The Province of Burma

THE fact that an Englishman, however humble his origin, may make it the aim of his life to become the ruler of men and may attain that aim, is one which distinguishes this age from all that precede it. The goal is reached, not through the accident of birth, through military prowess, or popular election, but simply because the man has proved his fitness for the position. Some thirty years ago six young men, four being the sons of clergymen, came to India as government clerks. In January, 1908, they had won their way to a rank next to that of the viceroy, being the rulers of six provinces having a population of over 160,000,000.

Any “ natural-born subject ” of King Edward, provided that he has a sound body and is of good moral character, may become a candidate for the Indian civil service. An appointment is secured simply by passing successfully an examination in several ancient and modern languages and literatures, mathematics, natural science, history, moral and mental philosophy, political science, and Roman and English law. Some idea may be formed of the nature of this examination from the following examples of the subjects and papers set in 1904.

“ The comparative influence of Education and Heredity in the forming of character,” was the subject of an essay to be written. A question in moral philosophy was, “ Explain and criticise from a modern standpoint Plato’s views as to the duty of the State in regard to the moral and religious education of its citizens.” In political science a comment was asked for on James Russell Lowell’s statement, “ Laws of the wisest human device are, after all, but the sheath of the sword of Power.” In zoölogy, “ State any facts that you know concerning the structure, life-history, and habits of the Indian elephant.” In English literature, “ Point out the resemblances and differences in the allegories of the Red Cross Knight and of The Pilgrim’s Progress.” In Latin literature, “ ' Spain furnished some of the leaders of Roman literature in the first century A. D.’ Who were these literary Spaniards ? What was their social position ? In what kinds of literature did they excel ? ” In modern history, “ Explain and criticise the foreign policy of Nicholas I. How far was he the typical Russian autocrat ? ” Chemistry, “ Give an account (with sketches of plant) of one of the modern methods now employed in the manufacture of chlorine.”

If the young candidate is successful, he will be on probation for a year, and then will be required to pass a final examination on the code and history of India and the principal vernacular language of the province to which he is to be assigned. In case this is Burma we are enabled to follow his career by means of the recently published work, The Province of Burma, of the well-known traveler and lecturer, Mr. Alleyne Ireland. It is the first part of a report prepared on behalf of the University of Chicago on “ Colonial Administration in the Far East.” Its object, as stated in the preface, is to make “ a clear exposition of the different systems which have been devised by Great Britain, the United States, Holland, and France for the solution of administrative problems of closely identical character.”

The systems which fall within the range of the inquiry are the Crown Colony system in the Straits Settlements and Hong Kong, the Residential system in the Federated Malay States, the Indian Provincial system in Burma, the Chartered Company system in British North Borneo, the Autocratic system in Sarawak, the French system in IndoChina, the Dutch system in Java, and the American system in the Philippine Islands.”

Mr. Ireland’s preparation for this work was a preliminary examination of the material available in the libraries of the government officers in London. Then two years and a half were spent in visiting each of the nine dependencies on which he was to report, that he might study on the spot their administrative problems. He also went with the same purpose to India, China, and Japan, the countries which represent the ultimate forces by whose mutual action the future of the Far East will be moulded to a great extent. During this time, it may be added, he contributed some valuable articles to the London Times, giving his impressions of the countries visited, with special reference to the manner in which they are governed. The three following years were occupied in arranging and digesting the material gained during his journeys and from his examination of some six thousand volumes, covering more than a million pages, of government documents, as well as histories, biographies, travels, and reminiscences.

He begins with Burma, possibly because it is the best organized of all the dependencies, and represents the highest stage yet reached of colonial administration. After a sketch of the physical features of the country and the history of its acquisition by the British, he treats of the administration in every particular, from the duties of the lieutenant-governor to those of the village headman, of the revenue and financial systems, education, trade and labor, forestry, and public works. The information is given almost wholly by reprints of or extracts from official reports and other public documents. No attempt, accordingly, has been made to give the work a literary form that shall attract the general reader, nor is there any extended treatment of antiquarian or archæological subjects or of natural history or languages. There is neither criticism of methods, nor detailed comments on them, nor comparison with those of other countries. All this is reserved for the concluding volumes of the report. His present object is simply “ to give an accurate and fairly comprehensive presentation of the facts ” relative to Burma. As a manual of instruction, therefore, for all who are called upon to bear any part in the government of a dependent Eastern people, it is invaluable.

With Mr. Ireland as our guide, let us endeavor to form some idea of the way in which the English govern this Cinderella of the Indian provinces, as it has been termed. The administrative head is the lieutenant-governor, who is appointed by the governor-general of India and usually holds his office for a term of five years. His legislative council consists of nine members, five of whom as a rule belong to the civil service; the remainder are chosen from the non-official community. The chief executive officers under him are the commissioners of the eight divisions of the province, which are further subdivided into thirty-six districts under the charge of deputy-commissioners. These are the Englishmen who are in the closest contact with the natives. They act as magistrates, judges, collectors, and registrars, besides discharging the various miscellaneous duties which fall to the representative of the supreme government. A large part of their time, therefore, is occupied in visiting the different towns and villages of their district, for it is a fundamental principle of the British rule that one at least of its higher officials shall personally know the leading men in every settlement, and shall be ready to hear all complaints and appeals for justice from the humblest of the people.

Attention may be called here to the fact that the successful English candidate for the civil service, on his arrival in the province to which he is assigned, is not deemed ready for active duties, but is in training for the first two years, that he may have some experience of the people and gain some insight into the traditions of administration. Naturally, one of the best ways to get this experience and insight will be for him to accompany a deputycommissioner on one of his tours. As they pass from village to village, — for ninetenths of the people live in villages, — the newcomer will be impressed with the fact that the chief and most important part of his companion’s duties is the appointment and oversight of the headman who is over every village, or in some instances group of small neighboring villages. This method of local government is not an innovation, but is a continuation of the “ village system which in Burma as in India has been the basis of the indigenous administration from time immemorial.”

This headman is one who lives among his people and must know all that is going on about him. A printed Village Manual, from which Mr. Ireland gives some interesting extracts, defines his duties in the clearest possible manner. He is the magistrate to try all small offenses, as theft, breach of peace, drunkenness, and, most significant in an Eastern land, “ doing any obscene act in a public place, singing, reciting, or uttering any obscene song, ballad or words to the annoyance of others in or near a public place.” He is collector of taxes, sees that the roads are kept open, and prevents the illicit manufacture or sale of opium or intoxicants. An important part of his duty is to see that a certain simple, but very effective, sanitary code is obeyed ; as for instance: “ The headman shall not allow any latrine or cesspit in any house, enclosure or land in any village under his control to be kept in a filthy or insanitary condition.” There are also rules for the prevention of cattle disease.

If any headman is inefficient or neglectful of his duties, the deputy-commissioner appoints another man in his place. An indication of their faithfulness as a rule is the fact that the population of Burma has increased with marvelous rapidity since the British control, — its increase indeed is greater than that of any other province of India. Had the population of the United States increased in like proportion during the last quarter of a century it would number now at least 120,000,000. Immigration, it should be noted, has had little or no part in Burma’s increase, which is due wholly to natural causes, primarily the sanitary condition of the villages. In 1904 the percentage of deaths was below that of any other part of India.

There are forty towns in the province, which are governed by committees, of whom about a fifth are elected, the others holding their seats ex officio or by nomination. Out of 537 members of these municipal committees in 1903, only 158 were Europeans. The duties of these bodies are carefully defined in the Municipal Act of 1898, in which there is to be found a special provision against graft, the punishment for which is imprisonment or fine, or both in some instances. If the committee of any town is incompetent or neglects its duties or exceeds its powers, the commissioner or deputy-commissioner can supersede it.

The oversight of the schools, in the towns and the villages, is another very important part of the work of the English official whom we are supposed to be accompanying on his tour of inspection. According to the government orders, the district officer is “ responsible for the state of education generally in his district, and the Education Department is the instrument in his hand for carrying out this responsibility.” This department consists of a director and about one hundred inspectors, including some headmasters of the higher government schools. Among the special objects to which his attention should be directed is the discipline and moral training of the scholars, and “ the cleanliness of person and dress in both teachers and pupils.” In the primary schools the instruction is in the vernacular tongue, in accordance with the Indian educational policy, that ” a child should not be allowed to learn English as a language until he has made some progress in the primary stages of instruction and has received a thorough grounding in his mother tongue.” In the village schools the aim is to give to the children a preliminary training which will make them intelligent cultivators, and their reading-books deal with topics associated with rural life. In addition to instruction in the common branches of learning, there is provision for the teaching of seventeen different industries, as blacksmithing, carpentry, cane and bamboo-work, and lace-making (for girls only).

To encourage the higher education there are some ninety scholarships, of which six are “ female medical scholarships.” There are also training schools for teachers, with nearly six hundred students in 1905. An interesting feature in the educational system is a staff of itinerant teachers whose special aim is the “ spreading primary education in the districts.” In the towns the committees have the care of the schools, and in the government instructions “ the principle laid down is that indigenous primary education has the first claim on the public funds.” It is encouraging to note in this connection that the appropriation for public instruction in Rangoon increased from $4000 in 1901 to $34,000 in 1905.

In the light of these facts the conclusions reached in the Report on the Census of 1901 are not surprising. From the returns it appears that “ in point of education as a whole, the Burmese outstrip all the other indigenous people with 270 literates in every thousand of their number. In male education too they are far ahead of the other communities. It can almost be said that every second Burman boy or man is able to read and write, for the proportion of literates per thousand of the sex is no less than 490.” There can be little doubt that the proportion is greater to-day, so deep is the interest in education. This is shown by the fact that in the ten years ending in 1905 the number of girls’ schools had increased from 242 to 619, and the number of pupils from 9869 to 54,787.

Another phase of the British influence on an Eastern people will be seen by accompanying on his tour of inspection a deputy-commissioner of one of the districts of the Shan States region. This is practically the whole eastern part of the province, and up to 1886 consisted of forty-three semi-independent principalities under the suzerainty of the King of Burma. For at least thirty years before the British occupation, constant civil war between the states had prevailed, and universal ruin was the result. One of the capitals, Monè, “ which within living memory had ten thousand households was reduced to seventeen huts.” Naturally, these civil wars had disorganized society, and a great number of the Shans lived by robbery, or “ dacoity,” to use the Hindu term. As this consisted often in raids upon the people on the plains under British rule, it was absolutely necessary in the interest of the peaceful and industrious Burmese to put an end to this condition of mis-rule and to establish a stable government in these states. This was done with little opposition on the part of the Shans, and the States became a part of the province. The result in less than ten years is indicated in a speech of the lieutenant-governor, Sir Frederic Fryer, at a durbar at the headquarters of the Southern States: " As I rode up from the plains to your pleasant hills I was impressed by indications of order and wealth on every side. Even at this late time of the year the road was crowded with traders; the fields showed signs of careful cultivation; the villages through which I passed seemed populous and well cared for. . . . The increase of trade has been really marvelous. No single case of dacoity or other organized crime has been reported during the year.” To this we may add that the forty-three princes, who still hold their position as rulers, have recently sent a joint petition to the British government asking for the construction of a railway for the development of their states.

A similar condition to that which once prevailed among the Shans characterized the Chin Hills, a region lying on the western frontier of the province. Here raids and blood feuds were so frequent that every village was fortified by gates and surrounded and defended by cactus and stiff thorn-hedges, palisades, stone breastworks, and rifle-pits. “ No one was safe,” writes one who had lived among them in those days; “ the women worked in the fields guarded by the men; no one ever knew when raiders from many villages at feud with theirs were lying along the paths, and pickets kept guard night and day on the approaches to the villages.” Here again the necessity of protecting the plains from the constant raids of the Chin tribes was the cause of the British occupation of the Hills, and in 1896 a condition of complete peace was established throughout the region. What this condition was in 1900 we may learn from the statement of Commissioner Sir George Scott: “ Raids are unknown, and scarcely any crimes are committed, so that the Chin Hills are actually more secure than many parts of Lower Burma. Roads, on which Chin coolies now readily work, have been constructed in all directions. The rivers have been bridged. The people have taken up the cultivation of English vegetables, and the indigenous industries have been largely developed. British officers now tour about with escorts of only four or five men where formerly they could only go with columns.”

If it be asked, What was the general policy of the British government which has brought about this marvelous change in so short a time, the answer is this: “ To interfere as little as possible with the customs of the people and their system of tribal government ; to prevent bloodshed and internal feuds ; to advise the chiefs and tribesmen, and to build up a sound primitive form of government ; to punish severely all crimes committed against government servants and property; to demand tribute from all the tribes as a token of their fealty to the British Government.”

These are perhaps the most salient methods by which the English have sought to solve the peculiar governmental problems presented by an Eastern people. There is much in Mr. Ireland’s report on which we have not touched, as his account of the judicial and financial administration, the public works and forestry departments, not because of its lack of interest, but because of its generally technical character. It is interesting to note, however, in respect to finance, that nearly half of the expenditure for 1905 was for irrigation, the building of roads and railways, and other public works. As regards what has been accomplished in developing the wealth of the land, a single illustration will suffice. A railway passes for one hundred miles through almost continuous rice-fields, where, fifteen years ago, there was a dense, uninhabited forest. This development would be more rapid and greater were Burma, as it should be, independent of India. Now a considerable part of its revenues is devoted to the promotion of Indian interests with which it has no concern.

One thing, it should be noted in conclusion, has contributed vastly to the success of the English in Burma, and that is the absence of caste, for caste is the greatest obstacle to righteous government and progress in India. To this absence largely may be attributed the fact that the unrest which prevails in some parts of that country is unknown in Burma. The people live contentedly under their foreign rulers. It is a peace — not the result of force, for I cannot find out that there is a single British soldier in the whole province; but the peace of pure contentment.