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Konbaung Dynasty (1752?1885)

Soon after the fall of Ava, a new dynasty rose in Shwebo to challenge the authority of Hanthawaddy. Over the next 70 years, the highly militaristic Konbaung dynasty went on to create the largest Burmese empire, second only to the empire of Bayinnaung.

  Konbaung Burma in early 1824

Reunification

Soon after the fall of Ava, a new dynasty rose in Shwebo to challenge the authority of Hanthawaddy. Over the next 70 years, the highly militaristic Konbaung dynasty went on to create the largest Burmese empire, second only to the empire of Bayinnaung. By 1759, King Alaungpaya's Konbaung forces had reunited all of Burma (and Manipur), extinguished the Mon-led Hanthawaddy dynasty once and for all, and driven out the European powers who provided arms to Hanthawaddy?the French from Thanlyin and the English from Negrais.

Wars with Siam and China

The kingdom then went to war with Siam, which had occupied up the Tenasserim coast to Martaban during the Burmese civil war (1740?1757), and had provided shelter to the Mon refugees. By 1767, the Konbaung armies had subdued much of Laos and defeated Siam, sacking Ayutthaya. But they could not finish off the remaining Siamese resistance as they were forced to defend against four major invasions by Qing China (1765?1769). While the Burmese defenses held in "the most disastrous frontier war the Qing dynasty had ever waged", the Burmese were preoccupied with another impending invasion by the world's largest empire for years. The Qing kept a heavy military lineup in the border areas for about one decade in an attempt to wage another war while imposing a ban on inter-border trade for two decades.

The Siamese used the Burmese preoccupation with China to recover their lost territories by 1770, and in addition, went on to capture much of Lan Na in 1776, ending over two centuries of Burmese suzerainty over the region. Burma and Siam went to war again in 1785?1787, 1792?1793, 1804, 1808?1811 and 1852?1854 but all resulted in a stalemate. After decades of war, the two countries essentially exchanged Tenasserim (to Burma) and Lan Na (to Siam).

Westward expansion and wars with British Empire

British soldiers dismantling cannons belonging to King Thibaw's forces, Third Anglo-Burmese War, Ava, 27 November 1885. Photographer: Hooper, Willoughby Wallace (1837-1912)Faced with a powerful China in the northeast and a resurgent Siam in the southeast, King Bodawpaya turned westward for expansion. He conquered Arakan in 1784, annexed Manipur in 1813, and captured Assam in 1817?1819, leading to a long ill-defined border with British India. Bodawpaya's successor King Bagyidaw was left to put down British instigated rebellions in Manipur in 1819 and Assam in 1821?1822. Cross-border raids by rebels from the British protected territories and counter-cross-border raids by the Burmese led to the First Anglo-Burmese War (1824?1826).

The longest and most expensive war in British Indian history ended in a decisive British victory. Burma ceded all of Bodawpaya's western acquisitions (Arakan, Manipur and Assam) plus Tenasserim. Burma was crushed for years by repaying a large indemnity of one million pounds (then US$5 million). In 1852, the British unilaterally and easily seized the Pegu province in the Second Anglo-Burmese War. After the war, King Mindon tried to modernize the Burmese state and economy, and made trade and territorial concessions to stave off further British encroachments, including ceding the Karenni States to the British in 1875. Nonetheless, the British, alarmed by the consolidation of French Indo-China, annexed the remainder of the country in the Third Anglo-Burmese War in 1885, and sent the last Burmese king Thibaw and his family to exile in India.

Administrative and economic reforms

Konbaung kings extended administrative reforms first begun in the Restored Toungoo Dynasty period (1599?1752), and achieved unprecedented levels of internal control and external expansion. Konbaung kings tightened control in the low lands and reduced the hereditary privileges of Shan saophas (chiefs). Konbaung officials, particularly after 1780, began commercial reforms that increased government income and rendered it more predictable. Money economy continued to gained ground. In 1857, the crown inaugurated a full-fledged system of cash taxes and salaries, assisted by the country's first standardized silver coinage.

Culture

Cultural integration continued. For the first time in history, the Burmese language and culture came to predominate the entire Irrawaddy valley, with the Mon language and ethnicity completely eclipsed by 1830. The nearer Shan principalities adopted more lowland norms. The evolution and growth of Burmese literature and theater continued, aided by an extremely high adult male literacy rate for the era (half of all males and 5% of females). Monastic and lay elites around the Konbaung kings, particularly from Bodawhpaya's reign, also launched a major reformation of Burmese intellectual life and monastic organization and practice known as the Sudhamma Reformation. It led to amongst other things Burma's first proper state histories.

 

 
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