Where China Meets India: Burma and the New Crossroads of Asia by Thant Myint-U

Where China Meets India: Burma and the New Crossroads of Asia by Thant Myint-U

Author:Thant Myint-U [Myint-U, Thant]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Published: 2011-09-13T04:00:00+00:00


The old Naxi kingdom had emerged in a world that no longer exists. It was founded during the time of Byzantium and the Vikings in Europe, the Crusaders and the Baghdad caliphate. To its immediate east were their kinsmen in the kingdom of Dali, ruling over much of today’s Yunnan. A few hundred miles to the south were the ancestors of the first Burmese, a new people who were just establishing a foothold along the Irrawaddy valley. And to the west was the great Tibetan empire that then stretched all the way to the desert cities of Central Asia.

To the north, in the area that is now Gansu province, near Mongolia, was another kingdom, a much bigger one, the kingdom of the Tanguts. The Tanguts spoke a language, like Naxi, that was also related both to Tibetan and to Burmese. A thousand years ago they dominated the overland trade between China proper and Central Asia, over the Silk Road, including trade in the war-horses that were essential to the Chinese as they sought to fend off Mongol attacks. Though heavily drawn to things Chinese, the Tanguts sought as well to maintain a separate identity. Their king in the early eleventh century decreed that all his countrymen had to adopt a new and severe hairstyle, something like a tonsure, to mark themselves as different from the Han Chinese next door. They knew they were coming under Chinese influence, but were keen to keep their independence. They were devout Buddhists and called their kingdom by the wonder fully outlandish name Phiow-bjij-lhjij-lhjij, which translates roughly as ‘The Great State of the White and the Lofty’. Their end came with the Mongols. They had incurred the wrath of Genghis Khan, who then died at a siege of their capital. But the Mongols pressed on, overwhelming the Tanguts and decimating their kingdom so thoroughly, slaughtering untold hundreds of thousands of people, that next to nothing was known of them until Russian and British archaeologists discovered their lost cities, buried deep under the desert sands, in the early twentieth century.

Further back in time, the links between this world of Tibeto-Burman speaking peoples and the Chinese civilization to the east become more tenuous. Two thousand years ago much of what is today Yunnan was the home of a still little-understood Bronze-Age culture known as the Dian, based near modern-day Kunming, where their tombs were first found a hundred years ago. They were known at the time to the Han dynasty and were said by the contemporary Chinese official and court historian Sima Qian to have become willing allies of the Chinese in their campaigns against Vietnam. In the first century BC, during the Chinese search for a southwest passage to India, the Dian came under tremendous military pressure, finally allowing China to establish outposts very close to where the Burmese border is today.

Exactly who the Dian were, no one knows as they did not leave any written records. But in their tombs archaeologists have discovered other evidence



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