Whilst one of Orwell’s characters in Burmese Days says that he hates Orientals and that any hint of friendship towards them is an instance of horrible perversity, the Burmans themselves were not too fond of these ‘foreigners from the West’2 who had conquered them and excluded them from any share of power. In Rangoon, which the British had transformed into the capital with straight streets and Victorian architecture, there were three influential clubs: the Pegu, the Boat and the Gymkhana. The Pegu Club was dominated by senior officials from the Civil Service and the other two by the mercantile establishment. Neither money nor high status could assure a Burman’s access to one of the leading clubs in the capital. Race was the unavoidable criterion.3 To the male colonisers the club and not the home was the centre of social life.4 When Burma closed its borders to the outside world following the
military coup of 1962, this logic was turned on the foreigners from the West: ‘The club is only open to Burmese.’5 British colonial policy was based upon the notion of the colonial power’s determining role in keeping the country together with its many different ethnic groups: Burmans, Mon, Shan, Karen, Kachin, Chin, Rakhine, and immigrant Chinese and Indians-a multi-ethnic society which the British believed that their Pax Britannica had served to gather and save from despotism and ethnic conflict.