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Coordinates: 21°30′N 98°0′E / 21.5°N 98°E / 21.5; 98

Shan State

(MLCTS: yum: pranynai)

Capital Taunggyi
Region East central
Area 155,801[1] km²
Population 4,851,000 (2000)[1]
Ethnicities Shan, Bamar, Chinese, Wa, Kachin, Danu, Intha, Palaung, Pa-O, Taungyo, Indians, Gorkha
Religions Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism

Shan State (Burmese: ရှမ်းပြည်နယ်; Shan:Mongtai.png IPA: [mœ́ŋ tɑ́ɪ]) is a state of Burma (Myanmar). Shan State borders China to the north, Laos to the east, and Thailand to the south, and five administrative divisions of Burma in the west. Largest of the 14 administrative divisions by land area, Shan State covers 155,800 km², almost a quarter of the total area of Burma. The state gets its name from the Shan people, one of several ethnic groups that inhabit the area. Shan State is largely rural, with only three cities of significant size: Lashio, Kengtung, and the capital, Taunggyi.[2]

Shan State, with many ethnic groups, is home to several armed ethnic armies. While the military government has signed ceasefire agreements with most groups, vast areas of the state, especially those east of Thanlwin river, remain outside the central government's control, and in recent years have come under heavy ethnic-Chinese economic and political influence, whereas other areas are under the control of military groups such as the Shan State Army.



Shan State is the unitary successor state to the Burmese Shan States, the princely states that were under some degree of control of Irrawaddy valley-based Burmese kingdoms. (Historical Shan states extended well beyond the Burmese Shan States, ranging from full fledged kingdoms of Assam in the northwest to Lan Xang in the east to Lanna and Ayutthaya in the southeast, as well as several petty princely states in between, covering present day northern Sagaing Division, Kachin State, Yunnan, Laos and Thailand. The definition of Burmese Shan States does not include Ava and Pegu kingdoms of 13th to 16th centuries although the founders of these kingdoms were Burmanized Shans and Monized Shans, respectively.)

Early history

Tai-Shan Realm in SE Asia circa mid-14th century

The first founding of Shan states inside the present day boundaries of Burma began during period of Pagan Kingdom in the Shan Hills and accelerated after the fall of Pagan Kingdom to the Mongols in 1287. The Shans, who came down with the Mongols, stayed and quickly came to dominate much of northern to eastern arc of Burma—from northwestern Sagaing Division to Kachin Hills to the present day Shan Hills. The most powerful Shan states were Mong Yang (Mohnyin) and Mong Kawng (Mogaung) in present-day Kachin State, followed by Hsenwi (Thenni), Hsipaw (Thibaw) and Mongmit (Momeik) in present-day northern Shan State.[3] Smaller Shan states like Kalay in northwestern Sagaing Division, Bhamo in Kachin State, Yawnghwe (Nyaungshwe) and Kengtung (Kyaingtong) in Shan State played a precarious game of paying allegiance to more powerful states, sometimes simultaneously. To be sure, the newly founded Shan States were multi-ethnic states. Although Burmanized Shans founded the Ava kingdom that ruled central Burma, other Shan states, Mohnyin in particular, constantly raided Ava territories throughout the years. Mohnyin finally conquered Ava itself in 1527.[4]

Shan States in 1540 vis-a-vis other SE Asian kingdoms

Taungoo and Konbaung periods (1555–1885)

Shan States after 1557, now inside Bayinnaung's Empire

In 1555, King Bayinnaung dislodged the Shan king from Ava, and by 1557, went on to conquer all of what would become known as Burmese Shan States under his rule, from Assamese border in the northwest to those in Kachin Hills and Shan Hills, including the two most powerful Shan States, Mohnyin and Mogaung.[5] (Bayinnaung also conquered Lan Na in 1558 but allowed the more established kingdom to retain more autonomy.) The Shan states were reduced to the status of governorships but the Saophas were permitted to retain their royal regalia and their feudal rights over their own subjects. Bayinnaung introduced Burmese customary law, and prohibited all human and animal sacrifices. He also required the sons of Saophas to reside in the Burmese king's palace essentially as hostages for good conduct of their fathers and to receive valuable training in Burmese court life. This was a policy followed by Burmese kings right up to the final fall of the kingdom to the British in 1885.[6] (Northernmost Shan states in Yunnan had already fallen to the Ming dynasty of China by the middle of 15th century.[7])

To be sure, the reach of Burmese sovereign waxed and waned along with the ability of each Burmese monarch. Shan states became briefly independent following the collapse of the first Taungoo dynasty, in 1599. Nonetheless, the Restored Taungoo dynasty under King Nyaungyan and King Anaukpetlun had recovered the Shan states, including the two strongest—Monhyin and Mogaung by 1605 and Lan Na by 1615.[5] Starting in the late 17th century with the reign of King Minyekyawdin, the rule of Burmese monarchs declined gradually, and by the 1730s, Shan States like other areas in the kingdom were de facto independent.

In the middle of the 18th century, the Burmese Konbaung dynasty's reassertion of easternmost boundaries of Burmese Shan States led to a war with the Qing dynasty of China, which launched four separate invasions of Burma in 1765, 1766, 1767 and 1769. For a brief period, after the second invasion, the Burmese occupied eight Chinese Shan states within Yunnan.[8] Although the Burmese would give up these Chinese Shan states soon after, but their success in repelling a numerically far superior Chinese force laid the foundation for the present day boundary between Burma and China. The present-day boundary of southern Shan State vis-a-vis Thailand was also formed shortly after. In 1776, Burma lost much of Lan Na kingdom to a resurgent Bangkok-based Siam,[9] ending a two century plus Burmese suzerainty over the region and retaining just Kengtung on the Burmese side. (Siam would again invade Kengtung in 1804, 1852 and 1942.)

Throughout the Burmese feudal era, Shan states supplied much manpower in the service of Burmese kings. Without Shan manpower, it would have been difficult, if not impossible, for the Burmans alone to achieve their much vaunted victories in Lower Burma, Siam, and elsewhere. Shans were a major part of Burmese forces in the First Anglo-Burmese War of 1824–1826, and fought valiantly—a fact even the British commanders acknowledged.[10]

After the Second Anglo-Burmese War of 1852, the Burmese kingdom was reduced to Upper Burma alone. The Shan states—especially those east of the Salween, were essentially autonomous entities, just paying token tribute to the king. In 1875, King Mindon, in order to avoid certain defeat, ceded Karenni states, long part of Shan states, to the British.[8] When the last king of Burma, King Thibaw--coincidentally a half Shan--ascended the throne in 1878, the rule of central government was so weak that Thibaw had to send thousands of troops to tame a rebellion in the Shan state of Mongnai and other eastern Shan states for the remainder of his 6 year reign.[11]

Colonial period (1886–1948)

On 28 November 1885, the British captured Mandalay, officially ending the Third Anglo-Burmese War in just 11 days. But it was only in 1890 that the British were able to subdue all of Shan states. Under the British colonial administration, established in 1887, the Shan states were ruled by their saophas as feudatories of the British Crown. The British however placed Kachin Hills inside Mandalay Division and northwestern Shan areas under Sagaing Division. In October 1922, the Shan states, and Karenni states were merged to create the Federated Shan States,[12] under a commissioner who also administered the Wa State. This arrangement survived the constitutional changes of 1923 and 1937.

During World War II, most of Shan States came under the Japanese occupation. Chinese Kuomingtang (KMT) forces came down to northeastern Shan states to face the Japanese. Thai forces, allied with the Japanese, occupied Kengtung and surrounding areas in 1942.[13]

After the war, the British returned and many Chinese KMT forces stayed inside Burmese Shan states. Negotiations leading to independence at the Panglong Conference in February 1947 secured a unitary Shan State including former Wa states, but without the Karenni states.[14] More importantly, Shan State was the only entity to gain the right of secession in 10 years from independence.

Independence (1948–present)

Soon after gaining independence in January 1948, the central government led by U Nu faced several armed rebellions. The most serious was the Chinese Nationalist KMT invasion of Shan State in 1950. Driven out by the Chinese Communist forces, Nationalist KMT armies planned to use the region east of the Salween river as a base from which to regain their homeland. In March 1953, the KMT forces with American help were on the verge of taking the entire Shan State, and within a day's march of the state capital Taunggyi.[15] The Burmese army drove back the invaders east across the Salween but much of the KMT army and their progeny would remain in the eastern Shan State under various guises to the present day. The Burmese army's heavy handedness fueled resentment.[15]

In 1961, Shan saophas led by the first president of Burma and saopha of Yawnghwe Sao Shwe Thaik proposed a new federal system of government for greater autonomy even though the Shans had the constitutional right to secede. Though Shan leaders promised not to exercise the right, it was seen by the Burmese army led by Gen. Ne Win as secessionist.[15] Gen. Ne Win's coup d'etat in 1962 brought an end to the Burmese experiment with democracy and with it, the call for greater autonomy for the ethnics. The coup fueled the Shan rebellion, started in 1958 by a small group called Noom Suik Harn (Young Warriors), now joined by the Shan State Army (SSA).

By the early 1960s, eastern Shan State, festered with several insurgencies and warlords, emerged as a major opium growing area, part of the so-called Golden Triangle. Narcotics trafficking became a vital source of revenue for all insurgencies. Major forces consisted of the SSA, Communist Party of Burma (CPB) as well as those of drug lords Khun Sa, and Lo Hsing Han. By the mid-1960s, CPB had began receiving open support from China. Thailand also began a decades-long policy of support for non-Communist Burmese rebels. Families of insurgent leaders were allowed to live in Thailand, and insurgent armies were free to buy arms, ammunition, and other supplies.[16]

In the late 1980s and 1990s, the military government signed ceasefire agreements with 17 groups, including all major players in Shan State. An uneasy truce has ensued but all forces remain heavily armed. Today, the 20,000 strong United Wa State Army (UWSA) is the largest armed group, and heavily involved narcotics trade. In the 2008 Constitution, endorsed by the Burmese junta, certain UWSA controlled areas were given the status of an autonomous region.[17]

In recent decades, Chinese state and ethnic Chinese involvement in Shan State has deepened. Hundreds of thousands of illegal Chinese immigrants have flooded Upper Burma since the 1990s.[18][19] Chinese investment in the state has funded everything from hydropower and mining projects to rubber plantations, illegal logging, and illegal wildlife trafficking.[20] Wa and Kokang regions, led by ethnic Chinese, openly use the yuan and operate on Chinese Standard Time.


Rural landscape.
A village in northern Shan State.

Most of the Shan State is a hilly plateau; there are higher mountains in the north and south. The gorge of the Thanlwin (Salween) River cuts across the state. The famous Inle Lake where the leg-rowing Intha people live in floating villages, in the great Nyaung Shwe 'plain', is the second largest natural expanse of water in Burma, shallow but 14 miles long and 7 miles wide. Pindaya Caves near Aungban are vast limestone caves which contain 6226 Buddha images.[21]

The road to Taunggyi via Kalaw and Aungban branches off at Thazi from the main YangonMandalay Road; another road via Ywangan and Pindaya branches off from Kyaukse south of Mandalay. The railhead stops short of Taunggyi at Shwe Nyaung, again from Thazi junction, and nearby Heho has an airport.


File:Map Shan Provinces.png Shan State is traditionally divided into three sub-states: North Shan State, East Shan State, and South Shan State. It is also officially divided into 11 districts:[22] 1.Taunggyi 2.Loilen (also spelled Loi-lem, Loi-leng) 3.Kyaukme 4.Mu Se (also spelled Muse) 5.Laukkaing 6.Kunlong (also spelled Kunlon) 7.Lashio (also spelled Lasho) 8.Kengtung (also spelled Kengtong, Kyaingtong, Kentung) 9.Mong Hsat (also spelled Muang Sat, Maingsat) 10.Mong Hpayak (also spelled Maingbyat) 11.Tachileik (also spelled Tachilek, Tha Chi Lek, Tha Chaleak)


Shan State is served by the following airports:


Houses in Hsipaw

The people of Shan State can be divided into six primary ethnic groups: the Shan, Pa-O, Intha, Taungyo, Danu, Palaung and Kachin.[23]

The valleys and tableland are inhabited by the Shans, who in language and customs resemble the Thais, Dai, and the Lao. They are largely Buddhists and are mainly engaged in agriculture. Among the Shans live the Bamar, Chinese, and Karens. The hills are inhabited by various peoples, notably the Wa, who are numerous in the north and along the Chinese border.The Palaung People are numerous in the Northern Shan State, in Namkham, Muse, Namhpaka, Kutkai, and Lashio Townships along the Burma China Border and also in the middle of Shan State, in Namhsam, Kyaukme and ThibawTownships. The population of the Palaung people is over 100,000. Some of the Palaung people in Kalaw and Aungban in the Southern Shan State. There is a dwindling population of Anglo-Burmese in major hill stations, such as Kalaw and in Taunggyi, a hold-over from the colonial period. The Kachin People are numerous in the Northern Shan State, in Namkham, Muse, Namhpaka, Kutkai, Kawng Hka, Mungmyit Kodawng, Kengtung and Lashio Townships and along the Burma China Border. The Kachin people in Shan state is estimated over 200,000.


Silver, lead, and zinc are mined, notably at the Bawdwin mine, and there are smelters at Namtu. Teak is cut, and rice and other crops are grown. Shan State is famous for its garden produce of all sorts of fresh fruit and vegetables thanks to its temperate but sunny climate. Itinerant markets that travel from place to place, setting up on every fifth day in each small town or village, are typical, although large towns have permanent markets. It is part of the Golden Triangle, an area in which much of the world's opium and heroin are illegally produced. Drug trafficking is controlled by local warlords, some of whom have private armies amounting to thousands of soldiers. Much of the meth-amphetamine (yaba) that ends up in Thailand is produced in this region as well.


Educational opportunities in Myanmar are extremely limited outside the main cities of Yangon and Mandalay. It is especially a problem in Shan State where vast areas are beyond government control. According to official statistics, only about 8% of primary school students in Shan State reach high school.[24]

AY 2002–2003 Primary Middle High
Schools 4199 206 112
Teachers 11,400 3500 1500
Students 442,000 122,000 37,000

Taunggyi University is the main university in the state, and until recently the only four-year university in the state. In recent years, the military government, which closed down universities and colleges in the 1990s to quell student unrest, has "upgraded" former colleges and two-year institutes. The government now requires that students attend their local universities and colleges, such as Lashio University, Kyaingtong University, Panglong University.

Health care

The general state of health care in Myanmar is poor. The military government spends anywhere from 0.5% to 3% of the country's GDP on health care, consistently ranking among the lowest in the world.[25][26] Although health care is nominally free, in reality, patients have to pay for medicine and treatment, even in public clinics and hospitals. Public hospitals lack many of the basic facilities and equipment. The following is a summary of the public health system in the state, in the fiscal year 2002–2003.[27]

2002–2003 # Hospitals # Beds
Specialist hospitals 1 200
General hospitals with specialist services 4 800
General hospitals 60 2013
Health clinics 63 1008
Total 128 4021


  1. ^ a b "Union of Myanmar". City Population. Retrieved 2008-12-25.  
  2. ^ "Shan: largest cities and towns and statistics of their population". World Gazetteer. Retrieved 2008-01-19.  
  3. ^ Jon Fernquest (Autumn 2005). "Min-gyi-nyo, the Shan Invasions of Ava (1524-27), and the Beginnings of Expansionary Warfare in Toungoo Burma: 1486-1539". SOAS Bulletin of Burma Research, Vol. 3, No. 2. ISSN 1479-8484.  
  4. ^ Maung Htin Aung (1967). A History of Burma. New York and London: Cambridge University Press. p. 95.  
  5. ^ a b Lt. Gen. Sir Arthur P. Phayre (1967). History of Burma (2 ed.). London: Sunil Gupta. p. 108–109.  
  6. ^ Maung Htin Aung (1967). A History of Burma. New York and London: Cambridge University Press. p. 117–118.  
  7. ^ Charles Patterson Giersch (2006). Asian borderlands: the transformation of Qing China's Yunnan frontier. Harvard University Press. p. 27. ISBN 0674021711, 9780674021716.  
  8. ^ a b Maung Htin Aung (1967). A History of Burma. New York and London: Cambridge University Press. p. 177–183.  
  9. ^ David K Wyatt (2003). Thailand: A Short History (2 ed.). p. 125. ISBN 9780300084757.  
  10. ^ Thant Myint-U (2006). The River of Lost Footsteps--Histories of Burma. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. p. 123–124. ISBN 978-0-374-16342-6, 0-374-16342-1.  
  11. ^ Thant Myint-U (2006). The River of Lost Footsteps--Histories of Burma. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. p. 161. ISBN 978-0-374-16342-6, 0-374-16342-1.  
  12. ^ "Myanmar Divisions". Statoids. Retrieved 2009-04-10.  
  13. ^ Andrew Forbes. "Thailand in Shan State". The Bangkok Post. Retrieved 2009-04-10.  
  14. ^ "The Panglong Agreement, 1947". Online Burma/Myanmar Library.  
  15. ^ a b c Thant Myint-U (2006). The River of Lost Footsteps--Histories of Burma. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. p. 274–289. ISBN 978-0-374-16342-6, 0-374-16342-1.  
  16. ^ Thant Myint-U (2006). The River of Lost Footsteps--Histories of Burma. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. p. 299. ISBN 978-0-374-16342-6, 0-374-16342-1.  
  17. ^ Wai Moe (2009-04-08). "Wa Army to Celebrate 20th Anniversary". The Irrawaddy.  
  18. ^ Poon Kim Shee (2002). "The Political Economy of China-Myanmar Relations: Strategic and Economic Dimensions". Ritsumeikan Annual Review of International Studies (Ritsumeikan University): 33–53.  
  19. ^ "China's Ambitions in Myanmar". July 2000.  
  20. ^ Wai Moe (2009-04-09). "Shan State ‘Extremely Unstable’: Researchers". The Irrawaddy.  
  21. ^ "Journeys Myanmar".   The Pa-O national day is on the full moon of Tabaung.
  22. ^ An Introduction to the Toponymy of Burma, The Permanent Committee on Geographical Names for British Official Use, 2007, p. 11,, retrieved 2008-01-19  
  23. ^ Eliot, Joshua (1997). Myanmar (Burma) Handbook. Lincolnwood, Illinois: Passport Books.  
  24. ^ "Education statistics by level and by State and Division". Myanmar Central Statistical Organization. Retrieved 2009-04-09.  
  25. ^ "PPI: Almost Half of All World Health Spending is in the United States". 2007-01-17.  
  26. ^ Yasmin Anwar (2007-06-28). 06.28.2007 "Burma junta faulted for rampant diseases". UC Berkeley News. 06.28.2007.  
  27. ^ "Hospitals and Dispensaries by State and Division". Myanmar Central Statistical Organization. Retrieved 2009-04-11.  

External links


  • Sao Sāimöng, The Shan States and the British Annexation. Cornell University, Cornell, 1969 (2nd ed.)
  • J. G. Scott, Gazetteer of Upper Burma and the Shan States. 5 vols. Rangoon, 1900-1901.
  • J. G. Scott, Burma and beyond. London, 1932.
  • Leslie Milne, The Shans at Home. London, 1910.

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel


Shan State is part of Northeastern Myanmar and borders China to the north, Laos to the east, and Thailand to the south.

The Mekong River marks the border between the Shan State and Laos. This border region is generally known as the Golden Triangle, though the actual Golden Triangle point is where Myanmar, Thailand and Laos meet on the Mekong River. The Golden Triangle region used to be one of the largest opium producing areas in the world. Opium production today is minimal.


The Shan people in Myanmar are the same as the Dai people in China's Yunnan Province. The Shan people are one of the largest minority groups in Myanmar. They have been fighting an on-and-off war with the central Myanmar government for several decades. The central Myanmar government has signed peace agreements with factional groups in the Shan State, which allows these groups to have a high degree of autonomy, including maintaining separate armed forces. The political situation, however, remains relatively unstable. Many military checkpoints exist on few major roads that cross the mountainous Shan State. Each checkpoint marks the border between a territory (usually a Special District or a city) controlled by a different army. In July 2005, the central government official responsible for negotiating these peace agreements was sent to jail for corruption, possibly signalling a renewed attempt by the central government to crack down on the rebel Shan armies.


The daily market in the regional administrative city of Kengtung is a sprawling complex with a wide variety of goods, including tourist souvenirs - though they do not get many tourists. Instead the market is full of local residents and hill tribe people dressed in their colorful traditional clothing, and Buddhist monks and nuns with their begging bowls. A visit can easily consume half a day of people watching, shopping and bargaining (this market is much more interesting than the border market in Tachileik, where hawkers harass tourists with soft porn and cigarettes).

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