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Kingdoms of South East Asia


Before leaving Montreal for this trip I prepared the following background notes on some of the kingdoms and empires that have most strongly marked South East Asia so as to help me better understand their influence on today's reality in the region. They are presented alphabetically for they cover the whole region and are referenced in several other texts.(To avoid confusion, I have used modern names as much as possible indicating the ancient names once for reference purposes.)


A) Ayutthaya  [1351-1767](Thailand)

Ayutthaya is located in the rich rice plains of the Chao Phraya River basin, 90 km north of present-day Bangkok. During the 400 year Ayutthayan period the Thai consolidated their position as the leading power in what is now central and north-central Thailand, as well as throughout much of its southern peninsular region. Since many of Ayutthaya's neighbours called the country "Siam," the Thai of Ayutthaya came to be known as the Siamese. Ayutthaya at first was only a small city-kingdom on the northwestern edge of the powerful Khmer empire. Within less than a century, however, Thai kings succeeded in pushing back the Khmer, and in 1431 they sacked their great capital of Angkor. Wars against neighbouring powers remained endemic throughout the Ayutthayan period. In 1438 a greatly weakened Sukhothai was made a province of Ayutthaya but Chiang Mai(Lan Na)remained free of Ayutthayan control, although it was later brought under Burman influence.

After the Siamese conquered Angkor, they brought many Khmer captives back to Ayutthaya. Some of these had been officials or craftsmen at the Khmer royal court and Ayutthaya's rulers adopted many Hindu practices that had been followed by the Khmer, including the concept of the ruler as god-king. The king acquired powers of life and death over all his people. Only members of the royal family could gaze upon his face and he had to be addressed in a special language used exclusively for royalty. The power of the ruler was enhanced not only through symbolic and ideological concepts drawn from Khmer-Hindu beliefs about the god-king but also through the centralization of political power. The Thai developed a state in which the ruler stood at the centre of a series of concentric circles. The outer circles were governed by hereditary lords, while the inner circles were administered by office-holders appointed by the king.

The kings of Ayutthaya also issued formal codes of civil and criminal law based on ancient Indian jurisprudence. At the same time, a formal and highly complex hierarchical system assigned each person a varying number of units that designated one's rank within society. At the bottom of the scale, a slave was worth 5 units; freemen were ranked at 25 and above, while the heir apparent was assigned no fewer than 100,000 units.

The mass of the people in Ayutthayan times were peasant farmers, either freemen or slaves. The latter included war captives, bondsmen, and debtors. Freemen were obliged to work for six months each year for the local representatives of the king, to pay taxes, and to provide military service as required. An intricate patronage system extended throughout society, whereby clients provided their patrons with services in return for the protection of the patrons. Ayutthaya was an underpopulated society, and the constant need for manpower helped protect clients from excessive demands by patrons; if the demands of the patrons became too burdensome, the freeman could always move and take up new land as a last resort.

Despite the introduction of Brahmanism into court ritual and the admixture of animism and superstition that pervaded religious practice at all levels of society, Theravada Buddhism took deep root throughout Siam during Ayutthayan times. The Buddhist monastic establishment played an important role in society, forming a focal point for village life, providing young males with an education, and offering those who elected to remain in the monkhood a channel for upward social mobility.

At its height, Ayutthaya was one of the wealthiest and most cosmopolitan cities of its day. Although it lay inland, it was easily accessible to oceangoing vessels traveling up the Chao Phraya River, and it became a thriving international trade emporium. It was during this period that European traders and travelers first started coming to Siam. The Portuguese reached Siam as early as 1511, following their conquest of Malacca on the Malay Peninsula. They were followed in the 17th century by Dutch, English, Spanish, and French traders and missionaries. Ayutthayan kings permitted settlements of Chinese, Indian, and Persian, as well as European, traders. They employed Japanese warriors and allowed Western missionaries to preach within Ayutthayan domains. In addition to engaging in extensive trade with China, Southeast Asia, and India, the rulers of Ayutthaya also sent triennial tribute missions to the Chinese imperial court, established Buddhist missions in Sri Lanka and sent emissaries abroad as far afield as Europe. King Narai (ruled 1656-88) initiated a series of diplomatic exchanges between Ayutthaya and the French court at Versailles and even appointed a Greek adventurer, Constantine Phaulkon, as his chief minister. Eventually, however, the Europeans became overly zealous in their efforts to convert Buddhist Siamese to Christianity. In 1688 the Siamese expelled the French from Ayutthaya and all but closed their doors to the West for the next 150 years.

However, the primary threat to Ayutthayan sovereignty came not from Europe but from Myanmar. In 1569 a force from the Burman state of Toungoo overran Ayutthaya and devastated the country for miles around. Led by Naresuan (ruled 1590-1605), Ayutthaya recovered its independence. Conflict with Myanmar persisted, however, and in the mid-18th century Burman armies once again captured Ayutthaya. This time the city was not to recover. Following the sacking of the city in 1767, the king and members of the royal family, along with thousands of captives, were deported to Myanmar. All Ayutthayan records were burned and its works of art destroyed.


B) Bagan kingdom  [849-1287](Myanmar)

Between about 500 and 950, people of the Burman ethnic group had been infiltrating from the north into the central region of Myanmar which was occupied by Pyu people that had come under the influence of Mahayana Buddhism from Bihar and Bengal. The Burmans centred on the small settlement of Bagan on the left bank of the Irrawaddy River 150 km southwest of Mandalay. By the mid-9th century, Bagan had emerged as the capital of a powerful kingdom that would unify Myanmar and would inaugurate the Burman domination of the country that has continued to the present day. During the 8th and 9th centuries the kingdom of Nanzhao  became the dominant power in southwestern China. Nanzhao mounted a series of raids on the cities of mainland Southeast Asia in the early decades of the 9th century and even captured Hanoi in 861. The Mon and Khmer cities held firm, but the Pyu capital of Halingyi fell. The Burmans moved into this political vacuum, establishing Bagan as their capital city in 849. In 1287 Bagan was overrun by the Mongols during their wide-ranging conquests, and it never recovered its predominant position.

Bagan is now a pilgrimage centre and contains ancient Buddhist shrines that have been restored and redecorated and are in current use. Ruins of other shrines and pagodas cover a wide area. An earthquake, in 1975, severely damaged more than half of the important structures and irreparably destroyed many of them. The whole of the Buphaya pagoda, for nine centuries a landmark for river boatmen, tumbled into the Irrawaddy and was carried off by the waters. The village also has a school for lacquer ware, for which the region is noted. Pagan's importance lies in its heritage rather than its present.

Old Bagan was a walled city, its western flank resting on the Irrawaddy River. It was the focus of a network of highroads by means of which its rulers could command a large region of fertile plains and could dominate other major Myanmar dynastic cities, such as Bago. From the port of Thiripyissaya, further down the river, important overseas trade was conducted with India, Ceylon, and other regions of Southeast Asia. The walls of the old city, within which lies a substantial area of the modern town, probably originally contained only royal, aristocratic, religious, and administrative buildings. The populace is thought to have lived outside in homes of light construction closely resembling those occupied by the present-day inhabitants. The walled city, whose moats were fed by the Irrawaddy, was thus a sacred dynastic fortress. The circuit of its walls and river frontage is some 4 km and there is evidence that perhaps as much as a third of the old city has been washed away by the river. Because building was principally of bricks, decoration was carried out in carved brick, in stucco, and in terra-cotta. The earliest surviving structure is probably the 10th-century Nat Hlaung Gyaung. The shrines that stand by the Sarabha Gate in the eastern wall are also early although later than the wall they adjoin. These are shrines of "nats", the traditional spirit deities of the animist ethnic Burmans.

Under King Anawrahta (reigned 1044-77), the ethnic Burmans finally conquered the other peoples of the region, including the Mon, who had been dominant around Thaton and Bago in the south. They transported the Mon royal family and their scholars and craftsmen to Bagan, making it the capital and centre of an official, fundamentalist form of Theravada(Hinayana)Buddhism adopted from Sri Lanka. This initiated the period of Pagan's greatness, which was sustained at first by Mon artistic traditions. The enormous number of monasteries and shrines built and maintained during the next 200 years was made possible both by the great wealth of the kingdom and by the large number of skilled and unskilled slaves owned by each monastery. The city became one of the most important centres of Buddhist learning.

Lesser buildings are grouped around the more important pagodas and temples. All are based on Indian prototypes, modified during subsequent development by the Mon. The principal architectural theme is the Buddhist stupa, a tall bell dome, designed originally to contain, near its apex, the sacred relics of Buddhist saints. Another, is the high, terraced plinth, which may be supplemented by stairs, gateways, extra stupas, and pinnacles and symbolizes a sacred mountain. During the course of artistic evolution, the themes were frequently combined and the combination opened into a complex rectangular hall with porticos extending from the sides, crowned by a stupa or, in some cases, by a rectangular tower of curved outline reminiscent of the contemporary Indian Hindu shrine tower. A vista across the site of Bagan shows a series of variations and combinations of the themes.

Anawrahta constructed the Shwezigon  pagoda to enshrine a replica of the Buddha tooth kept in Kandy. Nearby he built a nat shrine with images. The Shwezigon is a huge, terraced pyramid, square below, circular above, crowned by a bell-shaped stupa of traditional Mon shape and adorned with stairways, gates, and decorative spires. It is much revered and famous for its huge golden umbrella finial encrusted with jewels. It was considerably damaged in the earthquake of 1975. Also revered are the late 12th-century pyramidal Mahabodhi, built as a copy of the temple at the site of the Buddha's enlightenment at Bodh Gaya, in India, and the Ananda temple just beyond the east gate, founded in 1091 under King Kyanzittha. By the time the Thatbyinnu temple was built (1144), Mon influence was waning, and a Burman architecture had evolved. Its four stories, resembling a two-staged pyramid, and its orientation are new. Its interior rooms are spacious halls, rather than sparsely lit openings within a mountain mass, as in the earlier style. This building combined the functions of stupa, temple, and monastery. The Burman style was further developed in the great Sulamani  temple and culminated in the Gawdawpalin, dedicated to the ancestral spirits of the dynasty, whose exterior is decorated with miniature pagodas and the interior, with extremely lavish, coloured surface ornament.


B) British period  [1824-1948](Myanmar)

The First Anglo-Burmese War arose from friction between Arakan in western Burma and British-held Chittagong to the north. After Burma's defeat of the kingdom of Arakan in 1784-85, Arakanese refugees went north into British territory and, from their sanctuaries in Bengal, formed armed contingents and recrossed the border, attacking Burmese garrisons in Arakan. In retaliation, Burmese forces crossed into Bengal, withdrawing only when challenged by Bengal authorities. In 1823, Burmese forces again crossed the frontier and the British responded with a large seaborne expedition that took Rangoon (1824) without a fight. The British hope of making the Burmese submit by holding the delta region and threatening the capital failed as Burmese resistance stiffened. In 1825 the British Indian forces advanced northward. In a skirmish south of Ava, the Burmese general Bandula was killed and his armies routed. The 1926 Treaty of Yandabo formally ended the First Anglo-Burmese War. The British victory had been achieved mainly because India's superior resources had made possible a sustained campaign running through two rainy seasons, the British-led Indian troops having suffered more than 15,000 fatalities.

After 25 years of peace, the British Indian government sent a naval officer, Commodore Lambert, to Rangoon to investigate British merchant's complaints of extortion. When Lambert seized a ship that belonged to the Burmese king, another war began. By July 1852 the British had captured the ports of Lower Burma and had begun a March on the capital. Slowly but steadily the British-Indian forces occupied the central teak forests of Burma. The new king Mindon Min (ruled 1853-78) requested the dispersal of British forces. The British were unreceptive but were hesitant to advance farther northward; with both sides at an impasse, the fighting simply ceased. The British now occupied all Lower Burma but without formal recognition of the Burmese court. Commercial imperialism was the motive for this campaign.

Mindon tried to readjust to the thrust of imperialism. He enacted administrative reforms and made Burma more receptive to foreign interests. To offset the British, he entertained envoys from France and sent his own emissaries there. When his government fined the Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation for under reporting its extractions of teak from Toungoo, the British seized the occasion to unleash the Third Anglo-Burmese War which lasted less than two weeks during November 1885.

The Myanmar people never expected the speed with which the capital would be taken. The hopelessly outmatched royal troops surrendered quickly, although armed resistance continued for several years. The Myanmar also believed that the British aim was merely to replace King Thibaw with a prince who had been sheltered and groomed in India for the throne. This belief seemed to be confirmed when the British commander called upon the High Court of Justice to continue to function. The British finally decided, however, not only to annex all of northern Myanmar as a colony but also to make the whole country a province of India. Rangoon became the capital of the province, after having been the capital of British Lower Burma.


C) Champa kingdom  [192-1700](Vietnam)

Champa was formed in AD 192, during the breakup of the Han dynasty of China, when the Han official in charge of the region established his own kingdom around the area of the present city of Hue. Although the territory was at first inhabited mainly by wild tribes involved in incessant struggles with the Chinese colonies in Tonkin, it gradually came under Indian cultural influence, evolving into a decentralized country composed of four small states, named after regions of India, Amaravati (Quang Nam), Vijaya (Binh Dinh), Kauthara (Nha Trang), and Panduranga (Phan Rang). The four states had a powerful fleet that was used for commerce and for piracy. The Cham people, of Malayo-Polynesian stock and Indianized culture, were finally united under the rule of King Bhadravarman around 400AD.

In retaliation for Cham raids on their coast, the Chinese invaded Champa in 446, bringing the region under their suzerainty once again. Finally, under a new dynasty in the 6th century, Champa threw off its allegiance to China and entered into an era of great independent prosperity and artistic achievements. In the late 8th century the Chams were distracted by attacks from Java, but in the 9th century they renewed their pressure on the Chinese provinces to the north and the growing Khmer Empire to the west. Under Indravarman II, who established the Indrapura dynasty in 875, the capital of the country was moved to the northern province of Amaravati (Quang Nam), near present Hue, and elaborate palaces and temples were constructed.

In the 10th century the Vietnamese kingdom of Dai Viet, based in Hanoi, began to exert pressure on Champa, forcing it to relinquish Amaravati in 1000 and Vijaya in 1069. Harivarman IV, who founded the ninth Cham dynasty in 1074, was able to stave off further Vietnamese and Cambodian attacks, but in 1145 the Khmers, under the aggressive leadership of Suryavarman II, invaded and conquered Champa. Two years later a new Cham king, Jaya Harivarman I, arose and threw off Khmer rule, and his successor sacked the Cambodian capital at Angkor in 1177. Between 1190 and 1220 the Chams again came under Cambodian suzerainty, and later in the 13th century they were attacked by the Tran kings of Vietnam, as well as by the Mongols in 1284. By the late 15th century, incessant wars of aggression and defense had for all practical purposes wiped out the Champa kingdom; one by one their provinces were annexed until Champa was entirely absorbed in the 17th century.


C) Chiang Mai  [1292-1558](Thailand)

The Chiang Mai kingdom(also called LanNa)in what is today northern Thailand, was founded by the Thai ruler of Chiang Rai, Mangrai, who conquered the ancient(9th century) Mon kingdom of Haripunjaya and built a new capital at Chiang Mai in 1296. Under Mangrai and his successors Chiang Mai became not only powerful but also a centre for the spread of Theravada Buddhism to Thai peoples in what are now northeastern Myanmar, southern China, and northern Laos. Under Tilokaracha (ruled 1441-87), Chiang Mai became famous for its Buddhist scholarship and literature. It was conquered by the Toungoo  and incorporated into the Burman empire in 1558 but the central Thai states of Ayutthaya and Bangkok challenged Burman control over the area. In 1774, the Thai king Taksin drove out the Myanma; but Chiang Mai retained a degree of independence from Bangkok until the late 19th century.

Chiang Mai is the largest city in northern Thailand and the third largest city in the nation after Bangkok and Khorat(Nakhon Ratchasima). It is located on the Ping River, a major tributary of the Chao Phraya River, near the centre of a fertile intermontane basin at an elevation of 335 meters. It serves as the religious, economic, cultural, educational, and transportation centre for both northern Thailand and part of neighbouring Myanmar. The older part of town and particularly the 18th-century walled settlement, is on the west bank of the river; it contains ruins of many 13th and 14th century temples of which Wat Phra Sing (1345) that houses Phra Sing, the most venerated Buddha figure of the north and Wat Chedi Luang (1411) that held Bangkok's famous Emerald Buddha during the 15th and 16th centuries. Just outside the city, at an elevation of 1,073 m on the slopes of Mount Suthep, stands the temple complex of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep which is one of Thailand's most famous pilgrimage sites. Phu Ping Palace, the summer home of the Thai royal family, is also nearby.


K) Khmer kingdom  [802-1432](Cambodia)

Khmer civilization developed over several distinct periods. The first was marked by the small, somewhat decentralized Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms of Funan and Chenla, beginning in the 1st century AD and extending into the 8th century.

In the late 8th and early 9th centuries, Jayavarman II founded the dynasty that became established at Angkor by the early 10th century. This era has been called the classical period of Khmer civilization (802-1432). Jayavarman's successors constructed great architectural monuments at Angkor. The power of the Khmer empire peaked in the 12th century under Suryavarman II, who built the temple complex of Angkor Wat. His armies ranged as far west as northern Thailand and as far east as northern Vietnam. The Khmer empire's strength was based on a well-developed system of irrigated rice cultivation and on an elaborate bureaucracy that exerted control over Khmer manpower. In the early 13th century, Jayavarman VII extended the empire farther than had any of his predecessors.

The Empire crumbled later in the 13th and 14th centuries when domestic instability caused by the accession of weak rulers left the Khmer exposed to the attacks of their neighbours. Their difficulties were compounded when Buddhism began to undermine the hierarchy of the state, which was based on Hinduism. By the 15th century the Khmer could no longer defend their capital at Angkor. The next 400 years were a period of political and social decline in which Khmer rulers were often involved in wars with Vietnam and Siam. Many times the Khmer rulers became vassals of one or the other.


L) Lan Xang kingdom  [1353-1713](Laos)

Recorded Laotian history begins with Fa Ngum, the ruler who founded the first Laotian state, Lan Xang, with the help of the Khmer  sovereign at Angkor. Fa Ngum was a great warrior and, between 1353 and 1371, he conquered territories that included all of present-day Laos and much of what is today northern and eastern Thailand. He extended the Indo-Khmer civilization to the upper Mekong River and introduced Theravada Buddhism, which had been preached by Khmer missionaries from Angkor. In 1373 Fa Ngum was succeeded by his son Oun Hueun, who did much to organize the pattern of administration and defense for the kingdom. After his death in 1416, a long period of calm, broken only by a Vietnamese invasion in 1479, allowed his successors to complete the work of organizing Lan Xang.

This period of peace and tranquility ended with Photisarath (ruled 1520-48), who involved Lan Xang in a struggle against Myanmar  and the Thai kingdom of Ayutthaya that lasted two centuries. Photisarath waged three wars against Ayutthaya and succeeded in placing his son Setthathirath on the throne of the Thai state of Chiang Mai (Lan Na), marking Lan Xang's maximum territorial expansion. On Photisarath's death, his son returned to rule Lan Xang as Setthathirath I (ruled 1548-71). His reign was marked by the loss of Chiang Mai to the Myanma, by the transfer of the capital from Luang Prabang to Vientiane(Vien Chan), and by the repulsion of two Myanma invasions that took place about 1565 and 1570.

Shortly after he died (1571), the Myanma seized Vientiane and ravaged the country, which lapsed into anarchy until Souligna Vongsa ascended the throne in 1637 and restored order. He fixed the frontiers with Vietnam and Thailand by means of treaties. A defender of Buddhism and a patron of the arts, he embellished Vientiane and made it a vibrant intellectual centre. His reign is considered by Laotians to be a golden age.

When Souligna Vongsa died in 1694, one of his nephews seized the throne with the help of a Vietnamese army, thus placing Lan Xang under Vietnamese rule and initiating a period of chaos that ended in the partition of the kingdom of Lan Xang. Other members of the royal family refused to accept Vietnamese vassalage. With the northern provinces under their control, they declared themselves independent in 1707 and established the separate kingdoms of Luang Prabang and Vientiane. The south seceded in turn and set itself up as the kingdom of Champassak in 1713. Split into three rival kingdoms, Lan Xang ceased to exist.


L) Le dynasty (later)  [1428-1788](Vietnam)

The Le dynasty was the greatest and longest lasting dynasty of traditional Vietnam. Its predecessor, the Earlier Le, was founded by Le Hoan and lasted from 980 to 1009. The Later Le was established when its founder, Le Loi, began a resistance movement against the Chinese armies then occupying Vietnam. By 1428 he had liberated the country and was free to begin the process of recovering the southern portion of the IndoChinese Peninsula from the Indianized kingdom of Champa. In 1471, Le Thanh Tong, the greatest of the Le rulers, permanently subjugated Champa. Le Thanh Tong divided Vietnam into 13 provinces and established a triennial Confucian civil service examination based on the Chinese model. He also promulgated a new legal code, the Hong Duc code. This administrative system showed some Chinese influence but also contained distinctly Vietnamese elements.

The rulers following Le Thanh Tong came under the control of a series of ambitious feudal magnates. In 1527, the throne was even usurped by a member of the powerful Mac family. Although a Le emperor was restored in 1533 with the help of the Nguyen family, the Le rulers were thereafter only theoretically supreme. Real power was shared between two families, the Trinh in the north and the Nguyen, with their capital at Hue, in the south. By about 1630 the cleavage between the two had become so acute that the southerners built two walls across the plain of Dong Hai (at latitude 18° north) to the jungle, sealing off the north until the late 18th century.

In 1771 a peasant uprising led by the Tay Son brothers spread throughout the country and seven years later overthrew the dynasty. Members of the Nguyen family, however, were able to obtain French aid and reunite the nation under the Nguyen dynasty.


L) Ly dynasty (later)  [1009-1225](Vietnam)

The later Ly dynasty was the first of the three great dynasties of Vietnam(Ly, Tran, Le). The kingdom, known later as Dai Viet, was established by Ly Thai To in the Red River Delta area of present northern Vietnam. Its capital was Hanoi(Thang Long). The Earlier Ly dynasty, founded by Ly Bon, lasted only from 544 to 603. The Later Ly was the first stable Vietnamese dynasty and helped establish many of the characteristics of the modern Vietnamese state. A Chinese style of administration was one of the more significant changes wrought by the Later Ly. Through this system the local lords were replaced by a nine-tiered hierarchy of civil servants and state officials. An institution for the training of civil administrators was established, as was an academy of learning. This centralized form of government enabled the Ly to establish universal military service, which kept the invading Chinese and Champa  at bay for two centuries. More importantly, the administrative system enabled the Ly to develop the great Red River Delta system of dikes and canals that prevented summer flooding and winter drought and made the region one of the most fertile rice-growing areas in the world. The Ly promoted literature and art, and during their reign, knowledge of classical Chinese literature was widespread. Under the Ly, Vietnamese influence spread southward into the area controlled by the Indianized kingdom of Champa.


M) Mon kingdom  [9th - 11th, 13th - 16, 18th](Myanmar, Thailand)

The Mon people migrated southward from western China and settled in the Chao Phraya River basin (of southern Thailand) around the 6th century AD. Their early kingdoms, Dvaravati and Haripunjaya, had ties with the ancient Cambodian kingdom of Funan and with China and were also strongly influenced by Khmer civilization. After the Mon moved westward into the Irrawaddy River delta of southern Myanmar in the ensuing centuries, they acquired Theravada Buddhism, their state religion, from Sri Lanka and South India, and they adopted the Indian Pali script. By 825 they had firmly established themselves in southern and southeastern Myanmar and founded the cities of Bago(Pegu)and Thaton.

About the same period, southward-migrating Burmans took over lands in central Myanmar and established the kingdom of Bagan. In 1057, Bagan defeated the Mon kingdom, capturing the Mon capital of Thaton and carrying off 30,000 Mon captives to Bagan. This event was to prove culturally decisive for the Burmans because the Mon captives included many Theravada Buddhist monks, who converted the Burmans to Theravada Buddhism; Pali replaced Sanskrit as the language of the sacred literature, and the Burmans adopted the Mon alphabet.

After the fall of Bagan to the invading Mongols in 1287, the Mon, under Wareru, regained their independence and captured Martaban and Bago, thus virtually controlling their previously held territory. The next 200 years witnessed incessant warfare between the Mon and the Burmans, but the Mon managed to retain their independence until 1539, when they came under the domination of Toungoo Myanmar. In the mid-18th century the Mon rose in rebellion and re-established their kingdom of Bago but it lasted only some 10 years. The Burmans triumphed permanently over the Mon when their leader Alaungpaya razed Bago in 1757. Many of the Mon were killed, while others fled to Thailand. The Mon are still centred in southeastern Myanmar, though their numbers are small compared to those of the ethnic Burmans.


N) Nanzhao kingdom  [729 - 1253](Yunnan)

Several small Bai kingdoms occupied the region centred on Lake Erhai between the Mekong, the Yangtze, and the sources of the Red River, under varying degrees of Chinese control, starting from the 2nd century BC. Nanzhao was formed by the unification of six such kingdoms in 729. Pi-lo-ko, the leader of one small tribal state, extended his control over the five neighbouring kingdoms while acting in alliance with China, which needed an ally against the aggressive Tibetans.

Once unification was complete, Pi-lo-ko established Nanzhao's centre of power at Dali. Geographic factors rendered the capital impregnable and two Chinese attacks were repulsed in 751 and 754. Nanzhao was also able to dominate the east-west trade routes from China and Tongking through Myanmar to India.

Nanzhao attained a high level of culture. Skilled artisans taught the weaving of cotton and silk gauze. Salt and gold were mined in many parts of the kingdom, and a complex system of government and administration was developed.

Nanzhao became an imperialistic state, waging war deep into Myanmar in 832 and into north Vietnam in 862. The Mon and Khmer cities held firm, but the Pyu capital of Halingyi fell. The Burmans moved into this political vacuum, establishing Bagan as their capital city in 849.

At its zenith, Nanzhao extended over most of Yunnan and a large part of today's Myanmar but it declined at the end of the 9th century. It was later known as the smaller Dali kingdom (still under Bai control), until it was defeated by the Mongols under the leadership of Kublai Khan in 1253.


P) Pyu kingdoms  [100BC- 840AD](Myanmar)

Between the 1st century BC and the 9th century AD, speakers of Tibeto-Burman languages known as the Pyu were establishing city-kingdoms in Myanmar at Binnaka, Mongamo, Shri Ksetra, and Halingyi. For a long time, a trade route between China and India had passed through northern Myanmar and then across the Chindwin River valley. In 97 and 121 AD, Roman embassies to China chose the overland route through Myanmar for their journey. The Pyu, however, provided an alternative route down the Irrawaddy to Shri Ksetra and then by sea westward to India and eastward to insular Southeast Asia.

Chinese historical records noted that the Pyu claimed sovereignty over 18 kingdoms. The same Chinese records emphasized the humane nature of the Pyu government and the elegance and grace of Pyu life. Fetters, chains, and prisons were unknown, and punishment for criminals was a few strokes with the whip. The men, gaily dressed in blue, wore gold ornaments on their hats, and the women wore jewels in their hair. The Pyu lived in houses built of timber and roofed with tiles of lead and tin; they used golden knives and utensils and were surrounded by art objects of gold, green glass, jade, and crystal. Parts of the city walls, the palace, and the monasteries were built of glazed brick. The Pyu also appeared to have been Buddhists of the Sarvastivada school. Their architects may have developed the vaulted temple, which later found its greatest expression at Bagan during its golden age. Pyu sons and daughters were disciplined and educated in monasteries or convents as novices. In the 7th century the Pyu shifted their capital northward to Halingji in the dry zone, leaving Shri Ksetra as a secondary centre to oversee trade in the south.


S) Sukhothai kingdom  [1240-1438](Thailand)

Sukhothai, in north-central Thailand is one of the country's earliest and most important historical settlements. Originally a provincial town within the Angkor-based Khmer empire, Sukhothai gained its independence in the 13th century and became established as the capital of the first united and independent Thai state in the Chao Phraya River basin. The kingdom's third ruler, King Ramkhamhaeng (reigned 1279-1298), extended Sukhothai's hegemony north into what is now Laos, west to the Andaman Sea, and south onto the Malay Peninsula. The ancient town is reported to have had some 80,000 inhabitants. Its architectural development began under Ramkhamhaeng and reached its peak in the latter part of the 14th century, when most of Sukhothai's monasteries were built.

After 1351, when Ayutthaya was founded as the capital of a powerful rival Thai dynasty, Sukhothai's imperial influence began to wane, and in 1438 the town was conquered and incorporated into the Ayutthaya kingdom. Sukhothai is thought to have been abandoned in the late 15th or early 16th century.

In the 1970s the government of Thailand, with the help of UNESCO, undertook the restoration of the ancient site of Sukhothai, which includes several temples(wats), reliquary monuments(chedis, or stupas), ornamental ponds, and statues of Buddha. The resulting 70 square km Sukhothai Historical Park was opened in the late 1980s, 450 km north of Bangkok.


T) Toungoo dynasty  [1486-1752](Myanmar)

King Minkyinyo (1486-1531) of Toungoo is considered the founder of the dynasty which conquered the Mohnyin Shan peoples in northern Myanmar, thus eliminating one element of the fragmentation that had existed in Myanmar since the demise of the Bagan dynasty in 1287. Consolidating his power in Toungoo, far up the Sittang River, Tabinshwehti pushed southward, overrunning the Irrawaddy delta region and crushing the Mon capital of Bago(Pegu). After defeating a Shan-led counterattack at Pyay(Prome)in 1544, Tabinshwehti was crowned as king of all Myanmar at the ancient capital of Bagan. He then began assembling an army for an attack on coastal Arakan to the west. The Myanmar forces were defeated at Arakan but Tabinshwehti led his retreating army eastward to Ayutthaya where he was defeated again by rebellious Thai forces. A period of unrest and rebellions among other conquered peoples followed and Tabinshwehti was assassinated in 1551.

Tabinshwehti's brother-in-law, Bayinnaung, ascended the throne in 1551 and reigned 30 years. An energetic leader and effective military commander, he made Toungoo Myanmar the most powerful state in Southeast Asia. After repeated campaigns, his conquests extended from Dawei, in the south, to Shwebo, in the north, and from Ava, eastward to Chiang Mai. Myanmar suzerainty even encompassed much of Laos and extended down the Chao Phraya valley to Ayutthaya, near Bangkok. Thailand remained under Myanmar domination for 15 years.

Bayinnaung was poised to deliver a final, decisive assault on the kingdom of Arakan when he died in 1581. His successors were forced to quell rebellions in other parts of the kingdom, and the victory over Arakan was never achieved. Instead, the Myanmar empire gradually disintegrated. The Toungoo dynasty survived for another century and a half, until the death of Mahadammayaza in 1752, but never again ruled all of Myanmar.


T) Tran dynasty  [1225-1400](Vietnam)

The Tran dynasty replaced the Later Ly  dynasty (1009-1225), which had started the process of Vietnamese expansion south from the Red River region at the expense of the Indianized kingdom of Champa. Shortly thereafter, Indochina was invaded by a Mongol army under the great conqueror Kublai Khan. The Tran dynastic capital at Hanoi was sacked in 1257, but the Tran rulers repulsed this first Mongol invasion and a united Vietnam-Champa effort repelled second and third Mongol invasions in 1284 and 1287. After the elimination of the Mongol threat, the Tran resumed pressure on Champa. In 1312 the Tran monarch Tran Anh Ton invaded Champa, captured its king, and made the country into a subject state.

Champa temporarily regained its independence in 1326 and, under its great king Che Bong Nga (reigned 1360-90), even recovered its lost provinces. But, after Che's death, the Tran reconquered the country, moving their capital southward from Hanoi to Thanh Hoa in 1398 to reflect the shift in their territory. In 1400, however, a discontented general seized the Tran throne. Tran partisans called in aid from the Chinese, who occupied the country. Not until 1428 were the Chinese driven out and a new native dynasty restored.


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