Burma, once the chief state in the Indo-Chinese peninsula, is now the largest of all the provinces of the Indian empire. It stretches from 28° lat., on the confines of Tibet, southward for 1100 miles, to 10° lat., far down the Malay Peninsula, and from 103° long., on the Chinese border, for 700 miles westward to the Bay of Bengal. It is conterminous with China and Siam on the east; and for the rest it is bounded by the Indian provinces of Bengal and Assam, and by the ocean. Its total area is 236,738 square miles, of which 81,160 belong to the old province of Lower Burma, 87,390 to Upper Burma, and 68,188 to the Shan States. The country consists of the great basin of the Irawadi and its affluents; the rugged country drained by the Salween and Sittang rivers, on the upper waters of which are situate the Shan States; and the narrow maritime provinces of Arakan and Tenas-serim. The deltas of the Irawadi, Salween, Sittang, and Koladan rivers are flat plains, and there are smaller areas of level land at the mouths and on the banks of some of the feeders of the Irawadi. The level cultivable plains probably do not exceed 50,000 sq. m. in all. The rest of Burma is hilly broken country, covered for the most part with forest. The China hills in the north-east reach a height of 15,000 feet. The Shan States occupy a vast upland, cleft by deep chasms, in which flow the Salween and the Cambodia rivers and their feeders. The chief river of Burma is the Irawadi, 1100 miles in length, which is navigable all the year round by river-steamers to Bhamo, 700 miles from the sea, and 50 miles from the Chinese border. The rivers are the chief highways of the country; but during the dry season all, except the very largest and the tidal channels, are too low for navigation. Sometimes the flood-waters of the Irawadi submerge the country for 10 or 15 miles on either side to a depth of 4 to 14 feet. The inundated villages, however, do not suffer, as the houses are all built on piles. The rainfall varies widely in different parts of Burma, from 200 to 42 inches. In the delta and along the coast the rainy season lasts for five, six, or sometimes even seven months. From February to the end of April the climate of the delta is dry and hot (occasionally 100° in the shade). Higher up the Irawadi valley the climate is much hotter and dryer in the summer, but cooler in the winter months. The climate of Burma is more trying to Europeans than that of the plains of India. The forests of Burma contain an abundance of useful and beautiful trees, including teak, bamboo, and trees producing valuable fibre, wood-oil, varnish, tannin, and gums. Among the wild animals of Burma may be mentioned the elephant, three species of rhinoceros, tapir, buffalo, bison, many kinds of deer, small wild cattle, hog, tiger, leopard, bear, and wild dog. Among domestic animals, the buffalo, oxen, elephants, and ponies are all good. No horses are bred, and sheep and goats are rare. Pythons and cobras abound. The variety of birds and of fish is immense. Gold is found in small quantities by washing river-sand; silver is extracted at lead-workings in the Shan States. Iron, copper, lead, and tin exist in great quantity, petroleum is found in several districts. Jade and amber are worked. Coal exists at several places in Upper Burma. The coal found as yet in Lower Burma has proved of poor quality and scanty in quantity. The ruby-mines north of Mandalay yield the best rubies in the world.
At the census of 1901 the population of Lower Burma was 5,389,897, and of Upper Burma 3,849,833, and 1,250,894 in the Shan dependencies, showing a total population of 10,490,624. Of these some 7,000,000 are Burmans, 800,000 Karens, the rest being mainly other hill tribes (Chins, Kachins, Singphos, Paloungs, &c). The Burmans are a short-statured, flat-featured, thick-set people. They are excitable and fond of fun and laughter; much given to dramas, dances, and shows; and callous to suffering in others. Dacoity or robbery with violence by gangs is common. Burmese women are well treated. Burmans are Buddhists by religion; the most respected class are the Buddhist monks, whose function is to set an example of a correct life, and to instruct the young. They observe the vows of celibacy and poverty, but can return to the world when they please. They shave their heads, wear yellow robes, and live in monasteries. The Shans resemble the Burmans; but being highlanders, are poorer, hardier, and more courageous. The Karens are less clever, but more persevering and methodical than Burmans. There are over 500 parishes of Christian (American Baptist) Karens, containing nearly 200,000 souls. The Burmese language is monosyllabic; it is written from left to right, the shape of the letters being circular. The classical language of Burma is Pali. The name Burma is, according to Yule in Hobson-Jobson, an Englished form of Mram-ma, pronounced by the people Bam-ma. The primary schools of the country are the Buddhist monasteries, in which every Burman lad must be taught to read and write. Over 60 per cent. of the males in Lower Burma above the age of twelve can read and write.
The external sea-borne trade of Lower Burma is valued at over twenty millions sterling. Most of this trade centres in Rangoon. The chief export items are rice, teak timber, cutch, hides, cotton; while the chief import items are cotton piece-goods and yarns, silk goods, coal, hardware, salt, and metals. Several railways are in operation, including that from Rangoon to Mandalay. Extensions are in progress in several directions; and possible railway communication between Burma and China has been much discussed. The commercial and financial development of Lower Burma under British rule has been great and rapid. The arts in which Burmese excel are wood-carving, silver repousse work, woven silk fabrics of many colours, and lacquer-ware. Burma is governed under the Viceroy of India, by a chief-commissioner. A Buddhist Burman dynasty was established on the Irawadi at least as early as the 11th century. It was not till 1820 that the Burmese came directly into contact with the British power in Assam, then Burmese. In consequence of Burmese aggression followed by war, Arakan and Tenasserim were ceded in 1826, Pegu in 1854; and in 1886 Upper Burma was incorporated with British India. See works by Forbes (1876), Fytche (1878), Scott ('shway Yoe,' 1882 and 1886), Phayre (1883); and for the Burmese, Siam, and China Railway, works by Colquhoun and Holt Hallett.