Myanmar: Asia’s Last Frontier

Developed by Nay Min, B.A. in Political Science, Penn State

This unit sheds light on a country that is unfamiliar to many. Currently plagued by ethnic conflict and communal violence, Myanmar was once the center of and is arguably still the center of Buddhism. Myanmar’s last king was dethroned in 1885 in the last Anglo-Burma war and the country became a British colony. Myanmar gained its independence to become a democratic country in 1948, but in 1962, was robbed of its democracy in a military coup. However, after decades of fighting for freedom, the country nominally became a democracy in 2010, followed by a free and fair election in 2015. Its most famous citizen is Nobel Peace Prize winner and symbol of freedom, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. While Suu Kyi came under fire in 2017 for her handling of the Rohingya crisis, this lesson examines, in part, her role in the 2015 transition back to democracy.

Why should we learn about Myanmar?

Unlike most countries, Myanmar (formerly Burma) has remained isolated because its military closed off the country from the rest of the world from 1962 until 2010. Many of the pagodas that were built centuries ago have stayed intact, and the country is known as a place that is “frozen in time.” With its most recent news coverage on communal violence and the UN’s accusations of ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims by the Myanmar military, knowledge of Myanmar’s political, geographic, and religious make up becomes ever relevant in understanding the significance of changes occurring in the country today. Myanmar began to liberalize its economy and take steps towards political reform in 2011.

The country is currently in need of experts in virtually all fields for its development efforts. This can mean business opportunities for overseas corporations, job opportunities for the people of Myanmar, and learning opportunities for scholars. It provides a learning opportunity for both modernizers and preservers.

A unit on Myanmar allows students to examine how a non-western democracy has developed its identity and how that will impact its future development.