Shan States


Shan States
   The term refers to both to a unique kind of polity established by Shans (Tai) in various parts of Burma since at least the 13th century and a group of such polities, known as the Federated Shan States after 1922, which enjoyed a measure of autonomy under their own rulers-commonly known as sawbwa (sao pha), myoza, and ngwekhunhmu-during the British colonial period.
   Known as möng in the Shan language, the traditional Shan polity was established in valleys and lowland areas where wetland rice could be cultivated. Ideologically and institutionally, it resembled the states of lowland Burma, especially its promotion of close ties between the state and Sangha. Principally in what is now Shan State but also in parts of Kachin State and other areas, Shans lived clustered in or around a fortified city and exercised influence over adjacent hill peoples, such as the Palaung, Wa, and Akha, a hierarchical distribution of power and authority that, on a higher level, included the möng's ceremonial and sometimes actual subordination to a larger state, such as the Konbaung Dynasty or the British colonial regime. Located near Burman (Bamar) power centers, the western states of Hsipaw, Hsenwi, and Tawngpeng were open to Burmese influences, while Keng Tung, east of the Salween (Thanlwin) River, was subject to more influence from Thailand and even China. Within Shan society was a marked distinction between the noble and commoner classes, as well as a separate group of "outcastes," slaves and persons in "unclean" professions, such as butchery. Shan chronicles record the establishment of an important state at Mogaung in present-day Kachin State in 1215. Keng Tung was established in the late 13th century.
   Following the Third Anglo-Burmese War, the British succeeded in "pacifying" the Shan States by 1888; the Shan States Act, passed the following year, established a system of British residents responsible to the Superintendents of the Northern and Southern Shan States. The rulers were given "writs of authority" (sanads) that confirmed their claims to the throne and were promised minimal interference in their internal affairs as long as they enforced law and order. According to the Imperial Gazeteer of India, published in 1905, the Northern Shan States consisted of 5 entities as well as the remote and unsettled Wa states, and the Southern Shan States consisted of 38 entities, for a total in the two areas of 43 states. After World War II, Kokang was also recognized by the British as a full-fledged Shan State. Only around 14 to 16 states (including Kokang after 1945) were ruled by full-fledged sawbwa, the others being ruled by the lower-ranking chiefs known as myosa and ngwekhunhmus. In the early 20th century, the colonial authorities also recognized the existence of four Shan States lying within the districts of Burma Proper: Mong Mit, Hsawnghsup, Singaling Hkamti, and Hkamti-long.
   Some Shan states were extensive: Keng Tung encompassed over 31,000 square kilometers (12,000 square miles) and had more than 190,000 residents in the early 20th century. But others were tiny principalities, such as Namtok, which comprised only 32 square kilometers (20 square miles) and had a population of 778 (1905 figures). But they were structurally similar and shared these similarities with Shan polities outside of Burma, such as those in northern Thailand, Laos, and China's Yunnan Province.
   The establishment of the Federated Shan States and the Federal Council of Shan Chiefs in 1922 marked a trend toward centralization and rationalization. Each ruler was obliged to remit part of his tax revenues into a common Federal Fund, which paid for public works, the police, and social services. Shan rulers, including the first president of the Union of Burma, Sao Shwe Taik, signed the agreement that resulted from the 1947 Panglong Conference, which recognized their traditional status and the autonomy of their polities. During the 1950s, the imposition of martial law by the central government following the incursions of the Kuomintang and Tatmadaw abuses of local populations eroded the rulers' authority. In March 1959, the Shan State Council, composed of the rulers, agreed to relinquish their "feudal" privileges. In April, each of them signed an agreement with the Caretaker Government of General Ne Win terminating his status, in exchange for compensation. The long and colorful history of the Shan States was at an end, but the consequence was not modernization and development but rather an anarchic situation in which the Shans and other ethnic minorities have endured war and oppression.

Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). . 2014.

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