successful 1962 military coup by General Ne Win, a former interim Prime Minister of the country.
Adopng a socialist agenda and consolidang power through the use of military force, he imposed thedisastrous “Burmese Way to Socialism”, an ill-conceived restructuring of the Burmese state. The resultwas that, as McGowan put it, ‘one of the most prosperous naons in Southeast Asia – a hub of manufacturing and transportaon rich in gems and minerals – became one of Asia’s most isolated andimpoverished states.’
Responding to threats on his claim to power with violence, Ne Win wasparcularly unpopular with students, whom he targeted numerous mes in the years leading up to thestudent-sparked societal explosion that became the 8888 Uprising.
In September 1987, Ne Win, irraonal and highly supersous, primed the country for rebellion when,allegedly acng on advice from a soothsayer, he reorganized Burmese currency to be divisible by thenumber nine, rendering three common bank notes valueless and oering no compensaon. Roughly80% of the nancial savings held by cizens dissolved overnight.
As a result, societal tensions warmedas millions of Burmese struggled to meet their basic needs, nally coming to a boil in a seemingly minorevent in March 1988, when a student was killed by riot police responding to a brawl in a tea shop.Resulng student protests met harsh reprisals by the
, a parcularly brutal special police wingof the regime, which resulted in the death Phone Maw, one of the protesng students.
The 8888Uprising had begun.
Subsequent student protests met similarly brutal crackdowns resulng in dozens of deaths unl,unexpectedly, General Ne Win announced his resignaon as leader of the Burma Socialist ProgrammeParty (BSPP), Burma’s governing polical body, in July.
His stepping down created opmism among thepeople that change had come, but their hopes turned to outrage when other top junta leaders electedSein Lwin, the head of the
and so-called “Butcher of Rangoon” for his long history of brutalizing cizens, to lead the country.
On August 3
he declared maral law, which resulted inopposion plans for a general strike in Rangoon on August 8
. The days leading up to the strike sawstudents mobilizing various facons of Burmese society – monks, teachers, rural farmers – and makingtheir grievances clear by burning cons that were plastered with demonezed bank notes andcontaining egies of both Ne Win and Sein Lwin.
, 1988 – the date of the general strike - was a seminal moment in modern Burmese history,and where the 8888 Uprising gets its name. On that day, as cizens mobilized around the country in asign of solidarity against the junta, orders were given to both the
and to army soldiers pulledback to the capital, to open re on the civilian protestors. The death toll was signicant, with esmatesinto the thousands.
The streets of Rangoon devolved into chaos unl the government forces werecalled o on August 12
and the slaughter ended. In the aermath of the carnage, Sein Lwin alsoresigned, and was replaced by Dr. Maung Maung, a civilian leader loyal to Ne Win, who was sll theprimary power player within the junta.
Fink (2009), p. 24
McGowan (1993), p. 49
Burma Watcher (1989), p. 174
Fink (2009), p.46-47
Ibid., p. 50
Burma Watcher (1989), p. 176
Tucker (2001), p. 228
Fogarty (2008), para. 3