The Troubled Heritage of the Secretariat: Murdered Dreams and Fragile Hopes in Myanmar

Dr. Jayde Lin Roberts2

2University of New South Wales, , Australia

Myanmar stands at an unenviable juncture, impatient to reach the orderly future of aspirational modernity while clinging to the past mythologized as national heroes and Burman dynasties. National reforms initiated in 2011 opened up the once hermit country to an onslaught of foreign aid, international best practice, and globalized discourses of universal value which project development as an economic calculation capable of overcoming local idiosyncrasies. Even for heritage conservation, a process that must negotiate the intersections of meaning, emotions, place attachment, and multiple histories, international consultants have presented technical procedures to designate quantifiable value. This research examines the heritage-making process of the Secretariat to foreground the elisions and negotiations required to save the former colonial command centre that came to be known as the site of General Aung San’s assassination. Aung San is hailed as the founding father of independent Burma who might have built an inclusive democratic nation had he not been slain at the age of 32. By tracing the political history of the colonial-built complex, analysing the discourse around its conservation and re-use, and tracking its ongoing development under the hands of a private company, this paper will analyse the political and economic forces that are trying to write a history of Yangon that will deliver on the promise of a prosperous cosmopolitan Myanmar despite the many contradictions in the Secretariat’s past.


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The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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