Pre-colonial Roots of Colonial Coercion: Evidence from British Burma

Htet Thiha Zaw, University of Michigan


Myanmar Amidst a Pandemic and a Coup


Given fiscal constraints, how did colonial states allocate coercion within their territories? This paper proposes a new explanation for variation in colonial coercion: the extent of pre-colonial state consolidation. When the pre-colonial state achieved control over local society via capture of local agents, the latter became more compliant to the state’s demands and received less coercion from the colonial state. I evaluate this argument in British Burma, exploiting two novel data sources: revenue inquests collected by the precolonial state that recorded the new local headman appointments in 1784, and colonial gazetteers that recorded the distribution of colonial police in 1912. I find that villages closer to locations with newly-appointed headman before colonization received significantly fewer colonial police. The main results are not explained by spatial correlation, local tax base, or the presence of other colonial institutions. Further evidence shows that these differences in colonial coercion also influence political violence patterns after independence.

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CCSEAS Conference 2021 |