Book Reviews

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The Kinwun Min-Gyi’s London Diary:

The First Mission of a Burmese Minister to Britain, 1872

L.E. Bagshawe

2006. 412 pp., 26 b&w ill., 1 table, index, 24.5 x 17.5 cm., hardcover

ISBN-10: 974-524-021-4 $45.00
ISBN-13: 978-974-524-021-6

Book review by Patricia Herbert

(Planet Myanmar Website, August 2006)

To read the Kinwun Min-gyi’s diary in Bagshawe’s fresh translation is to enter a fascinating nineteenth century world where, for once, roles are reversed, and an astute Myanmar envoy puts Western society under the spotlight, scrutinising and recording impressions of British towns and cities, technology and mores while at the same time zealously representing Myanmar’s culture and cause.
   The diary begins on 2 March 1872 with King Mindon’s royal order appointing the members of the mission and setting out its purpose and concludes on 2 May 1873 with the mission’s return to Mandalay. The outward and return journeys aboard the King’s steamship, the Setkya Yin-byan, took the mission on a journey of a lifetime: from Yangon to a brief stop at Ceylon (thereby bypassing the diplomatic complications of Calcutta), to Aden and the Suez Canal, by train to Cairo (where they met Ferdinand de Lesseps, initiator of the Suez Canal, and made contact with the Italian consulate and were also received by the Viceroy); rejoining their ship at Alexandria, the mission sailed on to Brindisi, and over the next three weeks visited Naples, Pompei, Florence, Genoa, Turin and Rome where they were received by the King of Italy, Victor Emmanuel II, before proceeding by train to Paris and a reception by the French Minister for Foreign Affairs and then on to Calais to sail to England. At this point in the narrative, a contemporary newspaper cutting is inserted describing the arrival at Dover of the Myanmar ambassadors “whose enlightened King is anxious to do whatever is possible to advance the prosperity of the country by increasing its intercourse with Europe”.
   The major portion of the diary describes a very full six month tour of Britain (from June to November 1872): the mission’s audience with Queen Victoria (at Windsor), reception by the Prince of Wales, attendance at a Buckingham Palace State Ball, high society events and banquets hosted by the City of London’s guilds and by other chambers of commerce (including Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield, Bradford, Halifax, Newcastle, Glasgow and across the Irish sea to Dublin). Palaces, museums, libraries, shipyards and dozens of factories (including the Royal Mint) were visited by the seemingly indefatigable members of the Mission whose meticulous recording of a wealth of technical details commands one’s respect for their powers of observation (and for Bagshawe’s abilities as a translator) as does the complete lack of any disparaging comments.

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