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In this Burmese name, U is an honorific.
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U Nu

U Nu with Moshe Dayan during his visit to Israel in 1955

In office
January 4, 1948 – June 12, 1956
Succeeded by Ba Swe

In office
28 February 1957 – 28 October 1958
Preceded by Ba Swe
Succeeded by Ne Win

In office
4 April 1960 – 2 March 1962
Preceded by Ne Win
Succeeded by Ne Win

Born May 25, 1907
War khal ma, Myaungmya district, Ayeyarwady Division, British Burma
Died February 14, 1995 (aged 87)
Yangon, Burma
Nationality Burmese
Spouse(s) Daw Mya Yi
Children Daw San San Nu U Thet Tin

U Aung Ye Myint Daw Mya Mya Aye
U Thaung Htat Daw May Thazin Than Htat
U Aung Daw Khin San Nwe
Daw Than Nu U Aung Nyein
Dr Khin Aye Thet Tin(aka) Daw Khin Aye Nu

Religion Buddhist

U Nu (Burmese: ဦးနု; IPA: [ú nṵ]; otherwise known as Thakin Nu; 25 May 1907 – 14 February 1995) was a leading Burmese nationalist and political figure of the 20th century. He was the first Prime Minister of Burma under the provisions of the 1947 Constitution of the Union of Burma, from 4 January 1948 to 12 June 1956, again from 28 February 1957 to 28 October 1958, and finally from 4 April 1960 to 2 March 1962.



He was born to U San Tun and Daw Saw Khin of Wakema, Myaungmya District, Ayeyarwady Division. He attended Myo Ma High School in Yangon. In 1929 he got B.A. from Ragoon University. In 1935 he married Daw Mya Yi while entering the exam of LLB.

Political life

Struggle for independence

His political life started as president of the Rangoon University Students Union (RUSU) with Aung San as the secretary. They were both expelled from the university on account of the article Hell hound turned loose that appeared in the union magazine. Their expulsion sparked off the second university students' strike in February 1936. Both became members of the nationalist Dobama Asiayone (We Burmans Association) which had been formed in 1930 and henceforth gained the prefix Thakin ('Master'), proclaiming they were the true masters of their own land. For a few years after independence in 1948 Nu retained the prefix 'Thakin', but around 1952 he announced that since Burma was already independent the prefix of 'Thakin' was no longer needed and henceforth he would be known as U ('Mr') Nu. In 1937 he co-founded with Thakin Than Tun the Nagani (Red Dragon) Book Club which for the first time widely circulated Burmese-language translations of the Marxist classics. He also became a leader and co-founder of the People's Revolutionary Party (PRP), which later became the Socialist Party, and the umbrella organisation the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League (AFPFL), which advocated Burmese independence from both Japanese and British occupation during the 1940s. He was detained by the colonial government in 1940 along with Thakin Soe, Thakin Than Tun, U Kyaw Nyein, U Măd, and Dr. Ba Maw. After the assassination of its political and military leader Aung San along with his cabinet ministers on 19 July 1947, U Nu led the AFPFL and signed an independent agreement (the Nu-Attlee Treaty) with the British Premier Clement Attlee in October 1947.[1]

Parliamentary era

Burma gained independence from Britain on 4 January 1948. U Nu became the first Prime Minister of independent Burma, and he had to deal with armed rebellion, The rebels included various ethnic groups (notably Karen), White Flag and Red Flag communist factions, and some regiments in the Army. Yet another challenge was the exiled Kuomintang (KMT), chased out of China by the victorious Communists. They had established bases in eastern Burma and it took several years in the early 1950s to drive them out of Burma. A democratic system was instituted, however, and parliamentary elections were held several times. He voluntarily relinquished the Prime Ministerial position in 1956. AFPFL member U Ba Swe (died 1987) served as Prime Minister from June 1956 to June 1957. On 26 September 1958, he asked the Army Chief of Staff General Ne Win to take over as a "caretaker government", and Ne Win was sworn in as Prime Minister on 27 October 1958. In the February 1960 general election, U Nu's "Clean" faction of the AFPFL won in a landslide victory over the "Stable" faction led by U Ba Swe and U Kyaw Nyein. U Nu returned to power forming the Pyidaungzu (Union) government on 4 April 1960.

U Thant had been Secretary to the Prime Minister U Nu before he was appointed Burmese Ambassador to the United Nations in 1957. U Thant became the third UN Secretary-General in 1961.

Military era

Less than two years after his election victory, Nu was overthrown by a coup d’état led by Ne Win on 2 March 1962. After the 1962 coup, U Nu was put in what was euphemistically called 'protective custody' in an army camp outside Rangoon. He was released more than four years later on 27 October 1966 [see the (Rangoon) Guardian and The Working People's Daily of 28 October 1966 concerning the news items of U Nu's release from custody]. Among others, on the day of the military coup on 2 March 1962 President Mahn Win Maung as well as Chief Justice U Myint Thein (22 February 1900 - 3 October 1994) was also put in 'protective custody'. Win Maung was released from detention in October 1967 and U Myint Thein not until 28 February 1968.

On 2 December 1968, General Ne Win, Chairman of the Revolutionary Council (RC), established a 33 man 'Internal Unity Advisory Board' (IUAB; known more informally as 'the thirty-three') of former politicians some of whom he had jailed (or put in protective custody) several years earlier. The Board was assigned with the task of advising the RC for possible suggestions to enhance internal unity and to make suggestions for possible political changes. U Nu was one of the 'thirty-three'. In February 1969, U Nu submitted an 'interim report' recommending that General Ne Win hand over power back to him; that the Parliament abolished by Ne Win in March 1962 be reconvened. He proposed that the Parliament would meet and formally appoint General Ne Win President. In his proposal he stated that he made these suggestions in good faith after repeatedly mulling over alternative arrangements. He also stated that he made this proposal in absolute sincerity so that the Revolutionary Council would not remain as 'usurpers' ('those who came to power through force') and the 'taint of illegality' of Ne Win's takeover could be erased. (The English translation of U Nu's 'interim report' or proposals could be read in the 3 June 1969 issues of the Rangoon Guardian and the Working People's Daily).

Soon after submitting his 'report' or recommendations, U Nu, feigning illness, and under the pretext of a pilgrimage to India left Burma for India. When Ne Win made no response to his report, U Nu left India for London. In a speech given at the opening day of the Fourth Seminar of the ruling Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP) on 6 November 1969, Ne Win formally rejected U Nu's proposal, saying that he took over power — and held on to it — not because he craved power but to uplift the welfare of the 'workers and peasants' and that U Nu's proposals amounted to 'turning back the wheel'. (The full translation of Ne Win's speech to the BSPP seminar can be read in 7 and 8 November 1969 issues of the Rangoon Guardian and the Working People's Daily. U Nu had by now already declared in London that he was still 'the legal Prime Minister').

In a press conference held in London on 27 August 1969, U Nu announced that he was the 'legal Prime Minister' and 'pledged to the people of Burma' that he would not give up his struggle for democracy in Burma and that Burma was under the 'same kind of fascism' which (Burma's independence hero) 'General Aung San had fought' (during the freedom struggle and the resistance against the Japanese occupation of Burma during the Second World War).(The full text of U Nu's press conference in London can be read in the 1 September 1969 issues of the Rangoon Guardian and the Working People's Daily. The text of U Nu's press conference announcement, made in English, in London, was also translated into Burmese in full and was published in all the State-controlled Burmese language newspapers of 1 September 1969.

U Nu later formed the Parliamentary Democracy Party (PDP) and led an armed resistance group. U Nu's 'resistance group' consisted of no more than several hundred or at most a few thousand at its peak and his avowal to fight and overthrow General Ne Win from the Thai border met with abject failure. He subsequently accepted an offer of amnesty granted by Ne Win and returned to Burma on 29 July 1980. (The news item that 'former Prime Minister U Nu and wife Daw Mya Yee arrving back at Rangoon airport at 3:30 pm in the afternoon of 29 July 1980' can be read in the 30 July 1980 issues of the Rangoon Guardian and the Working People's Daily).

8888 Uprising

After keeping a low profile, teaching Buddhism in Burma and the United States - U Nu visited Northern Illinois University in the US to lecture on Buddhism in 1987 - U Nu became once again politically active during the 8888 Uprising forming the first new political party, the League for Democracy and Peace (LDP). Echoing his assertion that he was the 'legal Prime Minister' of August 1969 in London, U Nu reiterated on 9 September 1988 in Rangoon that he was still the 'legal Prime Minister'. His invitation to Aung San Suu Kyi and to ex-Brigadier Aung Gyi (another opposition politician at the time of the 8888 crisis) to form an interim government was rejected. Nonetheless he formed his own 'government' reappointing Mahn Win Maung who was overthrown in the 1962 coup as 'President'. After the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) took over power on 18 September 1988, the SLORC repeatedly asked U Nu to formally 'abolish' his 'interim government', but U Nu refused to do so. As a result Nu was put under house arrest on 29 December 1989. SLORC spokesmen at that time stated that although U Nu could have been tried for 'treason', due to his advanced age and his contribution to the freedom struggle, he was not charged with that offence. He was released on 23 April 1992 the same day the SLORC Chairman Senior General Saw Maung was forced to relinquish power and replaced by the current military junta (officially named the State Peace and Development Council) chief Senior General Than Shwe.

Religious works

A devout Theravada Buddhist, U Nu had long been the popular spiritual leader of his country. He had the Kaba Aye (World Peace) pagoda and the Maha Pasana Guha (Great Cave) built in 1952 in preparation for the Sixth Buddhist Synod that he convened and hosted in 1954–1956 as prime minister. On 29 August 1961, mainly due to moves initiated by U Nu, Parliament declared Buddhism as the official state religion (this constitutional amendment making Buddhism the state religion became ineffective when Ne Win took over power in March 1962), which alienated the Christian ethnic minorities such as the Kachins and the Karens. Cow slaughtering was officially banned; beef became known as todo tha (lit. hush hush meat). When General Ne Win took over in 1962, one of his first acts was to repeal the ban on cow slaughtering, which perhaps was symbolic of a personality clash between Nu and Ne Win.

Literary works

U Nu authored several books some of which have been translated into English. Among his works are The People Win Through (1951), Burma under the Japanese (1954), An Asian Speaks (1955), and Burma Looks Ahead (1951). His autobiography (1907-1962) Ta-Tei Sanei Tha (Ta-Tei - Saturday Son) was published in India by Irrawaddy Publishing (U Maw Thiri) in 1975. An earlier version had been published in 1974; it was translated into English by U Law Yone, Editor of the (Rangoon) Nation till 1963 and who, like U Nu, was jailed by the Revolutionary Council in the 1960s. Before U Nu became Prime Minister, he had translated, in the late 1930s, Dale Carnegie's book, How to Win Friends and Influence People (Lupaw Luzaw Louknee in Burmese - in retranslaton it roughly meant 'How to Take Advantage of Man by Man'); later the translated name was changed to the more palatable 'Meikta Bala Htika' which can be retranslated as A Treatise on Friendly Social Contract. The translated work under the second title became a prescribed text in schools in the 1950s as was U Nu's original work in Burmese, The People Win Through or The Sound of the People Victorious (Ludu Aungthan). He organized a Burma Translation Society and first volume of Burmese Encyclopedia published in 1954. The Sarpay Beikhman continued those works.

Novelist and playwright

Besides serving as Prime Minister, U Nu was also an accomplished novelist and playwright. In a work from the colonial period titled Yesset pabeikwe or It's So Cruel (Man, the Wolf of Man) U Nu describes how during the colonial period rich landlords were able to get away with just about any crime they wished to perpetrate.

The play The Sound of the People Victorious (Ludu Aungthan) that U Nu wrote while he was Prime Minister is about the havoc that Communist ideologies can wreak in a family. Strangely enough the first production of the play seems to have been in Pasadena, California. It later became a popular comic book in Burma, was translated into English, and made into a feature film at the height of the Cold War in the 1950s. The older generation in Burma can still remember having studied the play in their schooldays.

In the play Thaka Ala, published just before the 1962 coup, U Nu paints an extremely ugly picture of corruption both amongst the high-ranking politicians in power at the time as well as among the communist leaders who were gaining ascendancy. This is a play in the vernacular, a genre that hardly exists in Burmese literature. A translation into English was published in instalments in the Guardian newspaper. The play was critical of the current state of politics in Burma at the time (around 1960) and in this critical stance it resembles Thein Pe Myint's The Modern Monk (Tet Hpongyi in Burmese). Like The Modern Monk, it deals with scandalous sexual liaisons not much in keeping with traditional modes of Burmese behaviour. This time the scandalous sexual liaisons are among politicians both of the left and the right.


Nu died of natural causes on 14 February 1995 in Yangon at the age of 87, after his wife Daw Mya Yee died.[2] They had five children, San San (daughter), Thaung Htaik (son), Maung Aung (son), Than Than (daughter) and Cho Cho (daughter).


  • Butwell, Richard. U Nu of Burma. Stanford University Press, 1969. ISBN 978-0804701556
  • Tinker, Hugh. The Union of Burma. Oxford University Press, 1957.
  • Cady, John. A History of Modern Burma. Cornell University Press, 1960.
  • Smith, Martin. Burma - Insurgency and the Politics of Ethnicity. University Press, 1999. ISBN 978-1856496599

External links

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