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ABSTRACT. The West’s early fascination with the “Orient,” its biased descriptions of that part of the world, and the portrayal of its women in stereotypically sexist terms, have all been the subject of close examination. However, Burma has rarely figured in such studies, and almost no attention has been paid to the portrayal of Burma and so-called “Burma Girls” in Western music. This article surveys a wide range of contemporary sources, including 180 or so songs and instrumental compositions which specifically refer to Burma. It aims to describe how the country was viewed by Western society, particularly during the colonial period, and how Burma’s female population came to be codified in popular music as attractive, demure and available. While other Asian women were often portrayed in a similar fashion, in Burma’s case their reputation derived largely from the extraordinary impact on the West’s popular imagination of Rudyard Kipling’s 1890 ballad “The Road to Mandalay,” which set a pattern for later artistic works, of all kinds. pp. 159–191

Keywords: Orientalism; Burma; Kipling; empire; popular music

How to cite: Selth, Andrew (2016), “The Road to Mandalay: Orientalism, ‘Burma Girls’ and Western Music,” Journal of Research in Gender Studies 6(1): 159–191.

Received 30 July 2015 • Received in revised form 12 February 2016
Accepted 13 February 2016 • Available online 28 February 2016

doi:10.22381/JRGS6120165

ANDREW SELTH
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Griffith Asia Institute,
Griffith University

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