Both benevolent and brutal
The two sides of provincial violence in early modern Burma
in A global history of early modern violence

The chapter examines the use of spectacular violence by provincial officials in early modern Burma during the reign of King Bodawhpaya (1782–1819). Villagers in outlying provinces that fit James Scott’s definition of non-state space obeyed state officials only because of the threat and implementation of execution. Coercive violence probably always remained an important part of the everyday life of the early modern Burmese state in the provinces, however much its enactment and the threat of its imposition was invisible to or misunderstood by the royal centre. In the royal court, the king watched over the people and judged the good and the bad, and the eyes of all in the kingdom were upon the throne. This royal imaginary gave cohesion to the kingdom within a moral system that emphasized unity, harmony, and peace. It blinded the court to the everyday activities of centrally appointed officials who abused the local populations under their charge for their own benefit. Abuse led to resistance and flight, which led to more violence, and in the end undermined the security of the royal imaginary. Political centralization in early modern Burma, by replacing locally responsible royal and noble families with temporary central appointees, encouraged, at least to some degree, increasing violence of this kind over time.


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