Colonial Era Champion of Burmese Language and Literature
By Wei Yan Aung 22 March 2019
On this day in 1973, U Pe Maung Tin, a renowned scholar of Pali and Buddhism, who was known for his dedication to promoting Myanmar literature during the colonial period, passed away at the age of 85.
Having done a master’s degree in Pali in India’s University of Calcutta, he was appointed Pali professor at Rangoon University at the age of 24. His translation of the “The Path of Purity” from Pali to English won him credit among Buddhism scholars worldwide.
After obtaining his Bachelor of Letters (B.Litt.) degree from Oxford University in 1922, he came back to Myanmar, and established the Myanmar department at Rangoon University during a time when Myanmar literature was increasingly ignored by the Burmese themselves.
He invited scholars of Myanmar literature to lecture at Rangoon University, established a master’s degree course in Myanmar literature at the university, revived ancient Myanmar literature and promoted the study of stone inscriptions.
He also designed Burmese school textbooks in order to promote Myanmar literature starting at high school level. Due to his relentless efforts, there was a saying that anyone who engages with Myanmar literature owes it to U Pe Maung Tin.
U Pe Maung Tin sowed the seeds of Khit San literature, which was a new style of writing distinct from traditional writing style of Burmese at the time. He was also the first Burmese principal of Rangoon University, and when student protests broke out in 1936, he stood by the students and refused to take action against student demonstrators, saying they had demonstrated against the government and not the university.
During his lifetime, he took a leading role in several organizations concerning Myanmar literature, history and culture. He wrote many books, monographs and articles on Myanmar’s history and Myanmar literature, culture and language emerging as a major contributor to the development of Myanmar literature. His sister Tee Tee was a prominent philanthropist and her husband Gordon H Luce, was a colonial scholar on Myanmar history.