Aung San

Aung San (Burmese: ဗိုလ်ချုပ် အောင်ဆန်း; MLCTS: aung hcan:, pronounced [àʊɰ̃ sʰáɰ̃]; 13 February 1915 – 19 July 1947) was a Burmese politician and revolutionary. He is often considered the man most responsible for bringing about Burma's independence from British rule, but was assassinated six months before independence. He explored many political movements throughout his life in the pursuit of Burmese independence: when he was a student he was influenced by communism and socialism; when he worked briefly with the Japanese military he was influenced by fascism; but, before the end of World War II he rejected this ideology and he promoted social democratic policies marked by multiculturalism and secularism. He is considered the founder of the Myanmar Armed Forces, and is considered as the Father of the Nation of modern-day Myanmar. Affectionately known as "Bogyoke" (Major General), Aung San is still widely admired by the Burmese people, and his name is still invoked in Burmese politics to this day.

Major General

Aung San
Aung San color portrait.jpg
Premier of British Crown Colony of Burma
In office
26 September 1946 – 19 July 1947
Preceded bySir Paw Tun
Succeeded byU Nu (as Prime Minister)
President of the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League
In office
27 March 1945 – 19 July 1947
Preceded byOffice created
Succeeded byU Nu
Minister of War in the State of Burma
In office
1 August 1943 – 27 March 1945
Preceded byOffice created
Succeeded byOffice abolished
General Secretary of Communist Party of Burma
In office
15 August 1939 – 1940
Preceded byOffice created
Succeeded byThakin Soe
Personal details
Htein Lin

(1915-02-13)13 February 1915
Natmauk, Magwe, British Burma
Died19 July 1947 (1947-07-20) (aged 32)
Rangoon, British Burma
Cause of deathAssassination
Resting placeMartyrs' Mausoleum, Myanmar
Political partyAnti-Fascist People's Freedom League
Communist Party of Burma
Burma Socialist Party
Thakin Society
(m. 1942)
Children4, including:
Aung San Oo
Aung San Suu Kyi
ParentsU Pha (father)
Daw Suu (mother)
RelativesBa Win (brother)
Sein Win (nephew)
Alexander Aris (grandson)
Alma materRangoon University
Yenangyaung High School
OccupationPolitician, major general
Military service
AllegianceBurma Independence Army
Burma National Army
Imperial Japanese Army
RankMajor general (highest rank in military at that time)

Throughout his life Aung San founded, or was closely associated with, many political groups and movements. In his first year of university he was elected to the executive committee of the Rangoon University Student Union and served as the editor of its newspaper. Later, after running a controversial editorial and being temporarily expelled from the university, he was elected the president of the Rangoon University Student Union and the All-Burma Students Union. After leaving university he committed himself to working with revolutionary groups: he joined the Thakin Society, working as its general secretary, and founded both the Communist Party of Burma and the Burma Socialist Party.

Shortly before the outbreak of World War II he fled Burma and joined the Japanese Army with the goal of working with them to create an independent Burma. In the pursuit of that goal he recruited a small core of Burmese revolutionaries later known as the Thirty Comrades and served as the minister of war in the local Japanese puppet government. After becoming dissatisfied with the Japanese close to the end of World War II he switched sides and merged his forces with the British-led Allied forces to fight against the Japanese. After World War II ended he negotiated Burmese independence from Britain, convinced many of the minority ethnic groups to join his new country, and formed a cabinet that broadly reflected the ethnic and religious diversity of the country. He served as the 5th Premier of the British Crown Colony of Burma from 1946 to 1947 and his party, the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League, won a majority in the 1947 Burmese general election, but he and most of his cabinet were assassinated shortly before the country became independent. One of his political opponents, U Saw, was tried and hanged for the crime, but alternative theories of who was responsible have been popular from the time of Aung San's assassination to the present day.

Aung San's daughter, Aung San Suu Kyi, is a stateswoman, politician, and a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. She is now serving as Myanmar's State Counsellor and its 20th (and first female) Minister of Foreign Affairs in Win Myint's Cabinet.


Aung San's paternal father was U Dae Ko [a Chin name]. Aung San's paternal grandmother was Daw Thu Sa,[1] whose family traced their lineage from the royal family of the Pagan Kingdom through its last king, Narathihapate.

Daw Thu Sa had several cousins who had worked within the government of the last Burmese kingdom. One of her cousins, Bo Min Maung, had been the royal treasurer during the reign of King Mindon. King Mindon awarded Bo Min Maung the title of “Mahar Min Kyaw Min Htin”: an honorary title similar to knighthood, expressing favour from the king, given to those who are not close relatives of the Burmese royal family. He had a reputation for having a gentle and soft personality.[2]

Bo Min Maung had a younger brother, Bo Min Yaung. Bo Min Yaung died before Aung San was born, but Daw Thu Sa's stories about him had a great impact on Aung San, as he once wrote that they were what convinced him to be a Burmese nationalist early in his life.[3]

Bo Min Yaung was remembered by Daw Thu Sa as being famous in the area where he lived for being handsome, strong, a good writer, and for practicing his swordsmanship every day. King Mindon employed him in the diplomatic service, and by the reign of Burma's last king, Thibaw, he had been appointed to administer the region of Myo Lu Lin, close to the northern side of the Pegu Mountain Range in Upper Burma. After learning of King Thibaw's abdication and subsequent exile to western India following the brief Third Anglo-Burmese War in 1885 he became angry, and made up his mind to resist the British.[4]

Bo Min Yaung began his rebellion by gathering local soldiers from the region that he had governed, taking the name “King Shwelayaung” (King "Golden Moon"). He took control of a base area near Myint Ma Nie Mountain, and he constructed a temporary palace and a wooden fort in the area, often conducting raids and attacks on nearby British forces. Eventually British pressure forced him to abandon that base and relocate to the area around Taungdwingyi (now in the division of Magway). He built a fort near Lay Taing Sin, 22 miles from where Aung San was born.[5]

Bo Min Yaung continued to attack British forces in the area, but eventually the British defeated and captured him. After his capture, the British officer in charge (remembered as “Captain Gyan Daw” by Daw Thu Sa) told him that they would release him and allow him to be the governor of Taungdwingyi as long as he agreed to stop fighting the British, but Bo Min Yaung refused, saying that he would not give obeisance to foreigners as if they had the authority of the Burmese royal family. After this refusal, the British soldiers beheaded Bo Min Yaung.[6]

Some sources have reported Bo Min Yaung's relationship to Aung San differently, claiming that he was Aung San's paternal grandfather, rather than his paternal grandmother's cousin.[7]

Aung San's parents were U Phar and Daw Su. U Phar was very introverted and reserved. According to Aung San, U Phar studied law and passed his bar exam third in his class of 174, but after his education ended he never went on to work as a lawyer, instead focusing on doing business. U Phar died at the age of 51, when Aung san was in grade 8.[8]


Early lifeEdit

Aung San was born in the small town of Natmauk, Magway District, on 13 February 1915. The family was considered middle-class.[9] He was the youngest of nine siblings: he had three older sisters and five older brothers.[1] Aung San's name, "Aung San", was given to him by one of his older brothers, Aung Than. Aung San received his primary education at a Buddhist monastic school in Natmauk, but he moved to Yenangyaung in grade 4 because his eldest brother, Ba Win, had become the principle of the high school there.[10]

Aung San rarely spoke before the age of eight. While he was a teenager he often spent hours reading and thinking alone, not responding to those around him. In his youth he was generally unconcerned with his appearance and clothing. In his earliest articles, published in the "Opinion" section of The World of Books, he opposed the ideology of Western-style individualism supported by U Thant in favour of a social philosophy based on the "standardization of human life". Aung San later became friends with U Thant through their mutual friendship with U Nu.[11]

Portrait of the 1936 Oway magazine's editorial committee

After Aung San entered Rangoon University in 1933, he quickly became a student leader.[12] He was elected to the executive committee of the Rangoon University Students' Union (RUSU). He then became editor of the RUSU's magazine Oway (Peacock's Call).[13] Aung San was described by contemporary students as being charismatic and keenly interested in politics. While he was enrolled in university his heroes included Abraham Lincoln, the nationalist nineteenth-century Mexican politician Benito Juarez, and Edmund Burke, whose parliamentary speeches he memorized.[9]

Portrait of the Rangoon University Student Union in 1936

In February 1936 he was threatened with expulsion from the university, along with U Nu, for refusing to reveal the name of the author of an article he had run in the student newspaper he edited, "Hell Hound at Large", which criticized a senior university official.[14] After refusing to give the name of the student who had authored the article, Aung San was expelled from the university. His friend U Nu was also expelled for giving anti-British speeches, leading to the three month long Second University Students' Strike, after which the university authorities subsequently retracted their expulsions.[15] In 1938 Aung San was elected president of both the Rangoon University Student Union (RUSU) and the All-Burma Students Union (ABSU), formed after the strike spread to Mandalay.[14] In the same year, the government appointed him as a student representative on the Rangoon University Act Amendment Committee.

In October 1938, Aung San left his law classes and entered national politics. At this point, he was anti-British and staunchly anti-imperialist. He became a Thakin ("lord" or "master": a politically motivated title that proclaimed that the Burmese people were the true masters of their country, often used at the time as an informal title for Westerners in Burma) when he joined the Dobama Asiayone ("We Burmans Association"). He acted as its general secretary until August 1940. While in this role, he helped organize a series of countrywide strikes that became known as ME 1300 Revolution (၁၃၀၀ ပြည့် အရေးတော်ပုံ, Htaung thoun ya byei ayeidawbon), based on the Burmese calendar year.

In August 1939 Aung San became a founding member and the first Secretary General of the Communist Party of Burma (CPB). Aung San later claimed that his relationship with the CPB was not smooth, since he joined and left the party twice. Shortly after founding the CPB Aung San founded a similar organization, alternatively known as either the "People's Revolutionary Party" or the "Burma Revolutionary Party". This party was Marxist and formed with the goal of supporting Burmese independence against the British. It survived, and was reformed into the Socialist Party following World War II.[16]

During the Second World WarEdit

Following the outbreak of World War II in September 1939 Aung San helped to found another nationalist organization, the Freedom Bloc, by forming an alliance between the Dobama, the All Burma Students Union, politically active monks, and Dr. Ba Maw's Poor Man's Party.[17] Dr. Ba Maw served as the "dictator" (anarshin) of the Freedom Bloc, while Aung San worked under him as the group's general secretary. The group's goals were organized around the idea of taking advantage of the war to gain Burmese independence.[18] In 1939 Aung San was briefly arrested on the grounds of conspiring to overthrow the government by force, but was released. Upon his release Aung San proposed a strategy of pursuing Burmese independence by staging countrywide strikes, anti-tax drives, and guerrilla insurgency.[19]

In March 1940, he attended an Indian National Congress Assembly in Ramgarh, India,[14] along with other Thakins, including Than Tun and Ba Hein. While there Aung San met many leaders of the Indian independence movement, including Jawaharlal Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi, and Chandra Bose, as well as the leaders of the Indian Communist Party. However, while he was in India the Burmese government issued a warrant for his arrest, and the arrest of many other leaders of the Thakins and the Freedom Bloc, due to those organizations' efforts to organize a revolution against the British,[20] at least partially with Japanese support. On August 14, 1949 Aung San and another Thakin colleague, Hla Myaing, boarded the Norweigen cargo ship Hai Lee to Xiamen, China. Different sources have given different explanations for their trip: Dr. Ba Maw claimed that the trip had been organized by the Japanese consulate; the Communist Party of Burma said that they had left to seek the cooperation of the Chinese Communist Party; Aung San stated that the goals his the trip were open-ended. After they arrived in Xiamen they found that the city had already been occupied by the Empire of Japan. They wandered the city for several weeks with no precise plan and little money, until they were intercepted by Japanese secret police who convinced them to go to Japan instead.[21] The pair left for Tokyo via Taiwan and arrived in Japan on September 27, 1940, the same day that Japan signed its military alliance with Nazi Germany.[22]

In May 1940 Japanese intelligence officers led by Suzuki Keiji had arrived in Yangon posing as journalists in order to gather information and to seek the cooperation of local parties for the intended Japanese invasion of Burma, occupying an office at 40 Judah Ezekiel Street for that purpose. Among their network of local collaborators they made close connections with the Thakins, of which Aung San was a leading member. The familiarity of Japanese intelligence with the prominent political actors in Burma ensured that they were aware of Aung San's activities by the time he arrived in Japanese-occupied China.[23]

Aung San in Japan (right), with Bo Let Ya (Thakin Hla Pe) (left) and Bo Sekkya (Thakin Aung Than) (middle)

Aung San spent the rest of 1940 in Tokyo, learning the Japanese language and political ideology. At the time he wrote that he was opposed to Western individualism and that he intended to create an authoritarian state on the model of Japan and Nazi Germany, including only "one state, one party, [and] one leader". While in Japan he dressed in a Japanese Kimono and adopted a Japanese name, "Omoda Monji".[24] While studying in Japan at this time the Blue Print for a Free Burma was drafted. This document has been attributed to Aung San,[25] though its authorship is disputed.[26]

In February 1941 Aung San, working with Japanese intelligence, secretly re-entered Burma and began efforts to contact and recruit additional Burmese agents to work with the Japanese. He entered the colony secretly through the port of Bassein, changed into a longyi, and booked a train to Rangoon using a pseudonym. Within weeks he had recruited thirty of his old revolutionary colleagues and smuggled them out of the country via Japanese intelligence networks. These "Thirty Comrades" were taken to the Japanese-occupied island of Hainan for further training. Aung San was twenty-five, the third-oldest of the group. While training on Hainan all thirty of the men took pseudonyms beginning with the word "Bo", meaning "officer", which had become a title used by Westerners in Burma. Aung San took the nomme de guerre "Bo Teza" ("Teza" means "fire"). The Thirty Comrades trained for six months on Hainan with Suzuki Keiji and other Japanese officers. Aung San, Ne Win, and Setkya all received special training, since the Japanese intended to place them in senior positions in the Burmese government following the Japanese conquest of the territory.[24]

Between November and December of 1941 Aung San and his party were successful in recruiting approximately 3,500 Burmese volunteers from the Siam-Burma border to serve in their army. On December 28, 1941, Aung San and the rest of the Thirty Comrades formally inaugurated the Burma Independence Army in Bangkok.[25] The event involved a tradition inherited from the Burmese aristocracy:[27] the thwe thauk ("blood drinking") ceremony. This ceremony involved the participants collecting their blood from a cut in their arms, mixing the participants' blood together with alcohol in a silver bowl, and drinking it while pledging eternal comradeship and loyalty. Three days later the BIA entered Burma behind the invading Japanese Fifteenth Army.[25] The BIA left most the fighting to the Japanese Army, but occupied the areas behind Japanese lines after the British had retreated. The arrival of BIA units in many areas of Burma was followed by escalating communal violence, especially against Karen people, which lasted for several weeks until the Japanese Army was able to intervene.[28]

The capital of Burma, Rangoon, fell to the Japanese as part of the Burma Campaign in March 1942. The BIA formed an administration for the country under Thakin Tun Oke that operated in parallel with the Japanese military administration until the Japanese disbanded it. In July, the disbanded BIA was re-formed as the Burma Defense Army (BDA). Aung San was made a colonel and put in charge of the force.[14] He was later invited back to Japan, and was presented with the Order of the Rising Sun by Emperor Hirohito.[14]

On August 1, 1943, the Japanese held an "independence ceremony" in Rangoon, in which they formally granted Burma "independence" in a manner similar to the puppet government of Manchukuo in China. The Japanese had planned to make Aung San the leader of the country, but in the end they were more impressed with Dr. Ba Maw, and made him the leader instead, giving him virtually dictatorial control under their direction: Aung San was made the second most powerful person in the government. The government was organized on a fascist model, and intentionally eschewed democratic principles and patterns of government. The army, still under the control of Aung San, took their motto, "One Blood, One Voice, One Command" at this time: it is still the official motto of the Burmese military.[29]

Aung San in Burma Defence Army uniform with Daw Khin Kyi after their marriage in 1942

Aung San soon became doubtful about Japanese promises of true independence and of Japan's ability to win the war. As General William Slim, the commanding officer of Allied forces in the Burma campaign, put it:

It was not long before Aung San found that what he meant by independence had little relation to what the Japanese were prepared to give—that he had exchanged an old master for an infinitely more tyrannical new one. As one of his leading followers once said to me, "If the British sucked our blood, the Japanese ground our bones!" He became more and more disillusioned with the Japanese, and early in 1943 we got news from Seagrim, a most gallant officer who had remained in the Karen Hills at the ultimate cost of his life, that Aung San's feelings were changing. On 1 August 1944 he was bold enough to speak publicly with contempt of the Japanese brand of independence, and it was clear that, if they did not soon liquidate him, he might prove useful to us. ... At our first interview, Aung San began to take rather a high hand. ... I pointed out that he was in no position to take the line he had. I did not need his forces; I was destroying the Japanese quite nicely without their help, and could continue to do so. I would accept his help and that of his army only on the clear understanding that it implied no recognition of any provisional government. ... The British Government had announced its intention to grant self-government to Burma within the British Commonwealth, and we had better limit our discussion to the best method of throwing the Japanese out of the country as the next step toward self-government.[30]

Aung San made plans to organize an anti-Japanese uprising in Burma, secretly forming the "Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League" in August 1944 following a secret meeting in Bago between the Burma National Army, the Burmese Communist Party, and the People's Revolutionary Party (which later reformed into the Socialist Party).[31] Following this meeting, Aung San's forces began to secretly store supplies in preparation of their fight against the Japanese. In late March 1945, as Allied forces advanced towards Rangoon, Aung San led the BNA in a parade in front of Government House in Rangoon, after which they were sent by the Japanese to the front. A few days later, on March 27, the BNA switched sides and attacked the Japanese instead.[32] 27 March came to be commemorated as Resistance Day, until the military regime renamed it "Tatmadaw (Armed Forces) Day".

The Burmese National Army continued to harass the Japanese throughout the remainder of the war, later claiming to have killed 12,000 Japanese soldiers and wounded 4,000. When Allied forces retook Rangoon on May 2, 1945, the BNA were symbolically sent into the city two days before any other soldiers. The Allies helped to arm Aung San's forces somewhat after their defection, supplying the BNA with 3,000 small arms.[33]

Aung San first met with General Slim on May 16, 1945, appearing unexpectedly in Slim's camp in the uniform of a Japanese major general. At the meeting Aung San stated his intentions to ally with the British until the Japanese had been driven our of Burma, and agreed to incorporate his forces into Slim's British-led army. When Slim asked Aung San whether he was taking a risk by unexpectedly coming to his camp in the uniform of a Japanese officer and adopting a bold attitude, Aung San answered that he was not, "because you are a British officer." Slim later wrote that Aung San had made a good impression in the meeting.[34]

After the warEdit

World War II ended on September 12, 1945. Following the end of the war the Burma National Army was renamed the Patriotic Burmese Forces (PBF) and then gradually disarmed by the British as the Japanese were driven out of various parts of the country.

The leaders of the Patriotic Burmese Forces, while disbanded, were offered positions in the Burma Army under British command according to the Kandy conference agreement with Lord Louis Mountbatten in Ceylon in September 1945. Aung San was not invited to negotiate, since the British Governor General, Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith, was debating whether he should be put on trial for his role in the public execution of a Muslim headman in Thaton during the war,.[35] The delegates agreed that the new Burmese army would be composed of 5,000 of Aung San's Japanese-trained Bamar soldiers, and 5,000 British-trained soldiers, most of whom were either Chin, Kachin, or Karen.[36] Aung San wrote to U Seinda in Arakan, saying that he supported U Seida's guerrilla fight against the British, but that he would cooperate with them for tactical reasons. After the Kandy Conference he reorganized his formally disbanded soldiers as a paramilitary organization instead, the People's Volunteer Organization, which continued to wear uniforms and drill in public, and which was personally loyal to him and his party rather than the government. By 1947, when Burma became independent, the PVO had over 100,000 members.[37]

Some ethnic minority leaders resented Aung San for his activities in WWII. In January 1946 a victory festival was held in the Kachin capital of Myitkyina. Governor Dorman-Smith was invited to attend, but neither Aung San nor anyone from his party were, due to "their connection with the Burma Independence Army".[38]

In 1946 Dorman-Smith was replaced by a new Governor General of Burma, Sir Hubert Rance, who agreed to recognize and negotiate directly with Aung San, possibly to distance them both from the Communist Party of Burma. Rance agreed to appoint Aung San to the position of counselor for defense on the Executive Council (a provisional cabinet made in lieu of the upcoming Burmese national election). On September 28, 1946 Aung San was appointed to the even higher position of deputy chairman, making him effectively the 5th prime minister of the British-Burma Crown Colony.[39]

Aung San was to all intents and purposes prime minister, although he was still subject to a British veto. British Prime Minister Clement Attlee invited Aung San to visit London in 1947 in order to negotiate the conditions of Burmese independence. He arrived in Britain by air in January 1947 along with his deputy Tin Tun, who he considered his brightest official. Attlee and Aung San signed their agreement on the terms of Burmese independence on January 27: following the Burmese election in 1947 Burma would join the British Commonwealth (like Canada and Australia), though its government would have the option to leave; its government would control the Burmese Army once Allied armies had withdrawn; a constitutional assembly would be drawn up as soon as possible, with the resulting constitution presented to the British parliament as soon as possible; and, Britain would nominate Burma's entrance into the newly founded United Nations.[27] The agreement was not unanimous: two other delegates who attended the conference, U Saw and Thakin Ba Sein, refused to sign it, and it was denounced in Burma by Aung San's critics, including Than Tun and Thakin Soe. No delegates representing Burma's ethnic minorities were present, and both Karen and Shan leaders sent messages warning that they would not consider any agreement signed at the conference legally binding to their communities.[40]

At a press conference during a stopover in Delhi, he stated that the Burmese wanted "complete independence" and not dominion status, and that they had "no inhibitions of any kind" about "contemplating a violent or non-violent struggle or both" in order to achieve it. He concluded that he hoped for the best, but was prepared for the worst.[14]

Two weeks after the signing of the agreement with Britain, Aung San signed an agreement at the second Panglong Conference on February 12, 1947, with leaders representing the Shan, Kachin, and Chin People. In this agreement these leaders agreed to join a united independent Burma, under the condition that they would have "full autonomy"[41] and the right to secede in 1958, after ten years. Karen leaders were not consulted and were not a part of the agreement. They hoped for a separate Karen State within the British Empire.[42] The date of the signing of the Panglong Agreement has been celebrated in Burma as "Union Day", even though Ne Win effectively dissolved any agreement with Burma's minority communities following his coup in 1962.[43][44]

The general election held in April 1947 was not ideal: the Karens, and most of Aung San's other political opponents, boycotted the process. Since they ran virtually unopposed, every delegate in Aung San's party was elected.[42] In the end Aung San's AFPFL won 176 out of the 210 seats in the Constituent Assembly, while the Karens won 24, the Communists 6, and the Anglo-Burmans 4.[45] In July, Aung San convened a series of conferences at Sorrenta Villa in Rangoon to discuss the rehabilitation of Burma.

Following the 1947 election Aung San began to form his own cabinet. It was intended to be as representative as possible of country's ethnic and religious diversity. In addition to ethnic Burmese statesmen like himself and Tin Tut, he also persuaded the Karen leader Mahn Ba Khaing, the Shan Chief Sao Hsam Htun, the Tamil Muslim leader Abdul Razak. No Communists were invited to participate.[46]


In the final years of the British administration of Burma, Aung San became good friends with the second-last British Governor General of Burma, Sir Reginald Dorman-Smith, with whom he would regularly discuss his personal difficulties. In early 1946, approximately a year before his death, Aung San complained to Dorman-Smith that he felt melancholic, that he did not feel close to his old friends in the Burmese military, that he had many enemies, and that he was worried that someone would attempt to assassinate him soon.[47]

A little after 10:30 AM on July 19, 1947, a single army jeep carrying armed gunmen in military fatigues drove into the courtyard of the Secretariat Building, where Aung San was having a meeting with his new cabinet. There was no wall or gate protecting the government building,[46] and although Aung San had had been warned that someone may have been plotting to kill him[48] the sentries guarding the building did not challenge or stop the car in any way. Three men from the car, armed with grenades and Sten guns, ran up the stairs towards the council chamber, shot the guard standing outside, and burst into the council chamber.[46] The gunmen shouted, "Remain Seated! Don't move!"[48] Aung San stood up and was immediately shot in the chest, killing him. The gunmen sprayed the area where he was standing for approximately thirty seconds, killing four other council members immediately and mortally wounding another three. Only three in the room survived.[46]

The eight other people who died in Aung San's assassination were among the most promising political leaders in Burma. Thakin Mya, was a minister without portfolio who had been a student leader and a close friend of Aung San. Ba Choe, the minister of information, had been the editor of a prominent nationalist journal. Abdul Razak, a Tamil Muslim, the minister of education, had been a headmaster. Ba Win, the minister of trade, was Aung San's older brother. Mahn Ba Khaing, the minister of industry, was one of the few Karen politicians not to have boycotted involvement in the new government. Sao Sam Htun, the minister of the Hill Regions, was a Shan prince who had taken an active lead in convincing the other ethnic minorities to join Burma in becoming independent. Ohn Maung was a deputy minister in the ministry of transportation who had just entered the conference room to deliver a report before the assassination. Abdul Razak's 18-year-old bodyguard, Ko Htwe, was killed before the gunmen entered the room.[49]

Burma's last pre-WWII Prime Minister, U Saw (who had himself lost an eye surviving an assassination attempt in late 1946),[27] was arrested for the murders the same day.[50] U Saw was subsequently tried and hanged for his responsibility in the assassination, but there have been many other claims of responsibility from multiple parties ever since Aung San's death. Some claimed that a rogue faction in the British intelligence service was responsible.[51] In his autobiography one of the Thirty Comrades, General Kyaw Zaw, accused the British police department in Rangoon of knowing about U Saw's plot days in advance but doing nothing to prevent it.[52] Other observers blamed discontented senior members of the Burmese Army, claiming it was inconceivable that U Saw, a man with no military experience, could have planned and carried out the attack alone. The Burmese Communist Party said that it was part of "an imperialist plot", claiming that Aung San had been in discussions with them to form a "united front" government, and that the assassination had been carried out to prevent this. U Saw never admitted any responsibility, and he claimed that the weapons found behind his house, which led to his conviction, were planted in order to frame him. U Saw's claim was believed by multiple other politicians who were not part of Aung San's party, the most senior of which was U Ba Pe, who stated to the press that they also expected to be framed for other crimes by their enemies in the new government.[53] After Aung San died his old friend U Nu became the prime minister and stated publicly that he knew the British were not involved in the assassination. According to General Kyaw Zaw, this was evidence that U Nu was part of the conspiracy.[54]

Shortly before her house arrest, in 1988, Aung San Suu Kyi told a foreign reporter that Aung San had warned his comrades not to trust Ne Win only weeks before his assassination. She hinted that Ne Win might have been involved in her father's assassination, but that nobody in Burmese politics was comfortable with publicly accusing him.[55] This criticism was similar to the criticism of Kyaw Zaw, who in 1976 had claimed that, before his assassination, Aung San was seriously considering removing Ne Win from office due to his actions under the Japanese, which had led Aung San to worry that Ne Win had "fascist" tendencies.[56]

Besides Aung San, most of his cabinet, and U Saw, there were a number of other assassinations and attempted assassinations carried out against other men who had been close to Aung San at that time. Two of these included Aung San's English lawyer, Frederick Henry, who was murdered in his house, and F. Collins, a private detective who was investigating Aung San's assassination. According to General Kyaw Zaw these murders were evidence that somebody was trying to cover up their involvement in the assassination.[54] In September 1948, nine months after Burma's independence, somebody assassinated Tin Tut, who had been one of Aung San's closest advisors and who at the time was Burma's first foreign minister, by throwing a grenade into his car. The assassins were never caught and nobody was ever charged with his murder.[57] It was rumored that he was investigating Aung San's assassination at the time of his death.

A variation on the theory that the British were involved in Aung San's assassination was given new life in an influential, but sensationalist, documentary broadcast by the BBC on the 50th anniversary of the assassination in 1997. What did emerge in the course of the investigations at the time of the trial, however, was that several low-ranking British officers had sold firearms to a number of Burmese politicians, including U Saw. Shortly after U Saw's conviction, Captain David Vivian, a British Army officer, was sentenced to five years' imprisonment for supplying U Saw with weapons. Vivian was freed from prison when Karen soldiers captured Insein Prison in May 1949. According to General Kyaw Zaw he then lived with the Karen people in Kawkareik until 1950, when he traveled back to Thailand and then to England, where he lived until his death in 1980. Little information about his motives was revealed either during or after the trial.[58]


Statue of Aung San on the northern shore of Kandawgyi Lake in Yangon

For his independence struggle and uniting the country as a single entity, he is revered as the architect of modern Burma and a national hero.

Within months of Aung San's assassination, on January 4, 1948, the last British soldiers left Burma and it became an independent country. By August 1948 a civil war began between the Burmese military and many independent regional groups, including both Communist insurgents and various ethnic militias. The internal conflict within Myanmar continues to the present day, the oldest civil war in the world. Since Burma's independence no single government has ever controlled the entirety of Burma, no election has ever represented every area claimed by the Burmese government, and no census recording the entire population of Burma has ever been able to be conducted.[59]

In 1962 the Burmese military, led by Ne Win, overthrew the civilian government in a coup and instituted military rule. The Burmese military justified the legitimacy of their government partially by citing the legacy of Aung San in leading the country in WWII, when he was both a military and political leader. In doing so they ignored the symbolic decision that Aung San made in 1945, when he resigned from all military positions in order to participate in politics as a civilian. After taking power the military abandoned many of the political reforms that Aung San had fought for or introduced, including the meaningful participation of ethnic minorities in the government, democracy, and federalism.[60]

A Martyrs' Mausoleum was built at the foot of the Shwedagon Pagoda in 1947, and July 19 was designated Martyrs' Day, a public holiday. His book, Burma's Challenge, was likewise popular.

In October 9, 1983, the President of South Korea, Chun Doo-hwan, was nearly assassinated by North Korean agents during a wreath-laying ceremony at Aung San's mausoleum.[61] The assassins detonated a bomb that they had planted in the roof of the mausoleum, killing 19 people, including four South Korean cabinet ministers, and injuring 48.[62] Chun reportedly escaped the assassination attempt only because his car was delayed by traffic. One of the assassins was killed, and the two others were captured. The incident led Myanmar to cut off diplomatic relations with North Korea from 1983-2007. Aung San's original mausoleum was destroyed by the blast, and another monument was built in its place.[61]

Aung San's name had been invoked by successive Burmese governments since independence, until the military regime in the 1990s tried to eradicate all traces of Aung San's memory. Nevertheless, several statues of him adorn the former capital Yangon and his portrait still has a place of pride in many homes and offices throughout the country. Scott Market, Yangon's most famous, was renamed Bogyoke Market in his memory, and Commissioner Road was retitled Bogyoke Aung San Road after independence. These names have been retained. Many towns and cities in Burma have thoroughfares and parks named after him.[63] In the decades following his assassination many people came to view Aung San as a symbol of democratic reform: during the 8888 Uprising in 1988 against the military dictatorship, many protesters carried posters of Aung San as symbols of their movement.[64]

Banknotes featuring Aung San were first produced in 1958, ten years after his assassination. This continued until the uprising in 1988, when the government redesigned the national currency, the kyat, removing his picture and replacing it with scenes of Burmese life, possibly in an attempt to decrease the popularity of his daughter, Aung San Suu Kyi, and the pro-democracy movement that she led. In 2017 the Myanmar parliament voted 286–107 in favor of reinstating Aung San's image: the opposing votes came from representatives of the military and from the Union Solidarity and Development Party, the successor of the party that ruled Burma before its democratic reforms. The new 1,000-kyat notes bearing Aung San's image were produced and released to the public on January 4, 2020, a date chosen to mark the 72nd anniversary of Independence Day.[65]


Aung San, his wife Khin Kyi and their eldest son, Aung San Oo

While he was War Minister in 1942, Aung San met and married Khin Kyi, and around the same time her sister met and married Thakin Than Tun, the Communist leader. Aung San and Khin Kyi had four children.

Their youngest surviving child, Aung San Suu Kyi, was only two years old when Aung San was assassinated.[66] is a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, currently serving as State Counsellor, the first female Minister of Foreign Affairs, and leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD). Their second son, Aung San Lin, died at age eight, when he drowned in an ornamental lake in the grounds of the house. The elder, Aung San Oo, is an engineer working in the United States and has disagreed with his sister's political activities.

Their youngest daughter, Aung San Chit, born in September 1946, died on 26 September 1946, the same day Aung San got into Governor's Executive council, a few days after her birth.[67] Aung San's wife Daw Khin Kyi died on 27 December 1988.

Names of Aung SanEdit

  • Name at birth: Htein Lin (ထိန်လင်း)
  • As student leader and a thakin: Aung San (သခင်အောင်ဆန်း)
  • Nom de guerre: Bo Teza (ဗိုလ်တေဇ)
  • Japanese name: Omoda Monji (面田紋次)
  • Chinese name: Tan Lu Shaung
  • Resistance period code name: Myo Aung (မျိုးအောင်), U Naung Cho (ဦးနောင်ချို)
  • Contact code name with General Ne Win: Ko Set Pe (ကိုဆက်ဖေ)



  1. ^ a b Nay 99
  2. ^ Nay 100-102
  3. ^ Nay 100
  4. ^ Nay 102
  5. ^ Nay 102-103
  6. ^ Nay 104
  7. ^ Aung
  8. ^ Nay 99, 106
  9. ^ a b Thant 213
  10. ^ Nay 106
  11. ^ Thant 214
  12. ^ Maung Maung 22-23
  13. ^ Smith 90
  14. ^ a b c d e f Aung San Suu Kyi (1984). Aung San of Burma. Edinburgh: Kiscadale 1991. pp. 1, 10, 14, 17, 20, 22, 26, 27, 41, 44.
  15. ^ Smith 54
  16. ^ Smith 56-57
  17. ^ Lintner 1990
  18. ^ Thant 217
  19. ^ Smith 58
  20. ^ Smith 57-58
  21. ^ Smith 58
  22. ^ Thant 228
  23. ^ Thant 219
  24. ^ a b Thant 229
  25. ^ a b c Smith 59
  26. ^ Houtman
  27. ^ a b c Thant 252
  28. ^ Thant 230
  29. ^ Thant 252-253
  30. ^ Field Marshal Sir William Slim, Defeat into Victory, Cassell & Company, 2nd edition, 1956
  31. ^ Smith 60
  32. ^ Thant 238-240
  33. ^ Smith 65
  34. ^ Thant 240-241
  35. ^ Smith 65-66
  36. ^ Thant 244-245
  37. ^ Smith 66
  38. ^ Smith 73
  39. ^ Smith 69
  40. ^ Smith 77-78
  41. ^ Smith 78
  42. ^ a b Thant 253
  43. ^ Smith 79
  44. ^ "The Panglong Agreement, 1947". Online Burma/Myanmar Library.
  45. ^ Appleton, G. (1947). "Burma Two Years After Liberation". International Affairs. Blackwell Publishing. 23 (4): 510–521. JSTOR 3016561.
  46. ^ a b c d Thant 254
  47. ^ Thant 248
  48. ^ a b Lintner 2003 xii
  49. ^ Lintner 2003 xii-xiii
  50. ^ Lintner 2003 xiii
  51. ^ Smith 71-72
  52. ^ Maung Zarni
  53. ^ Smith 71-72, 441
  54. ^ a b The Irrawaddy 2
  55. ^ Smith 421
  56. ^ Smith 305
  57. ^ Thant 270-271
  58. ^ The Irrawaddy 1-3
  59. ^ Thant 258-259
  60. ^ Smith 198-199
  61. ^ a b BBC News
  62. ^ Time
  63. ^ Smith 6
  64. ^ Thant 33
  65. ^ Zaw
  66. ^ Thant 333
  67. ^ Wintle, Justin (2007). Perfect hostage: a life of Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma's prisoner of conscience. Skyhorse Publishing. p. 143. ISBN 978-1-60239-266-3.


External linksEdit