On This Day

The Day Anti-Chinese Rioting Erupted in British-Ruled Yangon

By Wei Yan Aung 2 January 2020

YANGON—On this day 89 years ago, anti-Chinese riots broke out in Myanmar, killing 14 people including two monks. A brawl between Burmese people and Chinese expats at a noodle eatery in Chinatown in downtown Yangon led to riots that lasted for 10 days after a Burmese Buddhist monk was struck with a spear.

The riots spread across Yangon, and the Burmese communities accused the British colonial government of being biased towards Chinese expats. Police kept the monasteries under surveillance to prevent Burmese people from gathering there, and provided security to help Chinese escape Burmese-majority neighborhoods. However, the city’s Burmese residents complained that the British government failed to offer similar protection to Burmese people as they fled Chinese-majority neighborhoods.

Burmese communities suffered more in the riots. After the violence started to spread outside Yangon, the British government and influential Chinese and Burmese figures intervened, and the riots were brought to an end.

The anti-Chinese riots followed anti-Indian riots, the establishment of the nationalist organization Doh Bamar Asiayon (the We Burmans Association), and anti-British government movements led by Saya San.

Myanmar’s political writers of the time suggested that the British government incited racial hatred to distract Myanmar people, who were becoming increasingly politically aware, from resisting oppressive colonial rule.

Another wave of anti-Chinese riots hit Yangon in 1967, 19 years after Myanmar regained independence from the British in 1948. The riots broke out after Chinese students who were influenced by China’s Cultural Revolution defied the government’s instruction not to wear badges depicting Mao Zedong or carry copies of Mao’s “Little Red Book” to school, souring Sino-Burmese relations.

Some suggested that the riots were instigated by the military regime of General Ne Win in order to channel public anger over rice shortages in an agricultural country.

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