Literature, Burmese /Modern


Literature, Burmese /Modern
   Because of Western influences, Burmese literature had undergone great changes by the beginning of the 20th century. One was the appearance of the novel. In the Burmese (Myanmar) language, "novel" is translated as ka-la-paw wut-htu, "the day's narrative," as contrasted with the traditional Hpayahaw wut-htu, "narrative preached by the Buddha." The first Burmese novel was James Hla Gyaw's Maung Yin Maung Ma Meh Ma Wut-htu (The Story of Master Yin Maung and Miss Meh Ma), published in 1904. It was an adaptation of Alexandre Dumas's The Count of Monte Cristo, set in Upper Burma. A popular adventure story, it inspired many imitators despite the disapproval of the older generation, including conservative members of the Sangha.
   By the second and third decades of the 20th century, social themes, often critical of colonialism, became prominent in popular literary works. Two novels by U Latt, Zabebin and Shwepiso, appearing from 1912 to 1914, expressed concern about the loss of traditional Burmese values under colonial rule; U Maung Gyi wrote novels in the 1920s about past Burmese heroes, Nat Shin-naung and Tabinshwehti; and U Lun (later known as Thakin Kodaw Hmaing) wrote tikas (long essays) on the evils of British rule, for example, the Boh Tika ("On Europeans"), which advised against Burmese women marrying foreigners, an issue adopted by the Young Men's Buddhist Association. Thein Pe Myint became controversial because of his 1936 novel Tet Pongyi (Modern Monk), which exposed the corruption of the contemporary Sangha; P. Monin wrote novels about the common people; and Dagon Khin Khin Lay, the first woman novelist, wrote short stories and historical novels. In 1933-1934, two Khitsan ("Testing the Times"), anthologies of short stories and poems, were published by students of the first Burmese professor of English at Rangoon (Yangon) University, U Pe Maung Tin. The Khitsan expressed distinctly modern styles and themes; one of the most prominent writers involved in the Khitsan movement was Zawgyi, a poet and literary critic who espoused revolutionary and nationalist themes.
   The chaos of World War II made it difficult for Burmese writers to perfect their craft, although Thein Pe Myint's experiences provided material for his popular nonfiction Sit Ah Twin Kha Ye The (Wartime Traveller). In 1947, on the eve of independence, the government established the Burma Translation Society, later known as the Sarpay Beikman (House of Literature), which awarded prizes to talented writers. The first prize was given in 1948 to Min Aung for Mo Auk Myebin (The Earth under the Sky). Prime Minister U Nu was a writer of not inconsiderable talent, publishing his memoirs, Nga Hnit Yathi (Five Years), and a play. During the parliamentary period (1948-1962), the government promoted a national literature but did not impose tight controls on writers.
   Postwar literature was influenced by Soviet as well as British and American models, and there was a renewed emphasis on depicting the hardships of ordinary people; an example of this genre was Maung Htin's Nga Ba (The Peasant). Ludu U Hla, a prolific leftist writer, produced Hlaing chaine-hte-ga-nhet-myar (The Caged Ones), an account of his four years in jail in the 1950s, which told the life stories of fellow prisoners. Maung Ne Win's Lu Pyi Hmar Ah Ne Ye Like Pa (Courage to Live in This Human World), published in 1960, described the desperate poverty of a young woman whose husband must go far away to earn a living. One of the most important postwar woman writers was Gyanegaw Ma Ma Lay, whose Mon-ywei Mahu (Not out of Hate) told the tragic story of a traditional Burmese young woman and her unhappy-and ultimately fatal-marriage to a Westernized Burmese man. It is one of the few Burmese novels translated into English.
   Taya (Star) Magazine, established by the left-wing writer Dagon Taya, was highly influential in literary circles. Beginning in the 1920s and 1930s, monthly literary magazines such as Dagon and Gandalawka (The World of Books) played an indispensable role in promoting vernacular literature. Along with Taya, their most important postwar counterparts included Shumawa, Thwei-thauk, and Myawaddy.
   During the Burma Socialist Programme Party era (19621988), the state viewed writers as "mental workers" who had to contribute to the building of socialism. The Ne Win regime established an "Organization Committee for the Federation of Literary Workers" in 1965; many of its members were later purged. The preferred genre was a Burmese version of Soviet-style "socialist realism," and literary output was severely censored by the Press Scrutiny Board. Few high-quality novels were produced because authors were reluctant to submit a long work, to which they would have devoted much time, to the Board's ambiguous and unpredictable criteria. However, the monthly literary magazines published many short stories because the costs of having a shorter work "inked out" were much lower for both writers and the handful of private publishers, for whom publishing a long novel was a risky investment. Because of Burma's economic stagnation during this time, there were frequent shortages of paper for printing and other materials. Typewriters were generally unavailable at state stores, and black market prices for them were prohibitive. Burmese publishers in 1971 turned out a total of 2,106 titles; this number had fallen to 584 titles by 1976.
   After the State Law and Order Restoration Council seized power in 1988, the severe and arbitrary censorship regime under the Press Scrutiny Board continued, and a number of writers, including the distinguished poet Tin Moe, have since been jailed or have left the country. Few observers of the Burmese literary scene believe that quality literature can be produced under these circumstances, although the volume of publications has grown compared to the Ne Win period.

Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). . 2014.

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