Friday, October 17, 2008

Ming dynasty Tai history

During the Ming dynasty in China attempts were made to subjugate, control, tax, and settle ethnic Chinese along the lightly populated frontier of Yunnan with Southeast Asia . This frontier region was inhabited by many small chieftainships or states as well as other Tibeto-Burman and Mon-Khmer ethnic groups.

The Ming Shi-lu records the relations between the Ming court in Beijing and the Tai-Yunnan frontier as well as Ming military actions and diplomacy along the frontier.

First Ming communication with Yunnan

The first communication between the Ming dynasty and Yunnan was in a formal "letter of instruction" using ritual language. Submission to the Ming was described as part of the cosmological order:

"From ancient times, those who have been lords of all under Heaven have looked on that which is covered by Heaven, that which is contained by the Earth and that on which the sun and moon shine, and regardless of whether the place was near or far, or what manner of people they are, there was no place for which they did not wish a peaceful land and a prosperous existence. It is natural that when China is governed peacefully, foreign countries would come and submit ”…I am anxious that, as you are secluded in your distant places, you have not yet heard of my will. Thus, I am sending envoys to go and instruct you, so that you will all know of this" .

Initial Ming attempts to win Yunnan over

The Mongol prince Balaswarmi ruled Yunnan under the Yuan dynasty from the capital in Kunming. He ruled indirectly over an ethnically diverse collection of small polities and chieftainships. The most powerful of these states was controlled by the Tuan family who ruled over the area surrounding .

The Ming Shi-lu reports that envoys were sent to instruct the inhabitants of Yunnan in 1371 . In 1372 the famous scholar Wang Wei offered terms of surrender to Yunnan as an envoy. The envoy Wang Wei was murdered in 1374 and another mission was sent in 1375. Once again the mission failed. A diplomatic mission was sent to Burma in 1374, but because Annam was at war with Champa the roads were blocked and the mission was recalled . By 1380 the Ming were no longer wording their communications as if Yunnan was a separate country . Initial gentle promptings were soon to be followed by military force.

Ming Dynasty military conquests

The Ming Dynasty military conquests were instrumental to its hold on power during the early stages of the Ming Dynasty.

Hongwu reign

Early in his reign, Zhu Yuanzhang, the first Ming emperor, laid down instructions to later generations that included advice to the Chief Military Commission on those countries which posed a threat to the Ming polity, and those which did not. He stated that those to the north were dangerous, while those to the south did not constitute a threat, and were not to be subject to attack. Yet, either despite this, or as a result of it, it was the polities to the south which were to suffer the greatest effects of Ming expansion over the following century.

In 1369, not long after Zhu Yuanzhang founded his new dynasty, he sent proclamations for the instruction of the countries of Yunnan and Japan. This early recognition of Yunnan as a "country", was to change very soon thereafter. By 1380, Yunnan, which was still held by a prince, was considered to belong to China since the Han dynasty, and 250,000 troops were deployed in an attack on the polity, taking , and Jinchi in 1382. As a result, the Ming founder took control of the major urban centres of the north-western part of what is today Yunnan, including several areas.

By 1387, had set his sights further, and in preparation for an attack on the Baiyi polity to the south. Under the commander Mu Ying, the Ming forces attacked the Baiyi with firearms, taking a claimed 30,000 heads. Si Lunfa was subsequently dunned for all the costs of the military expedition against him, as a ''quid pro quo'' for recognising him as ruler of the Baiyi.

The new polities which were "created" in Yunnan under the first Ming ruler, were known to the Ming as "native offices" , as they were, initially, usually left under the control of the hereditary rulers, by which the Ming exerted control, and engaged in economic expropriation through tribute demands, and other . , for example, was established as a "native office" in 1384. Here, then, was the beginnings of the process by which formerly Southeast Asian polities were gradually absorbed into the Chinese polity.

In the process by which they were gradually absorbed by the Ming, these polities were subjected to a wide range of tribute demands, labour levies, and other levies, including troop provision. As an example, in the case of the Tai-Mao polity of Lu-Chuan/Ping-Mian, the Ming court demanded 15,000 horses, 500 elephants and 30,000 cattle from the ruler Si Lunfa in 1397. Subsequently, large silver demands were levied on Lu-chuan. The annual amount of 6,900 ''liang'' of silver was initially set, and then it was almost tripled to 18,000 ''liang''. When it was realised that this was impossible to meet, the levy was reduced to the original amount. Other diverse levies were applied to the other polities, and enforced through the use or threat of military force.

The Hongwu reign was marked by frequent despatch of envoys to foreign polities, and the court reception of foreign envoys from the polities of Vietnam, Champa, Cambodia, , Cochin, San Foqi, Japan, Ryūkyū, Brunei, and Korea. They were drawn to China by the trade concessions available to tribute envoys, and the rewards given to the rulers who submitted the "tribute". However, the machinations of the Ming state meant that diplomatic links were also a major method by which court insiders, within the system, could gain influence and control. It was the failure to report the arrival of an envoy from Champa that led to Hu Weiyong , the Ming prime minister from 1377 to 1380, being executed on charges of treason. Members of the Ming bureaucracy were likely already heavily involved in Southeast Asian maritime politics by the 1390s.

In the early 1370s, the coastal people in China were forbidden to cross the oceans, other than on official missions. Fujian military officials, who had privately sent people across the seas to engage in trade, were punished not long thereafter. The prohibition was reinstated in 1381 and 1384, and an imperial command "strictly prohibiting people from having contact with foreigners" was promulgated in 1390. The frequency of these prohibitions suggests that they were not very effective, and the reason given for the imperial command was that "at this time in Guangdong/Guangxi, Zhejiang and Fujian, there were foolish people who did not know of these prohibitions, and frequently engaged in private trade with foreigners". The prohibition on going abroad to trade privately was reiterated in 1397. Whether these prohibitions actually affected maritime trade between southern China and Southeast Asia is something which is not immediately apparent from the Ming texts, and perhaps through further , it will be possible to piece together the ebbs and flows in maritime trade between China and Southeast Asia during this period.

Yongle reign

Knowledge of the reign of Ming Taizu's successor, the Jianwen Emperor , has been almost entirely lost to us as a result of the civil war and coup d'etat launched by his uncle, Zhu Di. In the aftermath, Zhu Di tried to eliminate all evidence of his nephew's reign from the historical record. As such, the links between Ming China and Southeast Asia in this crucial period must remain in the realm of conjecture.

The period of Yongle, as Zhu Di was to name his reign, is however, very well-documented, and it is this period in which many of the most dramatic Ming interactions with Southeast Asia occurred. Like his father, after coming to power, Zhu Di ordered the Ministry of Rites to send demands to foreign polities, requiring them to bring tribute to court. In the same year, he also established the Maritime Trade Supervisorates in the provinces of Zhejiang, Fujian and Guangdong, in order to control the sea trade with all foreign polities. In 1405, hostels were established under each of the above-noted provinces to look after the foreign envoys who came from abroad. It was already apparent at this early stage of the reign that the Yongle Emperor was planning to have much to do with maritime Asia.

At the same time, the new emperor was also anxious to advertise the cultural superiority of the Ming to the rest of the known world and to this end, he distributed 10,000 copies of the "Biographies of Exemplary Women" to various non-Chinese polities for their moral instruction. Whether any s from this Chinese text have appeared in Southeast Asian literature, has not yet, it appears, been studied. Court calendars were also distributed to Southeast Asian polities by the Ministry of Rites.

A number of major military expeditions into Southeast Asia occurred during the Yongle reign. In 1406, in an effort to increase Ming influence and power in ??i Vi?t , the country which was known to the Ming as Annam , the Yongle emperor attempted to send a puppet ruler, named Chen Tianping into that country. Chen Tianping was killed as he proceeded into the country. This became the immediate pretext for Yongle to launch a huge invasion, a move obviously planned well before the event. In that same year, two huge Chinese armies were sent along two routes, via Yunnan and Guangxi, into ??i Vi?t. Chinese forces claimed that seven million Vietnamese were killed in this initial campaign to take the polity. In 1407, ??i Vi?t became Ming China's 14th province, and remained so until 1428, when the Ming were forced to withdraw by a Vietnamese independence movement led by Le Loi. In contrast to the name Annam , this 21-year period was one of almost incessant fighting.

As soon as the Ming forces took control of the polity, changes were instituted. In the first year, 7,600 tradesmen and artisans captured in ??i Vi?t were sent to the Ming capital at today's Nanjing. This stripping of some of the most skilled members of society extensively affected Vietnamese society. Subsequently, more Chinese and non-Chinese troops were brought into the region to maintain some semblance of control, and a wide range of new organs of civil administration were re-established. By 1408, Jiaozhi had 41 subprefectures, and 208 , all administered in a Chinese mode but often staffed by Vietnamese. Regardless of the extent to which political hegemony was thrown off in the late 1420s, when the Ming were driven out, the administrative legacy of the Chinese occupation must have had a major and wide-ranging impact on the society of the country. In a claimed effort to further inculcate Chinese ways, schools, which existed already in ??i Vi?t from several hundred years before, were re-established in Chinese style, and Chinese were appointed to teach in them. In an attempt to assimilate the country into the Chinese cultural sphere, this period saw an invaluable part of Vietnamese academic and historical works destroyed by the Ming authorities.

The year 1407 also saw a new Maritime Trade Supervisorate being established at Yuntun City in Jiaozhi, while two new such offices were established at Xinping and in 1408. Thus, within two years, three maritime trade supervisorates had been created in this new province, the same number as existed in the rest of China. This was a clear indication of the desire of the Ming to control maritime trade to the south, and exploit the economic advantage of such control.

Other economic exploitation involved grain taxes, annual levies of lacquer, sappanwood, kingfisher feathers, fans and aromatics, and the imposition of on gold, silver, salt, iron, and fish. In addition, eunuchs were sent to Jiaozhi with the task of collecting treasure for the Emperor, but an equal amount of treasure collection appears to have been done for themselves. The rapaciousness of the eunuchs, at least as depicted in Ming accounts, was such that even the emperors intervened in appointments. The Hongxi Emperor objected to the re-sending of the eunuch Ma Qi to Jiaozhi, when he attempted to have himself reappointed to control the gold, silver, aromatics and pearls of the region in 1424.

By 1414, the Ming was sufficiently well-entrenched in the north of ??i Vi?t to allow it to push further, establishing four further subprefectures in a region south of Jiaozhi, which had formerly been administered by ??i Vi?t and still free from Chinese influence, as well as some parts of northern border of Champa. There are authors who believe that the Chinese occupation of ??i Vi?t in this period played some role in the later southward expansion of the Vietnamese state. However, the Vietnamese southward expansion had began in the Ly dynasty of ??i Vi?t and the major advances were made by Nguyen Lords at least two centuries later. The levies and demands made on the new province by the Ming meant that its capacity to feed itself suffered. On numerous occasions in the 1420s, it was necessary to arrange transport of grain from Guangdong and Guangxi into Jiaozhi. Such deficiencies would have had profound effects on the social structure and social stability of the region, compounded by warfare and the imposition of Chinese norms. The range of colonial policies which the Ming pursued had wide-ranging effects, both on the society at the time, as well as on the future development of the Vietnamese state.

Prior to Yongle's invasion of ??i Vi?t in 1406, he engaged himself in further expansion into the polities of Yunnan. By 1403, he had created new military guards on the distant border, with two independent battalions, directly under the Regional Military Commission, being established at Tengchong and Yongchang in 1403. These were to be the bases from which the subsequent further occupation and control of the Tai regions was to be pursued. In the same year, new Chief's Offices were established in Yunnan, at Zhele Dian, Dahou, Ganyai, Wandian and Lujiang, and in 1406, a further four Chief's Offices were established under Ningyuan Guard, in what is today Sip Song Chau Tai in Vietnam. When the Tai polities did not submit to the requirements of the new Ming emperor, military actions were launched against them. In 1405, for example, the senior Chinese representative in Yunnan, Mu Sheng, launched an attack on Lanna .

After some sort of recognition or acceptance of the superior position of the Ming court, Chinese clerks or registry managers were appointed to the "native offices" to "assist" the traditional ruler, and ensure that Ming interests were served. Chinese clerks were appointed to carry out Chinese language duties in the native offices of Yunnan in 1404, while similar circulating-official clerk positions were established in seven Chief's Offices in Yunnan in 1406. The "native office" polities were then subject to demands in terms of gold and silver ''in lieu'' of labour , administered by the Ministry of Revenue, and were also required to provide troops to assist in further Ming campaigns. Mubang, for example, was required to send its troops against Lanna in 1406. This pattern of exploitation continued through the reign.

Luchuan-Pingmian Campaigns

In the middle of the fifteenth century China began a series of four disastrous wars on its frontiers with Burma in Yunnan against chieftainships.

The Luchuan-Pingmian Wars or Campaigns arose after a long period of Chinese diplomacy failed to resolve the state of endemic warfare among the Tai chieftainships that reigned along the frontier.

Events leading up to the war

From 1498 to 1504 the Ming imposed their own administrative divisions and taxation on the Tai chieftainships of the Tai-Yunnan frontier. As they did this, the frontier region gradually fell into a state of endemic warfare between the various Tai chieftainships.

In the 1530s, the intensity of the war increased, spurred on by the weakness of Ming forces after their defeat and withdrawal from Vietnam in 1427. After 1436, Tai chieftains "began to invade the border counties of central Yunnan, reaching as far as the Yung-ch’ang and Ching-tung ."

Eventually, one of the tit-for-tat seizures of territory in this state of endemic warfare triggered Chinese military intervention. In 1437 the ruler of the Tai state of Nandian requested Chinese assistance in returning land that had been taken from it by Mong Mao. The regional commander of Yunnan was requested to make an investigation into the matter and in 1438 he found that Mong Mao
had "repeatedly invaded Nanlian, Ganyai, Tengchong,...Lujiang,
and Jinchi" and that the Mong Mao ruler had "appointed local
chieftains of the neighboring regions subordinate to him without
asking for the approval of the Ming court and that some of these
men joined forces with him to invade Jinchi."

The First Campaign

After an initial victory, the Ming troops pursued the Tai leader deep into Tai territory. The Ming leader Fang Zheng faced problems. His troops were exhausted and his supply lines were cut off. He requested reinforcements, but few were sent. After Fang Zheng "fell into an ambush of the elephant phalanx of his enemy" he ordered his son to escape, was defeated, and died with his Ming troops.

In the wake of this defeat, Ming troops were withdrawn from the area and the Tai leader Chau-ngan-pha became bolder, waging offensive warfare and attacking settlements closer to the heart of Yunnan .

The Second Campaign

Although efforts by scholar officials at the Ming court were made to stop the campaigns and limit their damage and impact , a second Ming campaign to the Tai-Yunnan frontier was soon sent on its way. Eight months passed with no success in sight, when the Ming troops were ambushed by Tai troops. The Ming troops managed to fight the Tai troops off and lead an attack on the stronghold of the Tai leader Si Ren-fa. The Tai side was defeated with 50,000 deaths. A small group of around 1000 under the leadership of Si Ren-fa managed to flee .

Third Campaign

The third campaign managed to remove Si Ren-fa from power with the help of the Burmese kingdom of Ava. Si Ren-fa's son Chau-si-pha escaped capture, however, and established a power base at Mong Yang on the west bank of the Irrawaddy river.

Fourth Campaign

A fourth campaign was sent in 1449 to capture Si Jifa, but failed to
achieve this main objective. The Chinese allowed remnants of the
defeated Tai ruling elite to remain in Mong Yang if they agreed
never to cross the Irrawaddy river to the east.

Chinese sources disagree about how Si Jifa finally met his end, one Shan
chronicle even claiming he reigned for another fifty years. The version of events found in the official Chinese
history includes one possible motive for the Tai
invasion of Ava in 1524-27, revenge:

"Si Jifa escaped to Mengyang in early
1449 but was caught by the chieftain of Ava-Burma. In April
1454 the chieftain of Ava-Burma asked the Chinese to revert
the land to him and the Ming ceded Yinjia to Burma, so Si
Jifa and his family, a total of six people, were delivered to the
Ming troops at a village on Upper Irrawaddy. Si Jifa
was immediately escorted to the capital where he was
executed. However, Ava-Burma let Si Bufa, the younger
brother of Si Jifa, go free. He and his son, Si Hongfa
continued to rule Mengyang without the official
approval of the Ming court. They sent tribute missions to
China, but the court kept a close eye on the matter. Early in
the one of the descendants of Si Renfa , then ruling Mengyang, managed to
take revenge. In 1527 he led an army that marched
south to invade Ava-Burma, killing the chieftain Mang-ji-si
and his wife."

Consequences of the Wars

As the historian Wang Gungwu observes:

"This war had disastrous consequences for the Ming state, it
disrupted the economies of all the southwestern provinces
involved in sending men and supplies in fighting a war of
attrition against a small tribal state and it cost the Ming state
the respect of its tribal allies on the border, who saw how inept
and wasteful the Ming armies were. Moreover, the war drew
commanders, officers, men, and other resources from the north
which might have been vital to the defence of the northern
borders. It is significant that the end of the Lu-ch’uan
campaigns early in 1449 was followed immediately by extensive
tribal uprisings and other revolts in five provinces south of the
Yangtze river, and, on the northern frontiers, by the
spectacular defeats later in the year which virtually destroyed
the imperial armies in the north and led to the capture of the
emperor himself by the Mongols. The year 1449 was a turning
point in the history of the dynasty."

Another important consequence of the wars is that the Ming favored diplomacy from this time hence and shunned any military action along the frontier .

Kingdom of Dali

Dali was a Bai kingdom centred in what is now Yunnan Province of . Established by Duan Siping in 937, it was ruled by a succession of 22 kings until the year 1253, when it was destroyed by an invasion of the Mongol Empire. The capital city was at .

The Kingdom of Dali was preceded by the Nanzhao Dynasty, which was overthrown in 902. Three dynasties followed in quick succession, until Duan Siping seized power in 937 and established Dali. Gao Shengtai forced the puppet king Duan Zhengming to abdicate and become a monk in 1095, and renamed the state ''Dazhong''. He returned the power to the Duan family upon his death. Duan Zhengchun renamed the state ''Hou Li'' in the next year.

The 11th king of Nanzhao established Buddhism as the state religion. Ten of the 22 kings of Dali gave up the throne and became monks.

It is claimed that despite their military prowess and superior numbers, the Mongols could not breach the defences of the Erhai valley, which was so suited to defence that even just a few defenders could hold out for years. It is said that the Mongols found a traitor who led them over the Cangshan mountains along a secret path, and only in this way were they able to penetrate and overrun the Bai defenders. Thus ended five centuries of independence. In 1274 the Province of Yunnan was created, and the region has since been incorporated within China.

Japanese capture of Burma

The Burma Campaign in the of World War II took place over four years from 1942 to 1945. During the first year of the campaign, the Army drove and forces out of Burma, and occupied the country, forming a Burmese administration with little real authority.

Pre-war situation

Before the Second World War broke out, Burma was part of the British Empire, having been progressively occupied and annexed following three Anglo-Burmese Wars in the nineteenth century. Initially governed as part of British India, Burma was formed into a separate colony under the Government of India Act 1935. Under British rule, there had been substantial economic development but the majority Burman community was becoming increasingly restive. Among their concerns was the importation of Indian workers to provide a labour force for many of the new industries, and the erosion of traditional society in the countryside as land was used for plantations of export crops or became mortgaged to Indian moneylenders. Pressure for independence was growing. When Burma came under attack, the Burmans were unwilling to contribute to the defence of the British establishment, and many readily joined movements which aided the Japanese.

British plans for the defence of British Far Eastern possessions involved the construction of airfields linking Singapore and with India. These plans had not taken into account the fact that Britain was also at war with Germany, and when Japan entered the war, the forces needed to defend these possessions were not available. Burma had been regarded as a military "backwater", unlikely to be subjected to Japanese threat .

Lieutenant General Thomas Hutton, the commander of ''Burma Army'' with its headquarters in Rangoon had only the and to defend the country, although help was expected from the Chinese Nationalist government under Chiang Kai-shek. During the war, the British Indian Army expanded more than twelve-fold from its peacetime strength of 200,000 but in late 1941 this expansion meant that most units lacked training and equipment. In most cases, Indian units were trained and equipped for operations in the campaign or the North West Frontier of India, rather than jungles. The Burma Rifles units had also expanded rapidly, and were short of equipment and consisted mainly of new recruits.

Japanese Plans

Japan entered the war primarily to obtain raw materials, especially oil, from European possessions in South East Asia which were weakly defended because of the war in Europe. Their plans involved an attack on Burma partly because of Burma's own natural resources , but also to protect the flank of their main attack against Malaya and Singapore and provide a buffer zone to protect the territories they intended to occupy.

An additional factor was the Burma Road completed in 1938, which linked Lashio at the end of a railway from the port of with the Chinese province of Yunnan. This newly-completed link was being used to move aid and munitions to the Chinese Nationalist forces of Chiang Kai-Shek which had been fighting the Japanese for several years. The Japanese naturally wished to cut this link.

The under Lieutenant General Shojiro Iida was assigned the mission of attacking the southern Burmese province of . It consisted initially of the highly regarded and the . They would attack from northern Thailand, which had signed a treaty of friendship with Japan on December 21, 1941. Thai troops would aid in the invasions of Burma and Malaya.

Initial Japanese successes

Japanese capture of Rangoon

The first Japanese attack against Victoria Point, almost the most southerly point of Burma in mid-January 1942, was expected and not contested. The second attack was a small probing raid directed at a police station in southern Tenasserim, which was repulsed. The Japanese 143 Infantry Regiment then launched overland attacks on the airfields at Tavoy and Mergui in Tenasserim. The airfields were difficult to defend and reinforce but Burma Army HQ had been ordered to hold these outposts because of their importance to the defence of Malaya. The Japanese forced their way over the steep jungle-covered Tenasserim Range, and attacked Tavoy on January 18. The defenders, the 3rd and 6th battalions of the Burma Rifles, were overwhelmed and forced to evacuate the town in disorder. Mergui was evacuated before it was attacked.

Rangoon was initially defended relatively successfully against Japanease and Thai air raids, with the small RAF forces reinforced by a squadron of the American Volunteer Group, better known as the Flying Tigers. But the majority of the airfields were between Rangoon and the Axis advance so, as the Japanese gained use of the airfields in Tenasserim, the amount of warning the Rangoon airfields could get of attack decreased, and they became more and more untenable.

On January 22, 1942 the Japanese 55th Division began the main attack westward from Rahaeng in Thailand across the Kawkareik Pass. The 16th Indian Infantry Brigade of the Indian 17th Division guarding this approach retreated hastily westward. The Japanese division advanced to at the mouth of the Salween River which was garrisoned by the 2nd Burma Brigade. The position was almost impossible to defend, and had the , almost a mile and a half wide, behind it. 2nd Burma Brigade was squeezed into a progressively tighter perimeter, and eventually retreated over river by ferry on January 31 after abandoning a large amount of supplies and equipment. Part of the force was left behind in Moulmein and had to swim the river.

The Sittang Bridge

The Indian 17th Division fell back northward. They attempted to hold the Bilin River and other fallback lines as they did so, but had too few troops to avoid being continually outflanked. The Division eventually retreated toward the bridge over the Sittang River in general disorder. The retreat was delayed by incidents such as a vehicle breaking through the bridge deck, air attacks and Japanese and Thai harassment. Japanese parties infiltrated to the bridge itself. The defence of the bridge was poorly organised and, fearing that it would fall intact into Japanese and Thai hands, the division's commander ordered it to be blown up on February 22 with most of the division stranded on the enemy-held side. Many of the men made their way across the river by swimming or on improvised rafts, but had to abandon all their equipment.

The Fall of Rangoon

Though the Sittang River was in theory a strong defensive position, the disaster at the bridge left the Allied forces too weak to hold it. General , the commander-in-chief of the , nevertheless ordered Rangoon to be held. He was expecting substantial reinforcements from the Middle East, including an Australian infantry division. On February 28, he formally relieved Hutton , and on the following day he effectively sacked Smyth, who was in any case very ill. Meanwhile, many Burmese colonial soldiers were deserting.

Although the Australian Division never arrived in Burma, some reinforcements including the British 7th Armoured Brigade had landed in Rangoon. Alexander ordered counter-attacks but soon realised that there was no hope of defending the city. On March 7, the military evacuated Rangoon after implementing what they described as a "scorched earth" plan for denial. The port was destroyed and the oil terminal was blown up. As the Allies departed, the city was on fire. The remnants of Burma Army faced encirclement as they retreated north, but broke through a Japanese roadblock due to an error on the part of the Japanese commander. Colonel Takanobu Sakuma had been ordered to block the main road north from Rangoon while the main body of the 33rd Division circled round the city to attack from the west. Not realising that the British were evacuating the city, he withdrew the road block once the division had reached its intended positions. Otherwise, the Japanese might have captured General Alexander and much of the rest of Burma Army.

Japanese advance to the Indian frontier

After the fall of Rangoon, the Allies decided to make a stand in the north of the country . It was hoped that the Chinese Expeditionary Force in Burma, consisting of the Fifth, Sixth and Sixty-sixth Armies, each with approximately the strength of a British division but with comparatively little equipment, could hold a front running through central Burma. Supplies were not immediately a problem, as much war material had been evacuated from Rangoon, rice was plentiful and the oilfields in central Burma were still intact, but only the recapture of Rangoon would allow the Allies to hold Burma indefinitely.

The Allies hoped that the Japanese advance would slow down; instead, it gained speed. The Japanese reinforced their two divisions in Burma with one transferred from and another transferred from the Dutch East Indies after the fall of Singapore and Java. They also brought in large numbers of captured British trucks and other vehicles, which allowed them to move supplies rapidly using Southern Burma's road network, and also use Motorized infantry columns, particularly against the Chinese forces. The Allies were also harassed by the rapidly expanding and were hampered by large numbers of refugees and the progressive breakdown of the civil government in the areas they held. The Royal Air Force operating from were crippled by the withdrawal of the radar and radio-intercept units to India and the Japanese soon gained supremacy in the air.

The British had created Burma Corps, to relieve Burma Army of the responsibility of conducting day-to-day operations. Its commander, Lieutenant General William Slim, tried to mount a counter-offensive on the western part of the front, but the troops were repeatedly outflanked and forced to fight their way out of encirclement. The Corps was gradually pushed northward towards Mandalay. 1st Burma Division was encircled and trapped in the blazing oilfields at Yenangyaung, and although it was rescued by Chinese infantry and British tanks in the Battle of Yenangyaung, it lost almost all its equipment and its cohesion. Meanwhile in the Battle of Yunnan-Burma Road, the Chinese held up the Japanese for a time around , but after its fall the road was open for motorized troops of the to shatter the Chinese Sixth Army to the east in the Karenni States and advance to the north through the Shan States to capture Lashio, outflanking the Allied defensive lines and cutting off the Chinese armies from Yunnan. With the effective collapse of the entire defensive line, there was little choice left other than an overland retreat to India or to Yunnan.

The Allied retreat

The retreat was conducted in horrible circumstances. Starving refugees, disorganised stragglers, and the sick and wounded clogged the primitive roads and tracks leading to India. Burma Corps retreated to Manipur in India. Most of the Corps's remaining equipment could not be ferried across the Chindwin River and was lost at Kalewa, although the troops escaped a Japanese attempt to trap them at Shwegyin east of the river. The Corps managed to make it most of the way to Imphal, in Manipur just before the monsoon broke in May, 1942. There, they found themselves living out in the open under the torrential monsoon rains in extremely unhealthy circumstances. The army and civil authorities in India were very slow to respond to the needs of the troops and civilian refugees.

The British Civil Government of Burma fell back to Myitkyina in Northern Burma, accompanied by many British, Anglo-Indian and Indian civilians. The Governor and the most influential civilians were flown out from Myitkyina Airfield, together with some of the sick and injured. The majority of the refugees and some of the Chinese troops committed by Chiang Kai-shek were forced to make their way from Myitkyina to India via the unhealthy Hukawng Valley and the precipitous forested Patkai Range. Many died on the way, and when they reached India, there were several instances of the civil authorities allowing white and Eurasian civilians to continue while preventing Indians from proceeding, effectively condemning many to death. By contrast, many private individuals did their best to provide aid.

The Chinese troops who also retreated via the Hukawng Valley route subsisted largely by looting, further increasing the misery of the refugees. The Chinese 38th Division however, fought its way westward across the Chindwin, arriving in India substantially intact although with heavy casualties. Many other Chinese troops tried to return to Yunnan through remote mountainous forests and many died on the way.

The Chinese soldiers who had retreated into India were put under the command of the American General Joseph Stilwell, who had also made his way to India on foot. After recuperating they were re-equipped and retrained by American instructors.

Thai army enters Burma

In accordance with the Thai military alliance with Japan that was signed on December 21, 1941, the leading elements of the Thai Phayap Army crossed the border into the Shan States on May 10, 1942. At one time in the past the area had been part of the Ayutthaya kingdom. The boundary between the Japanese and Thai operations was generally the Salween. However, that area south of the Shan States known as Karenni States was specifically retained under Japanese control.

Three Thai infantry and one cavalry division, spearheaded by armoured reconnaissance groups and supported by the , started their advance on May 10, and engaged the retreating Chinese 93rd Division. Kengtung, the main objective, was captured on May 27. Renewed offensives in June and November drove the Chinese back into Yunnan.

Invasion of French Indochina

The , also known as the Vietnam Expedition, was an attempt by the Empire of Japan, during the Second Sino-Japanese War to blockade China and prevent it from importing arms, fuel and 10,000 tons/month materials supplied by the United States through the Haiphong-Yunnan Fou railway line. Control of -controlled French Indochina would make the blockade of China more effective and made continuation of the drawn out Battle of South Guangxi province unnecessary.


While the Japanese operation to seize Longzhou was going on in , France had signed an armistice with Germany on 22 June 1940, leading to the establishment of the Vichy government in the unoccupied part of France. Vichy France also controlled most of French overseas possessions, including Indochina, one of the last access points for China to the outside world. With the capture of Lanzhow the highway was now closed but a rail line still permitted shipment of material from Haiphong to Yunnan. Despite bombing by the Japanese the Yunnan railway remained open.

Japan began pressuring the Vichy government to close the railway and on September 5th, the South China Front Army organised the amphibious Indochina Expeditionary Army under its command to be the Japanese garrison in Indochina. Led by Major-General Takuma Nishimura, it was supported by a flotilla of ships, and planes from aircraft carriers and air bases on Hainan Island.

On September 22, Japan and Vichy Indochina signed an accord which granted basing and transit rights, but limited to 6000 the number of Japanese troops which could be stationed in Indochina, and set an overall cap of 25,000 on the total number of troops that could be in the colony at any given time. In addition, the final article of the agreement barred all Japanese land, air, and naval forces from Indochinese territory except as authorised in the accord.
*Order of Battle for Indochina Expedition

Fighting breaks out

Within a few hours columns from the under Lieutenant-General Aketo Nakamura moved over the border at three places and closed in on the railhead at Lang Son. This contravened the new agreement and ensued with a brigade of French Indochinese Colonial troops and that lasted until September 25 when Lang Son was captured. This opened the way to Hanoi. Still Vichy had defenders in the north, south, and fresh battalions barring the route from Lang Son to Hanoi were in position.

On September 23, Vichy France had approached the government in Tokyo to protest breach of the agreements by the South China Front Army forces.

Meanwhile Japanese aircraft, from the Japanese task force offshore from Haiphong in the Gulf of Tonkin, began sorties on the morning of September 24. A Vichy envoy came to negotiate, but in the meantime shore defences remained under orders to open fire against any attempt to force a landing.

On September 26, Japanese forces came ashore at Dong Tac, south of Haiphong, and began moving on the port. A second landing put tanks ashore and Haiphong was bombed, causing some casualties. By early afternoon the Japanese force of some 4,500 troops and a dozen tanks was outside Haiphong.

By the evening of September 26 fighting had died down. Japan took possession of the airfield at outside Hanoi, rail marshalling yard on the Yunnan border at Lao Cai, and athwart the railway from Hanoi to Lang Son near the border of Guangxi province, and stationed 900 troops in the port of Haiphong and a further 600 in Hanoi. These positions effectively completed the blockade of China except through the route from Burma.

On September 27, Japan signed a military alliance with Germany and Italy.

= Media links

, French newsreels archives , January 15, 1941

History of Yunnan

The history of Yunnan, province in the People's Republic of China, can date back to Yuanmou Man, a ''Homo erectus'' fossil unearthed by railway engineers in the 1960s, has been determined to be the oldest known hominid fossil in China. By the Neolithic period, there were human settlements in the area of Lake Dian. These people used stone tools and constructed simple wooden structures.

Historically, Yunnan has been peripheral to the Chinese empire. Its location in the southwesternmost corner of China and the strong ethnic identities of its peoples helped perpetuate the region's strong tendency towards wanting to be autonomous. The peoples of Yunnan have also been subject to cultural and political influences from Burma.

The Kingdom of Dian

The Dian Culture was distributed around the Lake Dian area and dated, though controversial, between the sixth century BC and the first century AD. For this long period of development, the Dian Culture can be partitioned into an early and late phase, with 109 BC, the year when the "Kingdom of Dian" officially became a vassal state of the Han empire, as the watershed year between these two periods.

Han Dynasty

In 109 BC, sent General Guo Chang south to Yunnan, establishing Yizhou commandery and 24 subordinate counties. The commandery seat was at Dianchi county . Another county was called "Yunnan", probably the first use of the name. To expand the burgeoning trade with and , Emperor Wu also sent Tang Meng to maintain and expand the Five Foot Way, renaming it "Southwest Barbarian Way" . By this time, agricultural technology in Yunnan had markedly improved. The local people used bronze tools, plows and kept a variety of livestock, including cattle, horses, sheep, goats, pigs and dogs.
Anthropologists have determined that these people were related to the people now known as the . They lived in tribal congregations, sometimes led by exile Chinese.

In the ''Records of the Grand Historian'', Zhang Qian and Sima Qian make references to "Shendu", which may have been referring to the , originally known as "Sindhu" in Sanskrit. When Yunnan was annexed by the Han Dynasty, Chinese authorities reported an Indian "Shendu" community living there.

In 109 AD, the Han court established Yunnan county, a part of Yizhou commandery. Because the county seat was south of Mount Yun , the county was named "Yunnan" - literally "south of Yun". The name was also considered highly auspicious.

Yuan Dynasty

The Yuan Dynasty was the first regime in China to establish regular and tight administrative control over Yunnan. In 1253 Kubilai Khan's Mongol forces advanced into Yunnan, sweeping away numerous native regimes, including the leading Dali kingdom. Later Yunnan became one of the ten provinces set up by Kubilai Khan. The Yuan provincial authorities conferred various titles on many native chieftains, who were obliged to pay taxes. When the Yuan dynasty collapsed, Yunnan was thrown into chaos and anarchy for a number of years.

Ming Dynasty

The newly-proclaimed Ming Dynasty did not send armies into Yunnan until 1381. The central government allowed the general Mu Ying, foster son of dynastic founder Zhu Yuanzhang, to set up a hereditary feudatory system in the province. Throughout the Ming, the Mu family developed tremendous influence in Yunnan.

From the end of the fifteenth century, the Toungoo Dynasty in Myanmar began encroaching on Yunnan. In the sixteenth century Chen Yongbin, the governor of Yunnan, held back a Myanmar invasion. After the war, he built eight passes along the border in Tengyue subprefecture to mark the demarcation between the two countries.

Qing Dynasty

After the fall of the Ming in northern China, Yunnan became the last Southern Ming regime headed by Zhu Youlang. Supported by rebels-cum loyalists, he persisted in resistance against the Qing conquest even after the Qing capture of Kuming in 1659. Zhu and his men then fled into Myanmar to seek refuge in Ava, but were treated as prisoners. Zhu's armed followers savaged Upper Myanmar in an attempt to rescue him. General Wu Sangui, then still loyal to the Qing, invaded Myanmar in 1662 with a sizable army, and demanded Zhu's surrender. Although he hesitated, King Pye finally decided to hand Zhu over to avoid hostility.

Republican China

Following the collapse of the Qing Dynasty in 1911, Yunnan came under the control of local warlords, who had more than the usual degree of autonomy due to Yunnan's remoteness. They financed their regime through opium harvesting and traffic.