Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Malinowski on magic, chance

What do American baseball and pre-modern Southeast Asian warfare have in common?

They both used or use magic to cope with chance.

"Baseball Magic" by George J. Gmelch suggests applications of Malinowski's theory of magic to the pre-modern technologies and practice of warfare in Southeast Asia. Dr. Charney's recent volume: Michael W. Charney (2004) Southeast Asian Warfare, 1300-1900. Leiden: Brill. [See my review of his book in this document on page 16]

Malinowski held that "magic is most likely to be used in important situations that are unpredictable, where chance or uncertainty are part of the condition," chance being one of Clausewitz's three causal factors in warfare: violence, chance, and political objectives.

As Dr. Charney points out, in the pre-modern period Southeast Asian states accumulated a motley collection of firearms and artillery that they had to control as best as they could. Propitiations were often made to firearms as they would be to deities. Combatants often relied on talismans, amulets, tattoos, and chemical substances such as oil to achieve "invulnerability". The role of chance in some aspects of this warfare may have beeen correlated with the use of magic by combatants as it is in baseball:

"If Malinowski's hypothesis is correct, we should find magic associated with hitting and pitching, but none with fielding. Let us take the evidence by category-ritual, taboo and fetish…"

"After each pitch, ex-major leaguer Lou Skeins used to reach into his back pocket to touch a crucifix, straighten his cap and clutch his genitals. Detroit Tiger infielder Tim Maring wore the same clothes and put them on exactly in the same order each day during a batting streak. Baseball rituals are almost infinitely various. After all, the ballplayer can ritualize any activity he considers necessary for a successful performance, from the type of cereal he cats in the morning to the streets he drives home on…Usually, rituals grow out of exceptionally good performances. When the player does well he cannot really attribute his success to skill alone" (Source)

Here’s some more on Malinowski’s theory:

"Malinowski's most important theoretical contribution to the study of religion is his 1925 essay Magic, Science and Religion . Magic, for Malinowski, is always utilitarian, whereas religion lacks all utility. Religion, he contends, must be seen as an end in-and-of-itself. Another distinguishing factor is that while magic can be amoral, religion is essentially moral. Although Malinowski's specific ethnographic examples have been criticized, he was effective in demonstrating that ritual activities are most often performed whenever the outcome of a human undertaking is uncertain. All rituals are performed in times of emotional distress, but—unlike magical rites—religious rituals are not expected to bring about clearly definable or direct results. He cites the example of death rituals, which do not bring about immortality but serve mainly to comfort the bereaved" (Source).

Some more comments on Malinowski’s theory:

"Malinowski, in Magic, Science, and Religion and Other Essays, pointed out that Trobriand islanders—far from living in a perpetual fog of magical thought—hunted and gardened with empirically-honed skill; they only turned to magic when they reached the limits of their practical knowledge…"

"If anthropologists have backstaged these issues in recent decades, today they are more than ripe for revisiting and reworking. The context for revisiting these issues now is different…"

"Walter Benjamin once argued, famously, that technology demystifies the world by robbing objects of their aura. In the contemporary US the reverse seems to be true. Technology itself has an aura of infallibility that makes it an instrument of magic."

Finaly also see Wikipedia:Magical_thinking.

Damazedi Bell Historical Sources III

Here’s some more on the design of the Damazedi Bell from Mon chronicle sources:

"..his majesty went down to Rangoon to perform meritorious works. He had the heir-apparent and the queen go on the scales, and gave their weight in gold to be beaten out into gold leaf the size of a wall, and had the Rangoon pagoda covered over. His majesty had them design and cast a great bell of one hundred and eighty thousand viss weight of bronze. The mouth of the bell was eight cubits, and its height twelve cubits. He cast also a small bell of five hundred viss weight to strike in offering to the Buddha, on the upper platform of the pagoda. They paid up in Rangoon as the contribution of the Rangoon people, five viss of gold and five thousand viss of bronze" (Halliday (1923) "History of Kings", p. 103, reprint: Halliday, Robert and Christian Bauer (ed) (2000) The Mons of Burma and Thailand: Volume 2. Selected Articles, White Lotus: Bangkok)

It’s also worth reading Harvey’s description and interpretation of events surrounding the bell. As for the casting of the bell, Damazedi’s queen "Shinsawbu had extended the Shwedagon glebe lands as far as Danok, and finding this excessive Damazedi reduced them; in compensation he measured his weight and the weight of his queen in gold four times and dedicated that amount to overlaying the pagoda with scroll work and tracery. (Furnivall (1915) "History of Syriam," Journal of the Burma Research Society, p. 56) He also dedicated a great bell there…He made the usual offerings to the Shwemawdaw [in Pegu], including padeitha trees, and two huge copper bells.

As for the destruction of the bell and the plundering of other religious wealth, Harvey notes that the Portuguese Fillipe de Brito "did wrong in undertaking a regular campaign of pillaging shrines; thus he removed precious stones from the images, melted down the gold, beat it into leaf, and sold it (Hmannan III.118, i.e. he’s relying of the Burmese Chronicle for this fact). He would even melt down the bronze bells of pagodas to save the expense of importing metal for founding cannon."

Sunday, March 26, 2006

A Mon Theory of limited warfare (c. 1388)

The following passage from the Burmese historical text Razadarit Ayeidawpon presents a very modern-sounding theory of limited warfare. Razadarit claimed that of his generals, Byat Za and Lagunein were experts on offensive strategy and Re Thinran an expert in defensive strategy (San Lwin, 129).
In the passage, Byat Za honors his oath and withdraws from a siege exhibiting the same strategical idea of “limited warfare” for political objectives that Clausewitz popularized in the west. As Clausewitz held: “War is a mere continuation of politics with other means,” an idea that goes all the way back to the political philosopher Machiavelli (and most likely other traditions of political philosophy in other cultures) (See Beatrice Heuser (2002) “Reading Clausewitz”, p. 37, 44).

A game-theoretical interpretation would cast Razadarit as the selfish prisoner’s dilemma player who chooses an uncooperative strategy with Byat Za choosing a cooperative strategy that seeks to maintain the sanctity and reliability of oaths as a law of war, oaths are backed up by sanctions of magic (cf Malinowski).
It's worth noting that Stanford economist and economic historian Avner Grief uses game theory in a similar way to analyze business networks of trust in early modern Mediterranean long distance trade.

Byat Za pursues Laukshein to Arakan around 1388

After the death of his father sometime during the period, 1383-85 Razadarit began to to militarily extend his control over the south [Lower Burma, Ramannadesa]. Around 1388, after several military victories, Razadarit advanced on Bassein in the lower western delta region of Lower Burma. He was welcomed at a distance before arriving at the town by members of the ruling elite who pledged loyalty to him. The ruler of Bassein, Laukshein, had already fled to Prome with as much transportable wealth as he cold collect together (“ten elephant loads of gold and silver”). A contingent was sent out under the leadership of the Razadarit’s general Byat Za to intercept Laukshein. Finding his path blocked, Laukshein fled to Sandoway in Arakan instead of Prome.

Byat Za pursued Laukshein all the way to Sandoway, but was not able to take the town on his first assault. A long siege seemed imminent, so Byat Za started negotiations with the ruler of Sandoway. After an agreement was reached, Laukshein was handed over to Byat Za along with his family and possessions. Byat Za withdrew and the siege ended (San Lwin, 72-73).

Arriving back from Arakan Byat Za was upbraided by Razadarit because he had not taken Sandoway. Byat Za lectured Razadarit on a doctrine of limited war:

“There are two aspects of war. One is to settle matters through the exercise of diplomacy and the other through the force of arms. In this affair it was settled by negotiation and the enemy was handed over only after taking an oath. If we had broken our word and attacked them, we would be denied the chance to settle things through negotiation if another occasion should arise in connection with Sandoway. Then it would have to be carried through by force of arms only at risk. One who habitually goes back on his given word will die from the potency of the asseveration made and even if he is spared, his life can never be peaceful not will he be able to serve his master for long. I would like to serve you for a long time to come and that is why I had returned” (San Lwin, summarized and paraphrased from unpublished translation of Razadarit Ayeidawpon, 73-74)

Razadarit accepts this explanation and praises him for his far-sightedness.


Of course, in the worst case, the fact that this passage is not supported by inscriptional evidence might invalidate it. Another worst case possibility is that a Burmese scholar travelled to England, read Clausewitz, and copied it into an ancient manuscript. Alas, I am powerless to check these sorts of things because no western scholar can get access to Mon and Burmese manuscripts in either the Myanmar National library or the National Library of Thailand. I put this last statement forward as a challenge for some western scholar to disprove.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Geopolitics and Burmese chronicle history (c. 1486-1555)

If you zoom out from the details of chronicle narrative (c. 1486-1555), geopolitical patterns emerge. States had to be proactive militarily in a prisoner-dilemna-ish sort of way. They could never let down their guard. During the reign of the Burmese king Mingyinyo (r. 1486-1531) at Toungoo:

1. “…military campaigns originated from Toungoo and only rarely was Toungoo ever attacked by other states.”

2. “Min-gyi-nyo alternated between periods of offensive warfare and long periods of peace.”

Fernquist, Jon (2005) "Min-gyi-nyo, the Shan Invasions of Ava(1524-27), and the Beginnings of Expansionary Warfare in Toungoo Burma: 1486-1539," SOAS Bulletin of Burma Research, Vol. 3, No. 2, Autumn 2005.[Link]

When I read up on John_Mearsheimer’s Offensive Realism” I was struck by the way it seemed to describe the geopolitical situation of Toungoo (c. 1486-1555):

1. “states are not satisfied with a given amount of power, but seek hegemony for security.”

2. “Given the difficulty of determining how much power is enough for today and tomorrow, great powers recognize that the best way to ensure their security is to achieve hegemony now, thus eliminating any possibility of a challenge by another great power. Only a misguided state would pass up an opportunity to become hegemon in the system because it thought it already had sufficient power to survive.”

3. “In this world, there is no such thing as a status quo power, since according to Mearsheimer, ‘a great power that has a marked power advantage over its rivals is likely to behave more aggressively because it has the capability as well as the incentive to do so…states seek regional hegemony. Furthermore, he argues that states attempt to prevent other states from becoming regional hegemons, since peer competitors could interfere in a state's affairs.”

4. “…in an anarchic world composed of sovereign nation-states, each great state tries to acquire the maximum amount of power feasible under the circumstances…the first goal of every great power is to survive, and the more power a nation-state has, the greater its chances of survival in this anarchic world…Great powers that strive for regional or global hegemony, he argues, inevitably provoke other great and lesser powers to form coalitions designed to counter the potential hegemon.”
(Another Source)

Because Mingyinyo (r. 1486-1531) kept Toungoo on a permanent offensive footing:

3. “While the negative demographic impact of warfare rarely had a chance to affect Toungoo’s population, the military activity of Toungoo, Prome, and the Mong Yang Shans had an effect on other regions of Upper Burma.”

4. “So we can posit a differential warfare effect on the population of Upper Burma with some regions experiencing a population decrease, while others such as Toungoo experiencing a relative population increase.

5. “Increases in man and animal power due to the absence of warfare led to more conscriptable adult males, horses, oxen, and elephants creating a resource base for Toungoo’s sudden expansion in the 1530s.”

Fernquist, Jon (2005) "Min-gyi-nyo, the Shan Invasions of Ava(1524-27), and the Beginnings of Expansionary Warfare in Toungoo Burma: 1486-1539," SOAS Bulletin of Burma Research, Vol. 3, No. 2, Autumn 2005.[Link]

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Razadarit Ayeidawpon and Sieges

The Siege of Khepaung (1411)

The siege of Khepaung in 1411 is described in relative detail by Razadarit Ayeidawpon and gives the reader a good idea of what siege tactics were like in western mainland Southeast Asia around 1411.

Minyekyawswa, son of the king of Ava Minhkaung, led a flotilla of river boats south from Ava to Lower Burma [Rammanadesa] in 1411. The land-based forces had not arrived yet, so he gathered together the forces he had and led an attack against the town of Khepaung. After five days nothing was achieved and the attackers retreated to the confluence of the Ngawun river.

The land forces finally arrived and an assault on Khepaung was launched from both land and river. The elephants waited at the edge of the moat while infantry scaled the walls. Those disobeying were to have their limbs chopped off. On the defensive side within the walls, Re Thinran took measures to motivate the troops and “gave out awards and feted them well and put on displays with swords and shield at every portal to the stirring sound of war drums.” At dawn three groups approached the walls from three different directions: “The moat was drained and scaling ladders placed against the walls. The defenders countered by throwing rocks, bricks, and sticks, heaving logs down the walls on those swarming up the ladders and thrusting at them with pointed staves.” After two or three hours, with heavy casualties, the attack was called off.

The next day, the Avan sided headed once again for the confluence of the Ngawun river. Supposedly, the Mon taunting of the retreating Burmese troops was too great for Minyekyawswa and he ordered another assault against the walls, this time ordering that anyone who did not dismount from their elephant or horse or who failed to scale the walls would be killed. Soldiers who hesitated were supposedly executed on the spot. Soldiers dug up “the stockade posts with adze and axe” as well as setting them on fire and a breach in the stockade walls was finally made. Avan troops poured through the breach and the town of Khepaung was taken on the 7th waxing Dabodwe Jan-Feb 773 1411 (paraphrased from San Lwin's unpublished translation of Razadarit Ayeidawpon, pp. 128-129).

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Henri Poincaré’s “Three guises of chance”

Human action and contingency seem to go together in historical events.

If life is viewed as partially a game of chance like poker, let's say, involving both deterministic skill and indeterministic chance, then surviving for the next round and play at even higher stakes is a matter of chance (cf. Taleb's discussion of survivorship bias).

Henri Poincaré, the nineteenth century French mathematician, argued that chance has more than one form:

1. A statistically random phenomenon. [Noise]
2. The amplification of a microcause. [Sensitive dynamics]
3. A function of our analytical blindness. [Scientific method]

Beyerchen, in the paper linked to above, maps Poincare’s forms of chance to Clausewitz’s observations on war. Clausewitz holds that chance is one of the three important factors shaping war:

(a) “chance and probability, faced or generated by the commander and his army”; [addressed by Poincare and enumerated here]

(b) “the blind, natural force of violence, hatred, and enmity among the masses of people”; [the force driving high-intensity warfare such that when one society is faced with possible subordination and enslavement by another society, a large fraction of a society serving as individual soldiers lays down their lives in battle]

(c) “war's rational subordination to the policy of the government”
[some rational strategy given the constraints a society faces, like manpower accumulation in the context of low population density mainland Southeast Asian history]

Look at each of Poincare’s forms of chance and its relation to Clausewitz's observations:

1. A statistically random phenomenon:

i. Poincare this as “the familiar form of chance that can arise where permutations of small causes are extremely numerous or where the number of variables is quite large. This form of chance can be calculated by statistical methods. The very large number of interactions produces a disorganization sufficient to result in a symmetrical (i.e., Gaussian or bell curve) [Gaussian noise] probability distribution. Nothing significant is left of the initial conditions, and the history of the system no longer matters.”

ii. For Clausewitz, "in the whole range of human activities, war most closely resembles a game of cards." This analogy “suggests not only the ability to calculate probabilities, but knowledge of human psychology in ‘reading’ the other players, sensing when to take risks, and so on.”

iii. “Clausewitz certainly understands that the number of variables in war can be enormous, and that a rather special aptitude is needed to cope with the chance and complexity involved…The man responsible for evaluating the whole must bring to his task the quality of intuition that perceives the truth at every point. Otherwise a chaos of opinions and considerations would arise, and fatally entangle judgment.”

2. The amplification of a micro-cause:

i. Butterfly effects are small causes with large effects later on.

ii. For example, the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas.

iii. Another example, the agency of single human historical actors in worlds where strong deterministic social and environmental constraints drive most action and history.

v. In mathematics the butterfly effect is called “sensitive dependence on initial conditions” in a system of differential equations (dynamical system).

vi. Small variations of the initial conditions of a dynamical system may produce large variations in the long term behavior of the system.

vii. An example from physics, ball placed at the crest of a hill might roll into any of several valleys depending on slight differences in initial position.

viii. Because of this, deterministic phenomena must be treated as stochastic processes.

ix. “Recurrence, the approximate return of a system towards its initial conditions, together with the sensitive dependence on initial conditions, are the two main ingredients for chaotic motion. They have the practical consequence of making complex systems, such as the weather, difficult to predict past a certain time range—approximately a week, in the case of weather.”

x. “It is not just, as earlier probabilists had said, that there are a great many causal variables, and we are ignorant of most of them; even in situations where there there are only a few variables, but arbitrarily small differences in the starting initial state can be rapidly amplified into large differences in the latter state, you'll often have no choice but to treat the dynamics as largely random.”. …This is explained very clearly in his essay "On Chance" in Science and Method.” (From:

xi. Poincare: “A very slight cause, which escapes us, determines a considerable effect which we can not help seeing, and then we say this effect is due to chance. If we could know exactly the laws of nature and the situation of the universe at the initial instant, we should be able to predict exactly the situation of this same universe at a subsequent instant. But even when the natural laws should have no further secret for us, we could know the initial situation only approximately. If that permits us to foresee the subsequent situation with the same degree of approximation, this is all we require, [and] we say the phenomenon has been predicted, that is ruled by laws. But this is not always the case; it may happen that slight differences in the initial conditions produce very great differences in the final phenomenon; a slight error in the former would make an enormous error in the latter. Prediction becomes impossible and we have the fortuitous phenomenon.”

3. A function of our analytical blindness:

i. The problems in creating foolproof scientific methods revealed by the philosophy of science.

ii. “…inability to see the universe as an interconnected whole.”

iii. “Our weakness forbids our considering the entire universe and makes us cut it up into slices. We try to do this as little artificially as possible. And yet it happens from time to time that two of these slices react upon each other. The effects of this mutual action then seem to us to be due to chance.”

iv. Clausewitz’s "diversity and indistinct boundary of all relationships"

v. “Efforts were therefore made to equip the conduct of war with principles, rules, or even systems. This did present a positive goal, but people failed to take an adequate account of the endless complexities involved. As we have seen, the conduct of war branches out in almost all directions and has no definite limits; while any system, any model, has the finite nature of a synthesis [in the sense of synthetic or man-made]. An irreconcilable conflict exists between this type of theory and actual practice....[These attempts] aim at fixed values; but in war everything is uncertain, and calculations have to be made with variable quantities. They direct the inquiry exclusively toward physical quantities, whereas all military action is entwined with psychological forces and effects. They consider only unilateral action, whereas war consists of continuous interaction of opposites.”

vi. “Decisive results can often rest on particular factors that are ‘details known only to those who were on the spot.’ Attempts to reconstruct cause and effect always face the lack of precise information:

“Nowhere in life is this so common as in war, where the facts are seldom fully known and the underlying motives even less so. They may be intentionally concealed by those in command, or, if they happen to be transitory and accidental, history may not have recorded them at all.”

“We can never recover the precise initial conditions even of known developments in past wars, much less developments in current wars distorted by the fog of uncertainty. Interactions at every scale within armies and between adversaries amplify microcauses and produce unexpected macroeffects. Since interaction is intrinsic to the nature of war, it cannot be eliminated. The precise knowledge needed to anticipate the effects of interaction is unattainable.”

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Self-plagiarism and Salami Publishing

These hair-splitting issues probably only apply to a system that works pretty well already and wants to push the mechanisms of academic progress even further. There are bigger, more horrendous issues lurking behind the hallowed halls of western academia though. Take for instance academic plagiarism in China and we're talking journal articles and dissertations here, not just undergraduate papers (Taipei Times).

“Salami publishing” is defined as “dividing up research into the thinnest possible slices and submitting each slice as a separate article, thus generating a number of publications” There is also a balance between making too few and too many points in a paper. (Kitchin and Fuller (2005) The Academics Guide to Publishing, London: SAGE Publications, pp. 30, 35-36).

Blog entries cut research into thin slices and are guilty of this, I suppose. In fact, many would argue: no more than one point in a blog entry.

Isn’t “Salami publishing” defined by where you place the boundary for what a final published product? A lot of natural science and mathematics papers are circulated in a prior to publication form at paper repositories like Citeseer. Interested parties read the papers and comment on them leading to improvements. Because these papers are available on the internet they are usually more accessible than the final published versions in university libraries and usually have warnings like: “Do not quote” written on the front of them. I’ve always wondered whether this meant “Do not cite or paraphrase” also. If it does the reader is presented with a catch-22 sort of dilemna” , acknowledge the source of one’s ideas or not acknowledge the source according to the author’s wishes. I guess one alternative is to contact the author and tell him what you are going to do, then he can decide to be acknowledged or not. If he does not respond, I would go ahead and acknowledge him anyway, the moral-ethical necessity of acknowledging one’s sources outweighing any obligation to hide the not-yet-perfected ideas of a scholar who has already made them available to the public.

This blog entry on “self-plagiarism” is also very pertinent:

“Self-plagiarism occurs when an author reuses portions of their previous writings in subsequent research papers. Occasionally, the derived paper is simply a re-titled and reformatted version of the original one, but more frequently it is assembled from bits and pieces of previous work. It is our belief that self-plagiarism is detrimental to scientific progress and bad for our academic community. Flooding conferences and journals with near-identical papers makes searching for information relevant to a particular topic harder than it has to be. It also rewards those authors who are able to break down their results into overlapping least-publishable-units over those who publish each result only once. Finally, whenever a self-plagiarized paper is allowed to be published, another, more deserving paper, is not.”

The question is whether the argument is developing from version to version. If it is, then this “salami publishing” is a legitimate vehicle for peer review. The more pressing problem would be preventing people from poaching ideas so that people have an incentive to share ideas. Again, citation and acknowledging of sources as seems to arise as a moral-ethical issue here.

Here is an extensive annotated web bibliography of resources and a good weblog with up-to-date news on plagiarism.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Razadarit Ayeidawpon and
the western "Just War" tradition

Razadarit Ayeidawpon is the epic biography of Razadarit (r. 1485-1421) king of Lower and the Mons and his long war with Ava the Burmese kingdom of Upper Burma.

A Buddhist sermon leads to peace between Ava and Pegu (1394)

Razadarit planned to exploit the weakness that Ava’s succession struggle brought on and use this weakness to take Upper Burma. Razadarit built a great fleet of river vessels and set out for Ava in 1394, transporting elephants and horses by river craft also. When Razadarit reached Ava, the king of Ava declined to meet him in a pitched river battle, believing his forces were inadequate. Razadarit sent forces up the river as far as Tagaung (San Lwin, n.d., unpublished translation of Razadarit Ayeidawpon, p. 79).

A monk pledged to help extricate Minhkaung and Ava from this predicament. The monk first presented many gifts on behalf of Minkhaung and then presented a homily on just war to Razadarit (San Lwin, 79-80). The monk told the story of the Buddha’s hair relic that was enshrined at the Shwedagon pagoda and how a Pagan king had traveled downriver to obtain it, but had returned when he learned that it was “not preordained for him to obtain it.” The monk then asked Razadarit why he had made a such difficult trip to Ava at such a great human expenditure of labor. Razadarit replied that there were four reasons:

1. “I want the enemy king to suffer.”
2. “I want to take over his realm.”
3. “[and]…to increase my manpower and might”
4. “I had heard that Pagan and Ava are rich in the numbers of pagodas enshrined with Buddha’s sacred relics.”

The monk smiled, Razadarit asked why he smiled, and the monk launched into a long detailed explanation couched in religious allegory culminating in a negative judgment on Razadarit’s behavior:

“…sentient beings are full of greed. They take another’s territory for their own. They take another’s wife for their own. They take what property another man has for their own. That is known as greed. Your majesty has given me four reasons for coming here out of which there is only one that Buddha will commend because it is based on good reason and he will not pleased with the remaining three. Only your objective of coming here to worship at the pagodas will be accepted by any Buddha...ancient kings used to send envoys to befriend them and to establish peaceful relations among their nations, to promote trade and commerce, that the rich, the monks and Brahmins may be prosperous and live well so that it will be fruitful in their present existence as well in the coming ones.” (San Lwin, 80-81).

After hearing this sermon Razadarit is said to have agreed to return to the south as soon as the contingent that he had sent northwards along the Irrawaddy river to Tagaung returned. While the monk was meeting with Razadarit, some Of Razadarit’s soldiers returned from an attack against the settlement around Shwekyetyet pagoda with 30 to 40 war captives and the heads of others. Those killed and captured had been "slaves" dedicated to Shwekyetkyet pagoda. The monk instructed Razadarit that he was being ungrateful to his benefactor. When Razadarit asked the monk to elaborate, the monk explained that he meant that Razadarit owed his present position as king to meritorious offerings made to the Buddha and that now by killing these "slaves" the had been dedicated to religious institutions, he had exhibited ungratefulness towards his benefactor, the Buddha. The slaves that were taken captive were allowed to leave (San Lwin, 81-82) and Razadarit returned to the south (San Lwin 82-84).


The western tradition of "just war" political theory is concerned with "the question of whether justice is or is not served by a particular war or methods of war."(From a thread on Just Warat H-War, see Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and Wikipedia,
for more information)

This incident from Razadarit Ayeidawpon raises similar issues as the "just war" tradition does, but the ideas are expressed in Burmese Buddhist terms. It takes the form of a homily by a Buddhist monk working on behalf of the Burmese king of Ava, aiming to stop the offensive that Razadarit is waging against Upper Burma. Although the monk uses religious parables and arguments, the text almost immediately seems to contradict itself by implying an element of cunning in this strategy of employing a monk to get rid of your enemy. Although on the surface this appears to be a contradiction, the theme of cunning strategy in warfare pervades the entire narrative of Razadarit, so it is really separable from the message of the monk's homily. Unitary authorship for this text, supposedly first written in Mon and then translated into Burmese, cannot be assumed. With numerous copyist scribes over the years, texts like Razadarit are likely to have several layers of accumulated meaning.

The final incident before Razadarit retreats pertains to limits on how combatants can act (jus bello). Although no general pronouncements on killing or the taking of war captives are made, the slaves who have been dedicated to supporting Buddhist religious institutions are definitely declared off-limits. Scorched earth tactics are common in Razadarit Ayeidawpon:

"A Scorched Earth policy is a military tactic which involves destroying anything that might be useful to the enemy while advancing through or withdrawing from an area. The term refers to the practice of burning crops to deny the enemy food sources, although it is by no means limited to food stocks, and can include shelter, transportation, communications and industrial resources" (From Wikipedia)

Cambridge Economic History
of the Greco-Roman World

The link is to a summary of the work in progress "The Cambridge Economic History of the Greco-Roman World." My first thought about when reading the part on economic growth are the words of M.I. Finley quoted in the last blog entry: "in early societies, war was the basic factor in economic growth and consequently in social structure" (Ancient History: Evidence and Models, p. 74).

The answer to the question "How significant was growth?" is quite different if you are willing to envision economic growth as something quite different, whatever a state gained from expansionary warfare during this era, the economic technologies, products, and labor not being what we normally envision. Warfare was also basically a zero-sum game, redistributing wealth extracted out of the food surplus of competing polities, rather than adding value to raw materials, so if all the competing polities are taken together, it is not growth per se, but as the summary above remarks even raising this question "reflects the preoccupations of the twentieth century."

The way this sub-domain of ancient history is characterized is interesting to compare with mainland Southeast Asian history. The discipline must move, "beyond the current framework of polarities that weigh down the broad debates about the nature of the ancient economy. Since the publication of Moses Finley's The Ancient Economy in 1973, these debates have too often been framed in terms of a contest between the 'primitivists' and the 'modernists.' The 'primitivist' position, associated with Karl Polanyi and Finley, has been represented as one of a subsistence agricultural economy with autarkic households, an economy of no growth, no markets, insignificant trade, and non-rational economic actors. In supposedly polar opposition, the 'modernist' view, associated with M. I. Rostovtzeff, is credited with interpreting the ancient economy in capitalist terms of significant growth, vital markets, long-distance trade, and rational actors in pursuit of profits".

"...Very few historians today would subscribe to a fully primitivist or modernist position, even though many more are ready to attribute one or the other to their opponents. In fact, neither Rostovtzeff nor Finley should be characterized as modernist or primitivist. There is more than a little irony in the facts that Rostovtzeff, not Finley, used the words very primitive to describe the living conditions of the peasants, who were an enormous majority of the population of the Roman Empire (1957: 346), and that Finley broke with Polanyi precisely over the latter's denial of markets."

There's a lot of interesting material on the homepage of professor Walter Scheidel at Stanford University.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Did expansionary warfare drive pre-modern economic growth and decline? (Marx)

Marx has more lasting standing as a historian and he put forth a hypothesis that, according to classical historian M.I. Finley at least, seems to be born out by pre-modern mainland Southeast Asian history, that war was the main engine driving the economies of pre-modern states. Economic expansion and contraction followed military success or failure.

According to M.I. Finley, Marx introduced the idea that "in early societies, war was the basic factor in economic growth and consequently in social structure" (Ancient History: Evidence and Models, p. 74), citing Marx's Grundrisse:

"The only barrier which the community can encounter in its relations to the natural conditions of production as its own -- to the land -- is some other community, which has already laid claim to them as an inorganic body. War is therefore one of the earliest tasks of every primitive community of this kind, both for the defense of property and for its acquisition... Where man himself is captured as an organic accessory of the land and together with it, he is captured as one of conditions of production, and this is the origin of slavery and serfdom [i.e. war captives, cf. war as manpower building in Southeast Asia], which soon debase and modify the original forms of all communities, and themselves become their foundations" (M.I. Finley, Ancient History: Evidence and Models, p. 73-74, citing "Marx, Grundrisse, in the translation by J. Cohen of the section called Pre-Capitalist Economic Formations (London, 1964), p. 89; see the complete Penguin ed.
p. 491 (cf. p. 474)), my italics).

Or from the online version of Marx's Grundrisse:

"The earth in itself -- regardless of the obstacles it may place in the way of working it, really appropriating it -- offers no resistance to [attempts to] relate to it as the inorganic nature of the living individual, as his workshop, as the means and object of labour and the means of life for the subject The difficulties which the commune encounters can arise only from other communes, which have either previously occupied the land and soil, or which disturb the commune in its own occupation. War is therefore the great comprehensive task, the peat communal labour which is required either to occupy the objective conditions of being there alive, or to protect and perpetuate the occupation. Hence the commune consisting of families initially organized in a warlike way -- as a system of war and army, and this is one of the conditions of its being there as proprietor. The concentration of residences in the town, basis of this bellicose organization. The clan system in itself leads to higher and lower ancestral lineages [Geschlechtern], [64] a distinction which is still further developed through intermixture with subjugated clans etc. Communal property -- as state property, ager publicus -- here separated from private property. The property [Eigentum] of the individual is here not, unlike the first case, itself directly communal property; where it is, the individual has no property as distinct from the commune, but rather is merely its possessor [Besitzer]. The less it is the case that the individual's property can in fact be realized solely through communal labour -- thus e.g. the aqueducts in the Orient -- the more the purely naturally arisen, spontaneous character of the clan has been broken by historic movement, migration; the more, further, the clan removes itself from its original seat and occupies alien ground, hence enters into essentially new conditions of labour, and develops the energy of the individual more -- its common character appearing, necessarily, more as a negative unity towards the outside..."

Some intellectual history on the relation between war and economics. Very abstract but some basic ideas put forward here, perhaps for the first time in history.

As modern economic analysis is based on the mechanisms of modern post-WWII economic institutions, might the analysis of ancient economies have to be based on the practice of warfare in these cultures?


1. Used the above Marx-M.I.Finley idea in my last paper: Fernquest, Jon(2006) "Rajadhirat’s Mask of Command: Military Leadership in Burma (c. 1348-1421)," SOAS Bulletin of Burma Research, 4.1, p. 22.

2. Also, Clausewitz said war was a trinity of politics, probability, and violence. Trotsky describes perfectly the transformation that this psychology of violence brings:

"During the war there emerged from the ranks of the bourgeoisie—large, middle, and small — hundreds of thousands of officers, professional fighters, men whose character has received the hardening of battle, and has become freed from all external restraints: qualified soldiers, ready and able to defend the privileged position of the bourgeoisie which produced them with a ferocity which, in its way, borders on heroism."

(Trotsky text breadcrumbs from Brad de Long on Keynes on Trotsky)

"Secular Cycles" Draft Chapters
(Turchin and Nefedov)

I've been reading David Hackett Fischer's book on long-run waves in history: "The Great Wave: Price Revolutions and the Rhythm of History. David Hackett Fischer. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996."

Still looking for good critical scholarship on long waves. I've found the economist Paul Krugman's critical review of Fischer's book and the eh-net review. Fischer is adamant that "waves" are not "cycles" and they do suspiciously change their character as they march towards the modern era. They reminiscent of technical analysis in the stock market, the notorious bit of perfect-hindsight economic theorizing that Taleb discusses in "Fooled by Randomness".

Draft chapters of a new book on long-run secular cycles are being made available on the page linked to above. From Turchin's Cliodynamics page:

"Secular Cycles by Peter Turchin and Sergey Nefedov, to be published towards the end of 2006...In Secular Cycles the Russian historian Sergey Nefedov and I have collaborated on presenting our best case study of theoretical history. Our book focuses on grand—centuries-long—oscillations in demographic, economic, social, and political structures of historical agrarian societies. We start the book with an overview of the demographic-structural theory explaining secular cycles, but our main goal is the presentation of a large amount of empirical material documenting the trajectories of actual societies. Our survey includes chapters on England, France, and Russia from medieval to early modern periods; the Roman Republic and Empire; China from the Han to Qing eras; the ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, medieval Near East, and India. I am posting draft chapters, and any and all comments will be extremely welcome."

There's also a whole book on long-run historical cycles available online: Long Cycles: Prosperity and War in the Modern Age, Joshua S. Goldstein, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988. [available here]

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

"Fooled by randomness" reviewed by a "Statistical Modeling, Causal Inference, and Social Science" Blog

Here's a blog entry book review of Taleb's "Fooled by Randomness" [1,2] by a statistician. The main page for the blog is here and the author statistician Dr. Andrew Gelman's homepage has links to his papers. There's a lot to be learned from this blog entry:

"I prefer writing books to writing journal articles because books are written for the reader (and also, in the case of textbooks, for the teacher), whereas articles are written for referees. Taleb definitely seems to be writing to the reader, not the referee. There is risk in book-writing, since in some ways referees are the ideal audience of experts, but I enjoy the freedom in book-writing of being able to say what I really think."

[Another good argument for peer review. Shouldn't it be qualified as "experts within a discipline or school of thought". For instance, both a novelist like Balzac and a statistician might touch on the theme of contingency and human action and even address the same points, but since they don't speak the same theoretical meta-language the parallels in the note would be only rarely noticed or noted down?

The beauty of Taleb's book is that his ideas cut across disciplines. Most historians will recognize similarities between Taleb's little potted biographies of traders blowing-up and losing their entire accumulated trading profits in a few weeks and the real-life historical narratives of generals and political leaders and recognize the relevance of formal probability and statistics models, problems, and theories to separating the role of contingent human agency from deterministic long-term structure that exists in most historical narratives.]

"Taleb's general points--about variation, randomness, and selection bias--will be familiar with statisticians and also to readers of social scientists and biologists such as Niall Ferguson, A.J.P. Taylor, Stephen J. Gould, and Bill James who have emphasized the roles of contingency and variation in creating the world we see."

[It's nice to find names you're not familiar with: Niall Ferguson has relevance for the structure vs. human agency problem cited above:

"Another controversial aspect of the Pity of War was Ferguson's use of counter-factual history. Ferguson presented a counter-factual version of Europe under Imperial German domination that was peaceful, prosperous, democratic and without ideologies like Communism and fascism."

"Ferguson is the leading academic champion of virtual history. Ferguson likes to imagine alternative outcomes to history as a way of stressing the contingent aspects of history. For Ferguson, great forces don't make history; individuals do and nothing is pre-determined. Thus, for Ferguson there are no paths in history which will determine how things will work out. The world is neither progressing nor regressing; only the actions of individuals will determine whatever we live in a better or worse world."]

The papers at the bottom of the blog entry are certainly hard-going. I took a graduate course in stochastic processes from Stanford many moons ago, but it wasn't until I read Taleb's book that all those abstractions like ergodicity came alive for me. Bridging the gap between the clarity of math and the messiness of life is not easy and Taleb has found a way of bridging this gap with his prose. The clarity of mathematics can clarify patterns in history, but is inaccessible in its usual dry form. Take the work of Turchin for instance. His books go a long way towards making mathematics more accessible, but Turchin fits long-term historical data to the model, whereas Taleb has simply noticed fits between the data and real life events that he has witnessed in his trading career. The work of both Taleb and Turchin is probably prescient of future work to come that bridges the gap between humanities hermeneutics textual-based insights into human history [] and math-scientific law-based insights.]

New Bangkok Post website

Just went live with my daily online Bangkok Post column on studying business and English with the daily newspaper. This is stage one of the website my boss (Terry Fredrickson) and I have put together with open source software. Stage two is an elearning and archives section for subscribers.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Tai Lu historical source bibliography (Liew, Foon Ming)

Liew, Foon Ming (2004) "An introduction to the Tai Lu sources of the history of Moeng Lu (Sipsong Panna): Various Tai Lu Manuscript-copies on the 'Dynastic History of Moeng Lu' that have been translated into Chinese or transcribed into Thai and the salient studies of the History of Moeng Lu (Leshi), 1947-2001," Aseanie 14, decembre 2004, p. 149-194.

On a recent trip to the Siam Society library in Bangkok I was so happy to find this extensive annotated bibliography that puts order to a very complex textual genealogy. I learned exactly where all those Tai Lu books published in Thailand that I have given to my uncle (in-law) over the years fit into the whole complicated textual genealogy. Keep up the great work Dr. Liew!

I have a personal interest in Tai Lu history since my family is Tai Lu. On any given night you can hear old traditional Tai Lu folk ballads being sung, on a CD from China of course, but I often catch my wife and mother-in-law singing along. All our dogs have Tai Lu names (8 Shihtzu's and a German Shepherd). When I lived in Maesai, Chiangrai we'd go with all the other Tai Lu families to the wat on Doi Wow and worship on Buddhist holy days. We go to all the Tai Lu weddings (meal of sticky rice and nam prik at every rest stop from Chiangrai to Bangkok) and of course my wife Saipin and I had a Tai Lu wedding ourselves. According to Tai Lu tradition, I had to carry the whole cooked chicken up to the front door and beg admittance to the house, bribing all the matrons of the neighborhood with little 20 baht notes which they, of course, said wasn't enough and teased me. Every holiday season my mother-in-law (my mother) puts on her Tai Lu black housewife clothes for the parade and evening of festivities. Every year there's an annual Tai Lu festival in Chiang Kham east of Phayao with a wonderful little Kantok dinner.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Failed Ming attempts at intervention
on the Tai-Yunnan frontier (1390’s)

a. A Ming mission to Burma: An attempt to end the Tai incursions (1396)
b. Si Lun-fa deposed by a rival Tai leader (1397)
c. The reinstatement of Si Lun-fa (1398)

After the Ming conquest of Yunnan, intermittent fighting continued along the Tai-Yunnan frontier from 1382 until the major Ming expedition of 1388. In the wake of this large expedition, there were Tai raids against the Burmese kingdom of Ava to the south. These attacks escalated once again in the early 1390’s as they had done during the period of crisis at Ava from 1359 to 1368.

In 1393 Mong Yang attacked Ava territory and the ruler of Legaing [Minbu] led troops against them, but was driven back to Sagaing. Tai forces laid siege to Sagaing, burning buildings, and surrounding the town walls, but Thilawa, ruler of Yamethin to the south of Ava, led troops to Sagaing ending the siege. Thilawa drove the Tai attackers off as far as Shangon, 20 miles to the northwest of Sagaing, were he defeated them in battle (U Kala I: 458-461; Harvey, p.85)

In 1395 Ava sent a mission to the Ming court seeking their support and asking Ming envoys to mediate. In response the Ming established the "Mianzhong" pacification commission at Ava (Sun Lai Chen dissertation, p. 79, 234, citing Chen Yi-sein, "Ming-chu de Zhong Mian guanxi" 2 (1969):14-19, 27, 29; a later Ming geographical treatise provides support for this, claiming that in 1393 a tribute mission from Ava was sent to the Ming capital led by "the Burmese chieftain Nansu" and in 1393 the Burmese chieftain "Pulalang" [Minkyiswasawke] was appointed the "Pacification Commissioner" (Liew Foon Ming, 2003, pp. 162, 158, citing Gu Zuyi (1631-1692; reprint 1993) "Du shi fangyu jiyao gaoben," Shanghai: Guji Chubanshe).

a. A Ming mission to Burma: An attempt to end the Tai incursions (1396)

Continuing the long succession of missions that had been sent from the Ming capital to the Tai-Yunnan frontier, Li Si-cong and Qian Gu-xun were sent in 1396 on a much longer mission to Burmese Ava and the Tai-Yunnan frontier. At the end of their mission in 1497, Li Si-cong and Qian Gu-xun wrote the now famous account of life in the Tai frontier region, the Baiyi Zhuan, essentially an ethnography or travelogue of their journey. The mission was sent to put an end to warfare in the frontier zone (MSL 11 Mar 1396). Ava had been "engaged in armed conflict" with the Tai for several years and in the winter of 1395-96 Ava made a formal complaint to the Ming court (Wade, 1996, Bai-yi Zhuan, p. 8). There were raids against other locations besides Ava as well, as evidenced in the Ming emperor’s admonitions:

"You should be punished for the crime of taking advantage of weakness to attack an isolated state. Why is this so said? Every year you have used troops in attacking Che-li [Sipsongpanna] and in frequently invading and plundering Ba-bai [Lan Na]. You have also relied on your strength to attack Burma [Ava] and Jia-li [Kale]. They are small states and their people few and now you have taken them" (MSL 11 Mar 1396).

The Bai-yi Zhuan portrays Tai leadership as less unified than the Ming Shi-lu does. Unlike official histories such as the Ming Shi or Ming Shi-lu, the Bai-yi Zhuan was composed on the scene, right on the Tai-Yunnan frontier by the envoys themselves who must have actually talked to the very historical actors who had participated in the Tai-Ming warfare of the 1380’s. The emperor wrote long messages of instruction to both the rulers of Burma and Si Lun-fa for the envoys to take with them on their journey. The imperial message to the Burmese king of Ava describes the distance and separation between the Chinese capital and Burmese Ava quite poetically:

"The roads are long and dangerous, the mountains and rivers present great obstacles and your customs and practices are different. These situations were created by Heaven and fixed by Earth. You have been diligent in sending an envoy on the long and dangerous journey, to cross neighbouring states, to rush through mist and push through fog, to push onward at dawn and not rest till dusk, and to suffer the wind and the cold until he reached China. It is indeed a difficult journey. The ancients had a saying: 'When a superior man wishes to undertake some matter at a distant place, even though it be more than a thousand li away, spirit will communicate and intent will be understood.' Now, from 10,000 li distant, you have diligently sent an envoy over such a distance. This demonstration of worthiness would have been extraordinary in the past, and is quite singular today" (MSL 11 Mar 1396).

The Ming emperor envisaged a state of peace between the Burmese and Tais:

"...bring an end to the problems, allowing both sides to be done with warfare, so as to preserve your people's happiness both in the towns and throughout the countryside. The people of your two countries, although living in their separate places, could live in peace with nothing more required than the maintenance of careful inspections at the border passes and markets" (MSL 11 Mar 1396).

The message of instruction that the Ming emperor presented to Si Lun-fa outlined nine kinds of punitive military expedition in Chinese political traditions and finds Si Lun-fa guilty of violating one of them:

"You, Si Lun-fa, are subject to these nine punitive expeditions. You should be punished for the crime of taking advantage of weakness to attack an isolated state. Why is this so said? Every year you have used troops in attacking Che-li and in frequently invading and plundering Ba-bai. You have also relied on your strength to attack Burma and Jia-li. They are small states and their people few and now you have taken them. As for China, its territory extends to the yi in the four directions, and its lands adjoin the territories of the various chieftains and headmen. However, I have never taken advantage of my strength to oppress or bully them or to eliminate their heirs..."

Both expanding territory and the population base are reportedly the objectives of the Tai states:

"...Recently, I have heard that you have foolishly aggressed against your neighbouring states, with the intention of expanding your territory and illegally gaining more people. Also, you plan to attack our South-west. Verily, this cannot be permitted!"

Furthermore, disunity and fragmentation among these states had been the traditional norm:

"You, Si Lun-fa have not maintained good relations with your neighbours, and instead have sent troops in three directions, stupidly annexing other states. Such is your greed and your plotting. The states surrounding Lu-chuan have, from ancient times until now, all had their own rulers. They have never been united." (MSL 11 Mar 1396).

Si Lun Fa was ordered to cease engaging in expansionary warfare and upon hearing the orders, Si Lun-fa took fright and quickly agreed to withdraw his troops. At about this time one of Si Lun-fa’s subordinate chiefs Dao Gan-meng rebelled. Si Lun-fa believed that he could use the envoy from the Ming court, Si-cong, to force their submission, so he wouldn’t let him leave and presented him with elephants, horses, gold and precious stones as presents, but Si-cong refused the gifts, rebuffed Si Lun-fa, and asked to be released:

"China does not consider elephants, horses, gold and jade as valuables; what it values is only loyal subjects, noble statesmen, strong soldiers, gallant generals, filial sons and obedient grandsons. You should send us envoys back to the Court and in future should not engage in raiding and trouble-making. Thus will you be showing your spirit as a loyal prince" (MSL 11 Mar 1396).

Si Lun-fa invited Si-cong to a feast and afterwards had them escorted to the border. On his return to the capital, the Emperor was impressed with the work of the envoys and presented them with gifts as a token of his esteem (MSL 11 Mar 1396).

b. Si Lun-fa deposed by a rival Tai leader (1397)

A year before the first Ming emperor died in 1398, the Tai-Yunnan frontier descends into chaos. After the Ming envoys return to the capital, Si Lun-fa welcomes more outsiders into his domains and his control over the frontier erodes even further. First, he plays host to itinerant Buddhist monks:

“Initially, the people in Ping-mian did not believe in Buddhism. A monk went there from Yun-nan and spoke well about the effects of one's actions in successive lives [karma] . Si Lun-fa placed great trust in his words” (MSL 10 Oct 1397).

Next, fascinated by their mastery over military technologies, Si Lun-fa plays host to renegade Chinese soldiers:

“Also some border troops from Jin-chi fled to his territory. They were familiar with cannons (火砲) and guns (火銃). Si Lun-fa was pleased with their abilities. Thus he gave them gold belts and, with the monk, placed them above the various tribes” (MSL 10 Oct 1397).

Welcoming outsiders and giving them higher status than members of his own court like this, led to enmity and fissions among the Tai leaders surrounding him. In the face of his decreasing power, Si Lun-fa was forced to flee and seek Chinese protection. Dao Gan-meng was the leader of the faction that eventually seized power:

"Dao Gan-meng hated them [the outsiders] and thus, together with his subordinates, rebelled. He then led his troops to attack Teng-chong Prefecture. Si Lun-fa, afraid of Gan-meng's power, fled to Yun-nan and the Xi-ping Marquis Mu Chun sent him to the [Ming] capital" (MSL 10 Oct 1397).

When Si Lun-fa arrived at the Ming capital, the emperor sympathized with him and made military appointments to support him against Dao Gan-meng. The emperor was concerned that the proper steps be taken to thwart the power of Dao Gan-meng:

"A guard will be established at Teng-chong to monitor the situation. Wei-yuan and Yuan-gan have already come to the allegiance of the Court and other places are heeding orders. Thus, the force of Dao Gan-meng's rebellion is growing increasingly less and an increasing number of his supporters are coming to allegiance. Your return to your country can only be a matter of days. However, if the advance is made without caution and Dao Gan-meng's power is still substantial, his supporters in the country will not dare oppose him. Then the territory will never be yours” (MSL 14 Dec 1397)

Si Lun-fa was finally sent back to Yunnan with “one hundred liang of gold, 150 liang of silver and 500 ding of paper money” and a good upbraiding from the emperor. The emperor invokes the natural order once again in his words of admonition as he sends Si Lun-fa on his journey:

"In ancient times, there was a saying: `Find pleasure in that which the people find pleasure in, and hate that which the people hate.' This was said to those who look after the people, and meant that where the people's hearts lie, there also lie the principles of Heaven. Those who are good at ruling the people must seek the people's feelings. Now you, Si Lun-fa, are head of the region of Ping-mian. However, you became divorced from the likes and dislikes of the people. The people under you could not tolerate this and thus you fled to us. I know that your ancestors benefitted the people for generations and thus the people appointed you. However, when you lost the people's support, you turned your back on your country and your ancestor's graves, left your relatives and came here. If you long remain here and do not return, the territory will no longer be yours. However, you must recognize that right and wrong are always clear and Heaven's punishment is always correct. Generals have been sent to punish the crimes of Dao Gan-meng and thus I am ordering you to return to your old state" (MSL 15 Jan 1398).

Blamed for not looking out for the interests of his people, Si Lun-fa seems more the victim of a "unite [under one leader] and conquer" strategy than the "divide and conquer" strategy that historians usually claim to have been the most important strategy used in outside rule (Burmese, Chinese) over Tai socieities. In hindsight, the interests of the Ming emperor and Si Lun-fa’s Tai subjects were irreconcilable and pressed in these two opposing directions, Si Lun-fa met his downfall. Ironically, his loyalty to the Ming emperor sorely tested his allegiance to his own people.

Instructions were also given to a Chinese official, the Xi-ping Marquis Mu Chun to escort Si Lun-fa back to Yunnan and to support him militarily. Nowadays, we might call such an attempt to support the rule of a ruler who had lost his legitimacy, a puppet government.

Dao Gan-meng was quick to seek legitimacy from the Ming. He sent an envoy to Mu Chun requesting permission to offer tribute and before a reply was even received, the rebel leader "sent people with local products and requested that he be appointed as native official. He was then attacked by Dao De-nong of Da-dian. As he was unable to withstand the attack, he sent advice and sought permission to send a memorial to the Court. Chun allowed this" (MSL 15 Jan 1398). Dao Gan-meng’s power was short-lived, already challenged by other Tai leader’s in Si Lun-fa’s clan:

"Hu-du of Si Lun-fa's tribe, has occupied Teng-chong and Nu-jiang, as well as Jing-dong, Yi-wai and Wei-yuan, and all these places have inclined to culture and allied themselves with the Court. Dao Gan-meng is afraid of being attacked and he wants to use the Court's might to repel Hu-du. His claimed desire to come and offer tribute should not, I fear, be too readily believed. The troops which we were ordered to assemble now await deployment" (MSL 11 Mar 1398 - a ).

The emperor, once again interpreted Tai military actions in terms of deceit, rather than an inherent feature of a Tai segmentary state system lacking central-unified order and was willing to allow Dao Gan-ming to submit and offer tribute, if he did so in good faith and followed Chinese traditions in the matter:

"The distant yi are indeed guileful and deceitful. However, I am leniently allowing the request to see if he will change. Those routes occupied by Hu-du you should pacify and instruct as the situations dictate. If Dao Gan-ming is being deceitful, you should make careful preparations and then punish him. Do not lose the opportunity." (MSL 11 Mar 1398).

c. The reinstatement of Si Lun-fa (1398)

Mu Chun provided a military escort for Si Lun-fa back to Yunnan. Mu Chun stayed with Si Lun-fa in Jinchi and sent a force of 5,000 to attack Dao Gan-meng:

“Fu and so on crossed the Gao-liang-gong Mountains and directly attacked Nan Dian, greatly destroying it and killing the chieftain Dao Ming-meng, and killing or capturing a large number of people. They then took the troops back to attack Jing-han Stockade, but the stockade, relying on its high and dangerous location, held out and did not fall. As the government troops' grain and weapons were nearly depleted and the bandits' strength was growing, he sent a messenger to urgently advise Chun of the emergency.”

“Chun led 500 cavalrymen to relieve them. Taking advantage of the night, they moved to Nu-jiang and the following morning proceeded directly there. He ordered the cavalrymen to gallop to below the stockade and raise dust to scare them. The bandits in their high position saw the dust clouds rising to Heaven and, having not expected the troops of the Great Army to arrive, were greatly shocked and frightened. Thus, they led their troops in surrender. Chun took advantage of the victory to also attack Kong-dong Stockade. The bandits there fled by night” (11 Mar 1398 – b).

Mu Chun died of an illness and the official who replaced him (He Fu) was able to capture Dao Gan-meng and install Si Lun-fa as the ruler once again, however Si Lun-fa died a year later. No cause for his death is given.

In 1399 the ruler of Burmese Ava, Minkyiswasawke, placed an inscription in Toungoo "commemorating his reunification of Burma and saving the country from destruction and invasion" (Bennett, L. 795, B. II, pp. 958-59, cited in p. 25, “L” meaning Duroiselle’s list of inscriptions and “B” meaning “Inscriptions copied from the stones collected by King Bodawpaya”).

At the death of the founding Ming emperor in 1398 the Ming empire was racked by a succession struggle and political instability that was only resolved in 1402 with the accession of the Yung-le emperor (Cambridge History of China, v. 7, Ming Dynasty, pp. 184-204). The expansionist warfare of this emperor into northern Vietnam adjacent to Yunnan would change the historical trajectory of the Tai-Yunnan frontier and Burmese Ava once again.

After almost 20 years of failure in their governance over the Tai-Yunnan frontier officials at the Ming court must have had second thoughts about raising one Tai leader over all the others, so they partitioned the territory of Si Lun-fa’s Luchuan into three pieces which were to become known as the the “three fu’s”: Meng Yang [Mong Yang], Mu Bang [Hsenwi], and Meng Ting. Four smaller Chieftain Commissions, Lujiang, Ganyai, Dahou, and Wandian, were also established under the Jinchi garrison (Sun Lai Chen dissertation, p. 233 citing Jiang Yingliang, Daizu Shi, p. 244 and Chen Yi-sein, "Mingchu de Zhong Mian guanxi," 2 (1969): 15, 20; Liew Foon Ming, 1996, p. 165, footnote 11).

Ancient warfare: A very short introduction

Here is a book review of: Harry Sidebottom (2005) Ancient warfare: A very short introduction, Oxford University Press. Review by Dr. Malcolm Kennedy

This book deconstructs the idea of a "Western Way of War" in ancient Greek and Roman warfare. Courage, a factor in high intensity warfare, is an important part of this ideological construction. The Greeks were excluded from this ideological construction by the Romans and relegated to the category of "eastern warfare".

The ideas might be applicable to non-western warfare in region that this site deals with (Burma-Yunnan-Bay of Bengal). The idea that mainland Southeast Asian warfare has always been low intensity and casualty avoiding, has similar overtones. One of the lessons: detailed cross-cultural historical comparison can reveal historical blind spots created by ideology and since warfare is such an ideologically charged activity, detailed cross-cultural comparison might reveal many historical errors.

The book also covers Luttwak's analysis of Roman "Grand Strategy" as well as criticisms of it, issues of gender, and Hopkin's analysis of "agrarian crisis" in Roman Italy which is illustrated with a nice feedback diagram.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Tai raids on Ava in Upper Burma
before the Ming conquest (1359-1382) VI

[Jump to beginning of paper]

[Note: This is the sixth installment of a paper that summarizes events along the Tai-Yunnan-Burma frontier from the beginning of the Burmese Ava dynasty and the Chinese Ming Dynasty (c. 1366) to the end of the Burmese Ava Dynasty (c. 1527). It is a historical interpretation built on top of a computer-based primary source, probably the first of its kind, Geoffrey Wade's "Southeast Asia in the Ming Shi-lu: An Open Access Resource". Citations are linked directly to the primary source. The interpretation and organization of historical facts is slightly different from that given in Wade, Geoff(2004) "Ming China and Southeast Asia in the 15th Century: A Reappraisal" or the Cambridge History of China, volume 7, Ming Dynasty. For full bibliographical entries please see my two recent papers: paper1, paper2]

Tai raids against the Burmese state of Ava in Upper Burma (c. 1364-1555) preceded the 1382 Ming conquest of Yunnan. The founding of Ava in 1364 coincided with the founding of the Ming dynasty in 1368. Far from a mere coincidence, the simultaneity in the founding of these two states stems from the strong linkage and connection between between the two states along their common frontier. A linkage driven by Ming frontier policy (military and diplomatic).

Ming policy drove the geopolitical division of power in western mainland Southeast Asia for the next 200 years and change the political geography of Southeast Asia all the way through central Burma down to Mon Pegu on the Bay of Bengal, leaving a Chinese geopolitical mark throughout this region long after the Ming maritime missions of Zheng-he had ended (See the two papers (Fernquest (2005a) "Min-gyi-nyo, the Shan Invasions of Ava (1524-27), and the Beginnings of Expansionary Warfare in Toungoo Burma: 1486-1539") and (Fernquest (2005b) "The Shan Realm in the Late Ava Period (1449-1503)").

The Ava period of Burmese history begins in 1364 and ends in 1555 with the Burmese reconquest of an Ava then under Tai rule. Simple chronologies like this, however, hide more history than they elucidate. Ava was founded in 1364 in the middle of a crisis that lasted from 1359 to 1368, a crisis brought on by Tai raids, reaching a peak in 1364. The resolution of the crisis began with the founding of Ava in 1364, was bolstered by the military conquests during the short reign of Thadominpya (r. 1364-1368), and was finally consolidated into a lasting state during the long reign of Minkyiswasawke (r. 1368-1401).

In Yunnan the whole fourteenth century was a period of regime change for the Chinese state. The Yuan dynasty ended and the Ming dynasty was established, but the process of change along the frontier was not instantaneous. In Yunnan and especially along the Tai-Yunnan frontier bordering Burma, the whole century is best treated as a continuous period during which the reach and power of the Yuan dynasty receded and the Ming grew.

The Yuan Chinese military expeditions into Burma up to 1301 clearly signaled the end of the Pagan dynasty. More is usually made of these few and intermittent Chinese invasions than the much more frequent Tai raids and forays into the Burmese heartland, but as the historian Paul Bennett observes: “The evidence of serious economic and social disruption during and after the Shan invasions of 1359-1368 is more striking than that involving the Mongol/Chinese inroads” (Bennett, p. 27)

In the post-Pagan world of Upper Burma, power was split between three centers at Pinya, Sagaing, and Pagan. Religious donations provide a good barometer of the three way division of power in the Burmese heartland and the changing distribution of power between the three centers. As Paul Bennett observes:

“..building continued more or less normally around Pagan after the Mongol/Chinese invasions, and the amounts of land dedicated to pagodas and monasteries remained substantial. The gradual decline in such building during the 14th century resulted from the shift of the capital. At the same time as new work diminished in Pagan, the number of buildings and dedications in the Pinya and Sagaing areas naturally expanded substantially, diverting resources which might otherwise have flowed to Pagan. During most of the 14th century, Burma supported at least two courts (perhaps a third of some size at Pagan) and three important concentrations of monasteries and pagodas instead of one” (Bennett, p. 26-27).

This three way power split between Pinya, Sagaing, and Pagan was brought to an end with the sack of Sagaing and Pinya by Tai armies in 1364. Chronicle evidence of the Tai impact on the Burmese heartland is backed by hard inscriptional evidence:

“We know of the sack of Pinya and Sagaing in 1364, the flight of refugees to Toungoo, and the famine caused by the impressment of cultivators into the army. Another inscription compares the destruction brought about by the Shans with that of the Chola raids on Ceylon. Minkyiswasawke, in several of his inscriptions, emphasizes the internal strife and disunity with which he had to cope and his rededication of religious lands” (see Bennett, pp. 27-28 for inscriptional references).

From the Yuan attack against Myinzaing (Kyaukse) in 1301 to the period of crisis in (1359-1368) historical facts are sparse. The Yuan dynasty “appointed comforters of Pinya and other places in 1338 but withdrew them in 1342” (Parker, 43). Victories in military engagements against the Tai forces are described in an inscription of 1342 (Than Tun, p. 111). In the period immediately before the crisis period there are even more inscriptions that indicate the impact of Tai raids, however cryptic: “In 1356, when Prince Sinkapatiy was in control, he left the headman of Khamwan fight the battle of Khyantwan. As he won the battle, the Prince was pleased. Maw was besieged…Rewards were given.” (Than Tun, p. 112). Another inscription in 1357 compares the Tai raids to those of the Cola attacks on Sri Lanka.” By 1359 Pinya was engaging in its first inquest of towns and villages within its domains in order to consolidate its power (Than Tun, Royal Orders of Burma, part two, p. viii, citing “Inscriptions of Burma, Portfolio V, Plate 521, line 1). An intensification of the Tai raids from the north brought a sudden end to this consolidation

Tai raids, a period of crisis, and the founding of Ava (1359-1368)

Kyawswa, the ruler of Pinya, died in 1359 and was succeeded by his younger brother Narathu. In 1359 Toungoo raided the Kyaukse region and in 1362 Tai attacks resumed. This time, however, Narathu allied himself with the Tai invaders, aiming to destroy rival Sagaing, the other pole of power in Upper Burma. A joint Pinya-Tai campaign was sent against Sagaing in 1364, but the Tai side reneged on the alliance claiming that the troops committed by Narathu were insufficient. After Narathu was taken captive by his Tai allies, Thadominpaya seized control of what was left and moved his center of operations to the confluence of the Irrawaddy and Myinge rivers at the entry point to the Kyaukse granary/food supply. On 26 January 1365 he founded what would later on be known as the royal capital of Ava. He started from a small core area of control and gradually expanded his power by waging war without cease during his short life that ended three years later (U Kala on Thadominpya UKI: 409-418; Harvey on Thadominpya, 80-81). In the Burmese chronicle there is a whole chapter devoted to how he recruited a notorious bandit to his side, a move of course which has echoes through many other revolutionary movements throughout history as Hobsbawn shows in his book.

During 1365-67 Thadominpya led two campaigns to extend and consolidate his domains to the south. In 1365 Thadominpya subjugated Taungdwingyi and in July of 1365 he set off down the Irrawaddy on an expedition against Sagu near Pagan. The historian Paul Bennett speculates that the hardships of a population subject to the sequestering of troops motivated the following well-known inscription describing the hardships of a population living in a war zone:

“After the death of my husband, when the great king of Ava marched thrice to battle, all men, monks, and brahman starved. Then I gave cooked food to 37 monks and uncooked food to 200. When men died of starvation, I had compassion on them as I had on myself, (and therefore) I had 50 khwak of rice cooked twice-night and day, daily, and gave them away. When the Lords (of the Religion) became uncomfortable due to the wars, I made them comfortable by giving them complete sets of four requisites” (Than Tun, History of Burma 1300-1400, p. 112, inscriptions in Duroiselle list: 687, Tun Nyein p. 134)

This inscription was made in 1375 by the widow of the Toungoo ruler Pyanchi’s father Theingathu who died in 1367. Bennett argues that July “would be a time of year when men were needed in the fields, and if the king ordered a levee en masse hardship might easily have followed” (Bennett, p. 24-25). During the campaign against Sagu Thadominpya contracted smallpox and died at age 25 in 1368 (U Kala I: 418; Harvey, 81).

Mingyiswasawke builds the state of Ava (1368-1393)

After the death of Thadominpya, Min-gyi-swa-saw-ke, the brother-in-law of Thadominpya, rose to power from his appanage at Amyin on the lower Chindwin (U Kala I: 419-420, 423; Harvey, 81). As an inscription notes:

“After the death of Sihasura III [Thadominpya, r. 1359-1368], families were broken up on both sides as there was much disturbances within the capital; the just Asanghayya [Mingyiswasawke] conquered the northern villages and became king in AB 1912 (AD 1368)” (Than Tun, History of Burma 1300-1400, p. 108)

The long reign of Mingyiswasawke (r. 1368-1401) would see the consolidation of power at Ava and the building of a secure foundation for a Burmese state through administrative reform, reforms that are echoed in the 1638 reforms of Thalun. He built the Zidaw weir in Kyaukse and repaired irrigation facilities at Meiktila lake (U Kala I: 424; Harvey, 81). In 1371 Mong Yang and Kale, at war with each other, each requested Ava to aid them. Ava waited a while until the two states reduced their strength from the attrition of continued warfare and then used the opportunity to set up boundary markers, part of Minkyiswasawke’s land inquests, an attempt to put political control and taxation on a firmer footing (Harvey, p. 85; U Kala I: 429-430). In 1373 the political situation at Ava was stable enough for Mingyiswasawke to hold a convention of learned monks and religious examinations (Than Tun, Royal Orders of Burma, part two, pp. viii-ix, citing inscriptions: “List 698a/24-6).

Tai raids at intervals continued to pose a threat to Minkyiswasawke’s emergent state. In 1373 Mong Yang attacked Myedu, Ava’s northernmost garrison (Harvey, ; U Kala I).

“…in 1373 forces from Mohnyin (Mong Yang) raided the frontier at Myedu. After ten years of unrest Minkyi Swasawke referred the matter to Yunnan, and the Chinese gratefully appointed him governor of Ava and issued a strong warning to Mong Yang” (Shan Writing book).

An inscription dated February 7 1375 once again indicates growing peace and stability:

“The Sasana had prospered far exceedingly [sic] than it had prospered before. Both at day and night, the people were obsessed with the desire to do dana and to observe sila. Buddhist monks, Brahmins and all men and women were so pleased with their lot as the king was able to bestore [sic] peace on them by conquering all Burma. Thecity of Ava was like Tavatimsa” (Than Tun, Royal Orders of Burma, part two, p. ix, citing inscriptions: “List 182/1-10”).

In 1375 Minkyiswasawke asserted his authority over Toungoo by having its ruler Pyanchi assassinated (U Kala I: 434). Bennett speculates that Pyanchi was considered rebellious because: 1. he pledged loyalty to Taungdwingyi, 2. he accepted refugee migrants from Pinya and Sagaing. Harvey holds that the assassination was because of Pyanchi’s friendship with Mon ruling elite (Harvey, 123-124).

Coninciding with the Ming conquest of Yunnan of 1382, Tai raids resumed in the early 1380’s. In 1383 Ava petitioned the Ming to intervene for them to halt the raids. The Ming court intervened on their behalf (Harvey, p. 85). Parker notes that ”the Ming history tells us that ‘in 1384 the appointment of Comforter of Mien chung was made, and as complaints had been made by the chieftain Pu-la-lang of attacks by Sz-lun-fah, a mission was sent to expostulate, and both sides suspended arms’” (Parker, p. 49). The Ming conquest of Yunnan in 1382 brought about other changes: “In 1382 Meng Yang was changed into a prefecture (fu) and two years later into a civilian and military suan-wei-shi paying commuted corvee dues at the rate of taels…750 per year” (Scott, Gazetteer of Upper Burma and the Shan States, Mohnyin, p. 346)

Razadarit ascended the throne of the southern Mon kingdom of Pegu in 1385. The ruler of Maungmya tried to gain Ava’s support to overthrow Razadarit and this started a large-scale war that raged on and off between Upper and Lower Burma for several decades until Razadarit’s death in 1417 (U Kala I: 438-439; Harvey, p. 82). Shan troop levies made by Ava from Shan states such as Mong Yang, Kale, and Yawnghwe formed a large part of Ava’s forces in these wars. Were these troop levies or war captives? These troop levies at least attest to the fact that some power was held by Ava over Tai states on the Tai-Yunnan frontier by this time.

Inscriptions vs. literary evidence
in Vijayanagara history

I came across the following quote in Burton Stein's volume on Vijayanagara in the New Cambridge History of India (1989). S. Krishnaswami Aiyangar was the first great Indian historian of Vijayanagara who worked at the University of Madras until 1929. He insisted that, "literary evidence of that period should have as much standing in the interpretation of historians as epigraphy and archaeology." He returned to using literary sources such as indigenous poetry and genealogies whereas his predecessors had relied on the accounts of outsider Muslim and Portuguese sources. Burton Stein observes:

"...his historical reconstructions, while based on literary sources, were always attentive to evidence from inscriptions. He insisted that the latter [inscriptions] could only provide the 'barebones' of historical study. literary sources must do the rest" (p. 5)

Similarly, in pre-modern Burmese history inscriptions just don't give you enough to work with. As the basis for dates and a foundation for chronology they're essential, but history based only on inscriptions is an impoverished history.

The state of Vijayanagara, by the way, rose to power from the fourteenth to sixteenth, making it contemporaneous with the Burmese Ava period, and collapsed in 1565, a couple of decades before the Burmese First Toungoo dynasty (1465-1599) collapsed. Vijayanagara was invaded by the rising Muslim states to the north though, whereas the Burmese state collapsed after overextending itself militarily.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Ming punitive expedition to
the Tai-Yunnan frontier (1388) V

In the period after the Ming conquest of Yunnan (1382-1388), Tai attacks on Ming frontier outposts eventually led to a large-scale Ming punitive expedition. The governor of Yunnan, Mu Ying, was ordered to punish the Tai leader Si Lun-fa and a military training mission was sent to Yunnan. To ensure an adequate food supply for the large expedition, an official was sent to Sichuan with 32,000 ding of paper money to purchase 10,000 head of ploughing buffalo. State farms (屯田) and grain stores were to be set up in Yunnan to provide a food supply for the increased troops in Yunnan (MSL 1 Oct 1387). Local rulers loyal to the Ming asked for troop reinforcements (MSL 6 Jul 1387). With a cavalry of 30,000 Mu Ying marched towards Dingbian on the Tai frontier. Arriving near the Tai encampment after 15 days, he built defensive fortifications for battle. The Ming Shi-lu relates:

"First 300 light cavalrymen were sent to provoke them. The Bai-yi met them with 10,000 men and 30 vanguard elephants to do battle. Zhang Yin, commander of the Yun-nan Forward Guard, led 50-plus cavalrymen as a vanguard, while the chieftains, astride their huge elephants, proceeded forward. Our army let fly with their arrows and these hit an elephant in the left knee and the ribs. The elephant fell to the ground and the chieftain was also hit, but fled. He was pursued and killed with arrows. Then, with great screams, the troops rushed forward and hundreds of heads were taken. The army took advantage of the victory and proceeded forward with a great uproar. The bandit forces thus drew back" (MSL 6 May 1388).

The next morning Mu Ying brought his generals and aides together and addressed them to spur them into battle and brought a special repeating crossbow weapon into the battle:

"[Mu Ying] issued orders to the army to set up guns and 'mystical-mechanism arrows' (神機箭) in three lines within the ranks. Then when the elephants advanced, the front line of guns was to fire its arrows. If the elephants did not retreat, the second line was to fire off its arrows. If the elephants still did not fall back, the third line was to fire its arrows" (MSL 6 May 1388)

The Ming Shi-lu describes the Tai battle array:

"[The Tais] came out of their camp and joined ranks to meet them. The chieftains, local commanders and the zhao-gang all rode on elephants. The elephants were all armoured and on their backs they bore a battle-turret like a parapet, while bamboo tubes hung on the two sides. Short lances were placed between these prepared for attacks. When the forces were about to meet, the massed elephants rushed forward. Our army attacked them and fired off arrows and stones. The sound shook the mountains and valleys and the elephants, shaking with fear, fled" (MSL 6 May 1388)

The Ming forces pursued the Tai forces right up to their stockade and lit the stockade on fire. The Ming Shi-lu describes how discipline increased the intensity of battle:

"From a high vantage point Mu Ying saw that the left force of our army had retreated a little. He thus sent urgent orders that the force commander be beheaded. The force commander was thus frightened and roused and, with a yell, rushed into the fray. The troops followed him and each was worth 100 men" (MSL 6 May 1388).

There were heavy casualties among the defeated Tai forces:

"the bandits' most valiant and powerful fighter was called Xi-la-zhe and he led their troops in fighting to the death…Over 30,000 heads were taken and over 10,000 men were taken prisoner. More than half of the elephants were killed and 37 were taken alive. The remaining bandits all fled. Our army pursued and attacked them, the bandits were unable to eat for days on end, and their corpses were found lying side by side. Si Lun-fa fled" (MSL 6 May 1388).

Mu Ying sent word of the victory to the capital and led his troops back.

The Pursuit

The defeated Tai forces retreated to Jing-dong and Ding-bian and Mu Ying received instructions from the Ming capital to move against them:

"Your report has recently been received and it is known that you have destroyed the Bai-yi and that Si Lun-fa has fled. You are now to move the troops and exert gradual pressure on Jing-dong. However, the yi are by nature obstinate and barbaric. If they do not accept guilt and offer to surrender, they will indeed engage in more intrusive attacks” (MSL 25 May 1388).

Particular attention was again paid to ensuring an adequate food supply to support the soldiers on the expedition:

“Ding-bian is distant from the Yun-nan lake by at least 10 days by slow march. If the troops proceed there at a fast march, they will find it difficult to do battle. You should ensure security, state farms should be opened up, and firm walls should be erected so that battle can be done with them. When the Great Army is collected and ready, the advance should begin” (MSL 25 May 1388).

Mu Ying was also instructed to give the Tai leaders the option of paying an indemnity if they wished to surrender:

“If they want to offer tribute and request that the troops be withdrawn, you should instruct them in the Great Precepts of Right Conduct, require them to repay the funds (Alt: food) we have expended and have them present to the Court 15,000 horses and the troops who were killed in Jing-dong. They are also to be instructed to offer as tribute 500 elephants, 30,000 buffalo and 300 elephant attendants. If they listen to orders and offer tribute in the amounts specified, their request to surrender should be allowed” (MSL 25 May 1388).

The Tai leader Si Lun-fa sent a mission to Kunming to submit to the Ming, but blamed two other Tai leaders for the military actions against the Ming:

“Then he [Si Lun-fa] sent his local commanders and pacifiers to Yun-nan [Kun-ming] to advise that plans for rebellion in the past had not been his, and rather had been hatched by his subordinates Dao Si-lang and Dao Si-yang. He requested that his crimes be forgiven and advised willingness to offer tribute.”

Mu Ying sent word of the Tai submission to the capital and an official named Da-yong was sent to deal with the matter. The envoy carried with him a message for Si Lun-fa from the emperor. Si Lun-fa’s domain, Luchuan was seen as a distant and strange place:

"…Lu-chuan is secluded in the South-west, 10,000 li in the distance. It is not in China's maps. Why is Lu-chuan alone like this? Like in Yun-nan's territory, the roads are precipitous, the people make their lairs on cliffs and have to drink their water from the springs and rivers below. They have animal form and yi appearance and their ways are lacking in moral principles.”

The emperor relates the history of the Ming conquest of Yunnan and compares the intransigence of the Tai leader with the “Liang Prince”, the former Mongol-Yuan ruler of Yunnan, Balaswarmi.

“Only you, Si Lun-fa, have imitated and surpassed the Liang Prince. You have taken in our fugitives and have done so for several years. The Jin-chi and Jing-dong campaigns resulted from your actions. I said that you sought more people and wanted to expand your territory, that you wanted to challenge China and it was thus that you dared to create trouble. Therefore I ordered the skilled generals to lead their troops to establish camps and fields where they could both plant crops and protect our territory. Now, you have come and claimed that the previous violations on the border were not your doing but rather the acts of Dao Si-lang and so on. I have not examined whether this is so or not” (MSL 28 Nov 1389, my italics).

In a way, the emperor admits that he could be wrong in attributing all the Tai attacks to Si Lun-fa, but he demands that Si Lun-fa pay an indemnity to “assuage the anger of the various generals.” The emperor also demands that Si Lun-fa join with Chinese forces in an expedition against a rebellious Yunnan leader named Zhi-chun.

An alternative interpretation to the traditional interpretation of these events is possible, namely that Si Lun-fa was basically the Chinese emperor’s agent among a Tai leadership that lacked any unity and coordination. Ming officials misunderstood the nature of political control in the Tai-Yunnan frontier region, attributing to Si Lun-fa the leadership of a centralized, unified state, and in the end through their support, Si Lun-fa effectively becomes their agent in the frontier region.

Around 1390 there was an incident that casts in bold relief the different Tai versus Chinese views of gift giving. In 1389-90 the Chinese court appointed an official to deliver credentials and orders of instruction to Luchuan-Lingmian. When he arrived, they presented him with gifts including gold which he refused. According to the Ming Annals, he was told by the Tai "if you do not accept this display of kindness, the man people may well harbour suspicion and engage in rebellion. It is better to accept the presents," but he quickly handed them over to the Yunnan provincial administration. Following his successful mission, when he returned to the capital he was promoted to his new post (MSL 16 Oct 1390). In 1390 Si-Lun-fa again sent a tribute mission to the capital (MSL 26 Oct 1390). Two garrisons were established in Jing-dong and Meng-hua around 1391 (MSL 2 Jan 1391).