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Elaine Benes: I think they call it Myanmar now.
J. Peterman: It'll always be Burma to me.

This country is known in English by two names. Firstly, its colonial name, Burma.note  Secondly, the name the ruling military government has given it in 1989, Myanmar. The renaming is understandable, because "Burma" led to confusion as the country is made up of one large ethnic group called the Burmans (or Bamar) and a huge number of smaller ones, who are collectively called Burmese; Myanmar is a more neutral term. However sensible the renaming, a lot of media outlets and governments continue to use "Burma" as a symbolic protest against the military dictatorship that ruled it from 1962 to 2010. The BBC now calls it "Myanmar", but note that the very first paragraph also refers to it as Burma. Basically, it's Asia's version of Britain Versus the UK, or the Derry/Londonderry name dispute in Northern Ireland.

Myanmar (Burmese: မြန်မာ, Myăma), officially known as the Republic of the Union of Myanmar (Burmese: ပြည်ထောင်စု သမ္မတ မြန်မာနိုင်ငံတော်‌, Pyidaunzu Thanmăda Myăma Nainngandaw), is a country located in Southeast Asia, bordering Bangladesh, China, India, Laos, and Thailand. The country is big; at 676,578 sq km (261,227 sq mi)note , it's the second-largest country in Southeast Asia (after Indonesia, which is just plain gigantic). It has a population of 57 million as of 2022. Myanmar has a long and rich history, but most of it has been eclipsed by its infamous reputation as the poorest and most conflict-ridden country in the region.

Myanmar is geographically divided into two parts: Lower and Upper Myanmar. Both regions are drained by the Irrawaddy River. Lower Myanmar mostly consists of fertile plains and lowlands, while Upper Myanmar is littered with hills and mountains, reaching up to the Himalayas. The highest mountain of Southeast Asia, Hkakabo Razi, is located in the far north, on the border with China. While the most populated areas surround the former capital of Yangon in Lower Myanmar, Upper Myanmar is historically and culturally more important to the Bamars.

Upper Myanmar has long been inhabited by people speaking Sino-Tibetan languages, beginning with the Pyu city-states, which arose in the central Irrawaddy River basin during the 2nd century BCE. Lower Myanmar was dominated by the Mon, a people related to the Khmers, whose script, inherited from the Pallavas of Southern India, was eventually adopted by the Burmese to write their language. The Bamars migrated to the region from Southern China during the 7th century, and became dominant with the fall of Pyu in the 9th century at the hands of the Nanzhao of Yunnan. The Bagan Kingdom, founded by Anawrahata in 1044, marked the ascent of the Bamars, and, before the arrival of the Tai peoples, was one of Mainland Southeast Asia's two principal powers, alongside the Khmer Empire. Theravada Buddhism spread among the population during Bagan rule, and thousands of temples and pagodas were constructed around the royal capital.

The downfall of Bagan started with economic challenges and internal political disputes caused by the continual donations of lands to the Buddhist clergy, coupled with the Mongol invasions of the 13th century, which devastated the capital and led to prolonged anarchy. Upper Myanmar was divided into several Burmese petty states that fought for supremacy, while Lower Myanmar saw the rise of the ethnically Mon Hanthawaddy Kingdom. This was further complicated by the arrival of Tai-speaking peoples, including the Shan and the Thais, the latter of whom became the Bamars' main enemy until the arrival of the British. Bamars would not achieve the past glory of Bagan until the 16th century, when Toungoo Kingdom rose following its conquest of Hanthawaddy. The Toungoos had plans to expand further east, but were checked by the Thais under the Ayutthaya dynasty. Wars between the Bamars and Thais waxed and waned for three centuries, arguably the most intense rivalry between states in precolonial Southeast Asia, and was fought mainly over disputes surrounding the territories of Lan Na (a formerly independent Northern Thai kingdom that was conquered by Toungoo in the mid-16th century), and Tanintharyi (a part of the old Bagan realm, but conquered by Ayutthaya in the 13th century). Under the reign of Bayinnaung, Myanmar reached its zenith, as Toungoo conquered Ayutthaya and ended up ruling a country that stretched from Manipur in the west to present-day Laos in the east, and from the snowy Himalayas in the north to the coasts of northern Malay peninsula in the south, though this proved to be short-lived. In the end, the states ended up exchanging territories, with Ayutthaya annexing Lan Na (currently part of Northern Thailand) while ceding Tanintharyi to the Konbaung dynasty, a spiritual successor state of Toungoo, which fell in 1752. Konbaung had previously quashed a brief resurgence of Hanthawaddy, resulting in the massive migration of Bamars to the former Mon realm, assimilating the Mon and making Lower Myanmar an integral part of the Burmese nation.

In the 16th century, the Europeans reached the region, beginning with the Portuguese, then the French, followed by the British. Border disputes with British India eventually resulted in three Anglo-Burmese Wars that progressively clipped the territories and independence of the Konbaung Kingdom, culminating in a total British conquest of Myanmar in 1885. Myanmar was administratively considered a province of British India, a situation that remained until the 1937 Government of Burma Act, which gave British Burma the status of a Crown Colony. During World War II, the Japanese invaded Myanmar. The Burmese revolutionaries supported Japan at first, as it promised its "eastern brother" independence from the British. When it became clear that the Japanese weren't interested to do so (something not helped when they briefly gave away Myanmar's Shan territories to Axis-affiliated Thailand), the Anti-Fascist Organization, founded by Aung San in 1944, negotiated with the British to claw Myanmar back from Japan, under the condition that they would hold talks for a proper post-war Burmese independence. Japan was driven out of Myanmar after a long, torturous campaign in May 1945. The Anti-Fascist Organization subsequently became a political party called the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League, but rifts between their leaders soon resurfaced. Both conservative and communist factions of the AFPFL were sidelined during negotiations with the British that wrapped up and gave Myanmar independence in 1948, which would prove to have dire consequences. The Communist Party of Burma, the Red Flag Communist Party, and the People's Volunteer Organization were insurgent groups led by former members of the AFPFL, and they all declared war against the central government immediately upon independence. To make matters worse, the new government failed to honor the Panglong Agreement (which promised certain ethnic groups autonomy and the option to secede), causing strained relations between the Bamar majority and the country's many ethnic minorities.

The AFPFL dominated Myanmar's politics until 1962, though by its last years it was increasingly influenced by the Tatmadaw — the military. First Prime Minister U Nu invited General Ne Win to form a caretaker government as the country was attempting to form ceasefires with the insurgent groups, as well dealing with a demand from the ethnic Shans to be given autonomy as promised to them by the independence deal with the British. Ne Win, assuming that the Shans were attempting to break away, staged a coup d'etat in 1962 and declared a one-party state called the Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma, under the militarily-founded Burma Socialist Programme Party. Many ethnic Shan (including the country's first President, Sao Shwe Thaik) were massacred or imprisoned, further fueling the Shan insurgency that had been underway since the 1950s. In the 1970s, the military also began their infamous ethnic cleansing campaign against the Rohingya, a majority-Muslim ethnic group in Rakhine State, whom the military considered to be illegal Bengali immigrants (in reality, the name "Rohingya" was already encountered in the 18th century, and ancestors of the Rohingya had been living in Rakhine since as early as the 15th century). Myanmar under the Socialist Republic era was akin to North Korea in being a totalitarian, isolationist, xenophobic state whose closest foreign ally was China. However, whereas North Korea is a homogeneous country that could be easily subdued by the hands of a common "paternal leader", Myanmar is a multiethnic country with many different ethnic groups that have differing views of the world, making it impossible to impose a totalitarian mindset from early on.

The military relaxed its isolationist stance in 1988, when massive pro-democracy protests spurred by an economic crisis erupted, but was unaccommodating to democracy itself, as it staged another coup that continued the dictatorship until 2010. Attempts to give democratic figures (including Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of the country's founding father, who received a Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her role in the 1988 protests) political power were always stymied by the military. In 2005, the junta moved their capital from Yangon to a purpose built city, Naypyidaw, ostensibly because of a prophecy that Myanmar would be conquered by a foreign invader from the sea, but more likely because it could be designed to make urban insurgency very hard, unlike the sprawling Yangon.

In 2010, the military junta stepped down, and handed power to a civilian government after flawed elections. However, the military continued to have strong ties with the government. Under President Thein Sein, Myanmar democratized and thawed its relationship with the world, leading Myanmar to chair ASEAN for the first time in 2014, as well as facilitating for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi from her years-long house arrest. This came at the backdrop of continual insurgencies and atrocities against the country's various ethnic minorities, however, including the intensifying persecution of the Rohingya, which reached its nadir in 2017, when an insurgent campaign led the military to banish the majority of the Rohingya population to Bangladesh, where they remain to this day.

The decade of democracy came to an end in 2021. When the National League for Democracy (NLD) won 396 out of 476 seats in parliament in the 2020 Myanmar general election—which was a bigger margin of victory than in 2015—the military, claiming without evidence that the votes were fraudulent, overthrew the government in a coup d'état, detaining and disposing president Win Myint and state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, disposing twenty-four other ministers and deputies, and establishing Commander-in-Chief of Defence Services Min Aung Hlaing as the country's new leader. They declared the results of the election invalid and a year-long state of emergency was put in place, stating that new elections would be held after the state of emergency ends even though most of the country's citizens were satisfied with the previous election's results. Needless to say, most of Myanmar's citizens were not willing to go back to military rule. Massive country-wide protests followed; while the protesters have been largely peaceful and nonviolent, the military has responded violently, killing hundreds of civilians, including children, and detaining thousands more. The country eventually sank into a full-blown civil war, as the protests evolved into an armed insurgency with the aim of overthrowing the military. The civil war is ongoing and has killed over 30,000 people, while internally displacing up to a million people.

In fiction, Myanmar is generally a nasty Holiday in Cambodia, portrayed as ruled by an oppressive and genocidal military junta with little regard for human rights or for political dissidents. Then again, in a place where using a modem without permission carried a 15-year prison term under the junta's regime...

Appearances by this country and its inhabitants in fiction:

  • In Stuart Slade's The Salvation War Naypyidaw has to be taken out during one of the battles against the forces of either Heaven or Hell.
  • Its people appear as the villains in Rambo IV, which proved highly popular with Karen rebels (especially since the government banned it).
  • Mentioned in Spitting Image's "I've Never Met a Nice South African", as featuring unicorns. The BBC noted it as rather ironic, as a song that was ridiculing the evils of The Apartheid Era referred to a country that would later do even worse things.
  • Mentioned by Alfred in The Dark Knight, when he had visited it when it was under colonial rule and encountered a mad diamond thief.
  • "The Road to Mandalay", poem by Rudyard Kipling.
  • Appears in an episode of Seinfeld in which J. Peterman has Gone Native (and insane) in a parody of Heart of Darkness. The business over the name is also mentioned.
  • Burma has a Fictional Counterpart in Ligon, a Fictional Country in the works of Kir Bulychev, based on his time there. Bulychev himself, his fame as a science fiction writer aside, was also one of the leading specialists on Medieval Burma.
  • French-Canadian cartoonist Guy Delisle did a book, "Burma Chronicles," about his year living there with his wife and son for his wife's job with Medecins Sans Frontieres France.
  • Author George Orwell was sent out here as a policeman responsible to the British colonial administration. While here, he became a friend of the family of Spike Milligan (then aged around ten), whose father had been posted here. The experience of Burma shaped his dislike of British imperialism and his later opposition to it. He refers to it in two books, Burmese Days and Shooting An Elephant.
  • An episode of the short-lived The Philanthropist series has Teddy go there in after he's publicly accused of endorsing the Myanmar junta (the show was filmed prior to the junta step-down), as his company has dealings with the Myanmar government, and their forced labor. After visiting the country and finding out the truth for himself, Teddy is forced to further cooperate with the junta in order to get his bodyguard out of prison.
  • Mentioned frequently in the McAuslan series — the author and his expy/main character served in Burma and it is something of a spiritual prequel to his memoir Quartered Safe Out Here.
  • Briefly mentioned in the Arachnid manga. Dinoponera was born in Burma, but, while still a baby, was taken from her Doomed Hometown by a wandering mercenary to be raised in Thailand.
  • Splinter Cell has three late-game missions in Yangon, 2 of them taking place at/around a Chinese Embassy where a renegade Chinese general who wants to nuke Taiwan is hiding out, and one at a abattoir where US soldiers and Chinese diplomats are being held hostage.
  • "Celerium" in Call of Duty: Black Ops II takes place in the mountains there, where you are tasked to attack a hidden Cordis Die facility located there.
  • The Hasty Heart is about a group of Allied soldiers in a field hospital at the end of and immediately after the war, one of whom is dying but has been Locked Out of the Loop.
  • In which the sequel of Hard Target, Hard Target 2 takes place, where our protagonist, Wes Baylor, a guilt-ridden MMA fighter was tricked into becoming the prey of an illegal human hunting trip across the jungle of Myanmar.
  • Rising Storm has two maps set in the Burmese Jungles, Kobura and Maggot Hill, with the US Army fighting the Imperial Japanese Army. Both these maps feature Merrill's Mararuders, a unit in the US Army specializing in Jungle Warfare.
  • Syphon Filter: The Omega Strain has a mission set in Taguang in the Irawaddy Basin.
  • The light novel series Marginal Operation (and by extension, its manga adaptation) takes place in Myanmar for its final story arc. The plot concerns a Chinese invasion of the country that was triggered by China gradually expanding trade and economic relations with the Wa State Autonomous Region and gradually Sinicizing the area, which included more audacious acts such as unilaterally issuing Chinese passports to the people living in the area and outright claiming it as Chinese territory. The Tatmadaw eventually took this as a territorial encroachment and a loss of sovereignty, which triggered a war with the People's Liberation Army.

The Burmese flag
In 2010, as part of the nation's makeover, the old flag (featuring a red field with a canton showing a cogwheel and crops surrounded by stars) is replaced with a flag composed of yellow, green and red stripes, symbolizing solidarity, peace and courage, respectively, while retaining the star of the Union of Myanmar.

State Seal of Myanmar
It was adopted in 1948 after independence and was modified in 2008. It contains the map of Myanmar surrounded by olive braches. It is Chinthe (a Burmese mythological lion). It is surrounded by the Burma padauk, the thazin orchid, the ingyin, a star and a ribbon containin the country's full name in Burmese.

The Burmese national anthem
တရားမျှတ လွတ်လပ်ခြင်းနဲ့မသွေ၊
တို့ပြည်၊ တို့မြေ၊
များလူခပ်သိမ်း၊ ငြိမ်းချမ်းစေဖို့၊
ခွင့်တူညီမျှ၊ ဝါဒဖြူစင်တဲ့ပြည်၊
တို့ပြည်၊ တို့မြေ၊
ပြည်ထောင်စုအမွေ၊ အမြဲတည်တံ့စေ၊
အဓိဋ္ဌာန်ပြုပေ၊ ထိန်းသိမ်းစို့လေ။

ကမ္ဘာမကျေ၊ မြန်မာပြည်၊
တို့ဘိုးဘွား အမွေစစ်မို့ ချစ်မြတ်နိုးပေ။
ကမ္ဘာမကျေ၊ မြန်မာပြည်၊
တို့ဘိုးဘွား အမွေစစ်မို့ ချစ်မြတ်နိုးပေ။
ပြည်ထောင်စုကို အသက်ပေးလို့ တို့ကာကွယ်မလေ၊
ဒါတို့ပြည် ဒါတို့မြေ တို့ပိုင်နက်မြေ။
တို့ပြည် တို့မြေ အကျိုးကို ညီညာစွာတို့တစ်တွေ
ထမ်းဆောင်ပါစို့လေ တို့တာဝန်ပေ အဖိုးတန်မြေ။

Accompanied with justice and freedom;
our nation, our motherland.
To bring peace to all people;
the nation having equal right and pure policy,
our nation, our motherla
Let us preserve with vow
for perpetuity of our heritage of the Union.

As long as the world exists, we love Myanmar,
the true heritage of our ancestors.
As long as the world exists, we love Myanmar,
the true heritage of our ancestors.
We shall safeguard the Union by sacrificing our lives.
This is our nation, our motherland and our own land.
Let us serve unitedly for the interest of our nation, our motherland.
That is our duty for the precious land.

  • Unitary parliamentary assembly-independent republic under a military junta
    • State Administration Council: Min Aung Hlaing (Chairman) and Soe Win (Vice Chairman)
    • President: Myint Swe (acting)

  • Capital: Naypyidaw
  • Largest city: Yangon
  • Population: 53,582,855
  • Area: 676,578 km² (261,228 sq mi) (39th)
  • Currency: Myanmar kyat (K) (MMK)
  • ISO-3166-1 Code: MM
  • Country calling code: 95
  • Highest point: Hkakabo Razi (5881 m/19,295 ft) (17th)
  • Lowest point: Indian Ocean (3,741 m/12,274 ft) (-)

Don't stick your elbow
Out too far
It might get shot
In a coup d'etat

Alternative Title(s): Burma, That South East Asian Country