Sitting in the shadow of the much larger and imposing Secretariat, it is easy to dismiss this two storey, red brick building as just another of the many abandoned and unloved heritage structures so common in Yangon. And yet (as is true for so many of these buildings) for over a century the Government Press has a long and important history …
Construction began in 1906, and after some funding issues, eventually opened in 1912 as the Government Press Building. It started as a distribution node for government publications from the British colonial administrators in India. Printing presses were soon introduced in the 1920’s and the Press became the official printer of colonial journals, gazettes and school textbooks.
By the time of General Ne Win’s coup in 1962, over 1300 staff worked in the building, and it was renamed the Government Printing and Stationary Department. It was from this building that publishers were given their quota of paper and ink, granting pro-government publishers (and of course government owned publishers) a larger quota than those independent publishers who continued to defy the ever-increasing restrictions on literature.
The Ministry of Information – the ultimate arbiter of censorship for most of the Ne Win and Than Swe regimes – had their office in the building, as did the M.O.I controlled Printing and Publishing Enterprise who were responsible for all official regime communication in print, including newspapers and books. In 2005, most of the facilities were transferred to the new capital, Naypitaw, but unlike many of the former ministry buildings, it still continued to operate as a centre for printing, although on a much smaller scale.
In 2015 a grand scheme was announced to restore the building to it golden days as a publishing and literature centre (though hopefully without the overt censorship and suppression), with bookshops, literary cafes and modern printing presses. The scheme, backed by the Yangon Heritage Trust and with permission from the Ministry of Information was full of good intentions though little seems to have come of the initial enthusiasm. In the four years since the concept was raised, there are no bookshops or cafes, though the Myanmar Publishers and Booksellers Association do occupy a very, very, small room on the north side. The rest of this massive building sits very much as it did before the transition. A single guard sleeps outside in his chair. Dogs wander in and out of the main entrance. Plants are sprouting from the second floor windows, and inside, somewhere in the basement are a number of antique presses still rolling out a tradition a hundred years old.
Address: 228 Thein Phyu Road, Middle Block, Botahtaung Township, Yangon, Myanmar