Sunday, August 13, 2006

Christian Daniels paper on Tai chronicle history (1573-1584)

Daniels, Christian (2006) "Historical memories of a Chinese adventurer in a Tay chronicle; Usurpation of the throne of a Tay polity in Yunnan, 1573-1584," International Journal of Asian Studies, 3, 1 (2006), pp. 21-48.

This historical analysis is path breaking because it deals with Tai chronicle text on its own terms, taking it for the uniquely different historical source that it is, and showing how the Tai chronicle approach to history helps elucidate Rankean "what actually happened".

Daniels clearly shows that the Ming did use a strategy of divide and conquer in the Tai-Yunnan frontier zone. He also provides convincing evidence that a Mong Mao kingdom (state or polity) was a unifying force among the smaller geographically based chieftainships of the Tai-Yunnan frontier zone. Si Ke Fa (r. 1340-1371) clearly brought these chieftainships together for a time under the umbrella of one ruler and challenged Yuan rule along the frontier.

The paper also includes an important discussion of the "Subordination of Tay polities to the Ming" that is rigorous in both its argument and the evidence that it presents. Since events along the Tai-Yunnan frontier region played an important role in state formation in western mainland Southeast Asia to the south, namely in the formation of a Burmese state (c. 1350-1600), this section of the paper is particularly important for early modern mainland Southeast Asian history.

Tai rule along the Tai-Yunnan frontier: Unified or not unified?

What I take issue with, was how long this unification under a Mong Mao "kingdom" actually lasted. It seems like there was a unified Mong Mao kingdom (polity, state) only for the duration of Si Ke Fa's reign.

This is not to say that various geographically-based chieftainships (Daniels provides a wonderful map) did not rally together under the leadership of one primus-inter-pares Tai ruler during times of crisis when they faced a common threat. This is where the Di Cosmo-Andreski model of military mobilization and centraliation after a crisis (originating in analogous behavior along China's northern frontier) is pertinent (Fernquest, 2005).

It seems that the Mong Mao kingdom may be largely a literary creation of the Tai chronicle writers interpreting historical fact:
"The Mang Maaw Chronicle [Mong Mao Chronicle] referred to this kingdom as unifying force among the Tay, and portrayed it as a sort of ideal age when the Tay enjoyed complete independence, and remained free from intervention by outside regional powers. The chronicler invokes the disintegration and the subsequent subordination of Tay polities to China and Burma as recurring potent images." (Daniels, 2006, p. 28)

There are references to a "Mong Mao" is Burmese inscriptions and the chronicle, but there are also references to a "Syam" and many more references to individual polities, especially as times goes by. If Burmese references to Tai polities on the Yunnan frontier became more geographically specific, this would probably support a hypothesis that Ming split apart a polity or confederation of chieftainships that was previously more unified, or maybe a hypothesis that the Burmese only gradually became aware of who was attacking them. This would not be easy, if a coalition was attacking them. In such a case, local identities might have loomed larger than group identities as they seemed to have done when Si Lun Fa (Burmese: Sawlon) of Mong Yang [Burmese: Mohnyin] conquered Ava in 1524-27.

As Wade (2004, 31) shows, the fact that Ayutthaya and Lang Chang to the south eventually grew to achieve the status of states, has led some intellectuals to produce counterfactual or "virtual" history, suggesting that the chieftainships of the Tai-Yunnan border would have become large and unified states like Ayutthaya or Lang Chang, but didn't, because of Ming expansionism.

After the Tai invasion of the Burmese heartland in 1524-27, it looked like there would be a large Tai territorial state in western mainland Southeast Asia, but the resurgence of the Burmese state under Bayinnaung (r. 1551-1581) put an end to this state-forming momentum. There is always an impulse to look at these events with hindsight bias from the viewpoint of a given modern nation state or ethnic group, to moralize and lament about what could have been, but wasn't. This emic perspective, of historical as seen from inside by actual participants during and afterwards, is certainly one legitimate perspective, history was originally my written from such national or state-centric perspectives, but an emotionally uninvolved etic perspective, that tries to make sense of the events from a "World History" perspective, also seems legitimate in this day and age.

Augmenting the Daniels argument with Burmese sources

Widening the gamut of historical sources used for this period to include Burmese sources reveals some important facts. Take this observation:
"The Mang Maaw kingdom...maintained firm control over all the Tay polities, and it was only after the Ming succeeded in eliminating it in their fourth punitive military campaign of 1444 that Tay polities west of the Salween River emerged as individually prominent political entities." (Daniels, 2006, p. 28)

Evidence from the Burmese chronicle indicates that the Tai chieftainships Hsenwi and Mong Yang acted independently from any unified Mong Mao center in the warfare they engaged in with Burmese Ava to the south.

(Note: Theinni, Hsenwi, and Mu Bang all refer to the same geographically based chieftainship. Mohnyin, Mong Yang, and Meng Yang so as well.)

(Note: I'll make a list of all Burmese chronicle references to Tai polities from the fall of Pagan to the end of the Luchuan-Pingmian campaigns (1444) to demonstrate this point. )

Ava attacked Tai settlements and Tais attacked Ava's capital, far away from their home base in Yunnan, deep in the Burmese heartland. (See Fernquest, 2006)

Tai cavalry contingents also participated in Ava's military expeditions against the Mon kingdom ruled by Rajadharit in the far south. Whether this was a voluntary mercenary type of relationship or coerced troop levies, or a combination of both, is not clear, there is evidence to support both theories (Fernquest, 2006, 17).

The nature of control imposed after military action is also an issue in the warfare the Burmese king Bayinnaung (r. 1551-1581) later waged against Ayutthaya. The Burmese kingdom did not maintain territorial control for any length of time, so the Burmese kingdom could not be called an empire and this warfare really doesn’t warrant the label "expansionary" in that this term implies increased territorial control. The Burmese attacks against Ayutthaya were more like once off "raids" for manpower and plunder. I believe that Prince Damrong makes this point in "Thai Rop Bama" [Thai attacks Burma]. It is only later on in the 1570s that you see Burma trying to assert geographical control over Chiang Mai and Lan Chang. Lieberman makes this point in Burmese Administrative Cycles, I believe.


Daniels, Christian (2006) "Historical memories of a Chinese adventurer in a Tay chronicle; Usurpation of the throne of a Tay polity in Yunnan, 1573-1584," International Journal of Asian Studies, 3, 1 (2006), pp. 21-48.

Fernquest, 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 3.2 Autumn. [Addendum]

Fernquest, Jon (2006) "Rajadhirat's mask of command: Burmese military leadership, (c. 1383-1421)," SOAS Bulletin of Burma Research, 4.1 Spring.

Wade, Geoff (2004) "Ming China and Southeast Asia in the 15th Century: A Reappraisal," No. 28 Working Paper Series, Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore, July 2004.