On Jan. 4, 1948, Burma (now officially the Republic of the Union of Myanmar) ended 60 years of colonial rule when it officially declared independence from Britain. In 2021, it will celebrate 73 years of independence.

Burma’s Struggle for Autonomy

In June 1945, Burmese soldiers fought with the British to expel Japanese invaders from Burma during World War II. By the war’s end, nationalist leader Aung San, whose anti-fascist movement had been prominent in the struggle against Japan, had established a political and military power base from which to negotiate with Great Britain. He took office in the provisional Burmese government that was formed in 1946.

Gen. San’s rule was troubled by conflicts between Burma’s rival ethnic groups, but he proved a unifying force for the nationalist movement. In January 1947, he signed the Panglong agreement with ethnic leaders that guaranteed the independence of Burma as a unified state.

In 1948, the nation became an independent republic, named the Union of Burma, with Sao Shwe Thaik as its first president and U Nu as its first prime minister.

Before the agreement came to fruition, in July 1947, Aung San and six other members of the Cabinet were gunned down. The deaths were mourned throughout the country and for decades after.

The assassinations failed to halt the country’s advance toward political autonomy, which officially arrived on Jan. 4, 1948. “Thousands of Burmans caroused amiably along Rangoon's steamy, tropical waterfront,” wrote Time. “Some still recalled the day in 1885 when Burma's last king, brash Thibaw, sailed into exile and the British took over. Now, British rule was at an end.”

Historical Context: Colonial Burma

The British conquered part of Burma during the Anglo-Burmese war of 1824–26, but they did not establish full control of the region until 1886. For a time, Burma was part of British India, but it became a separate colony in 1937.

Japan invaded Burma during World War II and conducted a difficult struggle against British forces for years. For a time, Japan won many victories against the British—and even the support of Aung San's Burmese National Army—but ultimately Japan lost San's support and its hold in Burma. Aung San's supporters rode a wave of nationalism and were positioned to take over British control when the war was over.


  1. Finding Dulcinea (2017). On this Day, Burma Declares Independence from Britain. Retrieved on http://www.findingdulcinea.com/news/on-this-day/On-this-Day--Burma-Declares-Independence-from-Britain.html
  2. Myanmar News Agency (11 October 2019). 72nd Independence Day to be Observed with five objectives. Retrieved from https://www.globalnewlightofmyanmar.com/72nd-independence-day-to-be-celebrated-nationwide-with-five-national-objectives/
  3. The Republic of the Union of Myanmar Presidents Office (11 November 2017). Independence Day to Have Five Objectives. Retrieved from: http://www.president-office.gov.mm/en/?q=briefing-room/news/2017/11/11/id-7934
  4. Wikipedia (2017). Independence Day- Myanmar. Retrieved on https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Independence_Day_(Myanmar)



Burmese National Anthem

Burma Celebrates Independence (1948)

Peaceful old Burma 60 years ago