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|History of Myanmar|
The 8888 Popular Uprising (Burmese: ၈-၄လုံး or ရှစ် လေးလုံး; MLCTS: hrac le: lum: also known as the People Power Uprising) was a series of marches, demonstrations, protests, and riots in the Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma (today commonly known as Burma or Myanmar). Key events occurred on August 8, 1988, and from this (8-8-88), it is known as the "8888 Uprising".
Since 1962, the country was ruled by the Burma Socialist Programme Party regime as a one-party state, headed by General Ne Win. The catastrophic Burmese Way to Socialism had turned Burma into one of the world's most impoverished countries. Almost everything was nationalized and the government combined Soviet-style central planning with superstitious beliefs. In an article published in a February 1974 issue of Newsweek magazine, the Burmese Way to Socialism was described as "an amalgam of Buddhist and Marxist illogic".
The 8888 uprising was started by students in Yangon (Rangoon) on August 8, 1988. Student protests spread throughout the country. Hundreds of thousands of ochre-robed monks, young children, university students, housewives, and doctors demonstrated against the regime. The uprising ended on September 18, after a bloody military coup by the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). Thousands of deaths have been attributed to the military during this uprising.  But authorities in Myanmar put the figure at around 350 people killed.
During the crisis, Aung San Suu Kyi emerged as a national icon. When the military junta arranged an election in 1990, her party, the National League for Democracy, won. However, the military junta refused to recognize the results and placed Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest. The State Law and Order Restoration Council would be a cosmetic change from the Burma Socialist Programme Party.
Before the crisis, Burma had been ruled by the repressive and isolated regime of General Ne Win since 1962. The country had a national debt of $3.5 billion and currency reserves of between $20 and $35 million, with debt service ratios standing at 50% of the national budget. In November 1985, students gathered and boycotted the government's decision to withdraw Burmese local currency notes. Economic problems coupled with counter-insurgency required continuous involvement in the international market.
On 5 September 1987, Ne Win announced the withdrawal of the newly replaced currency notes, 100, 75, 35 and 25 kyats, leaving only 45 and 90 kyat notes, apparently because only the latter two are numbers divisible by 9, considered lucky by Ne Win. Students were particularly angry at the government's decision as savings for tuition fees were wiped out instantly. Students from the Rangoon Institute of Technology (RIT) ran riot through Rangoon, smashing windows and traffic lights down Insein road. Universites in Rangoon closed and sent students home. Meanwhile, larger protests in Mandalay involved monks and workers, with some burning government buildings and state businesses. Burmese state media reported little on the protests, but information quickly spread through the students.
With the re-opening of schools in late October 1987, underground groups in Rangoon and Mandalay produced dissident leaflets which culmulated in bombs exploding in November. Police later received threatening letters from underground groups, who organised small protests around the university campus. After securing Least Developed Country status from the United Nations Economic and Social Council in December 1987, government policy requiring farmers to sell produce below market rates to create greater revenue for the government sparked several, violent rural protests.The protests were fanned by public letters to Ne Win by former second in command General Brigadier Aung Gyi from July 1987, reminding him of the 1967 rice riots and condemning lack of economic reform, describing Burma as "almost a joke" compared to other Southeast Asian nations. He was later arrested.
Early democracy protests
On 12 March 1988, students from the RIT were arguing with out-of-school youths inside the Sanda Win tea shop about music playing on a sound system. The drunken youth would not return a tape that the RIT students favored. A brawl followed in which one youth, who was the son of a BSPP official, was arrested and later released for injuring a student. Students protested at a local police department where 500 riot police were mobilized and in the ensuing clash, one student, Phone Maw, was shot and killed. The incident angered pro-democracy groups and the next day more students rallied at the RIT and spread to other campuses. The students, who had never protested before, increasingly saw themselves as activists. There was growing resentment towards the military rule and there were no channels to address grievances – further exasperated by police brutality, economic mismanagement and corruption within the government.
By mid March, several protests had occurred and there was open dissent in the army. Various demonstrations were broken up by using tear gas canisters to disperse crowds. On March 16, students demanding an end to one party rule marched towards soldiers at Inya Lake when riot police stormed from the rear, clubbing several students to death and raping others. Several students recalled the police shouting, "Don't let them escape" and "Kill them!". Stories, some of which were later found out to have been fabricated, were circulating of the events of that day and quickly spread gaining popular support for the movement. Unrest over economic mismanagement and political oppression by the government led to widespread pro-democracy demonstrations throughout the country.
Ne Win resigns
Following the latest protests, authorities announced the closure of universities for several months. By June 1988, large demonstrations of students and sympathisers were a daily sight. Many students, sympathisers and riot police died throughout the month as the protests spread throughout Burma from Rangoon. Large scale civil unrest was reported in Pegu, Mandalay, Tavoy, Toungoo, Sittwe, Pakokku, Mergui, Minbu and Myitkyina. Demonstraters in larger numbers demanded multi-party democracy, which marked Ne Wins resignation on July 23, 1988. In a valedictory address, on July 23, 1988 affirmed that "When the army shoots, it shoots to kill." He also promised a multi-party system, but he had appointed the largely disliked Sein Lwin, known as the "Butcher of Rangoon" to head a new government.
Protests reached their peak in August 1988. Students planned for a nationwide demonstration on August 8, 1988, an auspicious date based on numerological significance. News of the protest reached rural areas and four days prior to the national protest, students across the country were denouncing Sein Lwin's regime and Tatmadaw troops were being mobilized. Pamphlets and posters appeared on the streets of Rangoon bearing the fighting peacock isignia of the All-Burma Students Union. Neighbourhood and strike committees were openly formed on the advice of underground activists, many of which were influenced by similar underground movements by workers and monks in the 1980s. Between August 2 and 10, co-ordinated protests were occurring in most Burmese towns.
During this period, dissident newspapers were freely publishing, fighting-peacock banners were unfurled, synchronised marches were held and rally speakers were protected. In Rangoon, the first signs of the movement began around the Buddhist full moon of Waso at the Shwedagon Pagoda when student demonstrators emerged demanding support for the demonstrations. Neighbourhood and strike committees barricaded and defended neighbourhoods and mobilised further demonstrations. In some areas, committees built makeshift stages where speakers addressed the crowds and brought donations to support rallies.
In the first few days of the Rangoon protests, activists contacted lawyers and monks in Mandalay to encourage them to take part in the protests. The students were quickly joined by Burmese citizens from all walks of life, including government workers, Buddhist monks, air force and navy personnel, customs officers, teachers and hospital staff. The demonstrations in the streets of Rangoon became a focal point for other demonstrations, which spread to other states' capitals. 10,000 protesters alone demonstrated outside the Sule Pagoda in Rangoon, where demonstrators burned and buried effigies of Ne Win and Sein Lwin in coffins decorated with demonetized bank notes. Further protests took place around the country at stadiums and hospitals. Monks at the Sule Pagoda reported that the Buddha's image had changed shape, with an image in the sky standing on its head. On August 3, the authorities imposed martial law from 8am to 4pm and a ban on gatherings of more than five people.
Amitav Ghosh (2001)
A general strike, as planned, began on August 8, 1988. Mass demonstrations were held across Burma as ethnic minories, Buddhists, Muslims, students, workers and the young and old all demonstrated. The first procession circled Rangoon, stopping for people to speak. A stage was also erected. Demonstrators from the Rangoon neighbourhoods converged in downtown Rangoon. Only one casualty was reported at this point as a frightened traffic policeman fired into the crowd and fled. (Such marches would occur daily until September 19.) Protesters kissed the shoes of soldiers, in an attempt to persuade them to join the civilian protest, whilst some encircled military officers to protect them from the crowd and earlier violence Over the next four days these demonstrations continued; the government was surprised by the scale of the protests and stated that it promised to heed the demands of the protesters "insofar as possible". Lwin had brought in more soldiers from insurgent areas to deal with the protesters.
In Mandalay Division, a more organised strike committee was headed by lawyers and discussion focussed on multi-party democracy and human rights. Many participants in the protests arrived from nearby towns and villages. Farmers who were particularly angry with the government's economic policies joined the protests in Rangoon. In one village, 2,000 of the 5,000 people also went on strike.
A short while later, the authorities opened fire on the protestors. Ne Win ordered that, "Guns were not to shoot upwards," meaning that he was ordering the military to shoot directly at the demonstrators. Protestors responded by throwing Molotov cocktails, swords, knives, rocks, poisoned darts and bicycle spokes. In one incident, protestors burned a police station and tore apart four fleeing officers. On August 10, soldiers fired into Rangoon General Hospital, killing nurses and doctors tending to the wounded. State-run Radio Rangoon reported that 1,451 "looters and disturbance makers" had been arrested.
Estimates of the number of casualties surrounding the 8-8-88 demonstrations range from hundreds to 10,000; military authorities put the figures at about 95 people killed and 240 wounded. 
Lwin's sudden and unexplained resignation on August 12 left many protestors confused and jubilant. Security forces exercised greater caution with demonstrators, particularly in neighbourhoods that were entirely controlled by demonstrators and committees. On August 19, under pressure to form a civilian government, Ne Win's biographer, Dr. Maung Maung was appointed as head of government. Maung was a legal scholar and the only non-military individual to serve in the Burma Socialist Programme Party. The appointment of Maung briefly resulted in a subsidence of the shooting and protests.
Nationwide demonstrations resumed on August 22, 1988. In Mandalay, 100,000 people protested, including Buddhist monks and 50,000 demonstrated in Sittwe. Large marches took places from Taunggyi and Moulmein to distant ethnic states (particularly where military campaigns had previously taken place), where red, the symbolic colour for democracy was displayed on banners. Two days later, doctors, monks, musicians, actors, lawyers, army veterans and government office workers joined the protests. It became difficult for committees to control the protests. During this time, demonstrators became increasingly wary of "suspicious looking" people and police and army officers. On one occasion, a local committee mistakenly beheaded a couple thought to have been carying a bomb. Incidents like these were not as common in Mandalay, where protests were more peaceful as they were organised by monks and lawyers.
On August 26, Aung San Suu Kyi, who had watched the demonstrations from her mothers bedside, entered the political arena by addressing half a million people Shwedagon Pagoda. It was at this point that she became a symbol for the struggle in Burma, particularly in the eyes of the Western world. Kyi, as the daughter of Aung San who led the independence movement, she appeared ready to lead the movement for democracy. Kyi urged the crowd not to turn on the army but find peace through non-violent means. At this point in time for many in Burma, the uprising was seen as similar to that of the People Power Revolution in the Philippines in 1986.
Around this time, former Prime Minister U Nu and retired Brigadier General Aung Gyi also re-emerged onto the political scene in what was described as a "democracy summer" when many former democracy leaders returned. Despite the gains made by the democracy movement, Ne Win remained in the background.
During the September congress of 1988, 75% of party delegates (968 out of 1080) voted for a multi-party system of government. The BSPP announced they would be organising an election, but the opposition parties called for their immediate resignation from government, allowing an interim government to organise elections. After the BSPP rejected both demands, protesters again took to the streets on September 12, 1988. Nu promised elections within a month, proclaiming a provisional government. Meanwhile, the police and army began fratenizing with the protesters. The movement had reached an impasse relying on three hopes: daily demonstrations in order to force the regime to respond to their demands, encouraging soldiers to defect and appealing to an international audience in the hope that United Nations or United States troops would arrive. Some Tatmadaw did defect, but only in limited numbers, mostly from the Navy. Stephen Solarz who had experienced the recent democracy protests in the Philippines and South Korea arrived in Burma in September encouraging the regime to reform, which echoed the policy of the United States government towards Burma.
By mid-September, the protests grew more violent and lawless, with soldiers deliberately leading protesters into skirmishes that the army easily won. Protesters demanded more immediate change, and distrusted steps for incremental reform.
SLORC "coup" and crackdown
On September 18, 1988, the military retook power in the country. General Saw Maung repealed the 1974 constitution and established the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), "imposing more Draconian measures than Ne Win had imposed." After Maung had imposed martial law, the protests were violently broken up. The government announced on the state-run radio that the military had assumed power in the peoples interest, "in order to bring a timely halt to the deteriorating conditions on all sides all over the country." Tatmadaw troops went through cities throughout Burma, indiscriminately firing on protestors. Within the first week of securing power, 1,000 students, monks and schoolchildren were killed, and another 500 were killed whilst protesting outside the United States embassy – footage caught by a cameraman nearby who distributed the footage to the world's media. Maung described the dead as "looters". Protestors were pursued into the jungle and some students took up training on the country's borders with Thailand.
By the end of September, there were around 3,000 estimated deaths and unknown number of injured, with 1,000 deaths in Rangoon alone. At this point in time, Aung San Suu Kyi appealed for help. On September 21, the government had effectively regained control of the country, with the movement effectively collapsing in October. By the end of 1988, it was estimated that 10,000 people – including protesters and soldiers, had been killed. Many others were missing.
Many in Burma believed that the regime would have collapsed had the United Nations and neighbouring countries refused recognition to the coup. Western governments and Japan cut aid to the country. Among Burma's neighbours, India was most critical; condemning the suppression, closing borders and setting up refugee camps along its border with Burma. By 1989, 6,000 NLD supporters were detained in custody and those who fleed to the ethnic border areas, such as Kawthoolei, formed groups with those who wished for greater self-determination. It was estimated 10,000 had fled to mountains controlled by ethnic insurgents such as the Karen National Liberation Army, and many later trained to become soldiers.
After the uprising, the SLORC embarked on "clumsy propaganda" towards those who organised the protests. Intelligence Chief Khin Nyunt, gave English-language press conferences aimed at providing an account favourable to the SLORC towards foreign diplomats and media. The Burmese media underwent further restriction during this period, after reporting relatively freely at the peak of the protests. In the conferences, he detailed a conspiracy of the Right acting with "subversive foreigners" of plotting to overthrow the regime and a conspiracy of the Left acting to overthrow the State. Despite the conferences, few believed the government's theory. While these conferences were ongoing, the SLORC was secretly negotiating with mutineers.
Between 1988 and 2000, the Burmese government established 20 museums detailing the military's central role throughout Burma's history and increased its numbers from 180,000 to 400,000. Schools and universities remained closed to prevent any further uprisings. Aung San Suu Kyi, U Tin Oo and Aung Gyi initially publicly rejected the SLORC's offer to hold elections the following year, claiming that they could not be held freely under military rule.
Today, the uprising is remembered and honoured by many Burmese expatriates and citizens alike. There is also support for the movement amongst students in Thailand, which is commemorated every August 8 since. On the 20th anniversary of the uprising, 48 activists in Burma were arrested for commemorating the event. The event garnened much support for the Burmese people internationally. Poems were written by students who participated in the protests. The 1995 film Beyond Rangoon, is based on a true story that took place during the uprising.
The events of 1988 also had great significance 19 years later during the 2007 Burmese anti-government protests.
- Yawnghwe (1995), pp. 170
- Ferrara 302–3
- "Hunger for food, leadership sparked Burma riots". Houston Chronicle. August 11, 1988.
- Tweedie, Penny. (2008). Junta oppression remembered. Reuters.
- Burma Watcher (1989)
- *Tallentire, Mark (September 28, 2007). The Burma road to ruin. The Guardian.
- Woodsome, Kate. (October 7, 2007). 'Burmese Way to Socialism' Drives Country into Poverty. Voice of America.
- Smith (1991)
- Ferrara (2003), pp. 313
- Steinberg (2002)
- Aung-Thwin, Maureen. (1989). Burmese Days. Foreign Affairs.
- Fogarty, Phillipa (August 7, 2008). Was Burma's 1988 uprising worth it?. BBC News.
- Wintle (2007)
- Ottawa Citizen. September 24, 1988. pg. A.16
- Associated Press. Chicago Tribune. September 26, 1988.
- Lintner (1989), pp. 94–95.
- Boudreau (2004), pp. 192
- Tucker (2001), pp. 228
- Fong (2008), pp. 146
- Lwin (1992)
- Boudreau (2004), pp. 193
- Lintner (1989), pp. 95–97.
- Yitri (1989)
- Yawnghwe (1995), pp. 171
- Fong (2008), pp. 147
- Smith (1999), pp. 1–14
- Fong (2008) pp. 147–148.
- Fink (2001), pp. 51
- Hlaing (1996) interviewed some students from the March 1988 incident who spoke to foreign media, and later testified that some of the stories were made up as part of an underground movement to increase support for the overthrow of the regime.
- Fong (2008), pp. 148
- Smith (1999)
- Fong (2008) In 1962, Lwin ordered troops to fire on student protestors, killing dozens and ordered the Union Building at Rangoon University to be blown up.
- Fong (2008), pp. 149
- Boudreau (2004), pp. 202
- Lintner (1989), pp. 126
- Lintner (1989)
- Boudreau (2004), pp. 203
- Boudreau (2004) Two groups considered to have large underground and internal support networks
- Ghosh (2001)
- Mydans, Seth. (August 12, 1988). Uprising in Burma: The Old Regime Under Siege. The New York Times.
- Williams Jr., Nick. (August 10, 1988). "36 Killed in Burma Protests of Military Rule." Los Angeles Times.
- Boudreau (2004), pp. 205
- Callahan (2001)
- Boudreau (2004), pp. 204
- Burma Watcher (1989), pp. 179.
- The Vancouver Sun Aug 17, 1988. pg. A.5
- Fink (2001)
- Fink (2001), pp. 58
- Fong (2008), pp. 150
- Boudreau (2004), pp. 208
- Clements (1992)
- Smith (1999), pp. 9
- Silverstein (1996)
- Fink (2001), pp. 60
- Smith (1999)
- Tucker (2001), pp. 229.
- Boudreau (2004), pp. 212.
- Callahan (1999), pp. 1.
- United States State Department, 1988
- Boudreau (2004), pp. 210.
- Maung (1999)
- Delang (2000)
- Ferrara (2003), pp. 313–4.
- Ferrara (2003), pp. 314.
- Burma Watcher (1989), pp. 179.
- Fong (2008), pp. 151
- Yawnghwe (1995), pp. 172.
- Europa Publications Staff (2002), pp. 872
- Fong (2008), pp.152.
- Smith (1999), pp. 371.
- Smith (1999), pp. 17.
- Boudreau (2004), pp. 190
- Lintner (1990), pp. 52
- Mydans, Seth. (September 23, 1988). Burma Crackdown: Army in Charge. The New York Times.
- The Nation. (August 9, 1997). Burmese exiles mark protest. The Nation (Thailand).
- *Tun, Aung Hla. (August 8, 2008). Myanmar arrests "8-8-88" anniversary marchers. International Herald Tribune.
Books and journals
- Boudreau, Vincent. (2004). Resisting Dictatorship: Repression and Protest in Southeast Asia. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0521839891.
- Burma Watcher. (1989). Burma in 1988: There Came a Whirlwind. Asian Survey, 29(2). A Survey of Asia in 1988: Part II pp. 174–180.
- Callahan, Mary. (1999). Civil-military relations in Burma: Soldiers as state-builders in the postcolonial era. Preparation for the State and the Soldier in Asia Conference.
- Callahan, Mary. (2001). Burma: Soldiers as State Builders. ch. 17. cited in Alagappa, Muthiah. (2001). Coercion and Governance: The Declining Political Role of the Military in Asia. Stanford University Press. ISBN 978-0804742276
- Clements, Ann. (1992). Burma: The Next Killing Fields? Odonian Press. ISBN 978-1878825216
- Delang, Claudio. (2000). Suffering in Silence, the Human Rights Nightmare of the Karen People of Burma. Parkland: Universal Press.
- Europa Publications Staff. (2002). The Far East and Australasia 2003. Routledge. ISBN 978-1857431339.
- Ferrara, Federico. (2003). Why Regimes Create Disorder: Hobbes's Dilemma during a Rangoon Summer. The Journal of Conflict Resolution, 47(3), pp. 302–325.
- Fink, Christina. (2001). Living Silence: Burma Under Military Rule. Zed Books. ISBN 978-1856499262
- Fong, Jack. (2008). Revolution as Development: The Karen Self-determination Struggle Against Ethnocracy (1949 - 2004). Universal-Publishers. ISBN 978-1599429946
- Ghosh, Amitav. (2001). The Kenyon Review, New Series. Cultures of Creativity: The Centennial Celebration of the Nobel Prizes. 23(2), pp. 158–165.
- Hlaing, Kyaw Yin. (1996). Skirting the regime's rules.
- Lintner, Bertil. (1989). Outrage: Burma's Struggle for Democracy. Hong Kong: Review Publishing Co.
- Lintner, Bertil. (1990). The Rise and Fall of the Communist Party of Burma (CPB). SEAP Publications. ISBN 978-0877271239.
- Lwin, Nyi Nyi. (1992). Refugee Student Interviews. A Burma-India Situation Report.
- Maung, Maung. (1999). The 1988 Uprising in Burma. Yale University Southeast Asia Studies. ISBN 978-0938692713
- Silverstein, Josef. (1996). The Idea of Freedom in Burma and the Political Thought of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Pacific Affairs, 69(2), pp. 211–228.
- Smith, Martin. (1999). Burma - Insurgency and the Politics of Ethnicity. Zed Books. ISBN 978-1856496605
- Steinberg, David. (2002). Burma: State of Myanmar. Georgetown University Press. ISBN 978-0878408931
- Tucker, Shelby. (2001). Burma: The Curse of Independence. Pluto Press. ISBN 978-0745315416
- Wintle, Justin. (2007). Perfect Hostage: a life of Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s prisoner of conscience. New York: Skyhorse Publishing. ISBN 978-0091796815
- Yawnghwe, Chao-Tzang. Burma: Depoliticization of the Political. cited in Alagappa, Muthiah. (1995). Political Legitimacy in Southeast Asia: The Quest for Moral Authority. Stanford University Press. ISBN 978-0804725606
- Yitri, Moksha. (1989). The Crisis in Burma: Back from the Heart of Darkness? University of California Press.
- AP. (1988). Burma Imposes Martial Law In the Capital After a Protest, New York Times, August 4, 1988.
- AP. (1988). Road To Upheaval In Politics For Burmese, New York Times, September 11, 1988.
- Cumming-Bruce, Nick. (1988). Burma's new leader imposes martial law, The Guardian, August 4, 1988.
- Faulder, Dominic. (2008). Memories of 8.8.88 The Irrawaddy, August 2008.
- Kamm, Henry. (1988). Tension Reported High In Burma After Clashes, New York Times, July 2, 1988.
- Mydans, Seth. (1988). A Burmese Power Shift; Though Government Schedules Election, Decision Rests With People in the Streets, New York Times, September 12, 1988.
- Mydans, Seth. (1988). Defections Strain Burmese Military, New York Times, September 10, 1988.
- Mydans, Seth. (1988). Many in Burma Say Ne Win Continues to Pull the Strings, New York Times, September 13, 1988.
- Richburg, Keith. (1988). Youths, Monks Fight Troops in Burma; Post-Coup Deaths Reported in Hundreds. Washington Post, September 20, 1988.
- Stewart, William. (1988). Burma The Armed Forces Seize Power, TIME, September 26, 1988.
- Protests mark Burma anniversary, BBC News, August 8, 2003.
- Burma's 1988 Protests, BBC News, September 25, 2007.
- Partial list of 8888 Uprising victims, The Irrawaddy, January 1, 2003.
- Voices of '88, Soros.
- Video – 8888s anniversary activity in London Burmese' Embassy and Downing street, and Ms Suu Kyi's Birthday, calling for democratic reform in Burma
- 8888 Photos, Burmese American Democratic Alliance.