Rangoon


Rangoon
   (Yangon)
   Burma's capital and largest city from the British colonial era until 2005. Its population was 2,513,123 when the last official census was taken in 1983, but at the beginning of the 21st century it was estimated at between 4.5 and 5 million. The city is located in a lowland alluvial area, at the confluence of the Rangoon (Yangon) River (which is called the Hlaing River farther upstream) and Pazundaung Creek (known upstream as Ngamoeyeik Creek), although expansion of its territory during the Caretaker Government and State Law and Order Restoration Council periods placed its eastern limits along the Pegu (Bago) River and its western limits in new townships across the Rangoon/Hlaing River. Rangoon is not on the Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwady) River but is connected to it by the Twante Canal. Apart from the rivers, the city center's most prominent geographic features are Singuttara (Theingottara) Hill, where the Shwe Dagon Pagoda is located, and Kandawgyi and Inya Lakes. Rangoon was never a royal city like Pagan or Mandalay, but its early history is intimately linked to legends concerning the Shwe Dagon Pagoda, where relics of Gotama Buddha and three of his predecessors are enshrined. The site was originally a Mon fishing village, Dagon. After Alaungpaya subjugated the Mons, he established Yangoun ("End of Strife") in 1755 as his kingdom's primary port. It became the center of British colonial power after the Second AngloBurmese War (1852) and the capital of the independent Union of Burma after 1948. Since the early 20th century, Rangoon has been the country's principal arena of political conflict, especially during the struggle for independence in the 1930s and 1940s and again during the Democracy Summer in 1988.
   Rangoon is the country's major center of finance, industry, and communications with the outside world. Its port is the largest in the country, and the international airport at Mingaladon north of the city center has the greatest traffic among Burmese airports. Highways, inland waterways, and railways link it with most other major cities and towns, including Mandalay, Moulmein (Mawlamyine), and Pegu (Bago).
   Since economic liberalization policies were adopted in 1988, industrial parks financed with foreign private investment have been established in outlying townships, and new foreign-financed luxury hotels downtown make Rangoon the center of Burma's tourism sector. The city boasts the country's major universities, including Rangoon (Yangon) University and the Rangoon Institute of Technology (Yangon Technological University). After 1988, many university facilities were moved to outlying districts, apparently to discourage student political activism. This includes a new institution, Dagon University, established in the mid-1990s.
   The modern city owes its layout to the British, who after 1852 constructed a modern downtown area with a rectangular grid of streets centered on the Sule Pagoda. The central business district still contains Chinese and Indian communities that trace their roots to the colonial period and traditionally dominated commerce. Major government ministries are also located here, and just north of the district the fortified Defence Services Compound served as the command headquarters of the Tatmadaw until this was moved to a location north of Inya Lake, Eight Mile Junction. Because of the threat of civil unrest, the military presence in Rangoon is large though low profile, including extensive installations in Mingaladon Township.
   The State Law and Order Restoration Council transformed Rangoon's landscape by establishing 10 new satellite townships; resettling as many as 500,000 of the central city's residents there; and embarking on the construction of new roads, bridges, and other infrastructure. Rangoon's planning and infrastructure development is the responsibility of the Yangon City Development Committee, established in 1990. Its chairman serves concurrently as city mayor. Austere and run down during the Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP) period (1962-1988), Rangoon today looks increasingly like other Asian metropolises, including widening gaps between a small affluent class characterized by conspicuous consumption (including patronage of newly opened golf courses) and a growing number of desperately poor people who survive by working in the informal sector.
   During the colonial era, Rangoon was a multiethnic city; more than two-thirds of its residents were non-Burmese, especially sojourners from British-ruled India. However, the Japanese occupation of 1942-1945 and nationalization policies under the BSPP regime forced Westerners and many foreign Asians to leave, and persons of nonindigenous ancestry comprised less than 8 percent of the population in 1983. Apart from Burmans (Bamars), there are a substantial number of Karen (Kayin) residents, especially in Insein Township.
   In mid-2005, it was disclosed that the State Peace and Development Council planned to move the headquarters of the Tatmadaw and Ministry of Defence from Rangoon to a heavily fortified compound outside the town of Pyinmana, located in Mandalay Division. At that time, it was unclear whether Pyinmana would replace Rangoon as capital or serve as a second capital. But in early November 2005, when civil servants in large numbers were moved in truck convoys from Rangoon to Pyinmana, it became apparent that the military regime was determined to relocate not only the military but civil components of government to the new site, which has the official name of Nay Pyi Daw ("Place of the King"). The action is reminiscent of the decision of King Thalun (r. 1629-1648) to move the country's capital from Pegu (Bago) to Ava (Inwa).

Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). . 2014.

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