Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Demystifying Mists: The Case for the Mon (Donald Stadtner)

Dr. Donald M. Stadtner has provided one of the most thorough critiques of Aung-Thwin's Mists of Ramanna to-date.

The initial paper, Demystifying Mists: The Case for the Mon, was presented at a conference, Discovery of Ramanya Desa : History, Identity, Culture, Language and Performing Arts, Chulalonkorn University, Bangkok. 10-13 October, 2007.

An abridgment of this long conference paper, published recently in the Journal of the Siam Society vol. 96 (2008), has also been included here.

1. Full conference paper

2. Abridged Siam Society version


Monday, April 07, 2008

Aung-Thwin’s myth of the myth of The Three Shan Brothers

Historian of Burma Michael Aung-Thwin, despite claims that his work demythologizes the work of previous historians such as Gordon Luce, actually even further mythologizes this history.

Given the semi-fictional nature of pre-modern Burmese historical sources, historians may never be able to state precisely "what actually happened," only approximately what "might have happened." Furthermore, they should be intellectually honest about the limitations of their sources and ability to infer what "actually happened."

Writing history in a tone that accuses previous historians such as Gordon Luce of creating myths, as Aung-Thwin does, hides the incomplete and ambiguous nature of the historical record. Later in his career Luce tried to weave the bare facts he had uncovered earlier, in extensive translation of inscriptions and chonicles, into a richer narrative story of "what might of happened" in order to make sense of it, producing such works as Luce (1966, 1970), works that project modern political categories such as "democratic" and "nationalist" back into pre-modern history, projections that dated these works rather quickly. Aung-Thwin hones in on these dated interpretations and by exagerrating they effectively come to summarize the sum total of the work of Luce as interpreted by Aung-Thwin. In short, in being over zealous in finding orientalism everywhere, Aung-Thwin comes close to approximating an orientalist oneself.

Here is a brief sketch of the so-called problem of the Three Shan Brothers that Aung-Thwin "discovered" in two publications (Aung-Thwin, 1996, 1998) and a translation of the key text that everything hinges on, that Aung-Thwin never provides.

Background Information

"Three Shan brothers" refers to three brothers who held power in Upper Burma after the decline of Pagan in the wake of the Chinese Mongol invasions around 1300.

"Shan" is the Burmese term for the Tai ethnic group and language, so the more general term "Tai" will be used here.

Tais played an important role for hundreds of years in the history of Upper Burma after the decline of Pagan, roughly the period 1287-1555 (Bennett, 1971; Fernquest, 2005).

There were frequent Tai invasions into Upper Burma (Bennett, 1971).

There are also references to Tai chieftains at various locations in Upper and Lower Burma during this period, indicating widespread Tai settlement and intermingling with both the Burmese and the Mon (Fernquest, 2006).

The Problem

Indigenous historical sources do not refer to the three powerful brothers of post-Pagan Upper Burma as the "Three Shan Brothers."

The term was created by colonial era historians.

Colonial era historians also sometimes referred to the whole period 1287-1531 as the "Shan Dominion" period (Harvey, 1925, 72-73).

Now, there are really two separate questions.

a. Is there any truth to the name "Three Shan Brothers" ?
b. Is this really the best term to refer to them with ?

The answer to the first question is "yes" there is some truth to this name, but it is not 100% certain either way.

The answer to the second question can only be "no" if one wishes to be precise and mirror historical sources in the best way possible.

Now to look in further depth at the first question.

Burmese Chronicle Evidence

To answer the question whether there is any truth to the name
"Shan Brothers" one has to take a close look at the chronicle
passage used to justify this name:

"Once upon a time, a great Tai chieftain (sawbwa) who ruled over the Beinnaka Myo (town, major settlement) had two sons. When the great Tai chieftain no longer existed, the older son became the ruler of Beinnaka. Since his relations with the younger brother Theinkhabo were not clear, he imprisoned the younger brother and, as the younger brother Theinkhabo was going to be killed, he left Beinnaka together with the people who worked for him (his followers or clients), and having fled from place to place he arrived in Myinsaing where the Pyo people lived in the kingdom of Myan-ma and there in the Myinsaing area, he married the daughter of a wealthy Athi. The daughter of the wealthy man gave birth to three sons named Athinkhaya, Yazathingyan, and Thihathu" (UK I, page 309, section 374, see vocabulary notes at end)."

Given the accusatory nature of Aung-Thwin’s historical arguments, this is the very passage he should have gone back to and used as the basis of his argument. Instead, he weaves layer after layer of speculation to the already existing multiple layers of speculation, hardly clarifying matters.

There are two questions:

a. Does "Sawbwa" mean "Tai chieftain" in this text as it normally does?
b. Does "Beinnaka" refer to a group of Tais in this text?

There is absolutely no reason to believe that the word "Sawbwa" does not refer to a Tai chieftain. All the other references to Sawbwa in the Burmese chronicle during this time period mean "Tai chieftain." "Sawbwa" is just the Burmese loan word for the Tai word "Chao Fa" meaning "prince" or "chieftain." Chinese has a similar loan word used in the Ming Shi-lu, the Annals of the Ming dynasty, to refer to Tai chieftains (Wade, 2005). Perhaps more is not made of their Shan-ness or Tai-ness because there is only a passing reference to their origins in the first line before they leave for Myinsaing.

Under the chronicle usage of the term "Beinnaka" is synonymous with "Shan" or "Tai." Beinnaka refers to Tai chieftainships in the ancient Tagaung chronicle later incorporated into the Hmannan chronicle:

"[The fall of Tagaung.] In the time of the last of these kings, Bhinnakaraja, the kingdom of Tagaung, called Sangassarattha, perished under the oppression of the Tarops [Chinese] and Tareks from the Sein country in the kingdom of Gandhala. And Bhinnaka, mustering what followers he might, entered the Mali stream and abode there. When he died his followers split into three divisions. One division founded the nineteen Shan States of the East and were known thenceforth as the descendants of Bhinnakaraja. Another division moved down the Irrawaddy and entered the Western Country, where dwelt Muducitta and other Sakiyan princes among the Pyus, Kanyans, and Theks. The third division abode in Mali with the chief queen Nagahsein." (Glass Palace Chronicle, Pe Maung Tin and Luce, 1923, Oxford University Press, 1923)

Reference is also made to "Bhinnaka" as a Tai ethnonym in U Tin's Myanma Ok-chok-pon Sadan (Tin and Bagshawe, 2001):

"The nineteen Shan districts of the Bhinnaka taing - this province had its origin, according to the Arakanese chronicle, when King Kan-ya-za-gyi planted 57 villages to the east and to the west of the Salween river, as a Shan area, to form a barrier against the Tartars and the Chinese. According to the Burmese chronicles, Bhinnakaraja was the last of the 33 kings of the first Tagaùng dynasty, and in his time the country was divided into three parts. One part, to the east, became the nineteen Shan districts and was called after the king's family name. In this connection, it is said in the Ei-gyin for the Sin-gù Prince:

Bhinnaka taing - chief seat of government! Bhinnaka pyi - famous controlling power! King Bhinnaka pure fount of your race! Two noble sons of the Sakya line!" (Tin and Bagshawe, 2001, 171)

Aung-Thwin says the answer is "no" to both questions. No, "sawbwa" does not mean Tai chieftain. No, "Beinnaka" is the name of a modern village which is also a Pyu archaeological site, so Beinnaka must be "Pyu."

He does not use the chronicles themselves as evidence. He claims that "Sawbwa" can refer to chieftains of tribal peoples such as the Kachin. He cites a secondary source of a non-historian, namely anthropologist Edmund Leach (1954, reprint 1970) who refers to events during the much later nineteenth century. Aung-Thwin claims that the modern village and Pyu archaeological site of Binnaka South of Kyaukse was the original home of the three brothers. He doesn’t provide any evidence and in fact rather oddly places a question mark after his own assertion:

"As it turns out, Binnakha is actually an old Pyu (?) city that lies right in the heartland of Burma, just south of the irrigated Kyaukse valley, and not a Shan state outside of Burma. It dates to sometime in the first millennium B.C. and was unexcavated until archaeological work uncovered it in the 198os.4 Thus, although Phayre is certainly not expected to have known of its Pyu origins from archaeological excavations conducted in the twentieth century, his mistake was in assuming that it was Shan." (Aung-Thwin, Myths, 123)

Aung-Thwin clearly is not even aware that "Binnaka" is an ethnonym in the Burmese chronicle tradition that can refer in a broad sense to Shans or Tais. As archaeologist Hudson observes: "the modern village of Binnaka, possibly named for this king (Win Maung, 2001a) sits in the shadow of the Shan hills at the southern end of the Samon Valley [near Kyaukse]" (Bob Hudson, PhD dissertation, 24, citing: Win Maung, "Tanpawady" 2001b Binnaka Yaza (King Binnaka and his family, A paper read in Mandalay to commemorate the 85th birthday of Sayagyi U Maung Maung Tin. Mandalay, Privately circulated). According to the chronicle tradition the Shans were known as descendants of the Bhinnaka king.

Given that it is an ethnonym for Shans and Tais, Binnaka could refer to several different settlements, not only this village, or even a whole domain. Even if it does refer to this one little village, the Pyu archaeological work is for a period hundreds of years before the time of the Three Brothers.


Aung-Thwin, Michael (1996) "The Myth of the "Three Shan Brothers" and the Ava Period in Burmese History," The Journal of Asian Studies 55(4): 881-899.

Aung-Thwin, Michael (1998) Myth and History in the Historiography of Early Burma, Ohio University Center of International Studies.

Aye Chan, U (2006) "Burma: Shan domination in the Ava period (c. AD 1310-1555)," Journal of the Siam Society, Vol. 94.

Bennett, Paul J (1971). "The 'Fall of Pagan': Continuity and Change in 14th Century Burma," in Paul J. Bennett (1971) Conference Under the Tamarind Tree: Three Essays in Burmese History, Yale University Southeast Asian Studies Monograph Series no. 15. New Haven, pp. 3-53.

Harvey, G.E (1925) History of Burma from the Earliest Times to 10 March 1824, The Beginning of the English Conquest, London: Longmans, Green, and Co.

Hudson, Bob (2004) "The Origins of Pagan: The Archaeological Landscape of Upper Burma to AD 1300," PhD Dissertation, University of Sydney.
[URL: ]

Fernquest, Jon (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, Autumn 2005

Fernquest, Jon (2006) "Crucible of War: Burma and the Ming in the Tai Frontier Zone (1382-1454)," SOAS Bulletin of Burma Research 4.2 (Autumn 2006).

[UK] Kala, U (1961). Maha-ya-za-win-gyi, Three volumes, edited by Pe Maung Tin, Saya Pwa, and Saya U Khin Soe, Rangoon: Hanthawaddy Press.

Leach, E.R. (1954) Political Systems of Highland Burma, The London School of Economics and Political Science, G. Bell and Sons, London.

Leach, Edmund (1970) Political Systems of Highland Burma, Boston: Beacon Press.

Luce, G.H. (1966) "The Career of Htilaing Min (Kyanzittha ), the Uniter of Burma, Fl. A.D. 1084-1113," Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, New series. vol. 1 - 2 (Apr. 1966), pp. 53 - 68.

Luce, G.H. (1970) "Aspects of Pagan History - Late period," In Tej Bunnag and Michael Smithies, eds. In Memorian Phya Anuman Rajadhon," Bangkok, Siam Society, pp. 135-137.

Pe Maung Tin & G.H. Luce (1923) The Glass Palace Chronicle of the Kings of Burma, Rangoon University Press.

U, Tin and Bagshawe, L.E. (tr.) (2001) The Royal Administration of Burma, Bangkok : AVA Publishing House, 2001.

[MSL] 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, December 13, 2007

Vickery on Aung-Thwin's
"contempt for truth in history"

Vickery, Michael (1998) Society, economics, and politics in pre-Angkor Cambodia : the 7th-8th centuries, Tokyo: Toyo Bunko.

Vickery in his in his magnum opus on 7th-8th Cambodian inscriptions can't help citing Aung-Thwin as embodying "contempt for truth in history."
"Obviously I disagree with the definition of history in Veyne 1978:9-10, that history is not a science and has no method, but rather "historians narrate true events in which man was the actor; history is a novel that is true."

At least Veyne showed respect for truth, in contrast, for example to Aung-Thwin 1988:359, who manifested contempt for truth in history,..."
A "contempt for truth in history" accompanied by a dishonest act that none of his colleagues called him on:
"...and with a dishonest comment about "scratch marks on eleventh-century Sanskrit inscriptions," a matter which had not figured at all in the work on which he was passing comment, and, peculiarly, not informing readers that he was reviewing the publication of a conference in which he had fully participated, even though his paper was not included in the publication." (Vickery, 1998, footnote 7, pp. 3-4)

Aung-Thwin, Michael (1988) Review of Southeast Asia in the 9th to 14th Centuries, edited by David G. Marr and A.C. Milner (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies; Canberra: Research School of Pacific Studies, Australian National University), Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 19, pt. 2:353-62.

Veyne, Paul (1978) Comment om ecrit l'histoire, suivi Foucault revolutionne l'histoire, Paris: Editions du Seuil

Comment: Makes one wonder what other infelicities he got away with during his career. He almost got away with erasing Mon history without even learning the Mon language, using the excuse over and over again, that his father was part Mon. His elementary school teacher wouldn't even have accepted such an excuse.

Demystifying Mists: The Case for the Mon (Stadtner, 2007)

Dr. Donald M. Stadtner has also reviewed Aung-Thwin's Mists of Ramanna Desa. This paper was presented at a conference at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok on Mon history and culture: Discovery of Ramanya Desa: History, Identity, Culture, Language and Performing Arts, 10-13 October 2007. [Link to list of conference presentations]

[Download pdf version of paper here]

Tilmann Frasch – Publications

A bibliography of works by historian of Pagan Tilmann Frasch is available online [Link]. Here are some entries of interest I selected out:


Pagan. Stadt und Staat, Stuttgart: Steiner Verlag 1996 (= Beiträge zur Südasienforschung 172). XI, 370 pp.


The Burmese dhammasats with Special Reference to the Pagan Period, in Uta Gärtner/Jens Lorenz (eds.), Tradition and Modernity in Myanmar, Münster: LIT 1994, vol. 1, p. 45-54 (= Berliner Asien- und Afrikastudien 2,1)

An Eminent Buddhist Tradition: The Burmese Vinayadharas, in Traditions in Current Perspective. Proceedings of a Conference (Yangon, Nov. 15-17, 1995), Yangon: Universities Historical Research Centre 1996, p. 115-144

A Buddhist Network in the Bay of Bengal: Relations between Bodhgaya, Burma and Sri Lanka, c.300-1300, in Claude Guillot/Denys Lombard/Roderich Ptak (eds.), From the Mediterranean to the China Sea. Miscellaneous Notes, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz 1998, p. 69-93 (= South China and Maritime Asia 7)

tog. with Monika Schlicher: Bibliographisches zum Thema, in Periplus. Jahrbuch für Aussereuropäische Geschichte 8, 1998, p. 98-102

The Mt.-Thetso Inscription Re-examined, Myanmar Historical Research Journal 2, 1998, p. 109-126

King Nadaungmya’s Great Gift, in Études Birmanes en hommage à Denise Bernot, réunis par Pierre Pichard et François Robinne, Paris: EFEO 1998, p. 27-35

A Note on the Mahabodhi Temples at Pagan, in Wibke Lobo/Stefanie Reimann (eds.), Southeast Asian Archaeology. Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference of the European Association of Southeast Asian Archaeologists, Hull/Berlin: Center for Southeast Asian Studies/SMPK 2000, p. 41-50

The Buddhist Connection: Sinhalese-Burmese Intercourse in the Middle Ages, in G. Berkemer et al. (eds.), Explorations in the History of South Asia. Essays in Honour of Dietmar Rothermund, Delhi: Manohar 2001, p. 85-97

Coastal Peripheries during the Pagan Period, in Jos Gommans/Jacques Leider (eds.), The Maritime Frontier of Burma. Exploring Political, Cultural and Commercial Interaction in the Indian Ocean World, 1200-1800, Amsterdam: KITLV Press 2002, p. 59-78


The Burmese dhammasats with Special Reference to the Pagan Period (Berlin Burma Conference, May 1993)

An Eminent Buddhist Tradition: The Burmese Vinayadharas (Rangoon Burma Conference, Nov. 1995)

Religious Intercourse between Burma and Sri Lanka, 12-13th Centuries (Colombo: German Cultural Institute, Sept. 1995)

Royal Dedications at Minnanthu, Pagan: The Emergence of a 13th Century Construction Site (Rangoon: German Embassy, Feb. 1996)

King Nadaungmya’s Great Gift (Rangoon: Universities Historical Research Centre, Feb. 1996)

Pagan Epigraphy: Problems and Prospects (Leiden: EurASEAA Conf., Sept. 1996)

A Buddhist Network in the Bay of Bengal (Paris, March 1997)

A Note on the Mahabodhi Temples at Pagan (Berlin: EurASEAA Conf., Sept. 1998)

Notes on Dipavamsa - An Early Publication of Prof. U Pe Maung Tin (London: SOAS, Sept. 1998)

Two Approaches to the History of Arakan in the 11th to the 13th Centuries (Amsterdam: KNAW Colloquium, Oct. 1999)

“The Lion’s Share of History”: Geschichtsschreibung und Geschichtspolitik in Sri Lanka (Colloquium Historicum Heidelberg, Nov. 1999)

The World of Buddhism in the Year 1000 (Univ. of Colombo, Nov. 1999)

The Lion’s Share of History: Historiography and the Politics of History in Sri Lanka (Colombo: German Cultural Institute, Dec. 1999)

The City in History (Univ. of Colombo, Sociology Dept., Dec. 1999)

The Past that Shaped the Future: The Politics of History in Sri Lanka (Edinburgh: 16th ECMSAS, Sept. 2000)

Art and History of Pagan (Bonn University, Feb. 2001)

Monastic Architecture in Pagan, (DeKalb, Northern Ill. University, Jan. 2002)

Issues in Early Burmese History (DeKalb, Jan. 2002)

Reading Epigraphs and Architecture: Monasteries in Early Burma (National University of Singapore, May 2002)

Reading Epigraphs and Architecture: Monasteries in Early Burma (Gothenburg: Burma Studies Conference, Sept 2002)

Monday, December 10, 2007

Lao history revisited: Paradoxes and problems in current research

By Michel Lorrillard (EFEO)
[Download: pdf, abstract]

Abstract: The historiography of what is now the country of Laos
has remained relatively underdeveloped since the colonial period.
The earliest scholarly works produced by Lao and foreign authors
were based on certain assumptions that have remained unquestioned
despite serious problems with the sources. Recent epigraphical and
archaeological discoveries have permitted a rethinking of these
assumptions, and hold out the promise of further revisions of our
view of the Lao past. Particularly worth exploring are the cultural
and artistic connections between the Lao kingdom of Lan Xang
and the northern Thai kingdom of Lanna.

Keywords: historiography; archaeology; epigraphy; Laos

Comment: This historian is currently preparing a edited volume of annotated inscriptions of the pre-modern Lao kingdom of Lan Chang. His work also provides a model (in addition to Tilman Frasch) of what Burmese epigraphy could become.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Myanmar Online Education Website by Phyo Win Latt is a valuable resource. (Follow this link)

Writings and recorded lectures by historians of Burma U Than Tun and Gordon H. Luce are available as well as articles from on the Burmese language. The description on the front page of the website says it all:
Panna Lawka is the first Myanmar Online Education Website ever appeared on the internet. And, it is FREE to anyone. This site distributes all Education resources to people who are not able to attend the ordinary Universities. This site was intended mainly for Myanmar/Burmese people who have no chance whatsoever to learn the proper education in Myanmar/Burma.

The resources upload on this site can be downloaded without requiring any fees/prices. We encourage everyone to distribute these articles, journals, e-books, online library that you collect from this site to your friends/colleges.

Aung-Thwin's methodology in a nutshell

Here is a statement of Aung-Thwin's methodology in a nutshell:
"But the primary sources do not support that theory, and so we have the creation of a myth from a story that might have already been a myth" (Myth and History in the Historiography of Early Burma, 1998, 4)
1. Pre-modern primary sources are the foundation of any theory.
2. Pre-modern primary sources often contain stories that are myths.
3. Colonial era historians, in turn, created their own myths from these primary sources.
4. The current era N of historians is likewise creating its own myths, but we won't know what they are until the next era N+1, and so on, ad nauseam.

1. Colonial era historians like Luce made primary sources available in well-edited translations.

2. Aung-Thwin's work relies on these translations.

3. Why hasn't Aung-Thwin made more primary sources available in more well-edited translations?

4. Wouldn't this constitute progress in the field?

5. Compared to Cambodia, Burmese epigraphy is still in its infancy.

6. If colonial era historians sometimes made mistakes in historical interpretation, how is this any different than historians from any era?

7. How can a historian make a career solely out of a commentary on another historian's mistakes?

8. The French historian Michel Lorrillard is currently creating an extensive edited volume of Lao inscriptions.

9. Creating a foundation for Burmese epigraphy is possible.

10. This is what Tilman Frasch's German dissertation does. It needs to be translated into English:

Pagan: Stadt und Staat [Pagan] / von [by] Tilman Frasch. - XI, 370 pp. ISBN 3-515-06870-8 Literaturverzeichnis [bibliography] pp. 349-360, Index pp. 361-365, English summary pp. 367-370.

"This study tries to give an overview of the history of Burma´s first capital pagan, again scrutinizing ist source material like epigraphs, chronicles and monuments. It contains a critical assessment of these, focusing on inscriptions and discussing the problems and shortcomings imposed by them and their various editions." (Source)

In Southeast Asia, if you're having a hard time finding this book, the Siam Society's library has a copy: GEN 915.591 F841P

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Unbundling Aung-Thwin's Demythologisations of Burmese history

Myth and History in the Historiography of Early Burma
Paradigms, Primary Sources, and Prejudices (1998)

By Michael A. Aung-Thwin

Aung-Thwin's Mists of Ramanya is such a huge monolithic work that it's difficult to define exactly what is wrong with it, but most people agree there is something deeply flawed in the work.

That the author is attempting to erase Mon history, yet cannot read or speak the Mon language and therefore cannot know what is in Mon sources (inscriptions, chronicles), almost none of which have been translated into English or Burmese, is one major criticism of his work.

That Aung-Thwin's prose is almost impossible to understand, that he merely cites sources 50 to 100 years old, virtually impossible to find outside a handful of libraries (e.g. the six elephant volumes of inscriptions c. 1900), without actually providing the source in an appendix, let's say, that any Burma scholar with access to these resources is probably a friend of Aung-Thwin bound to not question him very much, are all criticisms.

Aung-Thwin has, in fact, provided a list of approved reviewers of his work: Martin Stewart Fox in CSSH, Pat Pranke in Asian Perspectives, and the late Paul Wheatley. (See interview) Reviewers who he does not know (not in his client-patron chain) and actually criticise things in the work are not "competent" by definition. That French scholar Bénédicte Brac De La Perriére disagreed with Aung-Thwin is ipso facto proof she didn't understand "what the book was about."

The methodology behind the work needs a thorough critique. As a preliminary step, I've decided to look at Aung-Thwin's earlier demythologizations of Burmese history first, such as the Three Shan Brothers, the king of Pagan who "ran away from the Chinese," or the Sri Lankan invasion of Burma.

One almost has to rewrite these academic papers to make sense of them so muddled is the logic. Critiquing narrative history requires first setting out the narrative history from the most original sources in linear fashion and then referring to this during the critique, instead of jumping around and creating a tangled ball of string with one's logic. Being kind to the reader so that the reader does not get lost or just end up nodding his or her head, yes, professor, yes, whatever you say, can I go now. Only then will a reader be able to understand the criticism of the narrative history. In fact, a lot of Aung-Thwin citations in the literature seem to be courtesy citations that accept his demythologizations at face value without really trying to understand or engage with them. This is outrageous and really has to change.

Three steps seem appropriate first steps:
1. Make the most original sources available online.
2. Make it clear what you take these sources to say.
3. Reconstruct various competing narratives from these sources.
4. Compare and evaluate these narratives critically.

Aung-Thwin's interpretations will then be only one among several possible interpretations. Then and only then can we start to entangle Aung-Thwin's arguments and see what he really has to say.

Journal of Burma Studies
not the only refereed journal on Burma

There is a false statement on the Journal of Burma Studies website at Northern Illinois University:
"The Journal of Burma Studies is an annual, fully refereed journal of scholarship on Burma. It is the only scholarly journal in the world to publish exclusively on research and writing about Burma." (See website)
According to a recent overview of Burma Studies by Andrew Selth:
"There are currently three peer-reviewed journals devoted to Burma studies outside the country. These are The Journal of Burma Studies, published annually by the Burma Studies Centre at NIU, the SOAS Bulletin of Burma Research [SBBR] published twice a year by the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London, and Burma Economic Watch (BEW), which is published periodically on the internet by the Economics Department of Macquarie University in Australia.
I personally have published articles in the SOAS Bulletin of Burma Research and they were peer reviewed (double blind anonymous referees). I know other people who published in the SBBR and their articles were peer reviewed also. I think this false statement is an attempt by the old power clique that has dominated the rather stagnant field of Burma Studies for the last thirty odd years to control discourse space. Times are a changing. Most of so-called Burma Studies takes place outside of the United States nowadays. Much of it in Southeast Asia in Thailand and Singapore or nearby Australia.

The president of the Burma Studies Group, F. K. Lehman, and the General Editor of the journal, Catherine Raymond, should correct this mistake.

Senior scholars perhaps do not realize that many paper journals in the humanities are now closing down. The Journal of Burma Studies has very progressively put its articles online for free. This means that students in Southeast Asia will be able to read important articles published in the west about their homeland, which is important. Since university libraries are unlikely to continue paying for the journal when they can get it for free online, the web definitely looks like it is the future as far as Burmese history is concerned.

Aung-Thwin said of my work:
"It requires no credentials to put your opinions on-line, especially on your own web-site. Especially if you don’t have to go through peer review, a problem I think we as scholars should take much more seriously."
I have published papers at the SBBR at the University of London and all those papers have been peer reviewed (reviewed by referees). Once again, a false statement has been made. Pointing out false statements online like this, in a blog, is effectively a form of peer review too. Welcome to the future.

Bertil Linter on Aung-Thwin's
Myth and History in the Historiography of Early Burma

Bertil Lintner in critiquing a recent collection of articles Exploring Ethnic Diversity in Burma notes of Aung-Thwin's work:

Takatani’s conclusion is as flawed as some writings of another academic, Michael Aung-Thwin, whose "Myth and History in the Historiography of Early Burma" (a quoted source in this book) states that the three Shan brothers who founded the 14th-16th century Ava dynasty may not have been Shan at all, because the title sawbwa was “used to refer to both Kachin and Shan chieftains and possibly those of other hill peoples as well.”
Sawbwa is just a Burmese corruption of saohpa, “lord of the sky” in Shan, and with no meaning in any other language. If the three brothers were sons of a saohpa, they were indeed Shan. Kachin chieftains are called duwa, not sawbwa or saohpa, and the chiefs of “other hill peoples”— the Shan, by the way, are not a hill people but archetypical valley dwellers—never had that title unless they had adopted Shan culture and customs, such as the Palaung saohpa of Tawngpeng State. What would have been more interesting to examine is what it meant to be Shan in the Middle Ages, centuries before the notion of the nation state was conceived.

Bertil Linter makes a good point here. This is the reason I refuse to use the term "Shan" in my writing. The so-called "Shan" were actually part of a much larger group, the Tai.

A close reading of the Burmese chronicle and inscriptions shows that a lot of Tai statelets or chieftainships pass in and out of Burma's radar (or more accurately the kingdom of Ava) during the period 1348-1555, so being designated as "Shan" is really a meaningless historical accident, meaningful only within the Burmese court of a given era. All these groups were Tai in some more fundamental sense for hundreds of years.

Publications: Jon Fernquest

Fernquest, Jon (2005). "The Flight of Lao War Captives From Burma Back to Laos in 1596: A Comparison of Historical Sources," SOAS Bulletin of Burma Research, Vol. 3, No. 1, Spring 2005, pp. 1-26. [journal, pdf]

Fernquest, Jon (2005b). "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, Autumn 2005 [journal, pdf]

Fernquest, Jon (2006a). "Rajadhirat's Mask of Command: Military Leadership in Burma (c. 1348-1421)", SOAS Bulletin of Burma Research, Vol. 4, No. 1, Spring 2006. [journal, pdf]

Fernquest, Jon (2006b) "Crucible of War: Burma and the Ming in the Tai Frontier Zone (1382-1454)," SOAS Bulletin of Burma Research, Vol. 4, No. 2, Autumn 2006. [journal, pdf]

Fernquest, Jon (forthcoming) "The ecology of Mon-Burmese warfare in the Rajadhirat historical epic (c. 1383-1425)," conference paper, Discovery of Ramanya Desa: History, Identity, Culture, Language and Performing Arts, 10-13 October 2007, Chulalongkorn University Bangkok Thailand.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Ridiculous Mon Paradigm Quotation #4

"By...linking Lower Burma with the sacred geography, sacred genealogy, and sacred chronology of Asoka's Buddhist India, King Dhammazedi, in one stroke gave Ramannadesa an antiquity, orthodoxy, and legitimacy that it never had" (Mists of Ramanna, p. 1)
Dhammazedi was not unique in making such a linking or mapping to sacred geography, genealogy, and chronology. The writers of Burmese history did the same. Since kings before Dhammazedi had done this long before him, he was not the first, and you cannot say that this occurred in "one stroke". The accretion of myth to history takes place over a long period of time as a study of Livy's received history of Rome shows.

The parts of the Burmese chronicle that incorporate the Indian mythology of Ashoka (Burmese: Thawka) is translated into English (by me) in the Indian Kings I and Indian Kings II sections of the Burmese Historical Chronicle.

Ridiculous Mon Paradigm Quotation #3

"In 1479, when King Dhammazedi of the kingdom of Pegu declared on his Kalyani inscriptions that the legendary Suvannabhumi of Buddhist tradition was the Mon kingdom of Ramannadesa in Lower Burma, he inadvertently created a twentieth historiographic issue that I have called 'the legend that was Lower Burma,' still with us today" (Mists of Ramanna, p. 1)
No, professor Aung-Thwin, you are the one who quite intentionally created a historiographic issue. What King Dhammazedi did, create a regime legitizing myth, was quite normal for people who hold power.