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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Politics and religion were two sides of the same coin. Wesleyan missionaries went to Upper Burma for many and complex reasons but their main purpose was to convert Burmans to Christianity. One scholar described it as a ‘corrupting’ task. 1 Another suggested that giving ‘pagan souls the same cast as our own’ was to personalise imperialism. 2 Few missions achieved the conversion targets set for them by their societies. As a result mission histories are often histories of failure. 3 Conversion rates

in Conflict, politics and proselytism
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In colonial times, the term ‘Upper Burma’ referred imprecisely to the broad plains that straddled the confluence of the Irrawaddy and Chindwin Rivers. Like the phrases ‘North of England’ and ‘American West’, Upper Burma implied more than a geographical location. It evoked visions of wide open spaces, sturdy provincialism, ancient customs, hazy pastures and hints of danger. The events described in this book took place mainly in the ancient Buddhist-Burman towns of Mandalay, Pakokku, Monywa, Kyaukse, Pyawbwe and

in Conflict, politics and proselytism
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]’ it must ‘make sure it is outside and not inside it’. 13 Civil society in Upper Burma was a shambles. People in Monywa detested local politicians. They were interested only in pleasing ‘big men’ in Rangoon. 14 There was a whiff of corruption. The Revolutionary Council alienated Buddhist leaders when it tried to impose its own moral code. 15 Angry clashes occurred between soldiers and pongyis in Mandalay. ‘Dissident monks from the Anisikan Monastery’ disrupted mail deliveries and in August 1964 printing presses

in Conflict, politics and proselytism
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amid accusations of ballot-rigging, the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) won about 80 per cent of the seats. The leading opposition party, the National Democratic Front, was decimated. A few days later Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest. Opposition voices dismiss this whole process as an ‘absurd fiction’. 19 Table 4 Upper Myanmar Conference: total Methodist community, 2000–5 District Circuits Societies 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005

in Conflict, politics and proselytism
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Company was based. IFC needed large numbers of English-speaking recruits to work in its boats, offices and shipyards. 12 Wesleyan education in Upper Burma reached its zenith in 1917 when 2,216 pupils had registered in thirty schools. In December 1940 Rev. Vincent Shepherd hosted a luncheon party in Rangoon for distinguished old boys of Wesley high schools from these halcyon years. One was a member of the House of Representatives, and another, U Ba Yin (a former Pyawbwe Wesley High School pupil), had just become Minister for

in Conflict, politics and proselytism
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demolished the tower and now it would cost Rs 20,000 to repair it again. 15 The final straw was the request for Rs 16,000 to repair Monywa School. The MMS Eastern Committee asked why it should ‘spend this, build tomorrow and have it knocked down the day after’. Rev. Donald Childe (the new Mission Secretary) warned that in future a ‘political-condition test’ would be applied to any building-grant application from Upper Burma. 16 Reed was not amused. He blamed newspaper articles for misrepresenting conditions in Burma, and

in Conflict, politics and proselytism
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. 5 He was about to suggest that they joined the Upper Burma Club, before remembering the Club’s hefty subscription fees and the members’ liking for whisky and gin-slings ( Figure 4 ). George Orwell might have modelled his foulmouthed ménage in the Kyauktada Club – at least in part – on these real-life club members in Mandalay. The Wesleyan missionaries’ teetotalism and modest stipends separated them from colonial neighbours. 6 4 Tennis players, Mandalay Civil Club in 1898. The Wesleyan

in Conflict, politics and proselytism
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A bamboo curtain descended on Upper Burma in May 1942. Little news filtered in or out. The warp and weft of everyday civilian life during the Japanese occupation is something of a mystery. In 1945 Rev. Stanley Vincent compiled an important booklet, Out of Great Tribulation , containing the wartime recollections of Burmese Methodists. 1 Two army chaplains (Acheson and Brown-Moffett) wrote brief accounts of separate visits they had made to the Chin States during 1944. In August 1945 Rev. U Po Tun wrote a long

in Conflict, politics and proselytism
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, coruscating events in Rangoon eclipsed the struggles of ordinary people. The Methodist Synod in Mandalay predicted a gloomy and uncertain future. 3 The sheer scale of destruction gnawed away at post-war Burmese politics and undermined public morale. In April 1945 Holden was airlifted into Upper Burma by the Civil Affairs Service Unit (CAS(B)) and he saw for himself the ‘desolation and ruin’ in Mandalay. Harrowing stories were on everyone’s lips. Firth landed in Rangoon in November 1945. A pall of shock and excitement hung over the

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