King Anawrahta :
King Anawrahta, also spelled ANIRUDDHA (fl. 11th century AD), the first king of all of Myanmar, (reigned 1044-77), who introduced his people to Theravada Buddhism. His capital at Pagan on the Irrawaddy River became a prominent city of pagodas and temples.
During his reign Anawrahta united the northern homeland of the Myanmar people with the Mon kingdoms of the south. He extended his dominion as far north as the kingdom of Nanchao, west to Arakan, south to the Gulf of Martaban (near what is now Yangôn [Rangoon]), and as far east as what is now northern Thailand.
In 1057 Anawrahta captured the Mon city of Thaton, a centre of Indian civilization. Its fall led the other Mon rulers to submit to Anawrahta; for the first time, a Myanmar ruler dominated the Irrawaddy River delta. Contact with the Mons enriched Myanmar civilization. The Mons gave the Myanmar an artistic and literary tradition and a system of writing. The earliest extant Myanmar inscription, written in Mon characters, appeared in 1058.
Anawrahta was converted to Theravada Buddhism by a Mon monk, Shin Arahan. As king, Anawrahta strove to convert his people from the influence of the Ari, a Mahayana Tantric Buddhist sect that was at that time predominant in central Myanmar. Primarily through his efforts, Theravada Buddhism became the dominant religion of Myanmar and the inspiration for its culture and civilization. He maintained diplomatic relations with King Vijayabahu of Ceylon, who in 1071 requested the assistance of Myanmar monks to help revive the Buddhist faith. The Ceylonese king sent Anawrahta a replica of the Buddha's tooth relic, which was placed in the Shwezigon pagoda at Pagan.
King Wareru :
also called MOGADO, or CHAO FA RUA (fl. 1300), famous king of Hanthawaddy (Hansavadi, or Pegu), who ruled (1287-96) over the Mon people of Lower Myanmar.
Wareru was a Tai adventurer of humble origins who had married a daughter of King Ramkhamhaeng of Sukhothai and had established himself as overlord of Martaban on the Salween River in 1281. Since the reign of King Anawrahta of Pagan (1044-77), the Mon had been under Myanmar rule; but after the Mongols sacked Pagan in 1287, Wareru and his ally, Tarabya, a Mon prince of Pegu, drove the Myanmar out of the Irrawaddy Delta and reestablished the independence of the Mon. Subsequently, Wareru killed Tarabya and made himself the sole ruler of the Mon, with his capital at Martaban. Although he was nominally a vassal of Ramkhamhaeng, he conducted independent diplomatic relations with the emperor Kublai Khan in China. A legendary achievement of his reign was the compilation of the Dharma-shastra, or Dhammathat, the earliest surviving law code of Myanmar. Wareru was murdered by his grandsons.
also called MENG SOAMWUN (fl. early 15th century), founder and first king (reigned 1404-34) of the Mrohaung dynasty in Arakan, the maritime country lying to the west of Lower Myanmar on the Bay of Bengal, which had been settled by the Myanmar in the 10th century.
When Arakan became the scene of a struggle between rival centres of power in the 15th century, Narameikhla, the son of King Rajathu (reigned 1397-1401), was forced in the first year of his reign to flee to Bengal, where he became a vassal to King Ahmad Shah of Gaur. With the aid of Ahmad Shah's successor, he regained control of Arakan in 1430. In 1433 he built at Mrohaung a new capital, which remained the capital of Arakan until the 18th century. As a nominal vassal of the Muslim kings of Gaur, Narameikhla employed Muslim titles in his coins and inscriptions, though he and his subjects were Buddhists. He was succeeded by his son, Ali Khan (reigned 1434-59), who had adopted a Muslim name.
(b. 1512, Toungoo, Myanmar [Myanmar]--d. 1550, Pegu), king who unified Myanmar (reigned 1531-50). He was the second monarch of the Toungoo dynasty, which his father, Minkyinyo, had founded in 1486.
In 1535 Tabinshwehti began a military campaign against the kingdom of Pegu in southern Myanmar, capturing the city of Bassein in the Irrawaddy delta. Four years later Pegu fell, and Takayutpi, the Pegu king, fled to Prome (northwest of the present Yangon [Rangoon]). Employing Portuguese soldiers of fortune, Tabinshwehti captured the towns of Martaban and Moulmein in 1541, and in the following year he took Prome. With most of the southern princes his vassals, he dominated southern Myanmar as far south as Tavoy on the border of Siam (Thailand).
Although Tabinshwehti's campaigns in southern Myanmar were extremely savage, he adopted many Mon customs, incorporated Mon soldiers into his army, and made the ancient city of Pegu his capital in 1546. The king planned to use Myanmar as a base from which to invade Siam. His first campaign outside of Myanmar, however, was in Arakan, the kingdom to the west of the Irrawaddy delta, where he attempted to place a subservient local prince on the throne; his siege of the capital at Mrohaung was suspended after the Siamese attacked Tavoy, forcing him to return home. In 1548 he besieged Ayutthaya, the Siamese capital, but was forced to make an ignominious retreat to Myanmar.
Suffering defeat in two campaigns, Tabinshwehti gave himself up to drink, leaving to his brother-in-law, Bayinnaung, the task of suppressing a southern revolt. In 1550 Tabinshwehti was assassinated by a rival prince, who proclaimed himself king at Pegu. Bayinnaung crushed the revolt and carried on his brother-in-law's work of unifying Myanmar.
King Bayinnaung :
also called BRAGINOCO or Barinnaung (fl. late 16th century), king of the Toungoo dynasty (reigned 1551-81) in Myanmar (Myanmar). He unified his country and conquered the Shan States and Siam (now Thailand), making Myanmar the most powerful kingdom in mainland Southeast Asia.
In 1550 a revolt broke out among the Mons of southern Myanmar, and Bayinnaung's brother-in-law, Tabinshwehti, was assassinated at Pegu in 1551 by a Mon prince. Bayinnaung marched to Toungoo, eliminated a pretender to the throne, and proclaimed himself king; then he marched south, captured the city of Pegu, and executed the rebel leader, Smim Htaw. The other Mon rulers then surrendered, and the revolt was at an end. Bayinnaung made Pegu his capital, as Tabinshwehti had.
In 1554 Bayinnaung set out against Shan chiefs, who occupied the ancient Myanmar capital of Ava. He captured it the following year. The Shans were placed under Myanmar suzerainty, and Bayinnaung was consequently in a position to attack his most powerful enemy, Siam.
In 1563 Bayinnaung took as a pretext for war the refusal of the Siamese to acknowledge his suzerainty. The following year he captured the Siamese capital of Ayutthaya and brought the Siamese royal family to Myanmar as hostages. In 1568, when a revolt flared up, Bayinnaung again invaded Siam. Because the Siamese put up fierce resistance, Ayutthaya was not captured until August 1569. The Myanmar king installed a new vassal on the throne and deported thousands of Siamese into Myanmar as slaves. The Myanmar dominated Siam for more than 15 years; they were expelled by a liberation movement led by a Siamese prince, Naresuan (reigned 1590-1605).
Bayinnaung was a patron of Buddhism; he built pagodas, gave generous donations to monasteries, and maintained extensive diplomatic relations with the Buddhist kingdom of Ceylon. When Pegu was burned in a Mon revolt in 1564, he rebuilt it on an even grander scale, making one of the richest cities in Southeast Asia.
also spelled NANDABAYIN (fl. late 16th century), king of the Toungoo dynasty of Myanmar whose reign (1581-99) ended with the dismemberment of the empire established by his father, Bayinnaung.
Upon coming to the throne, Nanda Bayin was faced with a rebellion of his uncle, the viceroy of Ava, whom he defeated three years later. In December 1584 Nanda Bayin marched into Siam, which had been a vassal of his father, to subjugate the Siamese patriot Naresuan. For the next three years he sent several armies into the Chao Phraya river valley, but Naresuan defeated all of them. The Siamese then went on the offensive, taking Tavoy and Tenasserim in 1593. Nanda Bayin's troubles were compounded when another group of his father's subject peoples in southern Myanmar revolted and invited the Siamese to occupy Martaban and Moulmein on the Salween River. In 1595 Nanda Bayin was obliged to retreat to Pegu and defend the city from a Siamese attack.
In 1599 Nanda Bayin's brothers, the viceroys of Toungoo, Prome, and Ava, revolted and, after inviting the king of Arakan to join in the fray, besieged Pegu, took Nanda Bayin prisoner, and dismembered the last remnants of Bayinnaung's empire. Nanda Bayin's reign had been a series of catastrophes, but this was due less to a lack of energy and initiative on his part than to the overreaching ambition of his father, who had built an empire too large to govern.
King Binnya Dala:
(d. 1774), last king (reigned 1747-57) of Pegu in southern Myanmar (Myanmar), whose independence from the northern Myanmarns was revived briefly between 1740 and 1757.
In 1747 Binnya Dala succeeded Smim Htaw Buddhaketi, who had seven years earlier been set up as king of the Mon in the new capital of Pegu after their successful revolt against the Myanmarns. Binnya Dala, who was his predecessor's chief minister and a more capable military leader, made numerous raids into northern Myanmar, penetrating beyond Ava, the capital. In 1751 he raised a large army for the conquest of northern Myanmar, capturing Ava in April 1752. Two years later he executed the last king of the Toungoo dynasty, which had been founded in 1486.
Binnya Dala was eventually deposed by Alaungpaya, the founder of the Myanmarn Alaungpaya dynasty, who captured Pegu in 1757. He was kept captive and was executed by Alaungpaya's son, Hsinbyushin, in 1774.
Alaungpaya (Myanmar: "The Victorious"), also spelled ALAUNG PHRA, ALOMPRA, or AUNGZEYA (b. 1714, Moksobomyo [Shwebo], Myanmar--d. April 13, 1760, Kin-ywa, Martaban province, Myanmar), king (1752-60) who unified Myanmar (Myanmar) and founded the Alaungpaya, or Konbaung, dynasty, which held power until the British annexed Upper (northern) Myanmar on Jan. 1, 1886. He also conquered the independent Mon kingdom of Pegu (in the Irrawaddy River delta).
Of humble origins, Alaungpaya was a village headman from the small town of Moksobomyo (present-day Shwebo), north of Ava, the Myanmar capital, when in April 1752 Binnya Dala, the Mon king of Pegu, captured Ava and put an end to Myanmar's ruling Toungoo dynasty. Refusing to become his vassal, Alaungpaya organized a resistance movement. Claiming descent from a 15th-century Myanmar king, he established a new Myanmar capital at Moksobomyo. In 1753 he recaptured Ava and went on the offensive in southern Myanmar. In 1755, at the end of a lightning campaign into the Mon country, he founded a new port, to be called Yangôn (Rangoon), at the site of the Mon fishing village of Dagon. In 1757 he captured the city of Pegu, and took Binnya Dala prisoner. Alaungpaya established effective control over the whole area previously under the rule of the Toungoo dynasty.
Because the French had allied themselves with the Mon, Alaungpaya was eager to gain British support. In 1757 he concluded a treaty with the British East India Company, granting it generous trade concessions. But the company, at war with the French in India, was unwilling to involve itself on a second front in Myanmar. In October 1759 the king's troops massacred British merchants at Negrais who were suspected of aiding a local revolt. After that action, relations between Britain and Myanmar were suspended.
Alaungpaya's last campaign was an invasion of Siam (Thailand). He led an army through the town of Tavoy southward to Tenasserim and then northward to Ayutthaya (Ayuthia), the Siamese capital, which he surrounded in April 1760. During the siege he was wounded, and he died while his army was in retreat to Myanmar.
(d. 1776, Ava, Myanmar), third king (1763-76) of the Alaungpaya, or Konbaung, dynasty in Myanmar (Myanmar). He pursued a policy of expansion at the expense of practically all his neighbours.
Hsinbyushin's most important single project was the subjugation of Siam (now Thailand). In 1764 he campaigned eastward, taking Chiang Mai (Chiengmai) and Vientiane before invading the Chao Phraya River valley. When the Siamese capital of Ayutthaya fell in April 1767, he deported thousands of prisoners to Myanmar. According to the Siamese chronicles, "the King of Hanthawaddy [Bayinnaung] waged war like a monarch, but the King of Ava [Hsinbyushin] like a robber." Myanmar control of Siam, however, was very brief; the Siamese general Taksin soon expelled Hsinbyushin's armies. Not content with conquering Siam, Hsinbyushin invaded the Hindu kingdom of Manipur (in present-day Manipur state, India) three times for slaves and plunder. When the king claimed suzerainty over the country in the third invasion, he could then threaten British India.
The greatest threat to Hsinbyushin's power came from China. Myanmar aggressiveness in the Shan states, Laos, and Chiang Mai (then the capital of the kingdom of Lan Na) led the emperor of China to launch four expeditions against Myanmar in 1765-69, all of which were defeated by Hsinbyushin. In 1769 a treaty was signed that provided for trade and diplomatic missions between the two countries.
In 1773 a revolt broke out in southern Myanmar, which Hsinbyushin suppressed. On his death three years later, he was succeeded by his son, Singu Min.
(b. 1740/41--d. 1819, Amarapura, Myanmar [Myanmar]), king of Myanmar, sixth monarch of the Alaungpaya, or Konbaung, dynasty, in whose reign (1782-1819) the long conflict began with the British. A son of Alaungpaya (reigned 1752-60), the founder of the dynasty, Bodawpaya came to power after deposing and executing his grandnephew Maung Maung. In 1784 Bodawpaya invaded Arakan, the maritime kingdom on the eastern coast of the Bay of Bengal, captured its king, Thamada, and deported more than 20,000 people into Myanmar as slaves. When Arakan was made a Myanmar province in 1785, the borders of Myanmar and British India were contiguous for the first time. The king's success in Arakan led him to invade Siam (Thailand) in 1785, but his army was defeated.
Bodawpaya's rule in Arakan was so oppressive that the people revolted in 1794. When the king sent an army to crush the revolt, thousands of refugees fled to British territory, with Myanmar troops crossing the border in pursuit of the rebel leaders. Conditions on the border became so unsettled that in 1795 the British sent a representative to Amarapura, the Myanmar capital, to negotiate with Bodawpaya. The disturbances continued, however, and Bodawpaya's campaigns in Assam added to the tension. Open conflict was narrowly avoided.
Bodawpaya was a fervent Buddhist who proclaimed himself Arimittya (i.e., noble maitreya), the messianic Buddha destined to conquer the world. He persecuted heterodox sects; made drinking, smoking opium, and killing animals punishable by death; and built many pagodas. His most ambitious project was the Mingun pagoda, which, if completed, would have been 500 feet (150 m) high. During his reign, he made a major economic survey of the entire kingdom (1784).
Bagyidaw (d. October 1846), king of Myanmar (Myanmar) from 1819 to 1837. The seventh monarch of the Konbaung, or Alaungpaya, dynasty, he was defeated in the First Anglo-Myanmar War (1824-26). As a result of his defeat, the provinces of Arakan and Tenasserim were lost to the British. Bagyidaw was the grandson of King Bodawpaya, who had narrowly avoided war with the British over the frontier between Bengal and Arakan. Bagyidaw was an ineffectual king, but his general, Maha Bandula, influenced him to follow Bodawpaya's policy of aggressive expansion in northeastern India. He conquered Assam and Manipur, making them Myanmar tributaries. The border with British India thus extended from Arakan on the Bay of Bengal northward to the foot of the Himalayan Mountains. The British, angered over Myanmar border raids in pursuit of rebel forces, launched a war on March 5, 1824.
Bagyidaw's armies were driven out of Assam, Arakan, and Manipur. British forces occupied southern Myanmar and advanced toward the capital, Amarapura (near present-day Mandalay). On Feb. 24, 1826, Bagyidaw's government signed the Treaty of Yandabo; its terms included cession of Tenasserim and Arakan to the British, payment of an indemnity equivalent to Pound 1,000,000 (10,000,000 Kyat silver coins), and renunciation of all Myanmar claims in Assam and Manipur, which became British protectorates.
During the remaining years of his reign, Bagyidaw attempted to mitigate the harsh terms of the treaty. In 1826 the king negotiated a commercial treaty with the British envoy, John Crawfurd, but refused to establish formal diplomatic relations unless he could deal on an equal basis with the British sovereign, rather than through the East India Company at Calcutta. Bagyidaw failed to persuade the British to give Tenasserim back to Myanmar, but a deputation that he sent to Calcutta in 1830 successfully reasserted the Myanmar claim to the Kale-Kabaw Valley, which had been occupied by the Manipuris. After 1831 Bagyidaw became increasingly susceptible to attacks of mental instability, and in 1837 he was succeeded by his brother, Prince Tharrawaddy Min.
General Maha Bandoola
General Maha Bandoola, also spelled MAHABANDULA (b. 1780?--d. April 1, 1825, Danubyu, Myanmar [Myanmar]), Myanmar general who fought against the British in the First Anglo-Myanmar War (1824-26).
In 1819 Maha Bandula served in the Myanmar army occupying Manipur, and two years later he commanded a second Myanmar force in the conquest of Assam. King Bagyidaw subsequently appointed him governor of Assam and minister at the court of Ava. In January 1824, because of increased tensions along the Bengal-Arakan border, he was sent with 6,000 troops to Arakan. When the British declared war in March, he immediately invaded Bengal, occupying Ratnapallang and defeating a British force at Ramu. His objective was to seize Chittagong and Dacca in a lightning thrust and, with the aid of a second Myanmar army marching from Assam, to expel the British from Bengal. His plan was frustrated, however, when the British landed a force at Yangon (Rangoon) in May. The opening of a second front obliged him to call off the campaign and make a difficult retreat over the Arakan Yoma to Ava.
After raising a large army in northern Myanmar, Maha Bandula marched to Danubyu, on the Irrawaddy River, where he established his headquarters in October 1824. In December he attempted, unsuccessfully, to encircle the British, who were entrenched in the neighbourhood of Yangon. When his headquarters fell to the British, he retreated to prepare for the defense of Danubyu.
In March 1825 the British attacked Danubyu, which Bandula defended courageously. After he was killed in battle, resistance collapsed, Danubyu fell, and the British advanced to Prome, signaling defeat for the Myanmar.
(d. October 1846), eighth king (reigned 1837-46) of the Alaungpaya, or Konbaung, dynasty of Myanmar (Myanmar), who repudiated the Treaty of Yandabo and nearly brought about a war with the British.
Tharrawaddy in 1837 deposed his brother Bagyidaw (reigned 1819-37), who had been obliged to sign the humiliating treaty that ceded the provinces of Arakan and Tenasserim to the British. Upon his accession, Tharrawaddy declared the treaty invalid and refused to negotiate with representatives of the government of India, demanding the right to deal directly with the British monarch. The British resident at Amarapura, the Myanmar capital, was forced to leave in June 1837, and Tharrawaddy refused to deal with his successor in 1838 because he too was merely a representative of the Indian governor-general. In 1840 the British suspended the residency, and diplomatic relations between Myanmar and the British remained broken for more than a decade.
Tharrawaddy nearly brought Myanmar to renewed war when, in 1841, he went to Yangôn (Rangoon) on a pilgrimage to the Shwe Dagon pagoda, bringing with him a large military escort. The British interpreted this as a warlike act and refrained from starting hostilities only because of their entanglements in Afghanistan. After 1841 Tharrawaddy became increasingly subject to fits of mental instability; he was dethroned and, on his death, succeeded by his son Pagan (reigned 1846-53).
(b. 1814, Amarapura, Myanmar [Myanmar]--d. Oct. 1, 1878, Mandalay), king of Myanmar from 1853 to 1878. His reign was notable both for its reforms and as a period of cultural flowering in the period before the imposition of complete colonial rule.
Mindon was a brother of Pagan (reigned 1846-53), who had ruled during the Second Anglo-Myanmar War in 1852. As soon as he became king, Mindon sued for peace and began negotiations with the British on the status of Pegu (in southern Myanmar), which the British had occupied during the war. Frustrated in his attempts to persuade them to return Pegu, the king was obliged to accept a much-reduced dominion, cut off from the sea and deprived of some of the richest teak forests and rice-growing regions. To avoid further trouble, he signed a commercial treaty in 1867 that gave the British generous economic concessions in the unoccupied parts of Myanmar. In 1872 he sent his chief minister, the Kinwun Mingyi U Gaung, on a diplomatic mission to London, Paris, and Rome to secure international recognition of Myanmar's status as an independent country and to appeal for restoration of its lost territory.
Mindon's reign is sometimes considered to have been a golden age of Myanmar culture and religious life. In 1857 he built a new capital, Mandalay, with palaces and monasteries that are masterpieces of traditional Myanmar architecture. The king also sought to make Mandalay a centre of Buddhist learning, convening the Fifth Buddhist Council there in 1871 in an effort to revise and purify the Pali scriptures.
Despite conservative opposition, Mindon promoted numerous reforms. The most important were the thathameda, the assessed land tax, and fixed salaries for government officials. He standardized the country's weights and measures, built roads and a telegraph system, and was the first Myanmar king to issue coinage. Mindon's reign compares favourably with that of Mongkut of Siam (Thailand), even though Siam enjoyed the privileged position of a buffer state between British and French possessions, while the continued existence of an independent Myanmar kingdom was a hindrance to British interests. Mindon was succeeded by his son, Thibaw (reigned 1878-85), who was to be the last king of Myanmar.
also spelled THEEBAW (b. 1858, Mandalay, Myanmar--d. Dec. 19, 1916, Ratnagiri Fort, India), last king of Myanmar, whose short reign (1878-85) ended with the occupation of Upper Myanmar by the British. Thibaw was a younger son of King Mindon (reigned 1853-78) and studied (1875-77) in a Buddhist monastery. As king he was strongly influenced by his wife, Supayalat, and her mother, and his accession to the throne was accompanied by much violence and civil strife.
In an attempt to enlist the aid of the French against the British, who had annexed Lower Myanmar during his father's reign, Thibaw's government sent a mission to Paris in 1883. Two years later a commercial treaty was concluded, and a French representative arrived in Mandalay. Rumours circulated that Thibaw's government had granted the French economic concessions in exchange for a political alliance, and British officials in Rangoon, Calcutta, and London began demanding immediate annexation of Upper Myanmar.
An occasion for intervention was furnished by the case of the British-owned Bombay-Myanmarh Trading Corporation, which extracted teak from the Ningyan forest in Upper Myanmar. When Thibaw charged it with cheating the government, demanding a fine of Pound Sterling 100,000, the Indian viceroy, Lord Dufferin, sent an ultimatum to Mandalay in October 1885 demanding a reconsideration of the case. Thibaw ignored the ultimatum, and on Nov. 14, 1885, the British invaded Upper Myanmar, capturing Mandalay two weeks later. Thibaw was deposed and Upper Myanmar incorporated into the province of British Myanmar. Thibaw was exiled to India, where he remained until his death.
Saya also spelled HSAYA, original name YA GYAW (b. Oct. 24, 1876, East Thayet-kan, Shwebo district, Myanmar [Myanmar]--d. Nov. 16, 1931, Tharrawaddy), leader of the anti-British rebellion of 1930-32 in Myanmar (Myanmar).
Saya San was a native of Shwebo, a centre of nationalist-monarchist sentiment in north-central Myanmar that was the birthplace of the Konbaung (or Alaungpaya) dynasty, which controlled Myanmar from 1752 until the British annexation in 1886. He was a Buddhist monk, physician, and astrologer in Siam (Thailand) and Myanmar before the rebellion. Saya San joined the extreme nationalist faction of the General Council of Burmese Associations led by U Soe Thein. Saya San organized peasant discontent and proclaimed himself a pretender to the throne who, like Alaungpaya, would unite the people and expel the British invader. He organized his followers into the "Galon Army" (Galon, or Garuda, is a fabulous bird of Hindu mythology), and he was proclaimed "king" at Insein, near Rangoon (Yangon), on Oct. 28, 1930.
On the night of December 22/23 the first outbreak occurred in the Tharrawaddy district; the revolt soon spread to other Irrawaddy delta districts. The Galon army rebels, like the Boxers of China, carried charms and tattoos to make themselves invulnerable to British bullets. Armed only with swords and spears, Saya San's rebels were no match for British troops with machine guns.
As the revolt collapsed, Saya San fled to the Shan Plateau in the east. On Aug. 2, 1931, however, he was captured at Hokho and brought back to Tharrawaddy to be tried by a special tribunal. Despite the efforts of his lawyer, Ba Maw, he was sentenced to death in March 1931 and was hanged at Tharrawaddy jail. The revolt was crushed, but more than 10,000 peasants were killed in the process.
Although Saya San's revolt was basically political (it was the last genuine attempt to restore the Burmese monarchy) and possessed strong religious characteristics, its causes were basically economic. The peasants of southern Myanmar had been dispossessed by Indian moneylenders, were burdened with heavy taxes, and were left penniless when the price of rice dropped in an economic depression. Widespread support for Saya San betrayed the precarious and unpopular position of British rule in Myanmar.
General Aung San :
Aung San (b. 13 Feb 1915, Natmauk, Myanmar [now Myanmar]--d. July 19, 1947, Rangoon [now Yangôn]), Myanmar nationalist leader and assassinated hero who was instrumental in securing Myanmar's independence from Great Britain. Before World War II Aung San was actively anti-British; he then allied with the Japanese during World War II, but switched to the Allies before leading the Myanmar drive for autonomy.
Born of a family distinguished in the resistance movement after the British annexation of 1886, Aung San became secretary of the students' union at Rangoon University and, with U Nu, led the students' strike there in February 1936. After Myanmar's separation from India in 1937 and his graduation in 1938, he worked for the nationalist Dobama Asi-ayone ("We-Burmans Association"), becoming its secretary-general in 1939.
While seeking foreign support for Myanmar's independence in 1940, Aung San was contacted in China by the Japanese. They then assisted him in raising a Myanmar military force to aid them in their 1942 invasion of Myanmar. Known as the "Myanmar Independence Army," it grew with the advance of the Japanese and tended to take over the local administration of occupied areas. Serving as minister of defense in Ba Maw's puppet government (1943-45), Aung San became skeptical of Japanese promises of Myanmar independence, even if an unlikely Japanese victory were to occur, and was displeased with their treatment of Myanmar forces. Thus, in March 1945, Major General Aung San switched his Myanmar National Army to the Allied cause.
After the Japanese surrender in August 1945, the British sought to incorporate his forces into the regular army, but he held key members back, forming the People's Volunteer Organization. This was ostensibly a veterans' association interested in social service, but it was in fact a private political army designed to take the place of his Myanmar National Army and to be used as a major weapon in the struggle for independence.
Having helped form the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League (AFPFL), an underground movement of nationalists, in 1944, Aung San used that united front to become deputy chairman of Myanmar's Executive Council in late 1946. In effect he was prime minister but remained subject to the British governor's veto. After conferring with the British prime minister Clement Attlee in London, he announced an agreement (Jan. 27, 1947) that provided for Myanmar's independence within one year. In the election for a constitutional assembly in April 1947, his AFPFL won 196 of 202 seats. Though communists had denounced him as a "tool of British imperialism," he supported a resolution for Myanmar independence outside the British Commonwealth.
On July 19, the prime minister and six colleagues, including his brother, were assassinated in the council chamber in Rangoon while the executive council was in session. His political rival, U Saw, interned in Uganda during the war, was later executed for his part in the killings.