Shan State


Shan State
   In land area, the largest of Burma's states and divisions, covering 155,801 square kilometers or (155 square miles). It contains 11 districts (Taunggyi, Loilem, Lashio, Muse, Kyaukme, Kunlong, Laukkai, Keng Tung, Monghsat, Monghpyak, and Tachilek), which are subdivided into 54 townships. Shan State is bisected by the Salween (Thanlwin) River. West of the Salween, the Shan Plateau, an upland region with an average elevation of 900 meters, comprises most of its land area. There are rugged mountain ranges east of the river and in the northern and western parts of the state. Shan State borders Mandalay and Sagaing Divisions to the west, Kachin State to the north, and Karen (Kayin) and Kayah (Karenni) States to the south. The state forms part or all of Burma's international borders with China to the northeast, Laos to the east (the two are separated by the Mekong River), and Thailand to the southeast. The largest lake is Inle Lake, located near the state capital, Taunggyi.
   The 1983 census, the last one taken, recorded 3,716,841 inhabitants; exact figures on the present population are not available, but it was estimated at 4.8 million in 2000. The flow of refugees into neighboring Thailand since the mid-1990s has probably had a significant demographic impact. Aside from Taunggyi, which in 1983 had 108,231 inhabitants (134,023 estimated in 1996), major cities and towns include Keng Tung, Hsipaw, Lashio, and Kalaw. Shan State is one of Burma's most ethnically diverse regions.
   The Shans (Tai), who comprise around half of the population, are valley dwellers who cultivate rice and have adopted Indo-Buddhist civilization. Their states, traditionally governed by sawbwas and other local dynastic rulers and ideologically and institutionally similar to those of the Burmans and Mons, trace their roots to at least to the 13th century, and probably earlier. Other important ethnic groups (there are around 35 in all) include the Pa-O, Palaung, Kachin, Wa, Lahu, Akha, and Kokang Chinese. In contrast to the valley-dwelling Shans, these groups commonly live in upland areas and traditionally practice shifting agriculture (taungya), growing dry rice, buckwheat, and maize. Shan State cash crops include tea, coffee, oranges, pineapples, and sugarcane. Its forests, once covering three-quarters of the land area, have been heavily depleted. Many of the upland peoples, especially the Wa and Kokang Chinese in northeastern Shan State, grow opium poppies. Although quantities of exports and acreage under poppy cultivation have declined in recent years, Shan State is still one of the world's major sources of opium, heroin, and amphetamines. After the British pacified the region in the late 1880s, they governed what is now Shan State indirectly, allowing the rulers of 43 constituent states (in 1905, 15 sawbwas and 28 chiefs of lower rank, known as myosas and ngwekhunhmu) considerable autonomy; in 1922, the Federated Shan States was established, with its administrative center at Taunggyi. However, in contrast to Burma Proper, the Shan States were not economically developed, with the exception of the lead and silver mines at Bawdwin (Namtu). Although the Burma Road ran from Lashio to the Burma-China border, the Shan States were one of the few areas in Burma to escape devastation during World War II, its rulers recognizing the Japanese occupation. The Japanese gave the eastern Shan States of Keng Tung and Mong Pan to their ally, Thailand, but the remaining states were included in the nominally "independent" Burma proclaimed by them in August 1943. At the February 1947 Panglong Conference, the Shan rulers agreed to join the Union of Burma, although they gained important concessions embodied in the Constitution of 1947, including the right to secede 10 years after independence. The first president of the Union of Burma was a Shan, Sao Shwe Taik, sawbwa of Yawnghwe. In April 1959, the Shan rulers agreed to relinquish their "feudal" authority, though they remained popular with their former subjects, and some of them became involved in antigovernment insurgency. Following the Kuomintang (KMT, Guomindang) intrusions of 1950, Shan State became a war zone. Tatmadaw units sent to fight the KMT often wreaked havoc on local populations, leading to the first Shan antigovernment insurgency, the Noom Suk Harn ("Young Brave Warriors"), started in 1958. By the 1960s, especially after the abolition of the 1947 Constitution's parliamentary and semifederal institutions by the Revolutionary Council, Shan State had become host to a growing number of local militias and warlord armies, including the nationalist Shan State Army and Ka Kwe Ye units, such as those led by Lo Hsing-han and Khun Sa, two drug-dealing warlords later notorious as "kings of the Golden Triangle." In January 1968, the Communist Party of Burma (CPB) established a base along the Shan State-China border, which was generously supported by the People's Republic of China and became the best-equipped and most powerful insurgency fighting the central government during the 1970s and 1980s. Following the CPB's breakup in early 1989, its constituent ethnic units signed cease-fires with the State Law and Order Restoration Council. The cease-fires, especially one agreed to by Khun Sa, commander of the Mong Tai Army, in January 1996, fundamentally changed the balance of power in Shan State. The post1988 military regime was able to exert unprecedented power in central and southern parts of the state, ordering massive forced relocations and causing the movement of hundreds of thousands of refugees to Thailand; moreover, the drug-dealing United Wa State Army, formally an ally of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), became the most powerful ethnic armed group, with territory along the Thai-Burma border as well as the border with China.
   Many areas of Shan State are now sites of SPDC-sponsored Border Area Development programs, including an opium poppy crop substitution project in Kokang. Following the loss of their traditional rulers and protectors, the Shans have become targets for regimeinstigated human rights abuses, as well as attempts by the central government to "Burmanize" their traditional culture and religion.

Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). . 2014.

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