The capital and largest city of Myanmar, Yangon is situated on a low ridge on the eastern bank of the Yangon River, 34 km north of the Gulf of Martaban, Andaman Sea. Traditionally the country’s leading political, industrial, and commercial centre, Yangon handles more than 80 percent of Myanmar’s foreign trade. In Nov. 2005 the government moved much of its infrastructure to a new ‘capital’, Pyinmana, 600 km north of Yangon. One of the world’s leading rice markets, Yangon’s other principal exports are teak and metal ores. Major industries are state owned. Principal state-owned industries produce pharmaceuticals, soap, rubber, textiles, aluminium, and rolled iron and steel. Yangon is also the centre of national rail, river, road, and air transport.
In 1755, King Alaungpaya, founder of the Kon-Baung Dynasty, conquered Dagon and reunited the whole of Myanmar under his rule. Appreciating the town’s strategic importance in subjugating lower Myanmar he renamed the town Yangon, ‘end of strife’.
Yangon was taken by the British in 1824 during the first Anglo-Burmese War but returned to Burmese control in 1826. In 1851 the British annexed Yangon renaming it Rangoon and making it the capital of Lower Burma. In 1852 Lieutenant Fraser of the British Engineering Corps established the city-centre’s cantonment set out as a system of blocks intersected by streets running north-south and east-west. Rangoon was the capital of British-ruled Burma from 1874 until March 1942 when the Japanese took control during World War II, assisted by the Burma Independence Army led by Aung San. Aung San served as minister of defence in Ba Maw’s puppet government from 1943–45 but became sceptical of Japanese promises of Burmese independence and was further disillusioned by Japanese treatment of Burmese forces. In March 1945, Major General Aung San switched his 10,000 strong Burma National Army to the allied cause.
Rangoon was liberated on 3 May 1945. Aung San became deputy chairman of Burma’s Executive Council in 1946 making him, in effect, Prime Minister, but he still remained subject to the British governor’s veto. In Jan 1947 Aung San travelled to London where, after meeting with British prime minister, Clement Attlee, he was promised Burma’s independence within 1 year. Yangon has been the nation’s capital since Burma became independent in 1948.
Isolationist policies in the latter half of the twentieth century led to a decline in Yangon’s political and economic importance. With the gradual opening up of the country to the outside commercial world, Yangon has enjoyed rapid growth but remains politically troubled with the struggle between pro-democracy supporters, led by Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, and the ruling socialist government.
Places of Interest
The most notable of Yangon’s many pagoda’s is the Shwe Dagon Pagoda, a Buddhist temple complex on a hill north of the cantonment. This brick stupa, thought to be approx. 2,500 years old is covered in gold. It’s shining dome rises 100 m above the city and is said to contain relics of the Buddha.
The Sule Pagoda is situated in the centre of the city. Its Mon name, Kyaik Athok, translates as ‘the pagoda where a sacred hair relic is enshrined’: it is thought to contain a single hair of the Buddha.
The People’s Park and People’s Square occupies over 130 acres between the Shwedagon Pagoda and Pyithu Hluttaw (Parliament).
The National Museum, on Pansodan Street, exhibits the lion throne of King Thibaw, the last King of Myanmar, alongside royal regalia and many ancient artefacts.
The Martyr’s Mausoleum, close to the Shwe Dagon Pagoda is a memorial to Aung San and his fellow cabinet members who were assassinated in 1947 after securing independence for Myanmar.