Over the centuries, popular perceptions of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, have been remarkably consistent. The mental pictures of the country formed in Europe, North America and elsewhere have invariably been of a land of golden pagodas, swaying palms and rich gemstones, populated by demure “Burma girls” and colorful “hill tribes.” Even when various wars painted a darker picture, and the crimes of Myanmar’s military regimes became well known, such romantic notions were hard to shift.

These idealized images developed over many years and in many ways. Particularly during the colonial period (1824-1948), Western populations relied heavily on picture postcards and illustrated magazines for their knowledge of the country and its people. They also drew on stories in newspapers and, to a lesser extent, novels and artworks. Others heard about it through popular entertainments, such as musical revues, and formed their views accordingly.

The impact of popular culture on international attitudes towards Myanmar is now receiving greater attention from scholars. However, one source of stereotypical views is often overlooked, namely trade and trading cards. These small illustrated slips of pasteboard have been powerful vectors of images about Myanmar, its people and place in the wider world. They have not only reflected views of the country commonly held by Westerners, but have also helped shape them.

Please click here to read the full “Colonial Burma, as seen through collectible cards” article in the Nikkei Asian Review by Griffith Asia Institute Adjunct Associate Professor, Dr Andrew Selth.