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Around Yangon

Early history

Yangon was founded as Dagon in the early 11th century (c. 1028–1043) by the Mon, who dominated Lower Burma at that time.[8] Dagon was a small fishing village centred about the Shwedagon Pagoda. In 1755, King Alaungpaya conquered Dagon, renamed it “Yangon”, and added settlements around Dagon. The British captured Yangon during the First Anglo-Burmese War (1824–26), but returned it to Burmese administration after the war. The city was destroyed by a fire in 1841.[9]

Colonial Rangoon

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Rangoon and Environ map, 1911

A view of the Cantonment Gardens (now Kandaw Minglar Garden) in 1868.

Damage of central Rangoon in the aftermath of World War II.

The British seized Yangon and all of Lower Burma in the Second Anglo-Burmese War of 1852, and subsequently transformed Yangon into the commercial and political hub of British Burma. In 1853, the British moved the capital of Burma from Moulmein (present-day Mawlamyine) to Yangon.[10][11] Yangon is also the place where the British sent Bahadur Shah II, the last Mughal emperor, to live after the Indian Rebellion of 1857. Based on the design by army engineer Lt. Alexander Fraser, the British constructed a new city on a grid plan on delta land, bounded to the east by the Pazundaung Creek and to the south and west by the Yangon River. Yangon became the capital of all British-ruled Burma after the British had captured Upper Burma in the Third Anglo-Burmese War of 1885. By the 1890s Yangon’s increasing population and commerce gave birth to prosperous residential suburbs to the north of Royal Lake (Kandawgyi) and Inya Lake.[12] The British also established hospitals including Rangoon General Hospital and colleges including Rangoon University.

Colonial Yangon, with its spacious parks and lakes and mix of modern buildings and traditional wooden architecture, was known as “the garden city of the East.”[12] By the early 20th century, Yangon had public services and infrastructure on par with London.[13]

Before World War II, about 55% of Yangon’s population of 500,000 was Indian or South Asian, and only about a third was Bamar (Burman).[14] Karens, the Chinese, the Anglo-Burmese and others made up the rest.

After World War I, Yangon became the epicentre of Burmese independence movement, with leftist Rangoon University students leading the way. Three nationwide strikes against the British Empire in 1920, 1936 and 1938 all began in Yangon. Yangon was under Japanese occupation (1942–45), and incurred heavy damage during World War II. The city was retaken by the Allies in May 1945.

Yangon became the capital of the Union of Burma on 4 January 1948 when the country regained independence from the British Empire.