Cosmopolitan Rangoon

A largely English administrative class presided over the colonial apparatus; Scots dominated trade.  The big companies of the day…were all in Glaswegian hands.

…In the early twentieth century, Burma enjoyed a higher standard of living than India and was far less densely populated.  And as the economy grew, there was a need for cheap labour as well as entrepreneurial and professional skills.  all this came from India, with movement into Burma unchecked and for a long time positively encouraged.  By the late 1920s Rangoon even exceeded new York as the greatest immigrant port in the world and this influx turned Rangoon into an Indian City, with the Burmese reduced to a minority.  There was a mingling of peoples from every part of the subcontinent, from Bengali schoolteachers and Gujarati bankers, to Sikh policemen and Tamil merchants.  There were Chinese too, and smaller communities of Europeans, Americans and even Latin Americans (the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda lived in Rangoon briefly in the 1920s).  The Cambridge political economist and long-time Burma civil servant J.S. Furnivali invented the term “plural society” to describe Rangoon’s mix of nationalities.  Steamships fastened Rangoon to Calcutta and then, with the start of air travel, Rangoon became a hub for all of Asia…World-class schools and a top-notch university helped create a cosmopolitan and politically active middle class.

That is from the new and interesting book Where China Meets India: Burma and the New Crossroads of Asia, by Thant Myint-U.


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