Shan State

Shan State
Shan State
—  State  —
Myanma transcription(s)
 – Burmese hram: prany nai

Location of Shan State in Burma
Coordinates: 21°30′N 98°0′E / 21.5°N 98°E / 21.5; 98Coordinates: 21°30′N 98°0′E / 21.5°N 98°E / 21.5; 98
Country  Burma
Region East central
Capital Taunggyi
 – Chief Minister Aung Myat[1] (USDP)
 – Total 155,801 km2 (60,155.1 sq mi)
Population (2000)[2]
 – Total 4,851,000
 – Density 31.1/km2 (80.6/sq mi)
 – Ethnicities Shan, Bamar, Chinese, Wa, Kachin, Danu, Intha, Lahu, Palaung, Pa-O, Taungyo, Indians, Gurkha
 – Religions Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism
Time zone MST (UTC+06:30)

Shan State (Burmese: ရှမ်းပြည်နယ်, pronounced [ʃáɴ pjìnɛ̀]; Shan: မိုင်းတႆး [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.[3]

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 Tai-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 Chin State, northern Sagaing Division, Kachin State, Kayah State in Myanmar as well as Laos, Thailand and southwestern part of Yunnan. The definition of Burmese Shan States does not include the Ava Kingdom and the Hanthawaddy Kingdom of 13th to 16th centuries although the founders of these kingdoms were Burmanized Shans and Monized Shans, respectively.)

Early history

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 (Theinni), Hsipaw (Thibaw) and Mong Mit (Momeik) in present-day northern Shan State.[4] Smaller Shan states like Kale in northwestern Sagaing Division, Bhamo in Kachin State, Yawnghwe (Nyaungshwe) and Kengtung (Kyaingtong) in Shan State, and Mong Pai (Mobye) in Kayah 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 that included many other ethnic minorities as the Chin, the Kachin, the Wa, the Palaung, the Kayah, etc. Although Burmanized Shans founded the Ava Kingdom that ruled central Burma, other Shan states, Mohnyin in particular, constantly raided Ava territories throughout the years. A Mohnyin-led Confederation of Shan States finally conquered Ava itself in 1527.[5]

Toungoo and Konbaung periods (1555–1885)

Shan States after 1557, now inside Bayinnaung's Empire

In 1555, King Bayinnaung dislodged Sithu Kyawhtin 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.[6] 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.[7] (Northernmost Shan states in Yunnan had already fallen to the Ming dynasty of China by the middle of 15th century.[8])

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 Toungoo dynasty, in 1599. Nonetheless, the Restored Toungoo 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.[6] In the early 18th century, the rule of Burmese monarchs declined rapidly, and by the 1730s, the northernmost Shan States many of which had paid dual tribute to China and Burma had been annexed by the Qing Dynasty of China. The annexed border states ranged from Mogaung and Bhamo in present day Kachin State to Hsenwi (Theinni) and Kengtung (Kyaingtong) in present day Shan State to Sipsongpanna (Kyaingyun) in present day Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan.[9]

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 China, which launched four separate invasions of Burma in between 1765 and 1769. The Burmese 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. Burma lost southern Lan Na (Chiang Mai) in 1776 and northern Lan Na (Chiang Saen) in 1786 to a resurgent Bangkok-based Siam,[10] ending a two century plus Burmese suzerainty over the region and retaining just Kengtung on the Burmese side. The southern border of Shan State remained contested in the following years. Siam invaded Kengtung in (1803–1804), (1852–1854), and Burma invaded Lan Na in 1797 and 1804. Siam occupied Kengtung during World War II (1942–1945).

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.[11]

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.[12] When the last king of Burma, King Thibaw 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.[13]

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,[14] 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.[15]

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.[16][17] More importantly, Shan State also gained the right of secession in 10 years from independence.

Independence (1948–2010)

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 US assistance were on the verge of taking the entire Shan State, and within a day's march of the state capital Taunggyi.[18] 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.[18]

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.[18] 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 ethnic minorities. The coup fueled the Shan rebellion, started in 1958 by a small group called Num Hsük Han (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 begun 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.[19]

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.[20]

In recent decades, Chinese state and ethnic Chinese involvement in Shan State has deepened. Hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants from China have come to work in Upper Burma since the 1990s.[21][22] Chinese investment in the state has funded everything from hydropower and mining projects to rubber plantations, illegal logging, and illegal wildlife trafficking.[23] Wa and Kokang regions, led by ethnic Chinese, openly use the yuan and operate on Chinese Standard Time.

New Constitution (2010-present)

There were 117 seats for Shan State Parliament or Shan State Hluttaw in General Election of November 2010. Two each for 55 Townships and 7 seats for different ethnic constituencies. But election for Mong Mao, Pang Waun, Pang Hsang, Nam Phan and Mong La Township Constituencies were canceled. 54 candidates from Union Solidarity and Development Party(USDP), 31 from Shan National Democratic Party(SNDP), 6 from PaO National Organization, 4 from Taaung (Palaung) National Party, 3 each from Inn National Development Party and Wa Democratic Party, 4 from other 3 parties and 2 independent candidates were elected. Only 1 candidate from National Unity Party (Burma) was elected for Shan State Hluttaw (2011) although it was the 2nd largest party in term of numbers of candidates.[24]

Aung Myat (aka Sao Aung Myat), a former military officer of the Myanmar Army and a USDP candidate of Pindaya constituencies, was named as Chief Minister of Shan State Government in 2011.[25] 2 Candidates from SNDP were named for the 1st Shan State Government. Sai Ai Pao (aka Sai Aik Paung) was named for Industry and Mining Minister and Sai Naw Kham (aka Tun Tun Aung) was named for Construction Minister.[26] In the Shan State cabinets (2011), one was from the Myanmar Army and 6 were from the Union Soldiery and Development Party.[27]

Sai Mauk Kham (aka Maung Ohn), one of the two Vice Presidents of Myanmar (2011-2015), is elected from Shan State No.3 Constituency as a National Assembly candidate in November 2010 election.[28]


Topography of Shan State
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/Namhkong) 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.[29]

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.

A severe magnitude 6.8 earthquake struck in Tarlay, Tachileik Township, the eastern part of Shan State, on 24 March 2011. It killed more than 70 and injured more than 100 people. 390 houses, 14 Buddhist monasteries and 9 government buildings were damaged.[30][31]


Map of Shan State 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:[32][33] 1.Taunggyi 2.Loilem 3.Kyaukme 4.Muse 5.Laogai 6.Kunlong 7.Lashio 8.Keng Tung 9.Mong Hsat 10.Mong Hpayak 11.Tachileik

An additional district, Hopang District, was formed as 12th District of Shan State by combining of Mongmao, Pangwaun (Panwai), Namphan (Ngaphan) and Pangsang (Panhkam) Townships in Lashio District, Metman Township in Kengtung District; Hopang Township, and Panlong and Namtit Sub-Townships in Kunlong District in Sep 2011.[34]


Shan State is served by the following airports:


Houses in Hsipaw

The people of Shan State can be divided into nine primary ethnic groups: the Shan, Pa-O, Intha, Lahu, Taungyo, Danu, Palaung, Arkan and Kachin.[35]

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.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]


Silver, lead, and zinc are mined, notably at the Bawdwin mine, and there are smelters at Namtu. Rubies are extracted in large quantity in Mong Hsu Township in late 1990s and early 2000s.[36]

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.

There are some border trading centers along the Shan State border and neighbor countries.[37] Muse (Muse, Burma), the biggest border trading center along the Myanmar China border and Tachileik, another important trading center between Myanmar and Thailand are in Shan State.[38][39]

The construction project of Sino-Burma pipelines of oil and gas that passes through northern part of Shan State was started in September 2010 and planned to be finished in 2013.[40]


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.[41]

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.[42][43] 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.[44]

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


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  9. ^ Phayre, pp. 191-192 for Kengtung, p. 201 for the rest
  10. ^ David K Wyatt (2003). Thailand: A Short History (2 ed.). p. 125. ISBN 9780300084757. 
  11. ^ Thant Myint-U (2006). The River of Lost Footsteps--Histories of Burma. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. pp. 123–124. ISBN 978-0-374-16342-6, 0-374-16342-1. 
  12. ^ Maung Htin Aung (1967). A History of Burma. New York and London: Cambridge University Press. pp. 177–183. 
  13. ^ 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. 
  14. ^ "Myanmar Divisions". Statoids. Retrieved 2009-04-10. 
  15. ^ Andrew Forbes. "Thailand in Shan State". The Bangkok Post. Retrieved 2009-04-10. 
  16. ^ "The Panglong Agreement, 1947". Online Burma/Myanmar Library. 
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  18. ^ a b c Thant Myint-U (2006). The River of Lost Footsteps--Histories of Burma. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. pp. 274–289. ISBN 978-0-374-16342-6, 0-374-16342-1. 
  19. ^ 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. 
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  27. ^ Shan Government (2011)
  28. ^ Facts/Results/National Assembly Winners.php#Shan
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  30. ^ Mydans, Seth (2011-03-24). "Earthquake Hits Myanmar". The New York Times. 
  31. ^
  32. ^ An Introduction to the Toponymy of Burma. The Permanent Committee on Geographical Names for British Official Use. 2007. p. 11. Retrieved 2008-01-19 
  33. ^ Map of Shan State
  34. ^ Page 10 Column 3
  35. ^ Eliot, Joshua (1997). Myanmar (Burma) Handbook. Lincolnwood, Illinois: Passport Books. ISBN 084424919X. 
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  37. ^
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  42. ^ "PPI: Almost Half of All World Health Spending is in the United States". 2007-01-17. 
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  44. ^ "Hospitals and Dispensaries by State and Division". Myanmar Central Statistical Organization. Retrieved 2009-04-11. 


  • 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.

External links

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