Tuesday, March 07, 2006

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

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[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.