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Burma Tributary to China

Some golden vessels were sent to the Emperor of the Sung dynasty, were noted as tribute, and in 1106 AD a white elephant, which was sent as a present to the Hwang-ti, confirmed the idea, and brought about the grading of the King of Burma on the same footing with the caliphs of Bagdad and the King of Annam in Chinese annals.

Kublai Khan, the lieutenant of his brother Mangu, overran Yunnan, and put an end to the Tai kingdom of Nan-chao in 1254. Twenty years later Kublai Khan completed the conquest of China, and himself became Emperor. He sent a demand for tribute from Burma. What exactly happened is by no means clear. Phayre proves to his satisfaction that there was only one battle - that at Male. The Royal Chronicle mentions several. The Chinese annals also mention several, but it is probable that the alliance between Nanchao and Burma has led to much confusion.

Pagan flourished for more than two and one-half centuries before being destroyed by the Mongol armies of Kublai Khan, invading Upper Burma from China in 1287. The last king, Narathihape, fled south but was killed by his own son. He is remembered by the Burmese as the king "who fled from the Chinese," compared with the eighteenth-century king Hsinbyushin, "the king who fought the Chinese." The Mongol Yuan Dynasty and succeeding Ming and Qing dynasties established a strong military and administrative base in the Chinese province of Yunnan; thus Burma was exposed over the centuries to a new and powerful threat. The Mongol destruction of the kingdom of Nanchao in Yunnan led to the large-scale migration of Shan peoples (their Burmese name; they call themselves the Tai) into the eastern border region (now Shan State) and Upper and Lower Burma.

Previous to the destruction of the Pagan monarchy in AD 1284, the Tai people, of which the Shans form a branch, had been gradually forced out of their original seat in Yunnan by the advance of the Chinese power under the great Emperor Kublai Khan. It was about this time that a portion of them formed the Kingdom of Siam. During Kublai's reign the whole of the Shan Sawbwaships included between Manipur and Annam were at least nominally subject to the Mongol dynasty of China. The disintegration of the Shan Kingdom of Nan-chao opened up the way to Burma and led to the expeditions which resulted in the overthrow of the Empire of Pagan by the Chinese. Possibly the Mongols never got to Pagan, still less to Taropmaw, but it is possible that Shan auxiliaries may have done so. The Hsen Wi Chronicle practically says that this was the case. The Shans were unable to hold their own against the Chinese or were weary of the constant fighting in Nan-chao and so spread south-east, south, and south-west. Thus were formed the various Lao States [ Luang Prabang, Nan, Chiengmai, and Ayuthia], while in Burma the Shans established themselves at Pinya, Myinzaing, and Sagaing in addition to the more northerly districts which had probably always been within their territory.

Myanmar History Map - 1400 AD It is difficult to get at the exact extent of MongolChinese suzerainty and fiddling in the Shan states and Burma. There is little reason for supposing that the Chinese ever regarded this outlying region as other than a sort of Mongolian frontier or Tibetan hinterland, as buffer states " to prevent injury from violent contact," over which they exercised or aimed to exercise merely nominal control, even though they took some part and had to take some part in the affairs of both Shans and Burmans. Sometimes they came down with an army, like a stern father with a horsewhip administering healthful discipline on his truculent children.

It may be granted that Pagan was sacked with the sanction and aid of the Chinese, and that then or a little later the Chinese took a hand in "comforting" the country and arranging for tribute. The latter seems never to have been very large, and is never even mentioned by the Shans. Here and there "presents" are spoken of, but they were of the Christmas and birthday order.

Disunity and foreign domination characterized the fourteenth to mid-sixteenth centuries. Upper Burma came under the control of Shan princes, though Burman kings ruled at Ava, near modern Mandalay, as Shan tributaries. In Lower Burma a Shan named Wareru (1287-96) established a kingdom at Martaban in 1281, subsequently gaining control of much of the Lower Burma region. There followed a golden age of Lower Burma culture. Binnya U (1353-85) established a new capital at Pegu. Dhammazedi (1472-92), a former Buddhist monk, was a model Buddhist king who promoted reform of the sangh through the introduction of orthodox ordination rites from Ceylon.

After Kyawswa of Pagan was forced to enter a monastery (1298) the Chinese, claiming Pagan, as well as the Shan states, as a dependency, sent an army to restore him to his throne, but the generals were easily persuaded to withdraw with the king's head and a bribe. For some years, during the reign of Usana (1322-42), it is said that Chinese officials were stationed at Sagaing and Panya, and probably in Pagan itself, and exercised some control over Burman and Shan affairs.

These were "comforters" who appear to have been Shan chiefs charged with maintaining order and Chinese prestige. A little later (1412) the Burmans made an attack on Hsenwi and put the chief to death. A Chinese army was sent down to spank them for their impertinence, but got spanked and withdrew. Hsenwi must have fallen temporarily to the Burmans, but may have continued to pay tribute (such as it was) to China also. The Shan chief (Mintara) of Mohnyin (Mong-yang) conquered Ava (1426) and was recognized by the Chinese as " Governor of Central Burma." In the middle of the fifteenth century the Chinese still included Burma, Hsenwi, Luang Prabang, and " Taikkala south of Taungu " * among vassal states. Chinese suzerainty, such as it was, seems to have come to an end early in the seventeenth century, when Hsenwi came finally under the Burmans, rather than at the ascendancy of Alaungpara as some have claimed.

Burma sent no tribute after 1628. Very likely this tribute was scarcely more than an exchange of presents, marking the continuation of peace and goodwill. The Siamese exchanged presents (sometimes called tribute) with the Chinese up to the beginning of the nineteenth century, and Siam (and the whole globe) may have been regarded by China, up to that time, as a Chinese hinterland.

Burma sent "tribute" to China in 1628, the first year of the reign of the last Ming emperor. After this it is expressly stated by the Chinese annalists that no presents came from Burma to Peking until 1750. In the interval the Manchu Tartars were possessing themselves of the country, and establishing the Ch'ing dynasty. The last Ming prince, Yung Lei, or Yunhli, as the Royal Chronicle calls him, retired to Yunnan, and thence fled to Burma, where he had asylum for a short time. But when a Manchu army marched on the capital the Burmans promptly surrendered him to avoid war. Yung Lei was taken to Peking, and strangled, and his son was forced to commit suicide at Yunnan-fu in 1662.

China not only asserted a suzerainty over the kingdom of Burma, but she claimed that a part of Upper Burma - that is to say, of the hilly skirts of the Irawadi valley, above the 'Second Defile' - formed an integral part of the Chinese dominions. Her dotted boundary may be traced on many charts-charts constructed at a time when there was not the remotest idea of the British power coming on the scene."

The Chinese naturally annexed the Bhamo Hinterland so as to secure a free passage for their caravans to the trade outlet on the Irawadi. The rest of Burma, however, probably then escaped subjugation, as it doubtless did in more recent times, less by reason of the courage and resources of the people than the well nigh impracticable character of the wild region which separated their country from the Flowery land. Even Kublai Khan, the Napoleon of the Far East, whose annexation proclivities are proverbial, made an exception in favour of Burma when he had her completely at his mercy at the close of the 13th century, and in the series of wars culminating in the great battle of 1769, his successor adhered to the same policy, though he boasted of having conquered the country.

The Chinese based their tribute claim on a convention made at the close of the war of 1769, whereby, they declare, the Burmese agreed to send them decennial presents; and argue that, in taking possession of Burma, the British became responsible for her obligations. The Burmese, on the other hand, indignantly repudiated this idea, and retorted that there was a reciprocal arrangement, by which both sides bound themselves to despatch presents in token of amity.

Alompra four times repelled the invasion of the Chinese, who ventured to press him for tribute, rather than submit to these claims. He must say he did not find any case in support of the view put forward on behalf of the Chinese that they had any right to the suzerainty of Burma. The only agreement that he could find on the subject was that of 1769, made between the Burmese and the Chinese Generals at a time when Burma had beaten the Chinese. An agreement was then come tO' that for the future, with view to maintain peace - to maintain the golden road as it was called-there should be every ten years a mission from one Government to the other bearing presents and friendly letters. There was not a word which would bear the interpretation of tribute, or inferiority, and the king and the people of Burma had always stoutly maintained that they were not in any way tributary to the Chinese.

It was put forward by English writers, on behalf of the Chinese, that the case stood on letters written by the King of Burma, published in the Pekin Gazette, in which he used expressions in Chinese admitting himself to be a tributary of China. The Chinese were in the habit of treating the most ordinary acts of courtesy as acts of homage from an inferior, and it was no doubt correct - that it was quite true that the Chinese represented the presents to them as tribute, but that the Burmese records would show that they had also represented the Chinese presents in return as a tribute.

Lord Salisbury accepted the situation, agreeing to send presents from Burma every ten years, and receive return gifts. His successor, Lord Rosebury, however, cajoled into consenting to the despatch of presents from the Burmese side only, and thereby unequivocally admitting China's claims to suzerainty, and gratuitously tendered a most abject submission to the Son of Heaven, without obtaining any tangible quoidpro quo.

The Celestial diplomatists of old doubtless arrived at the conclusion that rather than incur the responsibilities of annexation it was convenient in the interests of peace to adopt a lofty and rugged range of mountains as frontier between the Flowery land and the Ashe Pyi, the classic name for the Burmese Empire, for the tribute which, by reason of this procedure, was lost to China. A diplomatist so renowned was, however, not to be put out of countenance by a purely academical argument; and he probably then sowed the seed of negotiations which bore fruit in the precious article of the treaty of 1886, which settled the question in favour of China.

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Page last modified: 19-04-2012 17:31:17 ZULU