Tradition as an imposed and elite inheritance: Yangon’s modern past
Roberts, J, Tradition as an imposed and elite inheritance: Yangon's modern past, Whose Tradition? Discourses on the Built Environment, Routledge, N AlSayyad, M Gillem and D Moffat (ed), United Kingdom, pp. 41-61. ISBN 9781138192072 (2017) [Research Book Chapter]
This chapter examines the 'tradition of modernity' in Yangon as an imposed and elite inheritance, which was first instigated by the English East India Company, and then perpetuated by the city's elite. In this retelling, modernity is both the past and the future of Yangon , while the present - often understood as not only the current period of transition from overt military rule to a civilian government but also the preceding five decades of decline - is shunted aside in favour of the teleology of progress. However, what this modernity is and how it is a part of Yangon's tradition is only suggested, never defined. This elision allows the colonial-era buildings to be placed in the same category as the Shwedagon Pagoda and other Buddhist monuments, which elicit unmistakable devotion from Yangon's residents and fall more easily into the category of Burmese tradition. Thus urban heritage is rendered broadly apparently encompassing any building that existed before the 1950s. Such a campaign to save Yangon's colonial era buildings takes maximum advantage of the romance of the ruin, with grand but crumbling building facades captured in the golden glow of sunset. But within such a discourse, not all buildings are accorded equal value. Indeed, worthiness is often dictated by universalized standards as set by organizations such as the UNESCO World Heritage Centre and the World Monuments Fund.