Edited by Léo-Paul Dana, Mary Han, Vanessa Ratten and Isabell M. Welpe
1 Léo-Paul Dana and Frank Lasch 1. Introduction Myanmar covers 678 500 square kilometres, and borders Bangladesh, China, India, Laos, Thailand, the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea. Kipling (1890) reported about Burma, that it was quite unlike any land. Several other authors confirmed the specific character of the former Union of Burma as ‘virtually unknown to the outside world’ (Garrett, 1971: 343); ‘most reclusive country of mainland Southeast Asia’ (Hodgson, 1984: 90); ‘the secretive nation’ (Swerdlow, 1995: 73); and ‘East Asia’s last frontier’ (Hirsh and Moreau, 1995: 10). Until the 1950s, Burma was the world’s most important rice exporter. In 1988, after an era of socialism, a market-oriented economy was introduced. Since then, many of Myanmar’s social indicators (literacy rate, the doctor:population ratio, and so on) have compared favourably with those of its richer neighbours (Thein, 1996). Yet, although the country is generously endowed with hardwood forests, oil, precious gems, silver and other minerals, its people have not prospered. The earliest people known to have flourished in this region are known as the Pyu (a people who used the Sanskrit script and observed Buddhism with some elements of Hinduism). They were defeated by ancestors of today’s Burmese. In 1287, the Mongols destroyed the empire of the Pagan dynasty. The region was then ruled in the form of small states. Three ethnic groups (the Burmese, the Mons, and the Shans) governed this region until the sixteenth century, when a second Burmese empire was created. A third empire...
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