Many historical causes have been used to explain the why and, more recently, the how, of European imperialism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Historical investigation has moved from arguments about the necessity for Great Power Status, to Marxism’s focus on the Western Europe’s need for new markets both as suppliers of raw materials and purchasers of finished products, to postmodernism’s emphasis on the hugely varied experiences of the colonised, in an attempt to explain the multiple forms of resistance and identity that have been found in twentieth century resistance to colonialism. Equally important as these theories, however, is the effect that colonial rule had in shaping the post-colonial existence of states that gained independence from colonial rule.
There is comparatively little written or known about Burma’s colonial past (in the UK at least); apart from the occasional news item about Aung San Suu Kyi, it is out of sight and out of mind. Compared with its neighbour India, and despite sharing many similarities in terms of the effect of British colonial rule in both India and Sri Lanka, Burma barely enters the consciousness.