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).