The Hidden History of Burma: Race, Capitalism, and the Crisis of Democracy in the 21st Century. A Talk by Thant Myint-U



On Thursday 9 January 2020, Dr Thant Myint-U will give a talk at The Siam Society Under Royal Patronage on the topic of “The Hidden History of Burma: Race, Capitalism, and the Crisis of Democracy in the 21st Century” to give an insight on his new book of the same title.

How did one of the world’s "buzzy hotspots" (Fodor’s 2013) become one of the top ten places to avoid (Fodor’s 2018)?

Precariously positioned between China and India, Burma’s population has suffered dictatorship, natural disaster, and the dark legacies of colonial rule. But when decades of military dictatorship finally ended and internationally beloved Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi emerged from long years of house arrest, hopes soared. World leaders such as Barack Obama ushered in waves of international support. Progress seemed inevitable.

As historian, former diplomat, and presidential advisor, Thant Myint-U saw the cracks forming. In this insider’s diagnosis of a country at a breaking point, he dissects how a singularly predatory economic system, fast-rising inequality, disintegrating state institutions, the impact of new social media, the rise of China next door, climate change, and deep-seated feelings around race, religion, and national identity all came together to challenge the incipient democracy. Interracial violence soared and a horrific exodus of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees fixed international attention. Thant Myint-U explains how and why this happened, and details an unsettling prognosis for the future.

Burma is today a fragile stage for nearly all the world’s problems. Are democracy and an economy that genuinely serves all its people possible in Burma? In clear and urgent prose, Thant Myint-U explores this question―a concern not just for the Burmese but for the rest of the world―warning of the possible collapse of this nation of 55 million while suggesting a fresh agenda for change.

The book will be available for purchase at the event with a special discount.


Dr Thant Myint-U is an award-winning writer, historian, conservationist, and a former adviser to the President of Myanmar. He was educated at Harvard and Cambridge Universities and taught history from 1995-2000 as a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. He has also served on three United Nations peacekeeping operations, in Cambodia (1992-3) and the former Yugoslavia (1994-5), as well as at the UN Secretariat in New York (2000-2006), including as the head of policy planning in the Department of Political Affairs. Since 2007 he has been involved in numerous projects and initiatives related to reform in Myanmar: he has been a member of the National Economic and Social Advisory Council (2012-2015), a Special Advisor to the government on the peace process (2012-2015), the Founder and Chairman of the Yangon Heritage Trust (2012-present), the Chairman of U Thant House (2015-present), and a Founding Partner of the Ava Advisory Group (2016-present). The Hidden History of Burma: Race, Capitalism, and the Crisis of Democracy in the 21st Century is his fourth book.

Date: Thursday 9 January 2020
Time: 7.00 p.m.
Place: The Siam Society, 131 Asoke Montri Rd, Sukhumvit 21

Non-members donation: B200. Siam Society members, members’ spouses and children, and all students showing valid student ID cards are admitted free of charge. For more information, please contact Khun Arunsri or

Office Hours: Tuesday – Saturday 9:00am. – 5:00pm.

The Siam Society is deeply grateful to the James H.W. Thompson Foundation for its generous support of the 2019-2020 Lecture Series.