meats. Zebu cattle and water buffalo are mainly raised as draft animals; the output of such hides was 24,000 tons in 2005. Dairy farming is confined to the Shan and Kachin states; hogs and poultry are found in virtually every village.
In 2005, Myanmar had an estimated 12,000,000 head of cattle, 5,220,000 hogs, 2,700,000 water buffalo, 1,800,000 goats, 492,000 sheep, and 88,000,000 chickens, and 8,000,000 ducks. Meat production was 632,000 tons; milk from cattle, 677,000 tons (80% cow, 20% buffalo); eggs, 1,452,000 tons.
Fishing is the most significant nonagricultural pursuit in Myanmar. Fish, which supply the main protein element in the Myanma diet, generally are dried and salted before marketing or consumed fresh or as fish paste. Roho labeo and various carp are the main species caught. Traditionally, the Myanma preferred fish from fresh or brackish water; but saltwater fishing in the shallow waters of the Bay of Bengal, Andaman Sea, and Gulf of Martaban has increased in recent years. To encourage a larger saltwater catch, the government embarked on expanded deep-sea fishing operations and erected a cold storage plant, a fish cannery, and a fish oil and meal factory. The total fish catch in 2003 was 1,606,252 tons (67% saltwater, 23% freshwater), up from 686,515 tons in 1986. Aquaculture accounted for 16% of production in 2003. That year, exports of fish products were valued at $142.6 million.
Forests and woodland cover nearly half the country, even though the annual deforestation rate was 0.68% during 1975–89. Some 38% of the forest was Reserved Forest Area in 2001. Myanmar has a major share of the world's teak reserves, which constitute about one-third of the forested area. As the world's leading exporter of teak, Myanmar supplies about 75% of the world market. The lumbering of teak, a 10-year process from the first girdling of the tree to its arrival at the sawmill, was disrupted by World War II (1939–45); production rebounded to about 136,000 tons in 1986. Increased output of teak in the 1980s was attributable to completion of four modern timber-extraction projects. Teak log production totaled 2.21 million cu m (78.1 million cu ft) in 2004. A special teak plantation program begun in 1998 will provide a sustainable production of 1.8 million cu m (63.5 million cu ft) per year. Roundwood production in 2004 totaled 39.8 million cu m (1.4 billion cu ft). Other forest products include lac, catechu resin, and bamboo.
All foreign timber concessions have been nationalized, and all forests are government-owned; the State Timber Board (STB) lumbers, mills, and markets forest products. The export of forest products rose in value from $294.1 million in 1993 to $401.1 million in 2004.
With the exception of precious gemstones, of which Myanmar had large resources, mineral production was small, and mostly for domestic consumption. The mining sector, including oil and gas, contributed 2% of GDP in 2001. Copper, tin, tungsten, iron, construction materials, and fertilizer were among the country's leading industries in 2002; precious stones ranked fourth among export commodities, supplying 2% of export earnings.
Estimated outputs for 2003 were: copper (metal content), 27,900 metric tons, up from 27,500 metric tons in 2002; tin (metal content, from tin and tin-tungsten concentrate), 210 metric tons, unchanged from 2002; tungsten (metal content, from tin and tin-tungsten concentrate), 30 metric tons, unchanged from 2002; jade, 11 million kg, up from 10,800,000 kg in 2002; and spinel rubies and sapphires, 4.7 million carats, down from 4,769,511 carats in 2002. Metallic ores of chromite, gold, lead, manganese, nickel, silver, and zinc were mined in small amounts. Industrial mineral production included construction aggregates, barite, hydraulic cement, fire clay, feldspar, gypsum, limestone, salt (including brine salt), sand and gravel, and silica sand. Lead, zinc, silver, copper, nickel, and cobalt were produced at the Bawdwin mine, in Namtu. No carbonate rocks, or cobalt was produced in 2003. Deposits of iron ore and antimony have been found.
The government controlled all mineral exploration, extraction, regulation, and planning through the two departments and six enterprises of the Ministry of Mines. In 2001, state-owned enterprises—whose share of output was 5.5% (11.6% in 1998)—operated one gold mine (the Kyaukpahtoe), three nonferrous metals mines (the Bawdwin, Bawsaing, and the Yadanatheingi), and two coal mines. Of the four foreign exploration companies active in 2000, two were active in 2001—mining gypsum, zinc, and gold. The Myalate Taung limestone resources, in Kyaukse Township, Mandalay Division, had 291 million tons.
Myanmar's production of crude oil in 2002 averaged 15,000 barrels per day, with imports of crude averaging 8,120 barrels per day. Refined petroleum product output that year averaged 21,500 barrels per day, with demand for refined oil products at 34,500 barrels per day.
Gross natural gas output in 2002 came to 310.77 billion cu ft, with 3.53 billion cu ft vented or flared. Marketed output came to 307.24 billion cu ft of which dry production and consumption came to 296.65 billion cu ft and 77.69 billion cu ft, respectively.
Production of electricity in 2002 totaled 6.329 billion kWh, of which thermal plants provided about 65% and hydroelectric power about 35%. Electric power capacity came to 1.573 million kW in 2002, with conventional thermal supplying 75% of capacity. Electric power consumption in 2002 came to 5.886 billion kWh.
Industry is geared largely to the processing of agricultural, mineral, and forest products. More than half of Myanmar industrial production is accounted for by the public sector. Principal industrial products are cement, steel, bricks and tiles, fertilizers, and processed foods. Consumer goods that were imported before 1962 and are now manufactured domestically include blankets, paper, glass products, bicycles, and water pumps. Other major consumer manufactures are aluminum ware, jute and cotton cloth, pharmaceuticals, beverages, matches, and cigarettes. There is also a growing segment engaged in the assembly of television sets and motor vehicles. The main industrial area is Bago (formerly Pegu). Some manufacturing industries are privately owned and operated under government supervision.
Industrial production grew by 9.2% in fiscal year 1995–96, and represented about 11% of the gross domestic product in 1997. In 1998, despite the effects of the Asian financial crisis, industrial production grew 6.1%. Growth increased to 13.8% in 1999, when an estimated 10% of the labor force was employed in the industrial sector. In 2000, it was estimated that industry constituted 17% of GDP. In 2005, industry accounted for 13% of GDP. As of 2001, approximately 7% of the labor force was engaged in industrial production. The petroleum and petrochemical sector in Myanmar is entirely state-owned (excluding indigenous fuels such as charcoal). In 2006, Myanmar had three state-owned oil refineries. The $1.2 billion natural gas pipeline connecting to Thailand began operations in 1999, and plans for a $1 billion Myanmar-Bangladesh-India gas pipeline were underway in 2006.
Scientific research is conducted by the private Burma Research Society, founded in 1910, and by the government's Central Research Organization, consisting of various departments of the state ministries. Four institutes conduct research in applied sciences, medicine, and atomic energy. In addition, the Department of Land Management Studies Research of the Institute of Economics investigates problems posed by modernization techniques and industrial development. The Universities of Mandalay, Mawlamyine, and Yangon offer degrees in basic sciences. In 1987–97, science and engineering students accounted for 56% of college and university enrollments.
In 1964, the Ne Win government nationalized all wholesale businesses and the large private and cooperative shops; small retail shops, hotels, restaurants, and village cooperatives were exempted. The People's Stores Corp., established in 1964, was initially responsible for the importation and distribution of essential foreign goods, the distribution of consumer goods produced in Myanmar, and the sale of domestic products in foreign markets. The corporation was administered by a council headed by the Ministry of Supplies and Cooperatives. In 1970, the "people's stores," most of which had been unsuccessful, were replaced by consumer cooperatives. Beginning in 1966, the government set all commodity prices and controlled distribution systems; in September 1987, the Burmese people were told that they could buy, sell, and store rice and other grains free of government restrictions. These liberalization measures have been most effective in the agricultural sector, although overall, the military still controls the lion's share of the economy. As of 2001, about 70% of the work force was employed in agriculture.
Although significant marketing is done at Bago (Pegu), Mandalay, Mawlamyine (Moulmein), Pathein (Bassein), Henzada, Akyab (Sittwe), and Dawei (Tavoy), Yangon (Rangoon) is Myanmar's most important business center. Myanmar's domestic economy is paralleled by a huge black market economy that co-exists with the official one; the underground economy may be twice as large as the legal economy. A factor in the decline of Myanmar's domestic production is dependence on border trade, which undermines Myanmar's manufacturing sector with cheap foreign consumer goods. Credit cards are not widely accepted.
Normal business hours are 9:30 am to 4:30 pm, Monday through Friday; small private shops keep longer hours than government offices and enterprises. Banks are usually open 10 am to 2 pm, Monday through Friday.
It is estimated that from 1992 to 1995 the legal merchandise trade deficit (excluding military imports) grew from $412 million to $737 million. All financial estimates are suspect because of the exclusion of a large extralegal sector and substantial military imports, neither of which are included in official figures. The value of opiate exports alone may now be roughly comparable to all legal merchandise and service exports receipts. Border areas not under the control of the government also engage in unreported exports of timber, rice, jade, gems, minerals, and rare animals. Consumer goods, diesel fuel, and other products are smuggled in from Thailand, China, Malaysia, and India.
In 2004, Myanmar's primary export partners were: Thailand (38.9%), India (11.5%), China (5.9%), and Japan (5.2%). That year, the primary import partners were: China (29.8%), Singapore (20.8%), Thailand (19.3%), South Korea (5.2%), and Malaysia (4.8%).
In 2005, the government estimated the value of exports to be $2.514 billion, and that of imports to be $2.183 billion. However, the official figures are grossly underestimated due to the value of products smuggled in and out of neighboring countries. In 2005, the current-account balance was estimated at -$215 million. That year, total external debt was estimated at $6.967 billion.
Effective 23 February 1963, all 24 commercial banks in Myanmar—10 foreign and 14 indigenously owned—were nationalized and amalgamated into 4 state banks. In addition to the Central Bank of Myanmar, Union of Burma Bank, which serves as a central bank, the other state banks were the State Agricultural Bank, the State Commercial Bank, and the Industrial Bank. After subsequent reorganizations of the banking system, these became the Myanma Investment and Commercial Bank, Myanma Economic Bank, and the Myanma Foreign Trade Bank. Agricultural credit is provided by a separate Myanmar Agricultural and Rural Development Bank. Public savings increased sharply in 1977 after the banks raised interest rates. Efforts to attract the considerable liquidity in the hands of the public into the banking sector, and thence into investment, have not had much success.
By the end of 1994, licenses to open representative offices had been issued to 19 banks from overseas—six from Thailand, five from Singapore, three from Malaysia, and one each from France, Indonesia, Cambodia, Hong Kong, and Bangladesh. Eventually, 54 foreign banks had offices in Myanmar, but 2000–02, 21 of them left the country, and nine more downgraded their operations there. As of the end of 2002, 27 foreign banks have representative offices in Burma, but none from the United States. Since
|China, Hong Kong SAR||68.0||89.3||-21.3|
|(…) data not available or not significant.|
|Balance on goods||577.7|
|Balance on services||-55.0|
|Balance on income||-601.8|
|Direct investment abroad||…|
|Direct investment in Myanmar||133.5|
|Portfolio investment assets||…|
|Portfolio investment liabilities||…|
|Other investment assets||…|
|Other investment liabilities||-104.7|
|Net Errors and Omissions||-39.5|
|Reserves and Related Items||-38.9|
|(…) data not available or not significant.|
1994 four private domestic banks have been permitted to conduct foreign exchange transactions for the first time. Various types of foreign exchange licenses have been issued to the private sector by the Central Bank. It issued seven authorized dealer licenses, three money changer licenses, 396 acceptor and holder licenses, and 66 FEC changer licenses in August 1994. Despite the liberalization of its economy, the country still lacks a capital market. The International Monetary Fund reports that in 2001, currency and demand deposits—an aggregate commonly known as M1—were equal to $103.9 billion. In that same year, M2—an aggregate equal to M1 plus savings deposits, small time deposits, and money market mutual funds—was $170.7 billion. The discount rate, the interest rate at which the central bank lends to financial institutions in the short term, was 10%.
All 78 foreign insurance companies registered in Myanmar were nationalized on 1 March 1963. All forms of insurance, including life, fire, marine, automobile, workers' compensation, personal accident, and burglary, are handled by the Myanma Insurance Corp. Life insurance coverage is compulsory for government employees.
The government presents its budget in March for the 1 April–31 March fiscal year. The public sector budget typically shows an overall deficit because of economic mismanagement.
The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that in 2005 Myanmar's central government took in revenues of approximately $523.5 million and had expenditures of $769.3 million. Revenues minus expenditures totaled approximately -$245.8 million. Total external debt was $6.967 billion.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reported that in 2002, the most recent year for which it had data, central government revenues were k279,377 million and expenditures were k353,389
|Revenue and Grants||279,377||100.0%|
|General public services||82,572||23.4%|
|Public order and safety||…||…|
|Housing and community amenities||3,543||1.0%|
|Recreational, culture, and religion||2,382||0.7%|
|(…) data not available or not significant.|
million. The value of revenues was us$42,501 million and expenditures us$53,760 million, based on a official exchange rate for 2002 of us$1 = k6.5734 as reported by the IMF. Government outlays by function were as follows: general public services, 23.4%; defense, 21.5%; economic affairs, 31.4%; housing and community amenities, 1.0%; health, 5.3%; recreation, culture, and religion, 0.7%; education, 14.6%; and social protection, 2.0%.
Residents pay a progressive individual income tax with a top rate of 30%. The corporate tax rate is 30% with a 10% capital gains tax (40% for nonresident companies). Indirect taxes include a commercial tax on prescribed services, ranging from 5–30%, and on goods, ranging from 5–200%. There are also social security taxes, customs duties, royalties on natural resources, stamp tax, and property tax. The ratio of tax revenues to GDP is very low, estimated at between 2.3–3.6%, of which it is also estimated that 87% goes to the military.
Duties are primarily intended to raise revenue, although their financial importance is limited by the fact that the government itself—through its Myanmar Export-Import Corp.—is by far the country's predominant importer. Import licenses are required for shipment of almost anything into the country. The official exchange rate overvalues the domestic currency by 100 times. Until Myanmar joined ASEAN in July 1997, customs tariffs ranged from zero to 500%. In 1997, a new tariff schedule went into effect ranging from zero to 15% for most industrial inputs to a maximum of 40% for cars and luxury items. In spring 1998 a 10% service fee (reduced to 8% by September) was enacted on all border-trade exports.
Foreign investment in Myanmar was heavy before World War II, but in the postwar period, and particularly after independence, a government policy of economic nationalism (and later socialism) strongly discouraged private foreign investment. After the nationalization of industry in 1963–64, private foreign investment in Myanmar was eliminated entirely. In 1976, the government indicated a willingness to establish "mutually beneficial economic cooperation" with foreign enterprises having the technology that Myanmar needed. The scope of state capitalism was expanded when the Saw Maung regime legalized internal and external trade without giving up control of major industries.
Foreign investment in Myanmar has been permitted only since 1988 under the Union of Myanmar Foreign Investment Law, and the level and variety of investment is limited. Sectors eligible for foreign investment include manufacturing, oil and gas exploration and development, mining (except gold and precious stones), jewelry production, and agriculture. The Foreign Investment Commission (FIC) screens foreign investment proposals for export generation potential, technology transfer, and the size of the investment. Various investment incentives are provided, such as exemption from income tax, and relief or exemption from customs duties. Bureaucratic procedures and a antiquated and inadequate infrastructure hamper foreign and local investments alike. Foreign entities cannot own land in Myanmar. Foreign investors must also fear being criticized in the West for investing in a country with a long record of human rights violations. In 1996 a lawsuit was brought against Unocal for its predication in the joint venture building the natural gas pipeline with Thailand, and the forced labor and other human rights abuses connected with the construction. The Clinton administration pressured Unocal to sell its shares in the Myanmar Oil and Gas Company (MOGC). The French company Total had earlier been pressed to sell its share in MOGC to Unocal.
In 1997, Myanmar was admitted to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a step that might have relieved some of the international pressure against doing business in the country; however, in May of that year, the US government enacted restriction against new investment in Myanmar by US companies or citizens.
As of 2001, foreign investment under the liberalized regime of 1988 totaled about $7.4 billion. Of that amount, investment from the United States totaled only $582 million, with the majority, 51.35%, coming from ASEAN countries, including $1.5 billion from Singapore, $1.2 billion from Thailand, $597 million from Malaysia, $240 million from Indonesia, and $147 million from the Philippines. The United Kingdom, however, was the second-largest source of approved investments, at $1.4 billion. Investments from France and Japan totaled $470 million and $233 million, respectively.
After the Asian financial crisis, however, foreign investment dropped off considerably. Of the total, only $1.17 billion (16.8%) represents approved investment value after 1996, $673.6 million or 57.59% from ASEAN countries. In 1996/97, annual foreign investment peaked at $2.6 billion and then fell to $29.5 million in 1997/98. The continuance of the declining trend was made starkly apparent in the first six months of 2002 when investment from ASEAN members fell to zero, compared to an already-low $32.28 million from these countries in the first six months of 2001. In 2003 the government introduced a measure that stopped the issue of import and export permits to Myanmar-based foreign companies, making the regime less attractive to foreign investors. Also in 2003, the US government banned the importation of goods from Myanmar to the United States, and banned the export from the United States to Myanmar of financial services. The US also seized the assets of some Burmese entities.
According to government figures, at the end of March 2004, the total stock of inward FDI in Myanmar amounted to $7.59 billion. However, this figure does not factor in subsequent disinvestment, or investment that was approved but didn't actually enter the country. In 2003–04, there was an estimated 4.6% year-on-year increase in the value of new FDI approvals ($91.17 million) over 2002–03, in five sectors. The new investments came from Canada, China, Hong Kong, South Korea, Thailand, and the United Kingdom. As of March 2004, the countries with the largest share of FDI stock in Myanmar were: Singapore, the United Kingdom, Thailand, Malaysia, the United States, France, Indonesia, the Netherlands, Japan, and South Korea (in that order).
The major aim of Myanmar's government has been to rehabilitate, modernize, and diversify an economy that was extensively disrupted by World War II and that failed to develop from the 1940s through the 1960s. To this end, all foreign companies, all banks, the entire transport system, all foreign and much domestic trade, and all the main branches of industry were nationalized. Some nationalized industries initially showed declines in output, while others were hard pressed to hold their own. By 1974, the government had no choice but to modify some of its more rigidly Socialist economic policies. Economic development proceeded slowly under the four-year plan for 1974–78 and the 1978–82 development program, which was allocated 60% more funding than its predecessor and which achieved an annual growth rate exceeding 6%. The four-year plan for 1982–86, costing an estimated $5 billion, set an average annual growth target of 6.2%. The plan stressed infrastructural development, with particular emphasis on agriculture, construction, and energy production. The four-year plan for 1986–90 encouraged foreign investment. Since 1990, private investment has been encouraged as the government attempts to revitalize the economy.
In 2001, the government introduced its third five year short-term plan, with a targeted average growth rate of 6%. However, both continued reform and substantial foreign investment would be necessary to meet the goals of the plan. Such needed reforms include dismantling unproductive state-owned enterprises, establishing an independent state bank, making available private sector credit, controlling government spending, and adjusting the official exchange rate.
In February 2003, a major banking crisis affected the country's 20 private banks, closing them and disrupting the economy. As of yearend 2005, the largest private banks remained moribund, leaving the private sector with little formal access to credit. Burma's trade with China, Thailand, and India is increasing. Although Myanmar has relatively amicable relations with its neighbors, a better political situation and improved investment climate are needed to promote foreign investments, exports, and tourism.
Although considerable advances have been made in health services, Myanmar's goal of establishing a welfare state has been limited by lack of public funds. In 1956, the government inaugurated a social security program that compensates workers for wage losses arising from sickness, injury, and maternity leave, provides free medical care, and establishes survivors' benefits. The program is funded by contributions from employers, employees, and the government. As yet, Myanmar does not have unemployment insurance, but public employees are entitled to old age pensions.
Women have a high status in Myanmar's society and economic life. They may retain their maiden name after marriage, may obtain divorces without undue difficulty, and enjoy equal property and inheritance rights with men. Traditional views of women often prevent them from entering male dominated occupations, and they do not always receive equal pay for equal work. Domestic abuse is a problem, but there are no statistics to estimate how prevalent it is. Married women tend to live with extended families, which provides some protection from abuse.
Myanmar's military regime continues to systematically engage in human rights abuses. Prison conditions are poor and mistreatment of prisoners is widespread. Arrests are often made arbitrarily and many detainees are held incommunicado. Ethnic minorities face discrimination. Those of Muslim, Indian and Chinese descent, for example, are not free to travel domestically and are barred from certain university programs.
Until the 1980s and 1990s, few people in rural areas had the benefit of modern medicine. To correct this deficiency, the country's health services were reorganized by sending more doctors to rural areas and increasing the number of rural health centers. Doctors in private practice were inducted for two years of national service. The progress of the health services in the 1980s is reflected in the reduction of the physician/population ratio from 1 per 15,560 in 1960 to 1 per 3,578 by 1986. To staff the new hospitals and dispensaries, medical schools have been expanded, nurse and midwife training courses increased, an institute of paramedical science was established, and a new college of dentistry opened. As of 2004, there were an estimated 30 physicians, 27 nurses, 2 dentists, and 22 midwives per 100,000 people.
A team of nutritionists conducts research on the nation's diet and disseminates its findings and recommendations through the press, radio, and demonstrations in offices and factories. One result of these efforts has been that the average height and weight of Myanmar's populace have increased.
Smallpox and plague have been virtually eliminated as health hazards and programs are under way to eradicate malaria and tuberculosis. However, gastrointestinal diseases such as typhoid, dysentery, and cholera remain prevalent. One of the problems yet to be overcome is the lack of potable water for residents; in 2000, 68% of the population had access to safe drinking water and 46% had adequate sanitation. Another serious health problem is drug addiction, exacerbated by the easy availability and low cost of opium. Under a drug abuse control program financed by the United States and the UN, a new 300-bed hospital for addicts opened in 1982 at Thayetmyo, along the Irrawaddy in central Myanmar; smaller facilities have been established in about two dozen other towns.
The infant mortality rate dropped from 129.9 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1960 to about 63.56 in 2005, while average life expectancy rose to 60.70 years. It was estimated that 60% of the population had access to health services. Immunization was estimated to have saved 60,000 young children and averted 2.4 incidences of vaccine-preventable diseases. The immunization rates for children under one were as follows: tuberculosis, 83%; diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus, 77%; and polio, 77%. The level of measles immunization rose by more than 50% between 1988 and 1994. By 2000, 83% of children were immunized for DPT and 85% for measles.
The total fertility rate decreased from 5.1 in 1990 to 3 in 2000. The maternal mortality rate was 230 per 100,000 live births. It was estimated that 29% of children under the age of five were malnourished.
The HIV/AIDS prevalence was 1.20 per 100 adults in 2003. As of 2004, there were approximately 330,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in the country. There were an estimated 20,000 deaths from AIDS in 2003.
Prewar housing in Myanmar compared favorably with that in other Southeast Asian nations, but housing conditions have deteriorated. The housing requirement for Yangon has been estimated at about 10,000 units needed per year, but as of 2003 average construction rates were expected to meet only about 20% of the need. In 2000, about 68% of the population had access to improved water sources and 46% of the population had access to improved sanitation. Urban dwellings are overcrowded and often unsafe. The last available statistics indicate that over 50% of all housing units were built of wood and bamboo. The government has been working on projects to alleviate homelessness and the prevalence of squatter communities in many areas by building apartment-style structures to replace hut dwellings.
The system of education initiated by the Ne Win government in 1964 equates learning with livelihood. At that time, the government announced its intention of opening at least one agrarian high school and one technical high school in each district. By 1967 there were six agricultural high schools, seven industrial trade schools, and one technical high school in the country, and the government had taken over about 880 private schools.
Education is free, although informal fees were increasingly imposed in the late 1990s. Primary education is compulsory for primary school, which covers a five-year course of study. This is followed by four years of middle school and two years of high school or technical school. Generally, Burmese is the language of instruction, and English is taught in the secondary schools; as of 1982, however, English became the medium of instruction in the universities.
In 2001, less than 2% of children between the ages of three and four were enrolled in some type of preschool program. Primary school enrollment in 2003 was estimated at about 84% of age-eligible students. The same year, secondary school enrollment was about 35% of age-eligible students. It is estimated that about 73.2% of all students complete their primary education. The student-to-teacher ratio for primary school was at about 33:1 in 2003; the ratio for secondary school was also about 33:1.
Postsecondary institutions include 18 teacher-training colleges, 6 agricultural institutes, 8 technical institutes, and 35 universities and colleges. All of them are state institutions. In 2001, about 12% of the tertiary age population were enrolled in some type of higher education program; 8% for men and 15% for women. The Mass Education Council has attempted to increase literacy through special programs. The adult literacy rate for 2004 was estimated at about 89.7%, with 93.7% for men and 86.2% for women. However, international observers question this figure, estimating that literacy rates are much lower since up to 40% of children in rural areas do not enroll in school and those who do drop out early.
As of 2003, public expenditure on education was estimated at 1.3% of GDP, or 18.1% of total government expenditures.
The Myanmar National Library in Tamwe Township, founded in 1952, contains over 180,000 books. Other large libraries are the Arts and Science University Library in Mandalay, with 175,000 volumes, and the University of Yangon with 350,000 volumes. There are also several small college libraries, as well as state libraries and museums at Pathein (Bassein), Kyaukpyu, Mandalay, and Mawlamyine (Moulmein). The Myanmar Library Association was founded in 1990.
The National Museum of Art and Archaeology in Yangon was founded in 1952 and includes among its collection a replica of King Mindon's Mandalay Palace. The National Museum of Mandalay (1905) is housed in the Glass Palace and features historical relics of Burmese culture. Sometimes called the "land of golden pagodas," Myanmar also has thousands of Buddhist temples, many of which have been repaired and restored.
The director-general of posts and telegraphs controls the telephone, telegraph, radio, and postal communications systems. A satellite communications station that began operating in 1979 links Myanmar with more than 100 countries. In 2003, there were an estimated seven mainline telephones for every 1,000 people; about 102,000 people were on a waiting list for telephone service installation. The same year, there was approximately one mobile phone in use for every 1,000 people.
The government provides the only radio and television transmissions through Voice of Myanmar and TV–Myanmar (which broadcasts in color). As of 2004, there were 2 television stations and 1 AM and 1 FM radio stations. In 2003, there were an estimated 66 radios and 7 television sets for every 1,000 people. The same year, there were 5.6 personal computers for every 1,000 people and one of every 1,000 people had access to the Internet. There were two secure Internet servers in the country in 2004.
Chinese- and Indian-language newspapers are not allowed by the government, but two daily papers are still published in English. Leading newspapers in 1999 included Kyemon (1999 circulation, 100,000), Myanma Alin (400,000), and The New Light of Myanmar (14,000). There are some privately published magazines, but none has a high circulation or major influence.
The government professes to uphold freedom of the press, but there are no privately owned newspapers and the print media are government-controlled. In 1963, the government established its own press agency, the News Agency of Burma, with a monopoly on internal news distribution. As of 2002, the six daily papers (with language of publication and estimated circulation figures) were: Myanmar Alin (Burmese, 400,000), Loktha Pyithu Nayzin (Burmese and English, 184,000), Kyemon (Burmese, 100,000), Botahtuang (Burmese, 96,000), The Hanthawaddy (Burmese, 23,000), and The New Light of Myanmar (English, 14,000).
Although Myanmar has most common types of educational, religious, cultural, and social organizations, those associated with capitalist economic activity have all but disappeared. The Rotary Clubs were forced by the government to disband in late 1975, as were numerous other Western-style organizations before them. There are many cooperative and producers' societies, as well as substantial numbers of consumer cooperatives.
Myanmar Medical Association promotes research and education on health issues and works to establish common policies and standards in healthcare.
The Lanzin Youth Movement, founded in 1984, is a coordinating body for all of the national youth organizations. Youth branches of the Union Solidarity and Development Association and the Myanmar Red Cross Society are extremely popular. The YMCA and YWCA are also major organizations. Several sports associations are active throughout the country. The Myanmar Maternal and Child Welfare Association, founded in 1991, is the major social welfare organization.
Principal attractions include the palaces, Buddhist temples, and shrines in the two largest cities and in the ancient city of Pagan. River cruises are also popular. A visitor to Myanmar must have a passport and visa. Travelers are also encouraged to carry cash as credit cards are not highly accepted.
With the inception of military rule in 1988, tourism declined sharply but has risen again since 1990. The country encourages tourism, although it still remains undeveloped due to political unrest. In 2003, about 206,000 foreign visitors traveled to Myanmar There were 17,039 hotel rooms with 34,078 beds and a 20% occupancy rate. Visitors stayed an average of four nights.
The US Department of State estimated the daily cost of staying in Rangoon at $155 in 2004.
U Nu (Thakin Nu, 1907–95) was independent Myanmar's first premier (1948–62) and shares fame as founder of modern Myanmar with Aung San (1916–47), called the Father of the Burmese Revolution. Ne Win (Maung Shu Maung, 1911–2002) became premier in March 1962 and was president from 1974 to 1981. U Thant (1909–74) served as UN secretary-general from 1961 through 1971. Human rights activist Aung San Suu Kyi (b.1946) was awarded the 1990 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the European Parliament, the 1990 Thorolf Rafto Human Rights Prize by Norway, and the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize.
Anawrahta, who founded the early Burmese kingdom of Pagan in 1044 and established Hinayana Buddhism as the official religion, is a great figure in Burmese history, as are the Toungoo warrior-king Bayinnaung (r.1551–81) and Alaungpaya (r.1752–60), who established the dynasty that ruled Myanmar until 1886. Great writers of the Burmese past include Bhikkhu Ratthasara, author of the poem Hatthipala Pyo, on the life of Gautama Buddha; Nawedegyi and Natshinnaung, poets of the Toungoo dynasties; and Binnyadala, who wrote of the long struggles of the Burmese king of Ava. In more recent times, U Ba Nyan and U Ba Zaw, well-known painters of the 1920s, introduced Western-style art into Myanmar; both died in the 1940s.
Myanmar has no territories or colonies.
Becka, Jan. Historical Dictionary of Myanmar. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow, 1995.
Buddhism and Politics in Twentieth-Century Asia. New York: Pinter, 1999.
Burma Myanmar. 8th ed. Maspeth, NY: APA Publications, 2000.
Burma: Political Economy under Military Rule. New York: Palgrave, 2001.
Herbert, Patricia M. Burma. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Clio Press, 1991.
Saito, Teruko and Lee Kin Kiong. Burmese Economy. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1999.
Seekins, Donald M. Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow, 2006.
Silverstein, Josef. The Political Legacy of Aung San. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University, 1993.
Skidmore, Monique (ed.). Burma at the Turn of the Twenty-first Century. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2005.
Win Pe. Dos and Don'ts in Myanmar. 1st ed. Bangkok, Thailand: Book Promotion and Service Ltd., 1996.
Union of Myanmar
Amarapura, Bassein, Bhamo, Henzada, Mogok, Moulmein, Myitkyina, Pyè, Sandoway, Sittwe, Tavoy
This chapter was adapted from the Department of State Post Report 2001 for Myanmar. Supplemental material has been added to increase coverage of minor cities, facts have been updated, and some material has been condensed. Readers are encouraged to visit the Department of State's web site at http://travel.state.gov/ for the most recent information available on travel to this country.
For over half a century Myanmar (formerly Burma) has been bloodied and bowed by dictators, militia governments, and rebel factions. Successive dictators have tried (but failed) to extinguish any notion of democracy by arresting entire parliaments, suppressing any dissenting voices, and by using forced labor to prop up a failing economy.
As Myanmar moves into the 21st century, it is attempting to abandon its isolationist and socialist politics for economic pragmatism. The ruling junta is trying to perfect the juggling act of wooing foreign investment while simultaneously maintaining its vice-like grip on power. Revolutionists are split between maintaining the revolutionary rage and settling for food on the table.
The 11th-century Burman kingdom of Bagan was the first to gain control of the territory that is present-day Myanmar, but it failed to unify the disparate racial groups and collapsed before a Tartar invasion in 1287. For the next 250 years, Burma remained in chaos, and the territory was not reunified until the mid-16th century.
In 1852 Burma became a part of British India, and the British built a colonial infrastructure and developed the country into a major rice exporter. Indians and Chinese arrived with the British to complicate the racial mix. In 1937, Burma was separated from British India, and there was nascent murmuring for self-rule. In 1948, Burma became independent and almost immediately began to disintegrate as hill tribes, communists, Moslems, and Mons all revolted.
In 1987, massive confrontations between prodemocracy demonstrators and the military resulted in a military coup. The new leader promised elections in 1989, but the junta prevented the elected party leaders from taking office.
The Union of Burma was renamed the Union of Myanmar in 1989 in order to reflect the multi-racial make up of the country.
Agitation for reform and real democracy is still being fought on the streets of Yangon. Old guard revolutionists insist that independence can only be won through maintaining embargoes and upholding the sanctions on tourism, whereas more practical proindependent supporters find themselves agreeing that "opposing foreign aid and investment and opposing tourism is like breaking the rice bowl of the man on the street."
Because of the government's clampdown on outside influences, it is one of the least Western-influenced countries in the world. Many people mistake this for quaintness, but no one should be blinded to the political realities that created this situation.
Myanmar has some magical sights, incredibly friendly people, and offers a glimpse of a bizarre Orwellian society that has withdrawn from contact with the late 20th century.
Yangon (formerly Rangoon) is a British and Indian creation. Although Myanmar villages existed near the great Shwedagon Pagoda for many centuries, modern Yangon dates from about 1852, when it was designated the capital for British-held Lower Myanmar. British firms were brought in to develop the economy of the new colony, and Indian workers and business representatives followed in great numbers. The Myanmars remained a minority in Yangon until after independence in 1948, and even today Yangon's atmosphere is far more multiracial than that of other Myanmar cities. Yangon's population is a mixture of Myanmas, Indians, Karens, and Chinese, with a few non-Myanma ethnic groups.
The golden Shwedagon Pagoda, dominates the Yangon skyline and landscape. Located within the city are Royal Lake and Inya Lake, the shorelines of which are dotted with large, handsome houses in varying states of repair. Many of Yangon's public buildings are attractive. Streets were widened and public parks spruced up after the 1988 military takeover.
Electrical power in Myanmar is 220v, 50-cycles. Brownouts, blackouts, and voltage fluctuations are common. Telephone service is sporadic.
Imported canned goods are sold locally. Supplies are not reliable, and prices are extremely high. Fresh beef, lamb, pork, chicken, and seafood are sold but must be carefully prepared. Most fresh food items are bought in the local market. Excellent crab, shrimp, fish, and pork are available year round. Fresh vegetables available include cabbage, string beans, carrots, potatoes, squash, beets, spinach, onions, okra, eggplant, cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, cauliflower, and sometimes broccoli and snow peas. Some people bring seeds for home vegetable gardens. Excellent rice is available and inexpensive. Avocados, watermelons, mangoes, papayas, pineapples, pamelos, mangosteens, strawberries, oranges, sweet limes, and tangerines can be purchased in season. Bananas and limes are sold year round.
Many items can be bought in Bangkok while out of the country, but they can be expensive and airfare is high.
Clothing should be light, summer type fashion and washable. Very few items of Western clothing are available in shops. Bring what you need with you and use mail orders for replenishment. Bangkok is the only nearby source for ready-made clothing and footwear. Tailor made wear of excellent quality is available in Bangkok and Hong Kong. Yangon has a few acceptable dressmakers, and a limited selection of Myanmar silk and cotton is available. Those expecting to participate in sports such as golf and tennis should bring appropriate clothing and footwear with them. Bring swimwear.
Men: Most wear shirts without ties or safari suits to the office. Occasional "informal" receptions call for a business suit. Social functions are "casual," with sport shirts and slacks prevailing.
Women: In the evening, dresses and skirts are worn for both casual and informal social functions. What is appropriate for social events in the U.S. will be suitable in Myanmar, except for short skirts and dresses.
Around Yangon, skirts and modest attire are expected. Some women wear nylon hose in the cooler season. Hats are not worn. Light evening wraps, shawls, or sweaters are occasionally needed during the cool season or for trips to Upper Myanmar. Umbrellas are necessary for the monsoon season and are sometimes used for sun protection. Raincoats are not practical in the tropical heat.
Children: Although the international school has no uniform dress code, dress, in general, should be in line with the Myanmar sense of modesty. Girls wear dresses, skirts, slacks, jeans. Boys wear long pants, jeans, and shorts. Shorts are needed for physical education by both boys and girls.
In high school, girls are not allowed to wear shorts to school except for physical education. They wear dresses, skirts, slacks, and jeans. Boys are allowed to wear the longer length shorts plus slacks and jeans. Sneakers, sandals, and thongs are common footwear; bring a good supply of children's shoes along with you.
Supplies and Services
Local dressmakers and tailors are satisfactory. Services are reasonable, and quality ranges from fair to excellent. Local sewing supplies such as thread, elastic, zippers, buttons, snaps, and interlining are of poor quality, and the supply is limited.
Laundry is usually done in the home by a maid. Good dry cleaning is available. Some personnel carry their dry cleaning along on occasional trips to Bangkok, Singapore, or Hong Kong and have it done there.
A few hairdressers are available, but styling, cutting, and cleanliness are below par. Bring any special preparations needed for hair care. Electrical appliance repair is poor; spare parts are not available.
Servants' wages are reasonable. For a family, the staff usually includes a cook/bearer who cooks, serves meals, and cleans; a wash nanny to do washing and ironing; and a gardener. A driver is also helpful, particularly if children must be taken to school. A family with small children may also need a nanny to care for the children. The employer traditionally assumes responsibility for the health and welfare of servants, and often of their families.
The International School of Yangon (ISY) is a private, coeducational day school that offers an educational program from prekindergarten through grade 12 for students of all nationalities. The curriculum is that of a standard college preparatory U.S. elementary, middle, or high school. Students at the elementary level (grades 1 to 5) have daily classes in English (reading, writing, speaking, and listening), mathematics, social studies (geography, history, and social science), and science. These classes are usually taught by the homeroom teachers. Students at the middle-school level (grades 6 to 8) begin a transition to high school. They study the same subjects as in elementary school, but may be taught by different, subject specialist teachers. Students at the high school level (grades 9 to 12) earn credits each semester in order to accumulate at least 21 credits over 4 years and earn a high school diploma. Music, art, computer studies, and physical education are offered at all grade levels. English-as-a second-language, is offered to students in grades 3 to 12.
Students in the upper grades have the opportunity to study French and Spanish as foreign languages. The testing program includes the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (grades 3-8) and the Tests of Achievement and Proficiency (grades 9-11). The PSAT, SAT, and TOEFL exams are regularly offered.
College Entrance: 95% of ISY graduates attend a 4-year college.
Recent graduates have matriculated at Bradley University, University of San Francisco, King's college, Ithaca College, Duquesne University, Syracuse University, Tufts University, Purdue University, Colorado School of Mines, Texas' Women University, University of Houston, State University of New York, Hamilton College, Fordham University, Queen's University, McGill University, Carnegie Mellon University, Duke University, Cornell University, Bucknell University, University of Pacific, Tulane University, Colorado College, University of California Santa Cruz.
ISY is fully accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges and by the East Asia Regional Council of Overseas Schools.
There were 46 full-time and 3 part-time faculty members at the beginning of the 1999-2000 school year, including 30 U.S. citizens, 15 host country nationals, and 4 third-country nationals.
Enrollment at the beginning of the 1999-2000 school year was 342 (pre-kindergarten through grade 12), including 40 U.S. citizens, 108 host country nationals and 194 children of other nationalities.
The school is governed by a 9-mem-ber Board of Management. Eight members are elected for 2-year terms by the Parents Association, the sponsors of the school. Membership in the association is automatically conferred on the parents or guardians of children enrolled in the school. One member of the Board of Management represents the U. S. Ambassador. ISY is in practice sponsored by the US. Embassy. The school is nonprofit and nonsectarian. It is unofficially permitted to operate by the Myanmar Government.
The school consists of six buildings on a 4-acre site in a residential area of Yangon. It has a well-equipped library, two music rooms, 2 art rooms, 2 computer rooms, 2 science laboratories and a multipurpose room. All indoor facilities are air-conditioned. There is a playground, a playing field, and 2 basketball/volleyball courts. No boarding facilities are available.
Annual tuition rates for 2000-2001 are as follows: prekindergarten; $1,706, kindergarten; $5,640, and grades 1 to 12, $7,890. These fees are payable in U.S. dollars only. There is a registration fee of $1,000, payable by each new student. In addition, a capital fee of $4,000 per new student (grades 1-12) is levied. The capital fee for kindergarten is $1,000. If a child has paid $1,000 in kindergarten, he/she will be asked to pay the remaining $3,000 when he/she enters first grade. Fees are payable by semester.
The school year is divided into two semesters. In 2000-2001, the dates are August 9-December 22 and January 15-May 30. Classes meet Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. After-school activities often extend the day to 3:30 p.m. or later.
Special Educational Opportunities
Art classes are available by excellent Myanmar artists, but bring your own supplies. Local special meditation centers accept foreigners as students. Private tutoring can also be arranged for various foreign languages and for piano and guitar lessons. Inexpensive guitars are available locally but are of poor quality, and pianos can be rented but their quality ranges from fair to poor.
Burmese-language classes are available as are private tutors are available.
Yangon's climate and facilities make outdoor sports possible and enjoyable except during the 2-3 months of heavy monsoon. Almost every sport is available in Yangon.
From November to March, softball is a major part of the sports scene. The AERA sponsors a slow-pitch league with men's and women's divisions, and the international and Myanmar communities field teams. There are also T-Ball and softball leagues for children ages 5-13. Bring shoes, gloves, and caps. Metal cleats are not permitted. The leagues play their games on the weekends and provide a spectator sport for the whole community.
In May, volleyball succeeds the softball season at the AERA Club. The game is enjoyed by most of the American and international community.
Tennis is very popular among the American and international community. Tennis is played mainly at American homes or compounds with courts. Good tennis racquets are sold locally. Tennis shoes wear out rapidly on the cement courts. Excellent instruction is available at reasonable fees.
Two 18-hole golf courses, the Myanmar Golf Club and the Yangon Golf Club, are located 10 miles and 16 miles, respectively, from downtown. Clubs, gloves, and bags are not available, but golf balls are sold occasionally at the course. Golfers should bring umbrellas, canvas shoes, and moisture-proof shoes as the courses are very wet during the rainy season. Instruction is inexpensive and good.
The Yangon Sailing Club on Inya Lake provides small sailboats, 12-foot Sharpies and 14-foot Raters, for members. Old hands are willing to help beginners. Races are held weekly.
The Yangon Riding Club is located at the Kyaikkasan Grounds about 3-4 miles from downtown Yangon. English riding instruction is available from Myanmar riding masters. The horses and livery are not the best however. Another riding Club is situated downtown by the Mingala Market. It is not recommended for beginners as the horses are not well trained.
Myanmar travel regulations severely limit available hunting areas, and permission to import firearms is extremely difficult to obtain. Bird watching opportunities are good, but vary seasonally and by location. Despite travel restrictions in more remote areas, dry-season viewing is good at the Moyhingyi bird sanctuary, Hlawgar Reservoir near Yangon, at Pagan, and at the Botanic Gardens at Maymyo, among other places.
Individual hobbies and interests are more important here than in the U.S. A quilting and sewing group of ladies gather on a regular basis. Bring all hobby supplies as little is available locally. The International School has a good library for a school of its size; the British Embassy library also has some children's books. Families should include a supply of children's books in their effects. Bring along a TV and VCR (VHS type) for additional home entertainment.
Touring and Outdoor Activities
Travelers, except those on tourist visas, who wish to tour up country must submit their plans to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs 10 workdays in advance. Government approval can sometimes be obtained and arrangements made for large groups to rent riverboats for a day's trip.
Because Yangon is not typical of Myanmar, visits to other points of interest are recommended. Mandalay, the last capital of the Myanmar kings, still retains historical and cultural interest. It is reached by plane (55 minutes). Air schedule reliability varies. Travel by car to Mandalay takes 14-16 hours over poor roads. It is a 14-17 hour trip by overnight train-the rail bed is rough.
Many places of historic, cultural, and artistic interest are in Mandalay or within easy driving distance. Ancient and modern pagodas dot the landscape, particularly in Sagaing, across the Irrawaddy River, and Ava and Amarapura, all former Myanmar capitals. Photography buffs can find many interesting scenes.
Maymyo, a British hill station and summer capital before independence, is in the mountains 42 miles northeast of Mandalay and provides a welcome relief from Mandalay heat. Maymyo has an excellent 18-hole golf course, and tennis is also popular in the area.
Pagan, the ancient capital during the golden era of Myanmar history (C.E. 10th-13th centuries), is the site of hundreds of pagodas, many in ruins, but many still preserved as religious and cultural monuments. It may be reached by a daily flight from Yangon (1-1/4 hours). For hardy adventurers, Pagan can be reached by river steamer from Mandalay (12 hours).
The other hill station of Kalaw and the Shan Plateau town of Taunggyi have cooler temperatures than Yangon and Mandalay and offer lovely mountain scenery and colorful market/bazaars. Taunggyi may be reached by plane (1 hour, 20 minutes) from Yangon, plus a 45-minute bus ride. Kalaw, approached on the same plane ride, requires 2 hours by bus. Inle Lake lies slightly to the south. Its villages and pagodas, which are built on the lake are a favorite tourist spot. Sandoway, on the Arakan coast, is Myanmar's finest accessible beach and is popular with both Myanmar and Westerners. Regular flights, 4 days a week, are available to Sandoway (45 minutes). However, during the beach season the Tourist Agency makes a special arrangement with the Airways Corporation to accommodate passengers, and flights are available daily but schedules are irregular.
Another seaside resort is Chaung Tha in the Bassein District. This place is conveniently accessible by road. One can drive in either private or rented vehicles. The journey takes approximately 7 hours and is open daily during the summer season. During the rainy season the road is rough. This seaside beach was recently opened by the host government and is popular with Myanmars and foreigners. Accommodations are available and fairly modest.
Regional places of interest outside Myanmar include Bangkok, Penang, Angkor Wat, Kuala Lumpur, Bali, Cameron Highlands, Jakarta, Singapore, Calcutta, New Delhi, and Kathmandu. Sightseeing in Yangon should include the numerous pagodas as well as local shops and bazaars and the various artisans who hand-fashion Myanmar goods. Children enjoy the zoo. An interesting circular train trip around Yangon takes 2 hours.
During the year several colorful festivals are held, such as the Festival of Lights and the 4-day Water Festival (when everyone gets drenched). Other interesting cultural events are the Indian fire-walking ceremonies, the Myanmar pwes (plays), Myanmar dancing, and puppet shows.
Myanmar is a Buddhist country, and visitors are expected to show respect to the Buddhist pagodas and Buddhist monks, easily identified by their saffron robes. Visitors to pagodas must remove shoes and socks before entering roofed walk-ways on grounds leading to the pagodas.
The photographer will find many interesting scenes in Myanmar. Local processing of black and white and color film is good. Batteries and other camera accessories are not normally available locally.
Six movie theaters in Yangon feature Myanmar, Indian, European, Chinese, Japanese, and American films. Projection equipment is good, but theaters are hot and uncomfortable, and the doors are locked during the shows, which in case of fire, would be extremely dangerous.
The American community in Yangon consists mainly of Embassy personnel and teachers at the school and their dependents. A few Americans are assigned to Myanmar by various U.N. agencies and NGOs. The total American community, including children, does not exceed 180.
Much of the community's social life centers around the AERA Club facilities, the Australian Club and the British Club. Numerous hotels around town also offer an alternative to the Clubs. These facilities are supplemented by extensive home entertaining.
Yangon's two golf clubs and the sailing club provide pleasant surroundings for meeting Myanmar and third country nationals. The International Cultural Group, an organization of Myanmar women and Embassy wives, sponsors a wide spectrum of activities with an international flavor. The U.N. Women's Association offers a way to make contact with a wide variety of expatriates and local women.
Mandalay was founded as a new royal capital (replacing Amarapura) in 1860, and the picturesque palace walls and side moat still are near the heart of the city. Even though Mandalay did not long endure as the last royal capital—it was taken over by the British when they annexed all of Upper Myanmar in 1886—it remains a major center of the country's cultural and religious life.
Moreover, with its location on the Irrawaddy River near the geographic center of Myanmar, and its urban population which is close to 535,000, Mandalay, Myanmar's second largest city, is the most important administrative, commercial, and political city in the northern section of the country. Situated over 400 miles north of Yangon, the climate is both hotter and drier than that of the capital. Mandalay was heavily damaged during World War II, when shelling destroyed the royal palace and several pagodas.
Life is relatively relaxed in Mandalay, more attuned to the pace of the horse cart than to the automobile. Few Westerners live in the city. There are no bright lights, but for people who can forgo some of the Western amenities and adjust to its slower tempo, Mandalay has a certain quiet charm and hospitality. It provides an intimate glimpse into an Asian society.
There are many places of historic, cultural, and artistic interest in Mandalay or within easy driving distance. The city is noted for the Arakan pagoda, which is built around an ancient shrine. Ancient and modern pagodas dot the landscape, particularly in Sagaing, across the Irrawaddy River, and in Ava and Amarapura, which were all former royal capitals. Photography buffs can find many interesting scenes. A group of sacred buildings called the Seven Hundred and Thirty Pagodas was built during the reign of King Mindon, 1853-1878. Maymyo, a British hill station and summer capital before independence, is in the mountains 42 miles northeast of Mandalay, and provides a welcome relief from Mandalay's heat. Maymyo has an excellent 18-hole golf course, and tennis is also popular in the area.
Modest accommodations in hotels or government-owned circuit houses are available at some tourist spots. Trips to other parts of Myanmar, and overnight stops between Yangon and Mandalay or Kalaw present some difficulties.
AMARAPURA is located on the Irrawaddy River in central Myanmar, just south of Mandalay and 325 miles north of Yangon. Founded in 1782, Amarapura was the capital of Myanmar from 1783 to 1823 and, again, from 1837 to 1860, and is considered one of the country's oldest centers of civilization. The city's royal palace, magnificent temples, and fortifications are in ruins. Today, with an estimated population exceeding 150,000, Amarapura is a silk-weaving center with various handicraft industries.
BASSEIN is located in southern Myanmar, about 85 miles west of Yangon. Situated at the western edge of the Irrawaddy Delta, it is accessible by large vessels and is one of Myanmar's chief ports. A rice-milling and export center, with 145,000 residents, Bassein also handles teak and bamboo. A fort was established here by the British in 1852. The city was occupied by the Japanese during World War II.
BHAMO , situated in northeastern Myanmar on the Irrawaddy River, is the head of navigation on the river. Important for its ruby mines, Bhamo is also the market town for the surrounding hill region. Located 175 miles north of Mandalay, Bhamo was historically significant as a center for overland trade with China. During World War II, the Stillwell Road linked Bhamo to Ledo, India. The population is estimated at more than 25,000.
HENZADA is the capital of Henzada District, 75 miles northwest of Yangon. It is connected by rail with Bassein. Henzada is the center of rice and tobacco cultivation.
MOGOK , about 65 miles north of Mandalay, is a small town known as the centuries-old center of the country's ruby trade.
MOULMEIN , the country's third largest city, is located in southeastern Myanmar almost directly across the Gulf of Martaban from Yangon. Moulmein has a population of 220,000 and, as a river port and commercial center, it has shipyards and teak mills. The chief town of British Myanmar, Moulmein is one of the few places where trained elephants are still used in lumber mills.
MYITKYINA is located on the Irrawaddy River in northern Myanmar, near the Chinese border, and about 240 miles north of Mandalay. The most important town in northern Myanmar, Myitkyina is a trade center for teak and jade, as well as the extreme northern terminus of a railroad line from Yangon. It was captured by Allied troops in August 1944 after a 78-day siege, marking a turning point in Myanmar's liberation from the Japanese. The population is estimated at more than 20,000.
PYÈ (also called Prome) is located on the Irrawaddy River in south central Myanmar, about 240 miles south of Mandalay and 150 miles north of Yangon. Pyè is one of the oldest cities in Myanmar, founded in the eighth century; it became part of British Myanmar in 1852. Today, Pyè has an estimated population of more than 80,000, and is a commercial town and port, with railroad connections to Yangon. Visitors can see the ruins of ancient Pyè near the modern city.
SANDOWAY , on the Arkan coast, is the finest accessible beach in Myanmar, and is popular with both the Myanma people and Westerners. Daily flights are available during the tourist season, which usually lasts from November through May.
SITTWE , formerly called Akyab, is located on the Bay of Bengal, 325 miles northwest of Yangon. Originally a small fishing village, it became a port for exporting rice after being occupied by the British in 1826. Sittwe has a population of approximately 108,000. Sittwe is an important port and rice-milling center.
TAVOY , situated on the left bank of the Tavoy River, is about 160 miles west of Bangkok, Thailand. The city is an important port and exports tin ore.
Geography and Climate
Myanmar (also known as Burma), with an area of 262,000 square miles (slightly smaller than Texas), is the largest country in mainland Southeast Asia. Yangon (also called Rangoon), the capital (population about 5.5 million), is Myanmar's largest city. Mandalay (population 700,000) is second. Myanmar's population is about 49 million.
Yangon is Myanmar's most important port for both domestic and foreign trade. Located on the Yangon River, 30 miles north of the Gulf of Martaban, it serves not only ocean-going freighters and tankers but also river steamers and country craft that ply Yangon's major waterways. The city is built on flat lowland bounded on three sides by the Pazundaung Creek and the Yangon and Hlaing Rivers. The surrounding countryside consists of rice paddies, patches of brush, and occasional rubber plantations.
Located in the Southeast Asian monsoon belt, Yangon has a tropical climate with three distinct seasons: monsoon, cool, and hot. During the monsoon season, mid-May through mid-October, Yangon receives most of its 100-inch plus average annual rainfall. Temperatures are moderate (75°F-90°F), but relative humidity is high. During the monsoon, dampness and mildew can cause serious damage to clothing, furniture, books, records, electrical appliances, and leather goods.
In mid-November, after a brief period of warm, humid weather, the cool season begins from then until March, weather is pleasant (60°F-90°F) with lower humidity and almost no rain. Days are sunny and clear; nights are cool. In March, temperatures and humidity rise until the monsoon begins in mid-May. During the March-May hot season, the weather is hot and humid, usually rising in the day to over 100°F. As at most tropical posts, insects and snakes are numerous year round.
Most of Myanmar's 42 million people are ethnic Myanmas. Shans, Karens, Kachins, Chins, Mons, and many other smaller indigenous ethnic groups form about 30% of the population. Indians and Chinese are the largest foreign groups. Although Burmese is the most widely spoken language, other ethnic groups have retained their own languages. Many people in Yangon speak English. The Indian and Chinese residents speak various languages and dialects of their homelands: Hindi, Urdu, Tamil, Bengali, Mandarin, Fukienese, and Cantonese. The variety of racial types, languages, customs, and other cultural manifestations creates a cosmopolitan atmosphere. About a hundred non-U.S. Government Americans and 60 U.S. Government employees and dependents live in Myanmar. Yangon's diplomatic community includes employees of the U.N. and its specialized agencies and officials from 26 embassies.
The Union of Myanmar consists of 14 states and divisions. Administrative control is exercised from the central government at Yangon through a system of subordinate executive bodies.
The people of Myanmar continue to live under a highly repressive, authoritarian military regime. The international community widely condemns that regime for its serious human rights abuses. The State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), Myanmar's ruling military junta since 1997, has made no significant changes in the governing policies of its predecessor, the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), which seized power in 1988. Elections for a civilian government were held in May 1990. Although the National League for Democracy (NLD) won over 80% of the parliamentary seats, the military refused to cede power to the civilian government. Instead the SLORC and the SPDC have attacked the coalition of winning parties and their leaders through intimidation, detention and arrests. The military government appears determined to ensure a dominant role for the military services in the country's future political structure.
Arts, Science, and Education
The population of Myanmar includes seven major ethnic groups and a number of smaller groups. Almost 70% are Burmese, a Tibeto-Mongolian people. The myths, traditions, and religions derive largely from India and have mixed with folk traditions of Myanmar's varied peoples to form a unique Myanma culture. The merger of Hindu and Buddhist influences is seen in the ruins of Pagan and in the dramatic fine arts of today, which include music, dance, puppetry, painting, tapestry, and sculpture.
Myanmar's long and continuing isolation has degraded its scientific resources and capacity. Although medical schools continue to produce medical personnel with basic knowledge, the public health system has deteriorated because of under funding and neglect. Two major technical universities (plus a military science and technology school) have engineering programs, but facilities and resources are old and outdated.
Myanmar has 105 institutions of higher learning, including 16 universities, 4 professional institutes, 9 degree-granting colleges, 10 intermediate colleges, and 19 education colleges under the Ministry of Education. Other ministries administer institutes of medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, nursing, animal husbandry and veterinary science, agriculture, and forestry. Many of the universities and colleges, however, have been closed for lengthy periods during the 1990s. More than two thirds of the university population is now in distance learning programs. Instruction is in English or Burmese, depending on the subject. Few foreigners attend Burmese institutions of higher learning. Those who are admitted generally attend the University of Foreign Languages and study some aspect of the Burmese language. A university for the propagation of Theravada Buddhism has opened and encourages enrollment by foreigners interested in Buddhism.
Commerce and Industry
Myanmar is a resource-rich country with a strong agricultural base. It also has vast timber and fishery reserves and is a leading source of gems and jade. Tourist potential is great but remains undeveloped because of weak infrastructure and Myanmar's pariah state international image, due to the junta's human rights abuses and oppression of the democratic opposition.
Long-term economic mismanagement under military rule has prevented the economy from developing in line with its potential. Myanmar experienced 26 years of socialist rule under Dictator General Ne Win from 1962-1987. In 1988 the economy collapsed and prodemocracy demonstrators took to the streets. The military junta that assumed control, the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), violently put an end to the civil unrest and pledged to move toward a market based economy. Although significant economic reforms resulting in strong private sector growth were enacted in the early 1990s, the state remains heavily involved in economic policy and additional, much needed reforms have not been forthcoming. The benefits of economic liberalization have not been widely shared. The vast majority of Burmese nationals subsist on a standard of living not much different from 10 years ago. Also, rampant inflation caused primarily by public sector deficit spending has eroded economic gains for many persons.
After the military junta disavowed the results of the 1990 parliamentary election, which was won overwhelmingly by the National League for Democracy led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the U.S. imposed a host of broad-reaching sanctions against the regime. The U.S. opposes the extension of international financial assistance to Myanmar, prohibits military sales, suspended economic aid and commercial assistance programs, banned the issuance of U.S. visas to members of the military elite, and downgraded our representation in Yangon from Ambassador to Charge. In 1997, by Executive Order, the President banned new U.S. investment in Myanmar. In additional to Federal sanctions, 26 state and local governments have enacted selective purchasing laws that penalize companies doing business in Myanmar. A number of other countries, including the EU, Canada, Australia, Japan and Korea have enacted some form of sanctions against the regime.
Myanmar remains a primarily agricultural economy with 43% of GDP derived from agriculture, livestock and fisheries, and forestry. Manufacturing constitutes only 9% of recorded economic activity, and state industries continue to play a large role in that sector. Services now constitute nearly 19% of GDP. According to official figures, GDP growth averaged over 5% annually throughout the 1990s. However, inflation exceeded 30% in many of those years. Myanmar runs a growing annual trade deficit, and foreign exchange reserves are in short supply.
The government continues to monopolize key sectors, including international rice and timber sales. Efforts to privatize state industries have been largely halted in recent years. In the past few years, the military has strengthened its hold over the economy through the activities of Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) and Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd. (MEHL). These two military conglomerates control a large portion of private sector activity, including a number of key joint venture corporations. The military suspended independent audits of MEC and MEHL in 1999.
Under the military junta (renamed the State Peace and Development Council in 1997), the move to a market economy appears to have favored crony capitalism. A handful of companies loyal to the regime has enjoyed policies that promote monopoly and privilege among few. For example, the National Entrepreneurs, about 20 construction companies that signed on to develop farmlands, were given special vehicle import permits and discounted interest rates on commercial loans in FY 98/99. Companies not in league with the military leadership have found it preferable to keep a low profile.
Economic growth slowed considerably after FY 96-97. Foreign investment approvals declined by 98% in FY 98-99, due in part to the effects of the Asian financial crisis. The economy continues to suffer from severe macro-economic imbalances due primarily to faulty economic management. The official exchange rate overvalues the Burmese kyat by 54 times the market rate, causing serious distortions in economic accounts and official data. The government maintains a loose monetary policy, cutting the interest rate three times in the past 2 years to prime the economy despite rampant inflation. Interest rates are sharply negative in real terms. General Maung Aye, Commander in Chief of the Armed Services, has executed growing control over trade and regulatory policy via the Trade Policy Council, an extraministerial committee overseeing economic policy. Since 1998, trade policy has become more restrictive. Due to various disagreements with Thailand, the Myanmar-Thai border has been shut down for months at a time on several occasions.
During the past 10 years of military rule, socioeconomic indicators have shown scant improvement. According to the World Bank, per capita income is about $300. The number of families in absolute poverty is nearly 23%. Only 60% of the population have access to safe drinking water. Malnutrition, infant and maternal mortality all remain miserably high. The military government has dedicated fewer and fewer resources to health and education. Government expenditures on these two sectors combined total only 1.2% of GDP. In contrast, 40% of the government ministries budgets is dedicated to defense.
Singapore is the largest investor in Myanmar, with concerns concentrated in hotels and tourism and light manufacturing, such as beverages and tobacco. Thailand is another large investor. Western investment in Myanmar has focused largely on the extractive industries of oil and natural gas, and mining. The single largest foreign investment in the country is the $1.2 billion Yadana natural gas pipeline from the offshore Yadana natural gas reserve to Thailand. That investment is operated by Total Fina of France, and is jointly owned with UNOCAL of the U.S., PTT of Thailand, and Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE). A second offshore natural gas pipeline to Thailand, the Yetagun pipeline, is still under construction. It is operated by Premier Petroleum of the UK and is coowned by a consortium involving Nippon of Japan, PTT of Thailand, Petronas of Malaysia, and MOGE.
Myanmar exports primarily commodities, with pulses and beans, prawns and seafood, teak and hardwoods, sesame seeds, corn and rubber accounting for 50% of annual export earnings. In recent years, the production of pulses and beans, a largely free-market crop, has soared. Rice production and trade, which is heavily regulated by the state, has not shown similar gains. Uncut teak logs remain a top export.
Foreign trade has expanded since most trade was privatized and cross-border trade was legalized in late 1988, but Myanmar continues to operate a large trade deficit. Myanmar's chief trading partners are Singapore, Japan, Thailand, China, and Bangladesh. The U.S. has a minor trading relationship with Myanmar. However, Myanmar's exports of garments and textiles to the US. has more than doubled in the past 2 years, reaching $186 million in FY 98/99.
Labor unions have been forbidden since the 1988 military takeover. Myanmar is under investigation by the International Labor Organization (ILO) for its forced labor practices.
Cars older than 10 years may not be imported. Smaller cars and four-door cars have a better resale value. Fuel-injected vehicles are not recommended. Air-conditioning is a must. Cars shipped to Myanmar should have good tires and a good battery, since replacements are difficult to find, take time to receive, and are costly to ship.
Those shipping a car should bring a factory handbook and a supply of spare parts, including spark plugs, fan belts, ignition kits, oil and air filters, wiper blades, and a carburetor kit. Repair parts are not always available in Yangon but can be ordered or obtained from Bangkok, Singapore, Tokyo or the U.S. Local mechanics vary in ability from poor to good. Many are skilled in "make do" repairs that keep vehicles operating when parts are not available.
Buses are unsafe and overcrowded. Taxis are available, not necessarily safe, and rates must be negotiated.
Mingaladon Airport, about 13 miles (30 minutes) from the Embassy in downtown Yangon, has domestic and international flights. Airlines servicing Myanmar are Myanmar Airways (UB), Thai Airways (TG) and Silk Air (MI), plus 4-5 smaller airlines with regional flights. UB and TG have daily flights to and from Bangkok, but flight confirmations usually cannot be made from the U.S. because of the lack of a computer system.
Internal air service is available but risky. Only Mandalay Air and Yangon Air are approved for USG travelers. Travel by car and train is possible in the dry season, but roads and rail tracks are subject to wash-out in the rainy season. Gasoline available outside of Yangon is leaded and 80-82 octane.
Telephone and Telegraph
International, in-country and local telephone service in Myanmar is unreliable and expensive. For example, an International call to the U.S. ranges between $4.50-$7 per minute depending where the call is made, i.e., hotels charge the most to make a call. Calls to neighboring Asian countries average $2.00 per minute. However, the general condition of the country's outdated telecommunications infrastructure is poor, and desperately needs upgrading to meet the demands of a capital city. The current system that services Yangon barely copes with current demand. Additionally, the heavy monsoon rains that fall between May and September only make matters worse. Unfortunately, there are no known plans by the government to modernize its telephone infrastructure to improve telephone service within Myanmar.
However, according to the government-controlled Myanmar Times, GSM cellular telephone service is scheduled for implementation. This same newspaper article reads that Myanmar Public Telephone (MPT), will be selling the cellular handsets for approximately $1,500 each. Air-time is not included.
Facsimile service is available at major hotels. Fax service has proved relatively reliable considering the condition of the telephone transmission lines. International fax messages are charged the same rates as an international call.
E-mail service is available locally for home or business use for roughly $2 per hour. The initial cost for E-mail in one's home or office is roughly $250. This fee includes modem and software.
The international mail system is slow: 2 to 3 weeks for letter mail, plus pilferage and censorship are common.
Radio and TV
Shortwave radio reception in Myanmar is satisfactory. Multiband portable receivers can pick up VOA, BBC, Radio Australia, and other international broadcasts. Radio Myanmar is the only station in Myanmar. It broadcasts in English 2-112 hours daily and is limited to brief international news and music.
Myanmar has limited TV service with broadcasting of about 5 hours each night, and on weekends, an additional 2 hours in the morning, and 3 hours in the afternoon. Locally produced programming is in Burmese, with a short satellite news segment and a feature entertainment program in English. Broadcasting is in the U.S. NTSC system and usually in color.
Videotapes are very popular in Yangon and there are numerous video stores eager for your business. However, the tape quality from these shops is poor, but the tapes are inexpensive to rent. Tapes from the Local rental shops use both NTSC and the PAL format.
Newspapers, Magazines, and Technical Journals
One English-language daily newspaper, The New Light of Myanmar, offers limited international news, highly censored local coverage, and much propaganda. The Myanmar Times and Business Report is published weekly and offers thinly veiled propaganda and some economic, cultural, and social news. The monthly Today magazine provides stories and information useful for foreign visitors and residents in Myanmar. The International Herald Tribune, Time, Newsweek, Far Eastern Economic Review, and Asia Week are sold locally for hard currency at a few selected locations, but are occasionally censored when stories refer to Myanmar.
Yangon has a few used book shops, which carry outdated English-language books and periodicals. The American Center Information Resource Center has a collection of historical books on Myanmar and materials on the U.S. The British Council and Alliance Frangaise also have libraries. Unfortunately, Internet is still not available in Myanmar, so online ordering is not possible.
Health and Medicine
Yangon hospitals are crowded. Suboptimal in sanitation, physical plants are in poor condition and emergency equipment is sparse and primitive in nature. Regional evacuation points are Bangkok and Singapore depending on severity of patient's condition.
There are two expatriate clinics in Yangon:
(1) SOS International is situated at The New World Inya Lake Hotel, #37, Kaba Aye Pagoda Road. It offers the following core services: 24-hour alarm center; family medicine practice and outpatient facility; pharmacy; X-ray facility; specialist consultations and referrals; 24-hour emergency medical unit; emergency medical evacuation. It is staffed by one expatriate doctor and three local doctors. Recently, however, SOS International has advised that they are reducing operations and cutting staff.
(2) Pacific Medical Center is situated at #81, Kaba Aye Pagoda Road. They also have a pharmacy; Lab; X-ray facility and dental clinic. It is staffed by three local doctors and specialists for consultation when required. It opens for 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. from Monday to Saturday.
Dental care is available in Yangon, but in general, it is substandard. Significant dental problems for which treatment cannot be delayed are sent to Bangkok. Travel and minimum per diem are provided when justified. A recent exam and all necessary dental work should be completed before arrival in Yangon. Yangon has two dental clinics run by a foreign-trained orthodontist.
Local sanitation and health conditions are poor. All water must be boiled and filtered to make it potable. Fecal-oral disease transmission is a major public health concern in Myanmar.
Local dairy products are not considered safe. Most Americans buy canned or powdered milk from the commissary. Local fruits and vegetables should be scrubbed and soaked in a Clorox solution. Local restaurants do not maintain U.S. levels of sanitation.
The health of servants is important in maintaining family health. Pre-employment physicals, immunizations, and constant health supervision are strongly recommended.
The only required immunization for entry into Myanmar is yellow fever, and then only if coming from endemic areas of South America or Africa. Immunizations recommended for Myanmar (in addition to those given in the U.S.) are: hepatitis B, Japanese B encephalitis, typhoid, rabies, and Hepatitis. A. All can be received at post.
Bacillary and amoebic dysentery are prevalent. A variety of intestinal roundworms and other parasites commonly infect people. Careful food preparation, strict personal hygiene, supervision of the cleanliness and health of servants, and avoidance of local restaurants help reduce opportunities for infections.
Myanmar's increasing prevalence of tuberculosis (a result of overcrowding and taxing of public utilities), makes use of public transportation, movie theaters, restaurants, etc., unduly hazardous. Increased contamination during the early part of the very heavy monsoon season gives rise to increases in many diseases each June and July. Because of the presence of several varieties of poisonous snakes and endemic rabies (beware of stray dogs), anti-venom and rabies vaccines are available in the Medical Unit.
Malaria is a serious problem in the rural areas of Myanmar, but transmission occurs very rarely in Yangon. No drug prophylaxis is necessary in Yangon or most of the usual tourist sites in the country. Prophylaxis is necessary in some areas. Dengue, another mosquito-borne disease, occurs throughout the country, including Yangon, and protective measures to avoid mosquito bites should be used. The peak season of dengue hemorrhagic fever is June-July and again in November-December. Health Unit supplies mosquito nets, repellents and Malaria Prophylactic Medications.
Jan. 1 … New Year's Day
Jan. 4 … Independence Day
Feb. 12 … Union Day
Mar. … Full moon of Tabaung*
Mar. 2 … Peasants' Day
Mar. 27 … Armed Forces Day
Apr. … Thingyan (Water Festival)*
Apr. 17 … Myanmar New Year
Apr/May … Full Moon of Kason*
June/July … Full moon of Waso*
July… Buddhist Lent begins*
July 19 … Martyrs' Day
Sept/Oct. … Full Moon of Thadingyut*
Oct. … Buddhist Lent ends*
Oct/Nov. … Full moon of Tazaungmon*
Nov. … Tazaungdaing (Full Moon festival)*
Nov. 13 … National Day
Dec. 25 … Christmas Day
… Id al-Adha*
… Id al-Fitr*
NOTES FOR TRAVELERS
Passage, Customs & Duties
Most arrive in Yangon by air. American carriers must be used for as much of the journey as possible. The most commonly used transfer point is Bangkok, where an overnight stop is usually necessary. Only Thai Airlines and Myanmar International Airways fly to Yangon from Bangkok.
Travel to, from and within Myanmar is strictly controlled by the Government of Myanmar. A passport and visa are required. Travelers are required to show their passports with valid visa at airports, train stations and hotels. There are frequent security roadblocks on all roads and immigration checkpoints in Myanmar, even on domestic air flights.
Upon entry into Myanmar, tourists are required to exchange a minimum of $200 (U.S.) for Foreign Exchange Certificates (FEC). The FEC office is located between Immigration and Customs. The face value of the FEC, issued in denominations from one to 20 dollar equivalents, is equal to the U.S. dollar, but its actual value fluctuates. Any amount over $200 (U.S.) may be exchanged back to U.S. dollars. The first $200 (U.S.) cannot be exchanged back into U.S. dollars. These procedures are subject to change without notice.
The military government rarely issues visas to journalists, and several journalists traveling to Myanmar on tourist visas have been denied entry. Journalists, and tourists mistaken for journalists, have been harassed. Some journalists have had film and notes confiscated upon leaving the country.
Information about entry requirements as well as other information may be obtained from the Embassy of the Union of Myanmar, 2300 S Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008, telephone 202-332-9044/6, or the Permanent Mission of Myanmar to the U.N. 10 East 77th St., New York, N.Y. 10021, telephone 212-535-1311. Overseas inquiries may be made at the nearest embassy or consulate of Myanmar (Burma).
Unrestricted travel exists to the main tourist areas of Pagan, Inle Lake and the Mandalay area. The military government restricts access to some areas of the country on an ad hoc basis. Those planning to travel in Myanmar should check with Burmese tourism authorities to see if travel is permitted. However, some tourists traveling to places where permission is not expressly required have reported delays due to questioning by local security personnel. Reportedly, 10 of the 14 Burmese states and divisions are polluted with anti-personnel land mines.
Customs officials may confiscate prohibited items such as firearms (including air-powered guns and toy guns), ammunition, and certain books, photographs and magazines that might be considered offensive.
On all outgoing shipments, the number of boxes/vans and weight is checked against the same information listed in the documents when a traveler entered the country. Discrepancies either up or down, which cannot be explained, may result in your outgoing shipment being delayed in customs.
Permits are required for export of teak/rattan furniture, antique lacquerware or wood carvings, and jewelry. Itemized lists and receipts for such purchases should be retained.
U.S. citizens living or in or visiting Myanmar are encouraged to register at the U.S. Embassy and obtain updated information on travel and security within the country from the Embassy. The U.S. Embassy is located at 581 Merchant Street, Yangon, tel. (95-1) 282055 and (95-1) 282182; fax (95-1) 256018
Pets are not quarantined if accompanied by a health certificate and proof of rabies vaccination. Pet food and supplies are available most of the time in local supermarkets. Local veterinarians are sometimes competent but often lack medicines; when supplied, they are of unfamiliar brands. E-mail consultations with a stateside vet are invaluable. Clipping service is not available; dog owners should bring their own clippers.
Currency, Banking, and Weights and Measures
There are two Burmese currencies, Kyat (pronounced "Chat" (rhymes with Shot)) and Foreign Exchange Certificates (FECs). Kyat are the most prevalent and widely accepted, with the value fluctuating on a daily basis. FECs are essentially "dollar equivalency" currency and are valued at a fixed rate of one FEC/$1.00.
There are no restrictions on the amount of dollars, traveler's checks or other foreign currency brought into Myanmar.
Local currency checking accounts cannot be opened by foreigners in Myanmar. Business transactions are generally on a cash basis. Not all major credit cards can be used in Myanmar, and generally only large international hotels in Yangon and Mandalay accept them. There are no automatic cash machines in the country to access currency from overseas, and it is not possible to cash a personal check drawn on a foreign bank.
Although money changers sometimes approach travelers to offer to change dollars into Burmese kyat at the market rate, it is illegal to exchange currency except at authorized locations such as the airport, banks and government stores.
Foreign Exchange Certificates (FEC) are required by foreigners for the payment of plane tickets, train tickets and most hotels. Burmese kyat are accepted for most other transactions. It is possible to purchase FEC with some credit cards at the Myanmar Foreign Trade Bank in Yangon or any place that exchanges foreign currency.
In Myanmar, the weight utilized for gold is called tical. One tical equals 58 ounces, or 1 ounce equals 1.72 ticals. At the local market all foodstuffs are weighed in viss and ticals.
One viss equals 3.6 pounds, and there are 100 ticals to a viss. Liquid capacity for gasoline (Burmese call it petrol) is measured by the U.K. gallon. One gallon equals 4.5 liters
Burmese authorities require that hotels and guesthouses furnish information about the identities and activities of their foreign guests. Burmese who interact with foreigners may be compelled to report on those interactions to the Burmese Government.
Taking photographs of people in uniform or any military installation is discouraged by Burmese authorities, and it could lead to arrest or the confiscation of cameras and film.
These titles are provided as a general indication of the material published in this country.
Area Handbook for Burma. 3d ed. Washington, 1983.
Aung Aung, Taik. Visions of Shwedagon. Bangkok, 1989.
Aung Sang, Suu Kyi. Freedom from Fear.
Aung Sang, Sun Kyi. Letters.
Aung-Thwin, Michael. Pagan, the Origins of Modern Burma. Hawaii, 1985.
Bixler, Norma. Burmese Journey. Antioch, 1967.
Burma. From Kingdom to Republic. New York, 1966.
Burma the Golden. APA Publications: Bangkok, 1982.
Burma. Insurgency and the Politics of Ethnicity. Zed Books Ltd., 1999.
Burma: Military Rule and the Politics of Stagnation. Ithaca, 1977.
Burmese Supernaturalism. Transaction Press, 1996.
Cady, John F. History of Modern Burma. Cambridge, MA, 1963.
Collis, Maurice. Trials in Burma. London.
Donnison, F. S. V. Burma. New York1970.
The Future of Burma. Maryland, 1990.
Harvey, Geoffrey E. History of Burma from the Earliest Times to 10 March 1824. London, 1925. (Reprinted London, 1967.)
Htin Aung. A History of Burma. New York, 1967.
Insight Guide Burma. New Jersey, 1984.
Jesse, J. Tennyson. The Lacquer Lady. London, 1929. (Reprinted New York, 1979.)
King, Winston L. A Thousand Years Away; Buddhism in Contemporary Burma. Oxford, 1964.
Lehman, F. K., ed. Military Rule in Burma Since 1962. Singapore, 1981.
Lewis, Norman. Golden Earth. London, 1952. (Reprinted New York, 1983.)
Lieberman, Victor. Burmese Administrative Cycles: Anarchy and Conquest, 1580-1760. Princeton, 1984.
Lintner, Bertil. Burma in Revolt: Opium and Insurgency Since 1948. Silkworm Books, 1999.
Lintner, Bertil. Outrage: Burma's Struggle for Democracy. Hong Kong, 1989.
Maung Maung, Dr. Burma and General Ne Win. New York, 1969.
Mi Mi Khaing. Burmese Family. Calcutta, 1946. (Reprinted Indiana, 1962.)
Mya Than and Tan, Joseph L. H., ed. Myanmar Dilemmas and Options. Singapore Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1990.
Nash, Manning. The Golden Road to Modernity. Chicago, 1965. (Reprinted 1973.)
National Geographic Magazine. "Time and Again in Burma" (July 1984); "Pagan, on the Road to Mandalay" (March 1971.)
Nu, U. U. Nu. Saturday's Son. New Haven, 1975.
Orwell, George. Burmese Days. New York, 1934. (Many modern reprints.)
Pye, Lucian. Asian Power and Politics: The Cultural Dimensions of Authority. Harvard, 1985.
Pye, Lucian. Politics, Personality and Nation Building. New Haven, 1963. (Reprinted Westport, CT, 1976.)
Rotberg, Robert, ed. Burma: Prospects for a Democratic Future. Brookings Institution, 1998.
Shway Yoe (Sir George Scott). The Burman: His Life and Notions. London, 1882. (Reprinted New York, 1981).
Siamese White. London, 1951.
Silverstein, Josef. Burmese Politic: The Dilemma of National Unity. Brunswick, N. J., 1980.
Smith, Donald E. Religion and Politics in Burma. Princeton, 1965.
Spiro, Melford. Buddhism and Society. University of California Press, 1982.
Steinberg, David. Burma's Road Toward Development: Growth and Ideology Under Military Rule. Boulder, CO, 1981.
A Socialist Nation of Southeast Asia. Boulder, CO, 1982.
Taylor, Robert H. The State in Burma, Orient. Longman: London 1987.
Trager, Frank N. Burma: A Selected and Annotated Bibliography. New Haven, 1973.
The Burma fund:
www.burmanet.org Democratic Voice of Burma:
Free Burma Coalition:
State Peace and Development Council Website:
Internet News Groups
Union of Myanmar
Pyidaungzu Myanma Naingngandaw
CAPITAL: Yangon (formerly Rangoon)
FLAG: The national flag is red with a blue canton, within which 14 white stars encircle a rice stalk and an industrial wheel.
ANTHEM: Kaba Makye (Our Free Homeland)
MONETARY UNIT: The kyat (k) is a paper currency of 100 pyas. There are coins of 1, 5, 10, 25, and 50 pyas and 1 kyat, and notes of 1, 5, 10, 25, and 100 kyats. k1 = $0.17182 (or $1 = k5.82) as of 2005.
WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: Both British and metric weights and measures are in general use, but local units also are employed.
HOLIDAYS: Independence Day, 4 January; Union Day, 12 February; Peasants’ Day, 2 March; Defense Services Day, 27 March; Burmese New Year, 17 April; World Workers’ Day, 1 May; Martyrs’ Day, 19 July; Christmas, 25 December. Movable religious holidays include Full Moon of Tabaung, February or March; Thingyan (Water Festival), April; Full Moon of Kason, April or May; Waso (Beginning of Buddhist Lent), June or July; Thadingyut (End of Buddhist Lent), October; and Tazaungdaing, November.
TIME: 6:30 pm = noon GMT.
Located in Southeast Asia, Myanmar has an area of 678,500 square kilometers (261,969 square miles), slightly smaller than the state of Texas.
The country has a total land boundary length of 5,858 kilometers (3,640 miles). The total coastline length is 1,930 kilometers (1,197 miles).
Myanmar’s capital city, Yangon (formerly Rangoon), is located in the southern part of the country.
Myanmar is divided into four topographic regions: a mountainous area in the north and west; the Shan Highlands and plateau in the east; central Myanmar, a principal area of cultivation; and the fertile delta and lower valley regions of the Irrawaddy and Sittang rivers in the south. The highest point is at Hkakabo Razi, an elevation of 5,881 meters (19,294 feet). The lowest point is at sea level (Andaman Sea).
The Irrawaddy River, with a length of 2,170 kilometers (1,350 miles), is the longest river
Area: 678,500 sq km (261,969 sq mi)
Size ranking: 39 of 194
Highest elevation: 5,881 meters (19,294 feet) at Hkakabo Razi
Lowest elevation: Sea level at the Andaman Sea
Arable land: 15%
Permanent crops: 1%
Average annual precipitation: 261.8 centimeters (103.1 inches)
Average temperature in January: 24.8°c (76.6°f) Average temperature in July: 26.6°c (79.9°f)
* Arable Land: Land used for temporary crops, like meadows for mowing or pasture, gardens, and greenhouses.
Permanent crops: Land cultivated with crops that occupy its use for long periods, such as cocoa, coffee, rubber, fruit and nut orchards, and vineyards.
Other: Any land not specified, including built-on areas, roads, and barren land.
** The measurements for precipitation and average temperatures were taken at weather stations closest to the country’s largest city.
Precipitation and average temperature can vary significantly within a country, due to factors such as latitude, altitude, coastal proximity, and wind patterns.
entirely within the borders of Myanmar. The Mekong, which traces the Myanmar border with Laos, covers a length of 235 kilometers (146 miles) within Myanmar, but has a total length of 4,200 kilometers (2,600 miles). The largest lake in the country is Indawgyi Lake in the north, with an area of 116 square kilometers (45 square miles).
Myanmar has a largely tropical climate with three seasons. Rainfall ranges from about 76 centimeters (30 inches) in central Myanmar to more than 500 centimeters (200 inches) in upper Myanmar during the monsoon season.
The average annual temperature is 27°c (81°f); average daily temperatures in Yangon (Rangoon) range from 18 to 32°c (64 to 90°f) in January, during the cool season, and from 24 to 36°c (75 to 97°f) in April, during the hot season.
Myanmar has a wide variety of plant and animal life. Teak, representing about 25% of the total forested area, thrives mainly in the mountainous regions. Evergreen, bamboo, and palm are prominent in the freshwater delta swamps and along the coastlands. Mangroves are found in the salty coastal marshes. There are temperate forests and rolling grasslands in the Shan Highlands and scrub vegetation in the dry central area. There are about 12 species of monkeys, as well as tigers, leopards, elephants, and half-wild pariah dogs. Fish abound along the coastline, in the tidal waters of the delta, and in the rivers and streams.
In Myanmar, the principal environmental threats come from cyclones, flooding during the monsoon season, and regular earthquakes. Deforestation for farming is the most persistent ecological problem caused by humans. By 1994, two-thirds of Myanmar’s tropical forests had been eliminated. However, the nation still had the world’s eighth-largest mangrove area. Inadequate sanitation and water treatment are leading contributors to disease. Environmental concerns have been given low priority by the government.
As of 2006, threatened species included 39 types of mammals, 41 species of birds, 20 types of reptiles, 7 species of fish, 1 type of mollusk, 1 species of other invertebrate, and 38 species of plants. The Javan rhinoceros is extinct. Threatened species include the pink-headed duck, Asian elephant, Malaysian tapir, freshwater sawfish, Sumatran rhinoceros, Siamese crocodile, hawksbill turtle, gaur, and sun bear.
In 2005, Myanmar had an estimated population of 50,519,000. The population for 2025 is projected 59,002,000. Average population density in 2005 was estimated at 76 persons per square kilometer (197 per square mile). Yangon (formerly Rangoon), the capital, had a metropolitan population of 3,874,000 in 2005.
The government has sought to curtail both immigration and emigration. As many as 500,000 persons may have left Myanmar during the 1960s. About 187,000 Muslims who fled to Bangladesh in 1978 because of alleged atrocities by the military were repatriated with the help of UN agencies by the end of 1981, but lost their citizenship in 1982. About 500,000 poor urban
residents were forcibly relocated to rural areas between 1989 and 1992.
In 2000, the total number of migrants residing in Myanmar numbered 113,000. In 2005, the estimated net migration rate was -1.8 per 1000 population.
The Myanma (Burman), ethnically related to the Tibetans, account for about 68% of Myanmar’s total population. Although much ethnic fusion has taken place, most ethnic groups retain their distinct cultural entities and have sought to preserve their autonomy, sometimes by violent means.
As of 2003, the Shan made up about 9% of the population, the Karen 7%, Rakhine 4%, Chinese 3%, Mon 2%, Indian 2%, and other 5%.
Burmese, the official language, is spoken by at least 80% of the population. Pronunciation varies greatly from area to area. Loan words from other languages are common. Burmese is the language of government, but the ethnic minorities have their own languages.
According to government statistics, Theravada Buddhism is practiced by about 90% of the population. A number of adherents combine their practice with traditional practices such as astrology, numerology, fortune-telling, and the veneration of pre-Buddhist deities called nats.
The Chinese in Myanmar practice a traditional mixture of Mahayana Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and ancestor worship; the Indians are Hindus; the Pakistanis are Muslims; and most of the Europeans are Christians. About 4% of the population are Christian, with Baptists, Catholics, and Anglicans being the primary denominations. About 4% of the population are Muslim, mostly Sunni.
Historically, Myanmar has been dependent on sea and river transport externally and internally, supplemented in modern times by the airplane. There were an estimated 28,200 kilometers
(17,523 miles) of roads in 2002, but only 3,440 kilometers (2,138 miles) were paved. In 2003, Myanmar had about 6,800 passenger cars and 14,000 commercial vehicles. Myanmar’s railway system, a government monopoly, operates 3,955 kilometers (2,460 miles) of track.
Inland waterways are crucial to internal transportation, partly compensating for limited railroad and highway development. Some 500,000 small river craft sail the Irrawaddy, Salween, and Sittang rivers and their numerous tributaries. The state merchant fleet totaled 37 ships in 2005, with a combined gross registered tons (GRT) of 429,144.
Yangon is the chief port for ocean shipping, handling the majority of the country’s seaborne trade. Other ports include Akyab (Sittwe), serving western Myanmar; Pathein (Bassein), serving the delta area; and Mawlamyine (Moulmein), Dawei (Tavoy), and Mergui, which handle mineral and timber exports of the southern region.
Mingaladon, outside of Yangon, is the principal airport. In 2003, 1,117,000 passengers were carried on scheduled domestic and international airline flights.
The founding of a kingdom at Pagan in ad 1044 by Anawrahta marks the beginning of Myanmar’s political identity. The kingdom survived until 1287, when it was destroyed by the armies of Kublai Khan, and for the next five centuries conflict reigned. In 1754, however, Alaungpaya united northern and southern Myanmar and founded the last ruling dynasty, which was in power until the British came in the early 19th century.
The British conquest of Myanmar spanned 62 years, from the first Anglo-Burmese War in 1824–26 to 1 January 1886, when total annexation of Myanmar was proclaimed following the territory’s defeat in the third war. Incorporated into the British Indian Empire, Myanmar was administered as a province of India until 1937, when it became a separate colony.
National Independence From 1886 to 1948, the inhabitants fought continually for independence. The nationalists who finally gained freedom for Myanmar were a group of socialist-minded intellectuals called the Thakins, from the University of Rangoon. At the start of World War II (1939–45), these anti-British nationalists collaborated with the Japanese but were soon disappointed when the Japanese occupied the country. The group was then converted into an anti-Japanese guerrilla force that assisted the British in the liberation of Myanmar.
In 1946, after the end of World War II, the sovereign Union of Burma came into being. In 1951 the nation held its first parliamentary elections. The decade of the 1950s brought an ambitious land reform program and an attempt to forge a neutral foreign policy. However, the country was faced with periodic communist rebellions and an off-and-on border dispute with China.
A coup on 2 March 1962 overthrew the government and a military regime assumed control. The Socialist Republic of Burma was proclaimed on 3 January 1974. Under a new constitution, a president was elected, but the government continued to be dominated by the military. At this time, the country’s only legal political organization was the Burma Socialist Program Party (BSPP). Meanwhile, a guerrilla war in border areas of the north and east continued through the 1980s. It was fought by the underground Burmese Communist Party and rebel ethnic groups.
When the military became dissatisfied with the government and the ruling BSPP party, it staged another military coup. On 18 September 1988, the army abolished the BSPP, took over the government, and imposed military rule under the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). The SLORC was headed by the army chief of staff, General Saw Maung. On 18 June 1989 the Saw Maung regime renamed Burma “Myanmar,” the historic Burman name for the country.
The takeover of the government by the military prompted dissent among the population. Among the most prominent dissidents was Aung San Suu Kyi. She rose to prominence by establishing a coalition party that opposed the military regime. In speeches and interviews she challenged the SLORC’s record, characterizing it as one of economic and social degeneration. She also protested the SLORC’s repressive laws and actions. Because of her actions, the government placed her under house arrest in 1989.
Multiparty elections were held in May 1990, but the military refused to transfer power to the winning National League for Democracy (NLD). It announced in September 1990 that it intended to remain in power for 5 to 10 more years.
Myanmar Under the SLORC In the early 1990s, the plight of dissident Aung San Suu Kyi began receiving worldwide attention. In 1991 she was awarded the 1990 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the European Parliament. On 10 December 1991, Aung San Suu Kyi’s son, Alexander, accepted the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize on her behalf.
Another type of human rights violation in Myanmar that drew international attention was forced labor. It was reported that the SLORC used forced labor on tourist projects such as the reconstruction of the gold palace in Mandalay. Of Mandalay’s 500,000 residents, each family had to contribute at least three days of free labor each month. The work lasted from dawn until evening and was so strenuous that it required several days of recovery. Forced labor also was used on many building projects and to carry supplies and munitions into malaria-infested areas for the military. Prison inmates were required to work every day. Many military families could be exempted, as could any family that agreed to pay a monthly fine of $6, about a week’s wages for some families. Muslim refugees who fled Myanmar said that Muslims had to pay two to three times as much as others to escape labor.
Ever since Myanmar received its independence in 1948, ethnic minorities have fought for autonomy. However, in 1991 the 600-member Palaung State Liberation Army and the 500-member Pa-O National Army rebel group signed truce agreements with SLORC, which served as models for settlements with other rebels. The Karens, Mons, and Karenni along the Thai border began talks with the military regime in early 1994. Eventually, the junta negotiated separate peace treaties with each rebel group.
The international community continues to debate the most constructive approach to dealing with Myanmar. Many Asian countries argue that maintaining relations with Myanmar is more productive than isolating it. However, the United States has maintained a hard-line isolationist policy toward Myanmar to press for advancement of democracy and human rights. The U.S. government still refers to Myanmar as Burma, the country’s name prior to the military takeover.
In July 1995, the SLORC released dissident Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest. She had been detained for six years. Most observers saw the SLORC’s action as an attempt to gain international favor, not as a sign that the group was ready to loosen its grip on the country. Upon her release, Suu Kyi confirmed her commitment to democracy. The NLD planned to draft its own version of the constitution and Suu Kyi planned pro-democracy rallies. Following mass student protests in December 1996, the government blamed Suu Kyi and returned her to house arrest. She was released again in July 1997.
In 1999, Suu Kyi’s terminally ill British husband was denied a visa to see her a final time. The junta stated that she was free to leave Myanmar, but the implication was that she would not be permitted back. Her husband died on 27 March. Suu Kyi was again placed under house detention in September 2000; she was released in May 2002 and toured the country, speaking out in support of democratization. She urged the international community in August to keep economic sanctions against the junta (renamed as the State Peace and Development Council–SPDC from the SLORC in 1997) in place until a democratic dialogue reached a more meaningful stage. During 2001, more than 200
Name: Than Shwe
Position: Prime minister of a military regime
Took Office: 23 April 1992
Birthplace: Kyaukse, central Myanmar (Burma)
Of interest: Shwe went to work as a post office clerk after graduating high school.
NLD activists were released from detention; in November 2002, another 115 political prisoners were released. Suu Kyi was once again arrested in May 2003 and as of August 2006, remained under house arrest.
The Myanmar government has come under considerable international criticism for its involvement in the country’s massive drug trade. Myanmar is one of the world’s largest producers of opium and heroin, and is a major producer of methamphetamines. By September 2001, Myanmar pledged to eliminate drug trade in the Golden Triangle by 2005.
On 5 December 2002, General Ne Win died under house arrest. He had been arrested in March for plotting a coup, or forced takeover, against the military regime. Ne Win’s three grandsons and son-in-law remain in jail, sentenced to death for their roles in the alleged coup.
Myanmar was scheduled to chair the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for 2006. In July 2005, the government announced that it would give up the chairmanship. The government took this action after the international community called for Myanmar to be deprived of the honor because of ongoing human rights violations in the county.
A military coup in September 1988 brought the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) to power. SLORC abolished the previous government and the country was placed under martial law. On 18 September 1988, the official title of the state was changed to Myanmar Naing Ngan. SLORC was renamed as the State Peace and Development Council or SPDC in 1997. The SPDC directs, supervises, and coordinates the work of the central and local government institutions.
In a multiparty election held 27 May 1990, the National League for Democracy (NLD) received 87.7% of the total vote and took 392 of the 447 contested seats. However, SLORC refused to hand over power to the NLD, instead insisting that a new constitution be drafted and approved by SLORC prior to the transfer of power.
A drastic step was taken on 6 November 2005 when government ministries were compelled to leave Yangon for a new capital still under construction at Pyinmana in the mountains 400 kilometers (248.5 miles) north of Yangon. The motives for such a large-scale mass relocation were unclear.
Myanmar comprises seven states and seven divisions, further divided into 317 townships, which include villages and towns.
With the military takeover of September 1988, the ruling Burma Socialist Program Party was formally abolished and all governing authority was concentrated in the hands of the military, or the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). On 24 September 1988, the BSPP was reborn as the National Unity Party (NUP), inheriting the buildings and machinery of the old BSPP.
On 24 September 1988, the National League for Democracy (NLD), a coalition party, was formed in opposition to the military regime. The NLD won the 27 May 1990 elections by a landslide, electing 392 candidates; the NUP took 10 seats. NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest from July 1989 to July 1995, and again from 2 September 2000 to 6 May 2002. She was arrested again in May 2003. The Democratic Alliance of Burma (DAB) is a coalition of 21 ethnic minorities and political dissident groups formed in 1988.
By March 1993 all but seven political parties had been deregistered by SLORC. Other political or pressure groups were the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the United Wa State Army (UWSA), the Karen National Union (KNU), and several Shan factions, including the Mong Tai Army (MTA).
In 1997, the SLORC renamed itself the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC).
The British-style judicial system with which Myanmar began its independence, including a supreme court, was disbanded by the Revolutionary Council. Military tribunals which enforced orders issued by the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) were abolished in 1992. Ordinary courts now handle such cases, with heavy military influence. The supreme court appoints judges after approval by the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC, renamed from the SLORC in 1997). The judiciary is not independent.
Yearly Growth Rate
This economic indicator tells by what percent the economy has increased or decreased when compared with the previous year.
The armed forces play a major role in Myanmar’s politics and administration; senior members of the government are officers who govern under martial law.
Myanmar’s armed forces totaled an estimated 428,000 in 2005 including the paramilitary people’s militia and people’s police force. Military service for both men and women is compulsory. The army, with 350,000 personnel, is organized in infantry battalions chiefly for internal security duties. The navy has 13,000 members, and the air force 12,000. The paramilitary People’s Militia and People’s Police Force total 35,000 and 72,000 personnel, respectively. Military expenditures were $6.85 billion in 2005.
SLORC, the military regime which took over Myanmar in 1988, proclaimed a market-oriented economic policy and invited foreign investment. Two trends have been apparent in the government’s economic policies: the capture of revenues from short-term, quick-turnover sources such as hardwoods, prospecting rights, and taxes on profits from illegal sources; and spending patterns that emphasize defense spending and acquisition of armaments.
Due to Myanmar’s inability to stop the flow of drugs from its sector of the Golden Triangle, in February 1989 the United States removed Myanmar from a list of countries eligible to receive aid except for combating the drug trade. Myanmar is the world’s second-largest supplier of illegal opiates. Myanmar is also the primary source of amphetamine-type drugs in Asia, producing millions of tablets each year. Large quantities of smuggled consumer goods are sold in Myanmar’s cities, where the black market thrives.
Myanmar receives no aid from U.S. or European Union (EU) programs and aid from Japan is run at a maintenance level. The International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) extend no credit to Myanmar.
Agriculture is the largest sector of the economy, contributing 57% of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2005 and employing about 70% of the labor force.
In 2005, the gross domestic product (GDP) was $76.2 billion, or about $1,800 per person.
Components of the Economy
This pie chart shows how much of the country’s economy is devoted to agriculture (including forestry, hunting, and fishing), industry, or services.
The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 5.8%. The average inflation rate in 2002 was18%.
Industry is geared largely to the processing of agricultural, mineral, and forest products. Principal industrial products are cement, steel, bricks and tiles, fertilizers, and processed foods. Consumer goods that were imported before 1962 and are now manufactured domestically include blankets, paper, glass products, bicycles, and water pumps. Other major consumer items manufactured are aluminum ware, jute and cotton cloth, pharmaceuticals, beverages, matches, and cigarettes. The assembly of televisions and motor vehicles is a recent development in Myanmar’s industry.
In 2005, industry accounted for 8% of gross domestic product (GDP).
In 2006, Myanmar had three state-owned oil refineries. The $1.2 billion natural gas pipeline connecting to Thailand began operations in 1999, and plans for a $1 billion Myanmar-Bangladesh-India gas pipeline were underway in 2006.
In 2005, Myanmar’s civilian labor force was estimated at 27,750,000. An estimated 70% are engaged in agriculture, primarily rice cultivation, while industry accounts for 7% and services 23%. The unemployment rate was estimated at 5% in 2005.
No trade union or independent labor movement activity has occurred since 1988. Forced labor is frequently used by the military for building projects.
While the official minimum working age is 13, the presence of child labor is obvious in both rural and urban areas. Most children must work to help support their families.
Only government workers and employees of a few traditional industries are covered by a minimum wage. As of 2005, salaried public employees had a minimum wage of $0.13 per day for an eight-hour workday, which did not support a worker and a family with a decent standard of living. A skilled factory worker can earn around $3.00 a day.
About 16% of the land is under cultivation. Agriculture generates roughly 70% of employment and 57% of the recorded GDP.
Rice is the most important agricultural product. Rice production totaled 9.57 million tons in 2004/05. In 2004, other crops included 6,368,000 tons of sugarcane, 715,000 tons of groundnuts, 600,000 tons of corn, and 550,000 tons of sesame. During the mid-1990s, Myanmar
Yearly Balance of Trade
The balance of trade is the difference between what a country sells to other countries (its exports) and what it buys (its imports). If a country imports more than it exports, it has a negative balance of trade (a trade deficit). If exports exceed imports there is a positive balance of trade (a trade surplus).
was the world’s largest producer of opium and heroin. In 2003, opium poppy production was estimated at 484 tons, down from 2,560 tons in 1996.
Zebu cattle and water buffalo are raised as draft animals and for the sale of hides. The output of such hides was 24,000 tons in 2005. Hogs and poultry are found in virtually every village. In 2005, Myanmar had an estimated 12 million head of cattle, 5.2 million hogs, 2.7 million water buffalo, 1.8 million goats, 492,000 sheep, 88 million chickens, and 8 million ducks. Other products included 632,000 tons of meat, 677,000 tons of milk (80% cow, 20% buffalo), and 1,452,000 tons of eggs.
Fishing is the most significant nonagricultural source of income in Myanmar. Fish, which supply the main protein element in the Myanma diet, generally are dried and salted before they are sold at market. Traditionally, the Myanma preferred fish from fresh or brackish water, but saltwater fishing has increased in recent years. The total fish catch in 2003 was 1,606,252 tons (67% saltwater, 23% freshwater). Exports of fish products were valued at $142.6 million.
Forests and woodland cover nearly half the country. Myanmar has a major share of the world’s teak reserves, which constitute about one-third of the nation’s forested area. As the world’s leading exporter of teak, Myanmar supplies about 75% of the world market. In 2004, teak log production totaled 2.21 million cubic meters (78.1 million cubic feet). A special teak plantation program begun in 1998 will provide a sustainable production of 1.8 million cubic meters (63.5 million cubic feet) per year.
Roundwood production in 2004 totaled 38.9 million cubic meters (1.4 billion cubic feet). Other forest products include lac, catechu resin, and bamboo. In 2004, forest product exports were valued at $401.1 million.
With the exception of precious gemstones, mineral production is small and mostly for domestic use. Leading products include copper, tin, tungsten, iron, construction materials, and fertilizer. Production for 2003 included 27,900 tons of copper (metal content), 210 tons of tin, 30 tons of tungsten, 11 million kilograms (24.25 million pounds) of jade, and 4.7million carats of spinel rubies and sapphires. Industrial mineral production included hydraulic cement, fire clay, gypsum, limestone, salt, sand and gravel, and silica sand. Lead, zinc, silver, copper, nickel, and cobalt were produced at the Bawdwin mine in Namtu.
Myanmar’s main legal exports are rice, wood products, beans, and garments. Jade, gems, minerals, and rare animals are exported from border areas not under control of the government. Illegal drugs also are a major export, the value of which may be worth as much as all the legal exports combined. Consumer goods, diesel fuel, and other products are smuggled in from Thailand, China, Malaysia, and India.
In 2004, Myanmar’s primary export partners were (in order): Thailand, India, China, and Japan. That year, the primary import partners were China, Singapore, Thailand, South Korea, and Malaysia.
Myanmar’s production of crude oil in 2002 averaged 15,000 barrels per day, with imports of crude averaging 8,120 barrels per day. Refined petroleum product production that year averaged 21,500 barrels per day, with demand for refined oil products at 34,500 barrels per day.
Natural gas output in 2002 came to 8.8 billion cubic meters (310 billion cubic feet). Coal production in 2002 totaled 130,000 tons.
Production of electricity totaled 6.3nillion kilowatt hours in 2002, of which thermal plants provided about 65% and hydroelectric power roughly 35%. Electric power capacity rose to 1,537,000 kilowatts in 2002, but power supply remained inadequate to meet the country’s needs, and shortages were on the rise across the country.
Although considerable advances have been made in health services, Myanmar’s goal of establishing a welfare state has been limited by lack of public funds. In 1956, the government inaugurated a social security program that compensates workers for wage losses arising from sickness, injury, and maternity leave, provides free medical care, and establishes survivors’ benefits. The program is funded by contributions from employers, employees, and the government. As of yet, Myanmar does not have unemployment insurance, but workers are entitled to old-age pensions.
Women have a high status in Myanmar’s society and economic life. They may retain their maiden name after marriage, may obtain divorces without undue difficulty, and enjoy equal property and inheritance rights with men. However, women often do not receive equal pay for equal work.
Myanmar’s military government continues to engage in human rights abuses. There also is widespread mistreatment of prisoners. Arrests are often made arbitrarily and many detainees are not allowed contact with the outside world.
Selected Social Indicators
The statistics below are the most recent estimates available as of 2006. For comparison purposes, data for the United States and averages for low-income countries and high-income countries are also given. About 15% of the world’s 6.5 billion people live in high-income countries, while 37% live in low-income countries.
|Indicator||Myanmar||Low-income countries||High-income countries||United States|
|sources: World Bank. World Development Indicators. Washington, D.C.: The World Bank, 2006; Central Intelligence Agency. The World Factbook. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2006; World Resources Institute, Washington, D.C.|
|Per capita gross national income (GNI)*||$1,700||$2,258||$31,009||$39,820|
|Population growth rate||1.5%||2%||0.8%||1.2%|
|People per square kilometer of land||76||80||30||32|
|Life expectancy in years: male||58||58||76||75|
|Number of physicians per 1,000 people||0.4||0.4||3.7||2.3|
|Number of pupils per teacher (primary school)||33||43||16||15|
|Literacy rate (15 years and older)||89.9%||65%||>95%||99%|
|Television sets per 1,000 people||7||84||735||938|
|Internet users per 1,000 people||1||28||538||630|
|Energy consumed per capita (kg of oil equivalent)||276||501||5,410||7,843|
|CO2 emissions per capita (metric tons)||0.16||0.85||12.97||19.92|
|* The GNI is the total of all goods and services produced by the residents of a country in a year. The per capita GNI is calculated by dividing a country’s GNI by its population and adjusting for relative purchasing power.|
|n.a.: data not available >: greater than <: less than|
As of 2004, there were an estimated 40 doctors, 27 nurses, 2 dentists, and 22 midwives per 100,000 people.
Smallpox and plague have been virtually eliminated as health hazards and programs are under way to eradicate malaria and tuberculosis. However, gastrointestinal diseases such as typhoid, dysentery, and cholera remain prevalent. Another serious health problem is drug addiction.
In 2005, average life expectancy was 60.7 years. As of 2004, there were approximately 330,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in the country. There were an estimated 20,000 deaths from AIDS in 2003.
Prewar housing in Myanmar compared favorably with that in other Southeast Asian nations, but housing conditions have deteriorated. Urban dwellings are overcrowded and often unsafe. The government has been working on projects to reduce homelessness and the high percentage of squatter communities in many areas by building apartment-style structures to replace hut dwellings.
Education is generally free. Primary education is compulsory for five years. It is estimated that about 73.2% of all students complete their primary education. The pupil-teacher ratio at the
primary level was 33 to 1 in 2003. Primary education is followed by four years of middle school and two years of high school or technical school. Generally, Burmese is the language of instruction, and English is taught in the secondary schools; however, increasingly English is the medium of instruction in the universities.
Postsecondary institutions include 18 teacher-training colleges, 6 agricultural institutes, 8 technical institutes, and 35 universities and colleges. The 2004 adult literacy rate was estimated at 89.9%, with 93.7% for men and 86.2% for women. However, international observers question this figure, estimating that literacy rates are much lower since up to 40% of children in rural areas do not enroll in school and those who do drop out early.
In 2003, there were an estimated seven mainline telephones for every 1,000 people; about 102,000 people were on a waiting list for telephone service installation. That same year, there was approximately one mobile phone in use for every 1,000 people. The government provides the only radio and television transmissions through Radio Myanmar and TV-Myanmar. As of 2003, there were 66 radios and 7 televisions in use per 1,000 population. That same year there were 5.6 personal computers for every 1,000 people and one of every 1,000 people had access to the Internet.
The government claims to uphold freedom of the press, but there are no privately owned newspapers, and the print media are government-controlled. Chinese- and Indian-language newspapers are not allowed by the government, but two daily papers are published in English. Leading newspapers in 1999 included the Kyemon (circulation, 100,000), Myanma Alin (circulation, 400,000), and New Light of Myanmar (circulation, 14,000).
Since the inception of military rule in 1988, tourism declined sharply, but has risen since 1990. In 2003, there were 206,000 tourist arrivals. There were 17,039 rooms with a total of about 34,078 bed-places, at 20% occupancy. Principal attractions include palaces and Buddhist temples and shrines. River cruises are also popular.
U Nu (Thakin Nu, 1907–1995) was independent Myanmar’s first premier (1948–62) and shares fame as the founder of modern Myanmar with Aung San (1916–1947), called the Father of the Burmese Revolution. Ne Win (Maung Shu Maung, 1911–2002) became premier in March 1962 and was president from 1974 to 1981. U Thant (1909–1974) served as UN secretary-general from 1961 through 1971.
Human rights activist Aung San Suu Kyi (b.1946) was awarded the 1990 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought by the European Parliament, the 1990 Thorolf Rafto Human Rights Prize by Norway, and the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize. Anawrahta, who founded the early Burmese kingdom of Pagan in 1044 and established Hinayana Buddhism as the official religion, is a great figure in Burmese history, as are the Toungoo warrior-king Bayinnaung (reigned 1551–81) and Alaungpaya (reigned 1752–60), who established the dynasty that ruled Myanmar until 1886.
Great writers of the Burmese past include Bhikkhu Ratthasara, author of the poem Hatthipala Pyo, on the life of Gautama Buddha; Nawedegyi and Natshinnaung, poets of the Toungoo dynasties; and Binnyadala, who wrote of the long struggles of the Burmese king of Ava. U Ba Nyan and U Ba Zaw are well-known painters of the 1920s who introduced Western-style art into Myanmar.
Becka, Jan. Historical Dictionary of Myanmar. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow, 1995.
Khng, Pauline. Myanmar. Milwaukee, WI: Gareth Stevens, 2000.
Klein, Wilhelm. Insight Guides Burma Myanmar. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1996.
Orwell, George. Burmese Days. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1935.
Yin, Saw Myat. Myanmar. New York: Benchmark Books, 2002.
Aquastat. www.fao.org/ag/Agl/AGLW/aquastat/countries/myanmar/index.stm. (accessed on January 15, 2007).
Country Pages. www.state.gov/p/eap/ci/bm/. (accessed on January 15, 2007).
Government Home Page. www.myanmargeneva.org/. (accessed on January 15, 2007).
Myanmar (myän´mär, mēän´mär´) or Burma (bûr´mə), officially Republic of the Union of Myanmar, republic (2005 est. pop. 42,909,000), 261,789 sq mi (678,033 sq km), SE Asia. It is bounded on the west by Bangladesh, India, and the Bay of Bengal; on the north and northeast by China; on the east by Laos and Thailand; and on the south by the Andaman Sea. The traditional capital and by far the largest city is Yangon (Rangoon), but in late 2005 the government began transferring many government ministries to the new capital, Naypyidaw, in central Myanmar.
Land and People
The most densely populated part of the country is the valley of the Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) River, which, with its vast delta, is one of the main rice-growing regions of the world. Mandalay, the country's second largest city, is on the Ayeyarwady in central Myanmar. The Ayeyarwady basin is inhabited by the Burmans proper, a Mongolic people who came down from Tibet by the 9th cent. and now represent nearly 70% of the mainly rural population. The valley is surrounded by a chain of mountains that stem from the E Himalayas and spread out roughly in the shape of a giant horseshoe; the ranges and river valleys of the Chindwinn (a tributary of the Ayeyarwady) and of the Sittaung and the Thanlwin, or Salween (both to the E of the Ayeyarwady), run from north to south.
In the mountains of N Myanmar (rising to more than 19,000 ft/5,790 m) and along the India-Myanmar frontier live various Mongolic peoples; the most important are the Kachins (in the Kachin State in the north) and the Chins (in the Chin State in the west). These peoples practice shifting cultivation (taungya) and cut teak in the forests.
Between the Bay of Bengal and the hills of the Arakan (or Rakhine) Mts. is Rakhine State, a narrow coastal plain with the port of Sittwe, which is home to the Arakanese (or Rakhine). Also in the state are the Muslim Rohingya, who are not recognized as a native minority by the government and are considered Bengali immigrants and noncitizens. In E Myanmar on the Shan Plateau is Shan State, home of the Shans, a Tai people closely related to the Thai who, at nearly 10% of the population, are Myanmar's largest minority. South of Shan State are the mountainous Kayah State and Kayin State; the Karens, who inhabit this region, are of Tai-Chinese origin, and many are Christians. South of Kayin State is the Tanintharyi region, a long, narrow strip of coast extending to the Isthmus of Kra. At its northern end is the port of Mawlamyine, Myanmar's third largest city.
Most of Myanmar has a tropical monsoon climate; however, N of the Bago Hills around Mandalay is the so-called Dry Zone with a rainfall of 20 to 40 in. (51–102 cm). On the Shan Plateau temperatures are moderate. Theravada Buddhism is the religion of about 90% of the population; there are Christian and Muslim minorities. Burmese (the tongue of the Burmans) is the official language, but each of Myanmar's ethnic minorities has its own language; in all, over 100 languages are spoken.
Myanmar suffered extensive damage in World War II, and some sectors of its economy have not yet fully recovered. About 70% of the population works in agriculture and forestry, and rice accounts for about half of the agricultural output. Other important crops are pulses, sesame, peanuts, and sugarcane. Myanmar also produces illegal opium in the northeast (bordering China, Laos, and Thailand), part of the "Golden Triangle" ; heroin produced in the country's laboratories contributes to the black-market trade. Myanmar's forests, which are government-owned, are the source of teak and other hardwoods. Fishing is also important.
The country is rich in minerals. Petroleum is found east of the Ayeyarwady in the Dry Zone. Tin and tungsten are mined in E Myanmar; the Mawchi mines in Kayah State are also rich in tungsten. In Shan State, northwest of Lashio, are the Bawdwin mines, the source of lead, silver, and zinc. Coal, copper, natural gas, and iron deposits have also been found in Myanmar. Gems (notably rubies and sapphires) are found near Mogok. Since the 13th cent., Myanmar has exported jade from the Hunkawng valley in the north to China.
Aside from food processing, other manufacturing industries include wood and wood products, construction materials, pharmaceuticals, fertilizer, natural gas, and textiles and clothing. Exports include gas, wood products, pulses, fish, rice, clothing, jade, and gemstones. The chief imports are fabric, petroleum products, fertilizer, plastics, machinery, transportation equipment, construction materials, crude oil, food products, and edible oil. The country's chief trade partners are Thailand, China, Singapore, and India. Myanmar's developing economy, depressed by political turmoil, began to recover in the 1980s with increased private activity and foreign investment, but efforts to liberalize the economy stalled in the late 1990s amid new political turmoil and did not resume until the 2010s.
The chairman of the State Peace and Development Council, the military junta that rules Myanmar, currently serves as head of state. The government is headed by the prime minister. Under the constitution adopted in 2008, the president, who is elected by the parliament, is head of state. The head of government is the prime minister. The bicameral parliament consists of the House of Nationalities with 224 members, 168 of which are popularly elected and 56 of which are appointed by the military, and the House of Representatives with 440 members, 330 of which are popularly elected and 110 of which are appointed by the military. Members of both houses serve five-year terms. In addition to the seats it controls in the parliament, the military retains control over its own affairs, and the commander in chief can remove the president. Administratively, the country is divided into seven regions, seven states, and a union territory (Naypyidaw).
Early History through World War II
Myanmar's early history is mainly the story of the struggle of the Burmans against the Mons, or Talaings (of Mon-Khmer origin). In 1044, King Anawratha established Burman supremacy over the Ayeyarwady delta and over Thaton, capital of the Mon kingdom. Anawratha adopted Theravada Buddhism from the Mons. His capital, Bagan, "the city of a thousand temples," was the seat of his dynasty until it was conquered by Kublai Khan in 1287. Then Shan princes predominated in upper Myanmar, and the Mons revived in the south.
In the 16th cent. the Burman Toungoo dynasty unified the country and initiated the permanent subjugation of the Shans to the Burmans. In the 18th cent. the Mons of the Ayeyarwady delta overran the Dry Zone. In 1758, Alaungapaya rallied the Burmans, crushed the Mons, and established his capital at Yangon. He extended Burman influence to areas in present-day India (Assam and Manipur) and Thailand. Myanmar was ruled by his successors (the Konbaung dynasty) when friction with the British over border areas in India led to war in 1824.
The Treaty of Yandabo (1826) forced Myanmar to cede to British India the Rakhine and Tanintharyi coasts. In a second war (1852) the British occupied the Ayeyarwady delta. Fear of growing French strength in the region, in addition to economic considerations, caused the British to instigate the third Anglo-Burman War (1885) to gain complete control of Myanmar. The Burman king was captured, and the remainder of the country was annexed to India. Under British rule rice cultivation in the delta was expanded, an extensive railroad network was built, and the natural resources of Myanmar were developed. Exploitation of the rich oil deposits of Yenangyaung in central Myanmar was begun in 1871; the export of metals also became important.
Until the 20th cent. Myanmar was allowed no self-government. In 1923 a system of "dyarchy," already in effect in the rest of British India, was introduced, whereby a partially elected legislature was established and some ministers were made responsible to it. In 1935 the British gave Myanmar a new constitution (effective 1937), which separated the country from British India and provided for a fully elected assembly and a responsible cabinet.
During World War II, Myanmar was invaded and quickly occupied by the Japanese, who set up a nominally independent Burman regime under Dr. Ba Maw. Disillusioned members of the Burmese Independent Army (which the Japanese had formed secretly before the war to assist in expelling the British) under Aung San formed an anti-Japanese resistance movement, the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League (AFPFL). Allied forces drove the Japanese out of Myanmar in Apr., 1945.
Independence and Civil Strife
In 1947 the British and Aung San reached agreement on full independence for Myanmar. Most of the non-Burman peoples supported the agreement, although the acquiescence of many proved short-lived. Despite the assassination of Aung San in July, 1947, the agreement went into effect on Jan. 4, 1948. Myanmar became an independent republic outside the Commonwealth of Nations. The new constitution provided for a bicameral legislature with a responsible prime minister and cabinet. Non-Burman areas were organized as the Shan, Kachin, Kayin, Kayah, and Chin states; each possessed a degree of autonomy.
The government, controlled by the socialist AFPFL, was soon faced with armed risings of Communist rebels and of Karen tribespeople, who wanted a separate Karen nation. International tension grew over the presence in Myanmar of Chinese Nationalist troops who had been forced across the border by the Chinese Communists in 1950 and who were making forays into China. Myanmar took the matter to the United Nations, which in 1953 ordered the Nationalists to leave Myanmar. In foreign affairs Myanmar followed a generally neutralist course. It refused to join the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization and was one of the first countries to recognize the Communist government in China.
In the elections of 1951–52 the AFPFL triumphed. In 1958 the AFPFL split into two factions; with a breakdown of order threatening, Premier U Nu invited General Ne Win, head of the army, to take over the government (Oct., 1958). After the 1960 elections, which were won by U Nu's faction, civilian government was restored. However, as rebellions among the minorities flared and opposition to U Nu's plan to make Buddhism the state religion mounted, conditions deteriorated rapidly.
In Mar., 1962, Ne Win staged a military coup, discarded the constitution, and established a Revolutionary Council, made up of military leaders who ruled by decree. While the federal structure was retained, a hierarchy of workers' and peasants' councils was created. A new party, the Myanmar Socialist Program party, was made the only legal political organization. The Revolutionary Council fully nationalized the industrial and commercial sectors of the economy and imposed a policy of international isolation.
Insurgency became a major problem of the Ne Win regime. Pro-Chinese Communist rebels—the "White Flag" Communists—were active in the northern part of the country, where, from 1967 on, they received aid from Communist China; the Chinese established links with the Shan and Kachin insurgents as well. The deposed U Nu, who managed to leave Myanmar in 1969, also used minority rebels to organize an anti–Ne Win movement among the Shans, Karens, and others in the east. However, in 1972, U Nu split with minority leaders over their assertion of the right to secede from Myanmar.
By the early 1970s the various insurgent groups controlled about one third of Myanmar. Ne Win and other top leaders resigned from the military in 1972 but continued to retain power. A new constitution, providing for a unicameral legislature and one legal political party, took effect in Mar., 1974. At that time the Revolutionary Council was disbanded and Ne Win was installed as president. Economic strife and ethnic tensions throughout the 1970s and 80s led to antigovernment riots in 1988, which caused Ne Win to resign from office. The series of governments that followed failed to restore order, and the military seized control under the name of the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC); some 3,000 were killed when the demonstrations were suppressed. In June, 1989, the military government officially changed the name of the country from Burma to Myanmar.
In elections held in May, 1990, the National League for Democracy (NLD) won a large majority of assembly seats. However, the SLORC declared the election results invalid and arrested many leaders and members of the NLD. Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the NLD, had been placed under house arrest in 1989; she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. In 1992, General Than Shwe became head of the junta and assumed the position of prime minister; many political prisoners were released, most martial law decrees were lifted, and plans to draft a new constitution were announced. However, there was little evidence that the army was prepared to return the government to civilian control. A UN General Assembly committee unanimously condemned the military regime for its refusal to surrender power to a democratically elected parliament.
During the mid-1990s the military government signed cease-fires with the insurgent ethnic minorities except the Karens; the government launched a major offensive against their stronghold in E Myanmar along the Thai border in 1997. Aung San Suu Kyi was released in 1995 and became active as an opposition leader; the military government denounced her and harassed her followers. In Jan., 1996, Khun Sa, a major opium lord and leader of a private army, surrendered and allowed government troops to enter his jungle headquarters; it was speculated that he might have been granted amnesty and allowed to continue drug activities in return for ending his insurgency.
In 1997 the SLORC changed its name to the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). Myanmar moved toward closer political and economic relations with neighboring India and Thailand in the 1990s, and in 1999 it was accepted as a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Human-rights groups continued to report numerous abuses, including the jailing of trade unionists and the increased use of members of ethnic minority groups as forced laborers, and harassment of and crackdowns on the opposition were regular occurrences. In Nov., 2000, the International Labor Organization called for sanctions against Myanmar because of the country's use of forced labor, but significant economic measures were not imposed because they would be barred by the World Trade Organization, to which Myanmar belongs.
Aung San Suu Kyi was again placed under house arrest from Sept., 2000, to May, 2002. Although many of her supporters had hoped that her 2002 release signaled a new attitude on the part of the SPDC, talks between Aung San Suu Kyi and the government, which had begun during her confinement, did not resume as expected. As she increased her criticism of the SPDC in 2003, her motorcade was attacked in May, her supporters were blamed for the violence, and she and other NLD leaders again placed in detention or under house arrest. The renewed repression led to new international sanctions and criticism of the government; like the earlier sanctions, these did not have a significant effect, in large part because of significant trade with and investments from China, Thailand, India, and Singapore. A number of NLD leaders were freed beginning in November. Meanwhile, in Aug., 2003, Gen. Khin Nyunt, who headed military intelligence, succeeded Than Shwe as prime minister; the latter remained head of the junta.
In May, 2004, the government convened a constitutional convention, but the NLD boycotted the convention because of Aung San Suu Kyi's continuing detention. The convention adjourned in July. Khin Nyunt, who was regarded as one of the more moderate SPDC members, was forced from office in Oct., 2004. Lt. Gen. Soe Win replaced him. Khin Nyunt was subsequently (2005) secretly tried on corruption and bribery charges and given a suspended sentence.
The country did not suffer significant damage as a result of the Dec., 2004, Indian Ocean tsunami. The government reconvened the constitutional convention in Feb., 2005, but adjourned it again at the end of March. The government arrest of Shan leaders on treason charges in Feb., 2005, following a government call for Shan forces to disarm, led the Shan that had signed a 1995 cease-fire with the government to resume their struggle and declare (May, 2005) Shan State independent. In Nov., 2005, the government announced that the capital would be moved to near Pyinmana from Yangon and that it had begun relocating ministries there. The move was presented as a transfer of the government to a more central location, but outside observers regarded it as an attempt to relocate to a more isolated and secure site.
The constitutional convention was again reconvened from Dec., 2005, to Jan., 2006, from Oct., 2006, to Dec., 2006, and from July to Sept., 2007, which the government announced that it had completed its work of writing the detailed guidelines for a new constitution. Under the guidelines the military would control important government ministries and sizable blocks of legislative seats. Meanwhile, in Apr., 2006, the government accused the NLD of having ties to terrorist groups, a charge the NLD denied. The International Committee of the Red Cross, which usually raises issues of concern confidentially with national governments, publicly criticized Myanmar's military regime of major human rights abuses in June, 2007.
In May, Lt. Gen. Thein Sein became acting prime minister; Soe Win, the prime minister, was seriously ill, and died in October. Fuel price rises in Aug., 2007, led to antigovernment demonstrations that came to involve large numbers of Buddhist monks. The protests continued into September, when the government brutally suppressed them and arrested some 3,000 people (the official figure). In Feb., 2008, the government announced that the new constitution was completed and that a national referendum on it would be held in May. The proposed constitution was not published, however, until April.
In May, 2008, Cyclone Nargis devastated areas of Myanmar bordering the Andaman Sea, especially in the Ayeyarwady delta and greater Yangon regions. An estimated 138,000 persons were killed, and rebuilding costs were estimated at $1 billion. The junta initially appeared reluctant to accept international aid and for a time refused international help in distributing the aid. Despite the cyclone, the constitutional referendum went ahead as scheduled (with a two-week delay in devastated areas); the vote, criticized internationally as a sham, overwhelming approved the charter, which entered into force later in the month. In Nov., 2008, Myanmarese oil-and-gas exploration ships in disputed waters in the Bay of Bengal were confronted by the Bangladeshi navy; both nations subsequently withdrew their vessels.
The government broke a 20-year cease-fire with the rebels in Kokang, in NE Shan State, in Aug., 2009; the small rebel force was soon defeated, but some 37,000 refugees fled across the Chinese border. (Fighting continued with Wa rebels, who had joined the conflict; a peace accord was signed with the Wa in 2013.) China called on Myanmar to maintain stability in the border region, and most refugees soon returned. The government's move was part of its campaign to force the members of the various ethnic rebel armies to join the border guards and to have members of the ethnic groups participate in the elections under the new constitution.
In Mar., 2010, in advance of expected elections under the constitution adopted in 2008, the government announced election laws forbidding civil servants, members of religious orders, and persons imprisoned for crimes from being members of political parties. These and other restrictions appeared intended to abolish the NLD or force it to oust Aung San Suu Kyi and other prominent jailed members. At the same time, the government also officially annulled the 1990 election that the NLD won. In April, Thein Sein and other government leaders resigned from the army prior to run as civilians in upcoming elections; additional senior officers resigned in August.
The NLD refused to reregister under the new election laws, and it and several other parties were dissolved by the government later in 2010. An NLD faction that objected to the election boycott formed the National Democratic Force to run in the November elections. The Union Solidarity and Development party (USDP), the main party aligned with the military, won more than three quarters of the nonappointed seats in parliament in November; opposition parties, including a second party aligned with the military, accused the USDP of fraud, and the elections were widely condemned internationally. Following the election, Aung San Suu Kyi was released.
In Feb., 2011, the new parliament elected Thein Sein president. The military junta was officially dissolved the following month when the new government took office, but it was unclear if Than Shwe remained the country's real leader as head of the State Supreme Council, a shadowy extraconstitutional body. In June, significant fighting erupted in Kachin and Shan states with Kachin rebels (who had maintained a cease-fire since the 1990s); the conflict was centered on the Momauk area in S Kachin State, where China was building a hydroelectric project. In September the government halted work on another Chinese-funded hydroelectric project that had aroused much opposition, Myitsone, in central Kachin. In addition to these and other projects on the tributaries of the Ayeyarwady, proposed dams on the Thanlwin also became a sources of tension with ethnic groups, and the army was used to forcibly residents from construction areas.
The second half of 2011 saw a number of improvements in relations between the government and the opposition, including a meeting between the president and Aung San Suu Kyi and the release of some political prisoners (nearly all political prisoners were released by the end of 2013), and in Jan., 2012, the NLD received approval to run candidates in the upcoming April elections. A cease-fire was signed in early 2012 with Karen rebels, who had been fighting government forces since the country's indepedence in 1948. The agreement was perhaps the most significant of the several cease-fires reached between the government and ethnic rebel groups in 2011–12, but many groups remain at war with the government. Aung San Suu Kyi and more than 40 NLD candidates won seats in parliament in the April voting; the NLD captured nearly all the seats that were up for election. The changes in the political situation in Myanmar led to the easing or removal of sanctions that had been imposed on the country, and revived contacts with Western nations.
In June, 2012, ethnic violence between Buddhist Arakanese and Muslim Rohingyas in Rakhine State in W Myanmar displaced tens of thousands and led the government to declare a state of emergency there. Tensions between the groups continued, however, and in October significant violence again erupted. Many Rohingyas ended up displaced, living in squalid camps. Beginning in Mar., 2013, recurring violence erupted between Buddhists and Muslims, first in Meikhtila, central Myanmar; mainly involving attacks against Muslims, the violence spread to a number of towns and villages elsewhere in the country. In early 2015, fighting erupted with the Kokang rebels in Shan State, leading to a new surge of refugees across the Chinese border.
See F. N. Trager, Burma: From Kingdom to Republic (1966); M. Htin Aung, A History of Burma (1967); H. Tinker, The Union of Burma (4th ed. 1967); N. Bixler, Burma: A Profile (1971); E. D. Smith, Battle for Burma (1979); D. Steinberg, Burma's Road to Development (1981); M. Smith, Burma: Insurgency and the Politics of Insurgency (1991); T. Myint-U, The Making of Modern Burma (2001), The River of Lost Footsteps (2006), and Where China Meets India: Burma and the New Crossroads of Asia (2011); M. W. Charney, A History of Modern Burma (2009).
BUDDHIST 87.2 percent
CHRISTIAN 5.6 percent
MUSLIM 3.6 percent
HINDU 1.0 percent
OTHER 2.6 percent
The Union of Myanmar, also called Burma, situated along the southeastern rim of continental Asia, is bordered by five countries: India and Bangladesh to the west, China to the north and east, and Laos and Thailand to the east. To the south of Myanmar and the west of peninsular Myanmar lies the Bay of Bengal. Myanmar is an economically undeveloped, semitropical, and mountainous country whose people have relied on rivers as the major travel routes. Buddhist monks accompanied Indian traders sailing to Myanmar's ports along the Bay of Bengal. Buddhist monks, however, also crossed mountains and used river routes to enter the country from the north.
Theravada Buddhism, the dominant religion in Myanmar, appeared about 2,000 years ago. Hinduism also dates back to this time. Christianity was encouraged during British colonial rule in the nineteenth century and has drawn the most converts from Myanmar's tribal animist populations. The ancestors of many of Myanmar's Muslims arrived during the British colonial period.
The impact of British colonial rule on the Buddhist sangha (community of monks) led monks to identify the precolonial past as a time when "pure" Buddhism flourished in Burma. The military coup in 1962 effectively sealed off the country from the rest of the world for about 20 years, which contributed to a perception of the purity of Burmese Buddhism. The current military regime, which chose the name Myanmar in 1989 to replace Burma as the official national designation, has identified its agenda as the fostering of Myanmar cultural heritage, which is effectively Buddhist culture. The government has invoked this agenda to rationalize its persecution of ethnic minorities.
As in other Southeast Asian countries, Buddhism has been used to legitimate historical and contemporary rulers. The current situation in Myanmar pits the ruling military regime, which has identified itself as a champion of Buddhism, against the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize laureate and leader of the political opposition, Aung San Suu Kyi, whom her followers view as a bodhisattva (future Buddha).
Since the 1960s the military regime has been persecuting ethnic minority groups, which include the country's Muslim, Christian, and animist populations. The United Nations estimates that between 1 and 2 million displaced persons live in Myanmar, about 600,000 in camps and the rest in hiding. More than 600,000 refugees have fled Myanmar for Thailand, Laos, Bangladesh, and Malaysia since the late 1980s. Many have fled to escape conscription into forced labor projects, which the military regime defines as voluntary contributions to earn Buddhist merit. The military regime has recruited youths by portraying the army as defending pagodas and monasteries against attack by religious minorities.
DATE OF ORIGIN Second century c.e.
NUMBER OF FOLLOWERS 38.3 million
Although Theravada Buddhism was introduced, along with Hinduism, to Burma by Indian traders who reached its shores during the first century c.e., Mahayana Buddhist missionaries from the Indian King Ashoka's court were the first Buddhist missionaries to influence mainland Southeast Asia. The first Buddhist kingdoms (100 b.c.e.–900 c.e.) established in Burma, however, were those of the Pyu, who had migrated from Tibet and incorporated Vajrayana, Mahayana, and Theravada Buddhism into their religious beliefs. The Mon, the Pyu's southern neighbors, who had migrated from the east, prospered from trade with Indian merchants, adopted Theravada Buddhism, and sent their own missionaries to propagate Buddhism throughout the region. By the ninth century the Pyu kingdoms were in decline, and a new wave of immigrants, the Burmans, settled in the north, establishing their own kingdom centered around the city of Pagan in 849.
By the eleventh century the Pagan kingdom succeeded in unifying Burma. The Pagan king Anawrahta defeated the Mon in 1057 and strove to legitimize his action by declaring himself to be a dharmaraja, a bodhisattva whose task as a monarch was to promote Buddhism. The Burmans, who learned the Pali language and Buddhist scriptures from Mon monks and Buddhist arts from Mon craftsmen, established Pagan as the new center of Theravada Buddhism.
After the fall of the Pagan kingdom to the Mongols in 1287, no unified kingdom existed in northern Burma until the emergence of Ava in 1364. In the south the Mon forged another kingdom at Pegu (now Bago), which lasted until 1531 and became the chief center of Theravada Buddhism in Burma. Succeeding dynasties endeavored to unify Burma and wage war on the Ayutthaya kingdom of Thailand. The Ava kingdom was reestablished toward the end of the sixteenth century, and Ava kings attempted to re-create their state in the image of Pagan's former glory as a Buddhist kingdom. After Ava fell in 1752 the rulers of the succeeding Konbaung dynasty set themselves to conquering their neighbors. Their incursions into Assam resulted in the first of what would be three wars with the British in the nineteenth century, British colonization in 1885, and the transformation of Burma into a province of India until 1937.
The British rule in Burma severed the traditional relationship between the sangha and the state, revoking state patronage of the sangha and precipitating a series of rebellions led by Buddhist monks (1885–97, 1932–34). The sangha lost some of its traditional prestige, Christian missions were encouraged, and children were sent to secular schools, where their Christian teachers criticized Buddhism. The Young Monk's Association, which was effectively a political organization directed to national liberation, was founded in 1906. Burma became independent in 1948, and its first prime minister, U Nu, dedicated himself to strengthening Buddhism and ensured the passage of a constitutional amendment instituting Buddhism as the state religion. He convened the Sixth Buddhist Council in 1954.
In 1962 General Ne Win overthrew the government. Ne Win did not promote Buddhism and initially tried to transform Burma into an isolated, socialist state. The country's dismal economy, however, compelled him to put forward a new constitution, which would open the country to foreign aid. He resigned in 1988 after intensive protests (involving Buddhist monks) brought Burma close to revolution. The military took control, killed many demonstrators, and imposed martial law. The military regime promised a new constitution and called for elections in 1990. The overwhelming victor was Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of General Aung San (1915–47), former hero of Burma's independence movement. She did not enjoy the fruits of her victory because she was placed under house arrest in 1989 and remained so until 1995. Nevertheless she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. Unlike the government of Ne Win, the current military regime publicly professes its support for Buddhism, as does Aung San Suu Kyi, who defines her political position in terms of the pursuit of Buddhist goals. She has argued that democracy and human rights are consistent with the Burmese Buddhist system and accused the military regime of violating the Buddhist precepts against lying and killing.
EARLY AND MODERN LEADERS
Major historical leaders of Buddhism in Burma were often kings. Anawrahta (reigned 1044–77), who unified and expanded the Pagan empire, converted to Theravada Buddhism and maintained close relations with the Sri Lankan King Vijayabahu. Anawrahta sent monks to revive the sangha in Sri Lanka and, in return, obtained relics and a copy of the Pali canon, which he regarded as more correct than the copy he had obtained from his conquest of the Mon. Kyanzittha (reigned 1084–1113), Anawrahta's successor, built many of the most important Burmese temples. King Dhammazedi (reigned 1472–92) of the Pegu kingdom in Ava was a former monk who undertook a major reformation of the monastic order. In the first half of the seventeenth century, Manirathana Thera, a monk, translated numerous texts into the Myanmar language. These were subsequently introduced into school curriculums.
Most modern leaders of Buddhism in Myanmar have professed vipassana meditation (insight meditation). Sayagyi U Ba Khin (1899–1971), a layman, achieved such exceptional mastery of the techniques developed by Ledi Sayadaw that he was encouraged by a renowned Buddhist teacher, Webu Sayadaw, to offer instruction in this practice to laypeople. Among Sayagyi's students was Satya Narayan Goenka (born in 1924), whose Vipassana Research Institute was responsible for making the entire Pali canon available on the Internet and in various systems of writing.
MAJOR THEOLOGIANS AND AUTHORS
Among the country's most influential theologians was Ledi Sayadaw (1846–1923), a prolific Buddhist scholar and influential teacher of meditation and scripture, who demonstrated particular ability in both the theory and practice of dharma (in the Pali language, dhamma). He departed from the scholarly traditions of his peers by writing many works in colloquial Burmese in order to make them accessible to laypeople. Another important theologian was Mahasi Sayadaw (1904–82), author of 67 Buddhist works and teacher of satipathana vipassana meditation (concentration meditation).
HOUSES OF WORSHIP AND HOLY PLACES
Houses of worship are mainly temples and pagodas. Pagodas, which are relic chambers or stupas, are more plentiful in Myanmar than in other Buddhist countries. Particularly important pagodas include the Shwezigon Pagoda near Pagan, which houses a replica of the Buddha's tooth obtained by Anawrahta; Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon (Rangoon), the largest gold-plated temple in the world, said to house eight hairs of the Buddha; Kuthodaw Pagoda in Mandalay, featuring the inscription of the Pali canon onto 729 white marble tablets; Mahazedi Pagoda in Bago (Pegu), enshrining a replica of the tooth relic and, purportedly, the Buddha's begging bowl; Arakan Pagoda in Mandalay, containing a sacred image of the Buddha; and Kyaiktiyo Pagoda in Kyaiktiyo, perched atop a golden rock that is balanced on the edge of a cliff.
WHAT IS SACRED?
Buddhist relics worshiped in Myanmar include eight hairs that, according to some legends, the Buddha purportedly gave to two Burmese merchants who had offered him refreshments; several replicas of the Buddha's tooth relic from Sri Lanka; and a replica of the tooth relic from the People's Republic of China. Consecrated images of the Buddha are objects of worship and may be attributed with special powers. For example, several images of a serpent-hooded Buddha are believed to protect victims of snake bites, and carved fish representing an incarnation of the Buddha are believed to have the power to bring rain. A symbol of the Buddha's renunciation of the world, the monk's yellow robe, is regarded as a sacred object with the power to protect the wearer from attacks by spirits or witches. The bo, or bodhi, tree (pipal tree) is particularly venerated and is ritually watered on the day commemorating the Buddha's enlightenment.
HOLIDAYS AND FESTIVALS
The day of the Buddha's enlightenment is celebrated in Myanmar by such meritorious activities as catching fish in drying ponds in order to release them in fresh water. The onset of Buddhist Lent unites Myanmar villagers in collective efforts to honor monks about to enter retreat for three months. A lottery determines which layman shall have the privilege to present the collective offering to the monks in the communally owned gilded begging bowl. Another lottery decides how the collective offerings will be distributed among the monks. The First Festival of Lights, held at the end of Buddhist Lent, honors one's elder relatives with gifts of food or clothes. During the following month lay people accrue special merit by making collective public offerings of yellow robes to monks. This month also provides an occasion for the public offering of other items needed by monks. These items are conspicuously displayed with their donor's names on or under a wooden structure known as a wishing tree and taken in procession to the monastery. The Second Festival of Lights marks the end of the robe-offering season by commemorating the robe given to the Buddha by his mother. Villagers earn particular merit by collectively sewing a robe within one night to present to a monk or to cover a Buddha image.
MODE OF DRESS
Six different types of robes are offered to monks or to the Buddha. The robe worn by a monk during his initiation, consisting of stitched-together patches of yellow cloth, is known as the great robe. Other robes include the two types that monks might receive during the Festivals of Lights, a robe adorned with a water-lily pattern that is offered to the Buddha, a "golden robe" made from white cloth covered by painted gilded flowers, and the "ownerless robe," which is left on the path frequented by a monk who vows not to accept a robe offering. Nuns wear pink robes, orange skirts, and brown stoles.
Although Buddhism does not proscribe the eating of meat, some monks and renowned teachers in Myanmar have advocated vegetarianism.
In Myanmar the daily practice of merit-making involves taking refuge in the Triple Gem (through which one relies on the Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha for help and guidance), reciting mantras, observing the pancha sila (Buddhist precepts), and offering cooked food to monks. Often it is not the monks themselves who beg from households but young novices who do so on their monastery's behalf. The food so collected is usually eaten by the novices and monastic visitors, not by the monks, who instead dine in the monasteries on ordered meals prepared by devout villagers. The daily food offering is an important expression of the relationship between the sangha and the laity. In village chapels, which are typically simple structures, laypeople may attend services led by a lay elder every evening.
Funerals offer the laity an opportunity to make merit and monks the opportunity to guide the soul to its future rebirth. In the event of an accidental death, the body is buried as quickly as possible and without ceremony, to discourage the dead person's ghost from returning to the former community of the deceased. When a nonaccidental death occurs in villages, people believe that the entire community is contaminated by the death and must work together to restore purity. Vigils following nonaccidental deaths provide community members with the opportunity to earn merit, because their presence reassures the departed spirit and drives off opportunistic ghosts. Just before the body is taken from a village house, laypeople place a mirror before its mouth to determine whether the soul has left the body, and they rock the body in a final obeisance to the Buddha. Relatives of the deceased usually do a meritorious act and then sponsor a ritual to transfer the merit to the deceased.
Although laypeople may be either buried or cremated, monastic funerals entail cremation and often separate final rites. During the latter, hired mourners weep and chant over the deceased monk's bones, which are laid in a kind of flower cradle. As the cradle is rocked, attending monks pray that the deceased will reach an auspicious destiny. The bones are then either interred or ground into a powder that is molded into a Buddha image to be placed in the monastery.
RITES OF PASSAGE
Males who do not devote their lives to the sangha nonetheless typically participate in two monastic initiations. The first occurs around the age of eight or nine, when a boy undergoes the shinbyu ritual inducting him as a novice in the monastery. The initiate's parents might hire a band, offer guests a rich feast, and invoke the theme of Prince Siddhartha's departure from his secular, courtly life by dressing their son in the costume of a royal prince and building an imitation palace of cardboard and wood to house the festivities. Although a novice probably will not remain long in the monastery, his initiation is viewed as an essential basis for his ordination into monkhood when he is at least 20 years old. An ordination ceremony takes place in a temple chamber forbidden to laypersons. The candidate kneels before an assembly of at least four monks while one monk recites the ordination ritual. Following this recitation the presiding monk questions the candidate, the candidate formally requests admission to the sangha, and, barring objections from the assembly, the presiding monk then admits the candidate to the sangha, bestowing on him a new name.
Burma began to attract Western converts to Theravada Buddhism around the beginning of the twentieth century. In 1908 Allan Bennet, the second Englishman to be ordained in Burma as a Theravada monk (Gordon Douglas was the first, in 1899), left Burma for England, where he founded a mission. Because members of the military government had been influenced by vipassana meditation, vipassana masters were permitted to leave Burma as missionaries from 1962 to 1988, when the country was closed (when foreigners were generally barred from entering the country and few citizens were permitted to leave). Since 1988 the Maha Bodhi meditation center and other traditions have attracted foreign disciples.
The Myanmar government has actively promoted missionary projects of its own. The most substantial of these is the International Theravada Buddhist Missionary University, which opened in 1998. Burmese monks living outside of the country convened in Malaysia in 1985 to establish the International Burmese Buddhist Sangha as a missionary organization. The Internet is an important tool for these various centers and organizations.
The country's military regime has generally tried to eliminate monks who might be active in the field of social justice. Under UNICEF auspices, however, monks and nuns have been training at Thailand's Sangha Metta Project (formed in 1998) to become educators in the prevention and social management of AIDS.
Myanmar Buddhists believe in a type of religious essence known as pon, which constitutes the power and glory of an individual and is mainly an attribute of men. Because men possess pon and women generally do not, women are expected to treat men with respect and defer to them in public. It is the wife's responsibility to guard and enhance her husband's pon. Although women enjoy parity with men in terms of inheritance rights, many choices of occupation, the ability to initiate divorce, and voicing their opinions, the view that pon is a male principle and associated with the capacity to attain nibbana (nirvana) influences relations between men and women.
Buddhist monks periodically protested against British colonial rulers and the military regime that has controlled Myanmar since 1962. In 1990 monasteries organized an unprecedented boycott against the government. In response the government chose to avoid its earlier mistake of opposing Buddhism by declaring its program to support Buddhism by such actions as removing "vice" (meaning subversive monks) from the monasteries. Moreover, the government publicly associated the protests waged by monks in 1988 with the defilement of revered Buddhist shrines and argued that party politics should never be combined with religion.
Contemporary Myanmar politics reveals opposing interpretations of what constitutes meritorious activity. The military government, which has been censured internationally for its persecution of ethnic minorities and suppression of democracy, describes the forced labor it exacts from ethnic minorities to build temples and other state projects as voluntary labor given to gain Buddhist merit. The military government's chief opponent, Aung San Suu Kyi, has asserted that the struggle for democracy aids the Buddhist realm and, therefore, constitutes merit-making.
Abortion, which is illegal in Myanmar, is considered to violate Buddhist ethics, but Buddhism does not oppose contraception. Buddhist nuns do not enjoy a high position in Myanmar society. They do not have the opportunity to pursue Buddhist studies, nor are they requested to perform religious functions.
Buddhist literary genres in fifteenth-century Burma included verses based on stories of the Buddha's life but placed in a Burmese context, devotional poetry, and advisory epistles written by monks to kings. During the first millennium the Pyu devised a distinctive style of stupa known as a cetiya, which was continued in succeeding periods. In the eleventh century Buddhist architects began to build cetiyas with open bases and with domes that arose from the floor rather than the roof of these bases. This style transformed the base of the cetiya into a temple with internal halls that were decorated with Buddha images and paintings. These internal halls encompassed the lower part of the dome of the cetiya, which featured Buddha icons facing the four directions. The Ananda temple of Pagan is a noted example of this style. The Mandalay style of Buddha image depicts a standing Buddha with arms slightly spread at the base.
The propitiation of nats (designated as 37 anthropomorphic spirits associated with territories, villages, families, and activities) addresses worldly concerns, such as illness, bad luck, and prosperity. The Buddhist householder's worship of nats is oriented toward maximizing the potential of the present life, but maximizing the potential of one's present life ideally enables one to generate the merit that secures a better rebirth. Because the Buddhist householder in practice pursues the goal of a good rebirth rather than spiritual salvation, Buddhism and nat cults can be understood as reflecting complementary ethical notions and approaches to the supernatural. In Myanmar a nat shrine adorns each Buddhist village and many Christian villages. Nat cult leaders are mostly women, who serve as oracles, mediums, or diviners and consider themselves to be either married to or the lovers of nats. Several pagodas are dedicated exclusively to nat worship. Buddhists propitiate nats during the observance of rites of passage. The house nat must be honored when a child is born, and village nats receive offerings prior to a boy's initiation as a Buddhist novice, at weddings, and at funerals. Nats also receive offerings during the phases of the agricultural cycle and to prevent and cure illness. Significant parallels can be drawn between the hierarchy of nats and the political structure of historic Burmese kingdoms.
Hindu practitioners may participate in common Buddhist rituals in Myanmar. Brahman priests are occasionally hired to offer auspicious chants during shinbyu rituals, because the Buddhist sponsors believe that the Brahman priests are particularly adept at praising the ritual participants and guests and appeasing envious nats.
Because the ancestors of the majority of Myanmar's Muslim population arrived from India during the British rule, Myanmar Muslims cannot prove that their ancestors were residents of Burma before 1823 and thus meet the requirement for Myanmar citizenship and a national identity card. This, in turn, denies Muslims access to travel, education, and jobs. The construction of new mosques is prohibited, and, where anti-Muslim riots have occurred, Muslims are forbidden to assemble in groups of more than five. During 1991–92 about 250,000 Muslims fled to Bangladesh.
Like Muslims, Christians in Myanmar are prohibited from constructing or repairing churches; they are also prohibited from publishing or distributing religious literature. Bibles translated into local languages are forbidden. Many Christian churches have been closed or destroyed. Christian worship is only permitted in buildings more than 100 years old that display no external symbols of the cross. Christian ethnic minorities are being forced to convert to Buddhism. One group of Christian Karen tribal guerrilla fighters viewed the twin boys (born in 1988) leading them in their struggle (against the Myanmar army and the Myanmar regime's persecution of Christian tribal people) as messiahs.
Houtman, Gustaaf. Mental Culture in Burmese Crisis Politics: Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy. Study of Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa Monograph Series, no. 33. Tokyo: Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, Institute of the Study of Languages and Cultures of Asia and Africa, 1999.
Nash, Manning. The Golden Road to Modernity. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1965.
Sarkisyanz, E. Buddhist Backgrounds of the Burmese Revolution. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1965.
Smith, Donald Eugene. Religion and Politics in Burma. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1965.
——. Burmese Supernaturalism. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1967.
|Official Country Name:||Union of Myanmar|
|Number of Primary Schools:||35,752|
|Compulsory Schooling:||5 years|
|Public Expenditure on Education:||1.2%|
|Educational Enrollment:||Primary: 5,413,752|
|Educational Enrollment Rate:||Primary: 121%|
|Student-Teacher Ratio:||Primary: 46:1|
|Female Enrollment Rate:||Secondary: 30%|
History & Background
The Union of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is the largest nation in mainland Southeast Asia. With a territory of 262,000 square miles and a population of approximately 50 million people, it is located between the two most populous nations in the world—China and India.
Myanmar's society and culture have been greatly influenced by China and India. As an independent nation since January 1948, Myanmar has been passing through various military rules and a series of democratization movements. Its education system, as is the case in other Buddhist countries in Southeast Asia, is based on the model of rural monasteries where the Sayadaws (abbots) teach the basic three Rs, as well as handicrafts, to people of all ages.
A fascinating, longtime continuity of monastic learning and modern education makes Myanmar one of the most literate countries in the region. With an approximately 80 percent literacy rate, Myanmar, despite many militaristically created setbacks, rightfully claims to be an educational leader among many economically disadvantaged Third World countries.
Myanmar has been an active partner in the UNESCO-led movement of "Education for All," known as EFA2000. Education in Myanmar (then Burma) until 1948 was colonial, widely criticized by the leaders of independence movement. The Education Reconstruction Committee Report of 1947 included a wide array of school reforms such as bilingual curricula, vocational training, and health education. During the 1948-1962 post-independence period, the government of Burma announced a statement of educational policy that included free education in state schools; the use of Burmese as a medium of instruction while allowing English at the college level; and the creation of new textbooks that highlighted the spirit of nationalism.
Under military rule (1962-1988) the Burmese educational system became highly centralized. General Ne Win's Government used the schools as a tool of political indoctrination. While the military rulers emphasized science and technology, school and college curricula were controlled and teachers were not able to teach in a free atmosphere. Once an economically as well as educationally leading country in South East Asia, Burma was granted a status of "Least Developed Country" by the United Nations in 1987. In 1989 Burma adopted a nationalistic new name, Myanmar.
Finally, during 1988-2000, known as a period of "democratization under the military control," the educational system in Myanmar has remained chaotic. In the first free, multiparty elections, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi's party won a decisive victory, but the Military refused to give up its authority. Ms. Kyi, a highly popular, democratic leader was held under house arrest. Numerous students and teachers who led the democratization movement were silenced or jailed, and many colleges and universities were periodically shut down.
Despite a traditionally high rate of literacy and importance of learning in Myanmar, its educational system is in a state of underdevelopment and uncertainty. Although enrollment in primary schools is very high, the completion rate lags behind. Reports indicate that only one third of all primary school children finish the first five years. Many students drop out due to poverty, lack of support, and poor health. While school attendance is high in urban areas and among male students, village schools in a vastly rural-agrarian country are handicapped by poor attendance, especially among the female students.
Myanmar's educational system has been suffering from a proportionately declining budget. While there has been a sizable increase in the number of schools, colleges, universities, and teachers during the last five years, the percentage of total education expenditure declined from 4.65 percent in 1995 to 2.52 percent in 1999. While the total budget rose from approximately 7,000 to l,000 million kyats (approximately 6.5 kyats equal US$1.00), the proportionate decline implies that the present military rule does not give high priority to education, even though it does declare its commitment to EF2000 Education For All by Year 2000.
For several years Myanmar has also been actively participating in many world agencies such as UNDP (United Nations Development Project), UNESCO (United Nations Economic, Social, and Cultural Organization), and UNICEF (United Nations Children's Emergency Fund). Even in this area of support by NGOs (nongovernmental organizations), as in the above allocation by the Government' Ministry of Education budget, there is a slight proportionate decline. While the UNDP allocation of $3.9 million for primary education in Myanmar rose to $5.9 million in four years (1994-1998), it fell from 14 percent to 12 percent, proportionately.
Administration, Finance, & Educational Research
Recent changes and developments in the educational system in Myanmar, as in the case of other less developed countries, are described, explained, and projected in many divergent ways. Depending on the source of the description and assessment of changes in Myanmar's schools and colleges, there are widely varying pictures. The government-generated reports declare steady progress and lofty goals at all levels of education.
There are seven departments and many specially formed committees in charge of setting goals and employing appropriate strategies to achieve EFA (Education for All) and specific numerical targets. For instance, the Department of Basic Education is in charge of the primary, middle, and high school levels. The Department of Higher Education is responsible for colleges and universities. There are separate departments for technical, agricultural, and vocational education and official bodies for administering examinations, training teachers, and conducting educational research. There are various committees for formal and nonformal education at national and regional levels; these bodies have reported that more and more children have been completing primary and secondary education and that the degree programs have shortened their masters degree program from three to two years. It is also proposed that undergraduate programs be reduced from four to three years and that a semester system that continuously monitors the student's progress be introduced in place of the present system, which heavily relies on rote leaning and extremely competitive end-of-year final examinations.
The Medium of Instruction: Before 1991 all textbooks for basic education were in Burmese. Even in higher education, English was de-emphasized as a language of the Colonizers. Such nationalistic sentiments seemed to be replaced by more realistic objectives of mastering English as a universal language and being more compatible with scientific and technical education.
It is reported that all subjects except the Myanmar language and literature are taught in English at the high school and college levels. The texts and examinations, too, are written in English. There is some concern though, among Myanmar's leaders, that the English language may generate more liberal ways of thinking, as in the United States and Great Britain, and may create an atmosphere of democratic and egalitarian ways of thinking and acting.
The critics of Myanmar's militarism point to the severe shortage of adequately trained teachers, especially to teach English and sciences, as many seek overseas careers because of relatively low salaries and lack of freedom. Myanmar's leaders seem to favor the Japanese system of education, which places heavy stress on discipline, more so than the Western European and American systems. Many university students have been leaving Myanmar to seek admission to other universities in the region or to Europe and the United States, as numerous campuses have been closed or affected by student demonstrations and government repression.
Two developments in recent years include an increase in the enrollment of computer literacy and an increase in the enrollment in the government-sponsored University of Distance Education. Several hundred schools and colleges have been teaching computer education, especially during evenings and through short programs. Almost 50 percent of all university students were affiliated with the University of Distance Education, which attracts elderly students and would-be teachers.
Tuition Classes: In Myanmar and in many developing countries that call themselves "Socialistic," the government heavily favors the rich through a parallel system of private tutoring called kyu-shin. Many students call in teachers to coach them at their homes in the format of small groups of friends and relatives. These private classes are costly and have been contributing to the general deterioration of government schools. Such a system also creates inequality of opportunity for students who need private classes but cannot afford them.
The most popular tuition classes cater to the needs of students in the final year of high school as a "guarantee" for college entrance after the stiff and highly competitive tests. The tutors often guide their students through specially prepared expensive guidebooks and more or less personalized guidance. English and science are among the most sought-out subjects in order to get better jobs or entry to overseas universities.
Ethnic Diversity: Myanmar's population includes many ethnic minorities, some of which (such as Mon) have been deprived of equality in the use of their own language. For example, at one point, the shutting down of 120 Mon schools attended by 6,000 students was discussed. Another discriminatory practice involves the Citizenship Law of 1982. Thousands of Chinese and Indian students face the problem of college admission in general and entrance to the programs of technology and medicine in particular.
In spite of its pro-educational cultural tradition and several recent success stories, Myanmar still faces many unresolved issues. While the international agencies, as well as local volunteers, have been trying to improve the quality and expand the scope of education at various levels, Myanmar's repressive military leadership offsets these efforts.
The democratically inclined leader, Ms. Kyi, is still not allowed to lead, despite her winning a Nobel Peace Prize 10 years ago. Myanmar's schools and colleges need to get closer to their long overdue prospects of democratization, openness, and equality among students and teachers.
Asia 2000 Yearbook. "Far Eastern Economic Review," 2000.
Myo Nyunt, U. Human Resource Development and Nation Building in Myanmar's Educational Development. Yungoon: Office of Strategic Studies, 1996.
Thein, Myat, and Khin Maung NYO. Social Sector Development in Myanmar: The Rate of the State. ASEAN Economic Development, December 1999.
Union of Myamar. Review of the Financial, Economic, and Social Conditions for 1997/98. Ministry of National Planning and Economic Development, 1998.
- Area: 261,969 sq mi (678,500 sq km) / World Rank: 41
- Location: Northern and Eastern Hemispheres, in Southeast Asia, bordered by India and Bangladesh in the northwest, China in the northeast, Laos in the east, Thailand in the east and southeast, and the Indian Ocean to the south and the west.
- Coordinates: 22° 00′ N, 98° 00′ E
- Borders: 3,643 mi (5,876 km) / Bangladesh, 120 mi (193 km); China, 1,355 mi (2,185 km); India, 907 mi (1,463 km); Laos, 146 mi (235 km); Thailand, 1116 mi (1,800 km)
- Coastline: 1197 mi (1930 km)
- Territorial Seas: 12 NM
- Highest Point: Hkakabo Razi, 19,295 ft (5,881 m)
- Lowest Point: Sea level
- Longest Distances: 1,200 mi (1,931 km) N-S; 575 mi (925 km) E-W
- Longest River: Mekong River, 2,600 mi (4,200 km)
- Largest Lake: Indawgyi Lake, 45 sq mi (116 sq km)
- Natural Hazards: Earthquakes, flooding, drought, cyclones
- Population: 41,994,678 (2001 estimate) / World Rank: 27
- Capital City: Yangon, on the Yangon River in the delta region
- Largest City: Yangon, 4 million (2001 estimate)
Myanmar, the largest nation of mainland Southeast Asia, has an extraordinary variety of terrain, from glaciers in the north to coral reefs in the south. In outline, Myanmar frequently is compared to a diamond-shaped kite with a long tail sharing the Malay Peninsula with Thailand. The country has mountainous frontiers, a high plateau in the northeast, and a fertile central plain ending in the deltas of the Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwady) and Sittang (Sittoung) Rivers. Myanmar is located on the Eurasian Tectonic Plate and is seismically active territory, with frequent earthquakes. Northern and central Myanmar have many extinct volcanoes.
In the late 1980s the military government changed the name of the country from Burma to Myanmar and changed the names or spellings of many geographic features. In this essay the most widely used version of these names are used.
MOUNTAINS AND HILLS
There are many mountain ranges throughout the country. Myanmar's northern mountains, including the Patkai and Kumon Ranges, are among the southernmost extensions of the Himalayas. These mountains are very high and rugged and include Hkakabo Razi at the northernmost tip of the country. At 19,295 ft (5,881 m), it is the highest peak in the nation.
The mountains run south along the western border with India and Bangladesh. This belt is composed of many ranges, including the Patkai, Mangin and the Chin Hills, which continue southward to the extreme southwestern corner of the country. The Arakan (Rakhine) Mountains extend southeastwards along the coast from there before giving way to the Irrawaddy flood plains. Notable peaks in the west include Saramati (12,663 ft / 3,860 m) and Mt. Victoria (10,016 ft / 3,053 m).
In central Myanmar, the north-south Pegu Yoma (Bago) Mountains break up the flatness of the alluvial plains between the Irrawaddy and Sittang Rivers. In the southeast, the Dawna and Bilauktaung Ranges mark the border with Thailand on the Malay Peninsula.
In northeast Myanmar, the Shan Plateau, 57,816 sq mi (149,743 sq km) in area, rises to an average elevation of about 3,000 ft (914 m) above sea level. Its western edge is clearly marked by a north-south cliff that often rises 2,000 ft (610 m) in a single step.
The Shan Plateau features deep limestone river gorges. The most notable are the gorge of the Salween (Thanlwin) River and Gokteik Gorge, cut by the Namtu River.
Hills and Badlands
Steep craggy limestone hills with many caves are found in the Shan Plateau and in the southeastern part of the country. Elsewhere in the country there are foothill areas leading up to the mountain chains.
Myanmar's largest lake, Indawgyi, 45 sq mi (116 sq km), is thought to have been formed by an earthquake. The second largest is the shallow Inle Lake, which covers about 26 sq mi (67 sq km) on the Shan Plateau. It is the residue of an inland sea that is still shrinking. The lower Chindwin River basin has several crater lakes. Other lakes and ponds are for the most part either closed bodies in the courses of former rivers, or are artificial ones formed by reclaiming marshes.
The Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwady) River, 1,350 mi (2,170 km) is Myanmar's primary drainage system. Rising in the far north of Myanmar, the Irrawaddy flows south across the entire country before entering the sea through a nine-channel delta. It is the longest river found entirely within Myanmar. The Irrawaddy's most important tributary is the Chindwin River (600 mi / 960 km). It drains the northwest and is fed by tributary streams from the mountains of the Indian frontier. The Sittang (Sittoung) River (300 mi / 483 km) rises just south of Mandalay and parallels the Irrawaddy on its eastern flank. The lower valleys of the Irrawaddy and Sittang rivers form a vast, low-lying delta area of about 10,000 sq mi (25,900 sq km) that continually expands into the sea due to silting.
Myanmar's other large river, the Salween (Thanlwin), rises in China and flows south across the Shan Plateau in eastern Myanmar. The Salween covers 823 mi (1,325 km) within Myanmar, in a series of rapids and waterfalls through steep, narrow valleys, with enormous changes in level. Plans to dam the Salween have caused international controversy, and mining operations have polluted northern rivers.
In the eastern Shan State the mighty Mekong River (2,600 mi / 4,200 km) forms Myanmar's 146 mi (235 km) long border with Laos. In the southeast, many short streams run westward to the Andaman Sea, most notably the Tenasserim. There are also a number of small rivers in the southwest, flowing south out of the mountains into the Bay of Bengal.
The Irrawaddy delta region has salt and fresh water swamps with mud flats and abundant bird life. The coast of the southeastern region features numerous lagoons adjoined by salt marshes.
THE COAST, ISLANDS AND THE OCEAN
Oceans and Seas
Myanmar's western shores curve along the Bay of Bengal, coming to a point at Cape Negrais. The Irrawaddy delta and southeastern region's coasts together frame the upper corner of the Andaman Sea, joining at the Gulf of Martaban. All of these are parts of the Indian Ocean.
Offshore there are many large islands and hundreds of smaller ones. The islands of Myanmar's west coast and delta have been formed by erosion of the shoreline. Just off the northwest coast, the large Ramree (520 sq mi/ 1,350 sq km) and Cheduba (202 sq mi/523 sq km) islands are part of the Ramri Group. Bilugyun is a large island on the southwest coast. Also in the southwest is an undersea ridgeline forming the Mergui Archipelago of some 900 islands ranging in size from Kadan Island (170 sq mi / 440 sq km) to small rocky outcroppings.
The Coast and Beaches
In the northwest of Myanmar, the coast has rocky ridges with deep channels. Mud flats are covered with mangroves. After Cape Negrais Myanmar's southern delta coast is formed by silt from the Irrawaddy and other rivers. From the mouth of the Sittang River, the coast stretches south with inlets, rocky cliffs, and coral reefs.
CLIMATE AND VEGETATION
The average annual temperature is 82°F (28°C). Temperatures can dip below 32°F (0°C) in mountainous areas, and soar as high as 113°F (45°C) on the central plains. Humidity ranges from 66 percent to 83 percent. Three seasons are experienced: a cool winter from November to February, a hot season in March-April, and a rainy season when the southwest monsoon arrives, from May through October.
Most of the country's rainfall occurs during the monsoon. Annual average rainfall is 200 in (508 cm) along the coast and 30 in (76 cm) for central regions. Frost and snow occur in the high mountains of the north.
The vast deltas and flood plains of the Irrawaddy and Sittang Rivers form the heart of Myanmar and are its most productive farmland. Some grassland is mixed with scrub growth in the large tracts of denuded former forest on the Shan Plateau and in the "dry zone" of central Myanmar. Bamboo grows extensively in many parts of the country.
The "dry zone" of upper central Myanmar has seven rainless months each year, during which its rivers go dry and windstorms are frequent. The terrain there is characterized by erosion and scrub vegetation, including cactus and acacia.
Forests and Jungles
Until recent decades, Myanmar has been the repository of much of the last large temperate and tropical rainforests in mainland Asia, as well as deciduous monsoon forests and coastal mangrove forests. All of these are dwindling, primarily due to unchecked timber operations. Traditional sustainable logging practices were largely abandoned for clearcutting of valuable hardwoods, particularly teak, in the central regions during the 1970s and 1980s. By the early 1990s, Myanmar's deforestation rate, estimated by satellite mapping, was the third highest in the world. The loss of much of the eastern and western forest cover occured when the military government expanded timber exports in the 1990s. Myanmar's rate of deforestation has more than doubled since 1988, according to a World Resources Institute study. Logging concessions have also been extended to pristine areas of the far north. Deforestation, estimated at nearly 5,000 sq km (1,930 sq mi) per year, is also caused by land-clearing for farms, roads, and military bases. The country's remaining forest cover, now less than 30 percent, is mostly found in the relatively inaccessible mountain areas of the north and northeast. The loss of forest cover in Myanmar has threatened animal and plant populations, and caused landslides, river siltation, flooding, and drought.
Myanmar has a moderate growth rate of 1.3 percent and density of 176 people per sq mi (68 people per sq
|Population Centers – Myanmar|
|(2000 POPULATION ESTIMATES)|
|SOURCE : Projected from United Nations Statistics Division data, 1983.|
|States – Myanmar|
|2000 POPULATION ESTIMATES|
|Name||Population||Area (sq mi)||Area (sq km)||Capital|
|SOURCE : Myanmar Data on Internet, Table 2.03, Estimated Population of Myanmar by State and Division, and by Sex.|
km) by 1999 estimates. Some 27 percent of the population live in urban areas; most people make their living through agriculture. In 1997 it was estimated that 23 percent of Myanmar's people live in poverty.
Myanmar is rich in natural resources but remains one of world's poorest countries, with an economy based primarily on agriculture. Fishing, timber, and other forest resources (including botanical medicines) are important. Minerals found in Myanmar include jade, rubies and other gemstones, gold, silver, copper, tin, zinc, antimony, tungsten, lead, nickel, cobalt, coal, limestone, marble, chromium, oil (onshore), and natural gas (offshore).
AsianInfo.Org. Myanmar. http://www.asianinfo.org/asianinfo/myanmar/myanmar.htm (Accessed April 11, 2002).
Beck, Jan. Historical Dictionary of Myanmar. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 1995.
Brunner, Jake, Chantal Elink, and Kirk Talbot. Logging Burma's Frontier Forests: Resources and the Regime. Washington, D.C.: World Resources Institute, 1998.
Kyi, Aung San Suu. Letters from Burma. London: Penguin Books, 1997.
The modern state of Myanmar, also known as Burma, is geographically the largest and westernmost country of mainland Southeast Asia. Its population of approximately forty-seven million as of the year 2000 is comprised of more than one hundred nationalities, the largest of which include the majority Bamar or ethnic Burmans, the Rakhine (Arakanese), the Shan, the Kayin (Karen), and the Mon. As a convention in English, members of all of these nationalities receive the designation Burmese as citizens of the country. The vast majority of the Burmese people, regardless of their ethnic affiliation, subscribe to TheravĀda Buddhism as their traditional faith. So pervasive is the influence of this religion on the people of Myanmar that it is often said that to be Burmese is to be Buddhist. Indeed, historically it was Theravāda Buddhism more than any other force that drew the many peoples of Myanmar together into a single civilization, so much so that even non-Buddhist citizens of the country acknowledge the centrality of Theravāda ethical, social, and political conceptions to the fabric of Burmese life.
Burmese chroniclers trace the origin of Theravāda Buddhism in their country to the Buddha himself, who they assert personally converted the inhabitants of Lower and Upper Myanmar. These regions are the respective homelands of the Mon and the ancient Pyu people, precursors of the modern Bamar and the nationalities most closely associated with the evolution of Burmese Buddhism. Burmese sources further equate the Mon homeland with Suvaṇṇnabhūmi and the Pyu-Bamar homeland with Aparanta, identifications that allow them to claim for their country two missions from King AŚoka (ca. 300–232 b.c.e.). Reflecting a long-standing cultural rivalry with Sri Lanka, the same sources emphasize that the two missions restored an already established Theravāda tradition in Myanmar, whereas the simultaneous single Aśokan mission to Sri Lanka merely established Theravāda Buddhism on the island for the first time. As a final claim to primacy, the Mon identify the great Pāli commentator Buddhaghosa as a native son.
Although Theravāda Buddhism has a long history in Myanmar, there is little evidence of its presence in the country before the fourth century c.e. In addition, that which has been uncovered does not support the traditional portrayal of early Burmese Buddhism as uniformly Theravāda. Rather it shows an eclectic mix of traditions that included multiple forms of Buddhism, Brahmanism, and indigenous animist cults. Excavations at the ancient Pyu capital of Śrīkṣetra, for example, unearthed images of ViṢṆu, MahĀyĀna bodhisattvas, and Pāli and Sanskrit Buddhist inscriptions. Seventh-century Chinese travelogues note that the city supported Sthaviravāda (Theravāda), Mahāsāṃghika, Mūlasarvāstivāda, and Saṃmatīya monks and that the Pyu observed the custom of ordaining all youths as novices in the Buddhist religion.
During this early period Myanmar absorbed cultural influences chiefly from South India, though important contacts were also maintained with Sri Lanka. Beginning in the ninth century, by which time the Bamar had begun to replace the Pyu in Upper Myanmar, Bengal emerged as a major source of Indian influence in the region. Large numbers of Buddhist votive tablets bearing Mahāyāna imagery and Sanskrit inscriptions written in north Indian script were imported and produced locally at this time. Bengali influence waned by the twelfth century as a consequence of the Muslim conquest of north India, a development that encouraged the expansion of Burmese ties with Sri Lanka. The Sri Lanka connection facilitated the introduction of new reformist strands of Sinhalese Theravāda Buddhism that in time emerged as the majority Buddhist tradition of mainland Southeast Asia. This process proceeded incrementally and did not complete itself in Myanmar until the eighteenth century.
In 1057 c.e., the Bamar king of Pagan, Anawrahta (Pāli, Anuruddha), conquered the Mon kingdom of Thaton in Lower Myanmar, inaugurating the first Burmese empire (1057–1287). Tradition states that he carried off to his capital Pāli texts, relics, and orthodox monks, and that he adopted Theravāda Buddhism as the sole religion of his domain. To prepare for this, Anawrahta suppressed an already established sect of heretical Buddhist monks known as the Ari, who, though notorious for their wickedness, had enjoyed the traditional support of his forefathers. Whatever the historical accuracy of the legend, epigraphic and archaeological evidence indicates that Anawrahta was more eclectic than portrayed. He assisted the Sinhalese king Vijayabāhu I to reinstate a valid Theravāda ordination line in Sri Lanka; at the same time he circulated in his own kingdom votive tablets adorned with Mahāyāna imagery. Anawrahta also supported a royal cult of nat or spirit propitiation dedicated to the very deities said to have been worshipped by the Ari monks.
In 1165 the Sinhalese king Parakkamabāhu I reformed the Theravāda saṄgha of Sri Lanka by abolishing the Abhayagiri and Jetavana monasteries and compelling all worthy monks to be reordained in the Mahāvihāra fraternity. Within two decades, this reformed Sinhalese tradition was established at Pagan and elsewhere in the Burmese empire. The Burmese monarch extended patronage to the imported Sinhalese order but did not compel the native saṅgha to unite with it. As a consequence, the Burmese monastic community split into two groups, an indigenous unreformed faction called the Myanma saṅgha, and the reformed Sinhalese faction called the Sīhala saṅgha. The Sīhala saṅgha was revered for its discipline and scholarship, though it fractured repeatedly, giving rise to a pattern of saṅgha disunity that has been characteristic of Burmese monasticism ever since.
In the thirteenth century a powerful community of forest-dwelling monks emerged from the Myanma saṅgha, whose discipline was lax when viewed by Sinhalese standards. Modern scholarship has identified these as the Ari monks of the chronicles. Ruins of their headquarters at Minnanthu near Pagan include temples decorated with Mahāyāna and tantric imagery, suggesting that the forest dwellers were votaries of these traditions. The Tibetan historian Tārānātha (1575–1634) states that Buddhist tantra was introduced to Pagan from Bengal by this time and inscriptions indicate that as late as the fifteenth century the Myanma saṅgha received, along with Pāli scriptures The S hala san and commentaries, Mahāyāna and tantric works as donations to its libraries.
Ascendancy of Sinhalese orthodoxy
Toward the end of the thirteenth century the Pagan empire began to disintegrate. The Mon broke away and established the kingdom of Rāmañña in Lower Myanmar, while the Bamar divided Upper Myanmar into several smaller states, chief of which was the kingdom of Ava. The monastic community remained divided throughout the region. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, new waves of reformed Theravāda Buddhism emanating from Sri Lanka were introduced into Southeast Asia via Lower Myanmar. In 1476 Dhammazedi, the Mon king of Rāmañña, adopted these reforms, compelling all monks in his realm to be reordained in the new more stringent Sinhalese order and to be educated according to a standardized curriculum.
Dhammazedi's reformed saṅgha was favored by two succeeding Burmese empires, the Taungoo (1531–1752) and the Konbaung (1752–1885), though rival monastic fraternities were allowed to flourish unmolested. It was during this period of relative stability that the village monastery became the basic institutional unit of the Burmese saṅgha and assumed its traditional role as village center and school for village youth. It was principally through this institution, which facilitated literacy and the propagation of a standardized Buddhist ethos, that the cultural integration characteristic of Burmese civilization was achieved. In 1791 the Burmese monarchy ordered Dhammazedi's reforms imposed uniformly throughout the empire, thus unifying the Burmese saṅgha for the first time. Although monastic unity was short lived and did not survive the demise of the Konbaung dynasty, all contemporary monastic fraternities in Myanmar trace their lineages back to Dhammazedi's reforms and share a common interpretation of the monastic code. Buddhism was disestablished as the state religion under the British colonial government (1885–1947) to the detriment of saṅgha discipline. State oversight of religious affairs was restored at Burmese independence in 1947, and has remained in place under both the original democratic government and the subsequent military junta that has ruled the country since 1962.
In addition to overseeing monastic affairs, Burmese kings devoted themselves to the acquisition of Buddha relics (Pāli, dhātu; Burmese, dat-daw) and to the preservation of Buddhist texts. These three together (relics, texts, and monks) are the physical embodiments
of the Buddha, the dhamma (Sanskrit, dharma; teachings), and the saṅgha—the three jewels (Pāli, tiratana) at the center of Buddhist devotional practice. Within the precincts of every capital were grand pagodas (Burmese, zedi) housing relics that functioned as palladia of the state, and during periods of imperial unity, the shrines of subjugated territories were often restored and embellished as signs of the emperor's piety and magnanimity. Myanmar's most magnificent shrine, the gilded Shwedagon pagoda in Yangon (Rangoon), reached its present monumental dimensions through a process of repeated expansion at the hands of rival monarchs. Since Pagan times Burmese kings took upon themselves the task of promoting monastic learning and preserving accurate copies of the Theravāda canon—the Pāli tipix1E6D;aka. The most recent recensions of the tipix1E6D;aka in Myanmar were produced during two Buddhist councils; the first convened by King Mindon in 1871 and the second convened by Prime Minister U Nu in 1954. Since at least the fifteenth century, officially edited tipiṭakas have formed the core curriculum of state administered monastic examinations.
The Burmese synthesis of traditions
Buddhism in Myanmar combines several key elements from its variegated past to produce a unique form of Theravāda orthodoxy. Occupying the center is the Pāli textual tradition with its beliefs, practices, and institutions as interpreted by the Burmese Theravāda saṅgha, and supported by the state and the general populace. There are, in addition, important rites and beliefs that derive from non-Pāli sources but are regarded as wholly orthodox. Prominent among these is the shinpyu ceremony, the obligatory temporary ordination of boys as Buddhist novices, and the simultaneous earpiercing ceremony for girls, rites of passage that can be traced back to the Buddhist initiation ceremonies of the ancient Pyu. The popular cult of Shin Upagot (Sanskrit, Upagupta), an immortal arhat and remover of obstacles, and the cave-shrine of Alaung-daw Kathapa near the city of Monywa, which allegedly contains the sacred corpse of MahĀkĀŚyapa (Pāli, Mahākassapa), both have their origins in Sanskrit Buddhist traditions. The famous water festival of Thin-gyan, which marks the Burmese New Year in April, was adapted from the Hindu New Year festival of Holi, with Buddhist elements taken from Pāli scripture interpolated into the festival's legend.
For purely worldly concerns, Burmese seek the assistance of a host of nats or spirits. Considered morally ambiguous at best, nats may be nature deities or the ghosts of legendary persons who died violent deaths and whose energies can be tapped in exchange for veneration. At the national level the belief system is organized into the cult of the Thirty-Seven Lords, which originally was a royally administered cult of spirit propitiation that tied pre-Buddhist regional deities and their human devotees into a hierarchical web of ritual obligation paralleling the political order. Nat worship often entails the offering of alcohol and blood sacrifice (chickens), for which reason it is regarded even by its votaries as falling outside of Buddhism. Nevertheless the nat pantheon is conceived of in entirely Buddhist terms and it is situated within the lower strata of the Buddhist cosmos as articulated by the normative tradition.
Burmese Buddhism as a salvific system can be divided into three general types or paths. The first and most traditional of these is the path of merit-making whereby one strives to accumulate merit (Pāli, puñña; Burmese, kuthol) through the observance of precepts (Pāli, sīla), the performance of meritorious deeds, and acts of dĀna (giving) directed especially toward religious persons and objects, such as monks and pagodas. The goal of merit accumulation is repeated for happy rebirth as a human or god, with nirvĀṆa (Pāli, nibbāna) or final liberation at most a very distant goal in the mind of the practitioner. The majority of Burmese Buddhists, both lay and ordained, have happy re-birth as their preferred goal, an orientation that has been typical of Buddhists in Myanmar since at least the Pagan period.
The second system is the path of vipassanĀ (Sanskrit, vipaŚyanĀ) or insight meditation. Vipassanā meditation, when successfully practiced, leads to the attainment of bodhi (awakening), or enlightenment, and nirvāṇa, either in this life or in a not-too-distant future life. Practitioners of vipassanā in Myanmar typically meditate privately and join meditation centers (Burmese, wipathana yeiktha) during retreats. The observance of precepts and a general moral lifestyle is considered a necessary foundation for insight practice. Vipassanā meditation was revived in Myanmar in the early eighteenth century and by the late twentieth century was widely popular among all classes throughout the country.
The third salvation system is called weikza-lam or the path of the Buddhist wizard. This is an esoteric system of powerful occult sciences requiring initiation by a master. The goal of this path is to become a weikza or weikza-do (from the Pāli vijjādhara), which is a kind of semi-immortal magician or wonder-worker. The weikza vows to remain in the world for the benefit of the faithful until the advent of the future Buddha Maitreya (Pāli, Metteyya), at which time the weikza will attain nirvāṇa or take a vow to become a perfect buddha himself. As a service, he acts as teacher to human disciples, instructing them in the recitation of spells, the casting of runes, alchemy, and samatha (Sanskrit, śamatha) or tranquility meditation. Weikza practitioners typically eschew vipassana meditation on the basis that it could potentially cut short their career by causing them to attain nirvana too quickly. In its methodology and goals, the weikza-lam shows striking similarities to the tantric Buddhist mahĀsiddha tradition of medieval Bengal. Because it proposes an alternative soteriology to that contained in Pāli sources, the weikza-lam is sometimes viewed with suspicion by the religious authorities.
Aung Thwin, Michael. Pagan: The Origins of Modern Burma. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1985.
Bischoff, Roger. Buddhism in Myanmar: A Short History. Kandy, Sri Lanka: Buddhist Publication Society, 1995.
Duroiselle, Charles. "The Ari of Burma and Tantric Buddhism." Annual Report of the Arhaeological Survey of India (1915–1916): 79–93.
Htin Aung, Maung. Folk Elements in Burmese Buddhism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1962.
Mendelson, E. Michael. Saṅgha and State in Burma: A Study of Monastic Sectarianism and Leadership, ed. John P. Ferguson. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1975.
Ray, Nihar Ranjan. Sanskrit Buddhism in Burma. Amsterdam: H. J. Paris, 1937.
Spiro, Melford E. Buddhism and Society: A Great Tradition and Its Burmese Vicissitudes. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982.
Than Tun. "Mahākassapa and His Tradition." Journal of the Burma Research Society 42, no. 2 (1959): 99–118.
Patrick A. Pranke
Type of Government
Myanmar has been under the control of a military junta since 1988. It functions as an authoritarian state while retaining the structure of a socialist democracy. The highest-ranking member of the junta, who serves as head of state, commander of the armed forces, and head of government, is assisted by a council of military leaders. Myanmar’s constitution calls for a unicameral legislative and judicial body elected by popular vote; however, the constitution and all offices of the national and regional governments have been suspended. The military junta governs through a series of committees at the national and regional levels.
Myanmar is an Asian nation bordering China, India, and Bangladesh on the northwest, Laos and Thailand on the east, and the Bay of Bengal on the southwest. Humans have lived there since Paleolithic times; centuries of immigration have made it is a culturally and ethnically diverse nation. Its history is usually divided into periods dominated by each of the seven major ethnic groups.
The Mon people migrated into the region between 3000 BC and 1500 BC and established numerous kingdoms. Frequent migration from India added characteristics that still influence modern Burmese culture. The Pyu ethnic group, which was more dominant in the northern regions, had early diplomatic contact with China.
In AD 1057 an immigrant society developed at Bagan (Pagan) and defeated the last of the Mon kingdoms and accomplished the first unified national government. Bagan society absorbed elements of Mon, Indian, and Chinese culture and developed Buddhism as a state religion. Art and architecture flourished, while the military continued to expand its control by subduing most of the nation’s tribal cultures. The stability of Bagan society was threatened by the rise of Kublai Khan (1215–1294) and the Mongolian Empire, so in 1277 the Bagan king Narathihapate (1254–1287) declared war on the Mongols. His forces were defeated at the Battle of Ngasunggyan.
Infighting between the Burmese, the Shan, and the Mon groups followed, until King Tabinshwehti (1512–1550), using both aggressive military tactics and diplomacy, created a powerful Burmese military regime. Though Tabinshwehti was killed before unification of the country was achieved, his successor King Bayinnaung (?–1581) continued the campaign and by 1551 united Myanmar under the TaungNgoo Dynasty.
The TaungNgoo greatly expanded the local economy and trade, while continuing aggressive military campaigns against, among others, the Ayutthaya (Siamese) Kingdom. The Portuguese had poor relations with the TaungNgoo; as Myanmar became important to European trade, the Portuguese began lending assistance to the TaungNgoo’s rivals. Though the TaungNgoo nearly collapsed under the military pressure, by 1613 they had reunified the country. A period of cultural enlightenment ensued, producing a wealth of art, theater, music and literature. The TaungNgoo began to lose control over indigenous groups during the eighteenth century, and in 1752, a rebellion by the Bago ethnic group, aided by European military forces, brought an end to the dynasty.
In 1753 the Burmese king Alaungpaya (1714–1760) defeated the Bago people in a series of battles and established the Konbaung Dynasty. Rangoon, in the northern part of the region, was its capital. However, the Konbaung suffered continual military strife with the Bago, Chinese, Siamese and European peoples. Between 1766 and 1769, China’s Qing Dynasty attempted four invasions of Myanmar but was defeated by the Konbaung armies. After abandoning hopes of conquest, China signed a cooperation and trade pact with the Konbaung, thereby strengthening the regime’s political and economic power. The Konbaung were not as successful in diplomatic relations with European powers, and in 1811 broke diplomatic relations with the British.
In 1824 the Konbaung captured the Assam region of northeastern India, angering the British government and leading to the first Anglo-Burmese War (1824–26). The British, in alliance with Siam (now Thailand), invaded Myanmar. The Konbaung were defeated and surrendered their Siamese territories in the Treaty of Yandaboo (1826). During the Second Anglo-Burmese War (1852) the British captured additional territories and effectively destabilized the regime. Internal struggles persuaded the Konbaung to enter into a military alliance with the French, which incited the British government to seize power. In 1885, during the Third Anglo-Burmese War, the British defeated the remaining Konbaung forces and annexed Myanmar.
Under British control Burma was designated as a province of India with a local government in Rangoon. Burmese natives maintained a militant resistance until the 1890s, eventually persuading the British to allow Burmese to participate in government and to travel to England for higher education.
Led by a new educated elite, a peaceful Burmese independence movement surfaced around 1900 and by the 1920s its leaders had persuaded British authorities to allow additional native representation in the legislature. Despite British concessions, many still believed that the British were exploiting the local labor force and the country’s natural resources while showing little regard for public welfare or the maintenance of native culture. In 1930 Saya San (1876–1931), a monk turned political leader, started a peasant rebellion that eventually mobilized the entire populace. After a nationwide labor strike in 1936, the British separated Myanmar from India and established a local assembly.
The British attempted to control the independence movement by arresting key leaders and forcibly preventing demonstrations. When the British attempted to arrest political leader Aung San (1915–1947), he fled the nation and formed an alliance with Japan. In 1941 Aung San’s Burmese Independence Army helped Japanese forces occupy the country—a maneuver to get the British out. As the Japanese military faltered toward the end of World War II, Aung San turned on his Japanese allies to secure the country’s independence.
Between 1945 and 1947 Aung San and British authorities negotiated a treaty. Internal conflicts erupted—some political factions believed that Aung San was making unnecessary concessions to the British. In July 1947 members of a rival communist faction assassinated Aung San and most of his cabinet. Despite Aung San’s death, negotiations were completed successfully, and Myanmar was granted independence as a democratic republic on January 4, 1948.
Myanmar is divided into seven administrative divisions and seven states. The constitution, which was instituted in 1974 and suspended in 1997, called for a unitary socialist government with legislative, executive, and judicial powers vested in a single body, the Pyithu Hluttaw (People’s Assembly). The assembly had 489 members, who were elected for four-year terms by popular vote. From that body were chosen the Council of State and the Council of Ministers, which served as the executive branch. The Council of State had twenty-nine members; they chose a chairman, who was the president of the country. The Council of Ministers, which had twenty-two members, was headed by the prime minister. Three other councils—the Council of People’s Justices, which functioned as a supreme court; the Council of People’s Attorneys, which advised the government on legal matters; and the Council of People’s Inspectors, which functioned as the governmental auditing and budgetary office—were also chosen from the People’s Assembly.
The 1974 constitution was created during a period of military control under socialist leader Bo Ne Win (1911–2002). His Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP) controlled the nation until 1988, when Ne Win was deposed by a military coup led by the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). The council was renamed the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) in 1997. When it suspended the constitution pending reformulation, the SPDC abolished all existing governmental bodies.
Under martial law the chairman of the SPDC serves as the nation’s head of state and the leader of the armed forces. The SPDC appoints a prime minister to lead a cabinet composed of military leaders. All legislation is proposed and amended within subcommittees of the junta. The state judicial system is administered according to military law and has no oversight over the executive branch.
Political Parties and Factions
The National Unity Party (NUP) was founded in 1988 as the political representative of the Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP). When elections were held in 1990, the NUP also represented the SPDC. The NUP is considered a pro-military, conservative party focused on preventing insurgency and restoring the economy. The NUP favors socialist economic policies based on a combination of Marxism and Buddhist philosophy.
The National League for Democracy (NLD) was founded in 1988 under the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi (1945–), the daughter of Aung San. In the 1990 elections the NLD won majority control but was prevented from taking power by the SPDC, which placed Suu Kyi under house arrest. The NLD, which calls for a transition to full democracy through fair elections, is supported by many Western nations.
The Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) was formed in 1988 as the political arm of the Shan people, one of Myanmar’s largest ethnic groups. The Shan also occupy portions of China, Thailand, and Vietnam. The SNLD is closely allied with the NLD and, during the 1990 elections, won sufficient votes to become the second-rank party in Myanmar. The SNLD favors a democratic election system but, unlike the NLD, focuses on protecting the rights of the nation’s ethnic groups.
Since it gained independence in 1948, Myanmar has experienced frequent conflicts between ethnic, military, and political groups. By the late 1950s government stability was threatened by armed communist blocs, militant factions of the Karen ethnic group, and a parliament split along ideological lines. In 1962 General Bo Ne Win staged a military coup and placed the country under martial law. In the following months Ne Win’s military police violently ended student protests, conducted mass arrests of political adversaries, suspended the constitution, and abolished all government offices. The regime then established a centrally controlled, single-party state headed by the BSPP. In 1974 Ne Win drafted a new constitution that legitimized the military takeover and created a government run by the People’s Assembly. He relinquished his military role to serve as president.
The BSPP government was based on the “Burmese way to socialism,” which combines Marxism with Buddhist philosophy. In addition to the state control of industry and economy, Ne Win’s socialism called for the expulsion of all foreigners and social and economic isolation from all foreign nations. All citizens of the country were encouraged to adopt the state’s version of Buddhism.
Because of economic difficulties, Ne Win eventually opened the country to foreign investment, but not in time to forestall a real crisis. In 1988 the military violently ended a series of student protests, which led to widespread demonstrations. Ne Win resigned in July 1988. The country lapsed into a period of mob rule until the military, under the command of Saw Maung (1928–1997), took control of the government and declared martial law.
Saw Maung and SLORC used communist infiltration and insurrection as justification for abolishing national and local governments and replacing them with military councils. Among the councils’ duties were economic reform and preparation of a new constitution. In 1989 SLORC changed the name of the country from Burma to Myanmar.
In 1990 general elections were held under the supervision of the military. The NLD party, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, who had been under arrest since 1989, won a majority. However, the junta refused to accept the validity of the elections or to allow the newly elected government to convene. Suu Kyi was again placed under house arrest. Her peaceful resistance movement came to the attention of international human-rights organizations. In 1991 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Foreign governments began to pressure SLORC to convene the new government and restore the constitutional process.
Between 1993 and 2000 the military arrested numerous NLD supporters and shut down most of the party’s offices. In 2005 the military leadership, by then called the SPDC, convened a new constitutional convention but prevented representatives from the NLD or any other pro-democracy party from participating. Suu Kyi was kept under house arrest, except for short periods in 2001 and 2002. NLD operations relocated outside the country.
As a result of the continuing friction between pro-democracy groups and the socialist military regime, the United States and the European Union have levied trade sanctions against Myanmar. Neither the United States nor the EU recognizes the SPDC as a legitimate government, and both have agreed to suspend all foreign relations until the SPDC allows constitutional reform. The SPDC has limited support within Myanmar, and faces continued ethnic and political insurgencies.
Serious poverty affects life in rural areas of the country, which has limited access to foreign investment to spur economic development. However, a wealth of natural resources and a productive agricultural system have allowed it to avoid a severe economic crisis.
Tin Maung Maung Than. State Dominance in Myanmar: The Political Economy of Industrialization . Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2006.
|Official Country Name:||Union of Myanmar|
|Region (Map name):||Southeast Asia|
|Language(s):||Burmese, minority ethnic groups have their own languages|
|Area:||678,500 sq km|
|Number of Television Stations:||2|
|Number of Television Sets:||320,000|
|Television Sets per 1,000:||7.6|
|Number of Satellite Subscribers:||1,758|
|Number of Radio Stations:||8|
|Number of Radio Receivers:||4,200,000|
|Radio Receivers per 1,000:||100.0|
|Number of Individuals with Computers:||52,000|
|Computers per 1,000:||1.2|
|Number of Individuals with Internet Access:||7,000|
|Internet Access per 1,000:||0.2|
Background & General Characteristics
Censorship characterizes Myanmar media. The Union of Myanmar, as Burma was renamed in 1989 after a military junta established the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), is controlled by a rigid socialist government directed by the armed forces. Media can only report news sanctioned by the government. Minimal international news is reported. Aung Zaw, editor of Irrawaddy magazine, described journalism in Myanmar as "comatose."
At least four Burmese-language and two English daily newspapers circulate. Myanmar newspapers print official decrees such as the 1982 citizenship law. Myanma Alin (New Light of Myanmar), published since 1914, is distributed in four languages and contains daily government press releases and negative international wire articles about countries critical of Myanmar. Editorial cartoons denounce the opposition's National League for Democracy. In summer 1988, Burmese media briefly experienced relaxation of rigid rules. Millions of democratic protestors peacefully demonstrated. Government newspapers reported factually about this democratic movement, and newspapers and periodicals were created to chronicle events. On September 18, the military led by Lieutenant General Khin Nyunt violently subdued the protestors. The junta stopped all but two newspapers, and they reverted to printing warnings, military slogans, and martial laws for Burmese citizens. Khin Nyunt blamed the media for provoking the demonstrations and accused reporters of falsifying stories.
Conditions for Burmese journalists have worsened. Monitored by the Military Intelligence Service, imprisonment, or hard labor sentences, reporters cautiously prepare media that the government cannot interpret as offensive. Myanmar officials are especially angered by media they think might cause people to regard the government disrespectfully. Most Burmese realize that news is for the most part manufactured to portray the junta as Myanmar's best rulers.
Imprisoned Burmese editors San San Nweh and U Win Tin received the 2001 Golden Pen of Freedom from the World Association of Newspapers. Charged with supporting freedom of expression and democracy, the editors refused to denounce those beliefs in order to be released. Like many jailed Burmese journalists, they suffered poor health due to their captivity and beatings by prison guards. San San Nweh was specifically arrested for giving human rights reports to European journalists. Editor of the daily Hanthawati newspaper, U Win Tin was tried and convicted by a military court for allegations of belonging to the Communist Party of Burma. His incarceration was lengthened because writing materials were found in his cell.
Burmese media professionals have persevered. Exiled Burmese journalists can write factually about their homeland for international media use. Many Burmese journalists live in Thailand so they can clandestinely distribute publications into neighboring Myanmar. In Norway, the Democratic Voice of Burma is a dissident news service.
Prior to military rule in the late twentieth century, Burma had an active media. Burma's first newspaper, The Maulmain Chronicle, was published in 1836 as an English weekly while Burma was a British colony. The Burmese monarch, King Mindon, encouraged newspaper publication and entertained editors at his palace. He supported the creation of Yadanaopon, the first newspaper printed entirely in Burmese. The media was essential in resisting colonial rulers. Burma gained independence from Great Britain in 1948. At least thirty Burmese, English, and Chinese language newspapers were permitted to report domestic and international news, interview prime ministers, and interact with journalists worldwide. U Thaung founded Kyemon (The Mirror Daily) in 1957, and its 90,000 circulation was Burma's largest. Although most southeastern Asian governments promoted state-regulated censorship, Burma supported freedom of the press.
A 1962 military coup which resulted in General Ne Win declaring himself dictator of Burma altered the country's media. Wanting to isolate Burma to achieve his socialist agenda, the general decided which newspapers could be nationalized and remain in circulation and which publications would be halted. He formed the Press Scrutiny Board, which still existed in the early twenty-first century, to regulate censorship. All journalism organizations were disbanded. Ne Win demanded the arrest of media professionals he considered hostile to his policies. Foreign journalists were ordered to depart Burma, and many Burmese reporters either quit their jobs or went into exile.
Political parties were united into the Burma Socialist Program Party, which further tightened control of the press. The 1962 Printers' and Publishers' Registration Act stated that only government-approved media could apply for the annual licenses that were mandatory for operation. Media was ordered to focus on topics supportive of Burma's socialist revolution. By December 1965, private newspapers were forbidden. Military leaders established The Working People's Daily as the official distributor of government news. The bureaucracy controlled access to limited supplies of newsprint and paper. The traditional Burmese media was effectively paralyzed.
Censorship involves inking over passages, tearing out pages, and preventing material from being printed by reviewing material before approving it for publication. Many magazines and books in Myanmar are missing thick sections and covered with black ink. Some censors can be bribed to assure publication.
The government tries to block news regarding any negative events in Burma, with the end of keeping the current government in power. Because reporters cannot prepare factual accounts about topics that the government considers taboo, news is unreliable. Political enemies such as opposition leaders are described unfavorably, and all state-owned media is required to present these opinions. Events that are covered internationally, such as opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's release in 1995, are restricted from Myanmar media. The Ministry of Information indoctrinates government journalists at journalism courses. Reporters are expected to write pro-government propaganda and never criticize leaders or their political actions. Articles are not to mention political corruption, reform, education, and HIV/AIDS. Even stories telling about losing Myanmar sports teams and torrential rainstorms are forbidden. The press is not welcome at government meetings.
In 1998, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) identified Myanmar and Indonesia as the most hostile Asian environments for media. Rumors circulated that Myanmar military police had tortured and killed two journalists because their newspaper, The Mirror, had accidentally published a photograph of Khin Nyunt next to a headline describing criminals. Such placement of photographs and headlines has occasionally occurred, and readers realize it might be a subversive reaction to enduring censorship laws and political conditions. Journalists often try to hide information and criticisms in media through careful wording or images.
Unlike other newspapers in Myanmar, The Myanmar Times is not forced to comply with junta press regulations. Published weekly in Burmese and English at Rangoon since 2000, The Myanmar Times, with a total circulation of 30,000, is edited by an Australian journalist, Ross Dunkley. He has been permitted to print exclusive articles about discussions between the Myanmar junta and Suu Kyi. Media professionals speculate that Dunkley is allowed more press freedom because Khin Nyunt and Office of Strategic Studies (OSS) representatives are using The Myanmar Times to convince international readers to accept the junta. Other publications are also designed to attract foreign approval, especially in the form of investments. For example, in the 1990s, the monthly business magazines Dana (Prosperity) andMyanmar Dana were issued in a superior quality compared to other Burmese media in order to impress readers.
Attitude Toward Foreign Media
Any international news included in Myanmar media is censored. Events such as political strife, deposed leaders, human rights trials, and student protests in other countries, especially in Asia, are either omitted or described briefly with no details. Foreign reporters are discouraged from visiting Myanmar and sometimes can only enter the country by concealing their profession and securing a tourist visa. The junta deports and blacklists foreign correspondents who attempt to report on the opposition movement. Any reporters that the Myanmar authorities allow in the country are closely monitored.
Because Myanmar is impoverished, isolated, and only has electrical services in approximately 10 percent of its territory, people have limited use of radios and televisions. Sources estimated that there were 3.3 million radios and 80,000 televisions in Myanmar in 2001. The Myanmar government radio station, Burma Broadcasting Service, airs broadcasts that primarily reach urban populations. The government-monitored transmissions play only approved programs, which do not include Western songs or other broadcasts considered contrary to government policies. Shortwave radios are the only means for Burmese residents to gain access to foreign news reports. Some Burmese can receive Voice of America and British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) programming. They can also secretly broadcast reports to listeners who can pick up their signal.
Initiated in 1980, the government-owned television station has color transmission capabilities but only broadcasts a few shows on evenings and weekends. The Video Act of 1985 outlined what media could tape. Internet access in Burma is rare, and computer laws require government approval for use or ownership of computers, modems, and fax machines which can connect Myanmar with international resources and influences.
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Elizabeth D. Schafer