Dr. Thant Myint-U, an exceptionally outstanding historian, beautifully records the history of his ancestral homeland, Myanmar (Burma), with analytical clarity from a global perspective. Based on his own experiences in United Nations peace-building operations in Cambodia and the former Yugoslavia, he is now engaged in efforts, in cooperation with the national government, to further peace in his own country.
Dr. Thant Myint-U was born in 1966 in New York City. After graduating from Harvard University, he enrolled at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, from which he received a Master’s Degree in International Relations and International Economics. From 1992, he was involved in peace-building activities in Cambodia and Bosnia-Herzegovina with the United Nations. In 1996, he received his Ph.D. in Modern History from the University of Cambridge.
In his first masterpiece, The Making of Modern Burma (2000), he argues that Burmese national identity and the framework of Burma as a modern nation-state came into being from the late 19th century during British colonial rule. His brilliant analysis has provoked much discussion in this field. In his next work, The River of Lost Footsteps (2006), he describes the history of Burma from multiple angles, tracing the footsteps of various Burmese people, including those of his own family. His latest work, Where China Meets India: Burma and the New Crossroads of Asia (2011), reviews the history of Myanmar as a country situated between two rising powers—China and India—from the viewpoints of people at the bottom of the social pyramid and those living in remote regions close to international borders. In this book, he uses his own characteristic dynamism to narrate the history of Myanmar, moving freely between the past, present, and future. The book has been translated into Japanese and won the 26th Asia Pacific Award Special Prize (sponsored by the Asian Affairs Research Council and Mainichi Newspapers) in 2014.
As a historian, Dr. Thant Myint-U has a unique perspective as well as his own original writing style. Born as a grandson of the third UN Secretary-General, U Thant, he first set foot in his ancestral homeland when he was eight years old to attend his grandfather’s funeral. From then, he has frequently returned during holidays with his parents. Through this he has been able to see society and listen to people with his own curious eyes and sensitive ears. Evoking such simple but unforgettable firsthand learnings, he writes accessible history, echoing the unknown, unrecorded, but precious experiences of ordinary people.
In 2010, Dr. Thant Myint-U relocated his work base from the United States to Yangon, Myanmar. In 2012, he established an NGO, the Yangon Heritage Trust, to preserve priceless historic buildings in the city. He has served the City of Yangon as an advisor for sustainable urban planning and has also been appointed a member of the National Economic and Social Advisory Council for President U Thein Sein and a senior advisor to the Myanmar Peace Centre. In this capacity, Dr. Thant Myint-U was heavily involved in the process of the cease-fire agreement between the national government and various ethnic groups in March 2015.
Given the above accomplishments, Dr. Thant Myint-U is not only a distinguished historian, highly appreciated in the academic community, but also a great public intellectual of Asia and of the world. He has been able to connect with a wide range of people, including top government officials, in order to tackle the challenges of his society and of the international community. In a global sense he has gained respect through his Vice Chairmanship of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on South-East Asia, and through his public lectures such as the one he gave at the United Nations University in Tokyo, promoting intensive dialogue with young people in 2014.
Myanmar is the focus of Asia today. What sort of future is in store for the people of Myanmar? How will they open up their society to the wave of globalization? How will they manage future development? After decades of isolation there are obviously tremendous challenges for them and numerous tasks to be overcome. At this crucial moment in history, however, Dr. Thant Myint-U appears as a leading historian and intellectual, narrating the voices of the people of Myanmar and connecting them with the wider international community. With his unique and distinguished contribution to Asian and human society, Dr. Thant Myint-U is a truly worthy recipient of the Grand Prize of the Fukuoka Prize.