A golden letter sent from Burma to Britain, studded with rubies will go on display later this year as part of an exhibition looking at the long history of the two countries.

The letter, on a sheet of gold, was sent from Burma’s King Alaungpaya to Britain’s King George II in 1756, but the King not only ignored it, he sent it to his library in Hanover where it was forgotten. In a way, that neglect, which also sparked a diplomatic incident, is what saved it as most letters on gold sheets were melted down by later owners.

Extract from the Golden Letter of Alaungpaya (c) British Museum

Opening later this year, the exhibition, Burma to Myanmar will tell the story of the cluster of kingdoms that became an empire, in turn became British Burma, and more recently was renamed Myanmar by the ruling military junta.

The timing of the exhibition is significant as this year marks the 75th anniversary of the country that many people are not aware was part of the British Empire, and the British Museum will be telling its story.

With the political situation in Myanmar being what it is, it would seem likely that an exhibition about the country would struggle to secure anything to show to the public. However, there’s an awful lot of Burma in Britain, and the exhibition, of over 110 objects will lean heavily on British collections for loans, many of which have never been seen in public before.

That’s in a way part of the story as well — the often forgotten influence Burma had on Britain, and less welcome, British control over Burma.

The exhibition aims to provide a new perspective, looking at Myanmar’s history behind its headlines. It is in four sections: an abundance of riches – geography and natural resources, a landscape of states and networks, the British colonial take-over, and the independence era.

It’ll range from AD450 right up to the modern day, and how British ideas of ethnicity were to lead to the civil strife and Buddist nationalism that despoils the image of a friendly country that many subscribed to in the past.

It’ll range from the richest of materials — such as the golden letter and silver thread fabrics to satires such as a painting of a modern car with tank treads that mocks the corruption in the military government where bribes were needed to own a car. As such, it’ll be a mix of an exhibition, which richly befits the mixed history of the country.

The exhibition, Burma to Myanmar, is the result of a multi-year project led by Dr Alexandra Green at the British Museum and will open in November.

Tickets have gone on sale, with an early-bird offer for people who buy now.

  • Adult: £12
  • Concessions: £10
  • National Art Pass: £6
  • Under 16 (with adult): Free
  • Members: Free

There’s also a 2-for-1 tickets for students on Fridays, which is also when the museum is open late to 8:30pm.

Early bird tickets are available from here.


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