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Official portrait of Ne Win
|Chairman of the Burma Socialist Programme Party|
4 July 1962 – 23 July 1988
|Preceded by||Office established|
|Succeeded by||Sein Lwin|
|4th President of Burma|
2 March 1974 – 9 November 1981
|Preceded by||Win Maung (1962)|
|Succeeded by||San Yu|
|Chairman of the Union Revolutionary Council|
2 March 1962 – 2 March 1974
|Preceded by||Office established|
|Succeeded by||Office abolished|
|3rd Prime Minister of Burma|
29 October 1958 – 4 April 1960
|Preceded by||U Nu|
|Succeeded by||U Nu|
2 March 1962 – 2 March 1974
|Preceded by||U Nu|
|Succeeded by||Brigadier General Sein Win|
10 July 1910
also given as 14 May 1911 or 24 May 1911
Paungdale, Pegu Province, Lower Burma, British India
5 December 2002 (aged 92)|
|Resting place||Ashes scattered into Hlaing River|
|Political party||Burma Socialist Programme Party|
Khin May Than
Ni Ni Myint
Yadana Nat Mei
Kyaw Thein |
Phyo Wai Win
|Alma mater||Rangoon University|
|Years of service||1931–74|
Ne Win (Burmese: နေဝင်း IPA: [nè wɪ́ɴ]; 10 July 1910, or 14 or 24 May 1911 – 5 December 2002) was a Burmese politician and military commander who served as Prime Minister of Burma from 1958 to 1960 and 1962 to 1974, and also President of Burma from 1962 to 1981. Ne Win was Burma's dictator during the Socialist Burma period from 1962 to 1988.
Ne Win founded the Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP) and overthrew the democratic Union Parliament of U Nu in the 1962 Burmese coup d'état, establishing Burma as a totalitarian, one-party socialist state under the Burmese Way to Socialism ideology. Ne Win was Burma's de facto leader as chairman of the BSPP, serving in various official titles as part of his military government, and was known by his supporters as U Ne Win.[a] His rule was characterized by isolationism, political violence, sinophobia, economic collapse, and is credited with turning Burma into one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world. Ne Win resigned in July 1988 in response to the 8888 Uprising that overthrew the BSPP, and was replaced by the military junta of the State Law and Order Restoration Council. He held minor influence in the 1990s until being placed under house arrest, and died in 2002.
Ne Win's date of birth is not known with certainty. The English language publication Who's Who in Burma published in 1961 by People's Literature House, Rangoon, stated that Ne Win was born on 14 May 1911. Dr. Maung Maung stated in the Burmese version of his book Burma and General Ne Win, also published in English, that Ne Win was born on 14 May 1911. However, in a book written in Burmese titled The Thirty Comrades, the author Kyaw Nyein gave Ne Win's date of birth as 10 July 1910.
Kyaw Nyein's date of 1910 can be considered as the more plausible date. First, Kyaw Nyein had access to historical records and he interviewed many surviving members of the Thirty Comrades when he wrote the book in the mid-to late 1990s. (Ne Win was one of the Thirty Comrades who secretly went to undergo military training in Japanese-occupied Hainan Island in the early 1940s for the purpose of fighting for independence from the British). In his book published around 1998, Kyaw Nyein lists the names of the surviving members of the Thirty Comrades whom he had interviewed, although Ne Win was not one of them.) Secondly, when Ne Win died on 5 December 2002, the Burmese language newspapers that were allowed to carry a paid obituary stated the age of 'U Ne Win' to be '93 years'. According to Burmese custom, a person's age is their age upon their next birthday. Since Ne Win turned 92 in July 2002, when he died in December 2002 he was considered to be 93 years old. Most Western news agencies, based on the May 1911 birth date, reported that Ne Win was 91 years old, but the obituary put up by his family (most probably his children) stated that he was 93 years old, which most likely stems from East Asian age reckoning.
Ne Win, born Shu Maung (ရှုမောင်), was born into an educated middle class Burmese Chinese family in a small village near Paungdale about 200 miles (320 km) north of Rangoon. He spent two years at Rangoon University beginning in 1929, and took biology as his main subject with hopes of becoming a doctor. In 1931 he was expelled from the university after he failed an exam. Ne Win eventually became "Thakin Shu Maung", or a member of the nationalist organisation Dobama Asiayone (We Burmans Association). Other members of the group included Aung San and U Nu. In 1941 Ne Win, as a member of the Ba Sein-Tun Ok (Socialist) faction of the Dobama, was one of thirty young men chosen for military training by the Japanese operative Colonel Suzuki Keiji. Their leader was Aung San and they formed the Burma Independence Army (BIA). During military training on the Japanese-occupied Hainan Island, Shu Maung chose a nom de guerre, Bo Ne Win (Commander Radiant Sun). In early 1942 the Japanese Army and the BIA entered Burma in the wake of the retreating British forces. Ne Win's role in the campaign was to organize resistance behind the British lines.
The experience of the Japanese occupation of Burma worked to alienate the nationalists as well as the population at large. Toward the end of the Second World War, on 27 March 1945 the Burma National Army (successor to the BIA) turned against the Japanese following the British re-invasion of Burma. Ne Win, as one of the BNA Commanders, was quick to establish links with the British – attending the Kandy conference in Ceylon and taking charge of the anti-Communist operations in the Pyinmana area as commander of the 4th Burma Rifles after the Red Flag Communists and the Communist Party of Burma went underground to fight against the government in October 1946 and on 28 March 1948 respectively. Burma obtained independence on 4 January 1948, and for the first 14 years it had a parliamentary and democratic government mainly under Prime Minister U Nu, but the country was riven with political division. Even before independence, Aung San was assassinated together with six of his cabinet members on 19 July 1947; U Saw, a pre-war prime minister and political rival of Aung San, was found guilty of the crime and executed. U Nu as leader of the Socialists took charge of the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League (AFPFL) formed by the Communists, Socialists and the BNA in 1945 now that Aung San was dead and the Communists expelled from the AFPFL.
Following independence there were uprisings in the army and among ethnic minority groups. In late 1948, after a confrontation between army rivals, Ne Win was appointed second in command of the army and his rival Bo Zeya, a communist commander and fellow member of the Thirty Comrades, took a portion of the army into rebellion. Ne Win immediately adopted a policy of creating Socialist militia battalions called 'Sitwundan' under his personal command with the approval of U Nu. On 31 January 1949, Ne Win was appointed Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces (Tatmadaw) and given total control of the army, replacing General Smith Dun, an ethnic Karen. He rebuilt and restructured the armed forces along the ruling Socialist Party's political lines, but the country was still split and the government was ineffective.
He was asked to serve as interim prime minister from 28 October 1958 by U Nu, when the AFPFL split into two factions and U Nu barely survived a motion of no-confidence against his government in parliament. Ne Win restored order during the period known as the "Ne Win caretaker government". Elections were held in February 1960 and Ne Win handed back power to the victorious U Nu on 4 April 1960.
On 2 March 1962, Ne Win again seized power in a coup d'état. He became head of state as Chairman of the Union Revolutionary Council and also Prime Minister. The coup was characterized as "bloodless" by the world's media. Declaring that "parliamentary democracy was not suitable for Burma," the new regime suspended the constitution and dissolved the legislature.
Shortly afterward, around 8 pm local time, Ne Win addressed the nation in a five-minute radio speech which concluded with the statement: "if these disturbances were made to challenge us, I have to declare that we will fight sword with sword and spear with spear". On 13 July 1962, less than a week after the speech, Ne Win left for Austria, Switzerland and the United Kingdom "for a medical check up". All universities were closed for more than two years until September 1964.
In 1988, 26 years later, Ne Win denied involvement in the dynamiting of the Student Union building, stating that his deputy Brigadier Aung Gyi — who by that time had fallen out with Ne Win and been dismissed — had given the order and that he had to take responsibility as a "revolutionary leader" by giving the sword with sword and spear with spear speech.
Ne Win oversaw a number of reforms after taking power. The administration instituted a system including elements of extreme nationalism, Marxism, and Buddhism, though Ne Win lacked interest in either ideology or religion – terming this the Burmese Way to Socialism. He founded the Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP), which in 1964 was formally declared to be the only legal party.
A system of state hospitals and institutions was established in Burma; medical care was free. Private hospitals were brought under public ownership. A new system of public education was introduced. A campaign to liquidate illiteracy was carried out starting in 1965. Between 1962 and 1965 important laws against landlords and usury were adopted. They aimed at protecting peasants' rights to land and property and to renting the land. These measures included the law abolishing rents on land.
On 2 March 1974, he disbanded the Revolutionary Council and proclaimed the Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma. He was elected President and shortly afterward appointed Brigadier General Sein Win as Prime Minister. On 9 November 1981, Ne Win resigned as President and was succeeded in that post by General San Yu. However, Ne Win remained leader of the party and thus remained the ultimate political authority in the land until his resignation in 1988.
His government nationalized the economy and pursued a policy of autarky, which involved the economic isolation of his country from the world. The ubiquitous black market and rampant smuggling supplied the needs of the people, while the central government slid slowly into bankruptcy. Autarky also involved expelling foreigners and restricting visits by foreigners to three days, and after 1972, one week. Even foreign aid organizations were banned; the only humanitarian aid permitted was on an intergovernmental basis. Furthermore, heavy-handed political oppression caused many in the educated workforce to emigrate.
He also took drastic steps regarding the currency: In 1963, he issued a decree that 50 and 100 kyat notes would cease to be legal tender, alleging that they were subject to hoarding by black-marketeers and were also used to finance the various insurgencies. Though limited compensation was offered, this wiped out people's savings overnight. At least one insurgency, that of the ethnic Kayan, was triggered by this act.
In 1987—reportedly on the recommendation of an astrologer that the number nine was auspicious—Ne Win ordered the withdrawal of several large-denomination kyat notes while issuing new denominations of 45 and 90 kyats. Both 45 and 90 are divisible by nine, and their numerals add up to nine. The many Burmese whose saved money in the old large denominations lost their life savings. This crippled the Burmese economy further still. Ne Win was well known for his penchant for numerology and yadaya (rituals performed in order to ward off misfortune). When his soothsayer warned him that there might be a bloodbath, he would stand in front of a mirror and trample on meat to simulate the blood then shoot himself in the mirror to avert the possibility of an assassination attempt.
Ne Win resigned as chairman of the ruling Burma Socialist Programme Party on 23 July 1988 at the height of the uprising against his regime, and roughly one year after the United Nations declared Burma a "Least Developed Country".
Despite his Chinese ancestry, Ne Win persecuted ethnic Chinese in Burma. In February 1963, the Enterprise Nationalization Law was passed, effectively nationalizing all major industries and prohibiting the formation of new factories. This law adversely affected many industrialists and entrepreneurs, especially those without the full citizenship. The government's economic nationalization program further prohibited foreigners, including the non-citizen Chinese, from owning land, sending remittances, getting business licenses and practicing medicine. Such policies led to the beginnings of a major exodus of Burmese Chinese to other countries—some 100,000 Chinese left Burma.
Although a kabya himself, Ne Win banned Chinese-language education and created other measures to compel the Chinese to leave. Ne Win's government stoked up racial animosity and ethnic conflicts against the Chinese, who were terrorized by Burmese citizens, the most violent riots taking place at the time of the Cultural Revolution in China in 1967. All schools were nationalized, including Chinese language schools. Beginning in 1967 and continuing throughout the 1970s, anti-Chinese riots continued to flare up and many believed they were covertly supported by the government. Similarly, Chinese shops were looted and set on fire. Public attention was successfully diverted by Ne Win from the uncontrollable inflation, scarcity of consumer items and rising prices of rice. The 1982 Citizenship Law further restricted Burmese citizenship for Burmese Chinese (as it stratified citizenship into three categories: full, associate, and naturalized) and severely limited Burmese Chinese, especially those without full citizenship and those holding FRCs, from attending professional tertiary schools, including medical, engineering, agricultural and economics institutions. During this period, the country's failing economy and widespread discrimination accelerated an emigration of Burmese Chinese out of Burma.
Despite the oppression, sporadic protests against the government continued. Students led protests in 1965, December 1969, and December 1970. These demonstrations took place mainly on campuses located in the cities of Rangoon, Mandalay and Moulmein and were often followed by the closure of universities and colleges. In June 1974, workers from more than 100 factories throughout the nation participated in a strike, to which the government reacted by shooting about 100 workers and students on 6 June 1974 at the Thamaing Textile Factory and the Sinmalaik Dock Yard in Rangoon. Since Ne Win was in Australia on an official visit at the time, responsibility for these shootings is unclear. On 5 December 1974, students turned the funeral of former UN Secretary General U Thant into a demonstration, snatching the coffin on display at the Kyaikkasan Race Course and erecting a makeshift mausoleum on the grounds of the former Student Union building in protest against the government for not honouring their famous countryman with a state funeral. The military stormed the campus on 11 December killing some of the students, recovered the coffin and buried U Thant at the foot of the Shwedagon pagoda, next to the tomb of Thakin Kodaw Hmaing.
Students from universities throughout Rangoon demonstrated again in June 1975 in commemoration of the previous year's Labour Strike. Student-led demonstrations also occurred in March 1976, September 1987, March and June 1988. In August and September 1988, these demonstrations turned into a nationwide uprising against BSPP rule in what is now known as the 'Four Eights Uprising'.
At the height of the Four Eights Uprising against the BSPP, Ne Win resigned as party chairman on 23 July 1988. In a truculent farewell speech to the BSPP Party Congress, he warned that if the "disturbances" continued the "army would have to be called and I would like to declare from here that if the army shoots it has no tradition of shooting into the air. It would shoot straight to hit." The Tatmadaw troops shot, killed and maimed hundreds if not up to 3,000 or more demonstrators in various places throughout Burma from the period of 8 to 12 August 1988 and again on 18 September 1988, proving that Ne Win's farewell speech was not an empty threat.
On 18 September 1988 the military led by General Saw Maung dispelled any hopes for democracy by brutally crushing the uprisings. It is widely believed that Ne Win, though in apparent retirement, orchestrated the coup from behind the scenes.
On 4 March 2002, an alleged plot to overthrow the junta by Ne Win's son-in-law Aye Zaw Win, the husband of his favourite daughter Sandar Win was exposed. Ne Win and his daughter were put under house arrest and in September Aye Zaw Win and his three sons (Aye Ne Win, Kyaw Ne Win and Zwe Ne Win) were found guilty of treason and sentenced to death. Sandar Win was released from house arrest in 2008, Zwe Ne Win and Aye Zaw Win were released in 2011 and Aye Ne Win and Kyaw Ne Win were released in 2013.
Ne Win was married six times:
Still under house arrest, Ne Win died on 5 December 2002 at his lakeside house in Yangon. The death remained unannounced by Burmese media or the junta. The only mention of Ne Win's death was a paid obituary notice that appeared in some of the government-controlled Burmese language newspapers. Ne Win was not given a state funeral, and his former contacts or junior colleagues were strongly discouraged from attending a hastily arranged funeral, so that only thirty people attended the funeral.
| Prime Minister of Burma
as President of Burma
| Chairman of the Revolutionary Council of Burma
Himself as President
| Prime Minister of Burma
Himself as Chairman of the Revolutionary Council
| President of Burma
|Party political offices|
| Chairman of the Burma Socialist Programme Party
| Chief of General Staff of the Tatmadaw