Subtle mockery in Burma

I've been reading To the Golden Shore, which is a biography of Adoniram Judson, and it's really good, not just because of what he went through, but also because I'm getting an idea of what the early 19th century was like in Asia and the US.

I keep thinking about how they describe Burma back then, and it's helped me to understand why it still has a ton of problems now (military dictatorship, democratically elected leader under house arrest, isolation, etc). Back then there was torture, death, and misery imposed by a despotic leader and very corrupt system. I seriously don't know how people have managed to survive in such countries.

What's also struck me about that country back then was how Michael Symes, the first British emissary there, was treated. I found a good article that mentions his trip in the late 18th century and compares the despotic Burmese royalty back then with the current dictatorship.

In the Judson biography, he mentions Symes' account of his trip, An Account of an Embassy to the Kingdom of Ava (1795) (which you can download for free). At first Judson was impressed, but once he was in India, he found out that

Symes, in his ignorance of Burmese customs, had not realized that, instead of being treated as a distinguished visitor, he had actually been led about with subtle mockery, and dealt a succession of calculated insults in the guise of compliments. The Burmese court had silently rocked with laughter during his whole mission.

I've read that a number of times, and I keep wondering what that "subtle mockery" and "calculated insults" looked like.


Anonymous said...

I'm assuming that a calculated insult is probably similar to a backhanded compliment and that Symes did not realize this.
Subtle mockery. I've heard that some foreign travellers to Ireland in search of information about ancestors who emigrated from the Emerald Isle are misled by locals, told that some random tree or house was in fact significant to an ancestor in question. While the travellers are gushing tearfully over the tree or house or whatever, the locals are subtly, quietly mocking them...and their gullibility. (Personally I think this is dreadful, and I suspect that this is a relatively rare occurrence. At least I hope so!). Cheers-Silas

mj said...

I can believe that happens in Ireland because all those Americans searching out their roots probably seem silly and trite. And since a number escaped poverty and famine, I doubt there are a lot of written records about their ancestors anyway.