Burma, also known as Myanmar, is a sovereign state in Southeast Asia.

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Burma (i/ˈbɜrmə/ BUR-mə), also known as Myanmar (i/ˈmjɑːnˌmɑr/ MYAHN-mar,[5] /ˈmaɪænmɑr/ or /ˈmjænmɑr/),[6][7][8] is a sovereign state in Southeast Asia. It is bordered by India, Bangladesh, China, Laos and Thailand. One-third of Burma's total perimeter of 1,930 kilometres (1,200 mi) forms an uninterrupted coastline along the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea. At 676,578 km2 (261,227 sq mi), it 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 60.28 million people.[9]

Burma is home to some of the early civilizations of Southeast Asia including the Pyu and the Mon.[10] In the 9th century, the Burmans of the Kingdom of Nanzhao entered the upper Irrawaddy valley and, following the establishment of the Pagan Empire in the 1050s, the Burmese language and culture slowly became dominant in the country. During this period, Theravada Buddhism gradually became the predominant religion of the country. The Pagan Empire fell due to the Mongol invasions (1277–1301), and 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 was the largest empire in the history of Southeast Asia.[11] The early 19th century Konbaung Dynasty ruled over an area that included modern Burma as well as Manipur and Assam. 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. The military junta was officially dissolved in 2011 following a general election in 2010 and a nominally civilian government installed, though the military retains enormous influence.

Burma is a resource-rich country. However the Burmese economy is 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.[12] Among others, the EU, United States and Canada have imposed economic sanctions on Burma.[13] 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 genocide, systematic rape, child labour, slavery, human trafficking and a lack of freedom of speech. Nevertheless in recent years, the government has slowly been improving relations with the major powers like the United States, Japan and European Union countries.


The country's official full name is the Republic of the Union of Myanmar i/ˌmjɑːnˈmɑr/ (Burmese: ပြည်ထောင်စု သမ္မတ မြန်မာနိုင်ငံတော်, Pyidaunzu Thanmăda Myăma Nainngandaw, pronounced: [pjìdàʊɴzṵ θàɴməda̰ mjəmà nàɪɴŋàɴdɔ̀]). However some countries have not recognized the name change and use the long form Union of Burma instead.[14][15]

In English the country is popularly known by its short names, either Burma or Myanmar. Both of its short names are derived from the name of the majority Burmese Bamar ethnic group. 'Myanmar' is considered to be the literary form of the name of the ethnic group, while 'Burma' is derived from Bamar, the colloquial form of the name of the group. 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.

In 1989 the military government officially changed the English translations of many colonial-era names; among these changes was the alteration of the name of the country to "Myanmar". The renaming remains a contested issue.[16] Many political and ethnic opposition groups, and countries continue to use "Burma" because they do not recognise the legitimacy of the ruling military government or its authority to rename the country.[17][page needed]

'Burma' continues to be used in English by the governments of many countries, including the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. The United Nations uses 'Myanmar', as do the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Russia,[18] Germany,[19] Norway,[20] China, India, Australia[21] and Japan.[22] There are variations of "Myanmar" when translated to local languages. In Spain "Myanmar" is commonly known as "Birmania". The Government of Brazil uses "Mianmar",[23] for example.



Neolithic paintings found inside Padah-Lin Caves, radiocarbon dated up to 13,000 years ago

Archaeological evidence shows that Homo erectus lived in the region now known as Burma as early as 750,000 years ago and Homo sapiens about 11,000 BC, in a Stone Age culture called the Anyathian, when plants and animals were first domesticated and polished stone tools appeared in Burma.[24] The Bronze Age arrived circa 1500 BC when people in the region were turning copper into bronze, growing rice and domesticating poultry and pigs; they were among the first people in the world to do so. The Iron Age arrived around 500 BC when iron-working settlements had emerged in an area south of present-day Mandalay.[25] Evidence also shows rice-growing settlements of large villages and small towns that traded with their surroundings as far as China between 500 BC and 200 AD.[26]

Around the 2nd century BC the first-known city-states emerged in central Burma. The city-states were founded as part of the southward migration by the Tibeto-Burman-speaking Pyu, the earliest inhabitants of Burma of whom records are extant, from present-day Yunnan.[27][28] The Pyu culture was heavily influenced by trade with India, importing Buddhism as well as other cultural, architectural and political concepts, which would have an enduring influence on later Burmese culture and political organization.[29] By the 9th century AD several city-states had sprouted across the land: the Pyu states in the central dry zone, Mon states along the southern coastline and Arakanese states along the western littoral. The balance was upset when the Pyu states came under repeated attacks from the Kingdom of Nanzhao between the 750s and the 830s. In the mid-to-late 9th century the Mranma (Burmans/Bamar) of Nanzhao founded a small settlement at Pagan (Bagan). It was one of several competing city-states until the late 10th century when it grew in authority and grandeur.[30]

Imperial Burma

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

Pagan gradually grew to absorb its surrounding states until the 1050s–1060s when Anawrahta founded the Pagan Empire, the first ever unification of the Irrawaddy valley and its periphery. In the 12th and 13th centuries, the Pagan Empire and the Khmer Empire were two main powers in mainland Southeast Asia.[31] The Burmese language and culture gradually became dominant in the upper Irrawaddy valley, eclipsing the Pyu, Mon and Pali norms by the late 12th century. Theravada Buddhism slowly began to spread to the village level although Tantric, Mahayana, Brahmanic, and animist practices remained heavily entrenched. Pagan's rulers and wealthy built over 10,000 Buddhist temples in the Pagan capital zone alone. Repeated Mongol invasions (1277–1301) toppled the four-century-old kingdom in 1287.[32]

Temples at Mrauk U

Pagan's collapse was followed by 250 years of political fragmentation that lasted well into the 16th century. Like the Burmans four centuries earlier, Shan migrants who arrived with the Mongol invasions stayed behind. Several competing Shan states came to dominate the entire northwestern to eastern arc surrounding the Irrawaddy valley. The valley too was beset with petty states until the late 14th century when two sizable powers, Ava Kingdom and Hanthawaddy Kingdom, emerged. In the west, a politically fragmented Arakan was under competing influences of its stronger neighbors until the Kingdom of Mrauk U unified the Arakan coastline for the first time in 1437.

Early on, Ava fought wars of unification (1385–1424) but could never quite reassemble the lost empire. Having held off Ava, Hanthawaddy entered its golden age, and Arakan went on to become a power in its own right for the next 350 years. In contrast, constant warfare left Ava greatly weakened, and it slowly disintegrated from 1481 onward. In 1527, the Confederation of Shan States conquered Ava itself, and ruled Upper Burma until 1555.

Like the Pagan Empire, Ava, Hanthawaddy and the Shan states were all multi-ethnic polities. Despite the wars, cultural synchronization continued. This period is considered a golden age for Burmese culture. Burmese literature "grew more confident, popular, and stylistically diverse", and the second generation of Burmese law codes as well as the earliest pan-Burma chronicles emerged.[33] Hanthawaddy monarchs introduced religious reforms that later spread to the rest of the country.[34] Many splendid temples of Mrauk U were built during this period.

Bayinnaung's Empire in 1580

Political unification returned in the mid-16th century, due to the efforts of one tiny Toungoo (Taungoo), a former vassal state of Ava. Toungoo's young, ambitious king Tabinshwehti defeated the more powerful Hanthawaddy in 1541. His successor Bayinnaung went on to conquer a vast swath of mainland Southeast Asia including the Shan states, Lan Na, Manipur, the Chinese Shan states, Siam, Lan Xang and southern Arakan. However, the largest empire in the history of Southeast Asia unravelled soon after Bayinnaung's death in 1581, completely collapsing by 1599. Siam seized Tenasserim and Lan Na, and Portuguese mercenaries established Portuguese rule at Syriam (Thanlyin).

The dynasty regrouped and defeated the Portuguese in 1613 and Siam in 1614. It restored a smaller, more manageable kingdom, encompassing Lower Burma, Upper Burma, Shan states, Lan Na and upper Tenasserim. The Restored Toungoo kings created a legal and political framework whose basic features would continue well into the 19th century. The crown completely replaced the hereditary chieftainships with appointed governorships in the entire Irrawaddy valley, and greatly reduced the hereditary rights of Shan chiefs. Its trade and secular administrative reforms built a prosperous economy for more than 80 years. From the 1720s onward, the kingdom was beset with repeated Manipuri raids into Upper Burma, and a nagging rebellion in Lan Na. In 1740, the Mon of Lower Burma founded the Restored Hanthawaddy Kingdom. Hanthawaddy forces sacked Ava in 1752, ending the 266-year-old Toungoo Dynasty.

A British 1825 lithograph of Shwedagon Pagoda shows British occupation during the First Anglo-Burmese War.

After the fall of Ava, one resistance group, Alaungpaya's Konbaung Dynasty defeated Restored Hanthawaddy, and by 1759, had reunited all of Burma (and Manipur), and driven out the French and the British who had provided arms to Hanthawaddy. By 1770, Alaungpaya's heirs had subdued much of Laos (1765), defeated Siam (1767), and defeated four invasions by China (1765–1769).[35] With Burma preoccupied by the Chinese threat, Siam recovered its territories by 1770, and went on to capture Lan Na by 1776. Burma and Siam went to war until 1855, but all resulted in a stalemate, exchanging Tenasserim (to Burma) and Lan Na (to Siam). Faced with a powerful China and a resurgent Siam in the east, King Bodawpaya turned west, acquiring Arakan (1785), Manipur (1814) and Assam (1817). It was the second largest empire in Burmese history but also one with a long ill-defined border with British India.[36]

The breadth of this empire was short lived. Burma lost Arakan, Manipur, Assam and Tenasserim to the British in the First Anglo-Burmese War (1824–1826). In 1852, the British easily seized Lower Burma in the Second Anglo-Burmese War. King Mindon tried to modernize the kingdom, and in 1875 narrowly avoided annexation by ceding the Karenni States. The British, alarmed by the consolidation of French Indo-China, annexed the remainder of the country in the Third Anglo-Burmese War in 1885.

Konbaung kings extended Restored Toungoo's administrative reforms, and achieved unprecedented levels of internal control and external expansion. For the first time in history, the Burmese language and culture came to predominate the entire Irrawaddy valley. The evolution and growth of Burmese literature and theater continued, aided by an extremely high adult male literacy rate for the era (half of all males and 5% of females).[37] Nonetheless, the extent and pace of reforms were uneven and ultimately proved insufficient to stem the advance of British colonialism.

British Burma

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.

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

The country was colonized by Britain following three Anglo-Burmese Wars (1824–1885). British rule brought social, economic, cultural and administrative changes.

With the fall of Mandalay, all of Burma came under British rule, being annexed on 1 January 1886. Throughout the colonial era, many Indians arrived as soldiers, civil servants, construction workers and traders and, along with the Anglo-Burmese community, dominated commercial and civil life in Burma. Rangoon became the capital of British Burma and an important port between Calcutta and Singapore.

Burmese resentment was strong and was vented in violent riots that paralysed Yangon (Rangoon) on occasion all the way until the 1930s.[38] Some of the discontent was caused by a disrespect for Burmese culture and traditions such as the British refusal to remove shoes when they entered pagodas. Buddhist monks became the vanguards of the independence movement. U Wisara, an activist monk, died in prison after a 166-day hunger strike to protest a rule that forbade him from wearing his Buddhist robes while imprisoned.[39]

On 1 April 1937, Burma became a separately administered colony of Great Britain and Ba Maw the first Prime Minister and Premier of Burma. Ba Maw was 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. In 1940, before Japan formally entered the Second World War, Aung San formed the Burma Independence Army in Japan.

A major battleground, Burma was devastated during World War II. By March 1942, within months after they entered the war, Japanese troops had advanced on Rangoon and the British administration had collapsed. A Burmese Executive Administration headed by Ba Maw was established by the Japanese in August 1942. Wingate's British Chindits were formed into long-range penetration groups trained to operate deep behind Japanese lines.[40] A similar American unit, Merrill's Marauders, followed the Chindits into the Burmese jungle in 1943.[41] Beginning in late 1944, allied troops launched a series of offensives that led to the end of Japanese rule in July 1945. However, the battles were intense with much of Burma laid waste by the fighting. Overall, the Japanese lost some 150,000 men in Burma. Only 1,700 prisoners were taken.[42]

Although many Burmese fought initially for the Japanese, some Burmese, mostly from the ethnic minorities, also served in the British Burma Army.[43] The Burma National Army and the Arakan National Army fought with the Japanese from 1942 to 1944, but switched allegiance to the Allied side in 1945.

Following World War II, Aung San negotiated the Panglong Agreement with ethnic leaders that guaranteed the independence of Burma as a unified state. In 1947, Aung San became Deputy Chairman of the Executive Council of Burma, a transitional government. But in July 1947, political rivals[44] assassinated Aung San and several cabinet members.[45]


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,[46] 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.[47]

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, a position he held 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.

Military rule

On 2 March 1962, the military led by General Ne Win took control of Burma through a coup d'état and the government has been under direct or indirect control by the military since then. 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 under the Burmese Way to Socialism[49] which combined Soviet-style nationalisation and central planning with the governmental implementation of superstitious beliefs.[citation needed] A new constitution of the Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma was adopted in 1974, until 1988, the country was ruled as a one-party system, with the General and other military officers resigning and ruling through the Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP).[50] During this period, Burma became one of the world's most impoverished countries.[51]

There were sporadic protests against military rule during the Ne Win years and these were almost always violently suppressed. 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]

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.[52] 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 and 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). However, the military junta refused to cede power[53] and continued to rule the nation as SLORC until 1997, and then as the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) until its dissolution in March 2011.

On 23 June 1997, Burma was admitted into the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). 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".[54]

Protesters in Yangon during the 2007 Saffron Revolution with a banner that reads non-violence: national movement in Burmese. In the background is Shwedagon Pagoda.

Cyclone Nargis, 2–3 May 2008,
devastated southern Burma

In August 2007, an increase in the price of diesel and petrol led to a series of anti-government protests that were dealt with harshly by the government.[55] The protests then became a campaign of civil resistance (also called the Saffron Revolution.[56][57])[58] led by Buddhist monks,[59] hundreds of whom defied the house arrest of democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi to pay their respects at the gate of her house. The government finally cracked down on them on 26 September 2007. The crackdown was harsh, with reports of barricades at the Shwedagon Pagoda and monks killed. However, there were also rumours of disagreement within the Burmese armed forces, but none was confirmed. The military crackdown against unarmed Saffron Revolution protesters was widely condemned as part of the International reaction to the 2007 Burmese anti-government protests and led to an increase in economic sanctions against the Burmese Government.

In May 2008, Cyclone Nargis caused extensive damage in the densely populated, rice-farming delta of the Irrawaddy Division.[60] It was the worst natural disaster in Burmese history with reports of an estimated 200,000 people dead or missing, and damage totaled to 10 billion dollars (USD), and as many as 1 million left homeless.[61] In the critical days following this disaster, Burma's isolationist government hindered recovery efforts by delaying the entry of United Nations planes delivering medicine, food, and other supplies.[62]

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,[63] Va, and Kachin.[64][65] From 8–12 August, the first days of the conflict, as many as 10,000 Burmese civilians fled to Yunnan province in neighbouring China.[64][65][66]

Reforms and transition towards democracy

The Burmese constitutional referendum, 2008, promised a "discipline-flourishing democracy", was held on 10 May 2008 and the name of the country was changed from the Union of Myanmar to the Republic of the Union of Myanmar. General elections were held under the new constitution in 2010. Observers described the election day of 2010 as mostly peaceful, though there were alleged irregularities in polling stations and the United Nations and Western countries condemned the elections as fraudulent.[67] The official turnout was reported as 77%.[68] The military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party declared victory stating that it had won 80% of the votes. That claim was widely disputed by pro-democracy opposition groups, which asserted that the military regime engaged in rampant fraud to achieve its result.[68] The military junta was dissolved on 30 March 2011.

Since the elections, the government has embarked on a series of reforms toward liberal democracy, mixed economy, and reconciliation although the motives of such reforms are still debated. These reforms include the release of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest, establishment of the National Human Rights Commission, general amnesties of more than 200 political prisoners, institution of new labour laws that allow labour unions and strikes, relaxation of press censorship and regulations of currency practices.[69] The reforms come as a surprise to many because the election of 2010 was considered fraudulent by the international community.[70]

The consequences of the reforms are far-reaching. The ASEAN members have approved Burma's bid for ASEAN chair in 2014. United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Burma in December 2011 to encourage further progress, the first visit by a Secretary of State in more than fifty years. Clinton met with Burmese president Thein Sein as well as opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.[71] Domestically, Aung San Suu Kyi's party, National League for Democracy was permitted to participate in the by-election after the government abolished laws that led to NLD's boycott.[72] However, uncertainties exist as more than 1,600 political prisoners are not yet released and the clashes between Burmese Army and local insurgent groups continue.

The 1 April election was perhaps the most promising moment of reform. Led by Aung San Suu Kyi, the National League for Democracy won 43 of 45 seats available in the election. Although only a small fraction of the seats were up for a vote, the previously illegal NLD was allowed to campaign, run, and win for the first time. Also a first, international election monitors were allowed to monitor the voting.[73] Despite such positive strides, the NLD has reported over 50 instances of voting irregularities on election day as well as a campaign of fraud and harassment leading up to the election.[74]

An estimated 90,000 people have been displaced in the recent sectarian violence between Rohingya Muslims and Buddhists in Burma's western Rakhine State.[75]

Civil War

Civil wars have been a constant feature of Burma's socio-political landscape since independence in 1948. This was largely the result of divide and conquer tactics employed by imperialists (British and Japanese) stationed in Burma during the pre-independence period.[citation needed] The Civil wars of Burma are predominantly struggles for ethnic and sub-national autonomy and fighting has predominately taken place in areas surrounding the ethnically Burman populated central districts of the country which remain also off limits for foreign journalists and visitors without a special travel permit. [76]

In October 2012 ongoing conflicts in Burma included fighting between Kachin Independence Army and the government in Kachin State,[77] the Rohingya in Arakan State,[78] as well as the Shan,[79] Lahu and Karen [80] minority groups in the eastern half of the country.

The most widely publicized conflict in Burma during 2012 has been the 2012 Rakhine State riots, a series of ongoing conflicts primarily between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in northern Rakhine State. The Burmese government has claimed that the Rohingya are illegal migrants however the ethnic group has lived in Burma for hundreds of years and despite practicing a different religion (Islam) than the majority Buddhist population, the roots of conflict likely have more to do with colonial era policies that privileged one ethnic group over another in an attempt to divide and rule the population. Additional non-religious causes include violence stemming from the Japanese occupation of Burma in World War II during which the British allied themselves with Rohingya groups[81] who fought against the puppet government of Burma which had been set up by the Japanese and helped to establish the Tatmadaw or Burmese armed forces, fascist elements of which continue to rule to country to this day.


Topographic map of Burma

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 consisted 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 on the northwest by the Chittagong Division of Bangladesh and the Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh states of India. 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.[12]

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.[82] Many mountain ranges, such as the Rakhine Yoma, the Bago Yoma, the Shan Hills and the Tenasserim Hills exist within Burma, all of which run north-to-south from the Himalayas.[83] The mountain chains divide Burma's three river systems, which are the Irrawaddy, Salween (Thanlwin), and the Sittaung rivers.[84] 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.[83] 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).[84]


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.[85] Heavy logging since the new 1995 forestry law went into effect has seriously reduced forest acreage and wildlife habitat.[86] 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.[87] For a list of protected areas, see List of protected areas of Burma.

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, inaugurated as President on 30 March 2011, is Thein Sein.

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 League for Democracy, National Democratic Force and the two backed by the military: the National Unity Party, and the Union Solidarity and Development Party.

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.[88]

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.[89][90][91] 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.[92] 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.[93] and her ability to move freely around the country is considered an important test of the military's movement toward more openness.[92] After unexpected reforms in 2011, NLD senior leaders have decided to register as a political party and to field candidates in future by-elections.[94]

Burma rates as a highly corrupt nation on the Corruption Perceptions Index with a rank of 180th out of 183 countries worldwide and a rating of 1.5 out of 10 (10 being least corrupt and 0 being highly corrupt) as of 2011.[95]

Administrative divisions (regions and states)

The country is divided into seven states (ပြည်နယ်) and seven regions (တိုင်းဒေသကြီး), formerly called divisions.[96] The announcement on the renaming of division to regions was made on 20 August 2010.[97] 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:[98]

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

Human rights

There is consensus that the military regime in Burma is one of the world's most repressive and abusive regimes.[99][100] On November 9, 2012, Samantha Power, U.S. President Barack Obama's Special Assistant to the President on Human Rights wrote on the White House Blog in advance of the President's visit that "Serious human rights abuses against civilians in several regions continue, including against women and children."[79] In addition, members of the United Nations and major international human rights organizations have issued repeated and consistent reports of widespread and systematic human rights violations in Burma. The United Nations General Assembly has repeatedly[101] 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."[102] International human rights organizations including Human Rights Watch,[103] Amnesty International[104] and the American Association for the Advancement of Science[105] have repeatedly documented and condemned widespread human rights violations in Burma. The Freedom in the World 2011 report by Freedom House notes that "The military junta has... suppressed nearly all basic rights; and committed human rights abuses with impunity. The country [has] more than 2,100 political prisoners included about 429 members of the NLD, the victors in the 1990 elections."[106] They have claimed that there is no independent judiciary in Burma. Forced labour, human trafficking, and child labour are common.[107] 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 by the military, a practice which continued in 2012.[108] In 2007 the international movement to defend women's human rights issues in Burma was said to be gaining speed.[109]

Mae La camp for Burmese refugees, Tak, Thailand.

The Rohingya have consistently faced human rights abuses by the Burmese regime which has refused to acknowledge them as Burmese citizens (despite generations of habitation in Burma) and attempted to forcibly expel Rohingya and bring in non-Rohingyas to replace them.[110] This policy has resulted in the expulsion of aproximately half of the Rohingya population from Burma.[110] An estimated 90,000 people have been displaced in the recent sectarian violence between Rohingya Muslims and Buddhists in Burma's western Rakhine State.[75] As a result of this policy Rohingya people have been described as “among the world’s least wanted”[111] and “one of the world’s most persecuted minorities.”[112][113] Since a 1982 citizenship law Rohingya have been stripped of their Burmese citizenship.[114] Rohingya are not allowed to travel without official permission, are banned from owning land and are required to sign a commitment to have not more than two children.[114] In 2012, a riot broke out between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims, which left 78 people dead, 87 injured, and thousands of homes destroyed. It also displaced more than 52,000 people.[115] As of July 2012, the Myanmar Government did not include the Rohingya minority group–-classified as stateless Bengali Muslims from Bangladesh since 1982—on the government's list of more than 130 ethnic races and therefore the government says that they have no claim to Myanmar citizenship.[116]

Forced Labor and Human Trafficking

Forced labour, human trafficking, and child labour are common.[117] 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 by the military, a practice which continued in 2012.[118] In 2007 the international movement to defend women's human rights issues in Burma was said to be gaining speed.[119]

Genocide allegations and crimes against Rohingya people

Evidence has been gathered suggesting that the Burmese regime has marked certain ethnic minorities such as the Karen for extermination or 'Burmisation'.[120] 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.[121]

The Rohingya have consistently faced human rights abuses by the Burmese regime which has refused to acknowledge them as Burmese citizens (despite generations of habitation in Burma) and attempted to forcibly expel Rohingya and bring in non-Rohingyas to replace them.[110] This policy has resulted in the expulsion of aproximately half of the Rohingya population from Burma.[110] An estimated 90,000 people have been displaced in the recent sectarian violence between Rohingya Muslims and Buddhists in Burma's western Rakhine State.[75] As a result of this policy Rohingya people have been described as “among the world’s least wanted”[122] and “one of the world’s most persecuted minorities.”[123][124] Since a 1982 citizenship law Rohingya have been stripped of their Burmese citizenship.[114] Rohingya are not allowed to travel without official permission, are banned from owning land and are required to sign a commitment to have not more than two children.[114] In 2012, a riot broke out between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims, which left 78 people dead, 87 injured, and thousands of homes destroyed. It also displaced more than 52,000 people.[115]

2012 Rakhine State riots

The 2012 Rakhine State riots are a series of ongoing conflicts between Rohingya Muslims and ethnic Rakhine in northern Rakhine State, Myanmar. The riots came after weeks of sectarian disputes and have been condemned by most people on both sides of the conflict.[125]

The immediate cause of the riots is unclear, with many commentators citing the killing of ten Burmese Muslims by ethnic Rakhine after the rape and murder of a Rakhine woman as the main cause.[126] Whole villages have been "decimated".[126] Over three hundred houses and a number of public buildings have been razed. According to Tun Khin, the President of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK), as of 28 June, 650 Rohingyas have been killed, 1,200 are missing, and more than 80,000 have been displaced.[127] According to the Myanmar authorities, the violence, between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims, left 78 people dead, 87 injured, and thousands of homes destroyed. It also displaced more than 52,000 people.[115]

The government has responded by imposing curfews and by deploying troops in the regions. On June 10, state of emergency was declared in Rakhine, allowing military to participate in administration of the region.[128][129] The Burmese army and police have been accused of targeting Rohingya Muslims through mass arrests and arbitrary violence.[127][130] A number of monks' organizations that played vital role in Burma's struggle for democracy have taken measures to block any humanitarian assistance to the Rohingya community.[131]

Debate over the impact of the 2011 Government Reforms

However, since the transition to new government in August 2011, Burma's human rights record has been improving according to the Crisis Group.[132] The Freedom in the World 2012 report notes improvement due to new reforms. Previously rated as a 7, the lowest rating, for both civil liberties and political rights, the release of political prisoners and a loosening of restriction has given Burma a 6 for civil liberties in the most recent Freedom in the World.[133] The government has assembled a National Human Rights Commission consisted of 15 members from various backgrounds.[134] 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.[135] 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.[136] The government also relaxes reporting laws although still highly restrictive.[137] In September 2011, several banned websites, including YouTube, Democratic Voice of Burma and Voice of America, have been unblocked.[138] 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.[139]


The general state of health care in Myanmar (Burma) is poor. The government spends anywhere from 0.5% to 3% of the country's GDP on health care, consistently ranking among the lowest in the world.[140][141] Although health care is nominally free, in reality, patients have to pay for medicine and treatment, even in public clinics and hospitals. Public hospitals lack many of the basic facilities and equipment.

HIV/AIDS, recognised as a disease of concern by the Burmese Ministry of Health, is most prevalent among sex workers and intravenous drug users. In 2005, the estimated adult HIV prevalence rate in Burma was 1.3% (200,000 – 570,000 people), according to UNAIDS, and early indicators show that the epidemic may be waning in the country, although the epidemic continues to expand.[142][143][144] However, the National AIDS Programme Burma found that 32% of sex workers and 43% of intravenous drug users in Burma have HIV.[144]

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.[145] 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 antiretroviral therapy drugs and proper treatment.[145]

In June 2011, the United Nations Population Fund released a report on The State of the World's Midwifery. It contained new data on the midwifery workforce and policies relating to newborn and maternal mortality for 58 countries. The 2010 maternal mortality rate per 100,000 births for Myanmar is 240. This is compared with 219.3 in 2008 and 662 in 1990. The under 5 mortality rate, per 1,000 births is 73 and the neonatal mortality as a percentage of under 5's mortality is 47.

Foreign relations and military

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Myanmar President Thein Sein at Naypyidaw

Though the country's foreign relations, particularly with Western nations, have been strained, relations have thawed since the reforms following the 2010 elections. After years of diplomatic isolation and economic and military sanctions,[146] the United States relaxed curbs on foreign aid to Burma in November 2011[147] and announced the resumption of diplomatic relations on 13 January 2012[148] 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.[149] U.S. and European government sanctions against the former 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.[150] On 13 April 2012 British Prime Minister David Cameron called for the economic sanctions on Burma to be suspended in the wake of the pro-democracy party gaining 43 seats out of a possible 45 in the 2012 by-elections with the party leader, Aung San Suu Kyi becoming a member of the Burmese parliament.[151]

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.[152][153] Burma has also received extensive military aid from India and China in the past.[154] According to some estimates, Burma has received more than US$200 million in military aid from India.[155] Under India's Look East policy, fields of cooperation between India and Burma include remote sensing,[156] oil and gas exploration,[157] information technology,[158] hydro power[159] and construction of ports and buildings.[160] 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.[161]

Myanmar Air Force Nanchang A-5 attack aircraft during landing

Burma has been a member of ASEAN since 1997. Though it gave up its turn to hold the ASEAN chair and host the ASEAN Summit in 2006, it is scheduled to chair the forum and host the summit in 2014.[162] 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.[163] The fate of Rohingya refugees also remains an issue between Bangladesh and Burma.[164]

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.[12] 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.[165] The country imports most of its weapons from Russia, Ukraine, China and India.

The country is building a research nuclear reactor near 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.[166][167]

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.[168]

Until 2005, the United Nations General Assembly annually adopted a detailed resolution about the situation in Burma by consensus.[169][169][170][171][172] 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.[173] In January 2007, Russia and China vetoed a draft resolution before the United Nations Security Council[174] calling on the government of Burma to respect human rights and begin a democratic transition. South Africa also voted against the resolution.[175]


A street market in Yangon selling produce.

Graphical depiction of Myanmar's product exports in 28 color coded categories.

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.[176] 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.[177] Highways are normally unpaved, except in the major cities.[177] Energy shortages are common throughout the country including in Yangon and only 25% of the country's population has electricity.[178]

The military government has the majority stakeholder position in all of the major industrial corporations of the country (from oil production and consumer goods to transportation and tourism).[179][180]

The national currency is Kyat. Burma has a dual exchange rate system similar to Cuba.[181] The market rate was around two hundred times below the government-set rate in 2006.[182] Inflation averaged 30.1% between 2005 and 2007.[183] Inflation is a serious problem for the economy.

In 2010–2011, Bangladesh exported products worth $9.65 million to Myanmar against its import of $179 million.[184] The annual import of medicine and medical equipment to Burma during the 2000s was 160 million USD.[185]

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.[182] Foreign investment comes primarily from China, Singapore, The Philippines, South Korea, India, and Thailand.[186]

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


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.[17] The country was believed to be on the fast track to development.[17] However, agricultural production fell dramatically during the 1930s as international rice prices declined, and did not recover for several decades. [3]

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 considered 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.[187] 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.[188]


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.[189] In 2008 rice production was estimated at 50 million tons.[190]

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.[191] 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.[192]

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.[193] 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.[194] The government of Burma controls the gem trade by direct ownership or by joint ventures with private owners of mines.[195]

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, as of July 2006, fewer than 750,000 tourists entered the country annually.[196] Burma's Minister of Hotels and Tourism Saw Lwin has stated that the government receives a significant percentage of the income of private sector tourism services.[197] 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.[198] 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.[199]

Economic Sanctions

The Government of Burma is currently under economic sanctions by the U.S. Treasury Department.[200]

State Ownership/Corporatism and Economic liberalization post 2011

The military government has the majority stakeholder position in all of the major industrial corporations of the country (from oil production and consumer goods to transportation and tourism).[179][180] In March 2012, a draft foreign investment law emerged, the first in more than 2 decades. Foreigners will no longer require a local partner to start a business in the country, and will be able to legally lease but not own property.[201] The draft law also stipulates that Burmese citizens must constitute at least 25% of the firm's skilled workforce, and with subsequent training, up to 50-75%.[201]

In 2012, the Asian Development Bank formally began re-engaging with the country, to finance infrastructure and development projects in the country. [202] The United States, Japan and the European Union countries have also begun to reduce or eliminate economic sanctions to allow foreign direct investment which will provide the Burmese government with additional tax revenue.[203]

In 2012, it was reported that Coca-Cola was on sale again in Burma following a period of 59 years where the soft drink was not available due to US trade sanctions.[204]


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.[205] 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.[206] 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.[207] 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 Karenni, and Kayin and are principally located along the Thai-Burma border.[208] 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). Since 2006,[209] over 55,000 Burmese refugees have been resettled in the United States.[210]

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 September 2011.[211]

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.[212] They migrated to escape racial discrimination and wholesale nationalisation of private enterprise a few years later in 1964.[213] The Anglo-Burmese at this time either fled the country or changed their names and blended in with the broader Burmese society.

Many 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[214] and 250,000 in 1991.[215]

Largest cities

Ethnic groups

Ethnic Composition in Burma (rough estimate)
ethnic group percent
Bamar 68%
Shan 9%
Karen 7%
Rakhine 3.5%
Chinese 2.5%
Mon 2%
Kachin 1.5%
Chin 1%
Indians 1.25%
Kayah 0.75%
Other groups 4.5%

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.[216] 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.[217]

According to the UNESCO Institute of Statistics, Burma's official literacy rate as of 2000 was 89.9%.[218] 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.[219]

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 Tai–Kadai, Hmong–Mien, and Austroasiatic (Mon–Khmer) peoples.[220] The Bamar form an estimated 68% of the population.[221] 10% of the population are Shan.[221] The Kayin make up 7% of the population.[221] The Rakhine people constitute 4% of the population. Overseas Chinese form approximately 3% of the population.[221][222] 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.[221] Overseas Indians comprise 2%.[221] 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.[223]

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.[224]


Rama (Yama) and Sita (Me Thida) in the Burmese version of the Ramayana, Yama Zatdaw.

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.[225] Buddhism is practised along with nat worship which involves elaborate rituals to propitiate one from a pantheon of 37 nats.[226][227]

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, during which he enters the monastery for a short period of time.[228] All male children in Buddhist families are encouraged to be a novice (beginner for Buddhism) before the age of twenty and to be a monk after the age of twenty. Girls have ear-piercing ceremonies (နားသ) at the same time.[228] Burmese culture is most evident in villages where local festivals are held throughout the year, the most important being the pagoda festival.[229][230] Many villages have a guardian nat, and superstition and taboos are commonplace.

Thingyan festival, the Burmese New Year

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.[231] Many ethnic minorities, particularly the Karen in the southeast, and the Kachin and Chin who populate the north and north-east, practice Christianity.[232] According to the 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.[217] 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.[233] The Burmese language incorporates widespread usage of honorifics and is age-oriented.[229] 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
Buddhism 89%
Islam 4%
Christianity 4%
Others 2%
Hinduism 1%

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.[234] Such persecution and targeting of civilians is particularly notable in Eastern Burma, where over 3000 villages have been destroyed in the past ten years.[235][236][237] More than 200,000 Rohingya Muslims have settled in Bangladesh, to escape persecution, over the past 20 years.[238]

89% of the population embraces Buddhism (mostly Theravāda). 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 treated as illegal immigrants instead,[114] and Christians in Chin State.[239] 4% of the population practices Islam; 4% Christianity; 1% traditional animistic beliefs; and 2% follow other religions, including Mahayana Buddhism, Hinduism, East Asian religions and the Bahá'í Faith.[240][241][242] 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.[243]

Although Hinduism is presently only practiced by 1% of the population, it was a major religion in Burma's past. Several strains of Hinduism existed alongside both Theravada Buddhism and Mahayana Buddhism in the Pyu period in the first millennium CE,[244] and down to the Pagan period (9th to 13th centuries) when "Saivite and Vaishana elements enjoyed greater elite influence than they would later do."[245]

Units of measure

According to the CIA Factbook, Burma is one of three countries that has not adopted the International System of Units (SI) metric system as their official system of weights and measures.[246] The common units of measure are unique to Burma, but the government web pages use both imperial units[247] and metric units[248] and in June 2011, the Burmese government's Ministry of Commerce began discussing proposals to reform the measurement system in Burma and adopt the metric system used by most of its trading partners.[249]


Yangon University of Medicine 1

The educational system of Burma is operated by the government agency, the 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.[250]

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 announced on 20 August 2012, that it will stop censoring media before publication. Newspapers and other outlets would no longer have to be approved by state censors, journalists in the country could still face consequences for what they write and say.[251]

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.[252] This film was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 2010 Academy Awards.[253]


The Lethwei and Pongyi thaing martial arts are the national sport in Burma.

More information

Airports74 (2012)
Borders WithBangladesh
Borders WithChina
Borders WithIndia
Borders WithLaos
Borders WithThailand
Coastline1,930 km
Coordinates22 00 N, 98 00 E
Ethnic GroupBurman 68%
Ethnic GroupShan 9%
Ethnic GroupKaren 7%
Ethnic GroupRakhine 4%
Ethnic GroupChinese 3%
Ethnic GroupIndian 2%
Ethnic GroupMon 2%
Ethnic Groupother 5%
Female Life Expectancy67.71 years (2012 est.)
Female Median Age27.8 years (2012 est.)
Fertility Rate2.23 children born/woman (2012 est.)
GDP$82.68 billion (2011 est.)
GDP$78.4 billion (2010 est.)
GDP$74.42 billion (2009 est.)
GDP Growth5.5% (2011 est.)
GDP Growth5.3% (2010 est.)
GDP Growth5.1% (2009 est.)
Government typenominally civilian parliamentary government took power in March 2011
Highest PointHkakabo Razi 5,881 m
Land Area653,508 sq km
Land boundary5,876 km
LanguageBurmese (official)
LocationSoutheastern Asia, bordering the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal, between Bangladesh and Thailand
Lowest PointAndaman Sea 0 m
Male Life Expectancy62.91 years
Male Median Age26.7 years
NationalityBurmese (singular and plural)
Population Growth1.07% (2012 est.)
Railways5,031 km
RegionSoutheastern Asia
Roadways27,000 km
Terraincentral lowlands ringed by steep, rugged highlands
Total Area676,578 sq km
Total Life Expectancy65.24 years
Total Median Age27.2 years
Water Area23,070 sq km
Waterways12,800 km (2011)


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  • Aung-Thwin, Michael A. (2005). The Mists of Rāmañña: The Legend that was Lower Burma (illustrated ed.). Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press. ISBN 0824828860, 9780824828868.
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  • Hudson, Bob (March 2005), "A Pyu Homeland in the Samon Valley: a new theory of the origins of Myanmar's early urban system", Myanmar Historical Commission Golden Jubilee International Conference,
  • Lieberman, Victor B. (2003). Strange Parallels: Southeast Asia in Global Context, c. 800–1830, volume 1, Integration on the Mainland. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-80496-7.
  • Moore, Elizabeth H. (2007). Early Landscapes of Myanmar. Bangkok: River Books. ISBN 974-9863-31-3.
  • Myint-U, Thant (2006). The River of Lost Footsteps—Histories of Burma. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 978-0-374-16342-6, 0-374-16342-1.

Neighboring countries

Important people