Archaeological evidence suggests that Homo erectus lived in what is now Myanmar 400,000 years ago. Homo sapiens initially appeared about 11,000 BC in a Stone Age civilization called Anyathian, with the discovery of stone tools in central Myanmar. In the Padah-Lin caverns, evidence of Neolithic plant and animal age has been found, as well as the use of polished stone tools ranging from 10,000 BC to 6,000 BC.
Around 1500 BC, the region’s people turned copper into bronze, grew rice, and domesticated chickens and pigs; they were among the first people in the world to do so. Human bones and artifacts from this period were found in the Sagaing division’s Monywa area. The Iron Age started about 500 BC, with the emergence of iron-working communities in a region south of Mandalay. The evidence also indicates the existence of ricefield settlements of big towns and minor cities that traded with China between 500 BC and 200 AD. Burmese Iron Age civilizations were also affected by foreign sources like as India and Thailand, as shown by their burial customs for children. This suggests that people in Myanmar and abroad communicated, perhaps via commerce.
The earliest documented city-states appeared in central Myanmar in the 2nd century BC. The city-states were established as part of the migration to the south by the Tibetan-Burmese Pyu city-states, who were the earliest occupants of Myanmar for whom records exist, in what is now Yunnan. Trade with India had a significant impact on Pyu culture, introducing Buddhismas as well as other cultural, architectural, and political ideas that would have a long-term impact on Burma’s future culture and governmental structure.
Several city-states had grown up on Earth by the ninth century: Pyu in the central dry zone, Mon along the south coast, and Arakanese on the western littoral. Between the 750s and the 830s, Pyu was subjected to numerous Nanzhao assaults, which tipped the scales. Bamar established a tiny town in Bagan between the middle and end of the ninth century. It was one among the competing city-states until the end of the eleventh century, when it gained in power and splendor.
Pagan progressively absorbed its neighboring kingdoms until the 1050s and 1060s, when Anawrahta established the Pagan Kingdom, the first union of the Irrawaddy valley and its perimeter. The Pagan Empire and the Khmer Empire were the two major empires in continental Southeast Asia in the 12th and 13th centuries. In the late 12th century, the Burman language and culture surpassed the Pyu, Mon, and Pali standards in the upper Irrawaddy valley.
Although Tantric, Mahayana, Hinduism, and popular religion remained firmly established, Theravada Buddhism gradually started to expand to the village level. Only in the pagan capital zone did pagan kings and the wealthy construct over 10,000 Buddhist temples. In 1287, the four-century-old monarchy was overthrown by successive Mongol invasions (1277-1301).
Pagan’s demise was followed by a 250-year period of political disintegration that lasted far into the sixteenth century. The Shan migrants who came with the Mongol invasions, like the Burmese four centuries before, were left behind. Several contending Shan States emerged to control the whole northwest arc to the east that encircled the Irrawaddy basin. The valley was likewise plagued by minor nations until the end of the 14th century, when two major kingdoms emerged: the Ava Kingdom and the Hanthawaddy Kingdom. In the west, a politically divided Arakan was influenced by its stronger neighbors until 1437, when the Kingdom of Mrauk U united the Arakan coast for the first time.
Ava participated in the unification wars (1385-1424), but she was never able to return to restore the fallen empire. Hanthawaddy began his golden era after defeating Ava, while Arakan went on to become a force in his own right for the following 350 years. On the contrary, the continuous conflict left Ava severely debilitated, and she gradually dissolved beginning in 1481. The Confederation of Shan States defeated Ava in 1527 and controlled Upper Myanmar until 1555.
Ava, Hanthawaddy, and the Shan kingdoms, like the Pagan Empire, were multi-ethnic polytechnics. Cultural synchronization persisted throughout the conflicts. This era is regarded as a golden age in Burmese culture. Burmese literature “grew more secure, popular, and stylistically varied,” and the second generation of Burmese legal codes, as well as the first pan-Burmanic chronicles, appeared. The Hanthawaddy kings instituted religious changes that extended across the nation. During this time, several magnificent Mrauk U temples were constructed.
Taungoo and colonialism
Due to the efforts of Taungoo, an old vassal state of Ava, political unity was restored in the mid-sixteenth century. In the Toungoo-Hanthawaddy War (1534-41) the youthful and ambitious Taungoo monarch, Tabinshwehti, destroyed the most powerful Hanthawaddy. Bayinnaung, his successor, conquered a large portion of Southeast Asia, including the Shan, Lan Na, Manipur, Mong Mao, Ayutthaya, Lan Xang, and southern Arakan kingdoms. However, soon after Bayinnaung’s death in 1581, the greatest kingdom in Southeast Asian history was released, crumbling entirely in 1599. Tenasserim and Lan Na were captured by Ayutthaya, and Portuguese mercenaries established Portuguese authority in Thanlyin (Syriam).
In 1613, the dynasty reunited and conquered the Portuguese, followed by Siam in 1614. It established a smaller and more controllable kingdom that included Lower Myanmar, Upper Myanmar, the Shan states, Lan Na, and Upper Tenasserim. The restored monarchs of Toungoo established a legal and political system whose fundamental features would last far into the nineteenth century. The crown fully replaced the hereditary headquarters with appointed governors across the Irrawaddy valley, severely reducing the Shan chiefs’ hereditary privileges. For more than 80 years, its trade and secular administrative reforms helped to build a successful economy. The kingdom was beset by frequent Meithei invasions in Upper Myanmar and an uprising in Lan Na beginning in the 1720s. The Mon of Lower Myanmar established the Restored Hanthawaddy Kingdom in 1740. Hanthawaddy’s troops stormed Ava in 1752, thus ending the Toungoo dynasty’s 266-year reign.
After the collapse of Ava, Konbaung-Hanthawaddy Warin commanded a resistance party headed by Alaungpaya in fighting the Restored Hanthawaddy, and in 1759, he collected all of Myanmar and Manipur and evicted the French and British who had supplied arms to Hanthawaddy. In 1770, Alaungpaya’s successors had controlled most of Laos (1765) and fought and won the Burmese-Siamese war (1765-67) against Ayutthaya and the Sino-Burmese war (1765-69) against Qing China (1765-1769).
With Burma concerned about the Chinese threat, Ayutthaya reclaimed its territory in 1770 and arrived in Lan Na in 1776 to conquer it. Burma and Siam waged war on each other until 1855, but all of their conflicts ended in stalemate, with Tenasserim (to Burma) changing places with Lan Na (to Ayutthaya). Faced with a strong China and a rising Ayutthaya in the east, King Bodawpaya shifted his focus west, conquering Arakan (1785), Manipur (1814), and Assam (1817). It was the second biggest empire in Burmese history, although it had a lengthy and ill-defined border with British India.
This empire’s breadth was short-lived. During the First Anglo-Burmese War, Burma lost Arakan, Manipur, Assam, and Tenasserim to the British (1824-1826). Lower Burma was easily taken by the British in the Second Anglo-Burma War in 1852. King Mindon Min attempted to modernize the realm, and by ceding the Karenni States in 1875, he barely escaped annexation. Concerned about the consolidation of French Indochina, the British seized the remainder of the nation in the Third Anglo-Burmese War in 1885.
The Konbaung monarchs continued Toungoo Restored’s administrative reforms, achieving unparalleled levels of internal control and foreign growth. For the first time in history, the Burmese language and culture dominated the Irrawaddy valley. The development and expansion of Burmese literature and drama proceeded, aided by an unusually high adult literacy rate for the period (half of all men and 5 percent of women). However, the breadth and speed of the changes were inconsistent, and they eventually proved inadequate to stop British colonialism’s progress.
British Burma (1824–1948)
After three Anglo-Burman wars, Britain conquered the nation (1824-1885). The British government brought about reforms in social, economic, cultural, and administrative areas.
With the fall of Mandalay, all of Burma fell under British control, and the country was annexed on January 1, 1886. Throughout colonial times, numerous Indians came as troops, bureaucrats, construction workers, and merchants, and they dominated commercial and civic life in Burma alongside the Anglo-Burmese society. Rangoon grew to be the capital of British Burma, as well as an important port on the route between Calcutta and Singapore.
Burmese animosity was intense, and it was channeled into violent riots that periodically immobilized Yangon (Rangoon) until the 1930s. Part of the unrest stemmed from a lack of respect for Burmese culture and customs, such as the British reluctance to remove their shoes while entering pagodas. Buddhist monks took the lead in the independence struggle. U Wisara, an activist monk, died in jail following a 166-day hunger strike to protest a regulation that forbade him from wearing his Buddhist robes while there.
Burma became a colony governed independently from Great Britain on April 1, 1937, and Ba Maw, Burma’s first prime minister and prime minister, became Burma’s first prime minister and prime minister. Ba Maw was an ardent supporter of Burmese self-government who opposed Britain’s and, by consequence, Burma’s involvement in World War II. He was arrested for sedition after resigning from the Legislative Assembly. Before Japan officially joined World War II, Aung San established the Burmese Independence Army in Japan in 1940.
Burma, a huge battleground, was destroyed during World War II. Japanese forces marched into Rangoon in March 1942, only months after they joined the war, and the British government disintegrated. The Japanese created a Burmese administrative government led by Ba Maw in August 1942. Wingate’s British Chindits were trained in long-range penetration units that operated deep beyond Japanese lines. Merrill’s Marauders, a comparable US force, pursued the Chindits into the Burmese forest in 1943. Beginning at the end of 1944, Allied forces began a series of offensives that resulted in the demise of the Japanese government in July 1945. The fights were fierce, and much of Burma was destroyed as a result of the conflict. In total, the Japanese lost about 150,000 soldiers in Burma. Only 1,700 convicts were apprehended.
Despite the fact that many Burmese originally fought for the Japanese as members of the Burmese Independence Army, many Burmese, mainly from ethnic minorities, participated with the British Army of Burma. From 1942 to 1944, the National Army of Burma and the Arakan National Army fought with the Japanese, but switched sides in 1945. Between 170,000 and 250,000 people were killed during the Japanese occupation.
Following WWII, Aung San negotiated the Panglong Agreement with ethnic leaders, which secured Myanmar’s independence as a united state. Aung Zan Wai, Pe Khin, Bo Hmu Aung, Sir Maung Gyi, Dr. Sein Mya Maung, and Myoma U Than Kywe were among those who negotiated the momentous Panglong Conference in 1947 with Bamar commander General Aung San and other ethnic leaders. In 1947, Aung San was appointed vice president of Myanmar’s transitional government, the Executive Council. However, in July 1947, political opponents assassinated Aung San and many government officials.
On January 4, 1948, the country gained independence as the Union of Burma, with Sao Shwe Thaik as the first president and U Nu as the prime minister. Burma, unlike most other former British colonies and foreign territories, did not join the Commonwealth. A bicameral parliament was established, consisting of a Chamber of Deputies and a Chamber of Nationalities, and multi-party elections were conducted in 1951-1952, 1956, and 1960.
Burma’s present geographical extent can be traced back to the Panglong Agreement, which united Burma proper, which comprised of Lower and Upper Burma, and Border Zones, which had previously been governed independently by the British.
U Thant, then the Union of Burma’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations and former Secretary of the Prime Minister, was elected Secretary-General of the United Nations in 1961, a post he held for 10 years. A young Aung San Suu Kyi (daughter of Aung San) was among the Burmese who worked at the UN while he was secretary general, and she went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.
Military rule (1962–2011)
The military, headed by General Ne Win, seized control of Burma in a coup on March 2, 1962, and the government has been under direct or indirect military rule ever since. Myanmar was ruled by a revolutionary council led by the military from 1962 to 1974. Under the Burmese Way to Socialism, which combined Soviet-style nationalization and central planning, almost all elements of society (industry, media, production) were nationalized or put under government control.
In 1974, the Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma approved a new constitution. Until 1988, the nation was ruled by a one-party regime, with the General and senior military officials retiring and the Socialist Party Party of Burma governing (BSPP). During this time, Myanmar became one of the world’s poorest countries.
During the Ne Win years, there were occasional demonstrations against the military administration, which were nearly always brutally repressed. The authorities dispersed the protests at the University of Rangoon on July 7, 1962, murdering 15 students. The military brutally repressed anti-government demonstrations during U Thant’s burial in 1974. Protests by students in 1975, 1976, and 1977 were swiftly put down by overwhelming force.
Riots in 1988 over economic mismanagement and political persecution by the government sparked massive pro-democracy protests throughout the nation, which became known as Insurrection 8888. Thousands of protesters were murdered by security forces, and general Saw Maung staged a coup and established the Restoration Council of the Law and Order of the State (SLORC). Following massive demonstrations, the SLORC imposed martial rule in 1989. On May 31, 1989, the military administration approved the preparations for the Popular Assembly elections. In 1989, SLORC altered the country’s official English name from “Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma” to “Union of Myanmar.”
For the first time in almost 30 years, the government conducted free elections in May 1990, and Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), won 392 of 492 seats (that is, 80 percent of seats). The military junta, however, refused to relinquish power and continued to rule the country as the SLORC until 1997, and then as the State Council for Peace and Development (SPDC) until its collapse in March 2011.
Myanmar joined the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on June 23, 1997. (ASEAN). On March 27, 2006, the military junta that had relocated Yangon’s national capital to a location near Pyinmana in November 2005 formally christened the new capital Naypyidaw, which translates as “city of kings.”
An rise in the price of fuel and gasoline in August 2007 sparked the Azafran Revolution, which was led by Buddhist monks who were brutally handled by the authorities. On September 26, 2007, the government retaliated harshly against them. The crackdown was severe, with tales of barricades in the Shwedagon Pagoda and monks being killed. There were also reports of discord inside the Burmese military, although none were verified. As part of the international response to the Saffron Revolution, military suppression of unarmed demonstrators was widely criticized, leading to an escalation in economic penalties against the Burmese government.
Cyclone Nargis devastated the Irrawaddy Division’s heavily populated rice delta in May 2008. It was the greatest natural catastrophe in Burma’s history, with an estimated 200,000 people killed or missing, ten billion dollars in damages, and up to one million people displaced. In the crucial days after the tragedy, Myanmar’s isolationist government was accused of impeding UN recovery operations. Humanitarian assistance was sought, but worries about the military presence or foreign intelligence in the nation slowed the entrance of US military planes carrying medications, food, and other supplies.
A dispute known as the Kokang incident erupted in Shan State, northern Myanmar, in early August 2009. The junta’s soldiers battled against ethnic minorities like as Han Chinese, Wa, and Kachin for many weeks. Approximately 10,000 Burmese people fled to neighboring China’s Yunnan region from August 8 to 12, the first days of the war.
Civil conflicts have been a continuous part of Myanmar’s sociopolitical terrain since the country’s independence in 1948. These conflicts are mostly about ethnic and subnational autonomy, with the regions around the country’s ethnically Bamar core districts acting as the primary geographical context of conflict. Journalists and international tourists must get a special travel permission to enter regions where Myanmar’s civil conflicts are still ongoing.
In October 2012, ongoing conflicts in Myanmar included the Kachin conflict between the Kachin Pro-Christian Independence Army and the government; a civil war in Rakhine State between Rohingya Muslims and the government and non-governmental groups; and a conflict in the eastern half of the country between minority groups Shan, Lahu, and Karen and the government. Furthermore, al-Qaeda has stated its desire to intervene in Myanmar. Ayman al-Zawahiri, the terrorist organization’s commander, claimed in a video targeted mainly at India on September 3, 2014, that al-Qaeda had not forgotten the Muslims in Myanmar and that the organisation was doing “all necessary to free him.” The military increased its alert level in response, and the Association of Burmese Muslims released a statement declaring that Muslims would not accept any danger to their country.
The ethnic Chinese rebels’ armed struggle with the Myanmar Armed Forces culminated in Kokang’s assault in February 2015. 40,000 to 50,000 people were forced to leave their houses and seek shelter on the Chinese side of the border as a result of the war. The Chinese government was accused of giving military assistance to ethnic Chinese rebels during the event. Throughout contemporary Burmese history, Burmese authorities have been “manipulated” and pushed by the Chinese Communist government to establish tighter and more binding connections with China, thus establishing a Chinese satellite state in Southeast Asia. Uncertainties remain, though, as battles between Burmese soldiers and local rebel groups continue.
The goal of the 2008 Burmese constitutional referendum, which took place on May 10, 2008, is to establish a “flourishing democracy of discipline.” As part of the referendum process, the country’s name was changed from “Union of Myanmar” to “Republic of the Union of Myanmar,” and general elections were conducted in 2010 under the new Constitution. According to the reports of 2010 election observers, the event was largely calm; nevertheless, accusations of irregularities at voting places were made, and the United Nations (UN) and many Western nations denounced the elections as fraudulent.
The military-backed Solidarity and Trade Union Development Party claimed victory in the 2010 elections, claiming 80 percent of the vote; however, many pro-democracy opposition organizations questioned the allegation that the military government had participated in widespread fraud. According to one source, the official percentage of election participation was 77 percent. On March 30, 2011, the military junta was deposed.
If the shift to liberal democracy is underway, opinions vary. According to certain accounts, the army remains present, as indicated by the term “disciplined democracy.” This designation confirms that the Burmese army allows some civil freedoms while becoming more firmly embedded in Burmese politics. Such a notion implies that changes happened only when the military was able to protect its own interests throughout the changeover; in this case, the “transition” does not relate to a transition to a liberal democracy, but to a shift to an almost military administration.
Since the 2010 elections, the administration has started on a series of reforms aimed at guiding the nation toward liberal democracy, a mixed economy, and reconciliation, but questions remain regarding the motivations for such changes. The reforms include the release from house arrest of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the establishment of the National Human Rights Commission, the granting of general amnesties to more than 200 political prisoners, new labor laws allowing unions and strikes, a relaxation of press censorship, and the regulation of monetary practices.
The impact of post-election reforms has been seen in a variety of areas, including ASEAN’s approval of Myanmar’s candidacy for the position of ASEAN president in 2014; and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Myanmar in December 2011 to encourage progress, which was the first visit by a Secretary of State in more than fifty years, during which Clinton met with the Burmese president. As of July 2013, about 100 political prisoners were still imprisoned, while the battle between the Burmese army and local rebel groups raged on.
The NLD won 43 of the 45 available seats in the April 1, 2012 by-elections; formerly an illegal organization, the NLD has never won a Burmese election until now. The 2012 by-elections also marked the first time that foreign observers were permitted to observe the voting process in Myanmar.
2015 Myanmar general elections
Myanmar’s general elections took place on November 8, 2015. These were Myanmar’s first open elections since 1990. The results handed the National League for Democracy an absolute majority of seats in both chambers of the national parliament, ensuring that the president would be elected, although the NLD’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, was legally barred from running for president.
The new parliament convened on February 1, 2016, and Htin Kyaw was elected the country’s first non-military president since the 1962 military takeover on March 15, 2016. On April 6, 2016, Aung San Suu Kyi was appointed to the newly formed position of state councilor, which is equivalent to that of prime minister.