The Periphery of China --
Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos,
Cambodia, Burma, Tibet, and Mongolia

The principle behind this page and this index is that of China as the "Middle Kingdom", with the rest of the world arranged around it. This works pretty well for the countries listed, as does the Chinese five element theory. For Earth (yellow), in the Center, is China itself. For Water (black), in the North, is Mongolia. For
(white), in the West, is Tibet. For Fire (red), in the South, are Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Burma. And for Wood (green/blue), in the East, are Korea and Japan.

Anomalies here are the Southeast Asian group, of Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Burma, and then Japan and Mongolia. Thailand (with Laos), although seeking and accepting a diploma from China for its ruler as a king (wang), nevertheless is largely a sub-Indian rather than a sub-Chinese culture, with Theravada Buddhism and a Sanskrit-derived alphabet. Burma, which was occasionally invaded from China, and sometimes under Chinese suzerainty, was also a sub-Indian civilization. Cambodia, with Champa, at first developed quite independently of China, under Indian influence from Indonesia, later, like Thailand, came under Chinese influence. These Theravada states are thus all colored more orange than red, to indicate their cultural status in relation to India rather than China.

Japan, although definitely a sub-Chinese culture and addressed as a "kingdom" in Chinese diplomacy, was never in any doubt that it was the equal or superior of China; and so is given separately with India and China under its own principle as a member of the Sangoku, the "Three Kingdoms." Japan's Great Power status in the 20th century, and brief East Asian hegemony, certainly rates this. Mongolia was also never in doubt about its superiority, and it is the only one of the listed countries that ever conquered and ruled China itself (not to mention most of Central and Western Asia, and Eastern Europe). Although then conquered by (Manchu) China, Mongolia is sui generis and rates its own page, including many successor states (the Golden Horde, etc.) that never had anything to do with China.

While Vietnam eventually styled itself an "empire," equal to China, Korea, into which Chinese force was the most easily and frequently projected, seems to have accepted its status. Tibet, while a sub-Indian culture like Thailand, and which was once strong enough to drive China out of Sinkiang, was never subordinate to a native Chinese government (i.e. had only been conquered by the Mongols and the Manchus) until the Communist invasion of 1950. Politically and diplomatically, Tibet was always within the Chinese sphere of action, but its modern annexation is an anomaly both of Tibetan and of (Han) Chinese history.

In Ch'ing Dynasty China, there was an assignment of the five elements for each of the five peoples that were considered to constitute the Empire, with earth (yellow) for the Manchus, fire (red) for the Han Chinese, wood (blue/green) for the Mongols, metal (white) for the Tibetans, and water (black) for the Turks or the Hui (Moslem Chinese). This corresponds to directions only poorly, especially because yellow, otherwise considered the Imperial color, was taken for the Manchus, the Dynastic race of the Ch'ing, even though the north-eastern location of Manchuria had nothing to do with the central meaning of the yellow color. Also, Mongolia in the north was not the best candidate for the eastern color of blue. Note that even the independence of Mongolia and Tibet left numbers of each people still in China, as Inner Mongolia and Ch'inghai province are predominantly of those peoples, respectively. The first flag of the Republic of China, after the end of the Ch'ing, had five stripes, in the traditional colors, for the five elements and/or the five peoples. Today, red as the color of the Han Chinese is still favored because of its association with Communism. The flag of Communist China is entirely red, with the iconography of fives reduced to five yellow stars, one larger than the others.

Sangoku Index

Philosophy of History


Sangoku Index

Philosophy of History

Kings of Korea

Korea is an old country, with the earliest states beginning about the time of the Late Chou Dynasty in China. Despite the predominant Chinese influence on Korea and the vast borrowing of Chinese vocabulary, the Korean language is unrelated to Chinese. There is no agreement about just what it is related to, though kinship with Japanese seems likely and to the Altaic languages (Manchu, Mongol, Turkish) possible. Originally written in Chinese characters, Korean now uses its own unique writing system, Han-gŭl, promulgated by King Sejong in 1446. Han-gŭl writes syllabic characters that are regularly composed of elements indicating the phonology of the syllables. This would allow Han-gŭl to be easily and freely mixed with Chinese characters, as was long done, or completely replace them, as has largely been the custom since 1945. To the uninitiated, Han-gŭl characters can easily be distinguished from Chinese, since they contain circles and ovals, which are not used in Chinese characters.

Chumong Wang
Yurimyong Wang19-18
Taemusin Wang18 BC-
44 AD
Mingjung Wang44-48
Mobong Wang48-53
T'aejo Taewang53-146
Ch'adae Wang146-165
Sindae Wang165-179
Sangsang Wang197-227
Tongch'ong Wang227-248
capital falls to
Wei Dynasty, 244
Soch'ong Wang270-292
Pongsang Wang292-300
Mich'ong Wang300-331
Chinese (Western Tsin
) driven from
Korea, Beginning of
"Three Kingdoms"
Period, 313
Kogukwong Wang331-371
capital sacked by
state of Yan, 342
Sosurim Wang371-384
adoption of
Buddhism, 372
Kogukyang Wang384-392
Kwangaet'o Wang392-413
Changsu Wang413-491
Munja Wang491-519
Anjang Wang519-531
Angwong Wang531-545
Yangwong Wang545-559
P'yongwong Wang559-590
Yonyang Wang590-618
Yongnyu Wang618-642
Invasion by Sui Dynasty
defeated, 612
Pojang Wang642-668
Invasion by T'ang Dynasty
defeated, 645-647;
conquered by Silla
& the Chinese, 667-668

Pak Hykkose
57 BC-
4 AD
Yuri Isagum24-57
Sok T'arhae
Pak P'asa Isagum80-112
Chima Isagum112-134
Ilsong Isagum134-154
Adalla Isagum154-184
Sok Porhyu
Naehae Isagum196-230
Chobun Isagum230-247
Ch'omhae Isagum247-261
Kim Mich'u
Sok Yurye
Kirim Isagum298-310
Hurhae Isagum310-356
Kim Naemul
Silson Maripkan402-417
Nulji Maripkan417-458
Chabi Maripkan458-479
Soji Maripkan479-500
Chijung Wang500-514
Pop'ung Wang514-540
adoption of
Buddhism, 535
Chinghung Wang540-576
conquers Kaya, 562
Chingji Wang576-579
Yowang (f)
Yowang (f)
Muyol Wang
Munmu Wang661-681
Munmu Wang668-681
Paekche, 671;
Koguryo, 676
Sinmun Wang681-692
Songdok Wang702-737
Hyosong Wang737-742
Kyondok Wang742-765
Hyegong Wang765-780
Sondok Wang780-785
Wonsong Wang785-799
Sosong Wang799-800
Aejang Wang800-809
Hondok Wang809-826
Hongdok Wang826-836
Huigang Wang836-838
Minae Wang838-839
Sinmu Wang839-857
Honan Wang857-861
Kyogmun Wang861-875
Hongong Wang875-886
Wang Kim
Yowang (f)
Hyogong Wang897-912
Sindok Wang912-917
Kyong Myong
T'aejo I924-943
Chongjong I946-949
Songjong I981-997
Hyonjong I1010-1032
Chongjong II1035-1047
Munjong I1047-1083
Honjong I1095
Yejong I1106-1122
Injong I1123-1146
Kojong I1213-1259
Mongol invasion, 1231;
Mongol suzereinty, 1258
sacking of Seoul, 1371
Sin U1374-1389
T'aejo II1392-1398
Chongjong III1398-1400
Han-gŭl introduced, 1446
Munjong II1450-1452
Yejong II1468-1469
Songjong II1470-1494
Yonsan Gun1494-1506
Injong II1544-1545
Japanese invasions,
defeated, 1592,
1597-1598, Chinese
intervention, 1593-1598
Kwan Naegun1609-1623
Hyonjong II1660-1675
Honjong II1835-1849
Kojong II1864-1907,
d. 1919
Japanese Protectorate,
Annexed to Japan,
Allied Military Occupation,
Republic of Korea,
Communist government,

Ongjo Wang18 BC-
28 AD
Taru Wang28-77
Kiru Wang77-128
Kaeru Wang128-166
Kusu Wang166-214
Sabang Wang214-234
Koyi Wang234-286
Punso Wang298-304
Piryu Wang304-344
Kye Wang344-346
Kungusu Wang375-384
adoption of
Buddhism, 384
Ch'imnyu Wang384-385
Chinsa Wang385-392
Asin Wang392-405
Chongji Wang405-420
Kungsin Wang420-427
Piyu Wang427-455
Kaero Wang455-475
Mungju Wang475-477
Samgung Wang477-479
Tongsong Wang479-501
Munyong Wang501-523
Song Wang523-554
Widok Wang554-598
Hye Wang598-599
Pob Wang599-600
Mu Wang600-642
Uyja Wang642-660
overthrown by
T'ang Dynasty
China, 660

The earliest important state in Korea was Old Choson, which began in the 4th century BC and endured until its conquest by the Chinese state of Yen (or Yan) around 300 BC. When Yen was conquered by the Ch'in Dynasty in 222, its Korean possessions passed with it, though my map of the Ch'in actually doesn't show it extending that far, so perhaps Ch'in control quickly lapsed. Nevertheless, at the fall of the Ch'in in 206, Han Dynasty control was extended into Korea, but briefly. A rebellion between 194-180, under a Chinese leader, Wiman, resulted in the independence of Choson until renewed Han conquest in 108 BC. Chinese control lapsed in the last reign of the Later Han Dynasty, around 210 AD, but then was reestablished in the Three Kingdoms Period by the Wei Dynasty, around 238.

Meanwhile, other Korean states developed. North of the Chinese possessions was Puyo, beginning in the 4th century BC, which later was absorbed by Koguryo, traditionally founded in 57 BC. South of Chinese possessions in the Korean peninsula was the state of Chin, beginning in the 2nd century BC. Chin broke apart into the "three Hans," the states of Mahan, Chinhan, and Pyonhan.

The Han states ended up absorbed by new kingdoms in the South, Paekche, Silla, and Kaya. The Kings of Paekche and Silla are listed here. Mahan fell to Paekche in 369. When Koguryo drove out the Chinese in 313 and arrived at the borders of Paekche and Silla, this began the "Three Kingdoms" period in Korean history (313-668). Koguryo is the kingdom that was attacked by the Sui Dynasty in 612. This was followed by T'ang Dynasty invasions, also defeated, 645-647. But the Chinese made headway, conquering Paekche in 660 and combining with Silla to overthrow Koguryo in 667-668. The Chinese tried to retain their Korean territory; but Silla took Paekche in 671, and the Chinese conceded the peninsula in 676.

Silla becomes the single kingdom of Chosen or Korea. The initial state survives until broken up by rebellions beginning in 891. A new "Three Kingdoms" period develops, until the country is reunified by the Koryo ("Later Koguryo") state, which annexed Silla in 935. This is indicated in the King list as no more than a change in dynasty.

These lists come entirely form Bruce R. Gordon's Regnal Chronologies. Korean language information is from Barron's Korean at a Glance, by Daniel D. Holt and Grace Massey Holt [Barron's Educational Series, Inc., 1988], and NTC's Compact Korean and English Dictionary, by B.J. Jones and Gene S. Rhie [NTC Publishing Group, 1995].

The Choson Dynasty, which began in 1392, instituted a long running attempt to suppress Buddhism. Although Confucians in China never liked very much about Buddhism (as we see in the attitude of Judge Dee), the new religion was well established by the time of the Sui and T'ang and was never in serious danger thereafter. The Choson Kings, however, took their Confucianism (or Ming Neo-Confucianism) seriously enough that drastic measures were taken against Buddhist institutions. The number of monks allowed to exist was restricted, and ordination sometimes was actually prohibited. Monks could not enter the capital or other cities -- and would not do so for hundreds of years. Monasteries were closed and new construction forbidden. In 1406, monastic land holdings and slaves were confiscated by the government. Buddhism became a rural religion of the poorly educated, leaving it with few political or intellectual resources to battle its way back into acceptance [cf. Robert E. Buswell, Jr., The Zen Monastic Experience, Princeton University Press, 1992, p.23].

The modern Japanese occupation of Korea had major long term effects. At first it provided a respite for Buddhism. The Choson restrictions on Buddhism were revoked under Japanese pressure. But this was a mixed blessing. The oppressive Japanese regime included the forced imposition of Shinto rites and the "missions" of various Japanese Buddhist sects. Korean Buddhism thus was in danger of being associated with the Japanese as collaborationists. This tended to motivate sympathy for Western religion and, in particular, to discredit Buddhism altogether. Christians seemed to resist the Japanese the most openly and simply could not be made to honor Shintoism. This gained for Christianity a prestige that was felt through widespread conversions, especially after the Liberation in 1945. Thus, at least a third of (South) Koreans are now Christians (some having fled from the North), and it is a rare church in California that does not have some Korean on its signs. Another third of Koreans (or more), however, are still Buddhist. The rest observe the Korean equivalent of traditional Chinese Confucian/Taoist religion. Korean Buddhism, at least, had no difficulty maintaining its own traditions and identity and owes nothing substantive to Japanese influence. Korean Christians, meanwhile, have become active missionaries themselves. In 2007, a group of Korean missionaries was captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan. One was killed before the others were released; but the presence of the group, in a dangerous Islamic country, where proselytizing Muslims is traditionally punishable by death, would seem very unwise in the first place. To be sure, Christian traditions of martyrdom do not involve killing others, as present Muslim "martyrdom" operations do, but it is not clear that this is what the Koreans were looking for. One of them found it, in any case.

The Japanese occupation, of course, did not end without a new national trauma being introduced -- the Russian occupation of the northern part of the country and then the establishment there of a Communist regime. When the North, with Russian blessing, invaded the South in 1950, this set off the first major shooting war in the Cold War. Before the front stabilized, the Communists nearly overwhelmed the surprised and unprepared South Koreans and Americans. The North Koreans collapsed, however, when Douglas MacArthur daringly landed in their rear at Inchon. Only the intervention of the Chinese recovered the Communist position and resulted in a stalemate and a cease-fire with roughly the status quo ante. Preserving South Korea from the Communists gave American governments some confidence that the same could be done for South Vietnam. Unfortunately, as the sea had provided a Free World advantage in Korea, the long land border and jungle of South Vietnam provided the Communists with an advantage. Curiously, the Korean War was used as a proxy for Vietnam in the 1970 Robert Altman movie, M*A*S*H. If this was supposed to mean that if the Vietnam War was bad, misconceived, or immoral, then so was the Korean War, it is not surprising that such a thing has not otherwise been stated openly. The tyranny and misery of North Korea and the success and democracy of South Korea would make such a claim too absurd. Indeed, Koreans fought in Vietnam. My own Korean office-mate at the University of Hawaii (1971-1973) had fought in Vietnam. He even spoke Vietnamese -- as well as Chinese, German, and English. Unfortunately, the result brought little joy to Americans or Koreans -- or the Vietnamese who did not want to live under a Communist dictatorship, as they still do.

The South Korean flag, with its traditional Chinese yin and yang symbols, is given at right. The North Korean flag, with a typical Communist red star, is unworthy of notice. Indeed, as South Korea grew into one of the economic "Four Tigers" of East Asia and left behind decades of dictatorship for democracy, North Korea developed into one of the nastiest and most psychotic tyrannies in history, with a dynasty of despots, the Kims, who have actually allowed the country to starve rather than have the word "pragmatism" cross their minds. North Korea even charges foreign relief organizations for the privilege of providing free food. Recently, the North and South have established some more friendly contacts, and the North has allowed some communication between divided families, but the present "Great Leader" of the North, Kim Jong Il, has given no indication of releasing his iron grip either on power or on the suffocated economy of his prison-state -- which has not stopped radical and clueless South Korean students from demonstrating on behalf of the North and for reunification.

Recent developments, late in 2002, have thrown new light on North Korea. The government recently admitted that it had been kidnapping Japanese, in Japan itself, including one 13-year-old girl, in order to plant North Korean agents. They have now allowed some of these victims to visit relatives in Japan, but since they are not allowing their Korean families out of the country, the victims are expected to dutifully return to their North Korean prison -- most have not, hoping that their families will eventually be allowed to follow. The most unsettling revelation, however, has just been that North Korea ignored right from the beginning the agreement negotiated in 1994 by Jimmy Carter by which they would receive technical assistance in their nuclear power program, on the condition that they end their nuclear weapons program. Since there never was any provision for verifying the end of the weapons program, they simply didn't bother to end it. Why they have now admitted this is a matter of speculation. In retrospect, one remembers Ronald Reagan's maxim when dealing with the Soviets, "Trust, but verify." Jimmy Carter, consistently naive and foolish in Realpolitik, demonstrates his ability to do damage even long out of office -- Bill Clinton didn't want him in North Korea and had to accept the fait accompli negotiated by Carter. In 2003, the North Korean government announced that it had actually already produced a number of nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, North Koreans, who are allowed to travel to China, have been seeking asylum in Western embassies and consulates there. In one incident, Chinese police broke into a Japanese consulate to drag out Korean supplicants. Japan protested, since this is a violation of International Law, and the Chinese actually released the Koreans.

In November 2004 National Geographic released a map showing the Earth at night. Japan, South Korea, and even much of China are lit up like lamps. North Korea, however, is as dark as many uninhabited places on Earth. Few things would be as graphically revealing of the poverty and misery of the North.

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Copyright (c) 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved

Kings and Emperors of Vietnam

Thục Dynasty
An Duong257-207 BC
Nam Viet, , Nan Yue;
Triệu (Chieu) Dynasty
Vo Vuong207-137
Van Vuong137-125
Minh Vuong125-113
Ap Vuong113-111
Duong Vuong111
to Han China,
111 BC-40 AD
Trưung Sisters40 AD-43
to China, 43 AD-544
Việt Nam, , began as two states, a northern one, Annam, Nam Viet, or Đại Việt, that was strongly under Chinese influence, and for long actually a part of China, and a southern one, Champa, where strong Indian influence can even be seen in the names of its kings (e.g. Rudravarman, much like the names of
Cambodian kings). Indeed, Champa even spoke a Malayo-Polynesian language, Cham, which survives, in a population now mostly Muslim, with some relatives among the "Montagnards," in the mountains, and elsewhere. In time, having won its freedom from China, the northern kingdom conquered the southern one -- a bit of history that seems to have repeated itself in the 20th century -- and the Chinese cultural influence overwhelmed the Indian. From the small map, it can also be seen that the Mekong Delta region in the south was not originally part of the Vietnamese states. It was Cambodian and was absorbed by Vietnam as Cambodia, initially the dominant state, declined.
I Dynasty
Sri Mara192- ?
Fan Hiongc. 270
Fan Yic. 284-336
II Dynasty
Fan Wen336-349
Fan Fo349- ?
Bhadravarman Ic. 377
Wen Tid.c. 420
III Dynasty
Fanc. 420-
Devavarmanc 510
Vijayavarmanc 526/9
IV Dynasty
Rudravarman Ic. 529 ?
Sambuvarmanc. 605
Kanharpadharmac. 629 ?
Bhasadharma? -645
Bhadresvaravarman645- ?
? (f)d. 653
Vikrantavarman I653- ?
Vikrantavarman IIc. 685-c. 730
Rudravarman IIc. 749/58
V Dynasty
Prithindravarman? 758- ?
Satyavarmanc. 774/84
Indravarman Ic. 787/801
Harivarman Ic. 803/17 ?
Vikrantavarman IIIc. 854-875/89
VI Dynasty
Indravarman IIc. 875/89
Jaya Sinhavarman Ic. 898/903
Jaya Saktivarman
Bhadravarman IIc. 910
Indravarman IIIc. 918-959
Jaya Indravarman I959- < 965
Paramesvaravarman I< 965-982
Indravarman IV982-980's
Lieou Ki-Tsong,
of Annam
c. 986-989
VII Dynasty
Harivarman IIc. 990-
Yan Pu Ku Vijayac. 999/1007
Harivarman IIIc. 1010
Patamesvaravarman IIc. 1018
Vikrantavarman IV? -1030
Jaya Sinhavarman II1030-1044
VIII Dynasty
Jaya Paramesvaravarman I1044- ?
Bhadravarman III? -1061
Rudravarman III1061-1074
IX Dynasty
Harivarman IV1074-1080
Jaya Indravarman II1080-1081
Harivarman V1114-1129/39
X Dynasty
Jaya Indravarman III1129/39-1145
XI Dynasty
Rudravarman IV
(Khmer vassal)
Jaya Harivarman I1147-1167
Jaya Harivarman II1167
Jaya Indravarman IV1167-1190
d. 1192
XI Dynasty
(Khmer vassal in Vijaya)
(Khmer vassal in Pandurang)
Jaya Indravarman V
(in Vijaya)
To Cambodia, 1203-1220
Jaya Paramesvaravarman II1220-c. 1254
Jaya Indravarman VIc. 1254-1265
Indravarman V1265- ?
Jaya Sinhavarman III? -1307
Jaya Sinhavarman IV1307-1312
Che Nang
(Annamese Vassal)
XII Dynasty
Che Anan1318-1342
Tra Hoa1342- ?
Che Bong Nga? -1390
XIII Dynasty
Ko Cheng1390-1400
Jaya Sinhavarman V1400-1441
Maija Vijaya1441-1446
Moho Kouei-Lai1446-1449
Moho Kouei-Yeou1449-1458
XIV Dynasty
Moho P'an-Lo-Yue1458-1460
P'an-Lo T'ou-Ts'iuan1460-1471
To Annam;
small Cham State in south, -1720

Although powerfully influenced by Chinese vocabulary, the Vietnamese language is unrelated to Chinese. Vietnamese belongs to the Mon-Khmer branch of the Austroasiatic language family. The other major language related to it is Cambodian, but other related languages are scattered as far as India (Munda), Malaya (Aslian), Burma, Laos, and even an outlier in Southern China. The extraordinary dispersal of these languages raises intriguing questions about the prehistory of the language family; but these are probably questions that will never be answered.

While Vietnamese uses tones, Cambodian and other family members do not. That Vietnamese and Chinese both use tones to differentiate syllables is a characteristic that they may have gotten from another language group, the adjacent and unrelated Kra-Dai (Thai-Lao, Tai-Kadai, Kadai, or Daic; they keep changing the name) language family, where every language is tonal, sometimes with up to 15 tones. The principal exemplar of that family is Thai, with related languages, including Lao and Shan in Burma, densely extending up into China. It is a little hard to sort this all out in the Sprachbund of Southest Asia, where languages pick up features, like tones, even from unrelated languages. The idea of the Sprachbund developed in reference to languages in the Balkans, but the most intriguing case now may be with the language families in the Caucasus.

Apart from vocabulary, the influence of Chinese may also be seen in the character of Vietnamese syllable structure -- monosyllabic combinations of initials and finals -- which now looks much like Chinese (as does the, equally unrelated, Korean). The character that wrote "Việt," pronounced Yuè in Mandarin and Yüt in Cantonese, still means "to overpass, exceed" in Vietnamese just as in Chinese. It also has a geographical application in the south of China, but probably originally had an ethnological meaning of non-Chinese in both the south of China and Vietnam. "Nam" (as in Cantonese; nán in Mandarin) just means "south."

Vietnamese was originally written in Chinese characters. At first what was written was simply Chinese itself, a phenomenon we also see in Korea and Japan. In Vietnamese, this was called the system of , chữ Hán, , Hán tự, or , Hán văn, or "Han characters." Chinese characters adopted, or created, to write the Vietnamese language itself are , chữ nôm, or , chữ nam, "Southern characters," often with a coined, Vietnamese character for chữ, namely -- so that the binome with the Vietnamese reading is .

The Chinese character for "country" or "kingdom," , is quốc in Vietnamese. Thus, the name of country might well be , Việt-quốc, but I have not seen this expression used except in Mathews' Chinese Dictionary for "the ancient State which occupied the present Fukien and Chekiang" [Harvard, 1972, p.1153], roughly from before 565 BC to 306 BC, in the Warring States Period. Yuè, with different characters, is used for a lot of things in the South of China, including the Cantonese dialect.

Under French influence, Vietnamese now uses a Latin alphabet, dense with diacritics. This can be complicated and confusing. Some diacritics, including the circumflex (e.g. â), breve (e.g. ă), and the "horn," which is a stroke from the letter up to the right (e.g. ơ, ư), all indicate vowel quality. These diacritics are used with particular vowels, not all of them.
Early , Lý Dynasty
Kuang Phuc548-571
Thien Bao549-555
Phat Tu571-603
to Sui and T'ang China, 602-905
Loss of Chinese control, 905-938

On the other hand, several diacritics indicate tone. These are the familiar grave accent (e.g. à), acute accent (e.g. á), and tilde (e.g. ã), with the addition of the "hook" (e.g. ), and an underdot (e.g. ). From this six tones are written: (1) mid level, with no diacritic; (2) low falling, the a grave accent; (3) high rising, with an acute accent; (4) mid dipping-rising, with the tilde; (5) high breaking-rising, with the "hook"; and (6) low falling constricted, with the underdot.

The great complication of writing Vietnamese is then what happens when we need to combine the quality diacritics with the tone diacritics. A list I have of Unicode values, and other coding systems, for all the possibile combinations of diacritics prints out to six pages, with more than 20 entries on each page. Combining acute and grave accents with circumflexes is not something we see in other languages, especially when circumflexes, in Greek (where they originated) or Chinese (upside down, like a háček), also indicate particular tones. An example of this is in the name of Vietnam itself, Việt Nam, where the circumflex on the "e" indicates the vowel quality, while the underdot is the tone. Many examples of Vietnamese words can be examined on this page and in the Vietnamese names for the Earthly Branches and Heavenly Stems in the Chinese Sixty Year Calendar Cycle.

After a period of division starting in the 16th century, Viet Nam was reunited by Gia Long, who proclaimed himself Emperor, , Hoàng Ðế in Vietnamese, in 1802. This was already with the help of the French, who by the end of the century had reduced Vietnam to a French dependency. The Chinese, of course, never would have acknowledged the ruler of Vietnam as an "Emperor," of equal status with China. As with the former diploma given to Thailand, the ruler of Vietnam never would have been more than a , Vương in Vietnamese.

Several long term effects of the French dominion were a substantial Catholic population, a Francophile educated elite, and the abandonment of Chinese characters for a purely Latinized alphabetic system.
Ngô Dynasty
Southern Han defeated, 938
Duong Tam Kha945-951
Suong Ngap951-954
Suong Van951-965
to China, 965-968
Đinh Dynasty
Dinh Tien968-979
Dinh De Toan979-981
Early Lê Dynasty
Trung Tong1005-1009
Later Lý Dynasty
Thai To1010-1028
Thai Tong1028-1054
Đại Việt,
Thánh Tông1054-1069,
Nan Ton1072-1127
Than Tong1127-1138
Anh Tong1138-1175
Kao Tong1175-1210
Hue Tong1210-1224
Tieu Hoang1224-1225
Early Trần, , Dynasty
Thai Tong1225-1258
Thanh Tong1258-1277
Nan Tong1278-1293
Anh Tong1293-1314
Minh Tong1314-1329
Hien Tong1329-1341
Du Tong1341-1369
Nghe Tong1370-1372
Due Tong1372-1377
De Hien1377-1388
Tran Thuan Tong1388-1398
Tran Thieu De1398-1400
Hồ Dynasty
Kui Li1400
Han Thuong1400-1407
Ming Chinese occupation, 1407-1427
Later Trần Dynasty
Hau Tran Jian Dinh De1407-1409
Hau Tran1409-1413
Đại Việt,
Later Lê Dynasty
Thai To1428-1433
Thai Tong1433-1442
Nan Tong1442-1459
Thanh Tong1460-1497
Hien Tong1497-1504
Vi Muc De1504-1509
Tuong Duc De1509-1516
Tieu Tong1516-1522
Kung Hoang1522-1527
Mạc Dynasty
Dang Dung1527-1529
Dang Doanh1529-1533,
kingdom breaks up
Nguyễn, , Dynasty
Civil War, 1545-1558
Phuc Nguyen1613-1635
Phuc Lan1635-1648
Phuc Tan1648-1687
Phuc Tran1687-1691
Phuc Chu I1691-1725
Phuc Chu II1725-1738
Phuc Khoat1738-1765
Phuc Thuan1765-1778
Tây Sơn Dynasty
Nguyễn, , Dynasty,
absorbed rest of Vietnamese kingdoms, 1802
Gia LongEmperor,
Minh Mang1820-1841
Thieu Tri1841-1848
Tu Duc1848-1883
French protectorate, 1883-1940
Duc Duc1883
Hiep Hoa1883
Kien Phuc1883-1884
Ham Nghi1884-1885
Dong Khanh1885-1889
Thanh Thai1889-1907
Duy Tan1907-1916
Khai Dinh1916-1925
Bảo Đại1925-1945,
occupied by Japan, 1940-1945;
to France, 1945-1954;
Republic of Vietnam, 1954-1975;
Communist government, 1954-present

French rule in Indo-China was permanently shaken by Japanese occupation during World War II. The Vichy French regime was first bullied into allowing the Japanese in, and then the Japanese took over completely, allowing the Emperor Bao Dai to stay on as a figurehead. When they left in 1945, a takeover was engineered by the forces of Hồ Chí Minh.

At first, the United States had been reluctant to support the reimposition of French colonial rule, but the growing Communist threat made President Truman of the opinion that the French were the lesser of two evils. The revisionist argument is that Ho was just a good nationalist and an admirer of George Washington who would have been on our side if we had let him. None of this sort of thing, however, explains the vigor and consistency with which a Soviet style regime, economically and politically, was created. The Vietnamese revolutionaries, indeed, had learned their Leftism well in France itself, as well as in the Soviet Union; and American support alone, especially in the 1940's or 50's, would not have persuaded anyone that command economics and a police state were not good ideas. The idea, repeated even now, that Ho Chi Minh was somehow pro-American is a propaganda trope that is little better than a joke. American academic historians still do not blush to make careers as apologists for the Communist regime.

The Communists got their chance to apply their political philosophy by defeating the French, who at Điện Biên Phủ in 1954 could not even be saved by the Foreign Legion, whose commander gravely underestimated the capabilities of his enemy. An international settlement divided Vietnam the way Germany, China, and Korea had previously been divided between Communists and Nationalists. Plebiscites were mandated in both North and South. Never held in the South, in the North they were, of course, run in the typical totalitarian fashion, with predictable results. In pro-Communist propaganda, this put the South uniquely at fault. The Communist North then hardly hesitated in the business of taking over the South.

The subsequent war in Vietnam, with the full force of the United States thrown in, was lost more by defeats in public relations than by defeats on the battlefield. The Waterloo in that respect was the 1968 Tết Offensive

By the way, "Tết," (Japanese setsu), "period, festival, holiday," is simply the Chinese New Year, otherwise an occasion for a truce. The word "Chinese," however, is avoided for nationalistic reasons; and the occasion is often called the "Lunar New Year," even though it is no more "lunar" than the Babylonian New Year or Rosh Hashanah.

Communist units infiltrated South Vietnamese cities and attacked simultaneously across the country. That they were then annihilated, all but destroying Communist forces in the South, was irrelevant. On television it looked like Armageddon, and American military authorities had given everyone the impression that the Communists were already beaten and shouldn't have been able to do anything of the sort. Although the Offensive was a catastrophic defeat for the Communists, the distrust of the press for the U.S. Government made it impossible to credibly present the true result. The fiasco dissuaded President Johnson from seeking reelection.

President Nixon tried "Vietnamization" (bringing the South Vietnamese Army up to par) and a face-saving negotiated peace ("Peace with Honor"). After trying an all out invasion of the South 1972, the Communists accepted a peace settlement; but then, once American forces were safely at home, a general offensive in 1975 bagged the country. One thing these offensives demonstrated was that the southern Communist forces, the "Việt Cộng," were no longer combat effective. They had been expended in the Tết Offensive.

A weary American public and a defeatist Congress let South Vietnam (with Cambodia and Laos) fall, not even trying to get out all the people who wanted to flee (a peace undoubtedly with dishonor); and the "independent" South Vietnamese Communists quickly assented to the unification of the country under their peers in the North. The typical subsequent rigors of the Communist regime (concentration camps, "reeducation," etc.) drove thousands of "Boat People" to sea, many finding their way to the United States but others, after years in internment camps in places like Hong Kong, were actually sent back to Vietnam.

Noteworthy in the course of the war were protests by the Vietnamese Buddhist community, whose most influential figure internationally, until today, has been Thích Nhất Hạnh. The protests initially were against anti-Buddhist measures by the Catholic President Ngô Đình Diệm (1955-1963). These included dramatic acts of self-immolation that captured the world's imagination. Even after Diệm was overthrown, however, protests continued against the war itself. This reflected what may have been widespread neutralist and pacifist sentiment in Vietnam. Thích Nhất Hạnh himself went into exile rather than face arrest for anti-war statements. Unfortunately, while neutralist leaders never came to power in South Vietnam and so never negotiated for any such status with the North, it is obvious that the Communists were consistently never intent on anything but victory, which was achieved after a peace had supposedly been settled.

There is a general lesson in this. The neutralist and pacifist movement in South Vietnam never had a counterpart in North Vietnam. This feature of the situation is usually overlooked. The Communists never allowed any protests or criticism of their policies, and when South Vietnam fell, the ideological rigors of Communism were immediately imposed in the South. The Buddhist community was immediately worse off than it had been even under Diệm. Thích Nhất Hạnh was never able to return from exile but today lives in France and the United States.

Pacifism, indeed, will never have any attraction except to those who at least consider war an evil. Thus, American and international opinion was moved, and the resolve for war weakened, by the drama of Buddhist protests. But the Communists never considered war an evil and had no sympathy for pacifists, let alone Buddhists, except as convenient psychological allies in pursuing their own goals. Like Hitler and Stalin before them, the Vietnamese Communists were perfect cynics in manipulating the naive.

Although the images of Buddhist monks practicing self-immolation (derived from the Lotus Sutra,
The Immolation of Bồ Tát Thích Quảng Đức, 11 June 1963
which tells us that Vietnam was a Mahâyâna country) remain vividly in the general memory of the Vietnam War, and are part of the material used to discredit the attempt of the United States to defeat Communism, recent self-immolations in Tibet, protesting Chinese rule, have been completely ignored in the international press and "progressive" opinion. Most people are probably unaware that anything of the sort has been happening. Since the Left continues to wink at Chinese genocide in Tibet, and both the Left and radical Muslims ignore it against the Muslim Uighurs in Sinkiang, we know what they are about.

Ngô Đình Diệm was deposed in a coup on November 1, 1963, and then murdered (with his brother) the next day. This led to a series of coups that undermined Vietnamese morale and military effectiveness. It was years before things settled down at all, and meanwhile the United States committed thousands of troups to prevent a Communist victory in the war. Not only is the overthrow of Diệm generally judged a mistake, but responsibility may go all the way to President Kennedy, who seems to have green-lighted the business. Some see Kennedy's own assassination on November 22 as some sort of divine retribution.

With the handwriting on the wall about Communism, the Vietnamese Communists have tried the approach of allowing some economic liberalization but holding on to absolute political power -- the Chinese "middle way," rather than the brain dead conservatism of North Korea or Cuba or the complete political collapse in Russia and Eastern Europe. This has given the country, like China, a measure of development, and the young people are eating up Western influences, but the iron fist remains, ready at need. Thus, this site only displays the red and yellow flag of the Republic of Vietnam, not the Communist flag. A generic flag is good enough, standing for all the murder, slavery, and poverty of all Communism.

Recent American movies have leaned over backward to avoid anti-communist judgments about the war or the Communist regime in Vietnam. A book by Lt.Gen. Harold G. Moore, a Vietnam veteran, and Joseph L. Galloway, a reporter who met Moore at the time, We Were Soldiers Once... And Young [HaperTorch, 1991], was made into a movie, We Were Soldiers [2001], staring Mel Gibson. An excellent movie, largely faithful to the book, We Were Soldiers goes out of its way to portray the (North) Vietnamese soldiers as human, brave, sincere, and dedicated.

Nevertheless, the Vietnamese national actor, Đơn Dương, who played the Vietnamese commanding officer in the movie, was denounced by the Vietnamese government as a "national traitor" for appearing in the movie, which did "not reflect correctly the truth of history or the just war by the Vietnamese people." The government denied that he had been arrested, jailed, or barred from traveling, as originally reported, but some punishment was definitely being formulated.

In fact, Dương, was expelled from the "Vietnamese Actors' Association," he was barred from working, and his passport was indeed pulled. However, there was some international outrage over this; and by 2006 Dương, with his family, was allowed to move to the U.S. Unfortunately, he would not have a long and happy life here, and he died in 2011, at the age of 54. I have heard nothing about this, but I might wonder if the Vietnamese community in the U.S. has the same suspicions about Dương's death that the Cambodian community does about the similarly untimely death, in fact murder, of Haing Ngor (d.1996, aged 55).

Many people were shocked, shocked, that a Communist government should try to silence dissent, crush opposition, or, as in this case, react with hostility to a sympathetic portrayal that is simply not, apparently, sympathetic or politically correct (in terms of Communist propaganda) enough. This would be surprising only to the "useful idiot" fake "liberals" upon whom the Vietnamese Communists have always counted. The penalties for failing to toe the ideological line are entirely familiar from Soviet or Vietnamese practice (and now on American college campuses dominated by "tenured radical" Stalinists), and nothing could be more predictable. Đơn Dương had no choice but to abase himself in whatever way was necessary so that he could just get out of the country and seek asylum. But as seen in American politics and education, abasing one's self is never quite enough, unless one can tough it out as a protected Democrat politician -- where "black face," sexual harrassment, sexual assault, and other sins can be forgiven or forgotten, as with Bill Clinton. Less favored sinners, for lesser sins, are targeted for professional and personal destruction.

In 2019 there has been a curious incident that further illustrates the kind of government we have in the modern Vietnam. Vietnamese model and designer Ngọc Trinh attended the Canes Film Festival. She was wearing a grown that didn't cover very much, and what it did cover was largely with transparent material. This is definitely eye-catching, although not as extreme as some things we've seen recently.

The response from the government of Vietnam was "outrage." She is bound to be fined for appearing in this clothing, something that has happened before. Nguyen Ngoc Thien, Vietnam's "minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism," said that the dress was "improper, offensive and has caused public outrage." He reported on this to the National Assembly, and there are proposals that the laws against this sort of thing are not strong enough. Vietnam is not going to tolerate fashionable women showing too much of their bodies.

This, of course, is what you get in the anaesthesia and anhedonia of a totalitarian political regime. For the time being, Ngọc Trinh would be well advised to simply stay in France. I'm sure they love her there. Let the Vietnamese government, in this case, be the party to abase itself.

The lists here are entirely from Bruce R. Gordon's Regnal Chronologies. Vietnamese language information is from Nguyễn Ðình-Hoà's Vietnamese-English Dictionary [Tuttle Language Library, 1966, 1991] and Essential English-Vietnamese Dictionary [Tuttle Language Library, 1983, 1997].

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Kings of Siam and Thailand

Kings of Sukhothai
Sri Indradityac.1240-c.1270
Ban Müangc.1270-c.1279
institution of Thai alphabet, by 1283
Lö Thai1298-1346/7
Ngua Nam Thom1346-1347
Mahathammaracha I
Mahathammaracha II1368/74?-1398?
Mahathammaracha III
Sai Lüthai
Mahathammaracha IV1419-1438
Conquered by Adudhya, 1438
The only country in Southeast Asia to remain independent during the colonial period, and until 1939 officially known as "Siam" (now Muang Tai, "Land of the Free," or Pratet Tai, "Free Kingdom"),
Thailand has been strongly influenced by both China and India but is fundamentally a sub-Indian civilization, based on Buddhism and using a version of the Devanagari (Sanskrit) alphabet, adapted from Cambodian. A Buddhist historical Era is still used in Thailand. In fighting with Vietnam for influence over Cambodia and Laos, the Vietnamese were not even regarded as properly Buddhist, because of the more Confucian basis of Vietnamese government.
543 BC
2000 AD + 543 =
2543 Annô Buddhismi
Nevertheless, Siam was more closely in contact with China than with India, has long been the home of a large Chinese community, and in 1575 even requested a new royal seal from China, to replace the one lost to the Burmese in 1569. So we really have a phenomenon of Indian and Chinese cultural spheres overlapping. It is noteworthy that both Laos and Cambodia were vassals of the original Bangkok kingdom but were lost to the French colonial empire in Vietnam.
Kings of Lan Na
Chai Songkhram1317-1318
Saen Phu1318-1319,
Nam Thuam1322-1324
Kham Fu1328-1337
Pha Yu1337-1355
Kü Na1355-1385
Saen Müang Ma1401-1441
Sam Fang Kaen1401-1441
Yot Chiang Rai1487-1495
Müang Kaeo1495-1526
Ket Chettharat1526-1538,
Queen Chiraprapha1545-1546
Queen Thao Mae Ku1551
Burmese conquer Chiang Mai, 1558
Queen WisutthithewiBurmese control,
Tharawaddy Prince
[2 sons of previous?]1607-1613
Si Song Müang1615-1631
Phraya Thipphanet1631-1659
[ruler of Phrae]1659-1672
Ingsemang, Burmese1672-1675
Chephutarai, Burmese1675-1707
Mangraenara, Burmese1707-1727
Thep Sing, rebel1727
Ong Kham1727-1759
Khi Hut1761-1762
Burmese conquer Chiang Mai, 1763
Conquered by Thonburi, 1774, 1776

Kings of Ayudhya
Ramathibodi I1351-1369
Borommaracha I1370-1388
Thong Chan1388
Borommaracha II1424-1448
in Phitsanulok
Borommaracha III1463-1488
Intharacha II1488-1491
Ramathibodi II1491-1529
Portuguese arrive, 1511
Borommaracha IV1529-1533
Yot Fa1547-1548
Khun Worawongsa1548
Burmese capture Ayudhya, 1569
Maha ThammarachaBurmese vassal,
New Royal Seal obtained from China, 1575
Burmese Defeated,
Battle of Nong Sarai, 1593
(Si Saowaphak)1610-1611?
Song Tham, Intharacha1610/11-1628
Prasat Thong1629-1656
Phra Phetracha1688-1703
Phumintharacha, Thai Sa1709-1733
Buddhist missions to Ceylon, 1751, 1755
Burmese capture Ayudhya, 1767
King of Thonburi


Chao of Chiang Mai,
Vassals of Thonburi & Bangkok
Kham Fan1821-1825
In Kaeo1911-1939


Kings of Bangkok,
Chakri Dynasty
Phra Phutthayotfa, Rama I1782-1809
Penang ceded to Britain
by Sultan of Kedah, 1785;
Burmese Invasion Defeated, 1785
Phra Phutthaloethla, Rama II1809-1824
Phra Nangklao, Rama III1824-1851
Mongkut, Rama IV1851-1868
Cambodia ceded to France, 1867
Chulalongkorn, Rama V1868-1910
Laos east of Mekong ceded to
France, 1893; Laos west of Mekong
ceded to France, 1904; Malay States
ceded to Britain, 1909
Vajravudh, Rama VI1910-1925
Prajadhipok, Rama VII1925-1935,
Military takes over, 1932
Plaek PhibunsongkhramPrime Minister & Dicator, 1938-1944, 1948-1957, exiled to Japan, d.1964
Ananda Mahidol, Rama VIII1935-1946;
in exile, except
1938 & 1946
Siam becomes Thailand as Fascist Dictatorship, 1939; Japanese Invasion, alliance, 1941-1945
Bhumibol Adulyadej, Rama IX1946-2016
Vajralongkorn, Rama X2016-present

The flag of Siam was originally a white elephant on a red background. However, in 1916 King Vajravudh was touring a flooded region and saw the flag flying upside down as a distress signal. Since he didn't like the idea of the national flag being used in that way, he designed a new flag that was symmetrical and would not look different if turned from top to bottom. The new flag was adopted 28 September 1917.

Siam was an ally of Japan in World War II, with the Japanese building a infamous railway overland into Burma, using mistreated Allied prisoner-of-war labor. No one, however, believed that this "alliance" was at all voluntary on the part of the Thais, and the Kingdom, freed from Japanese occupation, was unmolested by the Allies after the War.

By the 1990's, Thailand economically was looking rather like one of the Asian Tigers. It stumbled in the Asian recession but now seems back on track. By 2003, according to The Economist, Thailand was the 31st largest economy in the world, but 22nd in "purchasing power parity" (adjusting for local prices, etc.). Thailand's gross domestic product per capita was $2,010, but this translated into $6,320 in purchasing power parity, 18.5% of the United States, making it the 66th richest economy in the world, about the level of Romania, Columbia, and Tunisia. This is not quite in the league of the Four Tigers (Hong Kong, 12th; Singapore, 16th; Taiwan, 24th; and South Korea, 34th), but the Thais do seem to have the kind of restlessness and enterprise that bodes well.

On the other hand, Thailand is infamous for its prostitution and sex trade. This can be disturbing enough, especially where children are concerned, but the problem is now compounded by the spread of AIDS. This not only threatens the sex business, as a large source of foreign, especially (?) Japanese, tourism, but it also threatens the future of the country as large numbers of people only peripheral to the sex trade become infected. How the Thais cope with this is one of the most important national questions as the new century begins.

These lists are from Thailand, A Short History, by David K. Wyatt [Yale University Press, 1984, pp. 309-313]. A description of the Thai language and its alphabet is in The World's Major Languages, edited by Bernard Comrie [Oxford University Press, 1987, pp.757-775].

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Kings of Laos

Fa Ngun1353-1373
Sam Sene Thap1373-1416
Lan Kham Deng1416-1428
Phak Huei Luong1429-1430
Thoa Sai1430
Phaya Kham1430-1433
Tien Sai1433-1434
Kam Kheuth1435-1438
Sai Thiakapat1438-1479
Tene Kham1479-1486
La Sene Thai1486-1496
Som Phou1496-1501
Phothisarath I1520-1547
Sene Soulintha1571-1575,
Maha Oupahat1575-1580
Nakhone Noi1582-1583
interregnum, 1583-1591
Nokeo Koumane1591-1596
Phothisarath III1623-1627
Mone Keo1627-16 ?
Oupagnaovarath16 ?-16 ?
Tone Kham16 ?-16 ?
Visai16 ?-1637
Souligna Vongsa1637-1694
Tan Thala1694-1700
Nan Tharat1700
Sai Ong Hue1700-1735
Ong Long1735-1760
Ong Boun1760-1778
to Thailand, 1778
Laotian is from a large group of related languages, the Thai-Lao or Tai-Kadai languages, which includes Thai, Shan in Burma, Zhuang in Yunnan, Li in Hainan Island, and other languages on the Chinese-Vietnamese border. Their original homeland seems to have been in Yunnan and Southern China. The movement of many speakers into Burma and Southeast Asia coincides with the
Mongol conquest of Yunnan, which would be enough to send anyone looking for a new home.

The Thai-Lao group may already have left an enduring mark on Chinese itself, however, if the Chinese use of tones was borrowed from the group. Vietnamese as well as Chinese may have adopted this feature from this contact. The Thai-Lao languages are all tonal, with five or six tones in Lao, depending on the dialect, five in Thai, and up to 15 in others. Laotian shares its script with Thai, although with some changes and stylistic differences that sometimes make the characters hard to recognize.

The duplication of the many consonsants inherited from Sanskrit means that different forms of the same consonant can be used to indicate different tones, with the actual tone specified by a combination of the consonant used, diacritics, and syllable formation rules [cf. Lao-English English-Lao Dictionary, Khamphan Mingbuapha and Benjawan Poomsan Becker, Paiboon Publishing, Bangkok, Berkeley, 2003, pp.34-37].

There are only six consonants that can end Laotian syllables, namely p, t, k, m, n, & ng. Extraordinarily, these are the same consonants that can end a syllable in Cantonese, which otherwise belongs to an unrelated language family (Sino-Tibetan). This in itself gives us a strong clue about the Sprachbund of Southeast Asia, where even unrelated languages borrow features from each other (the way English may have borrowed "do support," i.e. the semantically empty use of "do" as an auxiliary verb, from Welsh).

Transcriptions of Laotian often use the digraphs bp and dt to indicate unvoiced and unaspirated p and t, respectively. This means that p and t can be used unambiguously for the aspirated sounds; but since other transcription systems use ph and th for the aspirates, one is liable to find a confusing jumble of the different representations. And the common presence of "ph" and "th" in names from Lao and Thai may leave English speakers confused about whether to pronounce them /f/ and /θ/, respectively. But /f/ is simply written "f" for these languages, and /θ/ is a sound that doesn't exist in them.

The early Lao kingdoms are closely related to the Thai states, with their sub-Indian civilization, and eventually are absorbed or dominated by Siam. Vientiane was the seat of the Lan Xang Kingdom from 1353 until it was aborbed by Siam in 1778.

These lists were largely derived from Bruce R. Gordon's Regnal Chronologies. Good linguistic information is in The Atlas of Languages (Facts On File, 1996, pp.62-64).

A splinter Kingdom that formed out of territory belonging to Vientiane, Luang Prabang became the seat of the modern Laotian state as the Royal capital. Vientiane became the "adminstrative" capital. Although the kings were not deposed by the Thais, the whole Laotian state came under Thai suzerainty, until passing to French influence.
Khamane Nai1726-1727
Amtha Som1727-1776
Sotika Koumane1776-1781
Tiao Vong1781-1787
interregnum, 1787-1791
Mantha Thourath1817-1836
Souka Seum1836-1850
Tiantha Koumane1851-1869
Oun Kham1869-1887
interregnum, 1887-1894;
French Protectorate, 1893-1954
Sisavang Vong1904-1941,
Japanese occupation, 1941-1945
Savang Vatthana1959-1975,
Communist "People's"
Republic, 1975

As the French in Vietnam advanced against Siam, they endeavored to extend "protection" over Laos. French control east of the Mekong was established in 1893, west of the Mekong in 1904.

After the Indo-China War ended in 1954, Laos became independent, like Cambodia, under an officially neutralist government. There was little that the Laotians could do to enforce their neutrality, however, against the Vietnamese use of the "Ho Chi Minh Trail," down the length of Laos, as a supply-line to the Communists in South Vietnam. The United States regularly bombed the trail, operated covertly against it, and at least once tried an incursion from Vietnam; but the Vietnamese were always good at rerouting and concealing their movements. When South Vietnam fell in 1975, the "dominoes" that followed, in a process long the object of derision by Communist sympathizers, included Laos. This government was never so terrible as in Cambodia, and apparently has moderated its policies since the collapse of the Soviet Union, but no marked institutional reformation seems to have occurred.

An intimate picture of modern Laos is now found in a series of murder mysteries by Colin Cotterill, about Dr. Siri Paiboun, an elderly, unenthusiastic member of the Laotian Communist Party, who was called out of prospective retirement, against his will, to be the coroner for the Communist regime.

There are now many of these books -- The Coroner's Lunch [2004], Thirty-Three Teeth [2005], Disco for the Departed [2006], Anarchy and Old Dogs [2007], Curse of the Pogo Stick [2008], The Merry Misogynist [2009], Love Songs from a Shallow Grave [2010], Slash and Burn [2011], The Woman Who Wouldn't Die [2013], Six and a Half Deadly Sins [2015], I Shot the Buddha [2016], The Rat Catcher's Olympics [2017], Don't Eat Me [2018], The Second Biggest Nothing [2019], and the forthcoming The Delightful Life of a Suicide Plot [2021], which is said to be the last of the series.

The books have now generated a sympathetic Western audience for Laos, much as the The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency books, by Alexander McCall Smith, have done for Botswana, by way of the "lady detective," Mma Precious Ramotswe (see her view of Existentialism). Dr. Siri is thoroughly disillusioned with the Communist regime -- an attitude impossible to imagine, as even Dr. Siri himself is impossible to imagine, in the experience of Communist Cambodia -- but unfortunately he is not similarly disillusioned with Communism itself:

He'd been playing communist charades for most of his life. His faith in the system had long since evaporated as he'd watched a perfectly good doctrine destroyed by personalities. What should have been a tool was being used as a weapon and he felt little pride now in his forty-eight-year membership in the Party. [Disco for the Departed, Soho Crime, 2006, p.23]

This is a conceit common in American universities, as I have had occasion to examine elsewhere, that Marxism is "a perfectly good doctrine" that somehow has always gotten screwed up when actual Marxists have endeavored to put it into practice. So the modern Marxist likes to say that "real" Marxism has never been "tried" and that regimes like the Soviet Union were not properly Marxist -- a paradoxical excuse when we realize that Marxism is about laws of historical necessity that have nothing to do with whether one system is "tried" or not. We notice, however, that when push comes to shove, the modern Marxist always favors measures, including the suppression of free speech, the contravention of free association, and attacks on religious conscience, that look exactly like what was done in the Soviet Union and other ostensibly Marxist countries. "Political Correctness," with varying levels of punitive enforcement, especially in American "education," is characteristic of totalitarian politics. Its effective presence seems to vary in inverse proportion to the vehemence with which "liberals" deny that it even exists. Their actions then speak louder than their words, and we know them by their fruits -- not to mention the snarling faces of the students that radical faculty recruit and exhort to disrupt or attack invited speakers, or even their own colleagues.

In the very first Dr. Paiboun book, The Coroner's Lunch, we have a slightly different version of his attitude towards Communism:

He'd come to believe two conflicting ideas with equal conviction:  that communism was the only way man could be truly content; and that man, given his selfish ways, could never practice communism with any success. The natural product of these two views was that man could never be content. History, with its procession of disgruntled political idealists, tended to prove him right. [Soho Crime, 2004, p.16]

This means that Communism is not quite "a perfectly good doctrine," since it conflicts with human nature. But the idea then is that human nature is bad, namely "selfish." But what is "selfish"? Marx himself holds that the evil (or whatever) of capitalism consists of the alienation from the worker of part of the value that he has created through his labor. So Marxism is an accusation of theft. Are Marx's workers "selfish" for being aroused to revolutionary action by their alienation? No, the notion seems to be that they have a right to the fruit of their labor. But if value consists of both labor and capital, and capital itself has not as such been stolen, then the dispossession of the capitalists is itself theft in the same way as the alienation of the original workers was supposed to be. It is human nature not want to want your stuff stolen and the fruit of your labor, namely your capital, alienated. The truth of Communism is the self-interest of those who seize power. They get to live off the labor of all. They squander the capital of their states, not knowing, like children, the value of what they destroy -- to the point of allowing the people to starve, as in North Korea. So Communism itself turns out to be "seflish" in the most vicious and destructive sense.

We thus may have clues about the moral universe of Colin Cotterill, who actually lives in Thailand. Neither Dr. Siri nor Mr. Cotterill have considered that Marxism and Communism are not "perfectly good doctrine," but are essentially, not accidentally, recipes for tyranny and murder. Nor is human nature somehow deficient in not living up to the selfless promise of Communism. The "promise" was always a formula for theft and domination by the self-righteous powerful, whose sterile and unproductive but bloody hands are nevertheless somehow sanctified by the deceptions and lies of their ideology. If Dr. Paiboun (or Cotterill) knew his Buddhism better, he would know that "man could never be content," not because of failures of human nature, but because of the failure of the reality of samsara, the realm of birth and death. Buddhism begins with the "truth of suffering," but the premise of Communism is that the suffering of humanity is the result of problems in the economic "system," not in the metaphysical system of the world. Since reforms of the "system" never produce the abundance promised by Marx, Communists decide that they simply need to start killing people. When enough are killed, then those left will have the right "consciousness." The same proposition was put to Confucius [Analects, XII:19], who forcefully rebuked it.

The persistence of Dr. Siri's faith (or Cotterill's), despite his disclaimers, seems indicated by his failure to leave Laos for a better life in a freer country -- which could mean Thailand, which is just across the river from Vientiane -- and, even worse (since he himself may be too elderly to start over), his failure to urge others to do the same. What he recommends to Communist officials willing to listen to him is advice along the order of using Communism as "a tool" rather than "a weapon," as we see in the quote. This is nonsense. A liberalized Laos means that Communism will be dropped, not somehow humanized. It has never been humanized; and when the Czechs at least wanted to try "socialism with a human face" in 1968, Soviet tanks took care of that experiment. Instead of any notion of freeing Laos, we get Dr. Siri's reaction when he discovers that his friend, Politburo Member Civilai, has been involved in the plans for a coup that are uncovered in Anarchy and Old Dogs. Siri tells him, more in sorrow than in anger:

The Vietnamese advisers would be replaced by Thai advisers, and capitalism would be back chewing on us again. It would be a hundred times worse than it was before. [p.246]

There we have it, "capitalism would be back chewing on us again." The image that comes to mind is Satan chewing on Judas, Brutus, and Cassius at the end of Dante's Inferno. However poorly the regime has instituted socialism or communism, this is still better, perhaps "a hundred times" better, than capitalism. It is not going to occur to him that the whole conception of the regime and of socialism is hopeless and vicious. His disillusionment, such as it is, does not go that far.

Relics in Buddhism

A curious thing about Dr. Siri and these books, however, is that Siri has contact with the spirit world, speaks to the dead, and uses paranormal abilities to solve murder cases to an extent that would even embarrass Judge Dee. This sort of "superstition" is not something that is otherwise tolerated by Communist regimes, and it still evokes hostility from Western Marxist sympathizers like anthropologist C. Fred Blake.

But Cotterill's tolerance for traditional religion has its limits, and I gather that matters easily assimilated to "New Age" spritualism, and which originate in tribal and pre-literate religion, are more worthy of respect than the organized traditional religion of Laos, which is Buddhism. Thus, in Disco for the Departed again, Dr. Siri's assiant, Nurse Dtui, mentions that in a Buddhist temple where they are going to be traveling, there is "a relic of the Lord Buddha":

...Siri gave a wry smile. "What?"

"Which particular relic is it this time. Nurse Dtui? A tooth? A severed toe? An eyeball?"

"You're an old cynic," she huffed. "I'm not telling you."

"Cynicism has nothing to do with it, dear. It all comes down to mathematics and physiology. Just count the temples around Asia that claim to have an actual bit of the Lord Buddha or his footprint. If all their boasts were true, his holiness would indeed have been a sight to behold. There he'd be, plodding around the countryside with feet the size of water-urn covers, a couple of thousand teeth crammed into his mouth, and toe- and fingernails shedding like the hair off a rabid dog. It doesn't bear thinking about. No wonder people followed him." [pp.8-9]

This passage betrays not only a gross ignorance of Buddhism on the part of Colin Cotterill but an obvious contempt for the historical expressions of the Buddhist religion. Since Siri and Dtui never visit the temple in question, and nothing is ever said about this matter again, it is all clearly beneath Mr. Cotterill's notice.

Taking the passage in its own hermeneutic terms, it obviously presupposes a Protestant or a secular critique of the forms of the veneration of relics practiced in Catholic or Orthodox Christianity. Cotterill also presupposes that his readers will be sympathetic to such a critique, especially if they are already familiar with such things from their own (Protestant, secular) background. That a lot of this does not apply to Buddhism and, even if it did, it displays a dismissive and derisive attitude towards the religion, does not speak well for Cotterill's knowledge or his attitude.

As it happens, the Buddha was cremated, which means that we are not going to get relics like a "severed toe" or "an eyeball" that are unlikely to have survived the flames. We do sometimes have relics like teeth, which can survive cremation, and in later Buddhism there are stories of body parts like the tongue surviving the cremation of particular saints, but in general "relics" in Buddhism do not mean body parts as in Christianity.

Stupa, Borobudur, Java; one of 72 such stupas, each containing a statue of the Buddha
Thus, most of the relics of the Buddha and other Buddhist saints are not body parts but particular kinds of jewels that are produced by the cremation itself and are to be found among the ashes. What's more, it is traditionally believed that such relics can multiply over time, or decrease in the possession those unworthy, which is a miraculous process that actually seems relatively modest in terms of the paranormal abilities that Cotterill has Dr. Siri display in his own activities. Since the original and characteristic Buddhist architectural form, the Stupa, was actually a reliquary, to contain the relics of the Buddha, the role of relics in the whole history and practice of Buddhism cannot be overlooked or dismissed.

But there is more. There were relics of the Buddha even during his life. Thus, as the Buddha was still sitting under the Bodhi Tree, having just achieved Enlightenment, he was approached by two merchants, who recognized him as having achieved extraordinary holiness. They honor him and offer him food. The Buddha accepts them as devoted to the Buddha and the Dharma -- the "Sangha" of the "Triple Refuge" didn't exist yet. In turn, the merchants asked for some of the Buddha's hair, to be enshrined and venerated. Thus, at the moment of the inception of Buddhism, the Buddha himself provides relics, which were enshrined and which reportedly radiated light for many centuries.

So the "mathematics and physiology" of Dr. Siri's critique are inapplicable to Buddhism. We are left to suspect that Colin Cotterill actually doesn't know anything about the history and role of relics in Buddhism, that he has taken over the contempt for relics that he has inherited from his own Protestant or secular background, and that all this ignorance and hostility is insensibly applied to the traditional religion of Laos, whose own local expressions we never actually see.

The Relics of the Stupa at Piprahwa

Philosophy of Religion, Buddhism

History of Philosophy, Buddhism

Thus, Cotterill's books, as well written, entertaining, and informative as they may be in many respects, betray certain prejudices, both political and religious, that represent a disturbing and ugly element in the whole. This will not lose him any sympathy at American universities; and even people who think that Buddhism is properly a matter of philosophy, science, and mental health will not be troubled by any level of contempt for irrelevant features of the religion like relics, monasticism, or miracles. This does mean, however, that our little window on Laos and its culture is clouded by the prejudices, enthusiasms, and follies of the author's (imperialistic?) "subject position."

Another curious feature of the Dr. Paiboun books is the place of the Hmong, an ethnic and linguistic minority that is spread through the region. Since the Hmong often fought with the French and Americans against the Communists, one effect of the Communist victory in Indo-China was a campaign of ethnic cleansing against them. Cotterill is properly aroused about this business and makes Dr. Paiboun himself Hmong in origin. He becomes involved with them in more than one book, especially because his inhabiting shamanistic spirit is also Hmong (and his own ancestor). We see Hmong fleeing Laos, not so much at Dr. Paiboun's urging, but with his understanding. Meanwhile, there is their name. In the movie Gran Torino [2008], Clint Eastwood has Hmong refugee neighbors in Detroit. As he gets to know them, he at first pronounces the word "Hmong" with an effort to express the h. He is told that the "h" is not pronounced, and that the word is just like "Mong." If so, it was not explained why the "h" was there at all.

Reading about the Laotian language, I thought I had found the answer. Laotian and Thai use "h," often in a ligature, to indicate a different tone class than the plain letter would otherwise have, as with "hm" for "m" or "hn" for "n." Sanskrit doesn't have duplicate "m's," so this device is adopted. However, Hmong does not use this device, since it doesn't use the Laotian or Thai alphabets and is actually an unrelated language. So back to square one. As it happens, there are dialects where "Hmong" is "Mong" (Mong Leng, Green or Green/Blue Mong), but also others where the "h" is pronounced and what Clint Eastwood was told is not true (Hmong Der, White Hmong).

I was still unclear whether the "hm" represented an unvoiced "m" or the sort of voiced aspirate that occurs in Sanskrit and Hindi. Now I've got a serious phonology book in hand:  The Sounds of the World's Languages, by Peter Ladefoged and Ian Maddieson [Blackwell, 1996, 2008]. According to them, the "hm" in Hmong is a voiceless aspiration [p.107]. Without the example and instruction of a native speaker, I would hesitate to make any pronouncement about how this would sound in relation to English, let alone venture to pronounce it myself with any confidence.

This means that, if Clint Eastwood was well advised in Gran Torino, his Hmong cast and linguistics advisors spoke the Mong Leng dialect, where the nasals are not aspirated. Or, he may have ignored the advisors and the input of the Hmong Der speaking cast. I would hope for the former.

The Marxist-Leninist Theory of History

Burning Money, The Material Spirit of the Chinese Lifeworld, by C. Fred Blake, University of Hawai'i Press, 2011

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Copyright (c) 2000, 2014, 2016, 2021, 2024 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved

Kings of Cambodia

I don't understand why you hate me so much.

Loung Ung, First They Killed My Father [2000]; witness to the Cambodian auto-genocide, and the starvation, disease, assault, torture, and murder of the Khmer Rouge prison camps. "They," i.e. the Khmer Rouge, hate her so much because her family was a class enemy, i.e. educated and prosperous.

We now see this daily at American universities, which do not yet have the power to imprison, torture, and murder dissidents. Don't worry; they are working on it. The irony, of course, is that the young ideologue fools, in their Fascisti uniforms, are themselves the children of privilege, "education," and prosperity -- a prosperity they are intent on sabotaging.

Bhavavarman Imid 6th cent. AD
Mahendravarmanflend of 6th cent.
Isanavarman Iearly 7th cent.
Bhavavarman IIearlier 7th cent.
Jayavarman Imid 7th cent.
Jayadevi (f)early 8th cent.
Sambhuvarman8th cent.
Rajendravarman Ilate 8th cent.
Ângkôr, c. 890-1432
Jayavarman II802-850
Jayavarman III850-877
Indravarman I877-889
Yasovarman I889-900
Harshavarman I900-c.922
Isanavarman IIc.922-928
Jayavarman IV928-942
Harshavarman II942-944
Rajendravarman II944-968
Jayavarman V968-1001
Udayadityavarman I1001-1002
Suryavarman I(1002)
Udayadityavarman II1050-1066
Harshavarman III1066-1090
Jayavarman VI1090-1107
Dharanindravarman I1107-1113
Suryavarman II1113-1150
builds Ângkôr Wat,
Dharanindravarman II1150-1160
Yasovarman II1160-1166
vacant, 1177-1181
Jayavarman VII1181-c.1219
Indravarman IIc.1219-1243
Jayavarman VIII1243-1295
Indravarman III1295-1308
Jayavarman IX
vacant, 1353-1362;
end of inscriptions
Nippean Bat1362-1369
to Thailand, 1369-1375
Kalameghain Basan,
Kambujadhitajaregained Ângkôr
14th cent.
Dharmasokaraja14th cent.
to Thailand, ?-1389
Ponthea Yat1389-1404
Narayana Ramadhipati1404-1429
Sri Bodhya1429-1444
defeat by Siam, 1431; capital
moved to Phnom Penh, 1432
Dharmara Jadhiraja1444-1486
Sri Sukonthor1486-1512
Ney Kan1512-1516
Ang Chan I1516-1566
Barom Reachea I1566-1576
Chettha I1576-1594
Phnom Penh captured by Siam, 1594
Reamea Chung Prey1594-1596
Barom Reachea II1596-1599
Barom Reachea III1599-1600
Chau Ponhea Nhom1600-1603
Barom Reachea IV1603-1618
Chettha II1618-1622
interregnum, 1622-1628
Ponhea To1628
Ponhea Nu1630-1640
Ang Non I1640-1642
Barom Reachea V1659-1672
Chettha III1672-1673
Ang Chei1673-1674
Ang Non1674-1675
Chettha IV1675-1695,
Outey I1695-1699
Ang Em1699-1701,
Thommo Reachea II1702-1703,
Satha II1722-1738
Thommo Reachea III1747
Ang Tong1747-1749,
Chettha V1749-1755
Outey II1758-1775
Ang Non II1775-1796
interregnum, 1796-1806
Ang Chan II1806-1837
Ang Mey (f)1837-1841
Ang Duong1841-1859
Norodom I1859-1904
French protectorate, 1863-1954
Sisovath Monivong1927-1941
Norodom II Sihanouk1941-1955
Prince, head
of state,
Norodom III Suramarit1955-1960
1st Republic, Lon Nol
regime, 1970-1975;
2nd Republic, Communist
Pol Pot regime, 1975-1979;
3rd Republic, Vietnamese controlled
state, 1979-1991;
Interim Government, headed
by Norodom Sihanouk, 1991-1993
Norodom II Sihanouk
Norodom Sihamoni2004-present
The earliest civilization on the mainland of Southeast Asia, with the earliest dated inscription in Cambodian from 611 AD, but some earlier Sanskrit inscriptions, Cambodia grew into perhaps the most brilliant, leaving the most substantial and impressive architectural remains of any.

The Cambodian or Khmer language is of the Mon-Khmer group, along with Vietnamese, Mon and Wa in Burma, and Khmu in northern Laos. They are related to the Munda languages in eastern India -- Santali, Mundari, and Khasi. Unlike the Thai-Lao languages, and Vietnamese, which may have gotten the feature from them (like Chinese), Cambodian does not use tones. The appearance, then, is that this was the indigenous language group of Southeast Asia, which was broken apart by incursions of Sino-Tibetan (Burmese) and Thai-Lao. The movement of the Burmese must have been very early, but the Thai-Lao languages did not come in until the 13th century. The earliest days of Cambodia, then, see the Kingdom dominating what later would be, not just Cambodia, but also Thailand and Laos.

With little early contact with China, Cambodia developed as a purely sub-Indian civilization, with contact by way of the already existing Indian culture of Indonesia. Indeed, the only Southeast Asian monumental architecture to match Cambodia is the 9th century Buddhist temple of Borobudur on Java. Cambodian writing is based on the Sanskrit alphabet and even preserves Sanskrit alphabetical order. Cambodian has far fewer consonants than Sanskrit, but many more vowels. The redundant consonants are then used to indicate vowel distinctions.

The Khmer capital at Ângkôr is the site of the temple- mausolea of the Cambodian Kings. The most famous and impressive of these is Ângkôr Wat, the tomb of King Suryavarman II. This has become a symbol of Cambodia itself, and of a greatness that, all too tragically, stands in stark contrast to the horrors of more recent Cambodian history.

This list was largely derived from Bruce R. Gordon's Regnal Chronologies, with some details added from An Encyclopedia of World History (William L. Langer, Houghton Mifflin, 1952). The historical Maps are based on the Oxford Atlas of World History (Patrick K. O'Brien, General Editor, 1999, pp.64-65), now updated and expanded from the July 2009 "Southeast Asia" map of the National Georgraphic Society. Good linguistic information is in The Atlas of Languages (Facts On File, 1996, pp.62-64). Other language information about Cambodian is from Cambodian System of Writing and Beginning Reader, by Franklin E. Huffman [Yale University Press, 1970]. Gordon's listing of Norodom Sihanouk as "Norodom Sihanouk II" is a little puzzling, since there is no earlier "Norodom Sihanouk" in the list. There is an earlier "Norodom," which would make him "Norodom I" and our contemporary leader "Norodom II Sihanouk," but this would make Sihanouk's father, Norodom Suramarit, into "Norodom III Suramarit." That is how I have given it, in the absence of better information.

Like Laos, Cambodia came under Thai control and then passed, somewhat earlier than Laos, into the French Imperium. Again like Laos, Cambodia, regained independence in 1954 as a neutralist state.

Cambodian neutrality, like Laotian, was ignored by the Vietnamese Communists, who used Cambodian territory for the terminus of the "Ho Chi Minh Trail" through Laos, and then as a staging area and refuge for operations in South Vietnam. There wasn't much that Prince Norodom Sihanouk could do about this. Tacitly tolerating it, by pretending that it wasn't going on, seemed the best way not to antagonize the Vietnamese, while hoping that the Americans would avoid expanding their operations. However, this was not to be.

President Nixon had already been secretly bombing in Cambodia when he publicly launched an invasion in 1970. This led to a coup in Cambodia. Prince Sihanouk was overthrown and an overtly anti-Communist government came to power. As Sihanouk had feared, the Vietnamese then gave the green light to the Cambodian Communists, the Khmer Rouge, to attempt their own take-over. But Sihanouk, ironically, found himself on the same side.

When South Vietnam fell in 1975, Cambodia was not far behind, but what the Khmer Rouge had in mind for their country, newly renamed Democratic Kampuchea, made earlier Communist revolutions look like the most fainthearted reformism. The entire urban population of the country was chased out of the cities. Anyone displaying any evidence of office, wealth, or education, even people simply wearing glasses, were summarily executed. The project was an inflated Maoist fantasy of returning the whole nation to communal peasant life, whether they wanted to do that or not. Anyone showing the slightest resistance or slightest independence of thought, even expressing affection for family members, might be tortured or killed.

At the time, not much was known about this. The international press had been expelled from the country, and whatever the Khmer Rouge were doing passed out of public knowledge. Then the rumors started, born by horrified refugees. The response to this in the West was instructive. The Leftist press blamed all the bad rumors on CIA misinformation and featured sober discussions of how the Cambodians conceived Communism differently from the Vietnamese. Fraternal solidarity and all that, just a few different means to the same ends.

The Khmer Rouge, led by the "French educated" Pol Pot, kept on Prince Sihanouk for a year as a figurehead, with him fearing execution at any time -- that they would "spit him out like a cherry pit" -- even as the regime killed five of his own children. If they had then minded their own business, they probably could have done whatever they wanted in their country for the indefinite future, and let the world think whatever it wanted. But they had a grudge against Vietnam, probably something only understandable at the rarified level of political paranoia and insanity that they practiced. They kept attacking the Vietnamese, and eventually the Vietnamese, with one of the largest armies in the world, and not much to do since the war ended, attacked back, invading Cambodia and overthrowing the government in 1979. To justify their actions and gain international approval all they needed to do was open the gates of Cambodia to foreign inspection. The piles of bones and skulls told the tale, as well as the careful documentation by the Khmer Rouge of much of it, including photos of those to be executed.

The Khmer Rouge, as it happens, had murdered between a third and a half of the population of the entire country. It may be that nothing quite like this has ever happened before in history, where the native government of a country perpetrates a genocide against its own people. All to build a perfect society, on the basis of "scientific" principles from Marx, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao.

Now there was no disguising the truth. One story among many of horror and flight and refuge was told in the movie, The Killing Fields [1984]. But the leftists who had previously expressed their somber esteem for Democratic Kampuchea now had a new approach. It was all our fault. If Nixon had not drawn Cambodia into the war, then none of this would ever have happened. In the immortal (recent) words of the traitor and hopeless fool Jane Fonda, "we caused them" to do it. How it is that Nixon wronged peace and decency when the Vietnamese Communist had not done so, by passing through and using Cambodia in the first place, was a question unasked; for obviously, whatever the Communists did was in a good cause, and it was incumbent on the capitalists to respect the neutrality of a country that had became a de facto belligerent in the Vietnamese Revolution. It was also always a good question why Communists were always compelled to imprison and murder their own people whenever we were unfriendly to them, or why they would have acted differently if no one had been paying any attention. I've never heard what Hitler did excused just because so many were opposed to him, but, by the reasoning we are given, the case could be made that Hitler was driven to genocide just because the West was making war against him. But the idea that Communists all would have been good liberals and democrats if only we hadn't been mean to them is now well established, not just in the blame-American-first crowd, but even in the common consensus of (shameless) academics and intellectuals.

The Khmer Rouge, chased into the countryside, fought on; and the pro-Vietnamese official government of Cambodia found itself without much international recognition. The fall of Communism in Eastern Europe helped bring about a settlement. Prince Sihanouk, whom no one ever thought of as pro-Vietnamese, and who had found refuge with China and North Korea, returned from exile to supervise a new government and then be installed as King, which office he had abdicated in 1955 (and would abdicate again, in 2004). The Khmer Rouge were given a role, but they ended up falling out among themselves, even claiming to have tried Pol Pot, before his death, for all of the crimes of their regime. What may really have happened is that, with Sihanouk officially back in power, the Communists lost their lifeline of support from China, without which no one else would give them the time of day. So they begin to wither on the vine. One then hopes that Cambodia will finally return to some kind of normalcy, though meanwhile, amid all the fighting and anarchy, the priceless heritage of Ângkôr Wat and other sites has been damaged by looters. Back in the 60's, Prince Sihanouk had said that when elephants fight, the mice scatter. Cambodia, sadly, was a mouse that didn't get away and was crushed by events.

By 2011, some action was being taken to try some remaining functionaries of the Khmer Rouge regime. It is not clear how far this will go or if it will really address the magnitude of the crimes committed. Meanwhile, other aspects of the days of slaughter come to light. A 2011 documentary, Golden Slumbers (Le Sommeil d'or), examines what happened to the Cambodian film industry under the Khmer Rouge. Between 1960 and 1975, Cambodia produced more than 400 movies. These were actually almost entirely destroyed by the Communists, so that only about 30 movies on degrading video tape survive. Most of the participants in the film industry were, of course, executed. And the "Bird of Paradise" studios in Phnom Phenh were burned down. The documentary interviews survivors, but also relatives of industry figures who did not survive. The insights we gain into the mentality of the Communists are, as it happens, relevant in our own day, when the ideology that drove the Khmer Rouge is not at all dead and indeed is taught every day in the American (so-called) educational system. It would be nice to believe that the Killing Fields are ancient history, but they are not. Americans today insensibly vote for people who would like to do nothing less.

In 2012 Norodom Sihanouk has now died, aged 89. Few monarchs in history have experienced such terrifying revolutions and reversals of fortune as he did, or seen such unbelievable suffering inflicted, gratuitously, on their own country, simply in the name of crackpot ideology. Sihanouk was not a great ruler or leader, but he must be forgiven the magnitude of the horrors he had to put up with.

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Kings of Burma

Meng Di1279-1385
vassal of Ava, 1379-1430
Vacant, 1406-1430
Wara Dhammaradza1684-1692
Munithu Dhammaradza1692-1694
Tsandathuriya Dhammaradza1694-1696
Tsandawimala I1700-1706
Tsandawimala II1777
to Burma, 1784
The Burmese speak a Sino-Tibean language, more closely related to Tibetan and Karen than to Chinese itself. But, despite frequent political and military involvement with China, Burma has always been a sub-Indian culture, with
Theravadin Buddhist religion and a Sanskrit based alphabet. The interesting circular form of Burmese letters is a consequence of the original writing materials. These were strips of leaves that would split easily if straight lines were made along the grain. Circular forms avoid or minimize this danger.

The earliest civilization in Burma was on the coast of Arakan. This was occasionally subject to the strong Burmese states in the Irrawaddy valley and eventually was absorbed.

The first great central Burmese state was that of Pagan. This eventually came to an end with invasion by the Mongols and the influx of the Shan people.

Nga Khwec.950-c.955
Ngyaungusaw Rahanc.970-c.995
Kwonsaw Kyung Phyuc.995-c.1014
embassy to China, 1106
Narathu I1167-1170
Uzana I1250-1254
"He who ran
from the Chinese"
Mongols loot Pagan, 1287
KyawswaMongol Vassal,
Combined with Pinya
Uzana II1324-1343
Narathu II1359-1364
Uzana Pyaung1364
Nga Nu the Usurper1368
MinkyiswasawkeChinese Vassal,
Nga Nauk Hanusurper,
Minhkaung I1401-1422
NarapatiChinese Vassal,
Minhkaung II1481-1502
Thohanbwa the Usurper1527-1543
Hkonmaing the Shan1543-1546
Mobye NarapatiShan Vassal,
SithkyawhtinShan Vassal,
to Taungu, 1555


After the fall of Pagan and a transitional kingdom, the next great Burmese state was Ava. Ava, however, would never dominate Burma. It was precariously surrounded by the Shan states in the north, Arakan in the west, and Pegu in the south, sometimes advancing, as against Arakan in 1379-1430, sometimes retreating, and sometimes dominated by China.

These lists were largely derived from Bruce R. Gordon's Regnal Chronologies, with some details added from An Encyclopedia of World History (William L. Langer, Houghton Mifflin, 1952). The Maps are based on the Oxford Atlas of World History (Patrick K. O'Brien, General Editor, 1999, pp.64-65). Good linguistic information is in The Atlas of Languages (Facts On File, 1996, pp.62-64); and a description of the Burmese language and its alphabet is in The World's Major Languages, edited by Bernard Comrie [Oxford University Press, 1987, pp.834-854].

Binya-e Lau1330-1348
Binya Dhamma Radza1423-1426
Binya Rankit1426-1446
Binya Waru1446-1450
Binya Keng1450-1453
Shengtsaubu (f)1453-1460
Dhamma Dzedi1460-1491
Binya Ran1491-1526
Tabin Shwehti1531-1550
captures Pengu, 1539; King of Lower Burma, 1542; captures Pagan, 1546; King of all Burma
Bayin Naung1551-1581
captures Ava, 1555; captures Chiang Mai, 1557; attacks Ayuthya, 1563; captures Ayuthya, 1569
driven from Siam, 1593; Chinese intervention, 1599-1600
Ngyaung Ram Meng1599-1605
Mengre Dippa1628-1629
Thalwun Mengtara1629-1648
Pyi Meng1661-1672
Thiri Pawara
Thiri Maha
Thihathura Thudhamma
Thiri Pawara
Dibati Hsengphyusheng
Mahadhammaraja Dibati1733-1751
to Konbaung, 1751
Buddha Thi Gwe Meng1740-1746
Binya Dala1746-1757
Chinese invasion, 1765-1769; Ayuthya destroyed, 1767
Singu Min1776-1781
Maung Maung1781
captures Arakan, 1784; invasion of Siam defeated, 1785; Peace with Siam, acquisition of Tenasserim coast, 1793
First Burmese War, 1824-1826, loss of Assam, Arakan, & Tenasserim to Britain, 1826
Pagin Min1846-1852
Mindon Min1853-1878
Second Burmese War, 1852-1853, Lower Burma to Britain, 1853; Manalay becomes capital, 1857
Third Burmese War, 1885, Burma annexed by Britain,
1886-1942, 1945-1948; Japanese occupation, 1942-1945
The Shan were among the Thai-Lao people who streamed into Southeast Asia in the 13th century, perhaps driven out of Yunnan by the Mongols. Shan states destabilize Burma, and their aggressiveness may be responsible for the newly aggressive state of Taungu that creates a bit of a Burmese Empire in the 16th century.

The conquest by Taungu of the Thai Kingdoms, Chiang Mai and Ayuthya, is one of the high points of Burmese history. The triumph, especially over Siam, however, is brief.

The revival of a unified Burmese state under Konbaung led to some triumphs, as for a while over Siam again, and then to a series of setbacks. Defeated in Siam, the Burmese then had to face an enemy even more formidable than China -- the British in India.

All the British ever wanted to do was trade and make money, but ideas of private property and free trade were more than a little foreign to Burmese sovereigns. Hassling British subjects in the 19th century, however, brings down the wrath of Britain, with all its modern military superiority.

Three wars with Britain led to the dismemberment and then annexation of Burma. And as the century progressed, the British became increasingly more interested in conquest than just in trade. The First Burmese War meant in 1826 the loss of Assam, still today part of India, Arakan, only recently secured, and Tenasserim, only more recently secured. These territories were not exactly integral to the Burmese state; but the Second Burmese War led to the annexation of Lower Burma, with Rangoon and Pengu, in 1853. The British general Sir Harry Prendergast finally entered Mandalay in 1885, and the whole country was annexed the following year.

British Chief
Sir Arthur Purves Phayre1862-1867
Albert Fytche1867-1871
Ashley Eden1871-1875
Sir Augustus Rivers Thompson1875-1878
Charles Umpherston Aitchinson1878-1880
Sir Charles Edward Bernard1880-1883
Sir Charles Haukes Todd1883-1886
Third Burmese War, 1885, Upper Burma annexed by Britain, 1886
Sir Charles Edward Bernard1886-1887
Sir Charles Haukes Todd1887-1890
Alexander Mackenzie1890-1895
Frederick William Richard Fryer1895-1897
Lieutenant Governors
Frederick William Richard Fryer1897-1903
Sir Hugh Shakespear Barnes1903-1905
Sir Herbert Thirkell White1905-1910
Sir Harvey Adamson1910-1915
Sir George Shaw1913-1913
Sir Spencer Harcourt Butler1915-1917
Walter Francis Rice1917-1918
Sir Reginald Henry Craddock1918-1922
Sir Spencer Harcourt Butler1922-1923
Sir Spencer Harcourt Butler1923-1927
Sir Charles Alexander Innes1927-1932
Sir Hugh Landsdowne Stephenson1932-1936
Sir Archibald Douglas Cochrane1936-1941
Sir Reginald Hugh Dorman-Smith1941-1946
Japanese Occupation, 1942-1945; Military Commanders
Shojiro Iida1942-1943
Masakazu Kawabe1943-1944
Heitaro Kimura1944-1945
Allied Military Governors
Louis Mountbatten1944-1945
Sir Hubert Elvin Rance1945-1946
Sir Hubert Elvin Rance1946-1948
In World War II, Burma ended up conquered and occupied by a power that previously had had nothing to do with Burmese history -- Japan. The Japanese did this to cut off supplies to China over the famous "Burma Road." It also put them on the border of India, where enemies of Britain, from Napoleon to Hitler, had always dreamed of being. To supply their position in Burma, the Japanese employed prisoners-of-war to build a railroad from Thailand. Many, many died in this project, immortalized in the movie, Bridge on the River Kwai [1957]. But by the time the Japanese got around to invading India in 1944, they were well past their prime; and the army that was sent, and defeated, didn't even have enough supplies to make a regular retreat. The British reconquest of Burma was then set in motion. The supreme Allied commander in the Theatre was Louis Mountbatten, who was subsequently made Earl Mountbatten of Burma. Mountbatten then served as the last
Viceroy of India. Mountbatten, however, was not the field commander on the ground. That was General, subsequently Field Marshall, Slim. Details of this campaign are discussed in more detail below.

It was no trouble for the Japanese to find anti-British Burmese to set up a puppet government, which dutifully declared war on the Allies in 1943. After the War, the bitter feelings were reflected in the fact that independent Burma did not choose to join the British Commonwealth. Since then, Burma has suffered from its isolationist tendencies, especially after a military coup in 1962 and one-party socialist state was decreed in 1974. The present military government, with General Shaw Maung as President since 1988, setting aside democratic election results in 1990, has gained the reputation of one of the worst human rights abusers in the world. In an attempt to stir up fascist-style nationalism, the government changed the name of the country in 1991 to something more "authentic," Myanmar, but this has done little, of course, to ease the sting of dictatorship.

The living symbol of Burmese resistance to their government is Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. A remarkable political lightning rod for so small a woman, Aung San has been arrested and kept under house arrest by the Burmese government almost continuously. Since she had a British husband (who died in 1999), the government rather wished she would just leave the country and stay away, but for some reason it has not simply expelled her. After her Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, Aung San has become such an international figure that the government has apparently become shy of going too far with her. For a time she was free to move around the country and speak to crowds, though the government usually harassed and threatened these gatherings. This was progress. Aung San would get no such tolerance in Cuba, North Korea, or Iran. In 2007, however, large scale anti-government protests, again initiated and led by Buddhist monks, were forcefully suppressed. Whether this has weakened the regime or merely reinforced its power is a question not easily answered in the immediate aftermath of the event. It may be a good sign, however, that the monastic establishment, which previously had seemed cowed and subservient, rose up so resolutely. The generals cannot now count on the passivity of the monks, as for a while it seemed they could. Currently [2009], Aung San has again been under house arrest. The Burmese generals have been able to count on the support of China, Russia, and South Africa in holding off stronger international condemnation. This is as revealing for the current nature of those regimes as it is for Burma.

In 2008 a powerful tropical Cyclone hit Burma. It looks like many thousands had or would die in the aftermath. The Military rulers at first did not want to allow any aid into the country.
Presidents of the Union of Burma, Democratic Period, 1948-1962
Sao Shwe Thaik1948-1952
Ba U1952-1957
Win Maung1957-1962
"Burmese Socialism" Military Government
Ne Win1962-1981
San Yu1981-1988
"8888" Democracy Uprising; Military Coup, 1988
Sein Lwin1988
Maung Maung1988
Dictator Chairmen of Military State Council
Saw Maung1988-1992
Aung San Suu Kyi wins general election, nullified by Military, 1990; Burma becomes "Myanmar," 1991
Than Shwe1992-2011
Widespread protests, suppressed by Military, 2007
Thein Sein2011-2016
Htin Kyaw2016-2018
Myint SweActing, 2018, 2021
Win Myint2018-2021
Military Coup, 2021
Once they allowed in some aid, they immediately seized it for the Military (a common trick of the
North Koreans). When some food was distributed to storm victims, reports are either that the government claimed to be the source or that the aid food was kept by the Military and rancid local food was distributed. These tyrants are so vile, it is a shame that the U.S. won't just drop in Don Rumsfeld and the Delta Force and get rid of them. It is otherwise hard to know how the Burmese people will be free of them, though they could not remain in power without some kind of substantial support. While liberal opinion internationally is aroused over the matter, far too much energy is being expended by political activists on confused or vicious condemnations of the American role in overthrowing the late dictator of Iraq to have any serious intentions about overthrowing the dictators of Burma.

In 2011, the generals finally began to release their grip on the country, but with the potential to return to power if they really wanted to. However, the issue gripping international attention is no longer the nature of Burmese government but the treatment of the Muslim Rohingya people of Arakan. It is a little hard to determine how it all started, but there were attacks by terrorists on Burmese police stations. If they thought this was going to be part of the Jihad, they made a mistake. The government retaliated, pretty much in kind, including massacres, and Rohingya began to flee the country into Bangladesh. Burma denies that the Rohingya are even an indiginous ethnic group to the country, but Bangladesh doesn't really want them either.

Aung San Suu Kyi has been strangely quiet in the matter, and the level of international condemnation has increased. However, we now see a pattern. The Buddhist countries of the region, like Burma, Sri Lanka, and Thailand, now have a history of violent intolerance of ethnic and religious minorities. The Hindu Tamils of Sri Lanka seem to have only turned to terrorism after a great deal of mob violence and official discrimination against them, but Muslims in Burma and Thailand may have thought that the Jihad was their first option. Perhaps they did not reckon that Buddhists, whom Western admirers regard as pacifists, could actually be just as ruthless and violent as Jihadists. They should have been watching Sri Lanka. Aung San Suu Kyi may be silent just because she thinks this is all self-defense, with Islam much more a threat than Western liberals want to believe.

Another feature of this issue is now the treatment of Muslims in Sinkiang (Xīnjiāng) by China. It appears that perhaps millions of Muslim Uighurs have been put in actual Chinese concentration camps, being tortured and forced to do things, like eat pork, that violate their religion. The Chinese government apparently wishes to exterminate Islam, if not the Uighurs themelves. There is little international outrage about this, not even from Muslim countries, and certainly not from the people complaining about the treatment of the Rohingyas by Burma -- even while the continuing Chinese genocide in Tibet draws no more notice either. Representative Ilhan Omar, who complains about being oppressed every day by so-called Islamophobia in the United States, has had no public complaint about China, although she probably would not enjoy living in Sinkiang. It is clear that many have simply been bought off by Chinese money, like the National Basketball Association (NBA), but one wonders about others, who may simply prefer the sort of totalitarian government in China to liberal democracy in the United States, or the West. When media personalities, who never complained about people burning the American flag, now have a problem with the First Amendment, because it would allow people to burn Qur'âns, hypocrisy crosses over into the most perverse and confused of political commitments.

In 2021 the military has taken over the government again in Burma and arrested Aung San Suu Kyi. It is unclear what their justification for this is, if any. The international reaction has been largely weariness with the old issue. Meanwhile, Chinese actions against the Uighurs have even been labelled genocide by the outgoing Trump Administration, perhaps in anticipation of the corrupt incoming Biden Administration abandoning the sanctions and more resolute measures that had been instituted against China. The Biden family, of course, has made money off influence-peddling to the Chinese communists. Americans seem unconcerned about this, and much of the Ruling Class is ready to prostitute itself for status with the communists.

World War II in Burma

The campaign in Burma in World War II involves several unique features. The most important may be that it is the only place where the Japanese Army fought Western Allied armies in large scale land combat with battles of maneuver. Otherwise, what we see in the Pacific War is island fighting, with the Japanese Army hemmed in, entrenched, and at the mercy of the balance and fate of naval forces. Exceptions to this generality come when the islands get large enough, as on Luzon in the Philippines, or in Malaya, where the peninsula was wide enough that we get battles of maneuver as the Japanese drive the British towards Singapore. Another exception would have been in Manchuria when the Russians entered the War and drove against the Japanese Manchurian Army. However, this happened with only days left in the conflict, and the Japanese Army, stripped of resources for other fronts, collapsed quickly. Otherwise, the largest area of land combat in the Pacific War was in China. There the lines between Chinese and Japanese forces were essentially static from the beginning of the War. Late in the War, when the Japanese went on the offensive to eliminate Allied B-29 bases, the Chinese were able to offer too little effective resistance to be militarily interesting.

Another unique feature of the War in Burma was fact that the Japanese faced British forces. They had, of course, already done so in Malaya and had inflicted one of the worst and most humiliating military defeats on the British in all of British Imperial history. Strategically, one in general would think that was the end of British involvement in the Pacific War. To the Japanese, however, one of their ultimate military goals was always Burma, for it was through Burma that China was still being supplied, and China was the reason for Japanese involvement in the Pacific War in the first place. With Malaya and Singapore secured, and Siam pliant, the Japanese thus moved swiftly to the invasion and conquest of Burma, the largest such domain conquered by the Japanese in World War II, and the only one where they did so without the element of naval involvement elsewhere so characteristic of the Pacific War. Japanese were certainly successful in Burma, but the nature of their success was different in a significant way from that in Malaya. The British were defeated and driven out, but their forces were not destroyed or captured. The Japanese invasion was at times checked, and the British were able to retreat and withdraw usually in good order, despite the problems of the terrain. After the conquest, the British units involved simply found themselves in India. At times the British did so well, indeed, that Japanese success depended on the defeat of Chinese forces on their flank in order to discomfit the British defense.

No one believed that the war in Burma was a key to winning the Pacific War. Nevertheless, for the Americans, as for the Japanese, Burma possessed a certain strategic significance, since American strategy always held, rather unrealistically, that the Chinese could make a major contribution to Allied victory. The power with the lowest strategic estimation of the value of Burma may have been Britain herself, even though the British were fully sensible that they had the most to gain or lose in prestige when it came to success or failure there. Otherwise, British strategic thinking, as it had been since the acquisition of Burma in the first place, was centered on India. The British incentive to recover Burma came from (1) the desire to redeem the humiliating defeat there, (2) to restore the defensive perimeter of India, and (3) to satisfy the Americans that things were being done to help China. Unlike the Americans -- on the spot in the person of General Joseph "Vinegar Joe" Stilwell -- the British had no illusions about the ability or the need of the Chinese to contribute to the defeat of Japan in a significant way; but if American trained and armed Chinese forces could help in Burma, which they did, so much the better.

Another significant characteristic of the War in Burma was that British forces in great measure were not even British. They were Indian or Nepalese. Nepal was not even a British possession, but Nepalese Gurkhas had long been recruited for their own elite units in British armies. When there was considerable discontent in India, with nationalists like Mahâtmâ Gandhi calling for the British to "Quit India" and for Indians not to participate in the British War effort, and with the Japanese actively promoting Indian rebellion against Britain and forming their own Indian National Army, largely from Indian prisoners captured in Malaya, it is noteworthy that the British had little difficulty maintaining their Indian forces and no problem with disloyalty in the British Indian Army. Burma would be the last hurrah for the combined Anglo-Indian military tradition of British India -- though not, as it would happen, for the Gurkhas, who were still fighting for the British in the Falklands forty years later.

Slim tells a story about the Gurkhas:

It was here [at Bishenpur] that some Gurkhas were engaged in collecting Japanese corpses from the corner inaccessible to bulldozers [used to move the heaps of Japanese dead] when one Japanese, picked up by a couple of Gurkhas, proved not to be as dead as expected. A Gurkha had drawn his kukri [the large, wicked knife carried by Gurkhas, as seen at right] to finish the struggling prisoner when a passing British officer intervened saying, 'You mustn't do that, Johnny. Don't kill him!' The Gurkha, with his kukri poised, looked at the officer in pained surprise, 'But, sahib,' he protested, 'we can't bury him alive!' [Field-Marshal Viscount Slim, Defeat into Victory: Battling Japan in Burma and India, 1942-1945, 1956, Cooper Square Press, 2000, p.336]

In the big picture, Burma may have been a sideshow to a sideshow, but its strategic situation or role is entirely separate, of course, from its intrinsic interest in military history. With the several unique features of the campaign, its importance as military history can only grow, as indeed it has done from the early postwar period. This progress from neglect to prominence is certainly embodied in the person of the ultimate British field commander in Burma, Field Marshal Sir William Joseph Slim, 1st Viscount Slim. Not originally destined for a military career, Slim nevertheless decided to pursue one after his success in World War I. Since the British peacetime army was not the place for a lot of new careers, Slim ended up in the Indian Army.
Monument to Field Marshall Slim, Whitehall, London, 2019
In the early days of World War II, Slim experienced successes and failures fighting in Iraq, Syria, and the Sudan, the former two against Arab German allies and Vichy France, the latter against the Italians in Ethiopia. His mixed record left it uncertain what his fate would be. That fate was then settled as he was sent to Burma in the desperate days of attempting to stem the Japanese tide. Slim could not, of course, be successful there, but he avoided the worst of defeat in a way that credited him to sensible observers and kept him in the Theatre, working on the ultimate counter-offensive. Slim was hardly noticed back in London, and Churchill himself is supposed to have commented that little might be expected from a man with such a name! As it happened, Slim, unlike many generals, learned from mistakes and ultimately had the opportunity to apply the lessons to good effect.

One thing that hampered the British in Burma, as it had in Malaya, was the belief that the jungle was impenetrable to modern military forces. The Japanese had no such prejudice, and their favorite tactic was to infiltrate Japanese units around behind defenders, who had sat thinking that their flanks were secure. Instead, Japanese forces would suddenly appear across their rear. To be sure, these infiltrators were usually only lightly armed, but this typically made little difference, materially and especially morally, in the heat of battle. Again and again, British forces, steadying themselves to make a stand, would find themselves suddenly cut off from their rear and in danger of being completely surrounded and overrun. Their best bet was to turn and fight their way out. This might save them, but it would not help holding the front against the Japanese offensive.

Later in the War, when the British were returning to the offensive in the Arakan, they were held up when the commanders did not believe they could flank or bypass Japanese positions through the jungle and mountains. Slim, not yet in overall command, warned them, not only that they could and should be doing so, but that the Japanese were likely to counterattack in just such a way. When the Japanese then did so, the offensive was broken up and Slim's advice vindicated. Slim's own tactical training then not only involved moving British and Indian forces through the jungle, but the positioning of back-up forces who could always attack ahead against Japanese infiltrators. The Japanese would thus find themselves both attacked in the jungle and attacked as they believed they had encircled the forces they were facing.

The map shows a couple of significant features for the war in Burma. The railroad that the Japanese built from Bangkok to Moulmein (to join the existing British railroad, in blue) cost the lives of thousands of Allied prisoners of war (mostly British and Australian, but also Dutch, Americans, and others) and of local slave labor from Japanese occupied territories. This was the "Death Railroad" commemorated in the David Lean movie, Bridge on the River Kwai [1957]. Unfortunately, the movie misrepresents some essentials of the situation. British soldiers were not collaborating with the Japanese, as the character of Alec Guinness does in the movie. Also, the prisoners were naked and starving (and frequently beaten), not marching around singing in slightly tattered uniforms. The bridge in question was an early and relatively easy part of the project, with only a few deaths, while the later work in the mountains and monsoon accounted for most of the death toll from disease, abuse, and starvation -- with some deaths even from Allied bombing. The bridge was not destroyed by commandoes after being completed. Instead, there were two bridges, a temporary one of wood and a permanent one of steel and concrete. The latter was eventually broken by bombing, but the Japanese kept the railroad running by restoring the wooden bridge. Finally, the bridge was not on the River Kwai -- the Khwae-Noi -- but on the nearby Mae Klong, though I notice that the Mae Klong is now often labeled the "Khwae-Yoi." Other features on the map are the Burma Road, which had supplied China before the Japanese invasion, and the Ledo Road, built by Joe Stilwell with his Chinese troops to reopen the Burma Road.

Slim's preparations for the reconquest of Burma were well advanced in 1944, but he realized that he was still at a numerical disadvantage to the Japanese. The Japanese might have been in grave trouble elsewhere, but the backwater nature of his command meant that Slim got few benefits of the wealth of resources that were elsewhere available for the Allied war effort. He did have the support of the new supreme commander in the Theatre, Louis Mountbatten, but this still could not radically change the supply priorities. What Slim hoped was for the Japanese to launch their own offensive first, into his prepared positions, and so by losses even the match for the subsequent British offensive.

The Japanese obliged him, but with a swiftness and strength that was more than what was anticipated and then threatened to embarrass the British defenses. The main target had always been Imphal, but the Japanese also concentrated on Kohima, north of Imphal. Kohima held, but if the Japanese had simply bypassed it and seized the defenseless Dimapur to its rear, they would have cut the rail line to all British, American, and Chinese operations in eastern India and northern Burma. This could have seriously disrupted the Allied war effort in the area, more so than even the fall of Imphal alone would have done. However, the Japanese commander was not so imaginative. His orders were to take Kohima, and he was going to do so or get every man in his command killed in the process. The latter is pretty close to what happened. As on Guadalcanal, the Japanese Army could throw itself again and again against Allied defenses, but the result was simply their own slaughter. Japanese troops had only come with sufficient supplies to hold them until obtaining captured British supplies. Since British supplies were not obtained, the Japanese began to run out of food. The failed offensive turned into defeat and then into rout. The British, already prepared for their own offensive, could follow the Japanese retreat right over the mountains and jungle back into Burma.

The daring war of movement by which the Japanese conquered Burma was now returned with interest by Slim. This, to be sure, did not involve much in the way of infiltration tactics, but it did feature a vast flanking movement by which Slim encircled most of the Japanese forces in central Burma. At the same time, infiltration may not have been necessary. The Japanese had worn out their welcome in the country. While they had arrived with anti-British nationalists, like Aung San (1915-1947), father of Aung San Suu Kyi, in tow, ready to head a collaborationist army (the BNI, Burmese National Army) and government, the nationalists soon got the drift that Japanese imperialism was no more, and perhaps a good deal less, to their liking than the attitudes and practices of the British. Also, tribal people, like the Karen and Shan, had always favored the British regime anyway. They were perfectly happy to operate as guerrilla forces against the Japanese. When Aung San began to negotiate cooperation with British, the Japanese position in Burma, morally as well as militarily, was about to take a grave turn for the worse. A most revealing moment perhaps came when Aung San met Slim in India under a safe passage. Slim asked him why he would even trust the assurances that he would be received and returned safely.

You have nothing in writing, only a verbal promise at second-hand, that I would return you to your friends. Don't you think you are taking considerable risks in coming here and adopting this attitude?'

'No,' he replied, shortly.

'Why not?'

'Because you are a British officer,' he answered. I had to confess that he scored heavily -- and what was more I believe he meant it. [ibid. p.518]

One would like to think that there, in a nutshell, was a certain meaning of the British Empire.

Slim broke the Japanese army in Central Burma into incoherent fragments. A race ensued for Rangoon, but the Japanese did something very uncharacteristic for themselves:  they abandoned the city and even left behind their prisoners. Allied POW's wrote "exdigitate" ("remove finger") on the roof of the Rangoon jail to signal the departure of the Japanese. I have always wondered exactly what they expected that the finger had been inserted in. Louis Mountbatten, who relates the incident with relish in his later charming video autobiography, nevertheless avoids explanation of the reference. Perhaps the reference is too crude to describe in polite language. Eventually, the remnants of Japanese forces, with few supplies or fight left, used their infiltration tactics to get through British lines and evacuate into Siam. That is where the War ended for them.

Slim, who had operated in a backwater and had often been afflicted with superiors who wanted to blame him for their failures, or take credit for his successes, ended the War in some continuing obscurity. After the War, as Governor-General of Australia, he wrote a memoir (Defeat into Victory: Battling Japan in Burma and India, 1942-1945, quoted above). Living among a population of sympathetic veterans, who knew the amount of time that Slim had spent at the front and among the troops, Slim was already in the right place to obtain a due respect. Then his memoir became a best seller. Often compared to that of Ulysses S. Grant, Slim's, indeed, is one of the best ever. The balance of history thus began to be righted (and now I see, in 2010, that there is a monument to Slim, with other great World War II generals, adjacent to the tomb of the Duke of Wellington in St. Paul's Cathedral). However, for its pure appeal as military history, the War in Burma continues in the shadow of the politically and strategically larger events elsewhere. Yet there was no other campaign in the Pacific War with the features we find there, especially for operations by large units of the Japanese Army over an extensive terrain against comparable Allied forces. The more familiar and celebrated battles, like Iwo Jima or Okinawa, or even Guadalcanal, show us nothing of the sort.

A fine treatment of Stilwell's role in Burma can be found in Stilwell and the American Experience in China, 1911-45, by Barbara W. Tuchman [1971, Grove Press, 2001]. Tuchman's treatment, unfortunately, was still influenced by what we now know are falsehoods perpetuated by pro-Communist influence and bias in the United States State Department -- the idea that the Communists were heroically fighting the Japanese, while Chiang Kai-shek wasn't, was simply Communist propaganda. Stilwell was not in a position to know this, and Tuchman has no reason to question his contempt for Chiang Kai-shek. Some map details are from The West Point Military History Series, Atlas for the Second World War, Asia and the Pacific, Thomas E. Griess, Series Editor [Avery Publishing Group, 1985]. The History Channel recently featured the True Story of the Bridge on the River Kwai [2008].

A Guadalcanal Chronology & Order of Battle, 7 August 1942 - 6 March 1943

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Copyright (c) 2000, 2003, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2018, 2019, 2021 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved

Kings of Tibet and the Dalai Lamas

First Kingdom of Tibet
Song-tsen Gam-poc.618-649
Man-song Mang-tsen649-704
Dü-song Mang-po-je676-704
Tri-de Tsug-ten704-754
Tri-song De-tsen754-797
Chinese driven from
Tarim Basin, Ch'ang-An
occupied, 763
Mu-ne Tsen-po797-800
Tri-de Song-tsen800-815
Tri-tsug De-tsen815-838
Lang Darma838-842
fragmentation of Kingdom
Tibet enters history with the introduction of Buddhism and the organization of a kingdom in competition with
T'ang China. Eventually, the Tibetans ended the Chinese presence in Central Asia and even briefly occupied the T'ang capital, Ch'ang-An. The Tibetan language is related to Chinese, but culturally Tibet is a sub-Indian rather than a sub-Chinese civilization.

Tibetan Buddhism would always display a bit of syncretism with the native animist religion, Bön, and the form of Buddhism itself is a little unusual, since it is the late, Tantric, Vajrayâna Buddhism of India (from missionaries Padmasambhava, Santarakshita, and Kamalashila). Tibetan art thus often shows the violent and erotic manifestation of Tantrism, including rape and bestiality.

The last King of the period is supposed to have turned against Buddhism, and the kingdom fragmented after him. Rulers of various successor kingdoms are apparently available, but not presently know to me.

Mongol Regents
Sakya Pandita1249-1253
title of Tisri, 1261
Rinchen Tisri1280-1282
Dharmapalrakshita Tisri1282-128?
Yeshe Richen Tisri128?-1295
Tragpa Öser Tisri1295-1303
Richen Gyantsen Tisri1303-1304
Dorje Pal Tisri1304-1313
Sangye Pal Tisri1313-1316
Kunga Lotro Tisri1316-1327
Kunga Lekpa Chungne Tisri1327-1330
Kunga Gyantsen Tisri1330-1358
Although there was a Mongol raid into Tibet in 1240, there never was a real Mongol conquest of the country. Submission had already been offered in 1227, after the Mongol conquest of the Tibetan/Tangut
Hsi-Hsia state; and in 1249 a Tibetan Lama was appointed Mongol regent of Tibet. An actual Mongol army was never needed.

A special title was produced for the regents, Tisri, or Ti-shih in Chinese. The rule of the Tisris continued until Mongol authority itself decayed and native opposition arose. When the Mongol Yuan Dynasty was overthrown in China, Tibet as well passed into independence, although maintaining more cordial relations with Mongolia than the Chinese would.

Second Kingdom of Tibet
independent of Mongols, 1368
Sakya Gyantsen1364-1373
Trakpa Richen1373-1386
Trakpa Chang-chub1386-1381
Sonam Tralepa1381-1443
Tribute to China refused, 1413
Trakpa Chungne1443-1465
Sangye Gyantesen Pal Zangpo1465-1481
Dön-yö Dorje1481-1522
Ngawang Namgye1522-1550
Töndup Tseten1550-1565
Karma Tseten1565-1582
Lhawang Dorje1582-1603
Phüntso Namgye1603-1621
Karma Ten-Kyong1621-1642
Mongols, Qoshots
Gusri Khan1642-1655
Dayan Khan1655-1668
Tenzin Dalai Khan1668-1696
Lhabzang Khan1696-1717
Manchu Conquest, 1720
Phola Sonam Topbgyeregent,
Gyurmé Namgyal1747-1750
rule ceded to Dalai Lama, 1750

The second unified Tibetan Kingdom followed the liberation from the Mongols. This was not an aggressive, conquering kingdom like the first one. Indeed, it fell prey eventually to the still aggressive Mongols, even after converting them to the Tibetan form of Buddhism. This Mongol conquest, however, resulted in little more than a local Mongol dynasty, with much actual authority already ceded to the (Fifth) Dalai Lama.

The pretext of the Manchu conquest was over the overthrow of the local Mongol dynasty by other Mongols, who installed their own candidate for Dalai Lama. The Manchus thus arrived with the legitimate and popular (Seventh) Dalai Lama, thus posing as liberators rather than as conquerors. After experimenting with a couple of new native Kings, Manchurian rule settled down to the use of the Dalai Lamas for local control.

All these lists are based on Tibet & Its History by Hugh E. Richardson [1962, Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1984, pp.304-309]. Linguistic information can be found in The Atlas of Languages (Facts On File, 1996, pp.65-71), with the Tibetan alphabet [p.197].

Dalai Lamas
1Gedün Truppa1391-1474
2Gedun Gyatso1475-1542
3Sonam Gyatso1543-1588
converts Altan Khan of Mongolia,
granted title of Dalai Lama, 1578
4Yönten Gyatso1589-1617
Mongol conquest, 1642
7Kezang Gyatso1708-1757
Manchu conquest, 1720;
rule ceded to Dalai Lama, 1750
8Jampel Gyatso1758-1804
Gurkha invasion, 1792;
foreigners excluded, 1793
9Luntok Gyatso1806-1815
10Tshultrim Gyatso1816-1837
11Khedrup Gyatso1838-1856
12Trinle Gyatso1856-1875
13Thupten Gyatso1876-1933
Chinese expelled, 1913;
Treaty with Britain, 1914
14Tenzin Gyatso1935-present
Chinese occupy Tibet, 1950;
Dalai Lama flees to India, 1959
The line of Lamas that came to rule Tibet began like many other monastic lineages in the country. The path to political power began with a mission to Mongolia that converted Altan Khan, who bestowed the title Dalai, "Ocean," on the Third Lama, retroactively applied to the earlier figures in the lineage. When Mongol rule was imposed in 1642, the Fifth Dalai Lama was held in such esteem that the effective rule of the country was often left to him. From this the tradition began that led to complete de jure rule later on. It was after the Manchus arrived (1720) that a local kingship was entirely abolished (1750) and there was no rival except the equally monastic Panchen Lama, who often has been used by the Chinese in an attempt to divide Tibetan loyalties. This continues to the present. After the death of the pro-Chinese Panchen Lama in 1989, Tibetan exiles and the Chinese designated different successors. The Tibetan nominee was arrested by the Chinese government and is presently unaccounted for, while the Chinese nominee, Gyancain Norbu, exercises the office.

Panchen Lamas
1Khedup Gelek
Pal Sangpo
2Sonam Choklang1439-1504
3Wensa Lobsang
4Lobsang Chokyi
5Lobzang Yeshe/
6Lobzang Palden
7Lobzang Tenpai/
Tempé Nyima
8Chokyi Trakpa,
Tenpai Wangchuk
Chökyi Nyima
10Lobsang Trinley
Chökyi Gyaltsen
11Gedhun Choekyi
The world knew little of Tibet in the 19th century. The occasional outsider made his way there. Other possibilities did not occur until the fall of the Manchu Ch'ing Dynasty. A Chinese garrison had actually been introduced into Tibet in 1910 as a response, eventually, to a British mission to Tibet in 1904. The Dalai Lama had even gone into exile in India. But, with the fall of the Dynasty, the Chinese were attacked. They ended up evacuating Tibet, disarmed and through India, with British mediation. The Dalai Lama returned. China was then too distracted for a while to effectively assert its authority over Tibet and other districts, like
Mongolia, that drifted out of Chinese influence. An invasion of Mongolia in 1919 to assert claims there only resulted in a Soviet sponsored counterattack that permanently detached the country from China. An expedition to Tibet was probably beyond the logistical capabilities of the struggling Chinese Republic.

Some years of real independence again, and diplomatic relations with the British, followed. The British did not recognize the complete independence of Tibet, but they denied that Tibet was an intrinsic part of China or that China had the right to subjugate Tibetan autonomy by force. China never gave up its claims, but there was altogether too much going on elsewhere for the Chinese to worry about the inoffensive Tibetans. But after the Communists came to power, China was again unified, with a large, seasoned army, and an aggressive, unapologetic leader, Mao Tse-tung. Unafraid to take on the United States and the United Nations in Korea, Mao would have little to fear by occupying Tibet. The British were gone from India, and nobody else had any particular reason or opportunity to protect Tibetan independence. In 1950, against token resistance, the Chinese rolled in, the first time that an actual Chinese government had done so, rather than one of the foreign rulers, Mongol or Manchu, of China.

Although the Tibetans were promised internal autonomy by the Chinese, they soon were subjected to the inevitable oppression, vandalism, and massacres of Communist government. Since there never were very many Tibetans in their poor, Alpine country, this kind of treatment plus Chinese colonization began to produce a genocidal effect. The International Community, once energized about "de-colonization," and formerly alert to every police beating in South Africa, has shown little stomach for consistently confronting the Chinese over Tibet. On the other hand, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, who fled into exile in 1959, has proven to be an appealing, eloquent, and respected spokesman for his country, attracting attention by many, including the Nobel Peace Prize committee and Hollywood devotees who now have produced sympathetic movies about Tibet and its plight (e.g. Seven Years in Tibet and Kundun). We can only hope that international pressure will increase and rescue a unique nation preserving an ancient heritage.

Although Western, usually American, defenders of Tibet are sometimes belabored with charges of hypocrisy, because of the treatment of the Indian tribes in American history, so that Americans are in no moral position to belabor the Chinese over the treatment of Tibet, it remains true that nowhere in the world have traditional tribal peoples, who were at neolithic or even paleolithic levels of development at their time of contact with the advanced civilizations (Eastern or Western), not been incorporated into larger modern states. There are often complaints about the status and treatment of tribal peoples in many places, from the United States to Brazil to the Sudan, but there is no special level of criticism about such peoples, of which there are many, in China. Tibet, however, was, for all its poverty and isolation, an organized state far beyond the tribal level. Like Ethiopia or Afghanistan, Tibet was the sort of state that, in the era of "decolonization," would be expected to become independent, regardless of its backward features. But the Chinese Empire and Chinese colonization survive, with no more justification than the precedents of the Mongol and Manchurian Empires.

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