[A-Z April Blogging] [S] The Shàn

14th century Shàn King
The Shàn (傣 Dǎi in Chinese, see p32 of The Celestial Empire) are a Tai people originally from Yúnnán. Their first polity was a Buddhist kingdom called Jǐnghóng Golden Palace in the 12th century. The Shàn were displaced southward in the 13th century, at the time of the Mongol conquest. Their language is very closely related to Thai and Lao. They practise Hīnayāna Buddhism, and keep sacred groves next to their villages. This forest is the taboo place that the protective spirits/gods of the village inhabit.

The Shàn are traditionally wet-rice cultivators, shop keepers, and artisans. Wet-rice fields account for the vast majority of farmland in all Dǎi regions. The semi-tropical climate, rivers and fertile alluvial valleys form an ideal environment for wet-rice growing. Other local products include tea, sugar cane, tobacco, and camphor, as well as tropical fruits which are harvested in abundance. In addition, the dense forests produce large amounts of much sought-after medicinal plants.

After their migration to the south and their settlement in Upper Burma, the Shàn have founded several petty kingdoms collectively known as 'Shàn States' (see map on p28 of TCE) between the 13th and the 16th century. After the 16th century, the Shàn came under the suzerainty of the Burmese kingdoms of the lowlands.
The Lao kingdom of Lan Xang, farther east, also had a significant Shàn component.

Those Shàn who didn't migrate southward and stayed in Yúnnán after the Mongol conquest recognised the suzerainty of the Chinese Empire; much like the Tǔjiā, they were ruled by their own hereditary chieftains in exchange for providing troops and suppressing local rebellions whenever needed.

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