Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Shu Maung was born into a Chinese family in Paungdale , central Burma. Educationally, he was something of a failure. His interest in sports came to nothing, and he failed his exams to study at the University of Rangoon. Working in a number of menial posts in the 1930s he became part of the anti-British nationalist group Dobama Asiayone through family connections. Other members of the group included Aung San (father of Aung San Suu Kyi) and U Nu. He rose within the group, and in 1941 he was one of the so-called 'Thirty Comrades' who were chosen for military training by the Japanese forces to command the Burmese Independence Army (BIA). He chose a new name, Bo Ne Win, and by 1943 he was the head of the BIA.
The Japanese actions in Burma worked to alienate the nationalists. Towards the end of the war, in December 1944, the BIA turned against the Japanese following the British invasion. Ne Win remained in command and was quick to establish links with the British - attending the Kandy meeting and heading the anti-Communist operations later in the year in the Pyinmana area. When the war ended the country established a democratic government under U Nu, but the state was fatally riven with political stresses. Aung San was killed in 1947, and following independence on January 4, 1948 there were uprisings in the army and amongst minority ethnic groups. In early 1949, Ne Win was appointed chief-of-staff to the fragmented army. He rebuilt and restructured the armed forces, but the country was still split and the government was ineffective.
Ne Win served as interim prime minister from 1958 to 1960 before U Nu was re-elected. On March 2, 1962 Ne Win seized power through a military coup d'etat. He instituted a system involving elements of extreme nationalism, Marxism and local religions. Part of his plan was to almost completely isolate his country from the rest of the world. The reforms were called the 'Burmese Way to Socialism' - the economy was nationalised, foreigners were expelled, political activists were imprisoned and ethnic trouble was crushed with massive military force. Protest was dealt with brutally; for example, student protests in Rangoon in 1962 led to the student union buildings being blown up.
He was married on five official occasions and had five children. It is believed that the 1972 death of his longest surviving wife, Kitty Ba Than, was a heavy blow to him. He is also noted for his interest in numerology- he once ordered the kyat to be issued in denominations of 15, 35, 45, 75 and 90 kyats, besides the existing 5 and 10 kyat notes.
The efforts of Ne Win were not well received in much of the country. Opponents to the new government were quick to incite new uprisings, especially among the ethnic minorites the Karens and the Mons. The policy of isolation was particularly damaging to the economy. The black market and rampant smuggling supplied the needs of the people, while the central government slid slowly into bankruptcy. However, it can be argued that Ne Win did hold the country together and helped it remain largely immune to international problems.
On August 8, 1988, with Burma one of the poorest countries in the world, Ne Win suddenly resignedas prime minister, allegedly because 8 was his lucky number (August 8 1988=8/8/88). There were brief hopes for democracy before a military group, previously allied to Ne Win, seized power in September. Ne Win remained out of government in relative seclusion near Rangoon. In March, 2001 he was placed under house arrest following the arrest of certain family members.
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