Wed 30 Nov 2005
Filed under: Inside Burma,News
Burma’s most renowned and respected historian Dr. Than Tun who died from heart attack and breathing problems in the early hours of 30 November, was born on 6 April 1923 in Daunggyi Village, Ngathaingchaung/Yeikyi Township in the delta region of Irrawaddy Division, of father Phoe Twei and mother Daw Thin.
Bright, young thing Than Tun passed the matriculation examinations in 1939 and joined the then reputable University of Rangoon where he obtained both his M.A degree in 1950 and B.L degree in 1952.
During the Second World War, in 1943, he became the secretary of Ngathaingchaung’s Asian Youth League, and was appointed the chairman of Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League (AFPFL) in the following year. In 1947, after the war and just before the independence of Burma, he also became the chairman of the historic Burmese student union Ba-Ka-Tha.
From 1952 to 1956, he studied at London University, Schools of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) for his Ph. D and submitted the thesis â€œBuddhism in Pagan Periodâ€. He was awarded the Ph. D in 1956.
In 1959, he became a lecturer in Rangoon University’s Department of History and Political Science. In 1965, he was promoted to the Professor and Head of Department in History at Mandalay University, and he worked there for nearly 20 years. He left Mandalay in 1982 for Tokyo University’s Department of South East Asian Studies.
Than Tun initially ‘retired’ from his official teaching duties for the Burmese government in 1983 while he was in Japan. From 1982 to 1987 he worked as a Research Fellow and Visiting Professor in Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, Dept of African and Asian Languages and Cultural Studies, Tokyo International Christian University and Osaka University at Foreign Studies. Later, he went to the USA and worked as a visiting professor in Northern Illinois University where he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Literature in 1988.
He compiled and published the â€œRoyal orders of Burmaâ€ in 10 volumes and several other works of note on the history of ancient Burma, but many of them had not been published due to the draconian censorship.
In 1990 he came back to Burma and worked as a Member of the Myanmar (Burmese) Historical Commission and Emeritus Professor in Yangon (Rangoon) University in the Departments of History and Archaeology.
In 2000 Fukuokar Asian Culture prize Committee awarded Than Tun the highest world-wide academic award, a Literate of the 11th Fukuoka Asian Culture Prizes in the Academic Prize Category.
Than Tun was also known as a fearlessly outspoken critic of successive military juntas of Burma, and, for not toeing to the official line when it comes to the history of Burma. Than Tun often criticised the generals for attempting to rewrite the history of Burma according to the requirements of their propagandas, and his well-researched books on Burma, had often been banned by the authorities or sidelined by publishers for fear of punishments from the paranoid generals.
When some Burmese generals led by the ousted Prime Minister of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) Gen Khin Nyunt pampered and exalted a captured ‘White’ elephant, the symbol of royalty and prosperity, during a ‘religious’ ceremony in 2003, Than Tun dismissed the whole affair as mumbo-jumbo and said, â€œWhite elephant, black elephant; they are the same. If you don’t believe me, let them tread on you.â€ A year later, Khin Nyunt was ousted by his fellow generals in an intra army coup.
Most of all, Than Tun was very critical of the military junta’s defacing of the ancient Burmese capital the Old Pagan with unnecessary, garish and over-the-top ‘re-innovations’ of its ancient temples, the construction of a motorway among the ruins and the erection of an observation tower for the benefits of dollar yielding tourists.
Than Tun is survived by his wife and children.