Pyone Cho and his New Buddhist Songs: An intellectual of ‘YMBA’ Burmese Nationalism in the 1920s

Dr Yuri Takahashi1

1Australian National University, Australia

Pyone Cho (1878? – 1927) is famous for his compilation of ‘Maha Gita’ (traditional Burmese songs written during the Burmese kingdom era) in a book which also includes several Buddhist songs he composed.  His songs are still sung in Myanmar today and through analysis of these songs I will explore his thoughts on Buddhism, as a modern Burmese intellectual. As a writer and editor, Pyone Cho also worked as editor-in-chief for ‘Thuriya’ Newspaper, the representative Burmese nationalist publication.  ‘Thuriya’ newspaper was the main publication of the Young Men’s Buddhist Association, a major force driving Burmese nationalism in the 1910s and 1920s.  YMBA attracted many young Burmese who developed their modern Burmese identity largely inspired by the new Buddhist interpretations advocated by YMBA.  I argue Pyone Cho’s Buddhist songs reflect YMBA’s new Buddhist narratives. The main-stream histography of Burmese nationalism emphasised the formation of ‘Dobama Asiayone’ or the We Burmans Association in 1930.  YMBA is regarded as its predecessor, however YMBA’s nationalism was not only a political movement but also a much broader cultural movement and Pyone Cho was one of the important intellectuals involved in this trend.


Yuri is lecturer and convener of the Burmese courser at ANU established in 2016. Yuri obtained her Masters in Burmese literature from the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies and worked for the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a Burmese specialist for seven years, including a three year stay in Yangon from 1991 to 1994. Since moving to Australia she returned to language education and research at the University of Sydney, teaching at their Japanese Department for sixteen years and in 2013 led an intensive Burmese course. During this period she published many translations / essays on Burmese literature, music, media and culture in Australia, Japan and Myanmar. She obtained M. Phil and PhD (Modern Burmese intellectual history) from the University of Sydney. She has a long-term curiosity about the acceptance of modernity as seen through Burmese literature. Her research for PhD explores the changing narratives of Burmese nationalism through writing a biography of Shwe U Daung, a Burmese author well known as the creator of ‘San Shar the Detective’, an adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes stories.


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