Yangon (1850-1860)/ Effect of Colonialism has on Rangoon’s Economy

After the 1852 war, Rangoon Harbour became important for trading activities because it offered a great waterway to the Ayeyarwady delta, which was a large hinterland for Rangoon (Ware, 2016). The pace of economic development under the colonial rule was spectacular and it has changed Burma significantly in terms of drawing the country more tightly to the international economic system through the development of efficient steamship transportation, the opening of the Suez Canal, and the construction of railroads reaching Mandalay and Myitkyina within the next decade.

Figure 1: This is the Rangoon City Plan being adopted showing areas along the harbour were allocated for businesses, railway, and industrial uses. The urban plan reveals the rising importance of trading at the time (Pearn, 1939).

The British rule has completely changed Rangoon’s economy by introducing the mechanism of supply and demand into its economic system. “Under the monarchy, the economy of Myanmar was under a redistribution concept that was embedded in the local society, religion, and politics. Prices of the most important commodities were set by the state” Pearn (1939, p.200). Burma’s economy eventually became part of the vast export-oriented enterprise of western colonialism under the colonial influence and the traditional Burmese economic system slowly collapsed. 

The opening of the Suez Canal few years after the war created a high international demand for Burma’s rice than what had previously existed. Within a number of decades the Irrawaddy delta became covered with rice fields and the area of productive rice fields in Lower Burma rose nearly 160 times between the mid-19th and late- 19thcentury (Ware, 2016). 

To encourage trading activities, the British expanded communications, built roads and railroads, and developed ports, as well as riverine transport yet the Irrawaddy flotilla company was a prime example. The British developed a sophisticated and much renowned Burma forest service said to be the best in the world, to protect this valuable resources. Furthermore, Burma had mineral wealth. The traditional oil wells of central Burma, formerly under royal monopoly, were modernised and Burma became a modest oil exporter within a few decades. 

To conclude, by far the most important economic innovation was the development of the Irrawwaddy delta, as it became the word’s premier rice-growing region. Together with building roads and railroads, utilizing the natural mine wealth also contributed to the prosperous wealth in colonial Rangoon. 


Pearn, Bertie Reginald. History of Rangoon. (Rangoon: American Baptist Mission Press, 1939)

Ware, Anthony. Religion and Urbanism in Origin of Buddhist nationalism in Myanmar/Burma: An urban history of religious space, social integration and marginalization in colonial Rangoon after 1852. In Religion and Urbanism: Reconceptualising sustainable cities for South Asia. (Oxon: Routledge, 2016).

3 Comments on “Yangon (1850-1860)/ Effect of Colonialism has on Rangoon’s Economy

  1. On the view on mobility within the city, it was noted that the streets were not paved as late as 1782 as wheeled traffic was not permitted (Pearn, 1939, p.51). Carriages were then seen and motor cars appeared in around 1905. In response to the traffic, paving for major roads was much concerned that finishes of Pallavaram stone, Bombay blue-stone, asphalt and tar painting were experimented. Buses were introduced in 1913 and improvements on street surface and foundation were needed. (Pearn, 1939, p.280)

  2. Hi Bertha, you’ve touched on the marginalization of the Buddhist Burmese population yet also the economic success of the colonial rule. To make your position clearer, you might consider the urban form of the marginalized, e.g. informal settlements, as a juxtaposition to the British ruled city.

  3. It was clearly written that the British has helped Yangon on the development of infrastructure including railways, roads and canals, which contributed greatly to the economic and urban aspects in Yangon. You may also look more deeply into the economic activities in Yangon under the colonial governance, as well as how these activities affected the pattern of life of locals and foreigners.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.