Why I wrote ‘Under the Dragon’

On my early visits to Burma I was deeply moved by its modest, generous people. In public my hosts smiled and spoke of gilded pagodas and tried to pay my bus fare. But the moment that we were alone every one of them opened his or her heart, spoke of the poverty of their lives and hatred for their government. ‘This is a brutal repressive regime,’ I was told. ‘We will have to sacrifice ourselves, or the country will be damned.’

In 1988 the Burmese did sacrifice themselves, in a popular uprising which left more than 5,000 protesters dead. But unlike the similar tragedy of Tiananmen Square, there were no television cameras in the country at the time. The horrific events passed almost unnoticed by the world’s media. The Burmese junta had locked most journalists out of the country.

The paradox of the gentleness and brutality of these people stayed with me. After the uprising I returned to Burma and wrote ‘Under the Dragon’ in the hope that it might help to draw some attention to the events of 1988 and to keep the country alive in the hearts and minds of British and European readers.