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Refashioning the Vestiges of Cosmopolitanism: Contemporary Yangon, Myanmar

conference contribution
posted on 2023-05-24, 11:13 authored by Roberts, JL
Residents of Yangon, also known as Rangoon, often say with equal measures of embarrassment and nostalgia that Yangon once housed the best international airport in Southeast Asia and was known as the Garden City of Asia. From 1962 to 1988, isolationist rule under the government of Ne Win that espoused a Burmese Way to Socialism effectively turned the once thriving port city into a little-visited backwater. Since 1988, so-called liberalization under the military government of General Than Shwe has opened up the country in fits and starts but opaque and inconsistent policies have generally discouraged international trade and travel. The establishment of the newly elected government in November 2010 seems to portend unprecedented changes in the politics and economy of Myanmar with Yangon poised to regain its former status as a regional metropolis. This paper will analyze how contemporary Yangon residents remember the city as a cosmopolitan port that once surpassed Bangkok and Singapore and how they are endeavoring to recreate a metropolis that will elevate their status in Southeast Asia. Their desire to be modern, though largely unexamined and based on representations in Western and Asian media, has stimulated piecemeal changes that are refashioning Yangon‘s urban fabric. Their efforts are laudable because the post-1988 government has done little to update the infrastructure of the city or make it more livable. Although the Than Shwe government made an initial and much publicized effort to modernize Yangon, their plans were outdated and ineffective. Through creative maneuvering between the cracks in the official policies, Yangon residents have introduced some so-called modern conveniences and reconnected themselves to the Southeast Asian network of cities and urban culture.


Publication title

ASAA Knowing Asia: Asian Studies in an Asian Century






School of Humanities


Asian Studies Association of Australia

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Asian Studies Association of Australia 19th Biennial Conference

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Expanding knowledge in language, communication and culture

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