The Day the British Sentenced Folk Hero Maung Thant to Death
By Wei Yan Aung 21 June 2020
YANGON—On this day in 1911, Maung Thant, a farmer turned folk hero who many Myanmar people hoped would restore the monarchy and lead a rebellion against the British, was sentenced to death by the British colonial government.
A few decades earlier, the British government had implemented a violent crackdown on Myanmar resistance fighters that included the beheading of Bo Min Yaung, a cousin of one of the grandmothers of Myanmar’s independence hero General Aung San.
After rumors spread that Maung Thant, a poor farmer from Myinmu (in what is now Sagaing Region) had supernatural powers, the 20-year-old became the hope of many in Myanmar, whose people were desperate for any relief from high taxes and economic hardship.
Believing they could not be harmed by bullets if they were with Maung Thant, thousands of people joined him in a raid on Myinmu police station, but were repulsed by Indian colonial police. Maung Thant went into hiding, but was eventually arrested at Rangoon (now Yangon) Central Railway Station.
He was hanged in Mandalay Prison.
Four others were hanged along with Maung Thant and 29 others were sentenced to life imprisonment. Villagers who supported the rebellion were fined and jailed. Though his image as the “new king of Myanmar” was scorned by the government and the urban educated class, he was popular among rural people in both Upper and Lower Myanmar. Many children, including a boy born in the Irrawaddy Delta, were named after him. That boy would later become known around the world as U Thant, the third United Nations secretary-general.
Twenty years after Maung Thant’s hanging, Saya San led an armed peasant rebellion. Saya San was himself hanged at the age of 52. Around 3,000 rebels who fought alongside him were killed or injured. Over 8,000 were arrested, with 78 hanged and 270 sentenced to life imprisonment.
British troops displayed the heads of peasants who died in the rebellion in Prome (now Pyay).
Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko