U Ne Win Biography

Dictator, General (1911–2002)
U Ne Win was a Burmese military general who staged a coup and ruled his country from 1962 until 1988.


Born on May 24, 1911, in Paungdale, Myanmar, U Ne Win joined the Burmese independence movement and became a general in its army. He carried out a coup d'état of the ruling party in 1962, establishing a socialist and isolationist regime that eventually drained the country's economy. Ne Win resigned from office in 1988, and died under house arrest in Yangon, Myanmar, on December 5, 2002.

Early Years and Rise to Power

Burmese military and political leader U Ne Win was born Shu Maung on May 24, 1911, in Paungdale, Myanmar. The son of a government official, he attended University College, Rangoon for two years, but left in 1931 before obtaining a degree.

He became part of a militant nationalist organization that sought to free Burma from British rule, and in 1941 was one of the Thirty Comrades who traveled to Hainan, China, to receive military training from the Japanese. Taking the name Ne Win, meaning "brilliant as the sun," he became an officer in the Japanese-sponsored Burma Independence Army.

When alliances with Japanese forces turned into an unwanted occupation, Ne Win helped organize a resistance that drove them from the country. Afterward, he became a lieutenant colonel and co-commander of a battalion in the new Burma Army. When Burma gained full independence from Britain on January 4, 1948, Ne Win was named chief of the general staff and supreme commander of the armed forces.

Prime Minister and President

With the country shaken by ethnic insurgencies and government instability, Ne Win temporarily took over prime minister duties from U Nu in 1958. He managed to restore order and established general elections in 1960 that resulted in the reelection of Nu. However, in March 1962 he carried out a coup d'état, imprisoning Nu and establishing the Revolutionary Council of the Union of Burma, whose members were drawn almost exclusively from the armed forces.

Ne Win established a socialist and isolationist regime, nationalizing trade while expelling foreign entrepreneurs and cutting off contact with the outside world. He also transformed Burma into a one-party country by replacing Parliament with a military dictatorship and jailing opponents of his Burmese Socialist Program Party.

Ne Win's style could veer toward the eccentric. He took advice from numerologists and astrologers, and reportedly had currency printed in denominations of 45 and 90 due to his belief that multiples of nine were lucky numbers. However, when it came to political philosophy, he was narrow-minded in his goals. As longtime New York Times foreign correspondent Tillman Durdin noted in his 1966 book Southeast Asia, Ne Win "regards the type of socialism he practices as a means mostly of organizing and controlling Burmese society, rather than developing it to meet the challenge of a radically changing world."

Ne Win assumed the title of president from 1974 to '81, after which time he effectively remained the country's supreme political leader as chairman of the BSPP. However, his policies had turned Burma into one of the world's poorest nations, sparking widespread government corruption and civil unrest. Following a series of anti-government protests, Ne Win announced his resignation from the BSPP in 1988.

Later Years

Although Ne Win had formerly retired upon stepping down from office, he reportedly continued to influence political decisions behind the scenes.

In March 2002, the former leader was placed under house arrest at his lakeside villa near Yangon following the imprisonment of several family members who were accused of plotting a coup against the ruling powers. He died at his home on December 5, 2002.

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