The Site That’s Still Publishing Myanmar’s Official Documents After More Than a Century
By Wei Yan Aung 9 June 2020
The Government Press Building played an important part in the colonial administration of British Burma, printing census reports, gazetteers, notifications and official acts. Located at the corner of Theinbyu and Anawrahta roads, the building today serves as the office of the government-owned Printing and Publishing Enterprise and Central Press under the Ministry of Information.
The British, having completed their invasion of Myanmar in 1885, built an administrative mechanism designed to ensure long-term control of its new colony. After establishing their administrative seat, the Secretariat building, the colonial government built the press, which was complete with three elevators, horse stables and staff quarters, opposite the Secretariat in 1912.
The building was designed by a renowned Scottish architect of the time, John Begg, who also designed the Customs House on Strand Road and the Central Telegraph Office at the corner of Maha Bandula and Pansodan streets.
The façade of the Central Press on Anawrahta Road has windows as tall as an average man. The main entrance on Theinbyu Road is decorated with Doric columns. The central courtyard of the three-story rectangular building provides parking spaces and affords daylight and ventilation.
This large building, painted in red and yellow, also served as a distribution point for government stationery brought from India. But it was mainly used to print national-level documents at the instruction of the Secretariat. The printing was supervised by officials who lived on the top floor of the building.
Gazettes, rule books, manuals, departmental instructions, periodicals, school textbooks, maps and statistical documents played an important part in shaping the Myanmar of that time.
Normally, such documents were printed in English, but some were printed in both Burmese and English for use by the general public and some officials who did not read English. Some gazettes and rulebooks were distributed with the instruction, “No need to translate into Burmese.”
After independence and during the military regime of the Burma Socialist Programme Party, the government presses expanded and the compound was renamed the Government Printing and Stationery Department. Modern printing machines were imported and employees were sent abroad for training. The interior of the building was adjusted to accommodate the increased number of employees.
Under successive governments, it continued to meet the publishing demands of new ministries, departments, boards and corporations.
In 2015, the building received a Yangon Heritage Trust commemorative Blue Plaque, designating it as one of the former capital’s heritage buildings. Today, the 108-year-old structure is blighted by rusting electrical lifts, broken windows, filthy toilets and sagging ceilings, and cluttered with old junk, but remains sufficiently functional for some 200 employees to work in.
“The building is strong. Ventilation is good. The water, electricity and sewage systems are good. There is enough daylight to work by, even if the electricity cuts out. The British built it quite systematically,” a Printing and Publishing Enterprise official said.
The Central Press still prints gazettes and publications commissioned by the government. Occasionally, it hosts readings and book fairs.
Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.