Compassionate letter 10, “MAYDAY! MAYDAY! MAYDAY!”

Compassionate letter 10,


As Bo Aung Din in Burma Didest

Dear Darling Nan,

I hope to catch you with the twist of my tongue at the end of month of May because I thought your mind would be on Worker’s day, May Day and laugh at me for celebrating the 1st. May event on the 31st. i.e. end of the month only. I was expecting your accusation of my absent mindedness.

But I am surprised because you are quite smart and could immediately understand what I mean by MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY, which is just a distress call used on the radio or SOS,” “Save our Ship,” “Save Our Souls,” or “Send Out Succour”. Yes darling I am just making a distress call to the whole world to save us, all the Shwe Bama villagers from the tyrants, criminals, would-be-fugitives SPDC Junta government terrorizing and ruling our Shwe Bama country.

Dear Nan, this is the time to reveal our secret identity and our relations with the so called new members of Shwe Bama Village tract. Yes dear don’t worry, you are a pure Shan and Buddhist and I am a pure Burman Buddhist. Just revealing about our distant relatives actually second or half cousins with mixed blood and worshipping other religion would not made us less qualify for a full citizenship or become an inferior Buddhist. The only problem is: both of us have not only a very cordial mutual relationship with those relatives but remain to be the best friends and we reciprocally care about each other and are always ready to help each other and are even ready to sacrifice for each other.

Dear darling Nan, I know you are not shy to reveal your relatives or rather our relatives from the other side of racial and religious divide but please forgive me for revealing the details of our relationships. Then only Burma Digest readers could understand why both of us have strong feelings against the Racial and Religious Discriminations.

Actually, Ko Tin Maung @ Ko Hanif’s grandmother and my grand father were real brother and sister. My great grandfather was very rich, famous and religious person in Taunggyi. So when the daughter eloped with an Indian Muslim, he was so shy and disowned his daughter and ordered all the relatives to totally cut all the connections. But after few years her husband passed away and left her with five children. Then only great grandfather sent an olive branch to his widowed daughter, promised with all the social and financial supports but made it clear that she must convert back to Buddhism. She refused and stubbornly refused to reconnect back the cut off umbilical cord but continued to struggle the rest of her life poorly as a hawker at the market. Although she could not leave any property or money for inheritance she managed to give all the children a very good education.

Although we lost contact because our great grandfather’s strict boycott, life is strange and the world is small. Her eldest son, Ko Tin Maung’s father became my head master and English teacher. As my parents were poor he loves me too much and takes care of me because of my very good academic records but we never realized that we are relatives. He paid for my school books and exempted me from school fees even without applying for it because he knew that my family was poor. Ko Tin Maung and I always became keen competitors in every field, education, co-curriculum activities and sports but we always remained friends in any or every situation regardless of results. We both passed the 10th standard matriculation examination with flying colours and were together in the same University as boarders. My headmaster i.e. Ko Tin Maung’s father always helped me through his son. Only in the second year of the university only we accidentally found out that we are distant cousin brothers but we are already real brothers in our heart. Our parents were informed and they also became closed friends and relatives again.

My side of the story is finished. Life is sometimes like a soap opera or like a touchy Hindi movie. You also have a distant cousin sister, a mixed blooded Shan-Chinese Muslim. But your families were quite close and your father had supported Ma Thorda’s family. Actually her father was not only working for your father but a most trusted right hand man or a manager taking care of all the business. Because of that good trustworthy manager, your father’s business progressed.  But Ma Thorda was unlucky; her husband a Burmese Chinese Muslim was robbed and killed by the SPDC soldiers on the smuggling trip from Kyaingtong to Thailand border.

Dear Nan, I am surprised and happy that you always try to pay back what you owe to others. Ko Tin Maung was the person who introduced us and the one acting like a go-between. We owe him for our successful love affair. When Ko Tin Maung’s wife was killed by undercover MI agents and Kyant Phuts, you successfully introduced him to Ma Thorda. Anyway they are now a very happy and successful family. And I have to mention that in both of our families there are a lot of intermarriages with other races e.g. with Bamas, Shans, Kayin, Rakhine and even with Burmese Chinese. So actually we are proud to be a mini Union of Burma. Some of them are Buddhists, some Muslims and we have Christian relatives also. So most of us could enjoy almost all the festivals: whether Thingyan, pagoda festivals, Tasaung Daing and other Burmese festivals, Christmas and Muslim Eids. We are happy and proud that if any one of our relatives is in trouble or in need some one is always there to help out irrespective of race and religion.

Dear Nan, I always thank my Headmaster, English teacher, Ko Tin Maung’s father and last but not the least my uncle who happens to be a Burmese Muslim. Ko Tin Maung always mentioned about the unfortunate incidence when his wife and children were murdered in the racial riots. But he always says that it was their fate and he tried to forgive and forget that ugly dark day’s events. But he thanked you for your best give, his new wife Ma Thauda, a silver lining of his dark cloudy days. And I believed that we sealed our family relations and friendship with their marriage.

Dear Nan, now I am going to drop a bomb shell! Ko Tin Maung and Ma Thorda have very bad bitter experiences with SPDC soldiers, MI agents and Kyant Phuts. Actually Ko Tin Maung was a very bright student but he was denied postgraduate studies because he is a ‘Kala’. Yes dear, I know more about him than you. Although you were very close to him he used to avoid revealing or raising the racially sensitive issues. Don’t angry dear, he is not looking down to you. He fully understand that ‘you are colour blind’ and always fair to all the races and religions. But he was afraid that others could at least feel a guilty consciousness or became uneasy if he raised the sensitive racial or religious feelings. I know that he was shot point blank at the interview that the board could not choose him because he is a Kala. Because of that he resigned from his job and the country he loved. But he was the one who sponsored us and searched jobs for us before we left our country. And we stayed at their house for first three months because they angrily objected my plan to rent the house before I called you and the children.

Why are you angry with my letter dear revealing our personal affairs? Although you know and could understand what I am going to write, I think it is my duty to inform my friends reading my letters in the Burma Digest about our racial and religious back ground. I think it is not fair to just write whatever I want, although I know that there are no racial discriminations among my friends reading the Burma Digest.

My letter this week is on the history of Burmese/Chinese Muslims, our new members of Shwe Bama Village tract. Actually Ko Tin Maung and Ma Thorda regularly wake up early every Sunday morning to read my letters to you. Once I started to write the history of our ancestors, two of them came to me and give some books to write about the history of Muslims in Burma. When I told him that I am reluctant to write about them although I understand them, stay together with them and even love them, but I could not know how much others could tolerate or understand the Burmese Muslims.

Dear Nan, although Ko Tin Maung is my relative, he always talks, think or behave like you. He was quite smart to rightly point out that even for those who still thought that Burmese Muslims are nuisance, pests or enemy of Myanmar; they should at least learn and know about their enemy.

Dear Nan, Ko Tin Maung talked continuously and his wife Ma Thorda frequently supports him and they used few books including these listed below:

1.   “The Muslims of Burma” A study of a minority Group, by Moshe Yegar, 1972, Otto Harrassowitz. Wisbaden.

  1.  “The emergence of the Panthay community at Mandalay”, by Associate Professor U Maung Maung Lay. (The great-grandson of Yunan Chinese Colonel Mah Too-tu who had supervised the construction of the Panthay Mosque at Mandalay. He lectured in History and was an Associate Professor in International Relations at Mandalay University.)

3.   U Pe Maung Tin and G.H.Luce, The Glass Palace Chronicle of the Kings of Burma, Rangoon University Press, Rangoon, Burma, January 1960.

4.    “To brighten the light of the religion”, SLORC published book in 1997, in Burmese.

5.   HGE Hall’s “History of Southeast Asia”.

  1. “The Root of Islam in China” by Haji Kahar Hoh Kok Hoong, from the article in Islamic Herald, PERKIM.

Dear Nan, they said that the Roots or ancestors of Muslims in Burma are:

  1. Early Burmese Muslims who arrived during the era of Burmese Kings.
  2. Panthays, Chinese Muslims of Burma.
  3. Malays of Burma.
  4. Indian Muslims of Burma.

Dear darling they said that Burmese Muslims are descendants of Arabs, Persians, Turks, Moores, Indian-Muslims, Pakistanis, Pathans, Bengalis, Afghanistan, Chinese Muslims and Malays intermarried with local Burmese and many ethnic Burmese groups such as: Rakhine, Shan, Karen, Mon etc.

Dear Nan, according to them, Muslims arrived Burma as travellers, adventurers, pioneers, sailors, Military Personals (voluntary and mercenary), and some of them as prisoners of wars. Some take refuge (from wars, Monsoon storms and weather, shipwreck and some for other various unforeseen circumstances). And some of them are victims of forced slavery. Some of them are professionals and skilled personals such as advisors to the kings and at various ranks of administration under Burmese Kings. Some are port-authorities and mayors and traditional medicine men. Some of them are good at various vocational skills, culture and arts etc.

Dear darling Nan, they claimed that with the mixed marriages, intermarriages and assimilation process they have thrown away almost all of their foreign languages, foreign dresses and foreign culture and they slowly shaped themselves in to the Burmese Muslim group of today.

Nan, but they continued that they had drawn a line in the ongoing process of assimilation. They firmly said that that line of limit is their religion, Islam. They confirm that as the practising Muslims they could not go beyond the limit of tolerance of Islamic principles, rules and regulations. They stressed that although they are fundamentalists they are neither extremists nor terrorists. So these Burmese Muslims threw away Urdu, Bengali, Chinese, Hindi and all other foreign languages, adopted and use Burmese language only as their mother tongue.

Dear Nan Ma Thorda continue that even Arabic is learned just to read Holy Koran and for prayers. Burmese Muslims speaks Burmese, wear Burmese dress and even have an official Burmese name although they have their Islamic Arabic name.

Nan, Ko Tin Maung explained that because they could not compromise their faith in matters such as: only eating halal foods and drinks and their marriage, divorce, inheritance, and other customs which heavily depend on Islam e.g. circumcision, funeral and burial rituals etc., Burmese Muslims could not assimilate homogeneously as others such as Chinese, Hindus and others, except for those who convert or renounced Islam.

Dear Nan, we have to accept the truth that the complete assimilation of a minority group always need a compromise of their tradition, their culture and some of their rights.

Darling, Ko Tin Maung suggested me to write about the PANTHAY, Chinese Muslims of Burma first. These Chinese Muslims in Burma are known as Panthays. The name PANTHAY is a purely Burmese word, which is said to be identical with the Shan word PANG-HSE (Scott, 1900, 607). In the stone inscriptions of Bagan, first Burmese Kingdom, the name PAN:SI comes up from time to time (Ba Shin, 1962, 2).  There is no other scholarly explanation for this than that it refers to PANTHAY, which later in the Konbaung period became a common name.  The name was not used or known in Yunnan itself (Yule & Burnell, 1968, 669).

Actually the original Chinese Muslims in Yunnan did not call themselves by the name Panthay.  They called themselves HWAI-TZE or HWAI-TZU, meaning Muslim.  The non-Muslim Chinese and Westerners referred to them as HUl-HUI.  Apart from its Burmese origin, very little is known about the name Panthay. The most reasonable among them is the suggestion that the name Panthay has some kind of link with PATHI, the old Burmese word for MUSLIM.  The Burmese word PATHI is a corruption of PARSI or FARSI that is PERSIAN.    The name PANTHAY is assumed by some as a corrupted word form of PATHI.  Whatever its origin, the name Panthay was, and still is, applied exclusively and uniquely to the Chinese Muslims of Burma.

Most of the Chinese Muslims in Burma has two names, one Burmese name and another Muslim name. Most of them have Chinese Sir Name or Family name, Mah. It is interesting to note that the Chinese written script for that word, Mah is like a horse. Ko Ti Maung personally believed that, it is related to Arab worriers who went to help the Chinese Emperor against the rebels. After the war they were awarded and allowed to stay in China. But the Sir Name, Mah is more likely to be the abbreviation of Mahamed.

Dear Nan, in China many Muslims are said to be from Huis and some are from Hans. Islam went to China through the ‘Silk Road’, a transcontinental pas­sage from Turkey in Europe across Asia right into Sin-kiang province of northwestern China, the homeland of the Huis. The word ‘Hui’ is actually an abbreviation derived from three Chinese characters pro­nounced as ‘Hui vu er’ which means Huighur or Uighur; the name of a nomadic tribesmen. The Huis; the collective name for the various tribesmen such as Huighurs, Kazaks, Salars, Tajiks, Tatars etc, lived along the Chinese-Russian border and beside the ‘Silk Road’ in Sin­kiang Province of China which the westerners refer it as Eastern Turkistan.

Dear darling, the historical records of the arrival of Islam in China varies with dates ranging from 571 A.D. during the Sui Dynasty to 651 A.D. the Tang Dynasty.  According to a Muslim legend, Islam was first preached in China as early as the Sui Dynasty by a maternal uncle of the Prophet for his reputed tomb at Canton is highly venerated by Muslims there until now.

Dear Nan, western historians also stressed that thousands of Muslims had already rushed into China by the ‘Silk Road’ in 751 AD, after the Tang Empire lost Central Asia to the Abbasids in the war at Taraz.  The Tang emper­or seek help from Samarkand (Samarkand was Timur’s royal city, celebrated its 2500th anniversary in 1970. It is an ancient site, located in modern-day Uzbekistan.) and Abbasid soldiers to crush the revolt of his general Ann Lu-shan  of Turkey origin.  All these sol­diers stayed back in Sin-kiang and were later assimilated into the Hui race.  These events hap­pened during the sixth emperor of Tang, i.e. two hundred years after the Arab-Muslims settled down in Canton, Chuanahou, Hangzhou, Yangzhou, Emgzhou and other southern cities of China and developed good relation­ships with the Hans.

Dear Nan, in 1270 AD Sayyid Edjill Chams Ed-Din Omar was made the governor of Yunan Province in southern China.  During the Yuan Dynasty 1279 AD – 1368 AD, after Genghis Khan conquered the whole of Asia and part of Europe; as far as the plain of Hungary, he returned with his multiracial military hordes of Turks, Persians, Babylonians Syrians and other middle-east mercenary soldiers to China.

Dear Nan you may be surprised to hear and may be quite hard to swallow the following facts: during the Ming Dynasty 1368AD-1644AD, Islam flourished because its first em­peror Chu Hoong-vu was believed to be a Muslim himself. 

Dear Nan, there are sever­al distinguish features to support this claim such as: _

His empress was a well known Muslim as stated in the Chinese history;

All his daily food and drinks were under strict supervision and scruti­nized by the empress her-self.  In other words he ate only halal meals;

He wrote a ‘One Hundred Words Praise’ poem in Chinese to honour the Prophet. He was the first and only emperor in China to have written such an inscription while the calligraphy of the poem was carved on a wooden board carefully preserved in the Nanking Masjid until now; and he entrusted the life of his son to a Muslim warrior Cheng Ho.

Dear Nan, he assigned that young Muslim soldier, Muhammad Cheng Ho to protect his prince, the heir to his throne.  When this prince succeeded him to be the second Ming emperor, he pro­moted this faithful bodyguard to the rank of Admiral and sent him set to the sacred land Makkah and south east Asia forseven times.

Dear Nan, I am amazed to found out that each time Admiral Cheng Ho led a fleet of about one hundred ocean-bond vessels carrying more than twen­ty-five thousand soldiers and sailors.  Its flagship alone was fifty feet wide, four hundred feet long weighing one thousand five hundred tons. (This fleet when estimated at that time is compa­rable with the Seventh Fleet of the United States of America at present).

Darling, your cousin Ma Thorda was so proud to reveal that Admiral Cheng Ho was a Muslim from the Yunan Province, a Panthay related to the present Chinese Muslims in Shwe Bama land.  But the Chinese historians named him as ‘Eunuch Sam Poh’ sarcastically or may be mistakenly due to the fact that he was circumcised during childhood, and others take for granted that he was castrated.  He joined the army since young and fought and served his way up from an ordinary soldier to the imperial guard and at last became the famous ‘Admiral Cheng Ho’.  He took charge of the greatest expedition of that era, sailed half way round the world to as far as the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa eighty years before Columbus accidentally discovered America.

Nan, according to the ‘Malay Annals’ (Sejarah Melayu) it was also during this period that Sultan Mansur Shah of Malacca married one of the daughters of the Ming Emperor, Princess Hang Li Po.  Through this mar­riage Malacca gained Chinese protection against attacks and threats from Siam (Thailand), Sumatra, Java, India etc. And her body guards, Hang Jebat and Hang Tuah are the most famous heroes or warriors in Malay history comparable to Kyansittha, Bayint Naung, Alaung Paya and Maha Bandula of our Shwe Bama land. Some even believed that they were the ‘Panthay’ body guards accompanied the Princess Hang Li Po from China.

Dear Nan, just for your ears only, Malaysians and your cousin Ma Thorda would be angry with my words whispered to you. When I read their history, legends and even watched the movies about those most famous Malay warriors they were not comparable to our four warriors I mentioned above. Those two were pale shade of our warriors. I am sad that our mother land could not generate anyone like Maha Bandula anymore but keep on generating Ne Win, Saw Maung, Than Shwe, Maung Aye, Shwe Man etc. the SPDC Hell Hounds that used to terrorize the citizens of Burma instead of protecting them.  Dear Nan, I named Maha Bandula because he just stayed as a ‘guardian warrior’ without trying to rule or take over the country. But I am sad that nowadays our guardian or soldiers’ mindset are changed and killing, robbing etc committing all possible atrocities on the citizens they are supposed to protect.

Darling, your cousin Ma Thorda proudly told me that Ming dynasty was the hey-day of Islam in China. The Golden Age of Islam in China lasted almost one millennium from the Sui Dynasty 571 A.D. to the Tang Dynasty, the Song Dynasty, and the Yuan Dynasty right to the Ming Dynasty in 1644 A.D.

Dear Nan, after surviving for nearly three centuries, China fell to the Manchurians outside the great wall for the second time. The Manchus named its kingdom as the Qing Dynasty, 1644AD – 1911 AD. They adopted the ‘Divide and Rule’ tactic in China by creating vengeance and hatred between the Hans and the Huis.  The Manchus regarded Muslims as the lowest caste of people in China.  They provoke sensitive religious issues and created skirmishes among the two major races.

Dear darling, let’s go back to our main target about the Panthays in Burma. Chinese Muslims came with caravans to Burma from the Chinese province of Yunnan. The Muslims of Yunnan had played an important role in the Mongol invasions of the Kingdom of Bagan towards the close of the 13th century.  Some of the administrators of Yunnan during the Yuan (Mongol) dynasty were Muslims.  Prominent among them were, Sai-Tien-Ch’ih-Shan-ssu-ting Wuma-erh (Sayyid Ajal Shams-al-Din-Umar), who was a general and (governor of’ Yunnan between 1274 and 1279. His son Na-Su-la-ting (Nasir-al-Din) was in charge of’ the road systems of Yunnan and personally commanded the first Mongol invasion of Bagan in 1277-78. And his younger brother Hu-Shin (Hussein) was Transport Commissioner in 1284 and later Senior Governor of Yunnan (Ba Shin, 1961, 2).  It was believed that in all the three Mongol invasions of Bagan, there were Panthay officers and men in the ranks of the invading armies.  This explains the occurrences of the name Pan:si in the inscriptions.

Ma Thorda continued that the history of the Panthays in Burma was inseparably linked to that of Yunnan, their place of origin, whose population was predominantly Muslim.  In Yunnan, the Muslims excelled as merchants and soldiers, the two qualities, which made them ideally suited for the overland trade in the rugged, mountainous regions. The religious requirement to perform Hajj pilgrimage had also helped them to establish an overland road between Yunnan and Arabia as early as the first half of the 14th Century AD (Forbes, 1987, 292).

In the pre-colonial times the Panthays emerged as excellent long-distance caravaneers from China to Southeast Asia and these Chinese Muslim muleteers had dominated whole caravan trade of Yunnan.

Dear darling, one contributor to the British Royal Geographical Society had remarked in 1888, on them as follows: “They (the Muslim caravaneers) are perhaps the greatest travelers on the face of the earth, if we may distinguish between those who are carried by trains or steamers and those who travel on their own feet.  Every year numbers of these men came from Yunnan to Rangoon and Maulmein, doing thousands of miles on foot, with caravans of ponies, mules or cattle to exchange the productions of the country for the imported wares of Rangoon.” (Forbes, 1987, 290)

Dear Nan, according to Hanna, a missionary who spent many years in Yunnan at the beginning of this century:” The men who guide the long trains of mules and ponies through the wild mountain passes of Yunnan and the Burmese frontiers, must be rugged in constitution and resolute in spirit to endure this rough life, filled with hardships and dangers.  The scanty and ill-cooked food, the long marches, the exposures to all kinds of weather…would indeed daunt any but men of iron mould (Forbes, 1987, 193)

The Chinese Muslim domination of the Yunnan caravan network seems to have continued well into the 20th century.  By the mid 19th century the caravans of’ Yunnanese traders ranged over an area extending from the eastern frontiers of Tibet, through Assam, Burma, Thailand, Laos and Tongking, to the southern Chinese provinces of Szechwan, Kweichow and Kwangsi.

These sturdy caravaneers were the first Pathays from Yunnan who came to Burma with their caravans and their merchandise for centuries before the Konbaung period.

There were well-established caravan routes between Yunnan and Burma:

  1. The Yunnan-Bhamo route.
  2. The Yunnan-Ava (later Mandalay) route via Theinni and Thibaw (Hsipaw) in the northern Shan State, and
  3. The route from Yunnan via Kengtung, through Lao and Thiland to Moulmein (Mawlamyine) and Rangoon.

Bhamo was an important entry-port for caravans from Yunnan. From there the Chinese goods were carried down by boat along Ayeyarwadi to the Burmese royal capital.

Likewise, Kengtung in the eastern Shan State was the most important entry-port in the Yunnan-Thailand and Mawlamyine-Yangon trade.

Similarly, Theinni served as an important transit station for caravans coming to the royal capital through the northern Shan State.

Dear Nan, Ma Thorda said that the Panthay caravaneers presented a familiar sight at the royal capital of Konbaung kings. The Bhamo route was the shortest, easiest and safest route from Yunnan. The Bhamo-Momien-Tali route was the main commercial highway used by and Chinese merchants form time immemorial, leading through the richest part of Yunnan, and tapping Szechwan and Kweichow, the most populous provinces in China.  Tens of thousands of mules passed through this route each year.  The volume of trade by Bhamo route in 1855 was estimated to be about nearly half a million pound sterling (The Sladen Report, 1871, 4).

Ma Thorda informed that the merchandise brought from Yunnan by the Panthay caravaneers included opium, wax, silk cloth, tea, metal utensils, iron in the rough, felts, finished articles of’ clothing, walnuts, preserved fruits and foods, and dried meat of’ several kinds.  The Burmese goods taken back to Yunnan were raw cotton, raw and wrought silk, amber, jades and other precious stones, velvets, betel-nuts, tobacco, gold-leaf, preserves, paps, dye woods, stick lac, ivory, and specialized foodstuffs such as slugs, edible birds’ nests, among other things (Anderson, 1876, 4).  Raw cotton, which was reserved as a royal monopoly, was in great demand in China.  An extensive trade in this commodity had existed between the Burmese kingdom and Yunnan.  (Forbes 1987, 293).  Thus, it can be said that the history of the Panthays in Burma began with the caravan trade between Burma and Yunnan, which had benefited both.

She continue to stress that besides the caravaneers, there were other Panthays, though small in number, who came to Burma, to trade in jades and other precious stones.  These merchants came via the Bhamo route. They were chiefly interested in the jade mines of northern Burma and ruby mines of Mogok.

Ko Tin Maung join us and added that since the beginning of the late Konbaung period, however, the Panthays started to settle in the royal capital of Mandalay, particularly during the reign of King Mindon.  A few of them worked inside the court as jade -assessors. They lived side by side with non-Muslim Chinese (T’ang Chinese) at Tayoktan(Chinatown) which had been designated by King Mindon as the residential area for the Chinese.  The T’ang Chinese had started settling in Mandalay considerably earlier than the Panthays so that by the time the latter arrived, there already was a Chinese community at Mandalay, with their own bank, companies and warehouses and some kind of organized social and economic life.

He continued that there were also Chinese jade-assessors in the employ of the king. Rivalry between the Chinese and Panthay jade-assessors in courting the royal favor naturally led to a quarrel between the two groups, resulting in a number of deaths (Interview with U Aung Myint).  King Mindon had not given much serious thought to the religious and social differences between the Panthays and the Chinese.  He had treated the two more or less alike.  But after the Tayoktan quarrel, the king began to see the wisdom of separating the two groups.

Ko Tin Maung shift back the focus from Burma to China.  An event that had a resounding impact on the history of the Yunnan province and rocked Manchu China from its foundation was the Panthay rebellion of 1855-73.  He stressed that it was just one of the series of Chinese Muslim rebillion in Yunnan. Islam being a non-indigenous religion of China, the concepts and behavior of Chinese Muslims in Yunnan were much differed from their compatriots. The Panthays tended to form in China exclusive circles, each retaining its identity and formed a closed-knitted society.

Starting from 1855 the Muslim majority of Yunnan had risen against the oppression by the mandarins who practised the tyranny and extortion.

The mandarins provoked anti-Muslim riots and instigated the destruction of the mosques. (Anderson, 1876, 233).  The widespread Chinese Muslim’s desire for revenge for insults to their religion led to a revolt.

The rebellion started as a local uprising.  It was sparked off by the Panthay labourers of the silver mines of Lin-an hsien village in Yunnan against their Chinese overseers. The Chinese Governor of Yunnan sent an urgent appeal to the central government at Peking (Beijing) and then committed suicide.  The Panthays, under the able leadership of Tu Wen-hsiu or Dowinsheow, turned their fury on the local mandarins and ended up with challenging the central government at Peking.

The Panthays won one victory after another in the initial phases of’ the rebellion. They wrested one important city after another from Mandarins. (Anderson, 1876, 233).

The ancient holy city of Tali-fu fell to the Panthays in 1857.  The Islamic Kingdom of Yunnan was proclaimed.  Tu Wen-hsiu, leader of the Panthays, assumed the regal title of Sultan Suleiman and made Tali-fu his capital. Panthay governorships were appointed in some cities, such as Momein (Tengyueh), near the Burmese border town of Bhamo. The Panthays were powerful for eight years from 1860 to 1868 in 1860. (Anderson, 1876, 343)

During this period the Sultan Suleiman, on his way to Mecca as a pilgrim, visited Rangoon, via Kengtung, and from there to Calcutta where he had a chance to see the power of the British (Anderson, 1876, 242).  It was also during this time that King Mindon granted the Panthays of the royal capital land on which to settle as a separate community.  The Panthays were given their own place of residence within the confines of the royal capital, at the present-day Panthay Compound (Chinese Muslim Quarter). This site was the camping ground for the mule caravans from Yunnan. King Mindon also permitted a mosque to be built on the granted site. The Panthays of Mandalay asked some fund from the Sultan of Yunnan to build the mosque.

Sultan Suleiman had already started a Hao (business enterprise) in Mandalay at a one-story brick building located at the present-day Taryedan on the west side of the 80th Street, between the 36th and 37th Street. The Sultan at once sent out Colonel Mah Too-tu, one of his senior military officers, as his special envoy and agent to Mandalay Ratanabon Naypyidaw with the important mission of constructing the mosque.

The mosque took about two years to finish and was opened in 1868; the second mosque ever built in the royal capital.  At the grand opening of the mosque, a great feast was given.  All the Muslims in Mandalay and its suburbs were invited to it. (Interview with Haji U Ba Thi).

The Panthay Mosque is still standing proudly as the second oldest mosque, in Mandalay and a standing witness to the long-lasting friendship and goodwill between the Burmese and the Panthays.

(Note: The oldest mosque in Mandalay is the North Obo Mosque, which was built a few years earlier than the Panthay Mosque. It was donated by King Mindon, second last King of Burma.)

In the meantime, in Yunnan, things were changing unfavorably for the Panthays.  The Panthays in 1868 found it difficult to hold on to what they had won. The civil war dragged on and Yunnan was war-torn. The Panthay power declined after 1868.  The Chinese Imperial Government had succeeded in reinvigorating itself by 1871; it was directing a campaign for the annihilation of the Panthays of Yunnan.  The Panthay Kingdom’s town after town fell to the imperial troops.  Tali-fu itself was besieged by the imperial Chinese.  Sultan Suleiman desperately turned to the British for military assistance (Thaung, 1961, 481).

The Sultan had seen the British might in India on his pilgrimage to Mecca.  The British authorities in India and British Burma had sent a mission led by Major Saladin to Momien from May to July 1868.  They stayed seven weeks at Momien.

King Mindon’s had deliberately discouraged all communications with China via Bhamo and restricted the trade to the long overland journey of two months, via Theinni to Mandalay. The Panthay caravans had been encouraged to come to Mandalay only at first but King Mindon see the practical economic and political advantages of the resuscitation of’ Bhamo trade to his country and people and extended all the help to the Saladin mission.  The mission was cordially received by the Panthay Governor of Momien, Ta-sa-kon.  Due to lack of’ security of the roads, Saladin was not allowed to proceed to Tali-fu to discuss matters directly with the Sultan Saladin and the Momien Governor Ta-sa-kon, as the Sultan’s personal representative, signed an agreement in which the British and the Panthays pledged to foster Yunnan-Burma trade to the best of their ability.

In 1872 Sultan Suleiman sent his adopted son Prince Hassan, to England, with a personal letter to Queen Victoria, via Burma, requesting British military assistance.  The Hassan Mission was accorded courtesy and hospitality in both British Burma and England.  However, the British politely, but firmly, refused to intervene militarily in Yunnan against Peking (Thaung, 1961, 481).  The mission was a failure.  While Hassan and his party were abroad, Tali-fu was captured by the Imperial troops in January 1873.

The Imperial Government had waged an all-out war against the Panthays with the help of French artillery experts (Thaung, 1961, 481).  Their modern equipment, trained personnel and numerical superiority were no match for the ill-equipped Panthays without any allies.  Thus, in less than two decades of its rise, the power of the Panthays in Yunnan fell. (Anderson, 1876, 243).

Sultan Suleiman tried to take his own life before the fall of’ Tali-fu.  But, before the poison he drank took effect fully, he was beheaded by his enemies.  The Sultan’s head was preserved in honey and then dispatched to the Imperial Court in Peking as a trophy and a testimony to the decisive nature of the victory of the Imperial Chinese over the Panthays of Yunnan (Thaung, 1961, 482).

The scattered remnants of the Panthay troops continue their resistance after the fall of Tali-fu.  Momien was fell in May 1873, Governor Ta-sa-kon was executed. Panthay were hounded out, persecuted and massacred. Many fled with their families across the Burmese border and took refuge in the Wa State where, about 1875, they set up the exclusively Panthay town of Panglong (Scott, 1901, 740).

The blood-bath that occurred had made many Panthays to flee the Yunnan, and those who were already outside decided not to return to Yunnan. The Panthays in Mandalay had left their families behind when they set out for Burma.  These Panthay businessmen started raising second families in Mandalay by taking Burmese Muslim wives. Because of this most of the first-generation Panthays of Mandalay had non-Chinese wives and most of their descendants today are Burmanized.

When Colonel Mah Too-tu came to Mandalay with the mission to build the Panthay Mosque, he left his family behind in Yunnan.  Then he was assigned by the Sultan to take charge of the Panthay business enterprise at Taryedan (Interview with Haji U Ba Thi).  When the Sultanate fell, Mah Too-tu was stranded at Mandalay.  Mah Too-tu had no other alternative but to settle down in Mandalay.  Since November 1868 he had bought a plot of land with a house on it for 80 pieces of one-kyat coins from Khunit Ywa-sa Princess (Family Parabaik).  The plot happened to be at the southwest corner of the land granted by King Mindon to the Panthays (corner of’ 36th and 80th Street).  The addition of Mah Too-tu’s plot made the Panthay compound into a full square.  On 7 June, 1873, Mah Too-tu married Shwe Gwe, a lady from Sagyin-wa village near Amarapura (Than Tun, 1968, 19), who happened to be the daughter of a princess of Manipur brought to Mandalay as a captive by the Burmese king.  Mah Too-tu spent the last years of his life at the Panthay Compound with his Burmese wife.

After the mass exodus from Yunnan, the number of Panthays residing in Mandalay gradually increased. The establishment of the Panthay Mosque in 1868 marked the emergence of the Chinese Muslims as a distinct community at Mandalay. Although the number of this first generation of Panthays remained small, the Mosque, which is still standing, constitutes a historic landmark.  It signifies the beginning of the first Panthay Jama’at (Congregation) in Mandalay Ratanabon Naypyidaw.

Dear Nan, now you know about your distant cousin Ma Thorda’s history. Although they had followed your path of long march migration thousands of years later, we have no choice but to accept them as our fellow citizens. We cannot ethnic cleanse them now, could not kill or drive them out of our Shwe Bama village tract. In stead of fighting or making enemy, we have to find out a WIN WIN solution. We all must cooperate and work together for our mutual benefits. In the rapidly changing world of globalization the whole world is slowly transforming into a global village.

Darling, instead of fighting each other, we should use those of our ‘recently new citizens’ who have blood relations abroad to promote better cooperation and trade with their place of origin. For example at least we could promote tourism in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Southern Thailand, Southern Philippine and Brunei by using their blood related our Malay Muslims staying in southern Shwe Bama village tract. Dear Nan, do you remember the incidence when you were doing your Ph D in Singapore National University, one Singaporean Malay Ph D scholar wish to do her research about the Malays in our country. She wish to do research on the differences or changes in the dialect, customs etc with full audiovisual equipment but the stupid SPDC Government and their envoys give thousands of excuses, restrictions, need to get permission from various ministries including stringiest security checks, controls and conditions. So at last she gives up and went to do research in southern Thailand Malays.

Dear Nan, when compare to  the socio-political conditions in  Southern Thailand, our Shwe Bama lower part is quite peaceful. Because of the myopic SPDC Generals our country not only lost the opportunity to advertise but lost some USD income. After all she got the Ph D, Thai government and business persons got the USD her team spent and got free advertisement.

Like that, we should use Ma Thorda, Panthay Mosque in Mandalay, Colonel Mah Too-tu’s stone inscription in front of that mosque and Panthays to get tourist USD from Yunnan Chinese Muslims.

Dear Nan, we have to accept the positive effects of the migrants that they enrich the assortment of different genes and increase the gene pool, cause the suppression of the genetic diseases and enhance the well being of the host community.

Dear darling, if we cannot fight our and win over the family, the best option is to made peace and win over the friendship. As we cannot reverse their migration process, we should use this for our benefit. If we inhibit the mix marriages we would be committing the offence under the Genocide definition. We have to accept that the Migration leads to cross-marriages. As stated above, it enlarged the genetic pool, widened the scope and horizon of the genetic choice. And it turned over the stock, adding depth, colour and diversity. Not only in the genotype and physical features or phenotype, but their skills, wisdom, intelligence, socio-culture, arts, material wealth, investment, ideas, contacts and vibrancy could be increased.

Nan, at least we get our distant cousins cum best friends Ko Tin Maung, Ma Thorda and family out of the mixed marriages. And their children although Burmese, Indian, Chinese and Shan mixed blooded but they no one could claim that they are less loyal to Shwe Bama or inferior to other ‘pure blooded’ citizens.

Dear Nan, I still remember your words explaining me about antiforeigner, anti-ethnic minorities, anti-Christian, anti-Chinese and anti-Muslim elements in successive Myanmar Military Governments with Xenophobia.

Dear darling, sometimes your concepts about the antiracial and antireligious discriminations are so advanced that I even cannot accept your ideas at first. I have to admit with a little bit shy that I slowly understand and accept your ideas few years later especially with the help of my experience as a foreigner working abroad.

Dear Nan, according to your words referring to the Wikipedia encyclopaedia, Xenophobia denotes a phobic attitude toward strangers or of the unknown. It comes from the Greek words xenos, meaning “foreigner,” “stranger,” and phobos, meaning “fear.”

The term is typically used to describe fear or dislike of foreigners or in general of people different from one’s self. For example, racism is sometimes described as a form of xenophobia.

Xenophobia implies a belief, accurate or not, that the target is in some way foreign. The American Psychiatric Association‘s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition (“DSM-IV”) includes in its description of a phobia an “intense anxiety” which follows exposure to the “object of the phobia, either in real life or via imagination or video…”

For xenophobia there are two main objects of the phobia. The first is a population group present within a society, which is not considered part of that society. Often they are recent immigrants, but xenophobia may be directed against a group which has been present for centuries. This form of xenophobia can elicit or facilitate hostile and violent reactions, such as mass expulsion of immigrants, or in the worst case, genocide.

The second form of xenophobia is primarily cultural, and the object of the phobia is cultural elements which are considered alien. All cultures are subject to external influences, but cultural xenophobia is often narrowly directed, for instance at foreign loan words in a national language. It rarely leads to aggression against persons, but can result in political campaigns for cultural or linguistic purification.

Dear Nan, Isolationism practised by General Ne Win and recently reinstated by Sr Gen. Than Shwe is a general aversion of foreign affairs, is not accurately described as xenophobia but could lead to it.

But dear darling, the first generation of migrants like most of our Shwe Bamas working and settling around the world knows and accepts what we are. We know that we are just foreigners and are grateful to the host countries and happy because we are accepted and allowed to settle in their new paradises. The hardships and numerous problems in our Shwe Bama village tract under various Myanmar Military Governments are still fresh in our memory and are sometimes refreshed by the nightmares as replays of the sufferings. We are willing to accept all the preconditions, restrictions, rules and regulations even if unfair or unfavourable to us just to be allowed to stay in their host countries. We are glad to struggle and overcome all the hardships we encounter sometimes even with the ecstasy spirit. We all have the fighting, never surrendering spirit and almost always work hard for long hours. We do not mind even if we have to work with lower wages and without much dignity. And many of our unfortunate brothers and sisters from Shwe Bama workers are well known to face the ‘three D’ works i.e. Dangerous, Dirty and Difficult jobs without much Dignity. But Nan, we have to be proud that our Shwe Bama migrants are famous for hard work and sought after by the host countries’ employers.

But dear Nan, some of our children, the second generation of Migrants naturally try to, or even subconsciously, rejected the past. They could not accept the reality that their parents had migrated and day dream that they are totally same as the original citizens. The pressure to assimilate or merge with the mainstream society is very strong. Some of the children of Shwe Bama migrants sometimes even pretend as if they are the pure blood local breeds. Social, cultural and religious conflicts emerge between the parents and children. Parents are regarded as old timers, who stick to their original Shwe Bama values. Our children’s spirit for hard work may not be comparable to us, the first generation migrants. Our children could not accept the unfair discriminations imposed by locals.

As you know Nan, our grandchildren or the third generation Migrants and onwards at last would naturally found out that although they tried very hard, it is very difficult to be accepted and treated as ‘pure locals’.

Dear Nan, you already know that the migrant and mixed blood image is very difficult to erase until and unless the migrant intermarries, converts to the host population’s religion and changes all the old culture, customs, habits, language and etc. The migrants have to discard all his identities to be accepted or assimilated into local circle. For example in Shwe Bama village tract, Eurasians or Japan or Hindu or Chinese or Indian Muslim if convert into Buddhism are well assimilated and accepted.

And you are right to say that if the migrant’s religion is the same as the host, assimilation process is faster and easier. If not, there will always be a clear line of differentiation leading to discriminations and conflicts. According to the common sense, citizen laws, internationally recognised and accepted norms and THE UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS, the migrants   rightfully but almost always claims that they should have all the equal rights and equal chances and opportunities as the citizens of the country.

Dear Nan, some of them may try to cover up or even denies their roots as an easy way out to become a true pure blood native, son of the earth. See General Ne Win, ‘successfully’ covered up his Chinese mixed blood.

And we could see that those descendants of Migrants, third generation and onwards will form a new tribe or a new Minority group among the citizens of the nation. This could not avoid, especially if their race and religions are different. Assimilation would never be complete in spite of trying to do so even if it comes from the both-sides, Migrants and hosts. It is a major problem of ‘Identity Crisis’ for the later generations of descendants of Migrants. As they are already established citizens with a sufficiently long enough history, they rightfully regarded themselves as the citizens with equal rights in contrast to the recent Migrants, who were used to bear all the discriminations with their eyes closed. And they will not happily accept that all those hardships and discriminations are necessary essential sacrifices and is the price to pay for the Migration. For the successive generations, sacrifice is no more accepted but the ‘Equal Rights’ and ‘Human Rights’ became the main issue.

Dear Nan, as the Migrants progress, the locals feel the heat. Their jealousy increased, self-esteem diminishes and the ugly side of pride for been the host increased under the disguise of nationalistic spirit. They thought that because of their mercy and generosity only the guests are accepted, and they try to impose all the restrictions and conditions on them. To protect their own business, properties, job opportunities, chances and rights in every field and of course “to protect their race and religion” they have to put up written and unwritten, laws and regulations to monopolise the country. They took advantages, handicaps and favours citing all the lame excuses. There will be sporadic bouts of anti-migrant or anti-foreigner riots based on race or religion. This phenomenon is seen mostly in underdeveloped countries and could not eliminate even in well advanced rich democracy countries.

Darling, anti-foreign sentiments and ultra-nationalistic spirits are fanned and drummed up. Migrants with similar race and religion are rapidly assimilated homogeneously. Migrants sharing the same religion could also assimilate in later generations especially if they marry the locals. Some converted and try to cover up their roots. Because of the conversion they would also be well accepted into the mainstream.

Yes Nan, you are right, I am wasting a lot of time. We have to do our main duty to seek help by shouting MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY because our Shwe Bama country is in danger. SPDC Junta had committed not only the GENOCIDE and Crimes against Humanity but are also destructing the whole economy of Myanmar with their mismanagement of the economy. They stupidly increased the government servant’s salaries indiscriminately; creating a rapid depreciation of the Myanmar Currency leading to a rapid widening of the gap between the ordinary people’s earning power and the cost of their living. They seem to have no knowledge of economy to run a country. And their clown General Kyaw San announced to day asking people to spend thriftily to prevent escalating prices of commodity. It is similar to Saddam Hussein’s request to his Iraq people to eat one meal only. May be they should mimic the advice of the French queen before the revolution and order the Myanmar people to eat cakes if they have no enough rice.

 Good-bye dear

With best New Year wishes and prayers

(Ko Tin Nwe) 



Anderson, John, Mandalay to Momien: A Narrative of the Two Expeditions to Western China of 1868 and 1875 (London: Macmillan, 1876).

Ba Shin, Lt. Colonel, “Coming of Islam to Burma Down to l700 AD.,” Asian History Congress (New Delhi: Azad Bhavan, 1961).

Forbes, D.W., “The Role of Hui Muslims in the Traditional Caravan Trade between Yunnan and Thailand,”

Asian Merchants and Businessmen in the Indian Ocean and the China sea: 13-20 Centuries (French Journal published under the direction of Denys Lombard & Jean Aubin), (Paris: School of Higher Studies in Social Sciences, 1987).

Kaye, J.W., Major Sladen’s Report on the Bhamo Route, (In Continuation of’ Parliamentary Paper No. 251, of Session 1868-9), (London: India Office, 1871), Microfilm copy.

Scott, J. George, GUBSS, 1, i ( Rangoon Government Printing, 1900).

GUBSS, ii, ii (Rangoon- Government Printing, 1901).

Thaung, Dr., “Panthay Interlude in Yunnan: A Study in Vicissitudes Through the Burmese Kaleidoscope,” JBRS Fifth Anniversary Publications No. 1 (Rangoon Sarpy Beikman, 1961).

Yule, Col. Henry & Burnell, A. C., Hobson-Jobson- A Glossary of Colloquial Anglo-Indian Words and Phrases, and of Kindred Terms, Etymological, Historical, Geographical And Discursive (Delhi-.  Munshiran Manoharlal, 1968), Reprint.

Than Tun, Dr. (Professor of History), History on Tour, 111, (In Myanmar) (Yangon Nantha House, August 1968).

Parabaik dated 13 November, 1868 containing a short account of’ Mah Too-tu’s purchase of land and house from Khunit Ywa-sa Princess (a family parabaik of the writer).



U Myo Nyunt, Burma Studies, Australis, said _

Dear  Ko Tin Nwe, your last  two  penetrative paragraphs  say it all. Burma (Myanmar)  and its people, are since its emergence, integrated and fused into a  collective identity. I grew up in Kyauk myit, Monywa, later stayed in tayoke tan, 25th street, Mandalay. Went to Catholic schools  in Taunggyi, Shan States, and Rangoon, but considered myself as a Burmese (bamar-myanmar). Labeled and named sometimes  a “kalar- ka byar”, as  my great grand parents were Parsis, Mon-Shans, Bamars.  You  have exposed the  “various masks” that each one of us wear.
And I presume that some of  our Burmese democrats understand , your message.
Please continue with the  good work.
The key to empowerment, personal and collective, the understanding that though there is darkness the light in it will always reassert itself.

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