Junta Insider Recalls Dancing with Devils

Chit Hlaing at his house in Rangoon. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

In his youth, when British-colonized Burma was struggling to restore its independence, Chit Hlaing worked with some of the country’s most famous leaders including national hero Gen Aung San as well as the less salubrious Gen Ne Win and Thakin Soe, who led the Red Flag faction.

Now in his early 80s, Chit Hlaing, himself an ex-Red Flag communist who translated several Marxist texts into Burmese, is still following the political intrigues of the nation. His mind remains razor-sharp and his past memories are still fresh.

As the author of the political bible of the Burma Socialist Program Party (BSPP)—“The System of Correlation between Man and His Environment” simply known as Innya myinnya—Chit Hlaing worked alongside former dictator Ne Win throughout the 1960s, and remained close to later junta chief Snr-Gen Than Shwe during the 1990s.

The assignment to write Innya myinnya came directly from Ne Win and the two were in constant contact. Chit Hlaing worked closely with the former general throughout the 1950s and 1960s and was always ready to defend Ne Win as a pragmatist. Ne Win, a member of legendary “30 Comrades,” staged a military coup in March 1962 and introduced the “Burmese Way to Socialism” which turned out to be an unmitigated failure.

Ne Win recruited the Marxist Chit Hlaing as he needed to introduce a political ideology in the aftermath of his coup. Chit Hlaing joined the Defense Directorate of Psychological Warfare as a civilian military official with the same rank as lieutenant-colonel in 1955. In the 1970s, Chit Hlaing left the BSPP but still often met Ne Win whenever summoned by the general.

Ne Win resigned from politics in 1988 during the upheaval caused by nationwide democracy protests and has since devoted his time to reading books and studying Buddhism as well as practicing meditation.

Chit Hlaing, who speaks French and once studied philosophy at the Sorbonne in France, recalled his last meeting with Ne Win during an interview with The Irrawaddy. In July 1995, Chit Hlaing and former Judge Tin Aung Hein, a student activist who became a prominent member of the BSPP, visited Ne Win’s house.

Ne Win was alone in his residence—his wife Ni Ni Myint, a university professor of history, left for an appointment after preparing them some food—but he looked healthy and his mind was clear.

Chit Hlaing and Tin Aung Hein wanted to bring up the current state of political affairs in the country but were unable to do so since Ne Win did not want to discuss anything related to politics. They politely listened to the former dictator as he spoke about religion and Buddhism.

They were surprised when Ne Win confessed that he would not have staged the coup in 1962 if he had studied Buddhism and meditation earlier in life. Ne Win elaborated further if he had known Anicca, Dukkha and Anatta—the three Dharma aspects of life—at the time, he would not have seized power.

Chit Hlaing said the former general was no philosopher and always remained suspicious of people. Among the three leaders of Burma’s independence struggle who he knew best—Aung San, Ne Win and Thakin Soe—he respected Aung San most. “Aung San is just Aung San and there is no comparison,” said Chit Hlaing in his Rangoon residence.

In his farewell speech to an emergency congress held by the BSPP in 1988, Ne Win stunned the nation by saying that if the “disturbances” continued the “army would have to be called in 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.”

Ne Win was not issuing an empty threat. Troops gunned down several hundred peaceful demonstrators during the uprising. Chit Hlaing thought it was a moment when Ne Win was facing a real political crisis and lost control.

Some of those close to the dictator claimed that he kept books of Buddhism in his study to read and contemplate. In his meditation room, visitors claimed there was a sizable gold-plated banyan leaf on the wall. Did this brutal dictator reach Nirvana. Who knows?

Ne Win was placed under house arrest in 2002 accused of plotting to overthrow the military government, with his arrest finally ending decade-long speculation that he was still in control of the regime.

He was imprisoned at his lakeside villa—ironically just around the corner from where democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi was similarly incarcerated—with only his favorite daughter, Sandar Win, for company.

Ne Win’s three grandsons and son-in-law were found guilty of treason and sentenced to death. Sandar Win was recently released from under house arrest along with her husband Aye Zaw Win and has since been seen around Rangoon. She used to own the Nawarat Hotel in the former capital and apparently plans to reopen it soon. One of their sons was also released but several alleged coup plotters remain behind bars.

Ne Win was a reclusive figure who was known to be superstitious and believe in the power of numbers. He once instructed that the national currency, the kyat, should be issued in denominations of 45 and 90 because they were divisible by his lucky number, nine.

Some said that he once asked a plane to circle his native hometown nine times while he rode a wooden horse onboard. Rumors abound that he once bathed in dolphins’ blood to regain his youth and his dedication to numerology was legendary.

But Ne Win was not the only Burmese tyrant with whom Chit Hlaing rubbed shoulders. In late 1950s, he also met a young army officer who came to study political science. This student would one day become Snr-Gen Than Shwe.

From the outset, Chit Hlaing thought that Than Shwe was more like a politician than an army officer.

Than Shwe was sent to study psychological warfare in Rangoon in 1958. He then became a teacher at the Central School of Political Science in Mingladon Township in Rangoon. Chit Hlaing often met Than Shwe at school or social gatherings and they would make sightseeing trips outside of Rangoon together.

He evaluated Than Shwe as a pragmatist who was more interested in politics than military affairs.

From 1957 to 1960, they met often and discussed Burmese politics. San Yu, then commander of Northern Regional Military Command and who served as Burmese president from 1981 to 1988, spotted Than Shwe’s potential and appointed him chief of the Psychological Warfare Department in Northern Region. Than Shwe was then a young captain.

Chit Hlaing said that Than Shwe, like many army officers in Burma, was always a virulent anti-communist. In the early 1990s, Chit Hlaing went to meet Than Shwe twice—in 1990 and 1992.

Than Shwe became head of the State Law and Order Restoration Council, the highest political body in Burma, in 1992. He unexpectedly took over power from Snr-Gen Saw Maung in April of that year when the junta chief resigned citing health reasons.

Than Shwe did not reveal much at the time except to say that the current situation was a bit chaotic. He also offered Chit Hlaing some cash to publish books.

Chit Hlaing, who also used the pen name Ko Ko Maung Gyi, has since written several tomes. He usually sends his newly published work to colleagues, politicians, senior members of the ruling council and, of course, Than Shwe himself.

Last year, when he sent his latest memoirs to Than Shwe and other top leaders, he was told by officials in the Ministry of Information to address Than Shwe as “head-of-state” and Vice-Snr-Gen Maung Aye as “deputy head-of-state.”

“To Thein Sein?” asked Chit Hlaing of the instructions. “Of course, he is the president,” replied the official. “Are you sure about that?” Chit Hlaing insisted.

When asked whether he thinks Than Shwe is still pulling the string and remains in control as many Burma scholars believe, Chit Hlaing gave a wry smile. “Maybe he is still in remote control mode. Who knows?” he chuckled.

23 Responses to Junta Insider Recalls Dancing with Devils

  1. A think-tank person with no good result indeed. Join Ne Win and Than Shwe in Hell.

  2. The very sad part of this horrendous part of history is that so very many innocent lives were lost and brutalized, while these tragic ill-informed Disney characters ‘ran’ a nation like brutal buffoons – and half the world was shopping.

    Let’s hope that this new phase brings forward real intelligence, as it had a chance to do under Aung San, and freedom from decades of horrendous, monstrous deprivations. We all now hope and work towards a real blossoming of a democracy that is not enslaved to materialism and capitalism, and a nation prepared to enjoy life in ways its poor leadership and wonky philosophies have up until now completely and ignorantly prevented.

    Burma has a real chance now, step by step, for a real and peaceful transition, and by 2015, may have it right. Imagine the incredible possibilities… and thousands of years of potential peace. Start with health and education, tolerance, communication … and start the process of forgiveness … with remembering.

    And these people all have their own karma. Look at China. Communism didn’t work.

  3. Ne Win visited Austria to receive treatment for his mental health problems. The Austrian psychiatrist diagnosed Ne Win as a schizophrenic with psychopathic tendencies. No surprises there!

    Than Shwe also has a record of mental health problems, he suffers from a deep seated narcissistic personality disorder.

  4. A very informative reserve.

  5. A Burmese Freedom Fighter

    Accountability of U Chit Hlaing’s memoir is quite questionable as he himself might still be working for Psychological warfare for the current government! His survival from one after another of Burmese regime with their unpredictable nature throughout all these years is amazingly beyond my belief; he indeed had skillfully danced with the devils with his interests before the fates of Burmese people.

    Should the theory of Buddhism be true, it will reveal impermanent is the only permanent through the unfolding drama of Burma politics before our eyes that the strings being pulled from behind the current government is no longer strong enough, and it has been swept away with the current wind of change for democracy, leading to the triumph of the will of Burmese people over evil dictatorship.

    This is the end of the drama of Burma politic, and we all will remember the cycle of impermanent theory of Budda, which has again proven its theory as universal true through the disappearance of dictator Than Shwe along with the memoir of U Chit Hlaing in Burma politics.

    A Burmese Freedom Fighter

  6. I remember that silly little blue book “The System of Correlation between Man and His Environment”. A dumb mixture of Buddhism and Marxism with Burmese characteristics. In a modern country, the separation between State and Religion is paramount. Just look at how dysfunctional many Muslim countries are. Burma should be careful not to confuse politics with nationalism, ethnicity, racism, religion, superstition, corruption, hypocrisy, … Otherwise it will always be the upper-class devils and “fake intellectuals” that control the country.

  7. Concentration of Power in One Man’s Hand, Overstay in Power, Over Enjoy the Authorities and Wealth all brought down this country to the shameful salvage country Status from which we can not easily reemerge for decades if not centuries. Communists must respect the democracy, multiparty system, they must abandon the power at the gunpoint doctrine, Chit Hlaing is a culprit, who lacked the knowledge of the importance of the distribution of the political power to the General Public, but worshiping the Marxism, a devil bible of the criminals of the Crimes against Humanity throughout 20th Century.

  8. Very good and informative article although no one in politics speaks all truths. Is there a remote control behing the remote control?

  9. This is a very interesting article. One correction though. His pen name was Ko Ko Maung and he wrote “Ar-kar-ko-hlwa-pon-pyu-ba-lo”.

  10. This U Chit Hlaing is the man who wrote the book namle ” Hlaing Bon-Mya Nan “. I had read the book at the time of my Rangoon University days. He is a Red Flag communist spoiled the country by collaborating and conspiring with General Ne Win. He is the one written a book namely ” Haling Bon-Mya Nan ” in which he sated that he was just taking revenge by having sex with white skin girls in Frence due to white peoples had colonized Burma, that shows he is also a ultra nationalist spoiled the country by collaborating with dictator Ne Win. He can not differentiate English and Franch peoples, just taken in the category of white skin. He is Red Flag communist and recruited many University students to join Red Flag party communist under the leadership of Thakhin Soe. He is not yet repent at this age that what he had done was bad or good, that is the communist character.

  11. This old man chuckles all the time.
    He has done all his life a great disservice to the people of Burma.
    His books, I have not read anything since after reading his sexual exploits in Paris as Ko Ko Maung: “ပါရီမွာ ေသာင္တင္ခဲ့စည္က”. No, that is not quite right; I have read Innya Myinnya many times over and over, trying to get at some insightful meaning, but with no success. Perhaps I am too dumb, but not as dump as to collude with the unprincipled man who had no love of Myanmar people, particularly the ethnic minority. I have always blamed him for that single work.
    The Innya Myinnya was not about socialism. Nor any philosophic ‘ism!!!
    It was a get-no-where non-system, except the practical application of a barbaric dictatorship in a most brutal mindset. The great Pali words lost their lofty meanings in the writer’s low morality and non-ethical views.
    Why can’t he reveal much more?
    This article ending with his chuckle only reveals his long mischievous life. I believe he now lives in great comfort.

  12. Reading a lot of books about Buddhism and lot of meditation but helping dictators like Ne Win and Than Shwe? What is going on to this old man?

  13. U Chit Hlaing is correct. Than Shwe is still in power to control the country today. Like Ne Win control the country after 1988 till he got house arrest. Poor Thein Sein and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and my poor Myanmar people.

  14. Really interesting article… although this sentence, “Ne Win resigned from politics in 1988 during the upheaval caused by nationwide democracy protests and has since devoted his time to reading books and studying Buddhism as well as practicing meditation”, does make it sound like Ne Win is still alive! Do you know something we don’t?

  15. “Did this brutal dictator reach Nirvana. Who knows?”
    How silly that question is!

    However, we need more articles like this one.

    I still love his philosophical book “The Great Traveller of Love”.

  16. 50 yeras ago, how could Ne Win, a drunkard, womanizer, gambler (in Horse Racing Club) and bully guy, learn Buddhism and meditation? When he took state power from U Nu, he invited not only Chit Khine but also some communists to give ideas to rule the country. Then the so-called “Burmese Way to Socialism” was introduced and systematically destroyed the coutry to becoming one of the poorest countries in the world. Do you believe that hesaid he had tried hard our country to become the poorest country. There will be no excuse to Ne Win as well as to Chit Khine.

  17. It is sad that Buddhism becomes a scape goat but it will only serve as an excuse to cover heinous and shameful deeds that have been done by Burmese/ the Bama leaders generation after generation. The question is what to do with some one who was dancing with ‘the Devils’ and still alive and well and dare to speak out the dukkha/ suffering he and his masters inflicted to the people of Burma without expressing a word or gesture of remorse.

    What the Burmese people need to consider seriously now is the role of Buddhism in military regime and the present Burma. What messages did monks deliver to address the dukkha of Burma and brutality of the dictators during their regime and the present Burma?

  18. Very interesting.
    I wish more of this would come out.
    Pleae don’t condemn anyone.
    Always take a good look at yourself.
    Maybe all of us are to blame.
    Maybe we were the good guys that did nothing and let the bad guys take over.
    All of us are respondsible.
    Maybe the baby boomers generation were mostly selfish cowards.
    We all tried to run instead of facing the reality.
    We have a chance now to repay our debts.
    Lets all give a helping hand.
    Anger and bitterness won’t get us anywhere.

  19. Ne Win was never a good Buddhist. By showing million of dollars’ worth of goods to Buddhist monasteries or others’ religious institutions does not show he is a good Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim or Christian, etc. The Blue book did not contain anything Buddhist except Marxist crap. It is fine Burma not to be judged through religion, ethnicity, etc. And I have found Burmese people as friendly as any other western neighbors, believe me. When rohingyanism was born out of the old Pakistani masters, and taken up globally, the Burmese people started isolating them – it is because of the religious extremism in the Rohingyas’ Muzaheed forces. There was a word very popular through 60s and 70s in Pakistan and therefore Bangladesh – Muslim Bangla. it was a dream of setting up a Muslim country consisting of parts of eastern states of India and western states of Burma. the Islamic extremists wanted this to be supported by pan-Islamic forces, while the idea was a brainchild of the Pakistani military intelligence. Please look at the doctored pictures and propaganda on recent Rakhine massacre, their sources are from Pakistan! It is really sad that some extremist Christian organizations in London took up the issue and started campaigning the doctored stories. What deeprooted designs are working behind them?

  20. What a shameless character! Still chuckling! I don’t know who’s worse. The devil or the devil’s dancing partner? Looks like he’s still proud of trampling his own country to its sorry state with his devil masters.

  21. If Macbeth was a real character in the real world, he would employ this U Chit Hlaing as his ghost writer for his memoirs.

    You can see by the real facts how these two devils, namely:-
    Gen Ne Win, Gen Than Shwe

    had screw up the lives of millions of people living inside Burma.

    Maybe this ghost writer will see his devil bosses in hell, who knows.

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