8. British Burma (1920-1948)

 

Pre-Crisis Phase (September 1, 1920-May 25, 1930): Burmese nationalists, including Chit Hlaing and Ba Pe, established the General Council of Burmese Associations (GCBA) in Prome in September 1920. Elections to the Legislative Council were held in November 1922, and the GCBA (People’s Party faction) headed by Maung Gyee, Thein Maung, and Ba Pe won 28 out of 58 contested seats. The GCBA (Chit Hlaing faction) headed by Chit Hlaing boycotted the elections. The Legislative Council convened on January 2, 1923. Elections to the Legislative Council were held on November 28, 1928, and the GCBA (People’s Party faction) won 40 out of 59 contested seats.

Crisis Phase (May 26, 1930-May 30, 1935): Burmese and Indian laborers clashed in Rangoon on May 26-27, 1930, resulting in the deaths of some 300 Indians.  Saya San, a member of the GCBA (Soe Thein faction), led a peasant rebellion against the British Burmese government in Tharrawaddy, Insein, and Pyapon districts beginning on December 22, 1930. Government troops and rebels clashed in Pyapon District on January 7, 1931, resulting in the deaths of 47 rebels. Saya San was captured near Hokho village in Nawnkhio township on August 2, 1931. Saya San was executed in Tharrawaddy on November 16, 1931. British government and Burmese nationalists held negotiations in London on November 27, 1931-January 12, 1932. British troops suppressed the peasant rebellion in April 1932.  Elections to the Legislation Council were held in November 1932, and the Anti-Separatist League (ASL) headed by Ba Maw and Chit Hlaing won 42 out of 80 contested seats. The British parliament approved the Government of Burma Act on May 30, 1935, which provided for the election of a 132-member House of Representatives.  Several thousand individuals, including 128 peasant rebels who were executed by the British, were killed during the crisis.

Post-Crisis Phase (May 31, 1935-July 25, 1938): Parliamentary elections were held in December 1936, and the GCBA (People’s Party faction) won 46 out of 92 contested seats in the House of Representatives. GCBA (Chit Hlaing faction) won 12 seats in the House of Representatives. The Thakin Movement headed by Thakin Nu won four seats in the House of Representatives. British Burma promulgated a new constitution, and Ba Maw formed a government as prime minister on April 1, 1937.

Crisis Phase (July 26, 1938-December 31, 1941): Burmese rioted against ethnic-Indians in Rangoon on July 26-August 1, 1938, resulting in the deaths of 192 ethnic-Indians. Burmese resumed riots against ethnic-Indians on September 2-8, 1938. The government declared a state-of-emergency in Rangoon on December 22, 1938. Prime Minister Ba Maw resigned, and U Pu formed a government as prime minister in February 1939. The Freedom Bloc (FB) was established by Ba Maw and General Aung San in October 1939. The British parliament approved the Defense of Burma Act in January 1940, which provided for the banning of several Burmese nationalist organizations. Ba Maw was arrested and sentenced to prison in August 1940. Prime Minister U Pu resigned, and U Saw formed a government as prime minister in September 1940. General Aung San and other Burmese nationalists established the Burma Independence Army (BIA) in December 1941. Some 500 individuals were killed during the crisis.

Conflict Phase (January 1, 1942-August 12, 1945): BIA troops fought with Japanese troops against British troops between January and May 1942. Japanese troops launched a military offensive against British Burma on January 16, 1942. Chinese nationalist troops intervened in support of the British on March 12, 1942. Japanese troops captured British Burma on May 17, 1942, resulting in the deaths of some 2,000 Japanese soldiers and 1,500 British soldiers.  BIA members killed seventeen Karen tribesmen near Paun on April 4, 1942. Japan disbanded the BIA on July 24, 1942. Ba Maw formed a government as prime minister in August 1942. British troops and Japanese troops clashed in the Arakan province between December 1942 and May 12, 1943, resulting in the deaths of some 2,000 British soldiers and 470 Japanese soldiers. Japan declared the independent state of Burma on August 1, 1943, and Ba Maw of the Sinyethar Party (SP) was chosen as head-of-state.  British and Allied troops invaded Burma on December 6, 1944. British and Allied troops captured Akyab on January 4, 1945, resulting in the deaths of 1,150 Allied soldiers. British troops and Japanese troops clashed near Mandalay and Meiktila on March 9-21, 1945, resulting in the deaths of some 6,500 Japanese soldiers and 2,300 Allied soldiers. The BIA commanded by General Aung San joined the Allied troops against Japanese troops on March 27, 1945. British and Allied troops occupied Rangoon on May 3, 1945, resulting in the deaths of some 6,700 Japanese soldiers and 450 Allied soldiers. Britain agreed to the eventual independence of Burma within the British Commonwealth on May 17, 1945. Governor-General Dorman-Smith created the Executive Council on June 20, 1945. Allied troops and Japanese troops clashed on July 19-August 4, 1945, resulting in the deaths of some 9,500 Japanese soldiers and 95 Allied soldiers. Japanese troops surrendered to the Allies on August 12, 1945. Some 50,000 individuals were killed during the conflict.

Post-Conflict Phase (August 13, 1945-January 4, 1948): Burmese nationalists led by Aung San established the Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League (AFPFL) in opposition to the British Burmese government on August 19, 1945. Aung San formed a provisional government as prime minister on September 26, 1945, and the British Burmese government-in-exile headed by Governor-General Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith resumed control of the colonial government in Rangoon on October 16, 1945. Government police fired on pro-AFPFL demonstrators in Tantabin on May 18, 1946, resulting in the deaths of three individuals. Governor-General Dorman-Smith was replaced by Sir Hubert Rance on July 31, 1946.Aung San formed an interim government as deputy chairman of the Executive Council on September 26, 1946. British government and Burmese nationalist representatives began negotiations in London on January 13, 1947. British government and Burmese nationalist representatives signed an agreement in London on January 27, 1947, which provided for Burmese independence from Britain within one year. Elections for the Constituent Assembly were held on April 9, 1947, and the AFPFL won 171 out of 182 contested seats. The Communist Party of Burma (CPB) won seven seats in the Constituent Assembly. The Constituent Assembly convened on June 9, 1947, and Thakin Nu was unanimously elected President of the Constituent Assembly on June 11, 1947. The Constituent Assembly established the Union of Burma on June 17, 1947. Aung San and eight other government officials were assassinated by supporters of former Prime Minister U Saw in Rangoon on July 19, 1947 (U Saw and five other individuals were executed in Rangoon for their involvement in the murder of Aung San on May 8, 1948). Thakin Nu was appointed as deputy chairman of the Executive Council on July 20, 1947. The Constituent Assembly adopted a constitution on September 24, 1947, and Sao Shwe Thaik was elected the provisional president on September 25, 1947. The British parliament approved the Burma Independence Act on December 10, 1947, and Burma formally achieved its independence from Britain on January 4, 1948.

[Sources: Cady 1958; Clodfelter, 1992, 630-631, 904-910; Facts on File, September 21-27, 1947; Htin Aung 1967; Keesing’s Record of World Events, December 20-27, 1947; Langer, 1972, 1319-1320; Maung 1969; Maung 1990; Singh 1980; Survey of International Affairs (SIA), 1938, 693, 1947-1948, 439-457; Tillema, 1991, 245-246; Tinker 1967; Trager 1966.]

 

Selected Bibliography

Cady, John F. 1958. A History of Modern Burma. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Htin Aung, Maung. 1967. A History of Burma. New York and London: Colombia University Press.

Maung, Maung. 1969. Burma and General Ne Win. New York: Asia Publishing House.

Maung, Maung. 1990. Burmese Nationalist Movements, 1940-1948. Honolulu, Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press.

Singh, Surendra Prasad. 1980. Growth of Nationalism in Burma, 1900-1942. Calcutta: Firma KLM Private, Ltd.

Tinker, Hugh. 1967. The Union of Burma: A Study of the First Years of Independence. London, New York, and Toronto:
Oxford University Press.

Trager, Frank N. 1966. Burma From Kingdom to Republic: A Historical and Political Analysis. New York: Praeger
Publishers.