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Methodist missionaries in colonial and postcolonial Upper Burma, 1887–1966

The first British Methodist missionaries came to Upper Burma in 1887 and the last left in 1966. They were known as 'Wesleyans' before 1932 and afterwards as 'Methodists'. This book is a study of the ambitions, activities and achievements of Methodist missionaries in northern Burma from 1887-1966 and the expulsion of the last missionaries by Ne Win. Henry Venn, the impeccably evangelical Secretary of the Church Missionary Society (CMS), was the most distinguished and inspiring of nineteenth-century mission administrators. Wesleyan missionaries often found property development more congenial than saving souls. In Pakokku in December 1905, a 'weak' American missionary from Myingyan and a couple of Baptist Burman government officials began 'totally immersing' Wesleyans. Proselytism was officially frowned upon in the Indian Empire. The Wesley high schools were extraordinarily successful during the early years of the twentieth century. The Colonial Government was investing heavily in education. A bamboo curtain descended on Upper Burma in May 1942. Wesley Church Mandalay was gutted during the bombing raids of April 1942 and the Japanese requisitioned the Mission House and the Girls High School soon afterwards. General Ne Win was ruthlessly radical in 1962. By April 1964 Bishop was the last 'front-line' Methodist missionary in Upper Burma and the last European of any sort in Monywa. The book pulls together the themes of conflict, politics and proselytisation in to a fascinating study of great breadth.

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Michael D. Leigh

General Ne Win was ruthlessly radical in 1962 ( figure 12 ). He abandoned the constitution, dissolved Parliament, suspended the Supreme Court and ruled arbitrarily through a Revolutionary Council of eighteen senior army officers. U Nu was placed under house arrest where he remained until 1966 complaining all the while about General Ne Win’s usurpation. There were few protests in Burma and fewer still in the West. 1 The Revolutionary Council controlled public transport and education; 129 private schools, including

in Conflict, politics and proselytism
Abstract only
Michael D. Leigh

touch with its rank-and-file members. In January 1958 he summoned an All-Burma Congress of the AFPFL. It was a mistake. The situation was too fragile and U Nu was dependant on the support of General Ne Win who insisted that he sideline the communist faction. It infuriated the AFPFL left-wingers and the party split in two. U Ba Swe and Kyaw Nyein broke away to form the so-called ‘Stable AFPFL’ faction, leaving U Nu, Thakin Tin and Thakin Kyaw with the ‘Clean AFPFL’ faction. U Nu crossed the Rubicon in April 1958

in Conflict, politics and proselytism
Abstract only
Michael D. Leigh

distrust of government. 2 Everyone suffered some pain when Burma lurched from past into present, and the prize was plucked from old sparring partners. Nationalists, pongyis , students, workers, thakins , ideologues and even missionaries had dreamed of a better Burma, but all missed out on the brave new world. Perhaps Sheldon’s warning that converts had everything to lose and nothing to gain applied more generally to society at large rather than Methodist proselytes in particular. Under General Ne Win, Burma lost its

in Conflict, politics and proselytism
Abstract only
Michael D. Leigh

in 1958, he wrote in the visitors’ book, ‘Only Christians can do this work.’ 72 In the 1960s Dr Jamaldin and his distinguished Methodist Physiotherapist, Kenneth Kin Thein, steered the Home through a remarkable renaissance. 73 It celebrated its seventy-fifth anniversary in 1965, just before all leprosy work was nationalised by General Ne Win. 74 Leprosy was not the only public-health concern in Upper Burma. Indeed it does not merit a mention in Judith Richell’s excellent survey of disease in colonial Burma. 75

in Conflict, politics and proselytism
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Michael D. Leigh

civil war, a senior Methodist in London suggested that it was punishment for treachery during World War II. Rev. Denis Reed retorted angrily that Burma was victim not villain. 64 Finally, in May 1963 General Ne Win declared that ’no foreigner can ever be a friend of Burma’. The suggestion stung Rev. Stanley Vincent who repeated the phrase in hurt disbelief. 65 So the curtain rises on a cast of helpless players in global conflicts and lead actors in small dramas of their own making. British missionaries, colonial officials

in Conflict, politics and proselytism