The brief history of the Shan State and its resistance Day.
By Nam Hio
20 March 2012
The Shan State is a state, 62500 square miles, situated on the plateau, in the northeastern
part of Burma. It is bordered with Kayah (Karenni) state in the south, Thailand
in the south east, Laos in the east, China in the north east and Kachin state in the north.
The Tai/Shan live in the area that is today’s Shan State (Mong Tai) for over a
thousand years. The Shan State has always existed as an independent state throughout
the history, Sao Phas (Princedom) ruled and formed the Shan State as a Federated
State, they ruled their territories and governed their own states independently until
In 18-20 centuries, due to the British colonization and
expansion to South and South-east Asia, the political
situation and fate of the Shan State has changed. In
1815-1818, the British occupied India and annexed
Assam into India. The British troops further its
expansion to Burma. In 1824, 1852 and 1885, the
Burmese resisted for three times against the British
invasions. However, in 1886 the powerful British
defeated the Burmese resistance and annexed the
Burmese Kingdom (including Arakan and Mon states).
Kayah (Karenni) states recognized as Sovereign States.
In the meantime, fighting broke out among the Shan
princes over the disputes of the territories. The
Yawnghwe and Hsipaw princes requested for the
British protection. After that, the British sent its troops
into the Federated Shan State and Shan State become a
protectorate state of the British Empire in 1886.
In 1930s, Burmese nationalists led by Aung San raise
the campaign for independence. Aung San was anti-
British and staunchly anti-imperialist. In March 1940,
he attended the Indian National Congress Assembly in
Ramgarh, India. However, the government issued a
warrant for his arrest due to his attempts to organise a
revolt against the British and he had to flee Burma. He
went first to China, seeking assistance from the government there (China was still
under nationalist government during World War 2), but he was intercepted by the
Japanese military occupiers in Amoy, and was convinced by them to go to Japan
In February 1941, Aung San returned to Burma, with an offer of arms and financial
supports from the Fumimaro Konoe government. He returned briefly to Japan to
receive more military training, along with the first batch of young revolutionaries who
came to be known as the Thirty Comrades. The former capital of Burma, Rangoon
(now Yangon), fell to the Japanese in March 1942 (as part of the Burma Campaign in
World War II). On 1 August 1943, the Japanese declared Burma to be an independent
nation. Aung San was appointed War Minister, and the army was again renamed, this
time as the Burma National Army (BNA). Aung
San became sceptical of Japanese promises of true
independence and of Japan's ability to win the war.
He made plans to organize an uprising in Burma
and made contact with the British authorities in
India, in cooperation with Communist leaders
Thakin Than Tun and Thakin Soe. On 27 March
1945, he led the BNA in a revolt against the
Japanese occupiers and helped the Allies defeat the
During the Second World War, the British promised
to grant independence to her colonies that support
the British war against Japanese invasion.
Independence would be granted by the end of the
war. Many Chin, Kachin, Karen and Shan took the
opportunity and remain loyal to the British and they
fight the Japanese and Burmese nationalists. Many
Sao Phas led their people to help the British in the
war against the Japanese in the Second World War.
The war ended in August 1945 and finally, the
Japanese lose the Second World War. The people of
Shan State started to prepare for independence from
In 1945, the Shan Sao Phas prepared to form the unity among the ethnicities. In 1946,
the Shan Sao Phas invited the Kachin, Chin representative to Panglong, Southern
Shan State. In February 1947, the Shan, Kachin, Chin representative formed Supreme
Council of the United Hill People (SCOUHP). At that time, the Shan Sao Phas wanted
to transform its old prince administrative systems into a democratic system. The Shan
State Council was formed that comprised of 7 Sao Phas and 7 people representatives.
Even after Japanese withdraw from the Shan State, the Shan Sao Phas and its leaders
decided to stay under the British Empire as a dominion state. It is because they
realised that Shan State people were not strong and ready in terms of governing and
political knowledge. However, they would change into the independent country when
are ready. And the British make it clear and promised to hand back to the people of
Meanwhile, Gen. Aung San and the Burmese leader started to persuade the Shan and
other ethnic leaders to join them for gaining independence from British. On 12
February 1947, the Shan Sao Phas, Chin and Kachin leader signed an agreement with
Gen. Aung San and the Burmese representative to form a federal union of Burma and
obtain independence from Britain. The agreement was known as the ‘‘Panglong
The agreement had laid the foundation of the country and the 1948 constitution.
Under Union of Burma’s 1948 Constitution, Chapter 10 (Right of Secession) stated
that: ‘every State has the right to secede from the Union of Burma after 10 years (if
they wish) from the date on which this Constitution comes into operation’.
According to the Panglong agreement, the federal government cannot send its troops
into the State without permission from the state government. At this point, Shan
leaders believed that the Burmese would not send its troops without reason. The
Panglong agreement stated that the ethnic groups’ relation with Burma shall be on a
federal basis with:
• Equal right and status
• Full autonomy for the Shan and other ethnic states
• Financial autonomy vested in the Federated Shan State shall be maintained
• Citizens of the Frontier Areas shall enjoy rights and privileges which are
regarded as fundamental in democratic countries and
• The right to secede from the Federation at any time after the attainment of
Independence, later a period of 10 years was agreed which was included in the
Burma’s Constitution 1948.
These clauses were essential to balance the power between the Burmese (who
dominated the federal government) and the other ethnics.
On 4 January 1948, Shan together with Burma
became independence from Britain. Despite of that,
the Sao Phas were still in power. After the departure
of the British, the Shan leader formed a government
and an assembly. However, on the defence and
security, the Shan leaders totally rely on the central
government and let the Burmese government in
charge of the security.
In 1950, the Kuomintang was defeated by Chinese
Communist government that led by Mao Tse Tung.
The defeated Kuomintang troops fled into the Shan
State. After that the central Burmese government sent
its troops to Shan State with the pretext securing the
border and fighting off the Kuomintang troops.
However, the Burmese Army did not defend the
border nor fight the Kuomintang troops but to seize
the Shan State. They regard the Shan as the number
one enemy that could threaten to the Burmese power.
Since then, the Burmese troops started to abuse,
destroy and oppress the people of Shan State.
In the early of 1956, human rights violations in the
Shan State by the Burmese army were worsening.
That prompted the Shan patriots who love freedom
and justice, started to oppose the Burmese government and they reacted within the
boundary of democratic system. The Sangha Association of Shan State was formed
with goal of fighting for rights of region, culture and monk communities. On 27-28
December 1956, Shan State Organisation also held a conference in Mong Yai,
northern Shan State in which 150 Shan Sao Phas and people representatives attended.
All participants agreed to oppose the actions of Anti Fascist People Freedom League
(AFPFL) and came up with the following decisions:
1. Shan State Organisations strongly opposed the contract that signed between the
Burma central government and Israel that allowed Israel to use 1 million acres of
land in Shan State for agriculture.
2. Shan State must get some profit from Namtu Bawtwin silver mine in Northern
3. Shan State must have the share of Japanese compensation due to the loss of the
people of Shan state in the World War 2.
4. In order to build peace and stability in Shan State, Shan State government would
arrange its own plans.
5. To hold the conference of the people of Shan State and leader as soon as possible.
6. The central government must provide the annual budget to the Shan State.
7. The Union government must cancel the tax on profit that collect in Shan State.
8. Shan State people must have the rights to form political parties and social
9. Shan State would stop its cooperation with the (SCOUHP) temporally and will
resume its participation due to the appropriate time.
10. Shan leaders are not necessary to give up their administrative powers.
11. Based on the constitution, Shan State would secede from the Union after ten
12. Shan State would not join and become a member of (AFPFL).
After that, on 7 February 1957, Shan State people rallied and demanded their right
On 16-19 May 1957, the Shan leaders hold another conference in Mong Yai and
agreed to form an army to protect the Shan State. Beside, they perceived that Burmese
government would not keep its promise to the Panglong Agreement and would not
allow the independence of Shan State. Sao Noi aka Saw Yan Ta, (a native of Mong
Wan and grew up in Bhamo experienced in military during World War 2) was chosen
to form the army.
On May 21 1958, Sao Noi led his 30 comrades with 7 guns and formed a resistance
army and named as Noom Serk Harm (The Young Warriors). The group held the
tradition ceremony of taking an oath and vowed to fight for the
independence at Sa Marn valley in Mong Kyuak, Mong Pan
Township, and Southern Shan State. Later they set up their
headquarters in Pon Kean near Mong Kyuak village.
The news of Sao Noi’s fighting with the Burmese Army spread
throughout the Shan State that prompted the Shan State people
(who had been oppressed by the Burmese Army in ten years) took
up armed and resisted against the Burmese regime throughout the
Shan State. The battles for freedom spread the whole Shan State as
quickly as the wildfire. However, due to the difficulties of
communication and transportation, the resistance movements
became many separate groups instead of forming a united front. In
the meantime, the Burmese Army offered for the peace talk to
There were even many resistance groups were formed during the
struggle for freedom, all of Shan patriots have agreed to regard that Sao Noi was the
first Shan leader who resisted the Burmese Army on 21 May 1958. Therefore, 21 May
is commemorated as ‘Shan State People Resistance Day’.
1. Making Enemies ‘War and State Building in Burma’.
4. Documents translated from Burmese by Amnesty International.
5. The 10th Anniversary of Founding of Restoration Council of the Shan State.
7. Whither Shanland by U Htoon Myint (Taunggyi).
8. The Shan State secession Issue by U Htoon Myint (Taunggyi).
9. Human Rights Report by Seng Wan