China’s Long History with Burma/Myanmar—View as Single Page

November 11, 2010

The Economist (September 9, 2010) published a critical piece about China’s relationship with Myanmar: Welcome, Neighbor – China hosts another tinpot dictator from next door.

“Tinpot dictator” are the two key words in the title of this opinion piece, as if the United States or the UK has never hosted and/or supported “tinpot” dictators. Before we discover China’s history with Burma/Myanmar, first we should look a little closer at the United States.

A well-written criticism of the U.S. government from Sri Lanka sets the record straight.

“I wish the spokesman of the (U.S.) State Department … would explain how Washington’s concern for democracy in Sri Lanka squares with US support for repressive regimes such as the one in Uzbekistan or the autocratic rule in Saudi Arabia, both countries in which the U.S. has military facilities.

“In post-World War II period, Washington has militarily propped up such dictators including several in South Korea, Ferdinand Marcos who was ousted by the Filipino people, Indonesia’s Suharto also thrown out by the people, Vietnam’s Dinh Diem, various military governments in Thailand, Singapore’s autocrat Lee Kwan Yew, the military dictators in Pakistan from Ayub Khan to Pervez Musharraf, all of them from our part of the world…” The Ugly Americans Once More (Lankaweb, Sri Lanaka’s first Social Media website)

The Economist only mentions a half century of history between China and Burma/Myanmar, yet, China’s history with Burma and then Myanmar goes back about two thousand years, and we will explore that later in this series.

The opinion piece also does not mention that China, since 1982, has not been into nation building as the U.S. has since 9/11, when President G.W. Bush launched wars against Iraq and Afghanistan with threats to Iran and North Korea.

Until doing research for this post, most of what I had read about China in The Economist had been educational, but this piece was stilted and biased—an example of China bashing.

What does the Beijing based unnamed critic writing in The Economist expect—that China, with its Communist, Taoist, Buddhist, Confucius culture, adopt America’s evangelical, neo-conservative role to spread “democracy” and “Christianity” to the world through nation building?

Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t the critic writing in The Economist suggest that he or she expects China to spread “democracy” to countries like Burma and North Korea, which are by definition dictatorships, which the U.S. has a long history of supporting. See Cold War Origins of the CIA Holocaust to learn more.

If you haven’t read this opinion piece in The Economist, I suggest you do before going on to Part 3. Did you know that at the same time that the United States sells or gives weapons to dictatorships and authoritarian governments, it also has programs through the U.S. State Department to support religious freedom in many of the same countries?

For instance, Saudi Arabia, a country that prohibits any religion other than Islam and has a long history of human rights violations (Human Rights Watch World Report 2013). On October 20, 2010, the US State Department notified Congress of its intention to make the biggest arms sale in American history—an estimated $60.5 billion purchase by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The IAGS says this about Saudi Arabia: “Much has been reported about the complex system of terrorist financing and the money trail facilitating the September 11 terror attacks. Individuals and charities from the Persian Gulf—mainly from Saudi Arabia—appear to be the most important source of funding for terrorist organizations like Al-Qaeda.”

Enough said about The Economist, Christianity and differences between dictatorships, democracies and republics, and back to the long history between China and Burma/Myanmar, which started during the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. – 220 A.D.).

Due to deposits of jade in Burma/Myanmar and that region, Chinese merchants have been involved in mining and trade there for more than two thousand years.

Then during the Qing Dynasty, there were four major invasions (1765-1769) of Burma by China’s Manchu leaders. In 1784, the long struggle between Burma and China ended and regular trade started up again.

In November 1885, Sir Robert Hart favored a proposal that China, as Burma’s overlord, stand aside and allow the British Empire to pursue her own course there provided that Britain allow Burma to continue her decennial tribute (once every ten years) missions to China. Source: The I. G. In Peking, Letters of Robert Hart, Chinese Maritime Customs 1868-1907, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, page 614, 1975.

Instead, the British Empire made Burma a province of India in 1886.

Since independence from the British Empire, Burma has generally been impartial to world affairs but was one of the first countries to recognize Israel and the People’s Republic of China.

Territories such as the autonomous regions of Tibet, Xinjiang and countries like North Korea, Manchuria, Mongolia, Burma, Vietnam and others along China’s long borders were considered vassal states by some Chinese dynasties, and these vassal states often sent lavish gifts and delegations to China’s emperors on a regular schedule.


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.


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