Shaping of the Yunnan-Burma Frontier by Secret Societies since the End of the 17th Century

Moussons, 2011 pp. 65-84
Online version

Abstract

After the 1680s, Big Vehicle Religion gradually developed on the Yunnan-Burma frontier. It was banned by the Qing government and became a sect of Chinese secret societies. The founders of this religion combined various Buddhist and Taoist elements together and claimed this to be the route to their salvation. They also trained many students to be monks. After the Sino-Burma wars these monks established a Five Buddha Districts system among the Lahu and some Wa villages in western Mekong River, until the system was destroyed by the Qing government in the 1880s. The monks became leaders of the Luohei/Lahu through millenarianism and many Han immigrants also became involved in the movements to become the Lahu or the Wa. The monks performed critical roles as social activists in Lahu cultural reconstruction. As a shaping power, their human agency was deeply integrated into secret societies and they formulated regional political centers as well as a network mechanism for the floating indigenous populations. Secret societies clearly shaped a historical framework for local politics and economic flux in the Yunnan-Burma frontier and became a cross-border mechanism for contemporary life after the border between Yunnan, Burma and Thailand was decided. However, it used to be a networking dynamic linked with silver and copper minefields, Sino-Burma wars, and anti-Qing millenarianism. Local people could also use this frontier space for their negotiations with different states before the coming of European colonialism.