Unit developed by Brian Everingham, Birrong Girls’ High School, Sydney icon

Unit developed by Brian Everingham, Birrong Girls’ High School, Sydney


Aung San Suu Kyi and the pro-democracy movement in Burma Stage 6 Modern History (Preliminary Course) Depth Study 12 (List B)

Stage 6 Modern History: Preliminary Course, Depth study 12, List B (NSW Board of Studies Syllabus)

Aung San Suu Kyi and the pro-democracy movement in Burma (Myanmar)

Unit developed by Brian Everingham, Birrong Girls’ High School, Sydney

Principal Focus of a Depth Study: Students apply historical enquiry methods within a range of historical contexts to investigate significant social, political, economic and technological features, individuals and groups, events and other forces in the late eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

In this unit students will undertake the above study in the context of change in Burma in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Syllabus outcomes to be addressed:

Through a depth study, a student:

P1.1 Identifies the key features of different nineteenth and twentieth century historical investigations.

P1.2 Describes the role of key individuals, groups, events and ideas in different nineteenth and twentieth century historical investigations.

P2.1 Identifies the forces that contributed to change and continuity in different nineteenth and twentieth century historical investigations and describes their significance.

P3.1 Uses historical terms and concepts appropriately within the contexts of nineteenth and twentieth century historical investigations.

P4.1 Identifies different types and varieties of sources.

P4.2 Evaluates sources for their usefulness and reliability in relation to specific historical investigations.

P4.3 Identifies different perspectives and interpretations of the past.

P5.1 Selects and organises relevant historical information from a variety of sources.

P5.2 Plans a historical investigation, analyses and synthesises historical information from a variety of perspectives and presents the findings of the investigation.

P6.1 Communicates through well-structured texts to explain, argue, discuss, analyse and evaluate complex historical information, ideas and issues using appropriate written and oral forms.

P6.2 Negotiates in groups to allocate tasks, establish roles, procedures and evaluation strategies to achieve appropriate goals within set deadlines in order to develop and complete historical investigations.

Through a depth study students learn to:

  • Ask appropriate and relevant historical questions about the modern world.

  • Gather, select and organise information from a range of primary and secondary sources in response to specific historical questions about the modern world.

  • Use available information technologies to gather information about the modern world

  • Describe major events, individuals and groups in context; political, social, economic and technological change and important ideas, ideologies and forces in the modern world.

  • Make deductions and draw conclusions about the forces of change and continuity in the modern world.

  • Weigh up the relative usefulness and reliability of sources in relation to major events, individuals and groups in context; political, social, economic and technological change and important ideas, ideologies and forces in the modern world.

  • Identify gaps in the evidence and evaluate how these affect the usefulness and reliability of information about major events, individuals and groups in context; political, social, economic and technological change and important ideas, ideologies and forces in the modern world.

  • Examine a range of perspectives and interpretations from historical sources about the modern world and consider why these views might differ.

  • Argue points of view or interpretations about critical issues in the modern world and justify the viewpoints by using evidence appropriately.

  • Construct coherent oral and written texts to explain and discuss major events, individuals and groups in context, political, social, economic and technological change and important ideas, ideologies and forces in the modern world.

  • Plan, conduct and present the findings of investigations both as a member of a group and as an individual in relation to the modern world.

Through this depth study, students will learn about:


Key features of the modern world

  • Political and social features of Burmese society

  • Forces of change that emerged in Burmese society

  • The nature of political, social, economic and technological change that occurred in Burmese society

  • The impact of change on Burmese society over the period being studied and beyond










Individuals and groups: including Aung San, Ne Win, Ung Nu, ethnic minorities, student movement, the military and the pro-democracy movement. For each of the individual or group the following aspects will be considered:

  • the historical context

  • the personal background and the values and attitudes that influenced their actions

  • significant events and achievements

  • their contribution to the society and time in which they lived, and the legacy of this contribution.


Significant historical issues to be studied in relation to the modern world:

  • the variety of primary and secondary sources available for this depth study

  • the usefulness and reliability of sources for investigating the depth study

  • recognition of different perspectives and interpretations offered by the sources.

Events that provide a framework within which to examine the key features, concepts, individuals and groups of the modern world:

  • factors contributing to these events

  • main features of the events

  • impact of the events on the history of Burma.

This depth study also addresses Key Competencies which are embedded in the Modern History Stage 6 Syllabus to enhance student learning. The key competencies of collecting, analysing and organising information and communicating ideas and information reflect core processes of historical enquiry and are explicit in the objectives and outcomes of the syllabus. Such as:

  • Students work as individuals and as members of groups to conduct historical investigations, and through this, the key competencies planning and organising activities and working with others and in teams are developed.

  • When students construct timelines or analyse statistical evidence, they are developing the key competency using mathematical ideas and techniques.

  • During investigations, students will need to use appropriate information technologies and so develop the key competency using technology.

  • Finally, the exploration of issues and investigation of the nature of historical problems contribute towards students’ development of the key competency solving problems.

^ Foundation study: Essential understandings

Inquiry: Students develop essential knowledge and understandings that underpin a study of Aung San Suu Kyi and the pro-democracy movement in Burma

^ Key Concepts: colonialism, nationalism, imperialism, democracy, self-determination

Teaching and learning activities:

  • Students brainstorm: What do we know about Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi, and the pro-democracy movement in Burma?

  • Teacher creates a large display of he collective ideas.

  • Teacher assists students to identify what more they need to know about Burma to underpin the study. Students formulate appropriate inquiry questions* or research tasks.

  • Groups are allocated their research tasks, then each group gathers, organises and presents the information to the whole class. (Note: Students are not expected to conduct extensive research at this stage, but to develop essential background knowledge.) Groups will use maps, charts, summaries and brief notes to present their information. These resources will be referred to throughout the unit.

  • Teacher encourages discussion and analysis of the information presented by each group.

* Teacher to ensure that the topics in the next column are addressed.

Teacher background information:

Students develop an understanding of:

  1. Basic geography of Burma: location, neighbouring countries, topographic regions, natural resources.

  2. Social features of Burmese society: ethnic composition, origin and location of ethnic minority groups, religions and the role of Buddhism, the nature of Theravada Buddhism. The significance of tensions between the ethnic minorities and the Burman majority over time (pre-and post-colonial) will be noted.

  3. Political features of the Burmese nation and neighbouring countries. Burma over time: kingdom to colony of Britain, to wartime, to military rule. Possible influences of ideologies form neighbours such as China and India. The government of Burma today and the features of a military junta.

  4. Key principles of democracy. The principles, values and aspirations of those involved in the pro-democracy movement, and why such a movement might exist.

  5. Who Aung San Suu Kyi is, where she is and her current situation.


Students are referred to:

  • A number of useful web sites, giving easy access to maps and information about Burma.


http://www.askasia.org/ (Myanmar is found under Southeast Asia)

http://www.seasite.niu.edu/ (click on Myanmar)


(click on Burma)


http://www.visit-burma.com (a tourist site)

http://www.myanmar.com (the official government site)







  • Atlases and encyclopaedias.

  • A brief summary of the history of Burma, written by Dr Myint Cho as a resource for this depth study (see Appendix).

  • A succinct summary of the principles of democracy, sourced from, for example: Knight, N., Thinking About Asia, Crawford Publications, 2000, pp. 217–219, or


  • The Glass Palace, a novel by Amitav Ghosh, which covers Burmese history from 1887 to the present day. (Harpers Collins, 2000)

Following the above foundation study, students explore in depth the following focus questions:

  1. What does it take to democratise an undemocratic country such as Burma?

  2. How and why did the military come to power in Burma?

  1. What were the key events surrounding the uprising in 1988 and the election of Aung Sang Suu Kyi in 1990?

  1. What role has Aung Sang Suu Kyi played in the history of Burma in the past decade?

  1. How has the military reacted to the rise of the pro-democracy movement?

  1. What role do the ethnic minorities play in Burmese history and politics?

  1. What role does religion play in Burma’s move to democracy and in the support of the regime?

  1. What role do the following play:

  • ASEAN neighbours?

  • Human Rights groups?

  • Burmese exiles?

  • Major powers such as Japan, China and the USA?

  • International organisations such as the United Nations, World Bank, etc?

  • International opinion?

  1. What is the likelihood of change in the current political situation?
Focus question 1: What does it take to democratise an undemocratic country such as Burma?
Key concepts: change, continuity, progress, motivation, social conditions
Teaching and learning activities:

  • Students brainstorm what they would like to see different in this world of ours.

  • Teacher creates a display of the collective ideas and asks what students would need to do or endure to bring about those changes.

  • Class discuss the characteristics of personality to ensure that the changes can be brought about.

  • In groups, students research females who have won the Nobel Peace Prize* and prepare brief biographical scaffolds on their allocated personality.

* Could include:

Baroness Bertha von Suttner

Jane Addams

Emily Green Balch

Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan

Mother Teresa

Alva Myrdal

Rigoberta Menchu Tum

Jody Williams

Teacher background information:

Students develop understanding of the qualities of Nobel Peace Laureates and the significance of this award being granted to Aung San Suu Kyi.



Area of focus 2: The rise of the military: The history of Burma 1922–1974

Enquiry questions:

  • What major events took place during this period?

  • Who were the key individuals and groups? What were their roles and contributions?

  • What changes occurred during this period? What were the forces that brought about these changes?

  • When did the military become involved in the nationalist movement in Burma? What allowed this to occur?

Key concepts: colonialism, nationalism, imperialism, independence, democracy, self-determination

Teaching and learning activities:

  • The teacher provides the students with historical background and an overview of the history of Burma in this period.

  • Students prepare a timeline, record and describe key events and their consequences, noting the role of key individuals and ethnic groups.

  • Students research from a variety of sources Aung San’s life and role, and compare the different versions from these sources.

  • Students formulate and sequence historical questions to support an investigation of how and why the military came to power in Burma:

  • When did the military gain power?

  • Why did the military want to seize power?

  • What circumstances enabled the military to gain power?

  • What methods did the military use to gain power?

  • What was the role of the external foreign powers, i.e. the British and the Japanese, in Burmese politics?

  • Who were the key players?

  • Students could take on roles as key personalities and representatives of ethnic groups, research their attitudes and positions and, and debate the pros and cons of Ne Win’s take-over of power in 1962.

Teacher background information:

These years cover the nationalist struggle for independence during the period of British rule, the Japanese occupation during World War II, the return of the British and the post-war path to independence from Britain in 1948.

The timeline and the biography of Aung San from the web site are essential references for this unit, as an understanding of the historic role of Aung San is crucial to an understanding of Aung San Suu Kyi and the pro-democracy movement.

A brief summary of the history of Burma, written by Dr Myint Cho (see Appendix).

A teacher developed resource sheet of key events and personalities (see following page for example).


For information about Aung San, a timeline of his life, a biographical paper, his speeches and a photo gallery.

Pages 3–38 in Freedom from Fear by Aung San Suu Kyi (Penguin, revised edition, 1995) contain an essay “My Father”.

Encyclopaedia Britannica and similar resources


Texts and web sites listed in the bibliography, http://www.angelfire.com/ok/NLD

Resource sheet: Burma 1922–1974


Key events

British Colonial Period: examine the nationalist movement, key players and allegiance and the role of the military

  • 1922: Student strike against the University Act

  • 1930: the Hsaya San rebellion

  • 1936: Rangoon University protest against rustication of Aung San and U Nu

World War II: examine the political and social consequences of the Japanese invasion

  • 1940: Aung San flees Burma when the British issue a warrant for his arrest and agrees to Japanese offers to help drive the British out

  • 1941: Japan invades Burma

  • 1945: Burmese rebel against the Japanese and join the allied side to fight under General Slim

Post-war Struggle for Independence: examine the return of the British and the shifting alliances among minority groups and Aung San

  • 1946: Aung san-Atlee agreement. British promise independence to Burma. Aung San’s party wins landslide victory in first election

  • 1947, July 19: Aung San is assassinated

  • 1948, 4 January: Independence Day. U Nu is Prime Minister

Post-independence: examine the reasons for Ne Win’s rise to power

  • 1962: Ne Win’s coup

  • 1974: Ne Win declares a Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma


Key people

Aung San father of Aung San Suu Kyi, architect of independent Burma

Daw Khin Yi mother of Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s ambassador to India

U Nu first Prime Minister of independent Burma

Lord Louis Mountbatten British Supreme Allied Commander, South East Asia, 1943–45. Backed Aung San in his struggle to gain independence in Burma

^ General Slim Commander of the XIIth Army, arranged for Aung San and the Burmese national army (BNA) to defect to the Allied side

General Ne Win Dictator of Burma, 1962–88. Was second-in-command to Aung San in BNA and BIA (Burma Independence Army)

Sein Lwin “The Butcher of Rangoon”, notorious for blowing up the Student Union building in Rangoon University in 1962

Focus question 3: What were the key events surrounding the uprising in 1988 and the election of Aung San Suu Kyi in 1990?

^ Key concepts: demonetisation, tea shops, campus, National League for Democracy (NLD), State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC)

Teaching and learning activities:

  • Students could develop a film, TV script or newspaper report of the actual events of 1988 (refer to the eye-witness account by Sai Thet Naing Oo and others).

  • Debate or role play: Establish a committee of SLORC. Have its members debate the correct response to the election results. Do the same then for the NLD.

  • Students to research the following aspects in groups and report to class:

  • The response of the regime

  • The Opposition

  • Aung San Suu Kyi

  • The election

Teacher background information:

Students may need guidance as to research questions:

  • The response of the regime: Why did Ne Win resign? Why did he then call elections? Why did these elections then go ahead, despite the success of the opposition in creating an alternative political party, the NLD?

  • The Opposition: Although it was at first disjointed and confined to University campuses, how were they able to expand their influence and develop structures across the country. Look at the role of the students and the role of the tea shops in the political and social life of Burma.

  • Aung San Suu Kyi: Why was she in Burma at this time? Why did she decide to take part in the protest? Why was she able to attract such a following so quickly, despite her years abroad?

  • ^ The election: Its conduct, the tactics used by different sides and their counter tactics, its results.


Eye-witness account by Sai Thet Naing Oo (written especially for this unit by the author, see following pages), and others from:


For information on the elections and events of the time:










Eye-witness account of 1988 by Sai Thet Naing Oo

I was a physics final student of Rangoon Arts and Science University when the demonstration against the ruling government body, the Burmese Socialist Program Party. Although the spark of the fire started in a teashop which resulted in the death of a student, Phone Maw, the hidden force was the dissatisfaction and long and unjust suffering by the people under the regime. Teashops in Burma, at that time, were popular among young people and provided an alternative social gathering place for catching up with colleagues, exchanging news and gossip. Students spent most of their free time in tea shops. The act of demonetisations by the government in late 1987 had devastated many people’s lives and provoked anger among the population. Students in Burma traditionally rely on the support of their parents. Therefore, demonetisations contributed an enormous impact on student’s lives, as their parent would have lesser money to support them. Anti-government attitude was very strong among the population, people felt they had been cheated and robbed by the ruling government.

The tea shop:

The tea shop clash between a group of RIT students and a local youth group led to an action against the government due to mishandling of the conflict by the local authority.

March 13, Phone Maw an RIT student, was killed by Lonthiant, a special security force that trained to oppress social and political riot. March 15, the army occupied RIT and thousand of students were arrested. The news of attack on RIT spread quickly among students in other universities in Rangoon. Students at Rangoon Arts and Science University (RASU), the main campus in Rangoon which is about five kilometres away from RIT, were highly alert that it had become inevitable for them to get involved in the anti-government campaign. At the beginning students had no political goal, they simply denounced the demonetisations, demanded a change in the government and asked for a fair and equal justice for the teashop affair. Very few students, at the beginning, understood that their demands would not be met unless the general population became involved. Students also started to form groups to have a better co-ordination among them. I was asked to take charge of the security of a university gate that leads to the centre of the demonstration. Students set up a stage in the middle of the campus, which was located right in front of the commemoration hall, where the last student union of Burma was bombed by the army in the 1970s. It was the centre of the campaign. The formation of a student union was barred after the last union was bombed and there was no genuine student union in 1988 apart form some government youth programs. Anti-government speeches were shouted and cheered in the compound of the university. At the early time of the demonstration, it was two main groups that emerged among students; one was made up of students who wanted to be involved in only students affairs, knowing that it was too risky to call for political change, and another group was more hard-liner and they were willing to strike for political change and they were prepared to go as far as it took to get rid of the ruling dictatorial government. I joined the second group, as I believed political change is the only way that may provide a long lasting solution to Burma’s misery. Students were also planning to set up contacts with students in other parts of the country.

^ The Red Bridge:

It was March 16th 1988; students gathered in the middle of the campus and marched around the campus. Very soon students began to realise that they had to be united with other students in other campuses and form a stronger force if they are to achieve their goals. In the afternoon that day, approximately two to three thousand students decided to march to “Hyline” campus, a regional college, which is about three kilometres away from the main campus, RASU. When students reached a place called White Bridge, a bus stop named after a small bridge near by, and located in the middle of the two campuses, an army of approximately two hundred soldiers, blocked the road with fencing wire and told the students to go back to their campus. Students insisted that this was a peaceful demonstration and they just wanted go to Hyline campus so the students from that campus can join them. The officer of the army claimed that he could not let the students go ahead without permission from a higher army officer. The quarrel went on for about an hour while some students sang the national anthem to persuade the army that this demonstration was not anti-state, but a peaceful rally calling for a political change. Soon about five army trucks carrying a special anti-rally force appeared from the back of the students. The students were blocked by the army in front and the special force at the back. Suddenly the special force started to beat students with their sticks. Students realised that they were cheated, and started to run for their lives. Many students ran onto the bank of Inya Lake, which is located on the right-hand side of the road, where many students were pushed into the water and beaten. Some drowned as the result of being beaten by the special force. Many students were killed and several hundred were arrested. Some students managed to escape and re-gathered again in Insein Road. However, the army had blocked every road to stop the students’ movement. Because of this incident, the bus stop and White Bridge are now called Red Bridge for the memory of those who lost their lives on that day.

The next day, 16th March, students re-gathered again in the main campus. This time the army had surrounded the campus, but the main gate was still open for students’ access. In the afternoon when students inside the campus started to march around the campus, the army closed the gate and started to arrest students. Several hundreds were arrested and taken away in prison cars. Since the army did not have enough cars to carry all the arrested students they put students in prison cars in numbers two to three times greater than should have fit into the cars. Some students suffocated and died in the prison cars before they reached the prison. I was one of the small number of students who managed to escape from special force on that day. Some students and me went into hiding in a chicken farm in the campus. We felt very scared as well as angry, and this incident made us more determined to continue our struggle.

Since students had lost their campuses, the next day, they shifted their focus from campuses to downtown areas. Students gathered in the middle of Rangoon, Sule pagoda, the following day. Students were supported and cheered by the people. The students requested Buddhist monks to join the demonstration. (Note: Students and monks have played an important role in every political struggle since the struggle for independence before Second World War). The news of the students’ demonstration spread quickly among the people in Rangoon.

The demonstration became more and more violent and more people were killed every day. However, more and more people had become involved in the demonstration by now. The government reinforced soldiers from the frontline to control the crowd in Rangoon. The news of the demonstration in Rangoon also spread to other big cities. The students in Mandalay, the second biggest city, started to organise themselves to join the demonstration against the government.

The government also announced that it will stop operating transportation and asked students from the country to go back as soon as they can. The aim was to separate students’ gatherings in Rangoon and to minimise the demonstration force by sending students from the countryside back to their homes. However, the government miscalculated the students and it was already too late to stop them by simply sending them home, because the news of demonstration had already reached the whole nation. When students got back to their home-towns they organised anti-government bodies with students in their hometowns and continued their anti-government activities. I caught the last train and went back to my hometown in Northern Shan State, Namkham, where I served the town’s students’ organisation as a general secretary until I was arrested on the 19th September 1988. Shortly after I was arrested, I, with the help of local people, managed to escape and joined an armed resistant group in Northern Shan State in late 1988.

^ Unpublished paper written by the author, especially for this unit. Copyright granted for classroom use as part of this unit of work.

Focus question 4: What role has Aung San Suu Kyi played in the history of Burma since 1988?

^ Key concepts: totalitarianism, non-violence, dialogue

Teaching and learning activities:

Group Work:

  1. To prepare a biographical play on Aung San Suu Kyi (based on the text by Ling and Bunch).

  2. To prepare a poster of a biographical timeline of Aung San Suu Kyi.

  3. To do an Internet survey of the speeches of Aung San Suu Kyi and prepare a chart to illustrate her main ideas.

  4. Likewise with her letters.

  5. To re-enact a scene such as Aung San Suu Kyi addressing people from behind the gate of her house.

  6. To research the work of the NLD, especially of people such as the ex-army leaders, U Tin Tu (Chairman, NLD) and U Kyi Maung.

Essay: What role has Aung San Suu Kyi played in the democracy movement in Burma since 1988?

^ Teacher background information:

Although Aung San Suu Kyi is the focus of this study, it is important to note that she has not done this work alone. Research should reveal the support for her and the role of her supporters, both in Myanmar and outside the country.


Ling, B (1999) Aung San Suu Kyi: standing for democracy in Burma, Feminist Press, New York. (From the “Women changing the world” series.)





(click on History of South east Asia)


for the Statement of National League for Democracy: Liberated Area (Youth) on the occasion of 10th Anniversary of 8-8-88 Democratic Uprising

The Amnesty International site (www.amnesty.org) has a search function. Using Burma will bring up documents including a chronology of events 1988-1998.

Focus question 5: How has the military reacted to the rise of the pro-democracy movement?

^ Key concepts: totalitarianism, military dictatorship, Burma National Army (BNA), Tatmadaw (Burmese Army), State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), drug lords, People’s Police Force, insurgency, counter-insurgency, guerrilla warfare, forced labour, dry season offensive

Teaching and learning activities:

Students prepare a table comparing and contrasting the benefits and disadvantages of membership of the Tatmadaw for:

  • officers

  • ordinary soldiers

  • those from ethnic minorities.

Essay: To what extent is the Tatmadaw responsible for holding the nation together during the last decade or so? At what price?

Debate: That the unity of the nation of Burma requires a strong army.

Teacher background Information:

The army has grown considerably since 1988. Its reach extends into many levels of society and its power is much enhanced. See, Fink, C (2001) Living silence: Burma under military rule, Zed, London, ch. 7.

Teacher will explore with students:

  • the role the army leadership plays in Burma today

  • the role Ne Win still plays

  • the roles Generals Than Shwe and Khin Nyunt have played.



for information on General Ne Win and other generals, SLORC and SPDC.






for information on the Tatmadaw, including its political role, also

http://pilger.carlton.com/burma/tatmadaw from where photos can be accessed, as well as other information found in other parts of John Pilger’s site on Burma.

The role of the Tatmadaw In modern day Burma: an analysis

Zaiton bte Johari, Ministry of Defense, Malaysia

B.A., University of Malaysia, 1982

Master of Arts in International Security and Civil-Military Relations, March 2000

Advisor: Donald Abenheim, Department of National Security Affairs

Second Reader: Thomas C. Bruneau, Department of National Security Affairs

The Tatmadaw (Burmese Army) has dominated Burma's politics since the Japanese and British occupation of Burma until today. Its role in Burma has received international attention, especially while other countries in Southeast Asia have seen the decline of military power, the most recent that being Indonesia. The Tatmadaw seems unshaken with all the recent development affecting the military institution in Southeast Asia. This study is significant in that it attempts to understand how the Tatmadaw can continue to play an important role in the politics of Burma despite popular opposition. From this study, much will be learned about how Burma's military managed to sustain its rule. It also tries to provide an answer as to why the Tatmadaw has become what it is today.

DoD Key Technology Area: Other (International Security and Civil-Military Relations)

Keywords: Burmese Military, Coup d' etat, Authoritarian Rule, Repression and Burmese Socialism



This is the site of the National Security Affairs Department at the Naval Post Graduate School in Monterey, California. By going to Student Research and then searching http://web.nps.navy.mil/~code09/thesisyr.html for Winter 2000, thesis abstracts in Acrobat Reader will be accessed under Civil, Military and International Relations, including the above relevant to this unit.

Focus question 6: What role do the ethnic minorities play in Burmese history and politics?

^ Key concepts: national identity, ethnic minority, Karen. Mon, Shan, Kachin, Chin

Teaching and learning strategies:


  • look carefully at maps of Burma, depicting topography and ethnic boundaries, and list some conclusions about the presence of ethnic minorities in Burma.

  • work in small groups, each group to research one of the key ethnic minorities using the Internet and report back on:

    • location

    • distribution

    • population

    • religion and customs

    • history within Burma: in the time before Burma was a British colony, during the British colonial era, their status at time of independence, search for independence and/or autonomy since independence

    • current status

  • Prepare a report on the treatment of the ethnic minorities under th State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) or the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) for the United Nations or a major civil rights organisation.

  • Debate how to cater for ethnic diversity and the desire for autonomy without threatening the fabric of a nation.

^ Teacher background information:

One of the constant tensions in Burmese history has been that between the ethnic minorities and the Burman peoples, between independence and/or autonomy and central control. An issue to raise with students is how best to cater for ethnic diversity and the desire for autonomy without threatening the fabric of the nation. Parallels can be drawn with other nations, e.g. Indonesia

From the Internet sites teachers can choose articles of relevance for the student activities.


Maps and web sites from the Foundation Study that illustrate the ethnic groups in Burma. Also web sites for particular minorities, e.g.




http://www.albany.edu/~gb661/ - the Mon Information Home Page

http://inic.utexas.edu/asnic/countries/myanmar/ - among other information, this site hosts a Mon Home Page





Articles detailing the treatment of ethnic minorities in Burma, e.g. from:








The Amnesty International site has a search function. Using Burma as the search word will bring up documents about the ethnic minorities and their experiences.

Aung San Suu Kyi (1995) ^ Freedom from fear and other writings, Michael Aris (ed.), Penguin, London. Pages 218–233 provide her views on “The Need for Solidarity among Ethnic Groups”.

Focus question 7: What role does religion play in Burma’s move to democracy and in the support of the regime?

^ Key concepts: Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, non-violence, engaged Buddhism, Sangha, metta, monastery, Shwedagon pagoda, Five Precepts

Teaching and learning Strategies:

Students to:

  • use their information gathering skills to research and report on the strategy of non-violence in groups, in relation to:

    • Mahatma Gandhi

    • Thich Nhat Hanh

    • Thich Quan Duc

indicating who they were, what they did, with what effect.

  • analyse and list the tactics used by Suu Kyi and the NLD, evaluate them according to Aung San Suu Kyi’s own standard (see * below), debate whether this standard has been applied over the past decade and whether it represents the tactics that the students themselves would follow in her position.

  • outline the role of Buddhism in the lives of ordinary people (see ** below)

  • discuss the role of the Buddhist monks, e.g. “The monks in Mandalay were so upset about the killings and arrests that they decided to start a religious boycott against the regime … participating monks rejected alms from soldiers and their families. Monks also refused to attend merit-making ceremonies a the houses of army families.” Page 71, Living Silence. What might be the effectiveness of such a strategy, and how may SLORC have tried to counter it?

^ Teacher background information:

Aung San Suu Kyi speaks of the importance of non-violent, engaged Buddhism. Non-violence is a strategy that has had powerful effects in the twentieth century.

Students will need to be assisted to understand religion in Burma and, particularly, the place of Buddhism. It must also be noted that many Karen people are Christian, and in Arakan State there are many Muslims. Among some ethnic minorities there are animists. See Living Silence, chapter 11, for a consideration of the role of religion and magic within Burma today. In what ways does the regime use religion as a weapon in its quest to maintain control over Burma?

Observance of the five precepts constitutes the minimum moral obligation of a practising lay Buddhist. These five precepts enjoin against killing living beings, taking what is not given (or stealing), sexual misconduct, false speech, and use of intoxicating drink or drugs.


Aung San Suu Kyi (1998) The Voice of Hope, Clements, Penguin.

Fink, C (2001) ^ Living Silence: Burma under military rule, Zed, London, especially chapters 7 and 11.

Websites with relevant information on Buddhism in Burma:


There is Section C on this site on Buddhism in Burma, which includes the Shwedagon Pagoda (images able to be saved for non-commercial use), monasteries, etc. and includes special articles, e.g.



for a simple description of Buddhism in Burma



for introductory information on Buddhism including the Five Precepts


The five precepts as set out by Thich Nhat Hanh


for a biography of Thich Nhat Hanh

Suu Kyi says:

*“There are those who have said to me: ‘You can’t afford to be so honest with SLORC – they are not honest people. You’ve got to play by their rules.’ But I have always refused that line of reasoning. If they’re deceiving me and I retaliate by deceiving them, it’s all the more important that I don’t deceive them.” Page 57, The Voice of Hope

** “In many ways, I find it quite difficult to accept that they (SLORC) are that different from us. After all, they are Burmese brought up in a Buddhist society. They could not be unaware of the Five Precepts – every Burmese is aware of them.” Page 58, The Voice of Hope

Focus question 8: What role do the following play:

  • ASEAN neighbours?

  • Human Rights groups?

  • Burmese exiles?

  • Major powers such as Japan, China and the USA?

  • International organisations such as the United Nations, World Bank, others?

  • International opinion?

Teaching and learning strategies:

Allocate each of the above interest groups to a group in the class. With research time, students must cover:

  • a definition of the interest group and its main interest in Burma

  • an explanation of how that group has acted towards Burma over the preceding decade

  • an explanation of why that group has acted that way

  • a scenario as to possible future actions.

Conduct a special session of the United Nations, to which the key stakeholders are also invited. These include the leading trans-national organisations such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund as well as the key non-governmental organisations. Discuss what is to be done with Burma. Do this in role. In order to do this all interest groups should prepare a poster display regarding their official position, have an opening statement ready for reading and distribution and be prepared to make interventions in the proceedings of the special session. Prepare a written report of the findings of the special session. Video the special session as a future teaching resource.

Ask a Burmese in exile to be a guest speaker in your classroom. There are a number of important figures within the Sydney region that may agree to this.

^ Teacher background information:

To a large extent Burma has avoided the scrutiny of the outside world for many years. When Ne Win took control in the 1960s he imposed a policy of isolation over the people of Burma. Therefore, for many people abroad, Burma became forgotten. Even today, with the high profile enjoyed by Suu Kyi, the same lack of interest impacts on the Burmese peoples. Nevertheless there are clear interests involved in Burma that are not just confined to the peoples within. Some of these international groups are listed above. Their relationship to and/or interest in Burma/Myanmar are worthy of research.


Web sites and publications of key organisations, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs, relevant embassies, etc., for example,







(may have to call up www.globalissues.org and then search by Myanmar to get to this part)



(go to East Asia & the Pacific and search by Myanmar)


(for a UN report on Burma)


(the Union of Burma Mission to the UN. Includes a section on Myanmar and ASEAN)


for a listing of NSW Community groups, including:

Buddhist Council of NSW, Burwood

All Young Burmese League, Flemington Markets

Burmese Friendship Association, Balmain

Focus question 9: What is the likelihood of change in the current situation?

Teaching Strategy:

As a result of the teaching strategies that have been used during the unit, at this stage students will be only too willing to discuss what might happen over the next ten years. Perhaps at this stage they could write up their own reflective diary to be kept until the end of Year 12 when they depart for further studies or a life of work. They could be encouraged to keep those diaries even longer and to return to them when matters relating to Burma arise in the news.


^ Internet resources:


A useful Internet site dedicated to the coalition of groups seeking change within Burma.


The site to access for speeches and writings by Daw Aung Sang Suu Kyi.


Burma Song is Free Burma Radio.


National League for Democracy


Information on Nobel Peace Prize winners


The CIA fact sheet on Burma/Myanmar


Official government web site on culture, politics, tourism, etc. There are regular fact sheets available on this site, as published by the Government.


This site is for the tourist.


A Burmese community web site. Daily news bulletins are available here.


A home page on the ethnic minorities in Burma.


Bulletin Board for the Karen peoples.


The Amnesty International site has a search facility.


Aung San Suu Kyi & Clements, A (1998) ^ The Voice of Hope: Conversations with Alan Clements, Seven Stories Press, New York.

Aung San Suu Kyi (1995) Freedom from fear and other writings, Michael Aris (ed.), Penguin, London.

Ang Chin Geok (1998) Aung San Suu Kyi: towards a new freedom, Prentice Hall, Sydney.

Delang CO (2001) Suffering in Silence: The Human Rights Nightmare of the Karen People of Burma, K Heppner (ed.), Karen Human Rights Group.

Fink, C (2001) ^ Living silence: Burma under military rule, Zed, London.

Ling, B (1999) Aung San Suu Kyi: standing up for democracy in Burma, Feminist Press, New York (from the “Women Changing the World” series).

Knight, N (2000) Thinking about Asia: an Australian introduction to East and Souteast Asia, Crawford House, Adelaide.

Smith, MJ (1999) Burma: insurgency and the politics of ethnicity, Zed, London.

Note: Web sites can change, so any list may be out of date almost as soon as it is published. The above list was correct at the time of the unit’s development (2000–2001) and those listed in the Resources section in each of the focus sections were checked at the time of editing the unit for publication (September, 2002). The following list was supplied by the writer of the unit, and is intended only as a guide to possible sources. Teachers are advised to check carefully any references they supply to students for research.

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