The assassination of the Prince of Kanaung
people King Mindon Prince of Kanaung Prince of Myingun
In August 1866 the course of Burmese history changed forever with the assassination of the Prince of Kanaung (in the photograph).The Kanaung Prince was the younger brother and partner in government of King Mindon. He was also the Crown Prince. Together they set out to transform government, modernise the country, and defend its independence. Under the Kanaung Prince's direction, dozens of students were sent to Europe, including for military training the army was overhauled, modern factories, including for arms and ammunition were built, a telegraph line established, and ten steamships imported from England. More importantly, the entire fiscal and administration basis of government was reviewed and fundamental reforms begun, on issues from agricultural taxation to bureaucratic organisation. It was a modernization programme equivalent to what was then being tried elsewhere, in Egypt, Japan, and Siam. At around noon on 2 August 1866 the Prince of Kanaung, together with ministers and secretaries, were killed by men loyal to his nephew (the Prince of Myingun). Civil war then broke out between loyalist forces under the king and rival princely factions. After weeks of savage fighting up and down the Irrawaddy King Mindon was eventually able to overcome his opponents, but his reform programme had been critically weakened. The king himself was never the same and he never again appointed a new crown prince. The princes responsible for the rebellion were motivated by anger (from past slights), a desire for power, and a feeling they could do better. No one was actually against the reforms. But this intra-elite factionalism doomed Burma's attempted modernization, leading directly to the crisis of 1878 and the eventual British takeover in 1885.