Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa
  • Get access
    Check if you have access via personal or institutional login
  • Cited by 6
  • Cited by
    This article has been cited by the following publications. This list is generated based on data provided by CrossRef.

    LEE, Jack Jin Gary 2015. Plural Society and the Colonial State: English Law and the Making of Crown Colony Government in the Straits Settlements. Asian Journal of Law and Society, Vol. 2, Issue. 02, p. 229.

    Soske, Jon 2015. The impossible concept: Settler liberalism, Pan-Africanism, and the language of non-racialism. African Historical Review, Vol. 47, Issue. 2, p. 1.

    Hart, Gillian 2012. The Point is to Change it.

    Mizuno, Asuka 2011. Identifying the ‘agriculturists’ in the Burma Delta in the colonial period: A new perspective on agriculturists based on a village tract's registers of holdings from the 1890s to the 1920s. Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, Vol. 42, Issue. 03, p. 405.

    Hart, Gillian 2010. D/developments after the Meltdown. Antipode, Vol. 41, p. 117.

    Lee, Hock Guan 2009. Furnivall´ s Plural Society and Leach´ s Political Systems of Highland Burma. Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia, Vol. 24, Issue. 1, p. 32.


J. S. Furnivall and Fabianism: Reinterpreting the ‘Plural Society’ in Burma

  • JULIE PHAM (a1)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 May 2005

Buried in an obscure journal published in Burma is a letter addressed to its readers commemorating the tenth anniversary of the publication. The editor had asked one of the publication's founders, a well-known former Indian Civil Service (ICS) officer turned progres-sive reformer, to pen a few lines. Years later, the writer achieved acclaim as an ardent supporter of Burmese nationalism and independence and one of the founding scholars of Burma and Southeast Asia studies. These were his words of inspiration to an audience that comprised mostly educated Burmese:

Burma did not lose its independence because the rulers of Burma came into conflict with the British Empire, but because they had not sufficient wisdom to preserve their country; they did not know enough of Burma or of the outside world. And it will not again be capable of independence until Burmans know enough of Burma and of the outside world to guide its destinies.

In essence, the Burmese were responsible for their own colonisation because they lacked ‘wisdom’ and only through gaining this elusive knowledge could they be free. This opinion was based on nearly three decades worth of first-hand observation of Burmese society. The author was J. S. Furnivall.

Hide All
This essay is heavily based on chapter two of my M.Phil dissertation, see Hoai Julie Pham (2002), ‘Empire, nationalism, and Fabianism in the thought of John S. Furnivall’, University of Cambridge. I am indebted to John Ady, J. S. Furnivall's grandson, for giving me access to Furnivall's private papers. I also thank Ady, Tim Harper, Reiner Leist, Robert Taylor, and Peter Zinoman for carefully reading and criticising earlier versions of this essay.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Modern Asian Studies
  • ISSN: 0026-749X
  • EISSN: 1469-8099
  • URL: /core/journals/modern-asian-studies
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *