Monday, December 10, 2007

Judson's Burmese dictionary free at Google books

Judson's Burmese to English dictionary, which is still the only dictionary that has some of the archaic vocabulary found in old Burmese writings, is available for free at Google Book Search. you can view it onsite or download a pdf file. There are several editions available:

1. 1826 edition
2. 1852 edition
3. 1849 edition
4. Another 1849 edition

Judson's grammar is also available.
An old Anglo-Burmese dictionary from 1852 is also available.

Keep checking back at the Google Book Search Burmese Language category, since new titles are likely to become available.

Judson's bible translation is also available online. Reading the English with the Burmese in parallel is good language practice.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Why not making Buddhism part of the Thai constitution may actually make Buddhism stronger

Forest Recollections: Wandering Monks in Twentieth-Century Thailand. By Kamala Tiyavanich. University of Hawaii Press, 1977, xxi + 410 pages, ISBN 0-8248-1781-8, U.S. $29.95. [Book Review]

The question of whether Buddhism should be made the official state religion of Thailand in the new constitution has been raging lately.

Before this time, Buddhism has not been the official state religion in the constitution, even though perhaps about 90% of Thais are Buddhist and the King is required to be Buddhist in the constitution.

The issue became political last week when Thaksin's satellite TV station rather opportunistically adopted the issue as its own for political purposes.

Perhaps slightly paradoxically, there are good reasons for those who want to see Buddhism thrive in the world not to have it written into the constitution as the state religion.

Relaxing state controls over religion, especially Buddhism, encourages local diversity. At the turn of the century (c. 1900) a lot of diversity in Buddhism in Isan and the north was wiped out by tight government regulation of the Buddhist religion as the above book on forest monks demonstrates.

Furthermore, when Buddhism becomes an appendage of Thai nationalism the future doesn't bode well for Buddhism as a world religion. How can a thinking person accept the universal applicability of a religion that exists in many countries from Burma to Sri Lanka to the west when it is tied to the vagaries of secular national politics in Thailand, something that can change rather rapidly as we've seen recently.

World reknown Thai Buddhist thinkers like Buddadhasa Bhikku and Sulak Sivaraksa (his website) seem to be critical of secular trends of nationalistic influence in Buddhism.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

John Strong on King Ashoka

Collection of readings on King Ashoka

This freely downloadable collection of readings on King Ashoka includes an article written by scholar of Buddhism John Strong entitled: Images of Aśoka: Some Indian and Sri Lankan Legends and their Development that discusses the legends associated with King Ashoka.

John Strong's The Buddha, a biography

John S. Strong. The Buddha: A Short Biography. Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2001. xv + 203 pp. Illustrations, tables, Sanskrit glossary, bibliography, notes, index. $15.95 (paper), ISBN 1-85168-256-2. Reviewed by Jessica Main, Faculty of Religious Studies, McGill University. Published by H-Buddhism (September, 2003) [Book Review]

The approach of scholar John Strong's biography of the Buddha has broad applicability to pre-modern Southeast Asian history:
Strong begins with a concise description of the history of scholarship on the Buddha’s life that stretches from the late nineteenth century to the present. Then, he contrasts these academic portraits of the Buddha with "tales that have been remembered and revered, repeated and reformulated" (pp. 1-3) by practitioners of Buddhism throughout its history. Avoiding a strictly factual search for the "historical Buddha," Strong provides "a middle way between remythologizing and demythologizing, between myth-making and history-making" (p. 3). He discusses the human, contextual, and rooted parts of the Buddha’s life as well as the supernatural and mythical ones.
First, there are the visits by the Buddha to various localities that you often find in local chronicles (e.g. Tai state of Kengtung, Eastern Shan States). Second, there are the hagiographic accounts of Burmese kings in Burmese chronicles like U Kala's Mahayazawingyi. This includes descriptions of royal coronations (consecration, bhiseka) ceremonies that one finds in chronicle texts and religious inscriptions:
Next, Strong shows how the Buddha’s biography simultaneously reveals and reinforces the wider dimensions of Buddhist artistic production, ritual, doctrine, and history. In a series of brief sections, he describes the reciprocal relations that link the life story of the Buddha, the practice of pilgrimage, and the worship of relics Strong describes the ways in which sacred biography, art, and ritual reinforce each other.
Strong discusses rituals such as the water pouring ritual accompanies many important historical events in the Burmese chronicle such as Bayinnaung's reconquest of Pegu (Hanthawaddy, Hongsa) after the Mon rebellion of 1550 that deposed Tabinshweihti.

Strong also expands the notion of biography "beyond the one-life paradigm,"not unlike Yukio Mishima's trilogy, to previous lifes by including the Jataka tradition.

Tai Lue script manuscript (NIU)

Tai Lue manuscript for reading practice

Just spotted a Tai Lue script manuscript that could be used for reading practice.

Linguist John Hartmann of Northern Illinois University has put it online at his Tai Lue site together with a copy of his dissertation on the Tai Lue language.

I personally have many reasons to delve deeper into the Tai Lue script and language. 1) I've been wanting to have more meaningful conversations with my Ta Lue mother-in-law, 2) We have a lot of Tai Lue rock music videos with Tai Lue subtitles at home (long historical folk ballads too), 3) I also have a Tai Lue historical chronicle I want to read, 4) and a book of witty Tai Lue sayings and folk wisdom.

It appears that one can really kill three birds with one stone by learning how to read Tai Lue. The script is a lot like that of Tai Khuen and Tai Yuan (Lanna). Living in Chiang Rai delving deeper into Tai Yuan texts would be a logical thing to do, also the French scholar Anatole Roger Peltier has deposited a wonderful collection of Tai Khuen manuscripts in the Lanna Room (4th floor) of the Chiang Mai University's central library. My friend Peter Koret has probably delved into these. Must contact him.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Upakhut , Upagupta - Saint and Spirit

Wonderful photographs of spirit and saint Upagupta or Upakhut at Australian National University's New Mandala blog which offers a short decription:
Upakhut is an important figure in local belief in many areas of Burma, northern Thailand and Laos. The stories of his origins are numerous. (For those interested, The Legend and Cult of Upagupta by John Strong has a wealth of detail.) In Sanskrit legend he is the son of a perfume maker and one of the early followers of the Buddha. In northern Thailand, many villagers believe that Upakhut is the son of the Buddha himself. Legend has it that he was conceived when a fish ate some of the Buddha’s semen when he washed his robe (or bathed) in a river. Upakhut was born and lives in a grand palace at the bottom of the ocean. One of his key roles is to provide protection on the occasion of major Buddhist festivals (poi luang) when he is taken from the river and installed in a temporary pavilion in the temple grounds.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Inka (pre-modern macro-) Economics

"A Network Analysis of Inka Roads, Administrative Centers, and Storage Facilities," by David Jenkins, University of Arizona, Ethnohistory 48.4 (2001) 655-687: .[Extract at Economist's View]

Been ruminating over this blog entry on macroeconomics in the ancient Incan (Inkan) state from Economist's View blogfor almost a week now.

It's like sitting down all by yourself at a banquet, there's a lot there to digest, so I'm going to digest it in serial blog entry fashion.

One might even argue that serial publishing in blogs could attack a subject in bite size increments better than a full blown paper does, a point pertinent to blogging and scholarship, perhaps.

Extract One:

Staple Finance and Wealth Finance

The Inka in the early fifteenth century were a chiefdom or perhaps an anomalous early state (Bauer 1992) of about twenty thousand people with a fairly simple social organization based on kinship ties and ruling hereditary chiefs. Initially their territory was limited, centered on what would become the city of Cuzco. Over the course of a hundred years, from about 1430 until the Spanish arrived in 1532, the Inka dramatically expanded their empire, incorporating by political maneuvering and outright conquest some eighty distinct polities into the Inka state. These conquered groups included other expansive empires, such as the highly socially stratified Chimu on the north coast, as well as small-scale states, chiefdoms, tribes, and autonomous communities scattered throughout the highlands.1

[This sounds a lot like the expansion of some states, especially the Burmese state, during roughly the same period, actually 1534-1581, versus the Inkan 1430-1532. The phrase "anomalous early state" indicates state-like features may have not been present. Will have to determine exactly what these are, since people have been using the notion of "state" in different ways for hundreds of years, something I address for Southeast Asian history in my recent paper. Of course, Peter Turchin at Cliodynamics has some great papers online that addresses the distinction between expansionary warfare and internal warfare (rebellion, revolt, uprising, insurgency), especially this paper.]

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The laws of King Mangrai as myth or history? (Kirsch)

Thomas Kirsch review of: Wichienkeeo, Aroonrut and Gehan Wijeyewardene, translators and editors. The Laws of King Mangrai (Mangrayathammasart). The Wat Chang
Kham, Nan Manuscript from the Richard Davis collection. Canberra: Department of Anthropology, The Australian National University, 1986, in the Asian Folklore Studies, 1987, vol. 46 / 2 (Note: All back issues of this long-running journal appear to be online now)

This book review has a nice parry to a slightly dyspeptic Michael Vickery:
"In addition, the text might be examined for its historical contribution. In this regard, Wijeyewardene supports the caution urged recently by Vickery on the historical value of such documents. Vickery (1979: 170) sees them as a " confused mixture of fact and fancy due to people who were grossly ignorant of the facts of the past." Be that as it may, Vickery's comment suggests another perspective for these texts. If they are mixtures of fact and fancy, they might usefully be viewed from an anthropological framework: as "myth " rather than as "history." The Mangrai code, grounded in the heroic exploits of the founder King and in Buddhist dharma, evokes a Malinowskian " primeval reality " which provides a sanction and charter for the institutions of a dynamic Lanna Thai social order. Viewed as " myth," the text's facticity is irrelevant both from the perspective of the text producer and contemporary analysts. Thus, viewing this volume, we might profit from O'Connor's (1981: 224) suggestion that " law is a culturally constituted mode of analysis that projects an indigenous theory of society." As such, it must be studied symbolically as well as historically."
I would care to differ on one point though. If the text is viewed as myth, i.e. as intellectual history, there is still the issue of what age or era this intellectual history belonged to. Not to ask this question is to presuppose that Lanna's intellectual history was static and unchanging (continuity dominates all change) a big assumption which needs at least to be pulled apart and investigated in further depth. A recent paper by Grabowsky attempts to tackle this sort of intellectual history, when it enumerates and analyses the causes behind the fall of Chiang Mai to the Burmese (c. 1557) given in contemporaneous interpretations of events:
"Which were the deeper causes of Lan Na’s fall that were responsible for the loss of her independence? How far can these causes be dated back? Even the contemporaries gave no rational explanation in a modern sense. They saw first of all that it was the work of the spirits and demons in taking revenge for severe violation of ritual prescriptions (NT: khüt). But economic and ecological reasons were known as well, even if they were mostly mentioned as atypical incidents. A chronicle summarises the complex causes in eleven points ...Seven out of the eleven ... causes are related to violation of ritual regulations, but Cause 4 and Cause 10 cite the unrestrained exploitation of natural resources of the land as the causal factor. The drying up of the Huai Kaeo and other flowing waters hampered the drinking water supply of the town. Moreover, the unscrupulous cutting down of the trees in the forests (deforestation) in areas further away from Chiang Mai city had upset the ecological equilibrium in the plain of the Ping river and, perhaps, also have led to a reduction in rice production." (Grabowksy, 2004, pages 27-29)
The contents of the Lanna law books seems broadly similar to that of Burmese Dhammathats
"The first two sections relate to Mangrai, his accomplishments and the proclamation of his laws, " not contrary to dharma "..., thereby freeing his citizens from previously oppressive rule. ...Broadly, the initial part of the text... seems to be a circumstantial listing of offenses, varying conditions and appropriate punishments, mostly in the vernacular. The final part has a more didactic quality, consisting of parables illustrating pertinent principles and sprinkled with Pali terms."
Not exactly bedtime reading, the most memorable part of my brief perusal of a version of the Mangrai Dhammasat was a long list of different adulterous situations and the legal remedies for each:
"Issues of marriage, separation, divorce, inheritance and sexual behavior seem to be most numerous. Questions of theft, liability and homicide figure prominently. Civic responsibilities, proper official conduct, the status of slaves, ritual offenses, precedence and hierarchy, counterfeiting, trespass and negligence also occur. Fines appear to be the preferred form of punishment though banishment, mutilation and execution are allowed under proper circumstances."
Might be useful comparatively in the writing of social history as scholar of Burmese law Andrew Huxley suggests, particularly of the family:
"Overall, the code evokes an image of a social order grounded in Buddhist principles, hierarchically organized, but composed of individuals responsible for their actions, whose intentions and circumstances must be considered in determining the King's justice. The code is more one of restitution than of repressive sanctions."

Also check out in the same journal Anthony Walker's review of: Premchit, Sommai Amphay Dore. The Lan Na Twelve-Month Traditions. Chiang Mai: Faculty of Social Sciences, Chiang Mai University, 1992.


Grabowsky, Volker (2004). "The Northern Tai Polity of Lan Na (Babai-Dadian). Between the Late 13th to Mid-16th Centuries: Internal Dynamics and Relations with Her Neighbours, Asia Research Institute Working Paper, National University of Singapore, No. 17, January 2004. [Link]

O'Connor, Richard (1981) "Law as indigenous social theory: A Siamese Thai case," American Ethnologist 8: 223-237.

Vickery (1979) "The Lion Prince and related remarks on northern history," Journal of the Siam Society 67: 123-186.

The Northern Group Monthly Talks (Chiang Mai)

The monthly talks help by the Northern Group in Chiang Mai are Chiang Mai's principal intellectual fare. I've only attended one, by Niels Mulder, discoursing on his scandalous and unpublishable life as a young anthropologist in Bangkok during the 1960s.

The talks are held on the second Tuesday of each month at the Alliance Française across the street from the L'Ecole d'Extreme Orient in Chiang Mai. The history of group began way back in 1972 with the short-lived Northern Thai Society modeled along the lines of the Siam Society. The current group began in 1984. There are synopses of the talks in the Meeting Diary. There is a nice summary of the presentation on Champa by Michael Vickery:

"Introduction to the history and significance of Champa"

A talk by Michael Vickery

254th meeting - Tuesday 9th November 2004

Searchable Greek inscriptions library

An searchable online library of inscriptions that might serve as an example in some respects for a library of Burmese inscriptions. Part of the Cornell Greek Epigraphy Project. There are no online translation and glossary though.

AEFEK: Association d'Echanges et de Formation pour les Etudes Khmeres

Site highlights the great amount of research that is currently being written in the French language on Khmer history and culture. Extensive bibliographies and papers freely downloadable. Like most contemporary French work, unique in showing a deep respect and appreciation for the history and traditions of historical research, as opposed to obligatory undiscerning blanket criticism of scientific method and BEFEO research as "Orientalism" [Example]. Such an association for Khmer Studies, which concentrates on Ancient Khmer history rather than contemporary politics, would be nice for Burmese history also.


1. Inventories of Khmer manuscripts in French libraries [Link]

2. Lectures on Angkor and pre-Angkor (c. 1902-1930) [Link]

3. Bulletin de l'AEFEK (since 1999) [Link]

4. A page with biographies of Khmer scholars of Khmer [Link]

5. Links

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Vickery on Coedes' history of Cambodia

Vickery, Michael (2000) "Coedes' histories of Cambodia," Silpakorn University International Journal, 1, 1: 61-108, cited in Baker, Chris (2003) "Ayutthaya Rising: From Land or Sea?," Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 34 (1), pp. 41-62 February 2003. [Sadly, the only paper I can find citing it]

I bought Coedes' The Indianized States of Southeast Asia (1968) a long, long time ago and subsequently lost it and really didn't miss it much at all.

I bumped into it again recently and was quite impressed by its regional approach to history during the Mongol era (c. 1250-1350)(Luce, 1958, 1959). It seemed, to my undiscerning eye, to be striving for some overall cross-regional coherence in the interpretation of this period. It even seemed to me that Vickery might have been adulating Coedes regional perspective, based on the following quote:

"In studying the Hsien-Ayutthaya-Martaban-Pegu-central northern Menampolities and the relations between Ayutthaya and Cambodia, it might be helpful to bracket out entirely conceptions of modern boundaries and think rather of an area of ancient common cosmopolitan culture and constantly shifting alliances." (Vickery,2004, 23-24)

Then it came as quite a surprise to me to find that Vickery had written a whole paper on Coedes where he picked him apart, albeit mercifully, and exposed his faults. So I am beginning to do what I vowed to do (after my work at the newspaper each day):

Start systematizing Vickery's approach to the socio-cultural imformation embedded in inscriptions and apply them to Burmese history.

There seems to be an essence of methodology for dealing with the socio-cultural dimensions of inscriptional evidence in Vickery's work that is applicable to the Burmese history of the Ava period (c. 1364-1555) (that I am working on) as well. There is a wealth of admonitions about the way that sources should and should not be used from a scientific standpoint. The inscriptional evidence should probably in some sense provide a foundation or infrastructure for the abundant chronicle evidence for the Ava period.

I know the word "scientific" would make the more deconstructionist historians bristle with contempt and horror, but Vickery’s work, though based firmly on traditional Rankean "what actually happened" or "the way it actually was" also admits that historical sources are contingent artifacts of their creators that makes historical interpretation for many periods intrinsically indeterminate.

Vickery likes science. He notes, that new information must be integrated and our theories adjusted, even if it forces a change in our preconceptions. (Vickery, 2000, 102) One can even entertain more than one theory, Vickery often does, ranking them relative to their likelihood. This is a Bayesian model of science.

Narrative history can also be adjusted. There is no real reason for narrative history to be a mere linear rendition of battles from the perspective of one court. Braudel by layering history into levels of short-term to long-term causal factors (infrastructure; structure – economics, politics, social organisation; superstructure, see Ferguson, 1998) provides a framework for writing thick history in the sense of Geertz’s thick descriptio, thick narratives of events, thick in the sense that background information about economics, politics, culture, and social organisation are interleaved with the narrative.

Vickery holds that students should be "introduced directly to the primary sources, rather than having to guess at what they record via the interpretation of Coedes [general history]." Translation accompanied by critical assessments and annotations need to be valorized above historical interpretations. “I refer to Coedes but teach original sources," he notes.

The fact that Burmese history still relies on Harvey (1925) and Phayre (19th century) is quite sad. Vickery makes a distinction between "academic works" and "popularizations."

"…popular treatments …should present, in non-specialist language for the general literate public, the results of the best scientific work. They should not simply seek to entertain or be vehicles for speculative reconstructions which would not past muster if presented the same way in an academic journal." (63)

He provides an example of over-synthesis from the history of Funan (page 71-72) that I will have to untangle in the future. Remarking of Coedes' books:

"They are monuments of uncritical synthesisation, some of which belongs in historical romance, not in history. Coedes was a great synthesizer – indeed that may have been his greatest talent when functioning as a writer of historical accounts; and he had to find, or imagine, a connection between every detail and some other detail in time and place." (63)

"The problem was in assumptions and presuppositions, not in any lack of sources. Coedes’ historical syntheses, which were the basis for most subsequent work, including Soviet studies, contains defects which were of course not because he was unaware of the content of the inscriptions, but because of the theoretical framework, possibly unconscious, which he imposed on them. This was a view in which history genealogical, narrowly political, and narrative, and it would not be sufficient, in fact, it would probably be impossible, to extract the additional information from the inscriptions in a coherent manner without a new theoretical framework." (64)

No doubt, he would find my attempts at synthesis too thin on the critical side. Vickery’s work certainly provides an abundant corpus of examples of source criticism. His magnum opus (Vickery, 1998) is the best place to begin.


Coedes, George (1968) The Indianized States of Southeast Asia, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. [Google Books]

Ferguson, Brian R (1999). "A Paradigm for the Study of War and Society," cited in Raaflaub, Kurt and Nathan Rubinstein (eds.). (1999). War and Society in the Ancient and Medieval Worlds: Asia, The Mediterranean, Europe, and Mesoamerica, Center
for Hellenic Studies. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Luce, Gordon Hannington (1958). "The Early Syam in Burma’s History." Journal of the Siam Society 46 (1958): 123-214.

Luce, Gordon Hannington (1959). "The Early Syam in Burma’s History: A Supplement." Journal of the Siam Society 47.1 (1959): 59-101.

Vickery, Michael (1998) Society, Economics, and Politics in pre-Angkor Cambodia, Tokyo: Toyo Bunko."

Vickery, Michael (2004) "Cambodia and Its Neighbors in the 15th Century," ARI Working Paper No. 27, June 2004,

Friday, March 30, 2007

Bertil Lintner takes Susan Conway's new to task on "Shan" history

Conway, Susan (2006) The Shan: Culture, Arts, and Crafts, River Books, Bangkok. [Lintner's Review]

The book excels when it covers the author's areas of expertise:

"Conway’s chapters about Shan weaving and dyeing, embroidery, lacquer ware, Shan genealogy and Buddha images, as well as her detailed notes about Shan script and palm leaf manuscripts are extremely informative. Conway also describes in great detail the patterns and meanings of Shan tattoos. So don’t be discouraged by the book’s shortcomings. If you ignore the historical and ethnological parts it’s well worth reading."

But falls short in the areas of history:

"...the Shan do not refer to themselves as Tai Yai—they call themselves Tai, which in China is romanized as Dai. Thaiyai, not Tai Yai, is the name given to them by their ethnic Thai cousins in Thailand who traditionally have believed that the Shan were their ancestors (yai means big or great.)

"Kachin chiefs did nor rule Hkamti Long, which was a Shan state in the Kachin-dominated area of the far north of Burma. The Shan state of Yawnghwe is not “called Nyaungshwe by the Shan and Yawnghwe by the Burmese.” It is the other way round. Yawnghwe is Shan for the valley, or gorge of rice storages. Nyaungshwe is simply a Burmese corruption of the Shan name.

Bertil Linter also whets the readers appetite with tidbits of a topic that has yet to be delved into by historians yet (that I'm aware of) the Kachin expansion into region north of Upper Burma, the modern day Kachin State. The Kachins "migrated less than 300 years ago into the northern parts of what today is Burma, and, according to Ola Hansson, the Swedish-American missionary who managed to convert many Kachins to Christianity and gave them a written language:

“Having obtained a foothold, the conquest of the whole region between the Khamti (Hkamti) and Hukong (Hukawng) valleys, as far south as to the Mogaung river, followed in due time. The Shans and Burmans were driven out, and only the ruins of their pagodas, the trees planted around their monasteries, and the names of their villages remained to tell the story of fierce fighting and wholesale slaughter.”

"The southward movement of the Kachin was halted only when the British colonial power began to subdue the area in the late 19th century. Thus, the question of ethnicity in Burma is not merely, or simply, about the majority Burmans versus the country’s plethora of minorities. Age-old divisions and conflicts also exist between the various non-Burman nationalities, which makes the ethnic issue in Burma far more complex than most foreign analysts assume, and a solution much harder to find than just referring to “the struggle against greater-Burman hegemonism,” as many of the leaders of the minorities often do.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

What philology means to some people

Thomas, Richard G. (2006) "Philology in Viet Nam and its Impact on Southeast Asian Cultural History," Modern Asian Studies, 40, 2, pp. 477-515.

The above paper reads like a witch hunt.

It claims there are problems with the work of the Ecole Francaise d'Extreme Orient and several historians including Michael Vickery, but presents absolutely no evidence to support its contention. The paper merely hurls grandiouse accusations, like this one:

"...those western scientists who cling to the notion that the relationship between signifier and signified is not arbitrary, and therefore that the truth of Southeast Asian archaeology can be grasped in its entirety by the application of hard-nosed philological principles. (98)..."

"98) M Vickery, Society, Economics, and Politics in pre-Angkor Cambodia (Tokyo, 1998)"

Not even a citation of a page!

First of all, the sort of philology that historians like Michael Vickery employ has been the standard historical methodology used since the time of Ranke. It is the same sort of methodology that one finds in the Warring States Project at University of Massachusetts at Amherst, for instance.

A sceptical Rankean approach towards sources with an eye towards finding "what actually happened" is, of course, not the only possible legitimate goal. Historical texts can be appreciated as literature also, the authors of each subsequent text borrowing from previous authors.

It is worth taking a closer look at the Vickery quote above:

1. western scientists who cling to the notion that the relationship between signifier and signified is not arbitrary

[If it was arbitrary, it would be meaningless. People compose and interpret texts with intentions which are not arbitrary.]

3. That the truth of Southeast Asian archaeology can be grasped in its entirety by the application of hard-nosed philological principles.

[Who claims anything can be grasped in its entirety? What Vickery does is hypothesise about the processes that might have been involved in the creation of a text. We are free to disagree with him and present reasons why we disagree.

Philological tools are what one uses to make sense of the way historical texts were constructed from initial authoring through hundreds of years of subsequent copying.

Initially, hypotheses should be stated clearly and without a lot of qualifications. Later on, if the hypothesis does not hold up under the evidence, the hypothesis is qualified. One thing is for sure, the writer of the above does not look at any of the relevant evidence for the claims they are making, namely the actual methods used by actual historians like Vickery.]

Apparently, the reason it was published was that it claimed to be a rebuttal to a previous work which it claims:

"The research [sic] presented here questions Bayly's suggestion that the scholarly output of the EFEO provided positive influences for the thought patterns of young revolutionary Vietnamese intellectuals in their struggle to overthrow the colonial regime." (page 478)

I leave you with one last quote:

"Like Alexander, who showed his love of Pindar, the philologist denied the existence of anything of cultural value in Indo-China except Indo-European culture."

First of all, if translations of texts from non-western cultures and histories were valued more by western academia, then non-western could be contemplated and appreciated more, but finding the universal in the particular does not in itself devalue the particular.

Or this very strange sentence that requres the reader to take an excursion into the very convolutions of the author's brain:

Whether all of them were aware of it or not, the professional philological scientists who worked in Southeast Asia were involved in an experimental project whose goal was to redefine Orientalism as a scientific form of Hellenism." (498)

People like Coedes collected and preserved huge amounts of linguistic, inscriptional, and art historical data. They studied this material in detail and published prolifically. Something that most contemporary scholars don't seem to be able to get up the will power to do. Like Vickery deserve to at least have their work looked at in detail before subjecting it to criticism.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007 for Burmese language dictionary and corpus

Includes a Burmese language corpus and dictionary. They are starting to put the papers of the great historian of Burma G.H. Luce online. Right now only the papers regarding Mon linguistics are online.

As far as the language of historical texts goes, the emphasis is on the language of inscriptions in the SEAclassics project (often difficult to figure out, requireing specialised dictionaries):

"Southeast Asia's golden age of epigraphy spans more than a millennium, from the 5th through the 15th centuries. The SEAclassics Library of epigraphic texts, Indic and epigraphic dictionaries, and research-oriented software tools will make this widely scattered body of work, including the Cham, Mon, Khmer, Pyu, Burmese, and Tai inscriptional corpora, accessible to the international scholarly community. A demonstration of the Corpus of Khmer Inscriptions is available on line."

Don't forget to read the intro for students before you begin

Topographical Maps for Burma-Yunnan border area

Highly detailed topographical maps for Burma and Yunnan:

1. China and Yunnan

Mong Mao is on this map. This set of maps is certainly in need of a better index. Will have to work on one myself. A better map reader than internet explorer's zoom capbility is needed too. Would be nice to make a more detailed map than Wade's Ming Shi-lu map that shows the role that topography played in history.

2. Burma

NC 47-2 Bokpyin (4.4 MB)
NC 47-6 Kra Buri (4.6 MB)
ND 46-4 Ama (3.9 MB)
ND 47-2 Ye (6.2 MB)
ND 47-6 Tavoy (5.8 MB)
ND 47-10 Palauk 1959 ed. (5.8 MB)
ND 47-10 Palauk 1962 ed. (4.9 MB)
ND 47-14 Mergui (4.6 MB)
NE 46-3 Kyaukpyu (6.5 MB)
NE 46-4 Thayetmyo (6.6 MB)
NE 46-7 Sandoway (5.0 MB)
NE 46-8 Prome (6.9 MB)
NE 46-12 Henzada (6.6 MB)
NE 46-15 Sinma (3.8 MB)
NE 46-16 Bassein (6.3 MB)
NE 46-16 Bassein and Vicinity [verso] (961K)
NE 47-1 Pyinmana (6.9 MB)
NE 47-5 Toungoo (6.8 MB)
NE 47-9 Pegu (6.3 MB)
NE 47-13 Rangoon (5.6 MB)
NE 47-13 Rangoon and Vicinity [verso] (1.1 MB)
NE 47-14 Moulmein (6.2 MB)
NF 46-3 Mawlaik (6.5 MB)
NF 46-4 Wuntho (6.4 MB)
NF 46-7 Gangaw (6.2 MB)
NF 46-8 Shwebo (5.9 MB)
NF 46-10 Cox's Bazar (5.9 MB)
NF 46-11 Mount Victoria (6.4 MB)
NF 46-12 Myingyin (5.7 MB)
NF 46-14 Akyab (4.1 MB)
NF 46-15 Myohaung (6.6 MB)
NF 46-16 Yenangyaung (6.1 MB)
NF 47-1 Mong Mit (6.6 MB)
NF 47-2 Hsenwi (6.4 MB)
NF 47-5 Maymyo (6.4 MB)
NF 47-6 Mong Yai (6.5 MB)
NF 47-9 Mandalay (6.3 MB)
NF 47-9 Mandalay, Burma and Vicinity [verso] (1.6 MB)
NF 47-10 Lai-Hka (6.2 MB)
NF 47-11 Keng Tung (6.7 MB)
NF 47-11 reliability diagram, notes, glossary [verso] (1.1 MB)
NF 47-13 Yamethin (6.4 MB)
NF 47-14 Mong Pan (6.7 MB)
NG 46-8 Sibsagar (5.7 MB)
NG 46-12 Tamanthi (5.4 MB)
NG 46-16 Paungbyin (5.9 MB)
NG 47-1 Putao (6.1 MB)
NG 47-5 Maingkwan (5.9 MB)
NG 47-9 Myitkyina (5.9 MB)
NG 47-13 Bhamo (5.9 MB)

Pictures of new Myanmar capital Nay-pyi-daw

Pictures of the new Burmese capital Naypyidaw are to be found in the pages of a blog authored by the deputy editor of the Indian newspaper named The Hindu, Sidharth Varadarajan.

The buildings bear an uncanny resemblance to Mae Fah Luang University in Chiang Rai, Thailand that I taught at for two years, a university that was built by squatter camps full of Burmese migrant workers, by the way.

Varadarajan's blog also has a section devoted to Myanmar.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Money in Yunnan during the Ming (c. 1350-1600)

Macroeconomics in pre-modern southeast Asian economies besides lacking data can also be quite conceptually complex. Take Yunnan, for instance. Several currencies existed, yet markets hardly existed. The currencies included:

1. The Ming emperor injecting paper money into the economy with the money he gives to the tribute missions of different ethnic groups to the capital. Can be seen in the tribute entries of Wade's (2005) translation of the Ming Shi-lu.

2. The longstanding use of cowries imported from the south until the 1700s. Covered in the work of Vogel (1993).

3. Most importantly silver produced in Yunnan and used throughout China. Covered in detail in Sun Lai-chen's (2000) dissertation.

4. Copper cash also, probably.

Stylized facts provide some hints about the role markets and money played in Yunnan:

"Yunnan has peaks upon peaks of mountain ranges and swift gorges winding through them. In the central region where the capital is, the land is well-watered and abounds in food-stuffs. This place does not rely on merchants, yet merchants gather here because it is a place where cinnabar, red mercury, glittering stones, and precious stones are produced. The lands of Linan, Dali, Yongning, Heqing, and Chuxiong can claim to be fertile, but the merchants are extremely few. Such places as Yuanjiang, Lincang, Yongchang, and Lijiang border on foreign territories; their customs are contrary and different." (Brook, 203)

“Comment: The long and difficult routes from Yunnan to the rest of China made the transport of anything but lightweight luxuries prohibitive. Yunnan was an important source of gems, and there were heavy proscriptions against non-imperial trading in gems with the local people (footnote 35: The involvement in eunuchs in this trade is mentioned in the biography of Wang Shu in the Dictionary of Ming Biography)” (Brook, 203-204)

What was happening with all these moneys is an open historical question and requires getting back to fundamental intuitions about the function of money that Brad DeLong touched upon in his blog recently:

Sam Brittan writes: / Columnists / Samuel Brittan - Money is making a comeback: Any IoU that is accepted in payment for services rendered can be regarded as money. There is a legendary exam question about a traveller who paid for a meal on a remote island by cheque. The natives were so impressed by this strange piece of paper that they passed it from hand to hand without anyone attempting to cash it. Who then paid for the traveller’s meal? (Please don’t tell me)...

Ha! I'm going to tell you whether you want me to tell you or not!

There are three possibilities. The check could serve as an expansion of the real money supply, if it is sufficiently easier to carry around and keep track of then previous moneys--previous markers of claims to purchasing power. If so, then nobody pays for the traveller's meal: the traveller's writing the check increased social wealth by more than the resources consumed, and everybody is better off. It is a free lunch.

A second possibility is that the check--being easier to carry around and keep track of--could crowd out and displace some other asset used as money. Say that the nominal (and real) money supplies remain fixed, and that the circulation of the check means that somebody loses their job stringing cowrie shells together, and has to get another lower-paying lower-value job doing something else. In this case, part of the lunch is paid for by the dismissed worker who loses his or her best opportunity. The rest of the lunch, however, is still free.

A third possibility, however, is that the check increases the nominal but not the real money supply. People are happy to hold the check, but the check is no easier to use than other forms of money, which are in fixed supply. In this case the price level rises, and everybody else with money in their pockets finds that their money buys less. In this case their is no free lunch: the lunch is paid for by an inflation tax implicitly levied on other money holders.

Those are the three possible answers. There will be a test.[Source]


Brook, Timothy "The Merchant Network in 16th Century China: A discussion and translation of Zhang Han’s 'On Merchants'," Journal of Economic and Social History of the Orient, Vol. XXIV, Part II, pages 165-214.

Sun, Laichen (2000). Ming-Southeast Asian overland interactions, c. 1368-1644. Unpublished PhD Dissertation, University of Michigan.

Vogel, Hans Ulrich (1993). "Cowry trade and its role in the economy of Yunnan: From the ninth to the mid-seventeenth century," Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, 36, 3 (1993): 211-252; 36, 4 (1993): 309-353.

Wade, Geoff. tr (2005). Southeast Asia in the Ming Shi-lu: an open access resource, Singapore: Asia Research Institute and the Singapore E-Press, National
University of Singapore, []

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Suhkothai history's relevance for Mon history of Lower Burma

Looking beyond the contemporary nation state is important in writing pre-modern history. That the pre-modern state of Burma was very different from modern states of the 19th and 20th centuries is obvious. Limitations of communication and transportation over inhospitable terrain (with horses, elephants, and footpaths) made political control more difficult in pre-modern eras. This meant that the area of effective direct rule was a lot less and that remoter areas of indirect rule often had dual allegiances to the larger states around them. Despite this geographical separation of peoples, ideas and religious practices spread slowly but surely across regional boundaries.

Last weekend I found a thread of Thai history that touches upon Mon history in Lower Burma via the inscriptional and chronicle history of Sukhothai. Griswold and Prasert na Nagara (1972,40-44) has a long discussion about the founding of Martaban and how Ramannadesa [Mon Kingdom] was "tributary" to Sukhothai citing Rajadhirat texts and the Mulasasana. Griswold and Prasert na Nagara(1975, 41) which has a good overview of Sukhothai history covering all the kings. There certainly seems to be a clear intellectual genealogy from Coedes to Griswold and Prasert na Nagara to Vickery. They are all dealing with the same issues and Vickery seems to be going back to Coedes's more regional approach:

"In studying the Hsien-Ayutthaya-Martaban-Pegu-central northern Menampolities and the relations between Ayutthaya and Cambodia, it might be helpful to bracket out entirely conceptions of modern boundaries and think rather of an area of ancient common cosmopolitan culture and constantly shifting alliances." (Vickery,2004, 23-24)

He poses some textual issues that have yet to be resolved:

"There too, a certain Ba๑a U was ruler in Martaban and moved from there to establish a new dynasty in Pegu just about the same time as Uthong was active inAyudhya, and in some versions this occurred in 1369, also a year of important change in Ayutthaya. Just like the Uthong of Ayudhyan history, he is supposed to have comefrom a provincial town, or former capital, to found what would henceforth be a new political center for his people. According to one Mon chronicle,78 his reign was 19 years like that of Uthong-Ramadhipati, although at slightly different dates (1364-1383), and he was also followed by a king entitled rajadhiraj, although a son, rather than a brother or brother-in-law, who, like the first Param Rajadhiraj of Ayudhya, was involved in a long series of campaigns against rivals to the north. This suggests that the foundation stories in both the Mon and Ayutthayan chronicles derive from a common origin, or have contaminated one another." (Vickery, 2004, 23)

I would just like to note that the period in question was a period of continual endemic warfare, so the fact that both of the two kings above were both engaged in warfare is not really that exceptional, rather something to be expected.


Coedes, George (1968) The Indianized States of Southeast Asia, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. [Google Books]

Griswold, A. B. and Prasert na Nagara (1975) "On Kingship and Society at Sukhodaya," In Change and Persistence in Thai Society, ed. by William Skinner and A. Thomas Kirsch, 29-92. Ithaca and London : Cornell University Press.

Griswold, A.B. and Prasert Na Nagara (1972) "King Lodaiya of Sukhodaya and his contemporaries, Epigraphic and historical studies, no. 10," Journal of the Siam Society.

Vickery, Michael (2004) "Cambodia and Its Neighbors in the 15th Century," ARI Working Paper No. 27, June 2004,

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Michael Vickery's Cambodia And Its Neighbors In The 15th Century (2004)

Vickery, Michael (2004) "Cambodia And Its Neighbors In The 15th Century," Working Paper, Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore (2003)
June 2004, [pdf]

This working paper by historian Michael Vickery touches upon the Mon history of Lower Burma of the 13th-14th centuries. It is also worth readin, like all his works, for the methodology and examples of critical questions to ask of sources.

Cambodia’s 15th century is nearly a blank page: no inscriptions, insignificant architecture, largely fictional chronicles, and little information in the records of other countries. But we may assume that processes similar to what may be ascertained in other parts of Southeast Asia were at work: changes in state formation, shift of political centers, growth of maritime trade and concomitant decline of ruling groups based in agriculture.

To make sense of the ‘Ming Factor’ in Cambodia’s 15th century we must start with the 12th-century ‘Sung Factor’ when the Sung began to encourage direct Chinese participation in overseas trade, leading to changes in the Southeast Asian countries involved. In Cambodia this is reflected in the 12th-century Cambodian attempts to conquer the coast of Champa with its good ports at the same time as relations with China increased.

The Chinese envoy Chou Ta-kuan in 1296 reported a recent war between Angkor and Hsien/Sien on the Gulf coastal area of Thailand which may well have been rivalry over control of the coasts, prefiguring the Ayutthaya-Cambodia rivalry of later centuries. Cambodia’s growing importance in this area is seen in the sudden increase of Chinese records of trade and diplomatic contact between the 1370s and mid-15th century, at the same time as similar developments with Hsien/Ayutthaya.

This implicit rivalry in trade with China may have been an element in the war of mid-15th century during which Ayutthaya occupied Angkor for more than a decade until expelled by Cambodians who moved their political center to the Phnom Penh region, an excellent river port area.

Because of the lack of other documentation for Cambodia, the Chinese records of contact are very important. The titles and royal names in the Ming shi-lu in particular reflect changes in Cambodian royal traditions under the influence of Ayutthaya, at the same time as Ayutthayan royal traditions were changing through relations with the north central Thai polities of Sukhothai, Phitsanulok and Kamphaeng Phetch, and with Chiang Mai in the far North.

In this paper I compare the genuine contemporary titles of these polities from the 12th century to the fifteenth as seen in inscriptions, when they exist, and the titles recorded in Chinese records from the 13th century through the 15th, in particular the abundance of such records in MSL. This demonstrates changes in relative status among these polities, as they developed economies based on sea trade.

The paper ends with study of the single chronicle which seems to provide accurate detail of political events in Cambodia in mid-15th century, and of special relations between Cambodia and Ayutthaya not found in other documents.

Keywords: Cambodia; Ayutthaya; 15th century; Angkor; Ming

Michael Vickery's Champa Revised (2003)

Vickery, Michael (2003) "Champa Revised," Working Paper 37, Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore (2003), March 2005, [pdf]

No matter what region or time period one specializes in, it's worth reading this paper for methodological insights. The paper questions the commonly accepted notion that there was a unified Champa state, proposing instead that the classical history of Champa over-extrapolates.

The name Champa refers to the region along the central and southern Vietnamese coast in which the major population group, identifiable from the 5th century onward by their own architectural and epigraphic remains, was the linguistically Austronesian Cham. The Cham settled mainly in river port deltas, and developed a Hindu and Buddhist religious culture exemplified by impressive brick temples. At its greatest extent, between the 9th and 15th centuries, Champa stretched from Quảng Bình in the North to Phan Thiết and Biên Hòa in the South. As the title of this paper implies, I consider that the history of Champa, which, as a whole, has hardly been given critical study since Maspero's Le royaume de Champa of 1928, is in need of revision.

The important points which require revision are the following:

The origins of the Austronesian-speaking Cham who now live in Vietnam and Cambodia. There is now a consensus among specialists that the Cham arrived on the coast of the mainland from Nusantara, probably Borneo, in the last centuries B.C., although there is not yet agreement among archaeologists about the earliest settlement remains which may be attributable to them.

The Lin Yi problem. Was Lin Yi identical with Champa, from the beginning of records concerning it, or from a later date, or if not, what was it? I argue here that early Lin Yi, known from the 3rd century through Chinese histories, was not Champa.

Relations with Vietnam, in particular the notion that Champa, as well as Lin Yi, was always a victim of expansionism by its northern neighbor.

The narrative history of Champa as conceived by Maspero. Although Maspero's book received critical attention from soon after its publication, and more thoroughly later on by Rolf Stein, Maspero’s main conclusions passed literally into the famous synthesis by Coedès, and have continued to exert strong influence on further work.
There are three types of sources for Champa history (1) Physical remains--brick structures considered to be temples, associated sculpture, and materials obtained from archaeological excavation; (2) Inscriptions in Old Cham and Sanskrit; (3) References in Chinese and Vietnamese histories about relations between those countries and the various polities south of the Chinese provinces in what is now northern Vietnam, and after the late 10th century south of territory claimed by Vietnam.

It is argued here that the classical treatment of Champa begun in Maspero's Le royaume du Champa, and continued in Coedès' Les états hindouisés has been wrong on most of the points listed above. One of their serious mistakes was to take Chinese reports on Champa, usually written long after the events, as the best sources, and to ignore the local inscriptions which contradicted them. In the present paper I have tied to confront Maspero and those who have followed him with the evidence of the Champa, and also the Cambodian, inscriptions to try to reach more accurate conclusions.

Of course, there are large gaps in which there are no inscriptions, and we are forced to rely on Chinese and Vietnamese histories, for example, the period of the Mongol invasions of Vietnam and Champa, the 30-year war at the end of the 14th century when Champa nearly conquered Vietnam, and, of course, the later history of Champa after the end of their inscriptions in the early 15th century. Even here new work is needed by scholars competent in the languages and familiar with advances in Southeast Asian historiography.

Keywords: Champa; Cham; Vietnam; Lin Yi; Southeast Asian History; Maspero