Panthay (is a term used to refer to the predominantly Muslim Hui people of China who migrated to Burma. They are among the largest groups of Burmese Chinese, and predominantly reside in the northern regions of Burma (formerly known as Upper Burma), particularly in the Tangyan-Maymyo-Mandalay-Taunggyi area and Shan States.
The name Panthay is a Burmese word, which is said to be identical with the Shan word Pang hse. It was the name by which the Burmese called the Chinese Muslims who came with caravans to Burma from the Chinese province of Yunnan. The name was not used or known in Yunnan itself.
Several theories have been suggested as to its derivation, but none of them is strong enough to refute the others. The Burmese word Pathi is a corruption of Persian. The Burmese of Old Burma called their own indigenous Muslims Pathi. It was applied to all Muslims other than the Chinese Muslims. The name Panthay is still applied exclusively to the Chinese Muslims. However Chinese Muslims in Yunnan did not call themselves Panthay. They called themselves Huizu (回族), meaning Muslim in Chinese. Non-Muslim Chinese and Westerners refer to them as Huihui (回回).
Insofar as can be ascertained, the application of the term "Panthay" to Yunnanese Muslims (and, subsequently, to Burmese Muslims of Yunnanese origin) dates from about this time; certainly it was widely employed by British travellers and diplomats in the region from about 1875, and seems to have arisen as a corruption of the Burmese word pa-the meaning simply "Muslim". A considerable body of literature exists surrounding the etymology of this term, but the definitive notice (which remains, as yet, unpublished). Indicated that it was introduced by Sladen at the time of his 1868 expedition to Teng-yueh, and that it represents an anglicised and shortened version of the Burmese tarup pase, or "Chinese Muslim". In fact, the term "Panthay" was never employed by the Yunnanese Muslims (whether of China or of Burma) who prefer simply to call themselves Hui-min or Hui-hui; nor did it, apparently, enjoy widespread usage amongst the Burmans, Shan, Karen or other Burmese peoples. Be that as it may, however – and the designation is virtually unused within Burma today- the term "Panthay" achieved widespread usage during the period of British rule, and remains the name by which Burma's Chinese Muslim community has generally been distinguished in English language sources to the present day. The origin of Panthay was - the families of some loyal lieutenants led by Ma Lin-Gi(馬麟驥) of the reputable late Hui General Du Wen-Xio who committed suicide after his perilous fight against the Ching Empire jointly with its Christian ally Taipin-Tinkuo failed, and to escape from being massacred by the Ching Empire, they had no choice but had to flee to Burma for refuge.
Commercial and cultural contacts between the Yun-Kwei Plateau and the Irrawaddy and lower Salween Valleys probably predate significant migration by Han Chinese of Burman populations into either area; certainly it is likely that by the time of the Later Han Dynasty (25-220 A.D.) itinerant traders and Buddhist pilgrims traversed this marginal region of the Sino-Indian cultural frontier on a regular if infrequent basis. By early Tang times, Chinese control over western Yunnan was established for the first time with the submission of the population of the Erh-Hai region, near Ra-li, in 672 A.D., and the extension of the Imperial Mandate to the region of the present-day Yunnan-Burma frontier some twenty-two later, in 694. This Han Chinese dominance was to be short-lived, however; thus, within forty-five years – about 738 A.D. – the T’ai-dominated Kingdom of Nanzhao had emerged as the dominant power of the Yunnan-Burma frontier region, a position which both it and its successor, the Kingdom of Dali, were to hold until the Mongol conquest of the region five centuries later.
Despite the political independence of the Nanzhao Kingdom, Chinese cultural influence continued to penetrate and influence the Yunnan-Burma frontier region throughout the Tang and Sung dynastiess. Moreover, it is possible that during the mid-Tang period – in about 801 A.D. – surrendered Muslim soldiers, described in the Chinese Annals as Hei-I Ta-shih or "Black-Robed Muslims" (a term generally applied with reference to the Abbasids) were first settle in Yunnan.
Whilst this early settlement remains in some doubt, however, it is at least certain that Muslims of Central Asian origin played a major role in the Yuan (Mongol) conquest and subsequent rule of south-west China, as a result of which a distinct Muslim community was established in Yunnan by the late 13th century A.D. Foremost amongst these soldier-administrators was Sayyid Ajjal Shams al-Din Omar, a court official and general of Turkic origin who participated in the Mongol invasion of Sichuan and Yunnan in c. 1252, and who became Yuan Governor of the latter province in 1274-79. Hisson Nasir-al-Din was in charge of the road systems of Yunnan and personally commanded the first Mongol invasion of Bagan in 1277-78. And his younger brother Hushin (Husayn) was Transport Commissioner in 1284 and later Senior Governor of Yunnan. Shams al-Din – who is widely believed by the Muslims of Yunnan to have introduced Islam to the region – is represented as a wise and benevolent ruler, who successfully "pacified and comforted" the people of Yunnan, and who is credited with building Confucian temples, as well as mosques and schools. On his death he was succeeded by his eldest son, Nasir al-Din (the "Nescradin" of Marco Polo), who governed Yunnan between 1279 and 1284.
During Shams al-Din’s governorship of Yunnan, Nasir al-Din was first appointed Commissioner of Roads for the province and then, in 1277-78, appointed to command the first Mongol invasion of Burma. Leading to the overthrow of the Pagan Dynasty. Subsequently, during Nasir al-Din’s Governorship, his younger brother Husayn (the third son of Sayyid al-Ajall Shams al-Din) was appointed Transport Commissioner for the province. As a result of the pre-eminence of Shams al-Din and his family during this period, a significant number of Muslim soldiers of Central Asian origin were transferred to the Dali region of western Yunnan – an area still largely unpopulated by Han Chinese settlers – and the descendants of these garrison troops, who participated in a number of Mongol invasions of Burmese territory during the Yuan period, from the nucleus of the present-day Chinese Muslim population both in Yunnan and Burma.
Over the next five hundred years this nascent Yunnanese Muslim community established itself in a position of economic and demographic strength in southern and western Yunnan – though there are few indications of significant settlement in Burmese territory before Qing times and acquired a distinctive ethnic identity through intermarriage with the local population, a process paralleled in areas of Muslim settlement elsewhere in China. Thus, following the demise of the 'Abbasids in 1258 A.D. and the related rise of the Mongol Yuan Dynasty in China, the term Ta-shih (as applied loosely both to foreign Muslims and to those settled within China) disappeared from the Chinese Annals and was gradually replaced by a new term, Hui or Hui-hui giving rise in turn to the modern Chinese term Hui-min, the recognised contemporary designation for China's Chinese speaking Muslim minority.
The history of the Panthays in Burma was inseparably linked to that of Yunnan, their place of origin, whose population was predominantly Muslim. The Chinese Muslims of Yunnan were noted for their mercantile prowess. Within Yunnan, the Muslim population excelled as merchants and soldiers, the two qualities, which made them ideally suited to the rigors of overland trade in the rugged, mountainous regions, and to deserve the rewards therefrom. They might have been helped in this by their religion of' Islam from its inception had flourished as a Religion of Trade. The religious requirement to perform Hajj pilgrimage had also helped them to establish an overland road between Yunnan and Arabia as early as the first half of the 1300s.
During the first decades of the 19th century, population pressures on the Hui Muslim and other minority peoples of Yunnan increased substantially as a result of Han Chinese migration to the province. Resentment against this development, coupled with mounting hostility towards Qing rule, led in 1855 to the rebellion amongst Muslim miners in the Chien-shui region. Within two years, however, the center of rebellion had spread to the west of the province under the leadership of Wenxiu. For the next fifteen years, until the Qing reconquest, Dali remained the capital of Pingnan Guo (the "Country of the peaceful South"), where Tu erected a forbidden city, wore Ming dynasty dress in repudiation of Qing authority, and is reported by some sources to have adopted the Muslim name Sultan Sulayman.
Starting from 1855 the Muslim majority of Yunnan had risen against the oppression to which they were subjected by the mandarins. They rose against the tyranny and extortion universally practiced by this official class, from which they were excluded. The mandarins had secretly hounded mobs on to the rich Panthays, provoked anti-Muslim riots and instigated destruction of their mosques. The religious hatred of the Panthays was thus aroused. The widespread Muslim desire for revenge for insults to their religion led to a universal and well-planned rising.
The rebellion started as a local uprising. It was sparked off by the Panthay laborers of the silver mines of Li'nanxian village in Yunnan who rose up against the Chinese. The Chinese Governor of Yunnan sent an urgent appeal to the central government in Beijing. The Imperial Government was handicapped by problems that cropped up in profusion in various parts of the sprawling empire.
They repulsed the desultory attacks of the imperial troops. They wrested one important city after another from the hands of' the Imperial mandarins. The Chinese towns and villages which resisters were pillaged, and the male population massacred. All the places, which yielded, were spared. The ancient holy city of Tali-fu fell to the Panthays in 1857. With the capture of Tali-fu, Muslim supremacy became an established fact in Yunnan.
The Islamic Kingdom of Yunnan was proclaimed after the fall of Tali-fu. Tu Wen-hsiu, leader of the Panthays, assumed the regnal title of Sultan Suleiman and made Tali-fu his capital. In this way, the Sultanate, fashioned after those of' the Middle East, appeared in Yunnan. Panthay governorships were also created in a few important cities, such as Momein (Tengyueh), which were a few stages from the Burmese border town of Bhamo. The Panthays reached the high watermark of their power and glory in 1860.
The eight years from 1860 to 1868 were the heyday of the Sultanate. The Panthays had either taken or destroyed forty towns and one hundred villages. During this period the Sultan Suleiman, on his way to Mecca as a pilgrim, visited Rangoon, presumably via the Kengtung route, and from there to Calcutta where he had a chance to see the power of the British.
The Panthay power declined after 1868. The Chinese Imperial Government had succeeded in reinvigorating itself. By 1871, it was directing a campaign for the annihilation of the obdurate Panthays of Yunnan. By degrees the Imperial Government had tightened the cordon around the Panthays. The Panthay Kingdom proved unstable as soon as the Imperial Government made a regular and determined attack on it. Town after town fell under well-organized attacks made by the imperial troops. Tali-fu itself was besieged by the imperial Chinese. Sultan Suleiman found himself caged in by the walls of his capital. He now desperately looked for outside help. He turned to the British for military assistance. He realized that only British military intervention could have saved the Panthays.
The Sultan had reasons for his turning to the British for military aid. He had seen the British might in India on his pilgrimage to Mecca some years earlier, and was impressed by it. Britain was the only western power with whom the Sultanate was on friendly terms and had contacts with. The British authorities in India and British Burma had sent a mission led by Major Sladen to Momien from May to July 1868. The Sladen mission had stayed seven weeks at Momien. The main purpose of the mission was to revive the Ambassador Route between Bhamo and Yunnan and resuscitate border trade, which had almost ceased since 1855 mainly because of the Panthay rebellion.
Taking advantage of the friendly relations resulting from Sladen's visit, Sultan Suleiman now, in his fight for the survival of the Panthay Kingdom, turned to the British for the vitally, needed military assistance. In 1872 he sent his adopted son Prince Hassan, to England, with a personal letter to Queen Victoria, via Burma, requesting British military assistance. The Hassan Mission was accorded courtesy and hospitality in both British Burma and England. However, the British politely, but firmly, refused to intervene militarily in Yunnan against Peking. The mission was a failure. While Hassan and his party were abroad, Tali-fu was captured by the Imperial troops in January 1873.
The Imperial Government had waged an all-out war against the Panthays with the help of French artillery experts. Their modern equipment, trained personnel and numerical superiority were no match for the ill-equipped Panthays with no allies. Thus, in less than two decades of its rise, the power of the Panthays in Yunnan fell. But the Chinese suffered the loss of more than 20,000 lives in various fights. Seeing no escape and no mercy from his relentless foe, Sultan Suleiman tried to take his own life before the fall of' Tali-fu. But, before the poison he drank took effect fully, he was beheaded by his enemies. The Sultan's head was preserved in honey and then dispatched to the Imperial Court in Peking as a trophy and a testimony to the decisive nature of the victory of the Imperial Chinese over the Pantliays of Yunnan.
The scattered remnants of the Panthay troops continue their resistance after the fall of Tali-fu. But when Momien was next besieged and stormed by the imperial troops in May 1873, their resistance broke completely. Governor Ta-sa-kon was captured and executed by the order of the Imperial Government.
Many adherents to the Panthay cause were persecuted by the imperial mandarins. Wholesale massacres of' Panthays followed. Many fled with their families across the Burmese border and took refuge in the Wa State where, about 1875, they set up the exclusively Panthay town of Panglong.
For a period of perhaps ten to fifteen years following the collapse of the Yunnan Muslim Rebellion, the province's Hui minority was widely discriminated against by the victorious Qing, especially in the western frontier districts contiguous with Burma. During these years the refugee Hui settled across the frontier within Burma gradually established themselves in their traditional callings – as merchants, caravaneers, miners, restaurateurs and (for those who chose or were forced to live beyond the law) as smugglers and mercenaries.
At least 15 years after the collapse of the Yunnan Muslim Rebellion , the original Panthay settlements had grown to include numbers of Shan and other hill peoples.
It happened that there were also Chinese jade-assessors in the employ of the king. Rivalry between the Chinese and Panthay jade-assessors in courting the royal favor naturally led to a quarrel between the two groups, resulting in a number of deaths. King Mindon had not given much serious thought to the religious and social differences between the Panthays and the Chinese. He had treated the two more or less alike. But after the Chinadown quarrel, the king began to see the wisdom of separating the two groups.
The broadminded King Mindon also permitted a mosque to be built on the granted site so that the Panthays would have their own place of worship. Having no funds for an undertaking of such magnitude, the Panthays of Mandalay put up the matter to the Sultan of Yunnan. Sultan Sulaiman had already started a business enterprise (hao) in Mandalay.
His company was housed in a one-story brick building located at the present-day. Taryedan on the west side of the 80th Street, between 36th and 37th Streets. The hao had been carrying on business in precious stones, jades, cotton, silk and other commodities of both Chinese and Burmese origins.
After the mass exodus from Yunnan, the number of Panthays residing in Mandalay gradually increased. The new arrivals, usually families, came by way of Bhamo or via the Wa State. When the land for the Panthays was granted by King Mindon, there were a few houses on it, in addition to several old graves. This shows that the place had been an abandoned graveyard. In the years immediately following the completion of the mosque, the number of houses in the Panthay Compound was less than twenty. There were also between ten and twenty Panthay households living in other parts of Mandalay. But a trickle of new arrivals added to their number.
The establishment of the Panthay Mosque in 1868 marked the emergence of the Chinese Muslims as a distinct community at Mandalay. Although the number of this first generation of Panthays remained small, the Mosque, which is still standing, constitutes a historic landmark. It signifies the beginning of the first Panthay Jama'at (Congregation) in Mandalay Ratanabon Naypyidaw.
Meanwhile, despite the relative importance of Panglong and the profits to be made from the long-distance caravan, other Panthays moved further into Burma, initially as miners anxious to exploit the ruby mines of Mogok; the Badwin silver mines of Namtu in the Northern Shan State, the jade mines of Mogaung in Kachin State. Numbers of Panthay restaurateurs and innkeepers, merchants and traders settled in the urban centres of upland Burma – chiefly at Lashio, Kengtung, Bhamo and Taunggyi – to service the needs of theses miners, passing caravaneers and the local inhabitants, whilst other settlements largely devoted to trade with the indigenous Shan and Karen populations sprang up along the Salween River. Finally, other Panthay elements moved to the major urban centres of the Burmese lowlands, most notably to Mandalay and Rangoon, where they flourished as merchants and representatives of their up – country fellows, as well as middle-men between Panglong and the other "Overland Chinese" settlements of Upper Burma and the "Overseas Chinese" community of the lowland port-cities. Bassein and Moulmein must also have attracted some Panthay settlement, the latter port being a terminus of the overland caravan trade from Yunnan in its own right, via the northern Thai trade route through Kengtung, Chiang Mai and Mae Sariang.
During the greater part of the period of British rule in Burma these Panthay settlers flourished, specialising in all levels of commerce from the international gem markets to shop – and inn-keeping, mule-breeding and peddling or hawking – indeed Yunnanese peddlars (who may or may not have been Muslim) even penetrated into the unadministered and inaccessible hill tracts of "The Triangle" between Mali Hka and Nmai Hka, to the north of Myitkyina]]. Chiefly, however, beyond the urban centres of the Burmese lowlands, the Panthays continued their involvement in the caravan trade with Yunnan, transporting silk, tea, metal goods and foodstuffs (eggs, fruit, nut and even the renowned Yunnanese hams (doubtless for consumption by their Han fellow countrymen) from China to Burma, and carrying back European manufactured goods, broadcloths, specialised foodstuffs (edible birds nests, sea slugs) and above all raw cotton, to Yunnan.
In 1931 Harvey estimated the population of Panglong (which was predominantly Panthay) at 5,000 persons. Yet official estimates put the Panthay population of Burma at 2,202 for 1911 (1,427 males and 775 females), whilst by the 1921 Census of India this had declined to 1,517 (1,076 males and 441 females), and by 1931 to 1,106 (685 males and 421 females).
No comprehensive census of the remaining Panthay population within Burma has been taken since 1931, and restrictions on travel for foreigners, combined with the inherent weakness of central government control over those outlying areas of the Shan and Kachin Hills where many Panthays live, makes any attempt to calculate Burma's present (1986) Panthay population almost impossible (though an exaggerated estimate of 100,000 Panthays resident within Burma appeared in the Burmese daily Hanthawaddi in 1960. Certainly readily identifiable Panthay communities continue to exist in several areas which are open to foreign travel (Rangoon, Mandalay, Taunggyi), as well as, by report, in Kengtung, Bhamo, Mogok, Lashio and at Tanyan, near Lashio. Wherever they have settled in sufficient numbers, the Panthays have established their own mosques and madrasas (for example the Panthay Balee at Mandalay Short Lane, Rangoon, at Mandalay and in Myitkyina). Some of these mosques are in "pseudo-Moghul" style, clearly having been influenced by Indian Muslim tastes and styles, whilst others (notably at Mandalay) have Chinese architectural features. As with the Hui in China, the Burmese Panthay are exclusively Hanafi; few are conversant with more than the most elementary phrases of Arabic, and quite often when a Panthay imam is not available to care for the spiritual welfare of a community, a South Asian or Zerbadi Muslim is engaged instead.
Panthays are spread over many parts of Burma with their mosques in Yangon, Taungyi, Lashio, Tangyang, Kyaington, Pyin-Oo-Lwin, Myitkyina and Mogok.
In the pre-colonial times the Panthays emerged as excellent long-distance caravaneers of southern China and northern Southeast Asia. They had virtually dominated whole caravan trade of Yunnan. By the time the first agents and adventurous pioneers the French and British imperialism arrived at the fringes of Yunnan, they found the caravan network of the region dominated by the Chinese Muslim muleteers.
The Chinese Muslim domination of the Yunnan caravan network seems to have continued well into the 20th century. By the mid 19th century the caravans of' Yunnanese traders ranged over an area extending from the eastern frontiers of Tibet, through Assam, Burma, Thailand, Laos and Tongkin (presently part of Vietnam), to the southern Chinese provinces of Sichuan, Guizhou and Guangxi.
The merchandise brought from Yunnan by the Panthay caravaneers included silk cloth, tea, metal utensils, iron in the rough, felts, finished articles of' clothing, walnuts, opium, wax, preserved fruits and foods, and dried meat of' several kinds. The Burmese goods taken back to Yunnan were raw cotton, raw and wrought silk, amber, jades and other precious stones, velvets, betel-nuts, tobacco, gold-leaf', preserves, paps, dye woods,stick lac, ivory, and specialized foodstuffs such as slugs, edible birds’ nests, among other things. Raw cotton, which was reserved as a royal monopoly, was in great demand in China. An extensive trade in this commodity had existed between the Burmese kingdom and Yunnan. It was transported up the Ayeyarwaddy River to Bhamo where it was sold to the Chinese merchants, and conveyed partly by land and partly by water into Yunnan, and from there to other provinces of China. Most caravans consisted of between fifty and one hundred mules, employing ten to fifteen drivers.
A reason for the cessation of trade by the Bhamo routes was due to King Mindon's earlier policy of confining the British to lower Burma. Mindon had feared that trade along the Bhamo route would lead to the extension of British influence to upper Burma and beyond. He did not want a fleet of British steamers to the north of the capital. He also seemed to be desirous of making Mandalay the center of trade instead of Bhamo which was difficult to control.
Later, this short-sighted policy and attitude of King Mindon gradually wore out as he began to see the practical economic and political advantages of the resuscitation of Bhamo trade to his country and people. Thus, he extended all the help he could to the Sladen mission. With the Burmese monarch favorably disposed towards it, the British mission was cordially received by the Panthay Governor of Momien, Ta-sa-kon. Due to lack of' security of the roads, Sladen was not allowed to proceed to Tali-fu to discuss matters directly with the Sultan. However, the Sultan sent letters to Momien in which he expressed the desire of the Panthay government to enter into friendly relations with the British government, and to foster mutual trade. Before returning, Sladen and the Momien Governor Ta-sa-kon, as the Sultan's personal representative, signed an agreement in which the British and the Panthays pledged to foster Yunnan-Burma trade to the best of their ability. Though far from being a satisfactory treaty to both parties, the agreement had established some kind of de facto friendship between them.