BECK index

Burma, Malaya and the British 1800-1950

by Sanderson Beck

Burma 1800-85
Burma under the British 1886-1929
Burma under the British 1930-41
Burma Invaded 1942-45
Burma Liberated 1945-50
Malaya and the British 1800-96
Malaya and the British 1896-1941
Malaya Invaded and in Conflict 1941-50

This chapter has been published in the book SOUTH ASIA 1800-1950.
For ordering information, please click here.

Burma 1800-85

Burma and Arakan to 1800

Under Bodawhpaya (r. 1782-1819) the draft continued during Burma’s war with Siam from 1797 to 1804. By 1802 the Siamese had cleared the Burmans out of their Laos provinces. Agriculture deteriorated, and starvation led to disease and banditry. A drought caused a major famine in 1805 in the dry country. In 1809 every town was required to send men for an army of 80,000, but only 36,000 men could be levied. Rebels burned Rangoon to the ground three times in the next five years.

Chin Byan was from a prominent Arakan family, and in 1811 he led a force from British territory and massacred Burmans in Mrohaung. He appealed to the British, but Captain Canning reassured the court at Amarapura that the English did not support Chin Byan. The Burman army in Arakan fought the rebels, and Chin Byan fled back into British territory. The Arakan viceroy threatened to invade Chittagong with 80,000 men if the fugitives were not surrendered. In 1812 the British captured Chin Byan’s fleet of 150 warships, and the diminishing rebellion ended with his death in January 1815.

When the British at Calcutta declined to help Bar Phukan against Assam’s king Burha Gohain, he went to Bodawhpaya. In 1817 the Burman army marched to Jorhat and installed a new king; but he was deposed. When the Burmans returned to put back Chandrakanta Singh, he too had to flee to British territory. Bodawhpaya died in 1819 and was succeeded by his grandson Bagyidaw. Burman troops were chasing refugees into British India, and in 1822 Burman general Maha Bandula demanded the British give up the Assamese leaders. The Manipur raja’s not attending Bagyidaw’s coronation was used as an excuse for Burma to invade Manipur, and thousands fled to Cachar. The British declared a protectorate over Cachar and Jaintia. Burman troops seized the English Company’s elephant hunters on the Arakan frontier, and others invaded Cachar before retreating to Manipur.

As Maha Bandula prepared to attack Chittagong, in March 1824 Governor-General Amherst declared war on Burma. The British navy captured Rangoon and with 4,000 men defended it against Maha Bandula’s army of 60,000. Many scattered, but 7,000 Burman troops retreated to Danubyu, where Maha Bandula was killed by a rocket in April 1825. The British forces occupied Syriam, Martaban, Ye, Tavoy, Mergui, and the Arakanese capital at Mrohaung. Burmans were driven out of Cachar and Assam, and they could not regain the fortress they had abandoned at Prome. The British demanded they cede Arakan, Tenasserim, Assam, and Manipur, pay an indemnity of one million pounds, and exchange ambassadors. Burma agreed to the Treaty of Yandabo in February 1826. In the war the British had lost 15,000 men, mostly to disease, and tens of thousands of Burmans died.

King Bagyidaw suffered depression and was eventually confined because of insanity. Burma did not send an ambassador to Calcutta. Major Henry Burney arrived at Amarapura in 1830. He acknowledged that Burma had a good case for maintaining the Kabaw Valley east of Manipur and persuaded the British government to accept this. Burma paid off its indemnity to the English in 1833. Bagyidaw’s chief queen Me Nu and her brother Minthagyi dominated the Regency Council.

Bagyidaw’s brother Tharrawaddy was not concerned until his sister was ordered arrested in 1837. He fled to Shwebo and raised forces to challenge the usurping Minthagyi. Major Burney declined to take his side and tried to mediate and prevent bloodshed. After five ministers were killed and the wife and daughters of Minthagyi were tortured, Tharrawaddy felt his power was secure. Disliking a party that wanted to regain Burma’s lost territories, Burney transferred his residency to Rangoon (Yangon). Captain William MacLeod remained at Amarapura but also complained of poor accommodations and left in 1839. Tharrawaddy increased his wives and concubines from sixteen to more than a hundred. His religious efforts included abolishing the slaughter of livestock part of the year, freeing caged animals, and building pagodas and monasteries. He controlled shipping, increased port charges, opened incoming mail, and restricted women’s movement. Rebellions in lower Burma in 1838 and by the Shans in 1840 gave Tharrawaddy an excuse to execute Minthagyi, the ex-queen, and other political enemies. Tharrawaddy’s rage and cruelty caused his sons to confine him with his insane brother in 1845.

Pagan Min won the struggle for power by killing his rival brothers. When Tharrawaddy died in 1846, Pagan Min became king. His chief ministers Maung Baing Zat and Maung Bhein acquired wealth by executing rich subjects. After more than 6,000 people had been killed based on false charges, the people demanded that King Pagan Min let them torture the two offending ministers to death. Pegu’s governor Maung Ok also was extorting money with false charges, and two British sea-captains complained in 1851. Governor-General Dalhousie sent Commodore Lambert with three ships to Rangoon. Maung Ok was recalled, but his successor declined to meet with the British delegation. Lambert declared a blockade and attacked Burman ships. When shore batteries fired, he destroyed them. The British now demanded that a million rupees compensation for their war expenses be paid by April 1, 1852. The day after that deadline the war began, and the British soon seized Rangoon, Martaban, and Bassein. General Godwin occupied Prome in November, and the British annexed the province of Pegu in December.

King Pagan Min’s half brother Mindon Min opposed the war; he fled with his brother Kanaung to Shwebo and organized a revolt. After a few weeks of fighting, Pagan’s chief minister Magwe Mingyi went over to Mindon’s side and deposed the King in February 1853. Mindon allowed Pagan to live in honorable captivity, and he released all the European prisoners. Mindon negotiated peace with the British but refused to sign a treaty giving away Burma’s territory that included teak forests north of Prome. Resistance led by Myat Tun and Gaung Gyi continued in British-occupied Pegu for three years. Mindon made Kanaung his heir and put him in charge of new technologies, military modernization, and the arts. Siam attacked in late 1853 but was repelled the next year by 3,000 cavalry.

The Ava government soon began work on repairing and extending irrigation systems and roads. Burma’s weapons industry replaced muskets with rifles, though artillery had to be imported. Burma acquired a fleet of river steamers. By the early 1860s the army had 50,000 men. European machinery was used to manufacture lac, catechu (cutch), sugar, cotton, and silk goods, though they were not very profitable. Mindon centralized government in the provinces and his capital with royal agencies and bureaucracy. The appanage system that officials had used to collect rent was replaced by a ten percent income tax and government salaries. Religious lands were exempt from this thathameda tax. The ahmudan service tax was abolished, and servants no longer had to pay their masters.

King Mindon maintained good communication with the British informally through the Scottish trader Thomas Spears, who had a Burman wife. Commissioner Arthur Phayre in Pegu could also speak Burmese and understood the culture. Mindon was a conscientious Buddhist and wise ruler. During the mutiny of 1857 he was urged to invade Pegu, but he said he would not strike a friend in distress. The British administration of Arakan and Tenasserim had outlawed official extortion and suppressed banditry. Moulmein thrived on the timber industry from the teak forests of Tenasserim; but after 1852 Rangoon became the main port as rice cultivation and exporting expanded in British Lower Burma.

Mindon founded a new capital at Mandalay in 1857. The British were looking for a trade route to China, and in 1862 Phayre negotiated a commercial treaty with Mindon, who accepted when he saw how the British had united Arakan, Tenasserim, and Pegu into the province of British Burma. The English objected to Burma’s monopolies, and they agreed on reciprocity to remove duties on the Irrawaddy River. In 1866 two of Mindon’s sons, Myingun and Myinhkondaing, and their supporters set fire to buildings and murdered Prince Kanaung, six senior officials, and two princes. Loyal troops forced them to retreat downriver. Kanaung’s son Padein left Mandalay and refused Mindon’s offer of protection, as he raised more than 10,000 anti-government troops. Mindon considered surrendering, but his queen consulted the astrological situation and persuaded him not to do so. The Myingun rebellion was suppressed, and Padein was executed for treason. Arms were collected throughout Burma and put under the protection of officials. Fearing another assassination, Mindon did not choose an heir-apparent from his 48 sons. In the 1867 commercial treaty with the British, Mindon gave up government monopolies except on timber, oil, and gems; duties were lowered from ten to five percent. However, royal control over most products remained. Importation of arms to land-locked Burma had to be approved by Calcutta and Rangoon, and they seldom permitted them.

In 1871 King Mindon convened the fifth council of the Buddhist religion in its long history, and 2,400 monks revised the Pali scriptures of the Tripitaka, which were then inscribed on 733 marble slabs at the Kuthodaw Pagoda. In 1872 chief minister Kinwun Mingyi visited England and on the way made commercial treaties with France and Italy. The British had promised to protect the Red Karens; but they raided Burmans and Shans to sell them as slaves in Siam. In 1875 Burma and the British agreed to recognize the independence of the Red Karens. That year English envoy Douglas Forsyth refused to remove his shoes in the palace. Mindon would not compromise on this point of etiquette, and thus the envoy was no longer allowed to meet with the King.

When King Mindon was dying in 1878, the chief queen Sinpyumashin, who had two daughters and no son, took control of the palace so that the Thibaw Prince would marry her second daughter Supayalat and become king. Mindon summoned the Nyaungyan Prince; but he learned of the plot and fled with his younger brother Nyaungyan Ok to the British residency in Mandalay. The British sent them to Rangoon and then Calcutta. Dying Mindon wanted to nominate three princes as joint rulers, but the Kinwun Mingyi feared civil war and supported Thibaw. Thibaw’s mother was a Shan princess whom Mindon had divorced. She became a nun, and her son Thibaw was well educated in a monastery from the age of seven. The Kinwun Mingyi hoped that the Hlutdaw (Council) would gain constitutional reforms, but Queen Supayalat and Sinpyumashin dominated King Thibaw and ran the government with their henchman Taingda Mingyi. On February 18, 1879 King Thibaw approved the execution of 32 prisoners, including eight half brothers. That month about eighty relatives were put to death. The Hlutdaw did not authorize this, but the Kinwun Mingyi told the British it was to prevent civil war. Thibaw became depressed and turned to alcohol.

In April 1879 the Nyaungyan Prince went back to Rangoon. Viceroy Lytton would have liked to intervene, but the British were preoccupied with Afghanistan. Col. Horace Browne arrived in Mandalay as the new British resident in June, and he told Kinwun Mingyi the British would support Nyaungyan. Sinpyumashin was even willing to marry her older daughter to him. Browne’s relations with the Burman court quickly deteriorated, and he withdrew to Rangoon in August. After the British resident Cavagnari was murdered in Kabul, the British ordered their residency in Mandalay closed on September 21. Taingda appointed corrupt officials and was accused of being allied with armed bandits in the countryside. All offices were offered for sale at various prices. The Bombay-Burmah Trading Corporation bribed an official at Ningyan to gain teak exports from inside Burma. The Kinwun Mingyi tried to reform the government under fourteen departments, but his proposals were ignored. Viceroy Ripon proposed a joint boundary commission in 1881; but the Court of Ava declined to cooperate until the British proceeded unilaterally. Then they sent Panjit Wun to India to negotiate a dispute with Manipur. They could not agree, and the British sent reinforcements to the Raja of Manipur.

A Shan rebellion began in June 1883. The next year the Kachins in the north invaded Upper Burma. Chinese freebooters helped Burma defend Bhamo but then sacked and burned the city. On October 11, 1884 a Rangoon town hall meeting of nearly a thousand people representing British, Indian, and Chinese business interests condemned the misgovernment of Upper Burma, demanded British intervention, and recommended annexation. The Kachins continued to rebel in 1885. Burma had sent six high officials to Paris in 1883 to negotiate, and they signed a secret treaty with France on January 18, 1885. The French consul Frederic Haas arrived in Mandalay on June 1, and the next month he gained a railway concession for a line from Mandalay to Toungoo and an agreement to set up a state bank for Burma. The Nyaungyan prince had died at Calcutta in early 1885, and his brother Nyaungyan Ok was with the French at Pondicherry.

In August 1885 Burma’s secret treaty with France was exposed, and it authorized the importation of arms. The Hlutdaw investigated the Bombay-Burmah Trading Corporation and found they had defrauded the King of £73,333 and foresters of £33,333. They ordered restitution be paid to both plus a fine of £73,333 for a total of 2,800,000 rupees. France recalled Consul Haas in October for having exceeded his orders. The Conservatives in England approved annexation, and on October 22 Governor-General Dufferin sent an ultimatum, which the Court of Ava received on the 30th. Burma must agree to an arbitration of the fine by November 10. The Kinwun Mingyi tried to reduce the fine to less than 200,000 rupees, but he was over-ruled by Taingda and Queen Supayalat. They replied on November 5 that Burma would accept a British resident but not their demand to control Burma’s foreign policy. They would not negotiate the fine, but the Corporation could appeal the ruling. Two days later King Thibaw asked his people to resist their enemies.

The British invaded Upper Burma on November 14 using armed steamers towing barges to carry 10,000 soldiers. Myingun had French connections, and that city fell on November 25. After taking Ava and Sagaing in the next two days, the British entered Mandalay on November 28. The Konbaung dynasty ended as King Thibaw and his two chief queens were captured and sent to Rangoon and then Madras. Instead of surrendering, the Burmese army dissolved into the jungle villages with their weapons and later carried on guerrilla warfare. Five princes claimed the throne and tried to rule in different regions.

General Harry Prendergast set up a provisional government with a council of thirteen ministers. The Kinwun Mingyi had left with Thibaw, and Col. Sladen used the corrupt Taingda Mingyi to maintain some administrative continuity; but Commissioner Charles Bernard ordered Taingda arrested on December 27 and deported to Calcutta. Reports were already coming in of organized rebellions in the remote areas of Bhamo, Chindwin Valley, and the Shan borders of the Sittang Valley. Disbanded soldiers without rations or pay turned to dacoity. Villages formed foraging bands to rob and take supplies from other villages. The Anglo-Indian army was ordered to shoot anyone pillaging or possessing arms. Some of the bands joined together to attack British military posts. A major Shan uprising supported a Sawbwa candidate for the throne. Before the Liberal party of Gladstone took power, Randolph Churchill, the Conservative secretary of state for India, approved the annexation of Burma. Gladstone argued that the war was “defensive” to protect the security and prosperity of India, and Parliament by a vote of 297-82 charged the estimated cost of £300,000 to India.

Burma under the British 1886-1929

On January 1, 1886 Viceroy Dufferin proclaimed that the territories of King Thibaw were British dominions. By the end of January the British had executed 22 people at Mandalay after summary trials for armed rebellion and robbery, and General Prendergast ended the policy of executing those captured with arms. Viceroy Dufferin visited Mandalay on February 12 and abolished the Hlutdaw. Burma became a province of British India on February 26. The number of British military stations increased from ten to twenty-five. Punitive measures included flogging men and burning villages. Under King Thibaw bandits had been branded with a tattoo and released, but the British were torturing and killing them. Because of their post-mutiny policy of not interfering in religion, the British would not let the Buddhist leader called the Thathanabaing have any legal authority even though he offered to preach submission to the British. Many robed monks (pongyis) broke tradition and fought in the rebellion. The unemployed were put to work building roads and railways. The disorder spread to Lower Burma in the south where many became landless wanderers while social demoralization weakened educational and religious standards in an atmosphere of lawlessness. The Chinese insisted on being allowed to continue to send missions once a decade, and the English signed such a convention in July.

By February 1887 the British had 32,000 troops and 8,500 military police from India in Burma, and they stopped enlisting Burmans in the army. Christian leaders had founded the Karen National Association (KNA) in 1881, and the Karens were allowed to enlist and fight the Buddhist rebels. Only 5,000 troops were needed in Lower Burma. Most of the heavy fighting was waning in March when Charles Crosthwaite replaced retiring Commissioner Bernard. Crosthwaite, who understood India but not Burma, replaced myothugyis who were not cooperative and designated a headman (thugyi) for each village with the power to police, judge cases, collect taxes, and direct labor in public projects. This headman system was applied to all 18,000 villages in 1889 under the Burma Village Act. Many Burmans were happy to be paid for working on the Toungoo-Mandalay railway until 1889. Most of the bands dispersed as the pretender Bos were driven into hiding, but by 1890 the war’s cost had reached £865,000. After that Burma’s government paid for its military police. The Shan chiefs were required to pay an annual tribute, maintain order, protect trade, grant railway concessions, submit their interstate disputes to a superintendent, and yield jurisdiction in cases involving Europeans. The trans-Salween Kengtung state became a subordinate ally of Burma in 1890.

India’s Central Legislature had established six grades of courts in Lower Burma back in 1863, and in 1890 a subordinate judicial commissioner was appointed for Upper Burma. The British courts placed more emphasis on property rights while traditional Burmese values were more concerned with infringements against personal dignity. The Burmah Oil Company had been founded in 1886. The Burma Agriculturalist Relief Bill of 1891 tried to stop the alienation of land ownership to non-agriculturalists such as the Chettyar caste of moneylenders. In 1897 the chief commissioner became lieutenant governor, and nine members were appointed to a legislative council. However, the Governor could veto any legislation as could the Government of India. Lower Burma had more than four million acres of rice by 1900. The Cooperative Credit Department was established in 1903. A Chief Conservator of Forests was appointed in 1905, and forests provided a fifth of Burma’s revenue. The next year they formed the departments of Agriculture, Fishery, and Public Health and Veterinary Medicine. In 1906 Governor Herbert Thirkell White attempted to revive the traditional right to redeem family land that had been sold, but the Government of India objected. A Sanitary Commissioner was appointed in 1908. That year a pipeline was built from the oilfields in the Irrawaddy Valley to the refineries at Syriam. The Upper Burma Central Union Co-operative Bank was established in 1910.

English became the language of the law courts, the top secular schools, and the legislative council, but Hindustani was used along with Burmese in the hospitals and bazaars. When a judge overruled a Sangha disciplinary decision in 1891, ecclesiastical authority was severely damaged. The Thathanabaing died in 1895, and conflicts between the sects caused the position to be left vacant until 1903. Even before the rebellion of 1886-89 murder and dacoity had been increasing. Burman men were easily offended and quick to retaliate. Many small landowners, landless farmers, traders, artisans, and unskilled laborers lost their jobs and turned to crime. In 1891 the Government recognized 4,324 monastic (Buddhist) schools and 890 lay schools, but by 1917 there were 4,650 lay schools and only 2,977 monastic schools. In 1906 students at Rangoon formed the Young Men’s Buddhist Association (YMBA), modeled after the YMCA. Three years later John S. Furnivall organized the Burma Research Society to study Burma’s history, culture, literature, and languages.

During World War I about 8,000 Burmans volunteered and insisted on having their own regiment. They served as a labor corps in Iraq while 4,650 of the mostly Indian military police fought in Europe. Limits on shipping caused a sharp decline in rice exports, and the price of paddy (wet rice) fell about a third. Land was alienated to nonagriculturalists, and tax delinquency increased. The war gave priority to timber, oil, tungsten, lead, zinc, and other minerals. The General Council of the YMBA met in 1916, and the barrister U Thein Maung led the effort to prohibit the wearing of shoes in Buddhist pagodas. So the English avoided the pagodas and had even less contact with Burmans.

A YMBA delegation went to Calcutta in December 1917 to talk with Secretary Montagu and Viceroy Chelmsford about recognizing Burma as a nation within the British commonwealth; but the Joint Select Committee offended Burmans when their report implied that they were politically apathetic and not yet ready for democracy. Governor Reginald Craddock formulated a separate plan for Burma that noted their advantages over India in that they were not bound by a caste system, extremes of wealth and poverty, and the low status of women. However, Craddock did not recommend electoral control for the central government nor for the village headmen. Only 61% of the assembly was to be elected. The YMBA sponsored mass meetings in 1919, and a delegation led by U Ba Pe, Tun Shein, and U Pu was sent to London. A second delegation arrived in July 1920. That year the Indian Congress party meeting at Nagpur included Burma as one of its provinces.

The Buddhist organization became more nationalist when it changed its name to the General Council of Burmese Associations (GCBA) in 1920. The Boy Scout program in Burma taught endurance, chivalry, first aid, and patriotism. At a mass meeting on August 1, 1920 in Rangoon, Burmese activists passed resolutions objecting to the proposed University Act. When this was enacted unchanged, they persuaded the students of the new university at Rangoon to go on strike. The Indian Congress party urged Burmans to boycott the first reform election in October. The university strike began on December 4, though the only significant issue for the students was that most had been placed on probation. Monks vacated the Shwe Dagon pagoda so that students could live there. The strike spread to government schools, and editors and monks advocated forming their own system of national schools. The British had decided to give Burma a second-class constitution because so few Burmans had a university degree, and now Burmans complained that the British were limiting how many Burmans could enter college. The strike was fairly successful in 1921, but in 1922 the better students began returning to the government schools.

Meanwhile Burmans demanded to be represented on the Rice Control Board. In 1921 the GCBA decided to boycott the parliamentary committee, and they began to demand home rule. Furnivall argued for a limited franchise based on paying the land tax because he feared that more than a million voters would be swayed by political and religious fanaticism. U May Oung did testify and argued against communal representation because it would keep Karens separate from Burmans. U Po Bye and U Myint were on the legislative council and refused to sign that part of the report.

The radical monk U Ottama had traveled widely in eastern Asia, and he came to Burma from India in 1921. He urged the pongyis to leave their monasteries to defend their religion. He was arrested for inciting sedition and was sentenced to ten months in prison. Nationalist cells called Wunthanu Athins were organized in villages, and they worked on the popular issues to stop official corruption and suppress drinking and crime. They urged villagers to boycott the headmen and regular courts and impose their own penalties. The Government reacted by consolidating some of the villages, and many headmen were punished for dereliction of duty. Col. Wedgwood was sympathetic to Burmans and visited in early 1922, but his amendments to the Burma Reforms Bill to liberalize elections were defeated in Parliament. The GCBA executive council voted to boycott the November elections, but eight of its members disagreed and with thirteen other leaders formed the “21 Party” that followed the tactics of the Swaraj party in India to run for offices while demanding home rule. The H-P-G leaders (U Chit Hlaing, U Pu, and U Tun Aung Gyaw) of the GCBA worked with the Wunthanu Athins to boycott the elections.

On January 1, 1923 the new British governor Harcourt Butler began implementing the dyarchy government in Burma. District councils were supposed to choose circle boards to run local governments; but funding was inadequate, and 95% of local governments were rated unsatisfactory by 1927. Of the 80 elected members of the 130 on the legislative council only 58 were elected by general constituencies while the others were reserved for 8 Indians, 5 Karens, one Anglo-Indian, one British, and seven representing business groups and the university. The central Indian Government in New Delhi still controlled defense, foreign affairs, currency, communications, transportation, income tax, and civil and criminal law. Only those paying the capitation tax could vote, but women and those 18 or older were included. The 21 Party called themselves Nationalists and elected 28 candidates. U Maung Gyee became the minister for education, local government, and public health. The Anglophile J. A. Maung Gyi was selected to be minister of agriculture, excise control, and forests.

In 1924 U May Oung gave up his judicial post to be home minister, and that year U Pu replaced J. A. Maung Gyi, who became a judge on the High Court. Unfortunately the able U May Oung died in 1926 at the age of 46. Over Governor Butler’s protest, the Indian Government disbanded the 70th Burma Rifles and restricted recruitment to the Karen, Chin, and Kachin peoples. The University Amendment Act of 1924 gave Burmans more control of the University at Rangoon, and an intermediate college was founded at Mandalay in 1925. The Nationalists tried but were not able to reform the police and cut the budget on administration while increasing the pay of local constables. Burmans also proposed that headmen be elected and be subject to removal by a two-thirds vote, that trials be by jury, that elected village committees share the powers of headmen, and that liabilities of villages under collective responsibility be reduced.

U Ottama made the General Council of Sangha Sametggi (GCSS) more political. Secret societies called the Bu Athins swore to work for home rule, boycott the Government, and defend other members. They tried to end the Government’s licensing of fisheries and legalized sale of opium and liquor, and they refused to pay taxes. The GCBA conference at Paungde in May 1924 was attended by 30,000 people, and the moderates could not stop the resolution to not pay taxes. U Ottama led a march past the GCBA Mandalay headquarters in August, and several people, including two policeman, were killed in the riot that ensued. Leaders on both sides were arrested, and U Ottama was sentenced to three years for sedition. The Bu Athins promoted tax resistance and intimidated and murdered headmen, who were also tax collectors. In the river districts of the Irrawaddy Valley murders went up a third and robberies nearly 90% between 1923 and 1925. Almost all prisoners in Burma were male; 75% were illiterate, and 84% were Buddhist Burmans. The historian G. E. Harvey estimated that 600 of the 650 Class I judges were corrupted by accepting gratuities from litigants.

The GCBA was split, and the urban faction, which opposed the monks, formed the Home Rule Party in 1925. They eventually joined with the Nationalists and the Swaraj party and called their coalition the People’s Party. They ran in elections but declined to serve in the cabinet. In the 1922 elections less than 7% of eligible voters had participated, but in 1925 this went up to 16%. The People’s Party won 45 seats and came to be known as the Golden Valley Party because of the exclusive area in Rangoon where some leaders lived. The non-Burmans in the legislature united against them and formed the Independent Party. Burmans favored abolishing the debt payments to India. In 1928 voting increased to 18%, and the People’s Party ran out of money the next year. By then the Provincial Cooperative Central Bank had also become insolvent. U Ottama got out of prison and attended the Indian Congress Party meeting at Madras in 1927. He toured Burma urging non-payment of the capitation tax, but he was arrested again in 1928. The next year the monk U Wisera became a martyr when he died in prison after a long hunger strike. U Ottama was held in prison until his death in 1939.

The Simon Commission came to Burma in 1929. Three Indians as well as three Burmans and one Karen were appointed to the Burma committee, but the People’s Party was not even represented. On August 2, 1930 Governor Charles Innes announced that Burma would probably be given a constitution that was separate from India. He left for London and named J. A. Maung Gyi acting governor as the Legislative Council approved the resolution. Most Burmans disliked the dyarchy and wanted home rule; they objected to the capitation tax, the Indian penal code and police system, the Chettyar moneylenders, and Indian laborers. The Nationalists opposed separation from India unless dominion status was granted, and they collaborated politically with the Indian National Congress.

Burma under the British 1930-41

The Great Depression hit Burma hard with the price of paddy dropping to less than half from 1929 to 1931. In five years nearly two million acres in Lower Burma were lost to nonresident Chettyar moneylenders. Desperate cultivators also owed money to Chinese shopkeepers, who charged even higher interest. In May 1930 ethnic disturbances began in Rangoon as Burman laborers were hired as strike-breakers only temporarily. Indian dock-workers ridiculed them and their women. The riot lasted two days, killing 120 Indians and injuring 900. Other observers reported that about 400 were killed. A mutiny broke out in the Rangoon Central Jail on June 24 when a newly appointed Indian superintendent made discipline more severe. Three Burmese convicts were killed, and sixty were wounded in the racial feud. In the last four years of the 1920s the number of annual Indian immigrants exceeded 400,000, but in 1930 and 1931 more Indians emigrated from Burma than arrived. After 1933 about a quarter million Indians immigrated each year. Also in 1930 pongyi politicians objected to Buddhist children being taught Christianity in Rangoon high schools, and they organized a strike.

Saya Sen had been a pongyi and on the executive committee of the GCBA. He was appointed to a commission to investigate the capitation tax, agrarian debt, and denial of forest reserves for firewood. After presenting his report in 1928 he resigned and began organizing secret societies. On October 28, 1930 he was proclaimed the Thupannaka Galon Raja and was treated as a king in the jungle east of Tharrawaddy. On December 22 acting governor Gyi rejected a popular petition to reduce taxes, and within a week at least 1,500 rebels had gathered and were increasing. They killed six forestry officers and burned a hundred forestry houses. The uprising spread to Yamethin and the Pyapon district south of Rangoon where the police had been warned. The police killed several score and captured 600. By June 1931 the Government had deployed 8,100 troops, and in the fall 3,640 more arrived from India. Government troops were posted at strategic places, and by August 1931 the Mandalay district was pacified. Governor Innes reduced the land revenues from the most depressed districts, and he offered amnesty to all rebels who surrendered their arms and gave information. The editors and publishers of two Rangoon vernacular newspapers were arrested and convicted of sedition. Saya Sen was captured in the north, and his lieutenant U Myat Aung was also taken. Saya Sen was convicted of seditious treason and was executed on November 28. By April 1932 most of the resistance groups had dispersed. The Government had suffered only 138 casualties, but the rebels had 3,000. Crime increased in 1931 and 1932, especially in Upper Burma.

S. A. S. Tyabji organized the Indian Association of Burma in 1931 to oppose separation from India, and the Anti-Separationist League was supported by the Indian S. N. Naiji, who owned the Scandia Navigation Company. Another Anti-Separationist leader was the lawyer, Dr. Ba Maw, who had skillfully defended Saya Sen in his trial. Most Burmans did not trust the British, and in the November 1932 elections the Anti-Separationist League won 42 seats to 29 for the Separatists and 9 neutrals. GCBA leader U Chit Hlaing was elected speaker unanimously, but he was quickly removed for only allowing voting on two motions. In March 1933 Secretary Hoare announced that England was waiting for Burma’s legislative council to make a decision, and in July he referred Burma’s reforms to the Joint Select Committee of Parliament which held hearings in December. Oscar de Glanville was removed from the presidency of the council in February 1935. All the Burmans voted against him, and Governor Hugh Stephenson accepted the result. U Chit Hlaing became the new president. U Saw visited Japan in 1935, and he bought the Sun press, which he made a pro-Japan newspaper. Also in 1935 the High Court ruled that the top Buddhist authority, the Thathanabaing, had no special legal status beyond that of any other religion. When the Thathanabaing died in 1938, no successor was appointed.

The Government of Burma Act was passed in 1935 and replaced the previous dyarchy with a cabinet of nine members responsible to an elected House of Representatives that reserved twelve seats for Karens, eight for Indians, and eleven for business groups. A conservative Senate of 36 property owners was to be half appointed and half elected by the House. However, Article 139 of the new constitution gave the Governor dominating power over administration, legislation, and the judiciary. Even bills he approved could be vetoed by the English Government. Burma was separated from India, and the new constitution went into effect on April 1, 1937. In the 1936 elections the People’s Party won 46 seats. Dr. Ba Maw’s Sinyetha party had only fourteen, but he formed a coalition and became the first prime minister.

The student movement in Burma developed in the early 1930s with the founding of the Dobama Society and the All Burma Youth League, and in 1935 these united in the Dobama Asiayone. Pongyis urged Burmans to address each other with the term Thakin, which means “master” and had been used like “sahib” for Europeans; this was to imply that they are masters in their own country. Thakin Tin composed the Dobama song, which eventually became the national anthem. Many studied Marx, became socialists, and helped workers form unions. Thakins organized All-Burma Labor Conferences and invited speakers from the Indian National Congress. Shortly before examinations in the winter of 1935-36 the Rangoon University Students Union (RUSU) president Thakin Nu accused a lecturer of immorality. Principal Sloss expelled Thakin Nu, and the Journal editor Thakin Aung San refused to name the author of the inflammatory article “Hell Hound at Large.” Union leaders called a strike for February 25, and people laid down to block the entrances to the examination buildings. Most of the residents in the University left their dormitories and moved to the Shwe Dagon pagoda. The issue shifted to reforming the University, and this was supported by the students. The strike was called off in June, and in May 1937 a university commission recommended scholarships for poor students. Aung San took the issue to the new House of Representatives, and the amended University Act of 1939 met many student demands.

The capitation and income taxes were phased out. Ba Maw legalized more than a hundred Wunthanu Athins that had been outlawed after the Saya Sen rebellion. The Tenancy Act guaranteed a fair rent to tenants that were refused a lease renewal. Wages for laborers and repayment of crop loans were given priority over rental obligations. In 1938 U Saw founded his patriotic Myochit party. After the Muslim Indian Shwe Hpi published a second edition of his book criticizing Buddhists, the All Burma Council of the Young Pongyis held a mass meeting in the Shwe Dagon pagoda on July 26, 1938. When police tried to stop their procession, a riot broke out and spread beyond Rangoon. Rioters killed 192 Indians and injured 878. Of the 4,306 persons arrested only 1,800 were prosecuted, and only half of those were convicted. When a second wave of rioting occurred in September, the Governor promulgated the Rangoon Emergency Security Act to detain suspects for fifteen days without trial. Hooligans and looters used monastic living quarters as refuges. Many headmen refused to protect Indians, and some even joined the rioters. The two most inflammatory newspapers, the Burmese Sun and the Indian Saithan, were banned.

Thakins planned other strikes. When the Burmese bus drivers went out, strikers blockaded a road junction and threw bricks at police. Thakins Ba Swe and Ba Hein led a march of oil-field strikers to Rangoon, and they were arrested. This provoked school strikes on December 12, and eight days later a policeman killed Maung Aung Gyaw with a club. The Security Act was invoked again, and U Saw was arrested. Thakin leaders were arrested on January 23, 1939, and police seized their papers. In February the police fired into a crowd of thousands and killed fourteen. That month the Europeans turned against Ba Maw, and he was replaced by U Pu. The new coalition’s conservative policies penalized the press, suppressed the Thakins, and banned about thirty leftist books.

In September 1939 the Thakins in the Burma Revolutionary Party (BRP) published a nine-point program aimed at framing a constitution for an independent Burma. They joined with Ba Maw’s party and the pongyis to form the Freedom Bloc, which called for a constituent assembly and a cabinet taking over the responsibilities of the governor while working for British recognition of Burma’s independence. Ba Maw spoke to large gatherings in the central valley of Burma in the last two months of 1939. Like Thakin Aung San, he was willing to put socialist ideals aside in order to unite nationalists behind independence. Ba Maw’s lieutenant, Dr. Thein Maung, went to Japan to solicit aid. Four Thakins led by Aung San attended the Indian National Congress meeting in 1940 at Ramgarh, where they met Gandhi, Nehru, and S. C. Bose.

Premier U Pu pledged support for the British war effort, and on July 16 the Government closed down the Burma Road that Western nations used to supply arms to Jiang Jieshi (Chiang Kai-shek) in Chongqing (Chungking). That day Thakin Nu gave a speech at Jubilee Hall in Rangoon; he was arrested and sentenced to one year in prison. Ba Maw resigned from the House and spoke against U Pu’s war policy; in August he was arrested and was also sentenced to a year. Several parties joined together and in September replaced U Pu with U Saw, who agreed to support minority rights and promised to suppress agitation and support Burma’s defense. He had his opponents arrested, but Thakin Aung San fled through Thailand to Amoy, where he was arrested by the Japanese. After U Saw became premier, pro-Japanese articles no longer appeared in the Sun. In October he agreed to reopen the Burma Road to China traffic without any customs duties. U Saw tried to bring more Burmans into the civil service.

In March 1941 the property owners in the Senate blocked amendments to the Tenancy Act. The Bribery and Corruption Enquiry Committee revealed the dismal situation in Burma that had a long tradition of paying small gratuities to officials.

Burma Invaded 1942-45

Thakin Aung San agreed to collaborate with the Japanese, and in a short visit to Burma in 1941 he recruited Thakins Mya, Ba Swe, and Kyaw Nyein into the pro-Japanese People’s Revolutionary Party. Thakins Tun Oke and Ba Sein were already in Japan. Thirty comrades trained on Hainan Island and became the nucleus of the Burma Independence Army (BIA) that met at Bangkok in late 1941. Japan promised to liberate 130 million people from European colonialism.

Governor Reginald Dorman-Smith put off Burma’s November 1941 elections for a year and arranged for Premier U Saw to fly to London with his secretary U Tin Tut. They met with several British leaders and realized that Churchill was not going to live up to the promise of the Atlantic Charter during the war. After visiting the United States they returned to Europe, but in Lisbon they were detected meeting with Japanese officials. British police arrested them in Egypt on January 19, 1942, and U Saw was kept a prisoner in British Uganda until 1946. The Anglophile Paw Tun became the premier of Burma.

Japan invaded Burma in late December 1941 through the Myawaddy Pass; they took Tenasserim and defeated the British at Moulmein. Many towns were destroyed by Japanese air raids. The British tried to stop the Japanese army from crossing the Sittang River in February 1942 and lost much equipment. Many of the 400,000 Indians fleeing Burma by land died on the way back to India. After the Japanese air force defeated the Allied air force and the Americans in the Flying Tiger Corps, the British retreated, destroying oil wells, mining equipment, and river transportation. In the north the Japanese overcame Chinese defenders and invaded the Shan plateau. The Japanese kept the Burmans out of the Shan states.

The BIA followed the Japanese army into Burma but was rather undisciplined. The Japanese used the Burmans mostly as guides and interpreters; but the numbers of the BIA swelled to 30,000 as the Thakin leaders recruited young men. Col. Suzuki commanded the BIA, and on March 7 he installed Thakin Tun Oke as administrator of the Burma Baho Government. The BIA plundered and looted so much that on June 4 the Japanese commander, General Iida, banned the BIA from participating in the government. Burmans began executing Karen hostages daily on May 26, and this civil war went on until the Japanese stopped it in mid-June. The BIA was demobilized on July 24 except for a few officers led by Thakins Aung San and Boh Let Ya. They cooperated with the Japanese in the new Burma Defense Army (BDA), which carefully screened 4,000 recruits in August.

General Iida asked Dr. Ba Maw to head a new government to restore order, and political leaders met at Mandalay on May 21. They were promised independence in a Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere if they supported the Japanese war. Ba Maw selected Bandoola U Sein and Dr. Thein Maung to publicize a “Trust Japan” program in Upper Burma. Old officials and BIA personnel were mollified by putting them on probation for three months. The Japanese requisitioned rice, killed cattle, and conscripted Burmans and Karens for labor service. Thousands of the 30,000 working on the Siam-Burma railway died of starvation, disease, and overwork. Japan used sesame oil for lubrication; Lower Burma lacked cooking oil as the Rangoon price of sesame oil multiplied thirteen times.

Shipping problems left Burma with three million tons of surplus rice. Two million acres of paddy went out of production and reverted to jungle. Allied air raids kept the railways from operating; the south had too much rice while the north starved. Malaria spread, and the Japanese took severe measures against epidemics of smallpox, cholera, and bubonic plague. The Burmans especially resented the military police (kempeitai) and informers. Japanese attempts to form Buddhist organizations got little support, but many Karens cooperated with the Japanese. The most popular Japanese organization was the East Asia Youth League, which included Burmans, Indians, Karens, Mons, and Shans. Ba Maw tried to merge this with his National Service Association.

In January 1943 Premier Tojo promised Burma independence within a year. Ba Maw, Thein Maung, Mya, and Aung San visited Tokyo in March, and they agreed to declare war on Britain and the United States. Ba Maw returned in April and formed four armies for fighting, service, politics, and labor. The Burma Independence Preparatory Committee began meeting in May, but the sessions were secret. Tojo announced in July that the eastern Shan states of Kengtung and Mongpan were ceded to Thailand. Ba Maw and Thakin Nu visited Singapore and learned that S. C. Bose’s Indian National Army (INA) was going to invade India through Burma. On August 1 the independence of Burma was announced, but as Japan’s ally war was declared against the United Kingdom and the United States. Ba Maw became head of state (Adipadi) as well as premier, and by the end of 1943 he was being called king. Fifty Burmese state scholars were granted living allowances to study at the International Students Institute in Tokyo.

In 1944 the East Asia Youth League became the All Burma Youth League (ABYL) and joined the secret resistance effort organized by the Thakins as the Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League (AFPFL). Ba Maw blocked General Isamura’s plan to make the study of Japanese compulsory in Burma’s schools, and Isamura would not let leaders of the Dobama-Sinyetha party raise a new Burma flag. Ba Maw published a revised booklet called Burma’s New Order Plan in June that advised the Japanese not to interfere in Burma’s political affairs nor take opinion polls that cause distrust of the government; they should respect Burman officers. Ba Maw did not betray the resistance activities of the AFPFL to the Japanese, and by early spring of 1945 he was legislating economic matters without Japanese approval. Thakins Than Tun and Aung San were already using their ministerial positions to overthrow Japanese rule. Defense minister Aung San had renamed the BDA the Burma National Army (BNA) in September 1943.

Azad Hind (Free India) moved its headquarters to Rangoon in January 1944 with Ba Maw’s approval. The first overt Burman resistance against the Japanese occupation occurred in June 1944 and was quickly crushed by the Kempeitai. General Mohan Singh and some Indian officers tried to dissolve the Indian National Army (INA) and were sent to a Japanese prison camp in New Guinea. The manifesto “Drive Away the Fascist Japanese Marauders” signed by “Comrades” urged readers to set up a “People’s Government” and promised freedom and employment security. The Allies had been bombing railways and strategic centers in Burma since 1943. In the dry season of 1944-45 a British-Indian-African army began to reconquer Burma. In April the INA refused to fight the revolting Burma National Army, and they surrendered on May 18. The city of Akyab was destroyed by bombing, and artillery damaged Mandalay. A few Communist resistance fighters joined with the AFPFL, and Thakin Than Tun was secretary.

Meanwhile the British tried to make plans with Governor Dorman-Smith, who was in exile at Simla in India. In November 1944 the Commons Committee on Burma Policy published the Blue-Print for Burma that was so imperialistic, ignorant, and incompetent that even the exiled premier Paw Tun called it “rubbish.” British capitalists wanted to reimpose their exploitation of Burma by reviving the Chettyar moneylending, cheap labor by Indian immigrants, and at least three years of authoritarian rule by the Governor under emergency Article 139. Louis Mountbatten was the Supreme Allied Commander for Southeast Asia and had taken responsibility for civil affairs in reoccupied Burma on January 1, 1944. A British attempt to invade Arakan again was stopped by a Japanese counter-attack. Mountbatten contacted Aung San and had more respect for his leadership. In February 1945 he approved distributing 3,000 weapons to anti-Japanese groups.

On March 27, 1945 General Aung San turned the Burma National Army against the Japanese, and this date later was celebrated as Resistance Day or Armed Forces Day. Two days later 5,000 Burmans attacked the Japanese from the rear near Prome. This enabled the British 14th army to advance 220 miles from Yamethin to Pegu. On April 22 the Japanese retreated, and Ba Maw fled the capital with Thakins Mya, Nu, and Lun Baw, going to Moulmein. Japanese forces tried to make a stand at Pegu on April 29, but British forces defeated them and entered Rangoon on May 5. Mountbatten persuaded the British authorities to begin paying and supplying the BNA, which was renamed again the Patriotic Burmese Forces. They joined the victory parade in Rangoon on June 15.

The AFPFL issued a statement on May 25, 1945 calling for a new constitution and elections as soon as conditions permitted. About 50,000 hungry refugees flooded into Rangoon. On June 2 Mountbatten announced amnesty for all Burmans except those who had committed proven crimes. The Labor Party under Clement Attlee came into office in July and promised earlier self-government for Burma. More than half the casualties inflicted on the Japanese in the last two weeks of the war were by Burmese guerrilla forces. The supreme council of the AFPFL was enlarged to include three representatives each from the People’s Revolutionary Party (socialists and Communists), the Burma National Army, the All Burma Youth League, the Karen Central Organization, and the Maha Sangha (Buddhists). The Chinese army directed by Americans and aided by Kachin guerrillas reconquered northernmost Burma. Some of the Japanese soldiers in the Burmese jungle did not learn of the surrender until October.

Aung San declined a commission in the British army. Mountbatten turned control over to Governor Dorman-Smith on October 16, 1945 except for the Tenasserim peninsula and some mountain regions. The Governor’s policy to honor Chettyar land titles and mortgages and use immigrant Indian labor made Burman resistance certain. The Patriotic Burmese Forces were demobilized; but they were so loyal to Aung San that the veterans quickly reorganized in their villages as the People’s Volunteer Organization (PVO). Communists, led by Thakins Than Tun and Thein Pe, won over peasants by promising them “no rent and no taxes.” Thakin Ba Hein formed the All Burma Trade Union Congress (ABTUC), and other Communists organized workers in transport, docks, railways, mines, and clerical employees.

The British wanted to restore their tax base and favorable trade balance; they paid peasants only half the low 1941 price for rice even though costs had risen fourfold. Governor Dorman-Smith began meeting with Aung San and other AFPFL leaders, but they were unable to compromise on the composition of the council. Aung San denounced Dorman-Smith as unworthy in December and refused to join the council as the opposition leader. The AFPFL demanded a representative council, early elections for a constituent assembly, and publication of the Governor’s plans for economic reconstruction. They avoided inciting violence and sought peaceful solutions, but Governor Dorman-Smith would not let their representatives fly to London.

Burma Liberated 1945-50

In January 1946 Aung San spoke to a large rally at the Shwe Dagon pagoda in Rangoon, and they called for nationalization of agricultural land with compensation for private owners. The Communist Thakin Soe dissented so vehemently that he was expelled from the party and formed the “Red Flag” Communist party, which was outlawed in July. The British brought back the exiled Thakins Ba Sein, Tun Oke, and U Saw. In February, Tun Oke accused Aung San of having executed a village headman during fighting in early 1942. However, London feared a revolution and blocked his arrest. Burma was in turmoil, and Governor Dorman-Smith in April proposed new elections. He denounced Aung San’s private PVO army in May, but he became seriously ill and took a boat to England in June. On May 18 some Communists had provoked an attack on police at Tantabin, and the police killed three people. Moderates in the AFPFL prohibited Communist activities in rural branches in August. Meanwhile Tom Driber was trying to inform members of the English Parliament of what was actually occurring in Burma. During a mass meeting at Rangoon in October 1945 the Karens had voted for a separate Karen state. The following August they sent a delegation to London, but the Labor government declined to support their plans.

Governor Hugh Rance arrived in August 1946, and a police strike began at Rangoon on September 2. The AFPFL provided PVO volunteers to keep order. The police commissioner offered cost-of-living allowances; but by September 18 all government employees were on strike, and the commissioner dismissed 3,000 policeman who did not return. U Saw was shot on September 21 while returning from a Myochit party meeting, but surgery saved his eye. He blamed his political enemies. Three days later the strike became general when the railway and oil workers’ unions joined. On the 27th a new council was announced that was more representative. General Aung San was deputy chairman and was in charge of defense and external affairs. U Kyaw Nyein was the home member, and Thakin Mya led the Socialists. The general strike ended on October 4, and six days later the AFPFL Executive Committee expelled the Communist party. Aung San and Thakin Nu toured the frontier areas, and in November the Shans, Chins, and Kachins formed the Supreme Council of the United Hill Peoples (SCOUHP) with Sai Shwe Thaike as president.

On November 10 Aung San demanded elections in April 1947 for a constituent assembly with representatives of the frontier peoples and full independence in 1947. Aung San, Mya, Ba Sein, U Tin Tut, U Ba Pe, and U Saw went to London in January. The British agreed to the elections and offered to loan Burma £7.5 million. In February the AFPFL met at Panglong and approved the London agreement and democratic rights for all citizens with financial aid for the frontiers. The frontier areas were to be allotted 45 seats in the Assembly and the Karens 24 seats. U Saw and Thakin Ba Sein resigned their ministerial positions in the Interim Government, and the Communists provoked rebellion and robbing in some areas. On April 1 Aung San spoke to the All Arakan Conference and prevented resolutions from passing for open rebellion, nonpayment of taxes, and canceling the agricultural debt. In the April elections the PVO followers of Aung San won 171 seats, and the 45 delegates from the frontier areas supported the AFPFL; the Communists elected only seven candidates. The Karen National Union as well as Ba Maw, U Saw, and Thakin Ba Sein boycotted the election, though the Karen Youth Organization won 19 seats.

The Constituent Assembly convened on June 10, 1947 and unanimously voted to sever all connection to the British empire. On July 19 two gunmen with automatic weapons instigated by U Saw broke into a cabinet meeting and assassinated Prime Minister Aung San, the capable Mya, and seven other leaders. Thakin Nu was AFPFL vice president and president of the Constituent Assembly, and Governor Rance quickly made him prime minister. After a long trial U Saw and his accomplices were convicted and hanged. Premier Nu completed work on the Constitution, which was enacted on September 24. The president was to be elected by the combined vote of the two chambers of deputies and nationalities. Large landholding was prohibited, and Burma became the owner of much land and public utilities with a monopoly over timber, minerals, coal, and petroleum. States could secede after ten years. The socialism was reflected in the red flag with six white stars grouped in a blue corner. Premier Nu signed a treaty with Prime Minister Attlee on October 17 that recognized Burma’s independence but agreed that no armed forces outside the British Commonwealth would be received. Despite Churchill’s vehement opposition, the Burma Independence Bill passed the House of Commons on December 10 by a vote of 228 to 114.

The independent nation of Burma was inaugurated on January 4, 1948. Thakin Nu continued as prime minister, and the sawbwa Sao Shwe Thaike became the first president. Nu was a novelist, a Marxist, and a devoted Buddhist. He reviewed their troubled history and proclaimed that Burma had become one nation of the “Mons, Arakanese, Burmese, the Karens, the Shans, the Kachins, and the Chins.” The civil service was mostly British and Indian, and 71 of 99 Superior Civil Service members departed in the first few months. Meanwhile the PVO had deteriorated without Aung San’s leadership and split. In February the majority White Band PVO opposed disbanding while the Yellow Band PVO cooperated with Nu’s government. In March at the All Burma Peasants’ Union conference 75,000 gathered, and H. M. Goshal promised them free land with no taxes, and later Thakin Than Tun spoke to the resistance rally of the ABTUC. The police were too late to arrest the leaders, and the White Flag Communist uprising began on March 28 with guerrilla actions in the jungles and foothills. They had about 25,000 partisans and took over the railway corridor from Toungoo to Yamethin.

Burma entered the United Nations on April 19, 1948. Premier Nu intended to retire to a monastery in June. In May the Two-Year Plan of Economic Development was published with land redistribution raised to a top priority. On June 1 they nationalized the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company, which was the largest steamship line in Southeast Asia, and most of the teak concession operated by the British. The fifteen-point Leftist Unity Program was announced to win back the PVO; but point 15 that called for a Marxist League to promote Marxist doctrines was soon abandoned so that the Yellow Band PVO would join with the AFPFL in approving the Program on July 2. The entire cabinet had resigned by July 16. Nu persuaded Karen leaders not to seek a separate state except by democratic means. The White Band PVO rebelled on July 29, and two of the five battalions of Burma Rifles mutinied in August. Nu resumed his position and was chosen as Premier on September 14 with a new cabinet of 21 members.

The Karen National Defense Organization (KNDO) seized Moulmein again; Thakin Nu agreed to arm them to fight the Communists and PVO, but many of them defected to join the Communists. On September 18 London’s Daily Mail reporter Alexander Campbell was arrested for fomenting Karen rebellion. The next day Minister U Tin Tut was assassinated. In October the Regional Autonomy Enquiry Commission was set up under Justice U Ba U and the Karen National Union (KNU) leader Saw Ba U Gyi to explore how to satisfy the aspirations of the Mons, Karens, and Arakanese. However, on November 13 KNU leaders proposed an independent Karen-Mon state that would include all of Tenasserim and Irrawaddy plus most of contiguous Lower Burma.

The KNDO rebellion began in January 1949 at Bassein, Toungoo, and Insein with forces totaling about 7,000 men, and a temporary Karen administration was set up at Toungoo. On February 4 most of the civil service in the Federation of Service Unions went on strike to protest a large cut in salaries. The Government of Burma postponed the 1949 elections, and the next election was not held until June 1951. Nu’s government held the seaport of Rangoon, and the dissident groups were not coordinated. Burmans blamed American missionaries for the Karen “Baptist Rebellion,” but the revolt was more nationalist than religious. On February 9 the Burma Air Force attacked the Karen battalion, and Burma’s army at Pegu blocked the Karens at Toungoo from aiding their forces at Insein. The two main rebel groups renewed negotiations. Six Socialists and Yellow Band PVO leaders withdrew from Nu’s cabinet on April 1 so that Nu and General Ne Win could negotiate more freely with the Communists and the Karens, but an agreement signed by Karens at Rangoon on April 4 was not accepted by KNDO leaders at Toungoo.

Burman forces had captured Mandalay on April 3, and in June they occupied the oil fields at Yenangyaung and Chauk. They recaptured Tharrawaddy in July, and General Ne Win went on a diplomatic mission to gain arms from the English and Americans. The Government Economic Council invited capital to invest in transportation, electric power, and manufacturing. The English Labor government had decided in June to provide Burma with 10,000 rifles, and in the fall the Commonwealth agreed to loan Burma 350 million rupees. On December 17 Burma became the first non-Communist nation to recognize the People’s Republic of China. Prime Minister Nu and Premier Zhou Enlai agreed to “five principles of co-existence” so as not to interfere in each other’s domestic affairs. In the first three months of 1950 about 2,000 Guomindang soldiers took refuge in Burma with their families, settling in the Shan state of Kentung.

Delayed attempts to implement the 1948 Land Nationalization Act aroused protests in April 1950. Agricultural holdings were limited to 50 acres, and cultivators were urged to join government-sponsored cooperatives. The Democratic Local Government Act had passed in February 1949, and it provided for local elections at various levels; but most were not yet ready to make this work. The Communists and Karen rebels were causing three-quarters of the anti-government attacks in the spring of 1950. In June the Government wrote off 70 million Burmese rupees (kyats) of cultivators’ debt. Premier Nu estimated in September that the insurgency was 95% contained, but the press estimated that only a third of the country was under control. Burma condemned North Korea’s invasion in June and in July voted to support the United Nations response. The British Commonwealth agreed to loan Burma £6 million in June 1950, but instead Burma turned to the United States and received aid from the Technical Cooperation Administration (TCA) in September. In reaction leftists withdrew from the AFPFL in December to form the Burma Workers’ and Peasants’ Party (BWPP). Premier Nu sponsored three bills in October to promote Buddhist reform. The population of Burma had increased from about two million in 1800 to eighteen million in 1950.

Malaya and the British 1800-96

Malaya to 1800

Siam’s Rama I (r. 1782-1809) began demanding obeisance from the Malayan rulers of Kedah, Patani, Kelantan, and Terengganu, and this provoked rebellions by Patani in 1789, 1791, and 1808. Needing food-producing land, in 1800 Penang’s Lt. Governor George Leith gained more Kedah territory and renamed it Province Wellesley. Immigrants came to Penang, and free trade was allowed until 1802. Penang became the fourth British presidency after Bengal, Bombay, and Madras in 1805. Yet justice was handled informally by local leaders until a British court was established in 1807. Kedah’s Sultan Ahmad (r. 1803-21) was installed by Siam, and in 1816 Bangkok ordered him to help them punish Perak for refusing to send tribute. In 1821 the Siamese army invaded Kedah and drove Sultan Ahmad to take refuge at Penang with the British, whom he criticized for not defending his state. The British had demolished the Melaka fort in 1809, but they did not restore the port to the Dutch until 1818.

Stamford Raffles was a secretary at Penang and studied the Malayan culture. After serving at Melaka and at Bengkulu on Java, Raffles persuaded Lord Hastings that the British needed a port east of the Melaka Straits, and in 1819 he established Singapore on the island off the tip of the Malayan peninsula. Singapore was making a profit by 1820 and grew quickly. Raffles returned for a visit, and in 1823 he proclaimed Singapore a free port open to all trade. He also organized a land registry, port management, a police force, a school for Asian languages, and prohibition of the slave trade, gambling, and cock fighting. During a dispute between two brothers, Raffles recognized Sultan Hussein as the sultan of Johor and arranged for his annual pension of $5,000 (1 Malay dollar = 2s 4d). In 1824 the Dutch and the British agreed on a treaty that divided their regions of influence. The Netherlands gave up Melaka and all factories in India, promising not to interfere on the Malay peninsula. The British ceded Bengkulu and let the Dutch control Sumatra, Java, and the southern islands. Commercially they agreed to treat each other as most favored nations in India, Ceylon, and the Archipelago.

Sultan Ibrahim of Selangor helped Perak become independent in 1822, and in 1825 British Captain Henry Burney made a treaty with Ligor so that they would not attack Perak or Selangor. Penang governor Robert Fullerton deterred the Raja of Ligor from invading Perak by sending gun-boats to the Trang River estuary. The next year Burney negotiated at Bangkok, but the resulting treaty with Siam was vague and was not kept. Fullerton sent Captain James Low, and in 1826 he signed a treaty with the Sultan of Perak that persuaded the Siamese to withdraw their troops from there. Low also destroyed a nest of pirates on the Kurau River that had been raiding Penang. The Raja of Ligor complained that the captured pirate Udin was a Siamese official and that Kurau was in Kedah, causing Burney to be reprimanded by the Governor-General.

In 1826 Singapore, Melaka, Penang, and Province Wellesley were combined into what became the Straits Settlements with Fullerton as governor. In 1831 Abdul Said led the resistance to his imposing taxes on Naning as part of Melaka; the war lasted a year until ambitious chiefs came over to the British for support in their succession struggles. This foolish war cost the British £100,000. Although he had sponsored pirates, the British recognized Temenggung Ibrahim (r. 1841-61) as the ruler of Johor, perhaps because his father had helped them acquire Singapore. Between 1825 and 1850 the British offered cash rewards for the capture of pirates, but anti-piracy patrols were not effectively organized until 1835. During the 1840s the British navy and Company ships made more than £42,000 for acting against pirates.

In 1839 James Brooke encountered a rebellion against the Sarawak governor Makuta. The Brunei sultan sold Brooke a fief in 1841, and he became the “white raja” of Sarawak. The pirates and slaving Sea-Dayaks attacked Brooke in 1843, and they were supported by Makuta. Brooke gained some Iban allies to attack others, and in one battle he was assisted by four British ships and 2,500 Ibans. In an 1846 treaty Brunei sultan Umar ceded Sarawak to the British and the island of Labuan to use as a coaling station for British steamers for $1,500 annual payment. In 1849 Brooke and his Malays attacked the Sea-Dayaks and wiped out 800 of the 4,000 pirates. Brooke was castigated in the press, but in 1853 he won a fraud suit against the Eastern Archipelago Company. In 1855 Brooke formed a Supreme Council of Malay chiefs to advise him. The next year the Borneo Company began mining antimony and other minerals. In 1857 Chinese miners battled each other in Bau until Brooke brought in Kuching Chinese, Malays, and Ibans to quell the disturbance. Sarawak gained a Third Division of territory in 1860 for $4,500 a year. Brooke retired to England in 1863. The gutta percha resin could be taken from trees without killing them, but the practice was to cut down the trees. After Johor had been depleted by rising exports, three million trees were harvested in Sarawak between 1854 and 1875.

Many Malays were Muslims and were influenced by the writings of Patani scholar Shaikh Dawud (d. 1847), who lived in Mecca. In 1831 Sultan Ahmad’s half-Arab nephew, Tunku Kudin, took over Kedah and held it for six months until the Siamese regained control. Siam assured its vassals they would protect them from rival claimants, and Kelantan’s Sultan Muhammad I agreed to pay an indemnity. Upon his death in 1837 a civil war broke out, and Siam backed Sultan Muhammad II (r. 1838-86). In 1838 a Kedah prince led Malay forces that expelled the Siamese from Kedah again. They advanced to Patani and Singora but were defeated after a few months. The Terengganu ruler, who had supported Patani, was overthrown when Baginda Umar (r. 1839-76) came from the island of Lingga to take power and become a vassal of Siam. The next year Siam divided Kedah into four parts, each under a Malay chief and a Siamese official. In 1842 the British managed to get Sultan Ahmad restored to the throne after a gap of twenty years, but he died three years later. Penang intervened to settle a border dispute between Kedah and Perak in 1843. During the reigns of Siam’s Mongkut (r. 1851-68) and his son Chulalongkorn (r. 1868-1910), the Malayan states paid their tribute and were usually not disturbed. Siam and the British both kept the peace on the peninsula. In 1867 when some Singapore merchants complained that Kelantan was restricting trade, the Siamese made sure they complied.

In 1857 the Singapore governor sent troops to stop the taking of tolls in the Linggi River, but this had only temporary effect. In 1858 two brothers began quarreling over the throne of Pahang, and the younger Wan Ahmad fled to Bangkok, where the Sultan of Lingga had been banished by the Dutch. In 1862 a Siamese warship accompanied the Sultan and Wan Ahmad to Trengganu. The Singapore Chamber of Commerce persuaded Straits governor Orfeur Cavenagh to bombard the Sultan’s fort because he would not hand over Wan Ahmad. The Siamese complained of this violation but removed the ex-sultan the next year. Cavenagh intervened in 1862 to protect Chinese miners fleeing from Larut, and the House of Commons warned him not to interfere anymore. In 1867 the Straits Settlements were transferred from the India Office to the Colonial Office.

Many Chinese immigrated into Malaya. Under the credit ticket system the new worker in the mines received no wages but maintenance until the debt was paid. This kind of slavery of bondservants was common in Malaya. Miners banded together in a brotherhood (hui) that functioned as a union. A Chinese capitalist could form a kongsi of workers, usually of the same ethnic background, as a cooperative venture. Malays preferred farming and usually co-existed with Chinese miners. Long Ja‘far began governing Larut in 1850 and invited thousands of Chinese to come and work in the tin mines. Malays also cooperated with the Chinese such as on the gambier and pepper plantations in Johor, where a hundred thousand Chinese lived by the 1870s. Many Chinese joined secret societies. Hard times in Singapore and Penang erupted into riots in 1846, 1851, 1854, and 1861. The Chinese had enmity between the secret societies of the Hai San and Ghee Hin after fighting broke out in 1862.

Abu Bakar of Johor was educated by Christian missionaries. In 1863 he revised the Islamic law according to European ideas, and two years later he started a school with a western curriculum. In 1866 Raja Abdullah of Kelang hired the Read-Tan syndicate to collect taxes for twenty percent of the profits; but the next year Raja Mahdi led the resistance that took over Kelang when Abdullah died. Selangor sultan Abdul Samad and his son-in-law Tengku Kudin allied with Abdullah’s son Ismail. By 1870 the Fei Chew led by Yap Ah Loy in the Hai San society supported Tengku Kudin while the Kah Yeng Chew of the Ghee Hin society backed Raja Mahdi. In 1871 Raja Mahdi gained Abu Bakar of Johor as an ally, and Tengku Kudin had Kedah relations in Rembau; both sides also had financial backers. Tengku Kudin’s side drove Raja Mahdi out of Kelang to the Selangor River. When Raja Mahdi captured a Chinese merchant’s ship from Penang, the British accused him of piracy and drove him away.

Singapore secretary J. W. W. Birch promised to support Tengku Kudin and recognized Sultan Abdul Samad in Selangor, lending him a warship. However, Kudin was disliked by the Selangor chiefs, and by 1872 Mahdi’s side had gained the upper hand in the war. The Chinese factions were at war in Larut. Governor Harry Ord (1867-73) tipped the balance back by getting Pahang to help Kudin. Malays resented the interference, which was against the British policy. Conflict also arose in Perak after Sultan Ali (r. 1865-71) died. In August 1873 Penang’s Lt. Governor Anson called a meeting, and the Chinese leaders agreed to an armistice; but the proclamation by Perak’s Abdullah was ignored by Chinese headmen in Larut.

When Andrew Clarke became governor of the Straits Settlements, he organized a diplomatic conference that produced the Pangkor Treaty in January 1874. The Chinese leaders of the Ghee Hin and Hai San secret societies agreed to keep the peace or pay a fine of $50,000, and a disarmament commission supervised the surrender of weapons, destruction of stockades, and the release of prisoners. The Menteri Ngah Ibrahim was confirmed as ruler of Larut, and his chief of police, Captain T. C. S. Speedy, was to be assistant resident in Perak, where Abdullah was recognized as sultan. His son Ismail did not attend and was given a pension. The British resident was to give advice on the collection of revenues but not on Malay religion or customs. The Malay treaty also included discussion, as they preferred group decision-making.

A month later Selangor issues were negotiated at Larut. Some pirates were put on trial for killing eight British subjects, and they were convicted and executed under Sultan Abdul Samad and Viceroy Tengku Kudin. Clarke appointed Kudin’s financial partner J. G. Davidson as resident in Selangor. British officials were established in Larut, Lower Perak, Kelang, Langat, and Sungai Ujung by the end of 1874. Abdullah farmed out tax collection to Cheng Tee for $26,000 and received half in advance. British officers acted as judges and appointed magistrates. The poor could be enslaved by mortgaging themselves for credit. The British investigated slavery, but Sultan Abdul Samad of Selangor refused to let his slaves be counted.

Resident Birch tried to collect taxes in Perak for the state that previously had been collected by the chiefs, and he gave asylum to escaping bondservants. His proclamations were torn down, and on November 2 1875 he was killed by a spear while putting up notices. Raja Mahdi of Selangor was arrested in Johor for allegedly planning an attack, and skirmishes broke out in Sungai Ujung. The British backed Datuk Kelana against Datuk Bandar, who surrendered. The next year Maharaja Lela and two others were convicted and hanged for the murder of Birch. Sultan Abdullah, Ismail, and other chiefs were banished. Raja Yusuf of Perak was absolved and was appointed regent. Captain Bloomfield Douglas replaced Birch in Selangor; but he was so arrogant and incompetent that he was forced to resign in 1882.

William Jervois became governor in June 1875 and ordered his residents to turn from advising to action by controlling revenue, police, and official appointments. He threatened to depose Abdullah if he did not cooperate on financial and judicial matters. Jervois favored Abu Bakar and let his client Tunku Antah rule what became the Sri Menanti confederacy. They allowed trade and went to Abu Bakar to settle their disputes. By 1878 Abu Bakar had become advisor to all the Negeri Sembilan states except Sungai Ujung. In 1877 William Pickering established a Chinese Protectorate in Singapore with officials who knew at least one Chinese language. The Straits Settlements of Penang, Melaka, and Singapore had about 115 Chinese schools by 1884. Indian immigration was legalized in the Protected States in 1884, and subsidized steamship fares from India began in 1887. The 1890 Dangerous Societies Ordinance suppressed the Chinese secret societies.

Frederick Weld governed the Straits Settlements 1880-87 and tried to persuade Sri Menanti leaders to deal with Singapore rather than the maharaja. Weld sent the capable Frank Swettenham to Selangor in 1883. In five years Selangor’s trade went from $2 million to $11 million. Abu Bakar visited London in 1885 and was assured that no resident would be appointed in Johor. A new treaty recognized him as a sultan, and he agreed to let Singapore handle his foreign affairs. Abu Bakar promulgated a constitution in April 1895, and he died two months later. In 1885 a British officer was stationed in Sri Menanti without a treaty. In 1889 the new Negeri Sembilan confederacy was formed, and Sungai Ujung and Jelebu joined it in 1895.

Bendahar Ahmad of Pahang began visiting Singapore in 1880, and he forgave Abu Bakar for having supported his brother Mutahir in the 1858 Pahang War. Ahmad became a sultan in 1881, but he did not sign a treaty with the British until October 1887. After a Chinese British subject was murdered in 1888, Ahmad requested a British resident with guarantees; Weld’s successor Cecil Clementi-Smith sent a resident but not the guarantees. The new Resident J. P. Rodger considered the chiefs ignorant and set up courts of law, police, and a state council. People did not like the issuing of jungle passes, restrictions on carrying weapons, corvée road building, registering slaves, and centralizing finances. Paying salaries meant that chiefs could not collect revenue. Abdul Rahman, the Datuk Bahaman, led the opposition to the British, and in 1891 the Resident persuaded Sultan Ahmad to take away his title. Bahaman declared open rebellion, beginning the Pahang War. Ahmad supported him at first but later sided with the British. Sikh troops were brought in from Selangor and Perak. When a general amnesty was declared in 1892, most of the chiefs surrendered.

Hugh Low was a capable resident in Perak 1877-89. He formed a State Council with Malays and Chinese in December 1877. Under the Resident district officers were responsible for the treasury, land rents, revenue collection, law and order, courts, public health, and supervising the local leaders who were called penghulu. Low transferred to the Penghulus power that Birch had given to the police, and in 1883 debt slavery was abolished in Perak. Tin mining helped raise Perak’s revenues from $388,372 in 1879 to $1,827,176 in 1887. In the first census taken in 1891 half of the people in Perak, Selangor, and Sungai Ujung were Chinese. In 1893 Johor had 210,000 Chinese out of a population of 300,000. In 1890 about 95,000 Chinese arrived in Singapore, and five years later that number was doubled.

In 1877 the Austrian Baron von Overbeck with capital from Alfred Dent purchased large tracts in North Borneo from the sultans of Brunei and Sulu. Dent bought out Overbeck, and London chartered the British North Borneo Company in 1881; William Treacher became the first governor. Weld negotiated a treaty, and in 1888 Sarawak, Brunei, and North Borneo were brought into the British fold.

Malaya and the British 1896-1941

On July 1, 1896 Pahang, Perak, Selangor, and Negeri Sembilan became the Federated Malay States (FMS) with Kuala Lumpur as the capital. Swettenham became the first Resident General. He unified the four state civil services into the Malayan Civil Service (MCS) and centralized the departments of police, public works, posts, telegraph, and railways. No Malay ruler symbolized the new state. Education was expanded, but still only the privileged few could attend English schools. Boys were lured into the Malayan schools in Perak and Selangor by opportunities to read the Qur’an and play soccer.

Swettenham convened the first Conference of Government Medical Officers in 1898 at Kuala Lumpur, and two years later he formed the Institute for Medical Research. Malayan legislation had made smallpox vaccination compulsory in 1891. Ronald Ross while in India discovered in 1897 that mosquitoes transmit malaria. Laborers would not use nets or take quinine; but Dr. Malcolm Watson by draining and filling swamps at Klang and Port Swettenham reduced the malaria cases there from 522 in 1901 to 32 in 1903. Watson also had streams put in pipes to prevent mosquito breeding, and in 1914 he prevented breeding by spraying streams with oil. In 1907 W. L. Braddon proved that those who ate white rice got beriberi, but those who ate brown rice did not. By 1910 research showed that the vitamins were in the outer shell. George Maxwell led a campaign against yaws in 1921, and hookworm was attacked in 1926. These and other health efforts significantly reduced the mortality rate in Malaya.

Britain and Siam made a secret agreement in 1897 that Siam would not alienate Terengganu and Kelantan to a third power. In March 1909 in exchange for a loan from FMS revenues for railway construction the Siamese agreed to withdraw from the northern Malay states of Terengganu, Kelantan, Kedah, and Perlis, and these became the Unfederated Malay States (UMS). In the treaty the British gave up their extraterritorial privileges in Siam, and after that British subjects could be tried in Siamese courts. Sultan Zainal Abidin (r. 1881-1918) of Terengganu called the Siamese thieves and would only let the British have consular powers. Also in 1909 Ibrahim accepted a financial advisor in Johor. That year the British stopped farming out revenue and began collecting taxes. Governor John Anderson (1904-11) excluded non-Europeans from the civil service but in 1910 set up a segregated section for Malays. Malay society came to reflect the class structure of British society. In 1914 Johor signed a treaty that permitted a general advisor, and Terengganu accepted a British resident in 1919.

Mat Salleh began a rebellion in Borneo in 1895; he was killed in 1900, but the resistance lasted until 1905. Charles Brooke ruled Sarawak from 1868 to 1917 and took over territory from Brunei. He wanted to preserve the indigenous way of life in Sarawak and did not allow speculation by European developers. His son Vyner Brook became the third white raja of Sarawak; but he spent much of his time in England, and the Supreme Council did not meet after 1927.

R. J. Wilkinson became the federal inspector of schools in 1903 and introduced the study of Malay literature in Rumi that uses the Roman alphabet. However, when the education departments of the Straits Settlements and FMS were amalgamated in 1906, his position was eliminated. Kang Youwei fled from China in 1899 and came to Singapore, where he promoted education that combined Confucian ideas with modern science. He founded the first Chinese school for girls in Singapore, and six big schools were operating by 1906. Tan Jiak Kim helped found the King Edward VII Medical College in 1905. That year the Malay College opened at Kuala Kangsar in Johor, and in 1910 the Malay Administrative Service began accepting their graduates.

Sayyid Shaikh Al-Haji (1867-1934) came from Cairo and started the Al-Imam magazine in 1906. He advocated reforming Islam and supported female education. The Islamic pondok schools were named so because students lived in “huts” near their teacher. To’ Kenali came to Kelantan in 1908 and attracted three hundred pupils. The Council of Religion and Malay Custom was founded there in 1915, and the conservative magazine Pengasoh began publishing in Kelantan in 1918.

When the Great War began in August 1914, German residents of Singapore were interned, and German ships and property were seized. In February 1915 the 5th Light Infantry, ordered to go to Hong Kong, mutinied at Singapore because the Punjabi Muslims did not want to fight the Muslims in Turkey. They murdered their officers, released German prisoners, and roamed the streets, killing Europeans. After trials 37 mutineers were executed, 77 were transported, and 12 were imprisoned. European men were conscripted into the military, and Singapore was garrisoned by British troops for the rest of the war.

Sun Yat-sen visited Malaya and spent more than a year in the south lecturing and organizing. In 1910 he was in Penang for nearly six months. He founded the Overseas Affairs Bureau in 1922 to help Chinese migrants. R. O. Winsted revived Malay vernacular study when he was assistant director of education 1916-21 and when he was director from 1924 to 1931. The Sultan Idris Training College (SITC) was founded in 1922 at Tanjong Malim in Perak to train Malay teachers in gardening and agriculture. Two years later the Malay Translation Bureau at Kuala Lumpur moved to SITC, and in 1929 their staff began publishing the Majallah Guru magazine for teachers.

In 1921 Malaya had 1,627,108 Malays, 1,173,354 Chinese, 471,628 Indians, and about 46,000 others. Anti-Japanese demonstrations by Chinese teachers and students in June 1919 led to martial law being declared in the Chinese towns in Singapore and Penang. The Registration of Schools Ordinance banned the teaching of undesirable political doctrines. The 1923 Labor Code required that estates with ten or more children provide education. In 1925 Malaya suppressed the Guomindang branches because of anti-British disturbances and strikes. Most Chinese immigrants were men, and the numbers of women gradually increased. Only a few hundred Japanese immigrated each year, but most of those were women for the brothels. In 1927 the immigration of prostitutes was forbidden, and in 1930 the brothels were closed. The sultans withdrew from the Federal Council in 1927, but they still signed the laws presented to them. In 1928 Haji Abdul Rahman led a revolt with a thousand armed men in Trengganu, but the Malay police forced them back into the interior. Rahman was exiled to Mecca, and other leaders were sent to Singapore.

For a half century the opium trade provided more than half of the Straits Settlements revenue, but in the 1920s the Government reduced opium consumption by making all addicts register. Spurred on by world opinion and the League of Nations, the international drug traffic was controlled, and Malaya closed registration at the end of 1934. By 1938 the amount of opium sold was a quarter of what it had been twenty years earlier. By then Malaya had invested abroad $57 million from opium revenues.

High Commissioner Laurence Guillemard (1920-27) began letting organizations nominate municipal commissioners for Singapore in 1921. He tried to decentralize the government by abolishing the Chief Secretary in 1925 and by changing the Legislative Council in 1927. In 1931 High Commissioner Cecil Clementi warned against a centralized modern government. He wanted to support local rulers and dissolve the British FMS to form a Pan-Malayan Union with all the states of the Malayan peninsula. Malaya lacked a university, but the Federal Trade School was established in 1926, and the Agricultural College at Serdang and a technical school began in 1931. By then the combined number of Chinese and Indians in British Malaya had surpassed the number of Malayans. Chinese textbooks that were anti-British were banned. In 1930 Chinese founded the Malayan Communist Party (MCP). The Central Indian Association of Malaya was formed in 1936 to protect the interests of Indians. Indian education was poor until an inspector of schools with knowledge of Tamil was appointed in 1937; then they began training Tamil teachers. Of the 44 English schools in the Straits Settlements and FMS in 1938 only two were open to girls. That year Malaya had more than a thousand Chinese schools with 91,534 pupils and 4,000 teachers, but only 36 of these schools had secondary classes.

The position of Chief Secretary was abolished in 1935, and the State Councils were enlarged. Strikes erupted in 1936 because wages lowered during the Depression had not been restored. In late 1938 the leftists Ibrahim Yaacob and Burhanuddin Al-Helmy founded the Young Malay Union or Kesatuan Melayu Muda (KMM). They worked for Malayan independence and adopted non-cooperation when the war broke out in 1939. The Singapore Malay Association founded the Utusan Melayu newspaper in 1939, and the Pan-Malayan Malay Congress met at Kuala Lumpur in August. Malaya had about 37,000 Communists. May-day rallies and strikes in 1940 provoked a reaction that arrested more than 200 Communist leaders by July. The British also arrested KMM leaders, but they were released before the fall of Singapore. Eleven state associations, including Sarawak and Brunei, met at Singapore in December 1940, but they could not agree on a pan-Malayan organization. The 1941 census counted more Chinese than Malayans; but because Singapore was 77% Chinese, the rest of Malaya still had more Malayans. There was little intermarriage because most Muslim Malayans considered the immigrants heathens.

Canning and new technology made tin especially valuable, and the British regulated the mining with licenses to prevent monopolizing streams for sluices. The revenue increased from $500,000 in 1876 to $3,600,000 in 1888. Chinese workers excelled at mining tin until the Europeans took over the management with dredging, which required more capital. In 1887 the Straits Trading Company had $150,000 in Kuala Lumpur, and by 1898 this had increased to $1,250,000. In 1904 the Straits Settlement dollar was linked to sterling. That year Malaya produced 56% of the world’s tin, but discoveries in Bolivia and Nigeria reduced this to 36% by 1929. The bucket dredge changed Malayan tin mining in 1912. In 1913 Europeans owned one quarter of Malaya’s tin mines, but by 1937 about eighty European companies had two-thirds of them. A surplus and the Depression caused the price per ton to fall from £200 in 1929 to £120 in 1931. The London Tin Corporation controlled most of the tin in Malaya, Nigeria, and Bolivia, and so representatives from these countries made an agreement with the Dutch East Indies to limit production to one-third of their output in 1929. Thousands of Malayans became unemployed, and in 1938 Malaya accounted for only 26% of world output. Malaya restricted immigration from 1931 to 1947.

While the Chinese worked in tin mines and the Indians on rubber plantations, almost all the rice growers were Malays. A Department of Agriculture was formed in 1905, and the next year a $1 million irrigation project was completed in Perak, opening up 70,000 new acres for paddy. The 1913 Malay Reservations Act allowed the FMS to set aside land for Malays to grow rice and made it illegal for them to sell it to non-Malays. Yet Malaya had to import two-thirds of its rice from Burma and Siam, and many Malayans found they could make more money with rubber trees. By 1940 only 15.5% of the land had crops, and more than half of that was rubber trees.

T. H. Hill from Ceylon began a coffee plantation in 1882, and Malayan coffee production reached its peak in 1897; but the insect that devastated Ceylon’s crops and competition from Brazil ruined coffee production in Malaya. Henry Wickham brought rubber seeds from the Amazon to Singapore in 1877. H. N. Ridley tried to get people to plant them and was called “mad Ridley.” When T. H. Hill abandoned coffee, he began planting rubber trees in 1898. Ridley discovered that a single tap could extract the latex every day without harming the trees. Profit gradually increased, and in 1913 Malaya exported 33,000 tons of rubber to Europe and America. The next year Malaya produced more than half the world’s rubber. Most of the rubber workers came from southern India, and the British abolished the indentured labor system in all their territories in 1910.

During the First World War a lack of shipping caused a surplus of rubber to build up, and the 1910 price of $5 a pound fell to thirty cents in 1920. In 1922 the Stevenson Commission advised Malaya and Ceylon to restrict exports, and the price rebounded to $2 by 1925. Meanwhile Indonesia increased its production of rubber to 40% of the world total by 1927. The Depression and a surplus caused the price of rubber to fall to five cents a pound in 1932. In 1934 the British were joined by the Dutch, French, and Siam to restrict 98% of the world’s rubber production until 1938. Smallholders in Malaya could produce rubber for a half-cent a pound, but the large estates could not cut costs lower than twelve cents. However, the Europeans owned the estates and controlled the market, and the smallholders found their share reduced from 48% in 1934 to 32% in 1938.

Palm oil production developed after 1924 when three Guthries rubber companies became Oil Palms of Malaya Ltd. In the 1930s Malaya’s share of world palm oil production went from one percent to eleven percent. The Japanese began mining iron ore in Johor in 1920, and in 1928 a Japanese firm acquired a 50-year lease in Trengganu. By 1938 the Nippon Mining Company had a labor force of 3,000 (mostly Indians and Chinese), and more than 1.5 million tons of iron ore were exported to Japan that year.

Malaya Invaded and in Conflict 1941-50

In December 1941 the British had only one Australian and two Indian divisions in Malaya. Japanese forces invaded northern Malaya on December 8, 1941. Two days later they sank the British battleships Repulse and Prince of Wales off Kuantan. The Japanese invaded Borneo with 10,000 men on December 25 and occupied Sarawak, Brunei, and North Borneo with 25,000 troops. In January 1942 their armies defeated an Indian division and took over central Malaya, moving south down the peninsula. The British released all the Communists from jail, hoping that they would go underground and resist the Japanese. The northern shore of Singapore had no fortifications, and the Japanese attacked from there on February 8. General Arthur Percival capitulated to General Yamashita a week later. The Japanese killed or captured about 166,600 men while losing about 15,000. The Japanese made Singapore their center for governing all of Malaya and Sumatra, and they renamed it Syonan. Before evacuating, the British destroyed machinery for mining tin and processing rubber, and the Japanese were not able to rebuild the equipment. In the first week the Japanese implemented sook ching (purification by suffering) and claimed they executed only 5,000 anti-Japanese Chinese men, but Chinese estimates were six to eight times that. Chinese resisters formed the Malayan Peoples Anti-Japanese Army (MPAJA) in the jungle.

The Japanese banned the KMM in June 1942, and many of them joined the MPAJA. Chinese associations were disbanded, and only 180 of the 1,369 Chinese schools were allowed to operate and were required to use Japanese. Of the peninsula’s 885 Malay schools, 721 were reopened within a year. The Japanese organized the paramilitary youth group Pembela Tanah Ayer (PETA) under Ibrahim Yaacob. The Japanese Kempeitai found most of the Communist leaders of the MCP Central Committee and eliminated them; but Lai Tek, who had been secretary-general since 1938, was secretly released and spied for Japan. They made the elderly Lim Boon Keng raise $50 million for Japanese war aims by June. About 20,000 of the 45,000 Indian prisoners of war joined the Indian National Army (INA) under Mohan Singh. Subhas Chandra Bose arrived at Singapore in July 1943 to revive the Indian Independence League and build up the INA.

Many Chinese and Indians were resettled in agricultural areas to increase food production. In August 1943 Japan ceded the Unfederated Malay States (UMF) of Kedah, Perlis, Kelantan, and Terengganu to Siam to make more soldiers available for their campaign in Burma. That month a rebellion at Jesselton in Borneo against conscription resulted in the beheading of 175 and the death of 131 others in captivity at Labuan. Another Borneo uprising in 1944 was discovered and punished with mass executions. About one-sixth of the people on the west coast of Borneo died by execution or from ill treatment.

Communal violence broke out in May 1945 when Malays led by Penghulu Salleh attacked Chinese towns in Johor. About 7,000 mostly Chinese MPAJA had stockpiled weapons in the jungle, and they began killing Malays for having collaborated with the Japanese. Ibrahim Yaacob remained a Malay spokesman, and in July 1945 the Japanese allowed the formation of the Union of Peninsular Indonesians. Dr. Burhanuddin Al-Helmy urged racial harmony and Malay unity while trying to establish self-government, calling for the Republic of Greater Indonesia. British troops landed at Penang on September 3 and at Singapore two days later, but the main force did not come ashore until September 9. The British Military Administration (BMA) tried to stop the communal violence, and they were aided by Onn bin Jaafar of Johor. They persuaded most of the MPAJA to turn in their arms for a war gratuity of $350, and they joined the victory parade at Kuala Lumpur on September 12.

The Communists united more than sixty trade unions into the General Labour Union (GLU) at Singapore in October 1945. The British had a plan for a centralized Malayan Union to combine the FMS and UMS with Penang and Melaka. Harold MacMichael was sent to Malaya in October to investigate whether the sultans should stay on their thrones and sign new treaties; all had signed by the end of the year. English-educated leftists formed the Malayan Democratic Union in Singapore in December and affiliated with the MCP. The BMA jailed GLU’s secretary-general Soon Khwong in January 1946; but 173,000 workers went on a general strike and stopped transportation for two days until he was released. Another GLU strike of 12,000 railway workers succeeded after two months.

The British announced the Malayan Union Plan in January 1946. All those who had lived in Malaya for ten of the last fifteen years were to be citizens with equal rights regardless of race or religion, and new immigrants would become citizens after five years. The Malayan sultans lost all sovereignty to the British except for an Advisory Council on Muslim issues, and so they rejected the Union and sent a mission to London. At a Singapore ceremony early in 1946 Southeast Asia Commander Louis Mountbatten awarded eight MPAJA leaders medals. Public health services and sanitation were improved. Schools reopened despite teacher shortages, and by 1946 twice as many children were attending school than had before the war. Vernacular schools taught English as a second language.

Food shortages and high prices led to rationing and price subsidies for rice. The Communists organized demonstrations and strikes, and ethnic violence broke out again. Onn bin Jaafar brought together 41 Malay associations in the All-Malay Congress at Kuala Lumpur in March 1946. Malays boycotted the British inauguration of Edward Gent as the first governor of the Malayan Union on April 1, and they went into mourning for a week. In May the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) was established with Onn as president. Their Congress declared the MacMichael treaties invalid and demanded the Malayan Union be repealed. The British kept Singapore as a free port and a naval base, and in July 1946 Labuan, North Borneo, and Sarawak became Crown Colonies.

The Malayan Indian Congress (MIC) formed in August, but they were excluded from the negotiations on a Federation by the UMNO and the British Commissioner-General Malcolm MacDonald of the Working Committee. Citizenship was made more restrictive by requiring fifteen years residence, a declaration of permanent settlement, and competence in Malay or English. Elections for the Executive and Legislative Councils were to be introduced as soon as possible. In December 1946 the All-Malay Council of Joint Action (AMCJA) was organized at Singapore and included the MIC. Two months later more leftists joined, and the Chinese leader Tan Cheng Lock became chairman of the alliance of AMCJA and the Center of People’s Power (PUTERA).

The Malayan Communist Party (MCP) did not realize that their leader Lai Tek had been a Japanese informer until they suspected his moderate policies that supported the British and put off an armed uprising in 1947. In March he hid in Singapore with party funds and took them to Hong Kong in August. He fled to Thailand, but an intercepted MCP message indicated that he had been eliminated. Meanwhile the General Labour Union became the Pan-Malayan Federation of Trade Unions (PMFTU) early in 1947 with a membership of 450,000. Lower rubber prices and wages stimulated more than 300 major strikes in 1947. The British declared strikes and processions illegal and began arresting and deporting Chinese Communists. The Malayan Union was dissolved, and the Federation of Malaya was established on February 1, 1948.

Chin Peng became secretary-general of the MCP and favored armed insurrection. A Conference of South Asian Communists organized by the Soviet-dominated World Federation of Democratic Youth met at Calcutta in February 1948, and the MCP with 7,000 soldiers planned a revolt. Three European estate managers and two others were murdered in Perak on June 16, and two days later a State of Emergency was declared in Perak. That month there were 67 murders and attempted murders, and the Emergency was extended to all of Malaya, allowing the Government to detain “terrorists” without trial. In July the MCP was declared illegal. By the end of 1948 hundreds had been deported, and 1,779 communist sympathizers were being detained. The number of special constables was increased to 24,000 by September. The MCP went underground and called themselves the Min Yuen (People’s Movement) and the Malayan Races Liberation Army (MRLA). The Malayan Chinese Association (MCA) was formed in February 1949 with Tan Cheng Lock as president to work for independence, and within three years they had 300,000 members.

Resistance to British rule in Sarawak culminated when a Malay school-teacher at Sibu assassinated Governor Duncan Stewart in 1949. Four conspirators were hanged, and seven others were given long prison sentences. The recruitment and training of 26,000 Malay police for jungle warfare helped subdue the revolt by the middle of 1949.

In October the Raffles College and the King Edward VII College of Medicine were combined into the University of Malaya. Rebuilding the tin dredges took two years, but by 1950 tin production surpassed pre-war levels. Rubber rebounded faster with three times pre-war production that year. American rearmament stimulated these industries. In March 1950 General Harold Briggs began directing Emergency operations and implemented his plan of new security measures as a war. He introduced War Executive Committees to coordinate federal, state, and district levels of law enforcement. Men were conscripted into the army and the police, and employment was controlled. Chinese squatter communities in Min Yuen areas were moved, and eventually a half million people were relocated in five hundred new villages.

Siam, Cambodia, and Laos 1800-1950

Copyright © 2007 by Sanderson Beck

This chapter has been published in the book SOUTH ASIA 1800-1950.
For ordering information, please click here.


British India 1800-1848
British India's Wars 1848-1881
India's Renaissance 1881-1905
India's Freedom Struggle 1905-1918
Gandhi and India 1919-1933
Liberating India and Pakistan 1934-1950
Tibet, Nepal, and Ceylon 1800-1950
Burma, Malaya and the British 1800-1950
Siam, Cambodia, and Laos 1800-1950
Vietnam and the French 1800-1950
Indonesia and the Dutch 1800-1950
Australia to 1950
New Zealand to 1950
Summary and Evaluation


World Chronological Index
Chronology of Asia & Africa to 1800
Chronology of Asia & Africa 1800-1950
Chronology of South Asia to 1950

BECK index