Soon, coffee became the primary commodity export of Sri Lanka. Falling coffee prices as a result of the depression of 1847 stalled economic development and prompted the governor to introduce a series of taxes on firearms, dogs, shops, boats, etc., and to reintroduce a form of rajakariya, requiring six days free labour on roads or payment of a cash equivalent. These harsh measures antagonised the locals, and another rebellion broke out in 1848. A devastating leaf disease, Hemileia vastatrix, struck the coffee plantations in 1869, destroying the entire industry within fifteen years. The British quickly found a replacement: abandoning coffee, they began cultivating tea instead. Tea production in Sri Lanka thrived in the following decades. Large-scale rubber plantations began in the early 20th century.
The government of J. R. Jayawardene swept to power in 1977, defeating the largely unpopular United Front government. Jayawardene introduced a new constitution, together with a free-market economy and a powerful executive presidency modelled after that of France. It made Sri Lanka the first South Asian country to liberalise its economy. Beginning in 1983, ethnic tensions were manifested in an on-and-off insurgency against the government by the LTTE. An LTTE attack on 13 soldiers resulted in the anti-Tamil race riots in July 1983, allegedly backed by Sinhalese hard-line ministers, which resulted in more than 150,000 Tamil civilians fleeing the island, seeking asylum in other countries.
According to the International Monetary Fund, Sri Lanka's GDP in terms of purchasing power parity is the second highest in the South Asian region in terms of per capita income. In the 19th and 20th centuries, Sri Lanka became a plantation economy famous for its production and export of cinnamon, rubber, and Ceylon tea, which remains a trademark national export. The development of modern ports under British rule raised the strategic importance of the island as a centre of trade. From 1948 to 1977, socialism strongly influenced the government's economic policies. Colonial plantations were dismantled, industries were nationalised, and a welfare state established. In 1977, the free market economy was introduced to the country, incorporating privatisation, deregulation, and the promotion of private enterprise.
The free education system established in 1945 is a result of the initiative of C. W. W. Kannangara and A. Ratnayake. It is one of the few countries in the world that provide universal free education from primary to tertiary stage. Kannangara led the establishment of the Madhya Vidyalayas (central schools) in different parts of the country in order to provide education to Sri Lanka's rural children. In 1942, a special education committee proposed extensive reforms to establish an efficient and quality education system for the people. However, in the 1980s changes to this system separated the administration of schools between the central government and the provincial government. Thus the elite national schools are controlled directly by the ministry of education and the provincial schools by the provincial government. Sri Lanka has approximately 10,155 government schools, 120 private schools and 802 pirivenas.
As of 2020[update], 192 newspapers (122 Sinhala, 24 Tamil, 43 English, 3 multilingual) are published and 25 TV stations and 58 radio stations are in operation. In recent years, freedom of the press in Sri Lanka has been alleged by media freedom groups to be amongst the poorest in democratic countries. Alleged abuse of a newspaper editor by a senior government minister achieved international notoriety because of the unsolved murder of the editor's predecessor, Lasantha Wickrematunge, who had been a critic of the government and had presaged his own death in a posthumously published article.
An influential filmmaker is Lester James Peiris, who has directed a number of movies which led to global acclaim, including Rekava (Line of Destiny, 1956), Gamperaliya (The Changing Village, 1964), Nidhanaya (The Treasure, 1970) and Golu Hadawatha (Cold Heart, 1968). Sri Lankan-Canadian poet Rienzi Crusz, is the subject of a documentary on his life in Sri Lanka. His work is published in Sinhala and English. Naturalised Canadian Michael Ondaatje is well known for his English-language novels and three films.
Sri Lankan literature spans at least two millennia and is heir to the Aryan literary tradition as embodied in the hymns of the Rigveda. The Pāli Canon, the standard collection of scriptures in the Theravada Buddhist tradition, was written down in Sri Lanka during the Fourth Buddhist council, at the Alulena cave temple, Kegalle, as early as 29 BCE. Chronicles such as the Mahāvaṃsa, written in the 6th century, provide vivid descriptions of Sri Lankan dynasties. According to the German philosopher Wilhelm Geiger, the chronicles are based on Sinhala Atthakatha (commentary). The oldest surviving prose work is the Dhampiya-Atuva-Getapadaya, compiled in the 9th century CE. The greatest literary feats of medieval Sri Lanka include Sandesha Kāvya (poetic messages) such as Girā Sandeshaya (parrot message), Hansa Sandeshaya (swan message) and Salalihini Sandeshaya (myna message). Poetry including Kavsilumina, Kavya-Sekharaya (Diadem of Poetry) and proses such as Saddharma-Ratnāvaliya, Amāvatura (Flood of Nectar) and Pujāvaliya are also notable works of this period, which is considered to be the golden age of Sri Lankan literature. The first modern-day novel, Meena by Simon de Silva appeared in 1905 and was followed by several revolutionary literary works. Martin Wickramasinghe, the author of Madol Doova is considered the iconic figure of Sri Lankan literature.
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