History Files

Far East Kingdoms

South East Asia



MapAround 2000 BC, Chinese rice and millet farmers spread southwards into a region which stretched between Vietnam and Burma. There, they interbred with local hunter-gatherers in two main pulses, this being the first with the second taking place around the end of the first century BC. In 2017 a team led by Harvard Medical School geneticist, Mark Lipson, concluded that these population movements brought agriculture to the region and triggered the spread of Austroasiatic languages that are still spoken in parts of south and south-east Asia. Over the preceding twenty years, archaeology had already accumulated increasing amounts of evidence to support the emergence of rice farming in South-East Asia between 2,500-2,000 BC, accompanied by tools and pottery which revealed links to southern China.

(Additional information from External Link: Ancient Chinese farmers sowed literal seeds of change in south-east Asia (Science News).)

c.30 BC - AD 30

A second pulse of migration takes place between southern China and a swathe of territory which stretches between Burma and Vietnam. Farmers here inherit a genetic makeup that differs in some ways from that of the earlier Man Bac migrants who had left southern China around 2000 BC, but still closely resembles the DNA of present-day inhabitants of southern China.

First Burmese Empire
AD 1044 - 1287

Capital: Pagan.


The Tibeto-Burmese Chutiya kings emerge on the north bank of the River Brahmaputra in north-eastern Assam and parts of Arunachal Pradesh.

1277 - 1278

Burma is invaded by the Mongols, and a puppet government is installed. While it is a victory, it is far from the total conquest and domination that previous Mongol great khans would have expected.


Prince Tribhuvanaditya requests help from the Yuan emperor to repel the Shan. Emperor Temur dispatches a force which successfully achieves this.

Second Burmese Empire
AD 1531/46 - 1752

(Additional information from External Link: Myanmar's Royal Legacy (The Diplomat).)

1529 - 1584

The Thai kingdom of Ayutthya is conquered by the Burmese. The Thais are eventually able to regain their capital.


Shah Shamsuddin Muhammed Shah of Bengal conquers Arakan in Burma.

1558 - 1613

The Burmese conquer the Thai Lan Na capital of Chiang Mai.


The last Ming Chinese emperor is captured while fleeing the Manchu. He is handed back and executed.

? - 1675


Also ruled Thai kingdom of Lan Na.

1672 - 1727

The Burmese regain control of the Thai kingdom of Lan Na.

1675 - 1707


Also ruled Thai kingdom of Lan Na.

1707 - ?


Also ruled Thai kingdom of Lan Na.


During his reign, the Ahom King Surempha sends an army to aid the ruler of Manipur, who has been deposed by the Burmese.

1765 - 1767

The Burmese invade Ayutthaya again and, this time, succeed, only to be thrown out two years later.

? - 1771


Also ruled Thai kingdom of Lan Na.


The Burmese conquer the Thai Lan Na capital of Chiang Mai.

1768 - ?


Also ruled Thai kingdom of Lan Na.



The reign of Phra Phutthaloetla Naphalai of Siam, who accedes as King Loetlanaphalai, is recognised as a glorious one for art and literature. However, soon after he succeeds his father, King Bodawpaya marches an army into Chumporn and conquers Thalang (Phuket), taking it in the same year. Loetlanaphalai sends his brother, Maha Senanurak, to recapture Thalang, which had been razed to the ground. This 'Thalang Campaign' is the last invasion by the Burmese into Siamese territory.

1819 - 1824

The Ahom King Purandar Singha defeats the Burmese during their invasion of Assam, but the capital at Jorhat falls to them. Soon afterwards, the Bagyidaw Burmese, led by Milingmaha Tilwa, force the next Ahom king to flee his capital. The Ahoms are ruled by the Burmese until 1824, when the start of the First Anglo-Burmese War forces them to concentrate on their own lands.

1824 - 1826

The First Anglo-Burmese War ends with the Treaty of Yandabo, according to which Burma cedes the Arakan coastal strip, between Chittagong and Cape Negrais, to the British East India Company. The British victory gives the subjugated King Anouvong of Laos ideas of independence from his other oppressor, Siam. He advances to Korat, the main border city between Laos and Siam, but the non-Laos citizens there rebel against him and the Siamese army catches up with him at Vientiane. After three days of fighting Anouvong is defeated but remains free to recapture his own capital from Siamese troops. The Siamese have to defeat him again, and the captured monarch is placed in a cage for the remaining year of his life.

1852 - 1853

Britain annexes lower Burma, including Rangoon, following the Second Anglo-Burmese War.

1853 - 1878

Mindon Min

1878 - 1886

Thibaw / Thebaw

Son. Dethroned and exiled. 'Last king of Upper Burma'.

1885 - 1886

During the reign of Thibaw there is much violence in the country. Britain captures Mandalay after a brief battle, and Burma becomes a province of British India. Thibaw is immediately sent into exile with his heavily pregnant wife, his junior queen, and two small daughters. At the age of twenty-six, the king has another thirty-one years of life to live in Ratnagiri in India, little more than a prisoner of the British administration. Following his death, his family return to Burma to live obscurely amongst the population.

Modern Burma / Myanmar
AD 1886 - Present Day

The modern nation of Burma (sometimes shown in older usage as Burmah) is officially a republic, although in reality it has been under the firm control of a military dictatorship except briefly between 2015-2021. Only in the twenty-first century were small steps being taken to deflect some of the criticism both from home and abroad of a previously strictly-dominant military government which referred to the country as the 'Republic of the Union of Myanmar'. Whatever its name, the country lies in South-East Asia, bordered by Bangladesh and India to the west, Tibet to the far north, China to the north-east, Laos and Thailand to the east, and the Andaman Islands of India to the south.

The country has been peopled by various groups over the centuries, including Tibeto-Burman-speakers and the Baman people of Pagan, while the Taungoo dynasty of the sixteenth century created the Second Burmese empire, one of the largest domains seen in the region. Under the last of the Burmese kings the country was unstable, thanks primarily to pressure from various competing colonial powers. In a campaign which began in 1885, Britain captured the capital of Mandalay after a brief battle. Burma became a province of British India, with territory captured by Siam in the 1780s now being returned. Post-war independence followed in 1948, but a military coup in 1962 ended any lasting hopes of democracy. The country remained under military rule for the rest of the century and into the next, although from 2011 it began edging ever closer to a full return to democracy.

In 1989, the governing military leadership changed Burma's name to 'Myanmar' (albeit only in the English language version - the native version is Mranma, pronounced Myanma). This name change was opposed by pro-democracy campaigners and by Aung San Suu Kyi's 'National League for Democracy' (NLD). They argued that the name was changed by a military junta that had no legitimacy, even more so because the NLD won elections in the country a year later, but the junta refused to recognise the result. In fact, 'Myanmar' has essentially the same meaning as 'Burma' but, in the Burmese language, they are used in separate and fairly different contexts. Burma is known as either 'Myanma' or 'Bama'; Myanma is the written, literary name of the country, while Bama is its spoken name. In the 1920s, some favoured using Myanma, which had also been applied to the Second Burmese empire. In the 1930s, the left-wing independence parties favoured using Bama, as they thought this name was more inclusive of minorities than Myanma. More recently, most major nations which had refused to appease the dictatorship had also refused to recognise the use of Myanmar, either avoiding the use of the name altogether or continuing to use Burma to refer to the country. Some folded, however, as did many news organisations which seemingly pandered to the hardline military leadership. Since 2016 the situation has changed somewhat.

The exiled and dispossessed kings of Burma are shown with a shaded background. In political terms they hold no power. While the military junta controlled the country for a long time, it is Aung San, independence figure, who is classed as being the 'Father of the Nation'. His youngest daughter, Aung San Suu Kyi, led the peaceful movement for democracy and freedom throughout the 1990s and 2000s, and into a new era of supposed greater freedoms from 2016 to 2021 before the sudden military coup which removed those freedoms (although outwardly little changed during this period, and ethnic minorities were even more brutally targeted than before). Also in 2016, Aung San Suu Kyi expressed a relaxed opinion on the subject of the country's name change, saying that it didn't matter which version was used in English.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Strange Parallels: Southeast Asia in Global Context, c. 8001830, Volume 1, Victor B Lieberman (2003), from Early civilizations of Southeast Asia, Dougald J W O'Reilly (2007), from Mental Culture in Burmese Crisis Politics: Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy, Gustaaf Houtman (1999), from The River of Lost Footsteps: A Personal History of Burma, Myint-U Thant (Faber and Faber, 2008), and from External Links: Myanmar's Royal Legacy (The Diplomat), and Gov.UK, and South China Morning Post, and Aung San Suu Kyi's party returns to power in Myanmar (The Guardian), and Aung San Suu Kyi calls for Myanmar protests in wake of coup (The Guardian).)

1886 - 1916

Thibaw / Thebaw

Exiled last king of Burma.

1916 - 1956

Myat Paya Lat

Daughter. Head of the royal family.


Britain separates the lieutenant-governorship of Burma from India and makes it a crown colony. It is now administered by the Burma Office under the Secretary of State for India and Burma. An outspoken advocate for independence, Ba Maw becomes Burma's first premier and prime minister.

Burmese independence in 1948
On 4 January 1948 the British governor of Burma (left) stands beside the country's first president, Sao Shwe Thaik, standing to attention as the new nation's flag is raised


Prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, Britain had been openly supplying China in its fight against Japanese occupation. Now Japan launches its own operation to capture Burma, using its puppet formation, the 'Burma Independence Army' which includes founding recruit Aung San. The Japanese military invasion is launched in January 1942, and the country is captured from the low-key British forces by the spring.


In August 1943 Ba Maw becomes premier of a Burma which has been guaranteed nominal independence by Japan. Aung San becomes his Minister of Defence and commander-in-chief of the renamed Burma National Army (BNA). Despite this show of democracy, the country remains under firm Japanese control and the Burmese people soon begin to feel more oppressed than ever.


Following long-running talks with the Britain, the Burmese launch a joint uprising against Japanese dominance, with British forces supplying weaponry and support. Together they drive the Japanese out of southern Burma and form a civilian government and new army from many of the BNA recruits. Ostensibly, for now, British colonial rule remains the principle authority in the country, but everyone knows that this is a short-term solution to the potential chaos that threatens to engulf Burma.

Aung San, 'Father of Burma'
Aung San is shown here in uniform on a visit to 10 Downing Street in London in his role as vice-president of Burma in 1947, shortly before he was assassinated in Burma


In a sign of things to come, Aung San is assassinated by political rivals on 19 July 1947. The attack itself is undertaken by a jeep-load of armed gunmen who burst into the secretariat building and spray him with sten gun bullets. Only three people in a room of at least eleven survive the attack.

1948 - 1949

Burma is granted official independence from British rule as the 'Union of Burma'. Hopes of a restoration of the monarchy are snuffed out when the current male claimant, the eldest son of Myat Phaya, is killed in mysterious circumstances. Within a year the Burmese government finds itself locked in civil war with the Red Flag Communists and the White Flag Communists. Another group of communists, the Revolutionary Burma Army, also joins the fray. The situation stabilises somewhat into the 1950s.

1956 - 1962

Myat Phaya

Sister of Myat Paya Lat. Head of the royal family.


The political situation in the country remains unstable. Now, apparently invited by Premier U Nu as a way of solving several problems, General Ne Win leads a coup so that fresh elections can be held. Naturally, under such circumstances, U Nu is returned to office with a large majority.

1960 - 1962

U Nu

'Prime minister' but retained position through 'coup'.


Ne Win has by now seen the chance of taking control fully. He leads another military coup, sweeping away the civilian government, abolishing the federal system, and inaugurating 'the Burmese Way to Socialism'. The country is ruled by a mostly faceless military dictatorship.

General Ne Win
General Ne Win conspired with U Nu in the 1960 'coup' and then launched a real coup of his own in 1962, ruling afterwards for almost twenty years and then pulling the strings from behind the throne for another twenty years

1962 - 2019

Taw Phaya / Tun Aung

Second son of Myat Phaya. Born 1924. Died aged 94.

1962 - 1981

Ne Win

Army general & 'president'. Stood aside but kept influence.


Having driven Burma towards becoming one of the world's most impoverished countries, Ne Win relinquishes the presidency to San Yu, a retired general. However, he continues as chairman of the ruling Socialist Programme Party and his influence on affairs can be felt until at least the late 1990s.

1981 - 1988

San Yu

Army general & 'president'. Retired.


Sein Lwin 'Butcher of Rangoon'

Army general & 'president'. Removed by coup after 16 days.


Currency devaluation had, in 1987, wiped out many people's savings and had triggered anti-government riots. In 1988, thousands of Burmese are killed in riots that are known as the 'Four Eights Uprising' or '8888 Uprising'. In the same year a military coup removes Sein Lwin from power, possibly orchestrated from behind the scenes by Ne Win, despite his earlier 'retirement' alongside San Yu.


Aye Ko

Army general & 'acting-president'. Succeeded after 7 days.


Maung Maung

Army general & 'president'. Removed in coup.


The riots continue despite excessive violence being used by government forces to try and suppress it. The widespread disruption results in another coup, this one lead by Saw Maung on 18 September 1988. He does not claim the title of president, instead heading the 'State Law and Order Restoration Council'.

Burma's Four Eights Uprising of 1988
The 'Four Eights Uprising' took place amid coup and counter coup by the ruling military government, and with excessive violence used on the streets by the army, firing into the crowds rather than over their heads

1988 - 1992

Saw Maung

Army general & chairman of the council. Removed in coup.

1989 - 1990

The dictatorship changes the country's official English-language name from the 'Union of Burma' to the 'Union of Myanmar', although the two versions of the name mean the same thing. 'Burmah', as it had been spelled in the nineteenth century, is a local corruption of the word Myanmar. The change is recognised by the United Nations, and by countries such as France and Japan, but not by the United States and the United Kingdom, or by the country's own pro-democracy supporters.

In 1990, Saw Maung ensures that promised democratic elections take place, despite stiff opposition from hardliners in the military. The National League for Democracy (NLD) wins, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of the assassinated Aung San. The military nullifies the results, ensures that Aung San Suu Kyi's recent house arrest continues largely uninterrupted until 2010, and quietly removes Saw Maung from office in 1992.

1992 - 2011

Than Shwe

Army general & chairman of the council. Stepped down.


The military's State Peace and Development Council is handed over to the new government, brought to power in controversial elections in 2010, on the last day of the first parliamentary sitting at the end of March. Than Shwe steps down in favour of his hand-picked successor, Thein Sein. Another big milestone is the release of between two hundred and twenty to two hundred and seventy political prisoners as part of the six thousand-plus amnesty in September. Burma continues towards apparent reform, although some old guard supporters from outside the country suggest that it is merely window dressing.

Aung San Suu Kyi
After half a lifetime of staunch opposition to the ruling military junta, Aung San Suu Kyi helped to force through great steps in progress towards full democracy and gained a position in this little-known form of government for the country

2011 - 2016

Thein Sein

Ex-army general & moderate 'president'. Stepped down.


After a weekend of counting the results of by-elections, it is clear that the party of long-term military junta opponent, Aung San Suu Kyi, has won the forty-four available seats by a landslide. As of 2 April 2012, that result leaves the ruling USDP, the modern political face of the junta, still with eighty per cent of seats in the country's parliament. In light of the country's steps towards reintroducing democracy, several countries recognise the name change, now accepting Myanmar over Burma.

2015 - 2016

Burma holds parliamentary elections on 8 November 2015. The National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Aung San Suu Kyi, wins a majority of seats and subsequently forms a government in April 2016. Burma's military retains twenty-five percent of seats in parliament as well as various other political offices, but the office of president is filled by Htin Kyaw, a politician and scholar who has no ties to the military. His state counsellor is Aung San Suu Kyi, barred from holding the office herself but widely seen as being the country's true leading figure.

The name Myanmar for the country is now generally accepted after Aung San Suu Kyi offers a relaxed approach to its usage. The name change has not been ratified by a national referendum, but is essentially official in any other sense - either Burma or Myanmar can now be used.

Burma's Rohingya crisis
Hundreds of thousands of ethnic minority Muslim Rohingya were forced to flee in the face of brutal persecution by the ruling military

However, the political situation remains potentially unsettled. Restrictions remain on freedom of speech, movement, religion, and political activity, and foreign nationals are sometimes arrested, imprisoned, and deported for criticising the government in public. The Rohingya undergo a brutal attempt to eject them entirely from the country, largely but not completely hidden from the eyes of the world. Aung San Suu Kyi's reputation is tarnished by her apparent indifference to the suffering.

2019 - Present

Richard Taw Phaya Myat Gyi

Son of Taw Phaya. Born 14.05.1945.


Aung San Suu Kyi's party returns to power for another five year term after securing a widely predicted victory in what is the country's second general election since the end of full military rule. Voting had been cancelled for an estimated 1.5 million voters in areas that are dominated by ethnic minority communities, apparently due to security concerns. In addition, about 1.1 million Rohingya - who remain in camps both in Myanmar and Bangladesh, where many had fled following a brutal army crackdown in 2017 - continue to be denied citizenship and are disenfranchised.


Over the course of the last weekend of January, Aung San Suu Kyi and other leading political figures - including the elected president - are detained. A state of emergency is declared as the army announces that it has taken control of the country for one year, with power handed to commander-in-chief, General Min Aung Hlaing, due to perceived fraud in 2020's election.

Burma's 2021 military coup faced protests
General Min Aung Hlaing's coup of January 2021 met with widespread and continued mass protests by the public, with frequent skirmishes being fought in the streets between protestors and the police

2021 - Present

Min Aung Hlaing

Army general & member of the council. Seized power.