Fiery Dragons

Banks, Moneylenders and Microfinance in Burma

by Sean Turnell

  • Published:
  • Pages: 416 pp.
  • Series number: 114
Available from NIAS Press worldwide

The book explores the present circumstances of Burma’s financial malaise, but does not neglect how it got there. Opening its account at the dawn of the colonial era, the book takes the story forward to the events that in our times bring the Burmese people out onto their streets to demand something better.

This book tells the story of Burma’s financial system – of its banks, moneylenders and ‘microfinanciers’ – from colonial times to the present day. It argues that Burma’s financial system matters, and that the careful study of this system can tell us something about Burma – not least about how the richest country in Southeast Asia at the dawn of the twentieth century, became the poorest at the dawn of the twenty-first.

While financial systems and institutions matter in all countries, the book argues that they especially count in Burma. Events in the financial and monetary sphere have been unusually, spectacularly, prominent in Burma’s turbulent modern history. From the Chettiars and the alienation of the land, to the backlash against the foreign moneylender. From the great state banks of the democracy years, to the Orwellian ‘people’s banks’ of the Burma way to socialism. From Burma’s bizarre demonetization experiences, to the rise and crash of the entrepreneurial bankers. And from the money launderers to the practitioners of microfinance. The story of Burma’s financial system and its players is one that has shaped the country. It is a dramatic story, and it is an important story.

by Susanne Prager Nyein, Misericordia University
From journal:
Journal of Contemporary Asia, Vol. 40, No. 4, 2010

"… highly fascinating reading, which is also thanks to the author’s lucid writing.  It illuminates a subject that was marginalised in scholarly studies.

The book is highly recommended to Burma scholars, aid workers and policy makers alike."

"… highly fascinating reading, which is also thanks to the author’s lucid writing.  It illuminates a subject that was marginalised in scholarly studies.

The book is highly recommended to Burma scholars, aid workers and policy makers alike."

by Peter J. Drake, Australian Catholic University & University of New England
From journal:
Asian-Pacific Economic Literature, 23 (2), 2009

 Monograph case studies of money and finance in developing countries are scarce and scholarly contemporary works on Burma are even rarer. So this fine book on money and finance in Burma is doubly welcome. […] The book is skilfully constructed and developed. Each chapter is essentially an historical narrative, interwoven with thematic and institutional material.

 Monograph case studies of money and finance in developing countries are scarce and scholarly contemporary works on Burma are even rarer. So this fine book on money and finance in Burma is doubly welcome. […] The book is skilfully constructed and developed. Each chapter is essentially an historical narrative, interwoven with thematic and institutional material. Clarity of understanding is greatly assisted by an introductory section on structure and outline, a timeline of events and, within each chapter, an opening synopsis. […] Turnell has given us a most engaging work, in which substantial historical and empirical research is blended with serious and correct analysis. The book is well-fitted to stand among the other authoritative case studies of financial development in the countries of Southeast Asia.

by Ian Brown, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
From journal:
EH.NET Book Reviews, 2009

 Sean Turnell opens this fine study with an arresting contrast: “At the dawn of the twentieth century Burma was the richest country in Southeast Asia.

 Sean Turnell opens this fine study with an arresting contrast: “At the dawn of the twentieth century Burma was the richest country in Southeast Asia.  At the dawn of the twenty-first century it was the poorest.”  Central to that descent, he argues, has been the failure of Burma’s leaders – not simply the military regime that has been in power since 1962 but the civilian democracy that preceded it and indeed the British colonial administration which came before that – to fashion the institutions necessary for sustained economic growth.  One of the most important of those institutions is a functioning financial system.  In other words, to understand the failure to create effective financial institutions is to understand Burma’s economic failure across the long twentieth century. […] Turnell … has been a close “Burma-watcher” for many years.  This book draws on a close reading of a wide range of official sources, of an extensive secondary literature, and of primary documents in the major relevant archives … .  It is not written specifically for specialists in the history and practice of financial institutions and structures – though specialists will certainly gain much from it – but is clearly intended to be accessible to a broader audience, not least to those with an interest in Burma wishing to more fully understand that country’s huge problems.  When necessary, the author provides important context on, for example, the principles of central banking or on the working of currency boards.  But even here, the writing has a light touch.  This is an attractively written, accessible account and analysis.

by Bertil Lintner
From journal:
Far Eastern Economic Review

“…this book is a must-read.”

“…this book is a must-read.”

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