Republic of the Union of Myanmar
ပြည်ထောင်စု သမ္မတ မြန်မာနိုင်ငံတော်
Pyidaunzu Thanmăda Myăma Nainngandaw
Flag State seal
Anthem: Kaba Ma Kyei

Location of Burma (green) within ASEAN (dark grey)
Location of Burma (green) within ASEAN (dark grey)
Capital Naypyidaw
19°45′N 96°6′E / 19.75°N 96.1°E / 19.75; 96.1
Largest city Yangon (Rangoon)
Official language(s) Burmese
Recognised regional languages Jingpho, Kayah, Karen, Chin, Mon, Rakhine, Shan
Official scripts Burmese script
Demonym Burmese / Myanma
Government Unitary presidential republic
 -  President Thein Sein
 -  Vice President Tin Aung Myint Oo
Sai Mauk Kham
Legislature Pyidaungsu Hluttaw
 -  Upper House Amyotha Hluttaw
 -  Lower House Pyithu Hluttaw
 -  Pagan Dynasty 23 December 849 
 -  Toungoo Dynasty 16 October 1510 
 -  Konbaung Dynasty 21 March 1752 
 -  Independence
(from UK)
4 January 1948 
 -  Coup d'état 2 March 1962 
 -  New constitution 30 March 2011 
 -  Total 676,578 km2 (40th)
261,227 sq mi 
 -  Water (%) 3.06
 -  2010 estimate 60,280,000[1] (24th)
 -  1983 census 33,234,000 (3
 -  Density 73.9/km2 (119th)
191.5/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2010 estimate
 -  Total $76.473 billion[2] (76th)
 -  Per capita $1,250[2] (163rd)
GDP (nominal) 2010 estimate
 -  Total $42.953 billion[2] (76th)
 -  Per capita $702[2] (155th)
HDI (2011) increase 0.483[3] (low) (149th)
Currency kyat (K) (MMK)
Time zone MST (UTC+06:30)
Drives on the right[4]
Internet TLD .mm
Calling code 95
1 Some governments recognise Rangoon as the national capital.[5]

Burma Listeni/ˈbɜrmə/, officially the Republic of the Union of Myanmar Listeni/ˌmjɑːnˈmɑr/ (Burmese: ပြည်ထောင်စု သမ္မတ မြန်မာနိုင်ငံတော်, Pyidaunzu Thanmăda Myăma Nainngandaw, pronounced [pjìdà̀uɴzṵ θà̀ɴməda̯ mjəmà nàiɴŋàɴdɔ̀]), is a country in Southeast Asia. Burma is bordered by China on the northeast, Laos on the east, Thailand on the southeast, Bangladesh on the west, India on the northwest, the Bay of Bengal to the southwest, and the Andaman Sea on the south. One-third of Burma's total perimeter of 1,930 kilometres (1,200 mi) forms an uninterrupted coastline. At 676,578 km2 (261,227 sq mi), Burma is the 40th largest country in the world and the second largest country in Southeast Asia. Burma is also the 24th most populous country in the world with over 58.8 million people.[6]

Burma is home to some of the early civilizations of Southeast Asia including the Pyu and the Mon.[7] In the 9th century, the Burmans of the Kingdom of Nanzhao, entered the upper Irrawaddy valley and, following the establishment of the Pagan Kingdom in 1057, the language and culture of these peoples slowly became dominant in the country. Sometime during this period, Buddhism became the predominant religion of the country. Following the Mongol invasion of Burma in 1287, the kingdom of Pagan fell and a period of control by several warring states emerged. In the second half of the 16th century, the country was reunified by the Taungoo Dynasty which, for a brief period of time, was the largest empire in the history of Southeast Asia.[8] In the 18th century, the Konbaung Dynasty restored the kingdom, and went to war with all its neighbors. In the 19th century, following three Anglo-Burmese Wars, Burma was colonized by Britain.

The British rule brought several enduring social, economic, cultural and administrative changes that completely transformed the once-feudal society. Since independence in 1948, the country has been in one of the longest running civil wars among the country's myriad ethnic groups that remains unresolved. From 1962 to 2011, the country was under military rule and in the process has become one of the least developed nations in the world. The military junta was dissolved in 2011 following a general election in 2010 and a civilian government installed.

Burma is a resource rich country. However, since the reformations of 1962, the Burmese economy has become one of the least developed in the world. Burma’s GDP stands at $42.953 billion and grows at an average rate of 2.9% annually – the lowest rate of economic growth in the Greater Mekong Subregion.[9] Among others, the EU, United States and Canada have imposed economic sanctions on Burma.[10] Burma's health care system is one of the worst in the world: The World Health Organization ranked Burma at 190th, the worst performing of all countries.

The United Nations and several other organizations have reported consistent and systematic human rights violations in the country, including child labour, human trafficking and a lack of freedom of speech.



"Burma" is derived from the Burmese word "Bamar" (ဗမာ), which in turn is the colloquial form of Myanmar (မြန်မာ) (or Mranma in old Burmese), both of which historically referred to the majority Burmans (or the Bamar). Depending on the register used the pronunciation would be "Bama" (pronounced [bəmà]), or "Myamah" (pronounced [mjəmà]). The name "Burma" has been in use in English since the time of British colonial rule. It is still used by the UK today.

In 1989, the military government officially changed the English translations of many colonial-era names, including the name of the country to "Myanmar". This prompted one scholar to coin the term "Myanmarification" to refer to the top-down programme of political and cultural reform in the context of which the renaming was done. The renaming remains a contested issue.[11]

While most of the name changes are closer to their actual Burmese pronunciations, many opposition groups and countries continue to oppose their use in English because they recognise neither the legitimacy of the ruling military government nor its authority to rename the country or towns in English.[12] Various non-Burman ethnic groups choose not to recognise the name because the term Myanmar has historically been used as a label for the majority ethnic group, the Bamar, rather than for the country.[13][14][15]

Various world entities have chosen to accept or reject the name change. The United Nations, of which Myanmar is a member, endorsed the name change five days after its announcement by the government.[16] However, governments of many countries including Australia, Canada, France,[17] the United Kingdom and the United States[18] still refer to the country as "Burma", with varying levels of recognition of the validity of the name change itself.

Others, including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the governments of Germany, India, Japan,[19] Russia,[20] Brazil and the People's Republic of China recognise "Myanmar" as the official name.

Media usage is also mixed. In spite of the usage by the United States government, some American news outlets including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The International Herald Tribune and CNN, and international news agencies the Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse have adopted the official name "Myanmar". The name "Burma", however, continues to be used by other news outlets, including Voice of America, The Washington Post, the BBC, ITN, most British newspapers, The Times of India and Time. Other sources often use combined terms such as "Burma, also known as Myanmar" or "Myanmar, previously known as Burma". Some media outlets that use "Myanmar" refer to "Burma" as the nation's "colonial name."[21][22][23]

Uncertainty among English speakers about how to pronounce "Myanmar" gives rise to pronunciations such as /ˈmjɑːnmɑr/, /m.ənˈmɑr/, /ˈmənmɑr/ and /mˈænmɑr/. The BBC recommends /mjænˈmɑr/.[24][25][26] The common pronunciation in Burmese is [mjəmà].

On 21 October 2010 some media reported that the government changed the official name to Republic of the Union of Myanmar, which was established as part of the 2008 Constitution.[27] But this information was not confirmed by any Burmese government sources nor any other credible sources till 30 March 2011 – the new name Republic of the Union of Myanmar is in effect as of inauguration of new government.[28] Prior to this, the country was known formally as the Union of Myanmar since 1989. This had itself replaced the previous designation of the Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma used in the 1974 Constitution, which in turn had replaced the 1947 Constitution adopted following independence, which had referred simply to the Union of Burma.[citation needed]


Topographic map of Burma
The Irrawaddy Delta, which is approximately 50,400 km2 (19,460 sq mi) in area, is largely used for rice cultivation.[29]
Rural landscape of Shan State

Burma, which has a total area of 678,500 square kilometres (262,000 sq mi), is the largest country in mainland Southeast Asia, and the 40th-largest in the world. It lies between latitudes 9° and 29°N, and longitudes 92° and 102°E. As of February 2011, Burma constituted of 14 states and regions, 67 districts, 330 townships, 64 sub‐townships, 377 towns, 2914 Wards, 14220 village tracts and 68290 villages.

It is bordered to the northwest by Chittagong Division of Bangladesh and Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh of India to the northwest. Its north and northeast border straddles the Tibet and Yunnan regions of China for a Sino-Burman border total of 2,185 kilometres (1,358 mi). It is bounded by Laos and Thailand to the southeast. Burma has 1,930 kilometres (1,200 mi) of contiguous coastline along the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea to the southwest and the south, which forms one quarter of its total perimeter.[9]

In the north, the Hengduan Shan mountains form the border with China. Hkakabo Razi, located in Kachin State, at an elevation of 5,881 metres (19,295 ft), is the highest point in Burma.[30] Three mountain ranges, namely the Rakhine Yoma, the Bago Yoma, and the Shan Plateau exist within Burma, all of which run north-to-south from the Himalayas.[31] The mountain chains divide Burma's three river systems, which are the Irrawaddy, Salween (Thanlwin), and the Sittaung rivers.[29] The Irrawaddy River, Burma's longest river, nearly 2,170 kilometres (1,348 mi) long, flows into the Gulf of Martaban. Fertile plains exist in the valleys between the mountain chains.[31] The majority of Burma's population lives in the Irrawaddy valley, which is situated between the Rakhine Yoma and the Shan Plateau.


Limestone landscape of Mon State

Much of the country lies between the Tropic of Cancer and the Equator. It lies in the monsoon region of Asia, with its coastal regions receiving over 5,000 mm (196.9 in) of rain annually. Annual rainfall in the delta region is approximately 2,500 mm (98.4 in), while average annual rainfall in the Dry Zone, which is located in central Burma, is less than 1,000 mm (39.4 in). Northern regions of the country are the coolest, with average temperatures of 21 °C (70 °F). Coastal and delta regions have an average maximum temperature of 32 °C (89.6 °F).[29]


The country's slow economic growth has contributed to the preservation of much of its environment and ecosystems. Forests, including dense tropical growth and valuable teak in lower Burma, cover over 49% of the country, including areas of acacia, bamboo, ironwood and michelia champaca. Coconut and betel palm and rubber have been introduced. In the highlands of the north, oak, pine and various rhododendrons cover much of the land.[32] Heavy logging since the new 1995 forestry law went into effect has seriously reduced forest acreage and wildlife habitat.[33] The lands along the coast support all varieties of tropical fruits and once had large areas of mangroves although much of the protective mangroves have disappeared. In much of central Burma (the Dry Zone), vegetation is sparse and stunted.

Typical jungle animals, particularly tigers and leopards, occur sparsely in Burma. In upper Burma, there are rhinoceros, wild buffalo, wild boars, deer, antelope, and elephants, which are also tamed or bred in captivity for use as work animals, particularly in the lumber industry. Smaller mammals are also numerous, ranging from gibbons and monkeys to flying foxes and tapirs. The abundance of birds is notable with over 800 species, including parrots, peafowl, pheasants, crows, herons, and paddybirds. Among reptile species there are crocodiles, geckos, cobras, Burmese pythons, and turtles. Hundreds of species of freshwater fish are wide-ranging, plentiful and are very important food sources.[34] For a list of protected areas, see List of protected areas in Burma.



Archaeological evidence suggests that civilisation in the region which now forms Burma is quite old. The oldest archaeological find was of cave paintings and a Holocene assemblage in a hunter-gatherer cave site in Padah Lin in Shan State.[35][36]

The Mon people are thought to be the earliest group to migrate into the lower Irrawaddy valley, and by the mid-10th century BC were dominant in southern Burma.[37]

The Tibeto-Burman speaking Pyu arrived later in the 1st century BC, and established several city states – of which Sri Ksetra was the most powerful – in central Irrawaddy valley. The Mon and Pyu kingdoms were an active overland trade route between India and China. The Pyu kingdoms entered a period of rapid decline in early 9th century AD when the powerful kingdom of Nanzhao (in present-day Yunnan) invaded the Irrawaddy valley several times.

Bagan (1044–1287)

Tibeto-Burman speaking Burmans, or the Bamar, began migrating to the Irrawaddy valley from present-day Yunnan's Nanzhao kingdom starting in 7th century AD. Filling the power gap left by the Pyu, the Burmans established a small kingdom centred in Bagan in 849. But it was not until the reign of King Anawrahta (1044–1077) that Bagan's influence expanded throughout much of present-day Burma.

After Anawrahta's capture of the Mon capital of Thaton in 1057, the Burmans adopted Theravada Buddhism from the Mons. The Burmese script was created, based on the Mon script, during the reign of King Kyanzittha (1084–1112). Prosperous from trade, Bagan kings built many magnificent temples and pagodas throughout the country – many of which can still be seen today.

Bagan's power slowly waned in the 13th century. Kublai Khan's Mongol forces invaded northern Burma starting in 1277, and sacked Bagan city itself in 1287. Bagan's over two century reign of Irrawaddy valley and its periphery was over.

Pagodas and temples in present-day Bagan, the capital of the Bagan Kingdom

Small kingdoms (1287–1531)

The Mongols could not stay for long in the searing Irrawaddy valley. But the Tai-Shan people from Yunnan who came down with the Mongols fanned out to the Irrawaddy valley, Shan states, Laos, Siam and Assam, and became powerful players in Southeast Asia.

The Bagan empire was irreparably broken up into several small kingdoms:

  • The Burman kingdom of Ava or Innwa (1364–1555), the successor state to three smaller kingdoms founded by Burmanised Shan kings, controlling Upper Burma (without the Shan states)
  • The Mon kingdom of Hanthawady Pegu or Bago (1287–1540), founded by a Mon-ised Shan King Wareru (1287–1306), controlling Lower Burma (without Taninthayi).
  • The Rakhine kingdom of Mrauk U (1434–1784), in the west.
  • Several Shan states in the Shan hills in the east and the Kachin Hills in the north while the north-western frontier of present Chin hills still disconnected yet.

This period was characterised by constant warfare between Ava and Bago, and to a lesser extent, Ava and the Shans. Ava briefly controlled Rakhine (1379–1430) and came close to defeating Bago a few times, but could never quite reassemble the lost empire. Nevertheless, Burmese culture entered a golden age. Hanthawady Bago prospered. Bago's Queen Shin Saw Bu (1453–1472) raised the gilded Shwedagon Pagoda to its present height.

By the late-15th century, constant warfare had left Ava greatly weakened. Its peripheral areas became either independent or autonomous. In 1486, King Minkyinyo (1486–1531) of Taungoo broke away from Ava and established a small independent kingdom. In 1527, Mohnyin (Shan: Mong Yang) Shans captured Ava, upsetting the delicate power balance that had existed for nearly two centuries. The Shans would rule Upper Burma until 1555.

Burmese-Siamese War of 1548–49. Siam defeated the first Burmese invasion.

Taungoo (1531–1752)

Reinforced by fleeing Burmans from Ava, the minor Burman Kingdom of Taungoo under its young, ambitious king Tabinshwehti (1531–1551) defeated the more powerful Mon kingdom at Bago, reunifying all of Lower Burma by 1540. Tabinshwehti's successor King Bayinnaung (1551–1581) would go on to conquer Manipur (1556), Shan states (1557), Chiang Mai (1557), Ayutthaya (1564, 1569) and Lan Xang (1574), bringing most of western South East Asia under his rule. Preparing to invade Rakhine State, a maritime power controlling the entire coastline west of Rakhine Yoma, up to Chittagong province in Bengal.

Bayinnaung's massive empire unravelled soon after his death in 1581. Ayutthaya Siamese had driven out the Burmese by 1593 and went on to take Tanintharyi. In 1599, Rakhine forces aided by Portuguese mercenaries sacked the kingdom's capital Bago. Chief Portuguese mercenary Filipe de Brito e Nicote (Burmese: Nga Zinga) promptly rebelled against his Rakhine masters and established Portuguese rule in Thanlyin (Syriam), then the most important seaport in Burma. The country was in chaos.

The Burmese under King Anaukpetlun (1605–1628) regrouped and defeated the Portuguese in 1611. Anaukpetlun reestablished a smaller reconstituted kingdom based in Ava covering Upper Burma, Lower Burma and Shan states (but without Rakhine or Taninthayi). After the reign of King Thalun (1629–1648), who rebuilt the war-torn country, the kingdom experienced a slow and steady decline for the next 100 years. The Mons successfully rebelled starting in 1740 with French help and Siamese encouragement, broke away Lower Burma by 1747, and put an end to the House of Taungoo in 1752 when they took Ava.

Konbaung (1752–1885)

A British 1825 lithograph of Shwedagon Pagoda reveals early British occupation in Burma during the First Anglo-Burmese War.

King Alaungpaya (1752–1760), established the Konbaung Dynasty in Shwebo in 1752.[38] He founded Yangon in 1755. By his death in 1760, Alaungpaya had reunified the country. In 1767, King Hsinbyushin (1763–1777) sacked Ayutthya. The Qing Dynasty of China invaded four times from 1765 to 1769 without success. The Chinese invasions allowed the new Siamese kingdom based in Bangkok to repel the Burmese out of Siam by the late 1770s.

King Bodawpaya (1782–1819) failed repeatedly to reconquer Siam in 1780s and 1790s. Bodawpaya did manage to capture the western kingdom of Rakhine State, which had been largely independent since the fall of Bagan, in 1784. Bodawpaya also formally annexed Manipur, a rebellion-prone protectorate, in 1813.

King Bagyidaw's (1819–1837) general Maha Bandula put down a rebellion in Manipur in 1819 and captured then independent kingdom of Assam in 1819 (again in 1821). The new conquests brought the Burmese adjacent to the British India. The British defeated the Burmese in the First Anglo-Burmese War (1824–1826). Burma had to cede Assam, Manipur, Rakhine State (Arakan) and Tanintharyi (Tenessarim).

In 1852, the British attacked a much weakened Burma during a Burmese palace power struggle. After the Second Anglo-Burmese War, which lasted 3 months, the British had captured the remaining coastal provinces: Ayeyarwady, Yangon and Bago, naming the territories as Lower Burma.

King Mindon (1853–1878) founded Mandalay in 1859 and made it his capital. He skilfully navigated the growing threats posed by the competing interests of Britain and France. In the process, Mindon had to renounce Kayah (Karenni) states in 1875. His successor, King Thibaw (1878–1885), was largely ineffectual. In 1885, the British, alarmed by the French conquest of neighbouring Laos, occupied Upper Burma. The Third Anglo-Burmese War (1885) lasted a mere one month insofar as capturing the capital Mandalay was concerned. The Burmese royal family was exiled to Ratnagiri, India. British forces spent at least another four years pacifying the country: not only in the Burmese heartland but also in the Shan, Chin and Kachin hill areas. By some accounts, minor insurrections did not end until 1896.

Colonial era (1886–1948)

The landing of British forces in Mandalay after the last of the Anglo-Burmese Wars, which resulted in the abdication of the last Burmese monarch, King Thibaw Min.

The British conquest of Burma began in 1824 in response to a Burmese attempt to invade India. By 1886, and after two further wars, Britain had incorporated the entire country into the British Raj. "The dawn of 1886 saw the addition of still further territory to that vast expanse which owns the sovereignty of the Queen. The King of Burmah having persistently violated treaties, war was declared against him, and the Burmese capital of Mandalay was entered by the British forces, under General Prendergast, on 28 November 1885".[39] Burma was administered as a province of British India until 1937 when it became a separate, self-governing colony. To stimulate trade and facilitate changes, the British brought in Indians and Chinese, who quickly displaced the Burmese in urban areas. To this day Rangoon and Mandalay have large ethnic Indian populations. Railways and schools were built, as well as a large number of prisons, including the infamous Insein Prison, then and now used for political prisoners. Burmese resentment was strong and was vented in violent riots that paralysed Yangon on occasion all the way until the 1930s.[40]

Much of the discontent was caused by a disrespect for Burmese culture and traditions, for example, what the British termed the Shoe Question: the colonisers' refusal to remove their shoes upon entering Buddhist temples or other holy places. In October 1919, Eindawya Pagoda in Mandalay was the scene of violence when tempers flared after scandalised Buddhist monks attempted to physically expel a group of shoe-wearing British visitors. The leader of the monks was later sentenced to life imprisonment for attempted murder. Such incidents inspired the Burmese resistance to use Buddhism as a rallying point for their cause. Buddhist monks became the vanguards of the independence movement, and many died while protesting. One monk-turned-martyr was U Wisara, who died in prison after a 166-day hunger strike to protest a rule that forbade him from wearing his Buddhist robes while imprisoned.[41]

A view of Fytche Square (now Mahabandula Garden) in downtown Rangoon, which was developed and expanded by the British to serve as Burma Proper's capital.

During the colonial period, intermarriage between European male settlers and Burmese women, as well as between Anglo-Indians (who arrived with the British) and Burmese caused the birth of the Anglo-Burmese community. This influential community was to dominate the country during colonial rule and through the mid-1960s. On 1 April 1937, Burma became a separately administered territory, independent of the Indian administration, and elected Ba Maw as the first Prime Minister and Premier of Burma from 1937 to February 1939. Ba Maw became an outspoken advocate for Burmese self-rule and he opposed the participation of Great Britain, and by extension Burma, in World War II. He resigned from the Legislative Assembly and was arrested for sedition. Many issues continued to divide the population, and laid the groundwork for the insurgencies to come after independence, later in 1948. In the 1940s, the Thirty Comrades, commanded by Aung San, founded the Burma Independence Army. The Thirty Comrades received training in Japan. During World War II, Burma became a major front-line in the Southeast Asian Theatre. The British administration collapsed ahead of the advancing Japanese troops, jails and asylums were opened and Rangoon was deserted except for the many Anglo-Burmese and Indians who remained at their posts. A stream of some 300,000 refugees fled across the jungles into India; known as 'The Trek', all but 30,000 of those 300,000 arrived in India. During the Japanese occupation of Burma, Ba Maw was asked by the Japanese to head a provisional civilian administration to manage day-to-day administrative activities subordinate to the Japanese military administration. This Burmese Executive Administration was established on 1 August 1942. Initially the Japanese-led Burma Campaign succeeded and the British were expelled from most of Burma, but the British counter-attacked using primarily troops of the British Indian Army. By July 1945, the British had retaken the country.

British troops firing a mortar on the Mawchi road, July 1944.

Although many Burmese fought initially for the Japanese, some Burmese, mostly from the ethnic minorities, also served in the British Burma Army.[42] In 1943, the Chin Levies and Kachin Levies were formed in the border districts of Burma still under British administration. The Burma Rifles fought as part of the Chindits under General Orde Wingate from 1943 to 1945. Later in the war, the Americans created American-Kachin Rangers who also fought against the Japanese. Many others fought with the British Special Operations Executive. The Burma Independence Army under the command of Aung San and the Arakan National Army fought with the Japanese from 1942–1944, but switched allegiance to the Allied side in 1945.

British soldiers waged a guerrilla war against Japanese forces in Burma. Chindits were formed into long-range penetration groups trained to operate deep behind Japanese lines.[43] A similar American unit, Merrill's Marauders, followed the Chindits into the jungle in 1943.[44] Overall, the Japanese lost some 150,000 men in Burma. Only 1,700 prisoners were taken.[45]

In 1947, Aung San became Deputy Chairman of the Executive Council of Burma, a transitional government. But in July 1947, political rivals assassinated Aung San and several cabinet members.[46]

Democratic republic (1948–1962)

On 4 January 1948, the nation became an independent republic, named the Union of Burma, with Sao Shwe Thaik as its first President and U Nu as its first Prime Minister. Unlike most other former British colonies and overseas territories, it did not become a member of the Commonwealth. A bicameral parliament was formed, consisting of a Chamber of Deputies and a Chamber of Nationalities,[47] and multi-party elections were held in 1951–1952, 1956 and 1960.

The geographical area Burma encompasses today can be traced to the Panglong Agreement, which combined Burma Proper, which consisted of Lower Burma and Upper Burma, and the Frontier Areas, which had been administered separately by the British.[14]

In 1961, U Thant, then the Union of Burma's Permanent Representative to the United Nations and former Secretary to the Prime Minister, was elected Secretary-General of the United Nations; he was the first non-Westerner to head any international organisation and would serve as UN Secretary-General for ten years.[48] Among the Burmese to work at the UN when he was Secretary-General was a young Aung San Suu Kyi, who went on to become winner of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize.

Rule by military junta (1962–2011)

Ne Win years

Democratic rule ended in 1962 when General Ne Win led a military coup d'état. He ruled for nearly 26 years and pursued policies under the rubric of the Burmese Way to Socialism. Between 1962 and 1974, Burma was ruled by a revolutionary council headed by the general, and almost all aspects of society (business, media, production) were nationalized or brought under government control (even the Boy Scouts).[49] In an effort to consolidate power, Ne Win and many other top generals resigned from the military and took civilian posts and, from 1974, instituted elections in a one-party system.

Between 1974 and 1988, Burma was effectively ruled by Ne Win through the Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP),[50] which from 1964 until 1988 was the sole political party. During this period, Burma became one of the world's most impoverished countries. The Burmese Way to Socialism[51] combined Soviet-style nationalisation and central planning with the governmental implementation of superstitious beliefs.[citation needed] Criticism was scathing, such as an article published in a February 1974 issue of Newsweek magazine describing the Burmese Way to Socialism as 'an amalgam of Buddhist and Marxist illogic'.[52]

Almost from the beginning, there were sporadic protests against the military rule, many of which were organised by students, and these were almost always violently suppressed by the government. On 7 July 1962, the government broke up demonstrations at Rangoon University, killing 15 students.[49] In 1974, the military violently suppressed anti-government protests at the funeral of U Thant. Student protests in 1975, 1976 and 1977 were quickly suppressed by overwhelming force.[50]

Ne Win's rise to power in 1962 and his relentless persecution of "resident aliens" (immigrant groups not recognised as citizens of the Union of Burma) led to an exodus/expulsion of some 300,000 Burmese Indians.[53] They migrated to escape racial discrimination and wholesale nationalisation of private enterprise a few years later in 1964.[54] The Anglo-Burmese at this time either fled the country or changed their names and blended in with the broader Burmese society.

A new constitution of the Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma was adopted in 1974.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims fled Burma and many refugees inundated neighbouring Bangladesh including 200,000 in 1978 as a result of the King Dragon operation in Arakan.[55]

Uprising of 1988 and the SPDC

Protesters gathering in central Rangoon, 1988

In 1988, unrest over economic mismanagement and political oppression by the government led to widespread pro-democracy demonstrations throughout the country known as the 8888 Uprising. Security forces killed thousands of demonstrators, and General Saw Maung staged a coup d'état and formed the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). In 1989, SLORC declared martial law after widespread protests. The military government finalised plans for People's Assembly elections on 31 May 1989.[56] SLORC changed the country's official English name from the "Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma" to the "Union of Myanmar" in 1989.

In May 1990, the government held free elections for the first time in almost 30 years. The National League for Democracy (NLD), the party of Aung San Suu Kyi, won 392 out of a total 489 seats(i.e., 80% of the seats), but the election results were annulled by SLORC, which refused to step down.[57] Led by Than Shwe since 1992, the military regime has made cease-fire agreements with most ethnic guerilla groups. In 1992, SLORC unveiled plans to create a new constitution through the National Convention, which began 9 January 1993. In 1997, the State Law and Order Restoration Council was renamed the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC).

On 23 June 1997, Burma was admitted into the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The National Convention continues to convene and adjourn. Many major political parties, particularly the NLD, have been absent or excluded, and little progress has been made.[citation needed] On 27 March 2006, the military junta, which had moved the national capital from Yangon to a site near Pyinmana in November 2005, officially named the new capital Naypyidaw, meaning "city of the kings".[58] The CIA World Factbook, however, still considers the capital to be Rangoon.[59]

In November 2006, the International Labour Organization (ILO) announced it will be seeking at the International Criminal Court[60] "to prosecute members of the ruling Myanmar junta for crimes against humanity" over the continuous forced labour of its citizens by the military. According to the ILO, an estimated 800,000 people are subject to forced labour in Burma.[61]

2007 Burmese anti-government protest

The 2007 Burmese anti-government protests were a campaign of civil resistance.[62] The main immediate cause of the protests was an event in mid-August: the unannounced decision of the ruling junta, the State Peace and Development Council, to remove fuel subsidies which caused the price of diesel and petrol to suddenly rise as much as double, and the price of compressed natural gas for buses to increase fivefold in less than a week.[63] The protest demonstrations were at first dealt with quickly and harshly by the junta, with dozens of protesters arrested and detained. Starting 18 September, the protests were led by thousands of Buddhist monks, and those protests were allowed to proceed until a renewed government crackdown on 26 September.[64] During the crack-down, there were rumours of disagreement within the Burmese armed forces, but none was confirmed. Some news reports referred to the protests as the Saffron Revolution.[65][66]

Protesters in Yangon with a banner that reads non-violence: national movement in Burmese, in the background is Shwedagon Pagoda

During the 2007 anti-government protests a significant role was played by Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the opposition to the Burmese military government. Aung San Suu Kyi was under periods of house arrest from 1989–2010. In September 2007, hundreds of monks paid respects to her at the gate of her home, which was the first time in four years that people were able to see her in public. She was then given a second public appearance on 29 September, when she was allowed to leave house arrest briefly and meet with a UN envoy trying to persuade the junta to ease its crackdown against a pro-democracy uprising, to which the Burmese government reluctantly agreed.

World governments remain divided on how to deal with the military junta. Calls for further sanctions by Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States and France are opposed by neighbouring countries; in particular, China has stated its belief that "sanctions or pressure will not help to solve the issue".[67] There is some disagreement over whether sanctions are the most effective approach to dealing with the junta, such as from a Cato Institute study and from prominent Burmese such as Thant Myint-U (a former senior UN official and Cambridge historian), who have opined that sanctions may have caused more harm than good to the Burmese people.[68][69]

Dissolution of SPDC and constitutional referendum (2008–present)

On 7 February 2008, SPDC announced that a referendum for the Constitution would be held and Elections by 2010. The Burmese constitutional referendum, 2008 was held on 10 May and promised a "discipline-flourishing democracy" for the country in the future. On 13 August 2010, Junta announced the election date for 2010 would be 7 November. A new flag was adopted and the official name of the country changed to "Republic of the Union of Myanmar", replacing the old "Union of Myanmar" from 1989. Observers described the election day of 2010 as mostly peaceful, though there were alleged irregularities in polling stations. There was an official turnout of 77%.[70] On 9 November 2010, Burma's ruling junta stated that the Union Solidarity and Development Party won 80% of the votes. This claim is widely disputed by pro-democracy opposition groups, asserting that the military regime engaged in rampant fraud to achieve its result.[70] International communities concerned over Burma that skirmishes, due to discontent with the elections, could erupt into civil war. (see 2010-11 Burma border clashes).

Cyclone Nargis devastated southern Burma

On 3 May 2008, Cyclone Nargis devastated the country when winds of up to 215 km/h (135 mph)[71] touched land in the densely populated, rice-farming delta of the Irrawaddy Division.[72] It was the worst natural disaster in Burmese history. Reports estimated that more than 200,000 people were dead or missing, and damage totaled to 10 billion dollars (USD). The World Food Programme reported, "Some villages have been almost totally eradicated and vast rice-growing areas are wiped out."[73] The United Nations projects that as many as 1 million were left homeless; and the World Health Organization "has received reports of malaria outbreaks in the worst-affected area."[74] Yet in the critical days following this disaster, Burma's isolationist regime hindered recovery efforts by delaying the entry of United Nations planes delivering medicine, food, and other supplies. The government's action was described by the United Nations as "unprecedented."[75]

In early August 2009, a conflict known as the Kokang incident broke out in Shan State in northern Burma. For several weeks, junta troops fought against ethnic minorities including the Han Chinese,[76] Va, and Kachin.[77][78] From 8–12 August, the first days of the conflict, as many as 10,000 Burmese civilians fled to Yunnan province in neighbouring China.[77][78][79]

List of historical capitals

Government and politics

The constitution of Burma, its third since independence, was drafted by its military rulers and published in September 2008. The country is governed as a presidential republic with a bicameral legislature, with a portion of legislatures appointed by the military and others elected in general elections. The current head of state being Thein Sein, who was inaugurated as President on 30 March 2011.

The legislature, called the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, is bicameral and made up of two houses: The 224-seat upper house Amyotha Hluttaw ( House of Nationalities) and the 440-seat lower house Pyithu Hluttaw ( House of Representatives). The upper house consists of 224 member of which 168 are directly elected and 56 are appointed by the Burmese Armed Forces while the lower house consists of 440 members of which 330 are directly elected and 110 are appointed by the armed forces. The major political parties are the National Democratic Force and the two backed by the military: the National Unity Party, and the Union Solidarity and Development Party. The National League for Democracy, the party of Aung San Suu Kyi, was declared illegal before the 2010 elections for failing to register for the elections.

Burma's army-drafted constitution was approved in a referendum in May 2008. The results, 92.4% of the 22 million voters with an official turnout of 99%, are considered suspect by many international observers and by the National league of democracy with reports of widespread fraud, ballot stuffing, and voter intimidation.[80]

The elections of 2010 resulted in a victory for the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party and various foreign observers questioned the fairness of the elections.[81][82][83] One criticism of the election was that only government sanctioned political parties were allowed to contest in it and the popular National League for Democracy was declared illegal and is still barred from political activities.[84] However, immediately following the elections, the government ended the house arrest of the democracy advocate and leader of the National League for Democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi.[85] and her ability to move freely around the country is considered an important test of the military's movement toward more openness.[84]

Burma has a high level of corruption, and ranks 176th out of 180 countries worldwide on the Corruption Perceptions Index with a rating of 1.4 out of 10 (10 being least corrupt and 0 being highly corrupt) as of 2010.[86]

Human rights

Pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi reappears on front pages of local newspapers in 2011 after decades of censorship.

Human rights in Burma are a long-standing concern for the international community and human rights organisations. Members of the United Nations and major international human rights organisations have issued repeated and consistent reports of widespread and systematic human rights violations in Burma. The United Nations General Assembly has repeatedly[87] called on the Burmese Military Junta to respect human rights and in November 2009 the General Assembly adopted a resolution "strongly condemning the ongoing systematic violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms" and calling on the Burmese Military Regime "to take urgent measures to put an end to violations of international human rights and humanitarian law."[88] International human rights organisations including Human Rights Watch,[89] Amnesty International [90] and the American Association for the Advancement of Science[91] have repeatedly documented and condemned widespread human rights violations. There is consensus that the military regime in Burma is one of the world's most repressive and abusive regimes.[92][93]They have claimed that there is no independent judiciary in Burma. Forced labour, human trafficking, and child labour are common.[94] The military is also notorious for rampant use of sexual violence as an instrument of control, including allegations of systematic rapes and taking of sex slaves as porters for the military. A women's pro-democracy movement has formed in exile, largely along the Thai border and in Chiang Mai. There is a growing international movement to defend women's human rights issues.[95]

The Freedom in the World 2011 report by Freedom House notes that "The military junta has long ruled by decree and controlled all executive, legislative, and judicial powers; suppressed nearly all basic rights; and committed human rights abuses with impunity.The junta carefully rigged the electoral framework surrounding the 2010 national elections, which were neither free nor fair. The country’s more than 2,100 political prisoners included about 429 members of the NLD, the victors in the 1990 elections."[96] Evidence has been gathered suggesting that the Burmese regime has marked certain ethnic minorities such as the Karen for extermination or 'Burmisation'.[97] This, however, has received little attention from the international community since it has been more subtle and indirect than the mass killings in places like Rwanda.[98]

However, since the transition to new government in August 2011, Burma's human rights record has been improving according to the Crisis Group.[99] The government has assembled a National Human Rights Commission consisted of 15 members from various backgrounds.[100] Several activists in exile including Thee Lay Thee Anyeint members, have returned to Burma after President Thein Sein’s offer to expatriates to return home to work for national development.[101] In an address to the United Nations Security Council in 22 September 2011, Burma's Foreign Minister Wanna Maung Lwin confirmed the release of prisoners in near future.[102] The government also relaxes reporting laws although still highly restrictive.[103] In September 2011, several banned websites including Youtube, Democratic Voice of Burma and Voice of America have been unblocked.[104]

A 2011 report by the Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations found that while constrained by donor restrictions on contact with the Myanmar government, international humanitarian Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) see opportunities for effective advocacy with government officials, especially at the local level. At the same time, International NGOs are mindful of the ethical quandary of how to work with the government without bolstering or appeasing it[105].

Burma's government spends the least percentage of its GDP on health care of any country in the world, and international donor organisations give less to Burma, per capita, than any other country except India.[106] According to the report named "Preventable Fate", published by Doctors without Borders, 25,000 Burmese AIDS patients died in 2007, deaths that could largely have been prevented by Anti Retroviral Therapy drugs and proper treatment.[106]

Administrative divisions (regions and states)

Kachin State Myitkyina Sagaing Region Sagaing Chin State Hakha Shan State Taunggyi Rakhine State Sittwe Magway Region Magwe Mandalay Region Mandalay Kayah State Loikaw Naypyidaw Union Territory Bago Region Bago, Burma Yangon Region Yangon Ayeyarwady Region Pathein Kayin State Pa-an Mawlamyaing Mon State Dawei Tanintharyi RegionA clickable map of Burma/Myanmar exhibiting its first-level administrative divisions.
About this image

The country is divided into seven states (ပြည်နယ်) and seven regions (တိုင်းဒေသကြီး), formerly called divisions.[107] The announcement on the renaming of division to regions was made on 20 August 2010.[108] Regions are predominantly Bamar (that is, mainly inhabited by the dominant ethnic group). States, in essence, are regions which are home to particular ethnic minorities. The administrative divisions are further subdivided into districts, which are further subdivided into townships, wards, and villages.

Below are the number of districts, townships, cities/towns, wards, village Groups and villages in each divisions and states of Burma as of 31 December 2001:[109]

No. State/Region Districts Townships Cities/Towns Wards Village groups Villages
1 Kachin State 3 18 20 116 606 2630
2 Kayah State 2 7 7 29 79 624
3 Kayin State 3 7 10 46 376 2092
4 Chin State 2 9 9 29 475 1355
5 Sagaing Region 8 37 37 171 1769 6095
6 Tanintharyi Region 3 10 10 63 265 1255
7 Bago Region 4 28 33 246 1424 6498
8 Magway Region 5 25 26 160 1543 4774
9 Mandalay Region 7 31 29 259 1611 5472
10 Mon State 2 10 11 69 381 1199
11 Rakhine State 4 17 17 120 1041 3871
12 Yangon Region 4 45 20 685 634 2119
13 Shan State 11 54 54 336 1626 15513
14 Ayeyarwady Region 6 26 29 219 1912 11651
Total 63 324 312 2548 13742 65148

Foreign relations and military

The country's foreign relations, particularly with Western nations, have been strained. The United States has placed a ban on new investments by U.S. firms, an import ban, and an arms embargo on the Union of Myanmar, as well as frozen military assets in the United States because of the military regime's ongoing human rights abuses, the long-term detention of Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi (concluded on 13 November 2010), and refusal to honour the election results of the 1990 People's Assembly election.[110] Similarly, the European Union has placed sanctions on Burma, including an arms embargo, cessation of trade preferences, and suspension of all aid with the exception of humanitarian aid.[111] U.S. and European government sanctions against the military government, coupled with boycotts and other direct pressure on corporations by supporters of the democracy movement, have resulted in the withdrawal from the country of most U.S. and many European companies. However, some Western companies remain since the sanctions do not affect existing investments.[112]

Despite Western isolation, Asian corporations have generally remained willing to continue investing in the country and to initiate new investments, particularly in natural resource extraction. The country has close relations with neighbouring India and China with several Indian and Chinese companies operating in the country. There remains active debate as to the extent to which the American-led sanctions have had adverse effects on the civilian population or on the military rulers.[113][114] Burma has also received extensive military aid from India and China in the past.[115] According to some estimates, Burma has received more than US$200 million in military aid from India.[116] Under India's Look East policy, fields of cooperation between India and Burma include remote sensing,[117] oil and gas exploration,[118] information technology,[119] hydro power[120] and construction of ports and buildings.[121] In 2008, India suspended military aid to Burma over the issue of human rights abuses by the ruling junta, although it has preserved extensive commercial ties which provide the regime with much needed revenue.[122]

The country's armed forces are known as the Tatmadaw, which numbers 488,000. The Tatmadaw comprises the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force. The country ranked twelfth in the world for its number of active troops in service.[9] The military is very influential in the country, with top cabinet and ministry posts held by military officers. Official figures for military spending are not available. Estimates vary widely because of uncertain exchange rates, but military spending is very high.[123] The country imports most of its weapons from Russia, Ukraine, China and India.

The country is building a research nuclear reactor near May Myo (Pyin Oo Lwin) with help from Russia. It is one of the signatories of the nuclear non-proliferation pact since 1992 and a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) since 1957. The military junta had informed the IAEA in September 2000 of its intention to construct the reactor. The research reactor outbuilding frame was built by ELE steel industries limited of Yangon and water from Anisakhan/BE water fall will be used for the reactor cavity cooling system.[124][125]

ASEAN will not defend the country in any international forum following the military regime's refusal to restore democracy. In April 2007, the Malaysian Foreign Ministry parliamentary secretary Ahmad Shabery Cheek said Malaysia and other ASEAN members had decided not to defend Burma if the country's issue was raised for discussion at any international conference. "Now Myanmar has to defend itself if it is bombarded in any international forum", he said when winding up a debate at committee stage for the Foreign Ministry. He was replying to queries from opposition leader Lim Kit Siang on the next course of action to be taken by Malaysia and ASEAN with the military junta. Lim had said Malaysia must play a proactive role in pursuing regional initiatives to bring about a change in Burma and support efforts to bring the situation in Burma to the UN Security Council's attention.[126] In November 2008, Burma's political situation with neighbouring Bangladesh became tense as they began searching for natural gas in a disputed block of the Bay of Bengal.[127]

Until 2005, the United Nations General Assembly annually adopted a detailed resolution about the situation in Burma by consensus.[128][128][129][130][131] But in 2006 a divided United Nations General Assembly voted through a resolution that strongly called upon the government of Burma to end its systematic violations of human rights.[132] In January 2007, Russia and China vetoed a draft resolution before the United Nations Security Council[133] calling on the government of Burma to respect human rights and begin a democratic transition. South Africa also voted against the resolution.[134]

In 2010 as part of the Wikileaks leaked cables, Burma was suspected of using North Korean construction teams to build a fortified Surface-to-Air Missile facility.[135]


A street market in Yangon selling produce.

The country is one of the poorest nations in Southeast Asia, suffering from decades of stagnation, mismanagement and isolation. The lack of an educated workforce skilled in modern technology contributes to the growing problems of the economy.[136] The country lacks adequate infrastructure. Goods travel primarily across the Thai border, where most illegal drugs are exported and along the Irrawaddy River. Railways are old and rudimentary, with few repairs since their construction in the late 19th century.[137] Highways are normally unpaved, except in the major cities.[137] Energy shortages are common throughout the country including in Yangon.

Under British administration, Burma was the second-wealthiest country in South-East Asia. It had been the world's largest exporter of rice. Burma also had a wealth of natural and labour resources. It produced 75% of the world's teak and had a highly literate population.[12] The country was believed to be on the fast track to development.[12]

During World War II, the British destroyed the major oil wells and mines for tungsten, tin, lead and silver to keep them from the Japanese. Burma was bombed extensively by both sides. After a parliamentary government was formed in 1948, Prime Minister U Nu embarked upon a policy of nationalization and the state was declared the owner of all land. The government also tried to implement a poorly thought out Eight-Year plan. By the 1950s, rice exports had fallen by two thirds and mineral exports by over 96% (as compared to the pre-World War II period). Plans were partly financed by printing money, which led to inflation.[138] The 1962 coup d'état was followed by an economic scheme called the Burmese Way to Socialism, a plan to nationalise all industries, with the exception of agriculture. The catastrophic program turned Burma into one of the world's most impoverished countries.[51] Burma's admittance to Least Developed Country status by the UN in 1987 highlighted its economic bankruptcy.[139]

The national currency is Kyat. Burma has a dual exchange rate system similar to Cuba.[140] The market rate was around two hundred times below the government-set rate in 2006.[141] Inflation averaged 30.1% between 2005 and 2007.[142] Inflation is a serious problem for the economy. In recent years, both China and India have attempted to strengthen ties with the government for economic benefit. Many nations, including the United States and Canada, and the European Union, have imposed investment and trade sanctions on Burma. The United States has banned all imports from Burma.[141] Foreign investment comes primarily from People's Republic of China, Singapore, South Korea, India, and Thailand.[143]

The annual import of medicine and medical equipment to Burma during the 2000s was 160 million USD. [144]

Rice cultivation accounts for much of the agriculture in Burma today.


The major agricultural product is rice which covers about 60% of the country's total cultivated land area. Rice accounts for 97% of total food grain production by weight. Through collaboration with the International Rice Research Institute 52 modern rice varieties were released in the country between 1966 and 1997, helping increase national rice production to 14 million tons in 1987 and to 19 million tons in 1996. By 1988, modern varieties were planted on half of the country's ricelands, including 98 percent of the irrigated areas.[145] In 2008 rice production was estimated at 50 million tons.[146]

Burma is also the world's second largest producer of opium, accounting for 8% of entire world production and is a major source of illegal drugs, including amphetamines.[147] Opium bans implemented since 2002 after international pressure have left ex-poppy farmers without sustainable sources of income in the Kokang and Wa regions. They depend on casual labour for income.[148]

Natural resources

Burma produces precious stones such as sapphires, pearls and jade. Rubies are the biggest earner; 90% of the world's rubies come from the country, whose red stones are prized for their purity and hue. Thailand buys the majority of the country's gems. Burma's "Valley of Rubies", the mountainous Mogok area, 200 km (120 mi) north of Mandalay, is noted for its rare pigeon's blood rubies and blue sapphires.[149] Many U.S. and European jewellery companies, including Bulgari, Tiffany, and Cartier, refuse to import these stones based on reports of deplorable working conditions in the mines. Human Rights Watch has encouraged a complete ban on the purchase of Burmese gems based on these reports and because nearly all profits go to the ruling junta, as the majority of mining activity in the country is government-run.[150] The government of Burma controls the gem trade by direct ownership or by joint ventures with private owners of mines.[151]

Other industries include agricultural goods, textiles, wood products, construction materials, gems, metals, oil and natural gas.

Apartment building in Naypyidaw. Naypyidaw is the new capital of Burma which is nearing completion.


Since 1992, the government has encouraged tourism in the country. However, fewer than 750,000 tourists enter the country annually.[152] Burma's Minister of Hotels and Tourism Maj-Gen Saw Lwin has stated that the government receives a significant percentage of the income of private sector tourism services.[153] Much of the country is completely off-limits to tourists, and the military very tightly controls interactions between foreigners and the people of Burma, particularly the border regions.[154] They are not to discuss politics with foreigners, under penalty of imprisonment, and in 2001, the Myanmar Tourism Promotion Board issued an order for local officials to protect tourists and limit "unnecessary contact" between foreigners and ordinary Burmese people.[155]


A block of flats in down-town Yangon, facing Bogyoke Market. Much of Yangon's urban population resides in densely populated flats.

Burma has a population of about 56 million.[156] Population figures are rough estimates because the last partial census, conducted by the Ministry of Home and Religious Affairs under the control of the military junta, was taken in 1983.[157] No trustworthy nationwide census has been taken in Burma since 1931. There are over 600,000 registered migrant workers from Burma in Thailand, and millions more work illegally. Burmese migrant workers account for 80% of Thailand's migrant workers.[158] Burma has a population density of 75 per square kilometre (190 /sq mi), one of the lowest in Southeast Asia. Refugee camps exist along Indian, Bangladeshi and Thai borders while several thousand are in Malaysia. Conservative estimates state that there are over 295,800 refugees from Burma, with the majority being Rohingya, Kayin, and Karenni and are principally located along the Thai-Burma border.[159] There are nine permanent refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border, most of which were established in the mid-1980s. The refugee camps are under the care of the Thai-Burma Border Consortium (TBBC). In FY 2009, the U.S. resettled 18,275 refugees from Burma.[160]

There are over 53.42 million Buddhists, over 2.98 million Christians, over 2.27 million Muslims, over 0.3 million Hindus and over 0.79 million of those who believe in other religions in the country, according to an answer by Union Minister at Myanmar Parliament on 8 Sep 2011.[161]

Ethnic groups

Ethnic Composition in Burma (rough estimate)
ethnic group percent
Other groups
A girl from the Padaung minority, one of the many ethnic groups that make up Burma's population.

Burma is home to four major language families: Sino-Tibetan, Tai–Kadai, Austro-Asiatic, and Indo-European.[162] Sino-Tibetan languages are most widely spoken. They include Burmese, Karen, Kachin, Chin, and Chinese. The primary Tai–Kadai language is Shan. Mon, Palaung, and Wa are the major Austroasiatic languages spoken in Burma. The two major Indo-European languages are Pali, the liturgical language of Theravada Buddhism, and English.[163]

According to the UNESCO Institute of Statistics, Burma's official literacy rate as of 2000 was 89.9%.[164] Historically, Burma has had high literacy rates. To qualify for least developed country status by the UN in order to receive debt relief, Burma lowered its official literacy rate from 78.6% to 18.7% in 1987.[165]

Burma is ethnically diverse. The government recognises 135 distinct ethnic groups. While it is extremely difficult to verify this statement, there are at least 108 different ethnolinguistic groups in Burma, consisting mainly of distinct Tibeto-Burman peoples, but with sizeable populations of Daic, Hmong–Mien, and Austroasiatic (Mon–Khmer) peoples.[166] The Bamar form an estimated 68% of the population.[167] 10% of the population are Shan.[167] The Kayin make up 7% of the population.[167] The Rakhine people constitute 4% of the population. Overseas Chinese form approximately 3% of the population.[167][168] Burma's ethnic minority groups prefer the term "ethnic nationality" over "ethnic minority" as the term "minority" furthers their sense of insecurity in the face of what is often described as "Burmanisation"--the proliferation and domination of the dominant Bamar culture over minority cultures.

Mon, who form 2% of the population, are ethno-linguistically related to the Khmer.[167] Overseas Indians comprise 2%.[167] The remainder are Kachin, Chin, Anglo-Indians and other ethnic minorities. Included in this group are the Anglo-Burmese. Once forming a large and influential community, the Anglo-Burmese left the country in steady streams from 1958 onwards, principally to Australia and the U.K.. Today, it is estimated that only 52,000 Anglo-Burmese remain in the country. There are 110,000 Burmese refugees in Thai border camps.[169]

89% of the country's population are Buddhist, according to a report on ABC World News Tonight in May 2008 and the Buddha Dharma Education Association.[170]


An ear-piercing ceremony at the Mahamuni Pagoda in Mandalay is one of the many coming-of-age ceremonies in Burmese culture.

A diverse range of indigenous cultures exist in Burma, the majority culture is primarily Buddhist and Bamar. Bamar culture has been influenced by the cultures of neighbouring countries. This is manifested in its language, cuisine, music, dance and theatre. The arts, particularly literature, have historically been influenced by the local form of Theravada Buddhism. Considered the national epic of Burma, the Yama Zatdaw, an adaptation of India's Ramayana, has been influenced greatly by Thai, Mon, and Indian versions of the play.[171] Buddhism is practised along with nat worship which involves elaborate rituals to propitiate one from a pantheon of 37 nats.[172][173]

Mohinga, rice noodles in fish soup, is widely considered to be Burma's national dish.

In a traditional village, the monastery is the centre of cultural life. Monks are venerated and supported by the lay people. A novitiation ceremony called shinbyu is the most important coming of age events for a boy when he enters the monastery for a short period of time.[174] All boys of Buddhist family need to be a novice (beginner for Buddhism) before the age of twenty and to be a monk after the age of twenty. It is compulsory for all boys of Buddhism. The duration can be as little as one week. Girls have ear-piercing ceremonies (Nathwin.gif) at the same time.[174] Burmese culture is most evident in villages where local festivals are held throughout the year, the most important being the pagoda festival.[175][176] Many villages have a guardian nat, and superstition and taboos are commonplace.

A Hindu procession in Yangon.

British colonial rule also introduced Western elements of culture to Burma. Burma's educational system is modelled after that of the United Kingdom. Colonial architectural influences are most evident in major cities such as Yangon.[177] Many ethnic minorities, particularly the Karen in the southeast, and the Kachin and Chin (people) who populate the north and north-east, practice Christianity.[178] According to CIA World Factbook, the Burman population is 68%, and the Ethnic groups comprise of 32%. However, the exiled leaders and organisations claims that Ethnic population is 40% which is implicitly contrasted with CIA report (official U.S report).


Burmese, the mother tongue of the Bamar and official language of Burma, is related to Tibetan and to the Chinese languages.[163] It is written in a script consisting of circular and semi-circular letters, which were adapted from the Mon script, which in turn was developed from a southern Indian script in the 8th century. The earliest known inscriptions in the Burmese script date from the 11th century. It is also used to write Pali, the sacred language of Theravada Buddhism, as well as several ethnic minority languages, including Shan, several Karen dialects, and Kayah (Karenni), with the addition of specialised characters and diacritics for each language.[179] The Burmese language incorporates widespread usage of honorifics and is age-oriented.[175] Burmese society has traditionally stressed the importance of education. In villages, secular schooling often takes place in monasteries. Secondary and tertiary education take place at government schools.


Members of the Buddhist monkhood are venerated throughout Burma, which is one of the most predominantly Theravada Buddhist countries in the world.
Religion in Burma
religion percent
Others including Atheism, Animism and Chinese folk religion

Many religions are practised in Burma. Religious edifices and orders have been in existence for many years. Festivals can be held on a grand scale. The Christian and Muslim populations do, however, face religious persecution and it is hard, if not impossible, for non-Buddhists to join the army or get government jobs, the main route to success in the country.[180] Such persecution and targeting of civilians is particularly notable in Eastern Burma, where over 3000 villages have been destroyed in the past ten years.[181][182][183] More than 200,000 Rohingya Muslims have settled in Bangladesh, to escape persecution, over the past 20 years.[184]

89% of the population embraces Buddhism (mostly Theravada). Other religions are practiced largely without obstruction, with the notable exception of some ethnic minorities such as the Muslim Rohingya people, who have continued to have their citizenship status denied and therefore do not have access to education, and Christians in Chin State.[185] 4 percent of the population practices Christianity; 4 percent, Islam; 1 percent, traditional animistic beliefs; and 2 percent follow other religions, including Mahayana Buddhism, Hinduism, East Asian religions and the Bahá'í Faith.[186][187][188] However, according to a U.S. State Department's 2010 international religious freedom report, official statistics are alleged to underestimate the non-Buddhist population. Independent researchers put the Muslim population at 6 to 10% of the population,. A tiny Jewish community in Rangoon had a synagogue but no resident rabbi to conduct services.[189]

Units of measure

Burma is one of three countries that still predominantly uses a non-metric system of measure, according to the CIA Factbook.[190] The common units of measure are unique to Burma, but the government web pages use both imperial units[191] and metric units.[192]


Yangon University of Medicine 1

The educational system of Burma is operated by the government Ministry of Education. Universities and professional institutes from upper Burma and lower Burma are run by two separate entities, the Department of Higher Education of Upper Burma and the Department of Higher Education of Lower Burma. Headquarters are based in Yangon and Mandalay respectively. The education system is based on the United Kingdom's system, due to nearly a century of British and Christian presences in Burma. Nearly all schools are government-operated, but there has been a recent increase in privately funded English language schools. Schooling is compulsory until the end of elementary school, probably about 9 years old, while the compulsory schooling age is 15 or 16 at international level.

There are 101 universities, 12 institutes, 9 degree colleges and 24 colleges in Burma, a total of 146 higher education institutions.[193]

Students on their way to school, Hakha, Chin State, Burma

There are 10 Technical Training Schools, 23 nursing training schools, 1 sport academy and 20 midwifery schools.

There are 2047 Basic Education High Schools, 2605 Basic Education Middle Schools, 29944 Basic Education Primary Schools and 5952 Post Primary Schools. 1692 multimedia classrooms exist within this system.

There are four international schools which are acknowledged by WASC and College Board – The International School Yangon (ISY), Crane International School Yangon (CISM), Yangon International School (YIS) and International School of Myanmar (ISM) in Yangon.


Stilt houses at Lake Inle, Burma

Due to Burma's political climate, there are not many media companies in relation to the country's population, although a certain number exists. Some are privately owned, but all programming must meet with the approval of the censorship board.

Burma is the primary subject of a 2007 graphic novel titled Chroniques Birmanes by Québécois author and animator, Guy Delisle. The graphic novel was translated into English under the title Burma Chronicles in 2008. In 2009, a documentary about Burmese videojournalists called Burma VJ was released.[194] This film was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 2010 Academy Awards.[195]

See also


  1. ^ <http://www.adb.org/Documents/Fact_Sheets/MYA.pdf>. Retrieved 8 July 2010.
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Coordinates: 22°N 96°E / 22°N 96°E / 22; 96

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