Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Ming-Tai Relations (1369-1398)

Ming-Tai Relations (1369-1398)

In Ming sources, one man dominates the early history of Ming-Tai frontier relations, the Tai leader Si Lun Fa. We will be looking closely at two of these sources, the Ming Shi-lu and the Bai-yi Zhuan. Most historical interpretations of the period accept the predominance of this Tai leader and what Ming sources have to say about him rather uncritically.

We will compare two possible reconstructions of his life and role in Tai resistance to the Ming conquest of Yunnan. The first reconstruction follows the Ming Shi-lu closely and casts him as a strong ruler of a unified state that often acted in a deceitful manner in the eyes of the Ming court. (role of punitive Ming exploitation?), The second reconstruction takes its cue from some of the observations of theMing envoys to the Tai frontier region who wrote the Bai-yi Zhuan travelogue/ethnography. It casts Si Lun-fa as a weak ruler of a fragmented state who was basically nominated by the Ming to rule as their minion or puppet in the Tai frontier region. Both reconstructions are admittedly extremes, the truth probably lying somewhere in between.

Does the fact that Upper Burma suffered from Tai raids during this time support the contention that the Tais of the frontier region worked together in a unified state? Evidence over the period 1350-1600 indicates that Tai states acted independently often drawing into temporary cooperative confederations and alliances for strength and solidarity (cite my paper). These confederations were fragile and usually only held together for short periods of time. Furthermore, the emergent Mon and southern Ayutthaya states also exhibit this decentralized nature.

The initial Ming attempts to win Yunnan over (1369-1380)

The first communications between the Ming dynasty and Yunnan were prescient of Yunnan’s future. Ritualistic language in formal letters of "instruction" signaled the beginning of Ming rule along the Tai-Yunnan-Burma frontier. Submission to the Ming was the next inevitable step in the cosmological order:

"From ancient times, those who have been lords of all under Heaven have looked on that which is covered by Heaven, that which is contained by the Earth and that on which the sun and moon shine, and regardless of whether the place was near or far, or what manner of people they are, there was no place for which they did not wish a peaceful land and a prosperous existence. It is natural that when China is governed peacefully, foreign countries would come and submit (來附)”…I am anxious that, as you are secluded in your distant places, you have not yet heard of my will. Thus, I am sending envoys to go and instruct you, so that you will all know of this" (14 Jul 1370, my italics).

The Mongol prince Balaswarmi, a remnant of the Yuan dynasty, ruled over Yunnan from the capital in Kunming. He ruled indirectly over an ethnically diverse collection of small polities and chieftainships in Yunnan. The most powerful of these states was controlled by the Tuan family who ruled over the area surrounding Dali (Cambridge History of China, vol. 7, p.143-44).

The Ming Shi-lu reports that envoys were sent to instruct the inhabitants of Yunnan in 1371 (MSL 8 Oct 1371). In 1372 the famous scholar Wang Wei offered terms of surrender to Yunnan as an envoy. The envoy Wang Wei was murdered in 1374 and another mission was sent in 1375. Once again the mission failed. A diplomatic mission was sent to Burma in 1374, but because Annam was at war with Champa the roads were blocked and the mission was recalled (MSL 1 Jan 1374). By 1380 the Ming were no longer wording their communications as if Yunnan was a separate country (Wade, 2004, 4). Initial gentle promptings were soon to be followed by military force.

The Ming invasion and conquest of Yunnan (1380-1383)

In 1380 the Ming emperor changed his policy towards Yunnan. In the founding of the previous Yuan dynasty, Yunnan’s location had been of strategic importance and now figured into Ming geopolitical strategy. The Yuan had conquered the Dali region in Yunnan in order to surround the Southern Song, the last remnants of the Song dynasty. Remnants of the Mongol Yuan dynasty now remained as a threat for the Ming:

"...the Mongols were still occupying the Mongolian Grassland, and could launch southern expeditions at any time they wished. More importantly, the Mongols still occupied Yunnan. If the Mongols attacked Ming China both from the north and from the southwest, the Ming court would have battles on two fronts. Therefore, in the 1370s, the Ming dynasty was facing a situation that was similar to what the Southern Song failed to cope with when Kublai Khan took over the Dali Kingdom. Such an international pattern pushed the Ming ruler to launch a campaign against Yunnan in order to avoid the fate of the Southern Song" (Bin Yang, 2004, Military Campaigns against Yunnan: A Global Analysis, National University of Singapore working paper, 51-52, 54).

Citing a precedent in the Han dynasty for tighter control, a military expedition was organized to conquer Yunnan:

"The Emperor thus ordered the various generals to select and deploy troops and gave them, in advance, cloth and paper money for their clothing needs. A total of 249,100 people were involved and they were provided with 344,390 bolts of cloth and over 408,980 ding of paper money" (MSL 20 Aug 1380).

In September 1381 Fu You-de was appointed commander of Yunnan expeditionary forces with Lan Yu and Mu Ying, well-hardened veterans of early Ming campaigns in the Mongol north, as his assistants. The expeditionary forces amounted to 300,000 troops and were split into a larger force and a smaller diversionary force. Yunnan was quickly taken:

"Fu Yu-te’s army reached Hu-kuang in October. In December he sent the smaller force to Yung-ning and Wu-sa, while he led the larger forces as planned into Yunnan. Balaswarmi sent 100,000 troops to guard Chu-ching, but Fu Yu-te and Mu Ying captured the enemy general and 20,000 of his troops. Fu Yu-te then quickly led a smaller force to aid the army at Wu-sa, while Lan Yu and Mu Ying hastened toward K’un-ming. On 6 January 1382, Balaswarmi, who had fled his city, burned his princely robes, drove his wife to her death in a lake and then committed suicide together with his chief ministers" (Cambridge Ming History, 144-46; Liew Foon Ming, 1986, 162-63; MSL 18 Sep 1381).

By February 1382 the Ming had extended its control over the area surrounding the capital of Yunnan at modern day Kunming and a further expedition was sent to Dali:

"...the Duan family had been semi-autonomous in the Dali area under the Yuan dynasty and thought this was a good opportunity to resume its former independent status. When Fu Youde wrote to ask the Duans to surrender, Duan Shi, the chief of the Duans, cited historical experience to legitimatize his claim of autonomy. He argued that the Dali area was a foreign kingdom during the Tang dynasty, and had been outside of the boundary demarcated by the jade axe during the Song period; furthermore, this region and its population were too small to be a prefecture of China, so there was no benefit for the Ming force to come, neither was there any loss if the Ming state gave up its military campaign. Duan Shi suggested that the Ming court follow the Tang and Song mode of management to rebuild a type of tribute relationship."

"Fu ignored this response and repeated his request. Duan was annoyed, and threatened the Ming generals in the second letter. He emphasized that the geographic and biological advantages for the military defense of Dali were so great that the Ming would likely repeat the disaster of previous Chinese expeditions. Fu was irritated and detained the Duan envoys. Duan Shi then wrote a third letter with a more 'arrogant' tone. Fu realized that a peaceful negotiation did not work, so he launched an attack. The Duan power was eventually destroyed" (Bin Yang, 2004, 52-3, citing as source: Fang, Guoyu (1998) Yunnan Shiliao Congkan (Series of Historical Documents on Yunnan), Kunming: Yunnandaxue Chubanshe, 13 Vols).

The family that had ruled over the Dali region was sent into exile at the Ming capital in Nanjing.

The powerful Tai ruler Si Lun-fa submits (1382)

A powerful Tai chieftain named Si Lun-fa ruled over an area along the Tai-Yunnan frontier which the Chinese called Pingmian:

"From Da-li in Yun-nan, one passes through Jin-chi and then arrives there…During the Yuan dynasty, it was regularly subordinate to Ava-Burma. They have walled towns with outlying suburbs, both containing buildings and houses. The people all live in multi-storied houses. Their products are elephants and horses. Both officials and the people shave their heads like monks. When coming or going, they ride on elephants. In the earlier dynasties, they did not have contact with China. It was only in the Yuan dynasty that an envoy was sent to pacify and instruct them and they came to offer tribute" (MSL 21 Aug 1384).

The political situation along the Tai-Yunnan frontier was chaotic and fragmented. Leadership passed hands frequently and often violently among members of the Tai ruling clans. In 1348-49 the Yuan general Da-shi-ba-du-lu was sent to subdue the Tai ruler Si Ke-fa who was aggressively raiding the domains of neighboring Tai chieftains. The Yuan general was not successful and Si Ke-fa continued his raids, sending his son Man-sa to the Yuan court to pay allegiance, but the court reported that "while he accepted the court’s calendar and offered tribute, his clothing, paraphernalia and systems remained like those of a king" (Wade, 1996, Bai-yi Zhuan, p. 1).

After Si Ke-fa’s death several members of the ruling clan held power for relatively short periods of time. First, leadership passed to Si Ke-fa’s son Zhao Bing-fa. After a relatively long eight year reign, Si Ke-fa’s other son Tai-bian assumed power. Tai-bian was murdered by his paternal uncle after only a year. The uncle, Zhao Xiao-fa, became ruler, but was in turn murdered by bandits just one year later. Si Wa-fa, the younger brother of Zhao Xiao-fa, assumed power. In the year following the pacification of Yunnan in 1382:

"Si Wa-fa attacked Jin-chi [modern-day Bao Shan]. During that winter Si Wa-fa hunted in Zhelan and Nan-dian. His subordinate Da-lu-fang and others abruptly established Si Lun-fa, the son of Man-sa, as ruler, and killed Si Wa-fa while he was away" (Wade’s Bai-yi Zhuan, p. 1, 11; compare MSL 11 Mar 1396 which has Si Lun-fa attack Jin-chi, Jing-dong, and Ding-bian).

Jin-chi had been established as a garrison to control the Tai-Yunnan frontier during the early Yuan dynasty (Wade, 1996, Bai-yi Zhuan, p. 1). Now it played a pivotal role as a staging point for expeditions into the frontier region. In 1382 when Si Lun-fa heard that Dali had been taken, he marched to Jinchi and quickly submitted to the Ming (Liew Foon Ming, 1996, 163). In April 1382 Pingmian was made into an indigenous autonomous region and Si Lun-fa was appointed governor there. In August 1384 Si Lun-fa sent a tribute mission to the Ming court in Nanjing under the leadership of Dao Ling-meng. The seal of authority issued to Pingmian by the previous Yuan court was surrendered and Pingmian was promoted to a higher level of indigenous autonomous region. In September the adjacent Tai state of Luchuan was merged with Pingmian and given to Si Lun-fa. During the Yuan dynasty, Luchuan and Pingmian had been ruled separately (MSL 14 Sep 1384, MSL 21 Aug 1384).

Coinciding with the Ming conquest of Yunnan of 1382, Tai raids on Burmese Ava to the south 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 Myaungmya 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 1425 (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.

In 1383 the initial conquest of Yunnan was brought to an end and the military commanders Fu You-de and Lan Yu were called back to the capital. Mu Ying was left as the hereditary military governor of Yunnan (Cambridge, 146) and Gao Zheng was stationed with troops at Chu-xiong (MSL 5 Feb 1384). Altogether 160 people were escorted back to the capital including two former officials of the Yuan court in Yunnan, Guan-yin-bao and Liu Che-che-bu-hua together with chieftains from Yunnan including one named Duan Shi. Those escorted back presented 170 horses to the Ming emperor and received paper money and clothing in return. Guan-yin-bao was appointed as commandant of Jin-chi and was given the name Li Guan (MSL 30 Mar 1383).

Steps were also taken to ensure a food supply for the large Chinese garrisons that remained in Yunnan after the campaigns. An envoy was sent from the Ming capital to Annam, in modern-day northern Vietnam, with a request for grain. Grain (5,000 shi) was sent to Shui-wei on the Lin-an border of Yunnan. The Annam ruler Pan, in a display of magnanimity, refused to accept the gifts of gold and silks sent by the Chinese court (MSL 5 Aug 1384). The provincial government of Yunnan used their salt monopoly to ensure that the supply of rice in Yunnan was adequate:

"Under the old precedents, merchants brought rice to Jin-chi [Baoshan] and for every dou, they were given one yin of salt. This was allowed to ensure grain supplies. Thus the merchants collected there and the supplies were more than sufficient. Later, officials did not allow the transport of grain and the merchants rarely went there. Thus, the troops now have no means of ration supply. It is requested that the old system be followed" (MSL 4 Feb 1386, my italics).

The "old precedent" of using salt for military rice procurement must have been effective in the early 1380’s when Ming forces had just newly arrived in Yunnan. The food supply in Yunnan was not sufficient to support the population increase that followed the establishment of Ming garrisons. Yunnan was endowed with a more than adequate salt supply though.

The Chinese court took measures to curb corruption. Chinese administrators who were appointed from outside Yunnan were provided with adequate means of support, so they didn’t have to resort to bribery which could have been a cause of resentment and rebellion among the local inhabitants:

"Those who have inherited posts have long lived in their territories and they have their own stores and means of livelihood. It is thus not necessary to provide them with salaries and allowances. Those who are appointed have generally come to sojourn (流寓) in these areas and because they have won the support of the local people we are employing them for a time. If we do not give them salaries, they will have no means of sustaining a livelihood. The law officials are more likely to accept bribes (MSL 2 Dec 1384).

By 1384 the Ming had established a modicum of control over Yunnan, a control that would soon be challenged by the Tai chieftain Si Lun-fa.

The gradual Ming conquest of the Tai-Yunnan frontier

After the Ming conquest of Yunnan, Tai leaders launched a series of counter-attacks against the Ming at Jin-chi, Jong-dong, and then Ding-bian (MSL 11 Mar 1396). An explicit chronology helps to untangle the complicated series of events that followed the conquest:

1382 - Conquest of Yunnan. Kunming taken.
1382 - Dali taken.
1382 - Tai chieftain Si Lun-fa submits at Jin-chi.
1383 - Jin-chi [Baoshan] attacked by Si Wa-fa.
1384 - Si Lun-fa’s tribute mission to the Ming court. Si Lun-fa is given extensive authority by the Ming over the Tai-Yunnan frontier.
1386/87 - Jing-dong attacked by Dao Si-lang
1386/87 - Ming counterattack defeated by Tai forces
1388 – Tai forces attack Moshale stockade
1388 – Ming counterattack. Tai leader Dao Si-lang defeated
1388 – Tai raids on Ding-bian
1388 – Ming defeat Tais in a decisive battle. Tai side flees towards Dingbian and Jingdong.
1388 – Si Lun-fa is captured and is forced to pay indemnity and join Ming forces in internal police actions against other defiant rulers in Yunnan.

The Ming Shi-lu and official Chinese history attributes these post-conquest conflicts to the actions of the most prominent Tai leader Si Lun-fa. There are clear indications in other sources though that subordinate Tai leaders often acted independently. This interpretation of independent action by secondary Tai states is consistent with the endemic warfare found in the Tai-Yunnan frontier during this period.

In January 1386 Tai forces attacked Ming controlled Jingdong and the newly appointed Jingdong governor E-tao fled to a place named Baiyai Chuan in Dali. After the Tais attacked Jingdong, the governor of Yunnan, Mu Ying, sent the official Feng Cheng to attack the Tai forces, but he was defeated, fog and bad weather playing a role in the defeat (MSL 2 Jan 1391; Liew Foon Ming, 1996, 165). Many of the Tai elite were still not under Si Lun-fa's control: "Zi-qing and other persons in Meng-hua Subprefecture still obstructed culture and would not submit. He thus proposed that these guards be established" (MSL 2 Jan 1391).

Following the humiliating defeat at Jingdong, the Chinese censor Li Yuanming was sent from the capital to Pingmian on the frontier to investigate the situation. Li Yuanming’s report displeased the emperor and in May 1387 claiming that he had been deceived by Si Lun-fa and the Tais and ordered military defences to be prepared and all communications to cease:

"Recently, the Censor Li Yuan-ming returned from Ping-mian. I have listened to his words and know of the deception and deceitfulness of the Bai-yi. Even in tens of thousands of their words, not one can be believed. I have observed that the man and the yi have rebelled and are watching, ready to make use of opportunities. They present a danger to our borders.”

“It is appropriate to build defences in the Jin-chi, Chu-xiong, Pin Dian, Lan-cang and Jiang-zhong circuits. They must have high walls and deep moats, firm palisades and many cannons for defence. When the yi come, they must not be fought with lightly, and deployment must be made as the situations dictate.”

“Last year, the central Yun-nan military commander sent people to the Bai-yi and these people demanded much property and goods. They did not consider the seriousness of the situation and, displaying their power, acted in a martial manner and ridiculed the various man. Also, because the Jing-jiang Prince was without abilities, the Da-li seal was used to issue orders. All of these acts were wrong and even insulting to the Emperor and embarrassing to the Court” (MSL 28 May 1387).

This imperial proclamation makes two assumptions which may not have have held in practice. First, that there was centralized and coordinated control and action among the leaders of the Tai frontier states. Second, it assumes that Ming intentions and expectations about the behavior of Tai states and leaders had been completely communicated from the Ming center to Tai leaders on the periphery. The emperor decides on diplomatic isolation as a solution:

“From now on, no-one is permitted to go to Ping-mian. It should be treated with coolness. If it sends a despatch, a brief response is to be made, but if it does not send any despatches, no actions are to be initiated. If they send tribute products, they are not to be received. Then in a few years, the territory of Lu-chuan will be included on the maps as part of the Empire. Ministers, you must firmly observe my words and must not be remiss in this!" (MSL 28 May 1387).

In the wake of this diplomatic isolation in February 1388, Tai forces attacked and took Mo-sha-le stockade in Malang-talang dian chieftainship, a position of strategic importance along the frontier (in modern-day Xinping, Eshan Yizu or Xinhua). Mu Ying sent Ning Zheng to uproot the Tais. Under the leadership of Dao Si-lang, the Tais gathered over 100,000 soldiers and 100 elephants, but were overwhelmed by the Chinese who killed over 1,500, including two generals, and seized Tai elephants and horses. The remaining troops fled (MSL 3 Jun 1396, MSL 13 Feb 1388, Cambridge; Liew Foon Ming, 1996, 165). After the defeat at Mo-sha-le stockade repeated raids were made on Ding-bian in Chu-xiong prefecture:

"The Xi-ping Marquis Mu Ying punished Si Lun-fa of the Bai-yi and pacified him. At this time, Si Lun-fa had raised a force of 300,000 men and over 100 elephants and had repeatedly attacked Ding-bian. He wanted to gain revenge for the Mo-sha-le campaign and his force was extremely violent. The newly-attached man and yi secretly formed alliances and they all had rebellious inclinations” (MSL 6 May 1388)."

There is evidence that the Tai leader Diao Si-lang acted independently from Si Lun-fa in waging this attack against Dingbian. Two passages from the Bai-yi Zhuan, a late-fourteenth century travel diary of a Ming diplomatic mission travelling through the Tai-Yunnan frontier, support this interpretation:

"In the bing-yin year [1386/87], they again [Tai forces] attacked Jing-dong. The following year, a subordinate named Diao Si-lang attacked Ding-bian. The Son of Heaven ordered the Xi-ping Marquis Mu Ying to take on command of the troops and destroy him. Diao Si-lang was captured and the Yi people submitted through fear…” (Wade, Bai-yi Zhuan, p. 2)."

"…Dao Si-lang did not obey your commands [the emperor] and plundered Ding-bian. While you were unable to bring an end to those hostilities, Heaven provided majesty to our border commanders and thereby Dao Silang and the others were immediately exterminated” (Wade, Bai-yi Zhuan, p. 11)"

Which Tai leaders were individually or collectively responsible for Tai military actions in the period following the Ming conquest (1382-1388) is not entirely clear, but by 1388 different Tai chieftains who may have been acting independently in the past are joining together into a centralized and more coordinated confederation. Along the lines of the Di Cosmo-Andreski model of state formation (see Fernquest, 2005b, 373-377) in the face of a rising crisis, the Tai-frontier is moving from a segmentary decentralized state to a more unified state.

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

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 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 Tais]. The Bai-yi [Tais] 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 [Tais] 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” (MSL 28 Nov 1389).

The emperor admits that he is not certain that Si Lun-fa was completely in control of the Tai forces that attacked the Ming:

“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).

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 that closely follows the Ming Shi-lu is possible, namely that Si Lun-fa was basically the Chinese emperor’s agent among a Tai leadership that lacked 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 became 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 [babrabarian] 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).

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

To recap, 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, Tai raids changed direction to the south attacking Ava. 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 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…”

“…You errant fools in Lu-chuan first, without authority, mobilized troops for a campaign against Jin-chi, then made plans to seize Jing-dong and subsequently pillaged Ding-bian. Reason would have permitted me to despatch troops to punish you, but I did not take up this option and did not contest with you. I have not forced you into becoming an obedient state and have allowed you to follow your own devices. This has been so for several years. 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!”

“The ancient Chinese sages said: `The rivers and mountains, land, territory and the people all inhere in the Imperial throne. They are not things man can possess by force. They can be acquired only through Heaven's bestowal.' 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. Even if I am unable to stop you acting as you wish, the Way of Heaven will surely achieve that end. However, if you respond in a sensible way, you may still come out alright. But I now warn you to content yourself with what you have at present. If you are not satisfied with what you have at present and move to take more, then you will either lose everything or perish. Thus, would it not be best to just look after that which you have at present?" (MSL 11 Mar 1396).

According to the Ming Annals, on hearing the orders, Si Lun-fa was frightened 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).

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).

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).