The book has been published since 2011. But it is only this year I have the luck to receive a copy from a friend in London. And I’m not disappointed.
It answers a lot of questions that have myself and other plagued Burma watchers, both Shans and non-Shans alike. It also brings back memories which have been left undisturbed at the bottom of my brain.
The Sao Shwe Thaike enigma.
For instance, why was the Burmese government, especially the military, accusing Sao Shwe Thaike, the first president of independent Burma, for whom they had their own non de guerre, “The one who shines like the sun and the moon,” as having ties to the Kuomintang intruders and the CIA behind it?
The book written by Mr Richard M. Gibson with Wenhua Chen, tells us one of his relatives was married to Lii Kuo-chuan, the Kuomintang’s 26th Army commander, who had a home in Bangkok. The relative, according to Sao Shwe Thaike’s son Sao Harn Yawnghwe, was a daughter of Sao Weng, the prince of Lawksawk, who fought against the British and following defeat took refuge in China’s Xixuangbanna. It was there she was born.
War with the KMT
Another is why the Burma Army was then accused all-around as not really doing much of its job as the defender of national sovereignty.
Here is the authors’ explanation quoting Gen Li Kuo-hui:
Although the record is not clear, there appears to have been some understanding with Ne Win as Nationalist Chinese troops moved from Tachilek to Mong Hsat. Li Kuo-hui makes that claim in detail and veteran officers from Li Mi’s army have told the authors that they had left Tachilek under a deal with Ne Win that allowed them to remain in a remote part of Kengtung if they stayed out of sight and did not draw Peking’s attention. In return, Ne Win could claim victory over them.
A deal with the Nationalist Chinese would allow the general to concentrate on Rangoon’s internal enemies.
KMT alliance with Karens
What I had never understood was why the Kuomintang forces, whose main base is Shan State, would forge an alliance with the Karen and Mon fighters who were (and still are) far down south.
Here’s the book’s explanation:
“Due to food shortages, by the summer of 1952 YANSA (Yunnan Anti-Communist National Salvation Army) had for several months been engaged in small, informal arms-for-food exchanges with the Karens. The Nationalist Chinese, however, were running short of excess weapons for that exchange. The Americans had stopped their supply operations the previous year.
Much to Li Mi’s supply problem would be solved if his army could gain access to coastal areas of Burma’s Tenasserim Peninsula. Ships from Taiwan could then deliver troops and supplies to the cost for subsequent movement across Karen and Mon controlled areas to YANSA’s Shan State bases.
In March , Li Mi and Karen military commander Brigadier Saw Shwe agreed at a Bangkok meeting to exchange YANSA weapons for Karen rice and military cooperation. That July, Saw Shwe led a KNDO delegation to Taipei by Fuhsing PBY from Mong Hsat to formalize the agreement. Returning to Burma, Saw Shwe met senior YANSA (Yunnan Anti-Communist National Salvation Army) deputy Li Tse-fen in Chiang Mai on August 7 and 8 and initiated concrete planning for Operation Earth (Ti-an). The operation ‘s threefold objective was to establish a reliable maritime supply line, relieve Tatmadaw pressure on YANSA, and shore up Li Mi’s Karen and Mon allies.
According to Operation Earth, 166 metric tons of military cargo were to be shipped by sea to Burma’s Tenasserim coast in early 1953. But somehow things went wrong and the cargo returned to Taiwan, setting “a disastrous setback for Li Mi’s forces.”
On Khun Sa
And, of course, the book couldn’t have been complete without saying anything about the late Khun Sa aka Chang Chifu (Zhang Qifu).
Su-chuan (Zhang Suquan) (Photo: Panglong)
“Seeking to improve cooperation among former YAVA (Yunnan Anti-communist Volunteer Army) groups in Thailand, Li Wen-huan initiated and April 1962 conference at which remnants of the First, Second, Third, and Fifth Armies formed the Southeast Asia Anticommunist Volunteer Army (SEAAVA). Tuan Hsi-wen was named acting army commander pending formal recognition from Taipei. When that did not materialize, the new grouping dissolved. Among the first to leave, only a month after SEAAVA’s formation, were Chang Su-ch’uan and Liang Chung-ying, former ROC Special Forces and BS 111 officers that had joined Tuan Hsi-wen after leaving Laos in late 1961. They and 50 others left the Fifth Army to join the up-and-coming Chang Ch’i-fu (aka Khun Sa), eventually becoming key deputies in what evolved into that narcotics kingpin’s Shan United Army (SUA).”
For those who are unfamiliar, Chang Su-chuan (Zhang Suquan), who become Khun Sa’s Chief of Staff, was known to the Shans as Falang (Thunder) and Liang Chung-ying (Liang Zhongying) as Liang Zeun.
Regarding his adopted Shan name, Zhang had reportedly asked his new boss Khun Sa who wanted him to have one, “What’s thunder in Shan?”
When Khun Sa told him it’s Falang (Hpalang) he said, “Well, that’s going to be my Shan name.”
He was said to be an admirer of Col Suzuki Keiji who had adopted the Burmese name “Moegyo” (Thunderbolt) when he helped Aung San and the Thirty Comrades to form the Burma Independence Army (BIA) during World War Ⅱ. Probably he also dreamed of being an agent for Shan independence like Col Suzuki did with Burma. It wasn’t his fault he didn’t become one. He died on 3 June 2011, in Bangkok, with his dreams unfulfilled.
No doubt the book must also have something to say about “the Opium War” at Ban Kwan, Laos, where the Kings Romans Casino stand at the site of the 1967 battle today.
Refusing to pay tax and escort fee to the KMT, Khun Sa had organized a mule caravan carrying 16 tons of opium to Laos. The latter, fearing that allowing Khun Sa to get away with it would set a contagious precedent, attacked him on 26 July. The battle ended 4 days later when the Royal Lao Air Force sert two Trojans to strafe both sides. According to most if not all printed reports in English, including this one, Ouan Rathikoun, the Laotian general, got all the opium left behind by Khun Sa’s troops and Khun Sa was the biggest loser.
“Not so,” Khun Sa told me during an evening chat with him. “A week later I went to see him. He said, ‘Well. Khun Sa, it looks like I’ve got to keep you here for all the mess you’ve made for us.’ I told him he knew he wouldn’t do that. Now with the KMT being under pressure by the Thais, the general would have to wait a long time for a big seller like me before he could find one. With a big laugh, he patted my shoulder and said, ‘That’s just a joke. I wouldn’t have received you as a guest in the first place, if I were thinking of that.’ So I got back all the opium he had taken from me.”
There are many other things you are going to learn too, if you can get hold of a copy. In fact, I’m planning to have another read to see if I can learn more. Only I can’t say when it’s going to be. Because other books are also waiting and demanding my attention.
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