By Eric Vandenbroeck and co-workers

Myanmar and the looming war for its borderlands Part Two

The likelihood of ASEAN–Chinese joint action to stabilize the country seems unlikely, given ASEAN’s institutional weakness. Perhaps there is an opportunity for the Biden administration to engage China in talks over maintaining order, which could act as a confidence-building measure more generally.

If not, then China might see an opportunity to take its cross-border influence to a new level by partnering openly with one or more of the parties involved in the fighting.

Aside from providing buffers, already early on it was important for China to have its borderlands under its control. This was particularly important about the southern border where Yunnan province meets Laos and Myanmar with almost no major roads. During World War II, the United States struggled to build the Burma Road to reach Yunnan and supply Chiang Kai-shek’s forces. It was so tricky:

By 1949 British Asia, the great crescent of land that four years earlier had linked Suez to Sydney in one overarching, cosmopolitan swathe, collapsed. Its last proconsul, Louis Mountbatten, had finally left the region. The old Indian Army was dismantled. India, Pakistan, and Ceylon (though not Burma ) remained in the British Commonwealth of Nations. But this was a fragile and divided entity, and many more concrete linkages in the region were severed—the route from India to China via the Burma Road.

The Allies originally envisaged a seaborne invasion of Burma and Malaya, but the demand for ships and landing craft in the Mediterranean scotched this. General William Slim's 14th Army was a force that numbered between 80,000 and 100,000 men. It went on to reoccupy Burma, French Indo-China, Malaya, and the Dutch East Indies in 1945-The majority of soldiers in the 14th Army were Indians, Gurkhas, and Burmese people (mostly Kachins, Karens, and Shan).

But the vast mobilization of manpower is one of the untold stories of the South Asian war effort. Contractors raised significant amounts of labor from eastern India. But the impact of this demand fell very unequally on the poor, the `tribal' groups like the Wa.



Incongruous as it may seem, an event that would much later determine the Was place in history began on August 15, 1939, in a small flat in Rangoon’s Barr Street. Thakin Kodaw Hmaing, a writer and a significant figure in Burma’s nationalist movement lived there. On that day, a small group of young nationalists gathered in his home for an important meeting. They wanted to form a Burmese communist party. But since Barr Street is just around the corner from where the British authorities had their spies, the nationalists moved to a more discreet location in Myay Nu Street. It was a small wooden house, long gone, where one of them, Thakin Ba Hein, lived with his family. There, the Communist Party of Burma (CPB) was formed, and this unpretentious meeting in Rangoon is called the CPB’s first congress.1 Aung San became the first general secretary of the party.

Apart from Thakin Ba Hein, a young, talented, and well-known leftist intellectual, three other members of what was called the ‘Thakin Party’ were also present—Thakin Aung San, Thakin ITla Pe (Bo Tet Ya), and Thakin Bo—as well as two ethnic Indians, Naag, a medical doctor, and the theoretician Hamendranath Ghoshal. Tliakin, or ‘master,’ the Burmese equivalent of sahib in Hindi, was reserved for the British in Burma. Still, the young nationalists used it shows that they, and not the colonial administrators, were the real masters of their country. Ghoshal and Dr. Naag were never members of the Thakin Party or the Dohbama Asiayone (‘Our Burma Association), an organization consisting solely of ethnic Burmans.2 The leftists were staunch nationalists as well and had little regard for members of other ethnic communities. When Thakin Kodaw Hmaing, the learned Grand Old Man of Burmese nationalism, was offered the position of chief minister of the Shan State of Yawnghwe in the 1920s, he refused to accept the post, saying he had no wish to serve under “a foreign ruler”3 and, as a nationalist “to kneel before a Shan saohpa .”4

Contrary to the radical student movement among the Burmese intellectuals, communist ideas also penetrated Rangoon’s Chinese community in the late 1920s. ‘Chinese communism’ was first introduced into Burma by Wu Wei Sai (alias Wu Ching Sin) and his wife, who arrived in Rangoon in May 1929 from Shanghai. Wu became the editor-in-chief of Burma News, a Chinese- language newspaper, and his wife, who is not named in British police documents, found work as teachers at the Chinese-medium Peng Min School in Rangoon. The couple distributed communist leaflets in Rangoon’s Chinatown and built up a small circle of followers. This clandestine group of ethnic Chinese members was discovered when, in December 1929, the Special Branch of the British police intercepted a letter Wu Wei Sai had written in invisible ink to the regional communist headquarters in Singapore.5

Wu left Burma in 1930 and was never heard of again. Only half a dozen followers remained in the cell he had established. A Chinese cell was also found in the central town of Pyinmana, but neither this group nor the one in Rangoon had any contact with the radical Burmese nationalist movement; instead, their links were with the Chinese-dominated communist movement in Malaya and Singapore.

Had the two groups established contact in the late 1930s, communism in Burma could have taken a very different course. Despite being inspired by the communist movement in India, Burma formed a part until 1937; the Burmese radicals also pinned their hopes for help against the British on Mao Zedong and his communist army in China. However, they had no means of contacting Mao's communists, which Wu and his group could have helped with. Nevertheless, the thakin met in Rangoon in 1940. At the advice of Thakin Kodaw Hmaing, they decided to send CPB general secretary Aung San and Thakin Hla Myaing (Bo Yan Aung) to Shanghai, where they knew the Chinese communists were strong.

Eager to elude the British police, the duo disguised themselves as Chinese deck passengers and took the first ship to China they could find in Rangoon’s port. It was, however, destined for Amoy, or Xiamen, a coastal city in Chinas Fujian Province, which the Japanese then occupied. The two young Burmese—Aung San was twenty-five and Thakin Hla Myaing thirty-two—found jobs as English teachers on Gulangyu Island, part of Xiamen but historically with an international settlement similar to that in Shanghai.

Japanese agents intercepted a letter they sent back to their comrades in Burma in Rangoon, and they were tracked down to the room they had rented on Gulangyu. Japanese agents based in Xiamen visited them and listened carefully to what they had to say. Aung San and Hla Myaing were told to forget the Chinese communists. The Japanese would provide them and their comrades with arms and military training, and they were brought on a Japanese ship to Tokyo.6

The Japanese took them to Thailand, and while Thakin Hla Myaing remained behind in Thailand, Aung San, again in disguise, returned to Burma in February 1941. The following month, he left on a Japanese freighter with four of his comrades. In April, another batch consisting of seven young thakin were smuggled out of Burma. More followed in June and July, helped out of Burma by Japan's intelligence services. A Burmese drama student in Tokyo, Ko Saung, had joined the initial meeting but never took part in the military training that followed the arrival of the others.

In July, an unexpected batch of eleven arrived, and that group included several members of a right-wing minority faction of the Dohbama. It was clear that the Japanese did not fully trust Aung San and his left-leaning comrades. The July batch included Thakin Shu Maung, who would later be known as Ne Win. Not surprisingly, friction soon arose between the original group and the latecomers. Thakin Shwe, who later became Kyaw Zaw, remembers that Aung San and Shu Maung (Ne Win) quarreled quite often when they were at a training camp on Hainan's Chinese island the Japanese occupied. Thakin Shwe, or Kyaw Zaw, remembers that Aung San objected to what he saw as Shu Maung’s immoral character: “He was a gambler and a womanizer, which the strict moralist Aung San, and the rest of us as well, despised. But for the sake of unity, we kept together as much as we could.”7 They thought they would be fighting for independence from the United Kingdom, but the Japanese had other plans. They wanted to occupy and control Burma to cut American and British support for the Chinese nationalists battling the Japanese in China's interior. That support was coming from India to Burmese ports and then overland to Yunnan.

Although Ko Saung remained behind in Tokyo, and one of them died from malaria. At the same time, on Hainan before returning to Burma, the group became known as ‘The Thirty Comrades,’ the total number of young Burmese whom the Japanese had recruited. Throughout modern Burmese history, they have enjoyed a cult-like status, and despite their alliance with the Japanese, are seen as the fathers of the country’s independence.

In December 1941, the remaining twenty-eight of the Thirty Comrades were transferred to Bangkok, where the Burma Independence Army (BIA) was formally set up on the 26th. They took a blood-oath, promising each other to fight until death for freedom for Burma. One more died of illness in Thailand, so only twenty-seven of them entered Burma together with the Japanese in early 1942. Many more Burmese joined on the border or as soon as they had crossed it. The number of BIA fighters had swelled to thirty thousand when Rangoon fell on March 7. The BIA itself did not do much fighting; they followed on the heels of the Imperial Japanese Army, which drove the British out.

On August 1, 1943, the Japanese granted ‘independence to Burma, and a cabinet, made up of Burmese nationalists, was set to govern the country. In reality, Japanese occupation had relaced British colonial rule, which soon became obvious to Aung San and his comrades. An emissary, the communist Thakin Thein Pe, was sent secretly to Calcutta to contact the British, and in 1944 a front organization called the Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League (AFPFL) was set up to coordinate the planned uprising against the Japanese. On March 27, 1945, the Burmese nationalists turned their guns against the Japanese, and fierce battles were fought in many parts of central Burma. However, the Karen and the Kachin had never accepted the Japanese as some kind of‘liberators.’ All along, they had carried out guerrilla warfare against the Japanese with Allied support.

On May 1, 1945, Rangoon was liberated. British rule was restored, but the fight for independence was not over. The CPB, now a legal, political party, was a member of the AFPFL, and the communist leader, Thakin Than Tun, was Aung Sans brother-in-law, so there were, in the beginning, no severe problems within the front. The party had its headquarters in a building at 130 Bagayar Street in Rangoon’s Sanchaung township. It organized labor strikes in the capital and movements among landless peasants in the countryside. But that was not enough for communist hard-liner Thakin Soe, who accused the party leadership of being guilty of advocating ‘Browderism,’ or the kind of peaceful transition to socialism that Earl Browder, general secretary of the Communist Party of the United States, had come to believe in.8 This led to a split in the CPB in 1946, and Thakin Soe set up his outfit called the Communist Party (Red Flag).9 He and his followers went underground in the Irrawaddy delta to wage a guerrilla war against the British colonial power.

However, the CPB was expelled from the AFPFL in October that year. Its shift from being a legal, political party to an organization prepared to go underground began in April 1947 when it decided to boycott the election's new Constituent Assembly. ‘Browderism’ was gradually being given up as the CPB increased its contacts with communist parties in other countries. In 1947, politburo member Thakin Ba Thein Tin and yebaw (comrade) Aung Gyi, another senior party cadre, represented the CPB at London's British Empire Communist Conference.10 A few months later, on January 4, 1948, the British left Burma, which became an independent republic outside the Commonwealth. Communist pressure on the AFPFL not to accept any 'sham independence was a significant reason Burma did not, like other former colonies that had achieved independence, become a dominion where the British monarch remained head of state.

A month after independence, CPB general secretary Thakin Than Tun and politburo member Thakin Ba Thein Tin went to Calcutta to attend the second congress of the Communist Party of India (CPI). Another group of four Burmese radicals was also in Calcutta, but to take part in an Asian youth conference organized by the Soviet-controlled World Federation of Democratic Youth. Some historians claim that the CPI Congress and the youth conference were used by the Soviet Union and Cominform, a new international communist organization set up by Moscow, to draw up a master plan for armed communist rebellions all over Southeast Asia.

There is, however, no historical evidence to back up this claim. The CPI congress did result in the dismissal of CPIs moderate secretary P. C. Joshi and the election of B. T. Ranadive, a much more radical leader, and calls for armed uprisings were heard at the youth conference. But that falls far short of a communist strategy for the entire region. The almost simultaneous outbreak of communist insurgencies in Burma, Malaya, French Indochina, and the Philippines in the 1940s had other causes specific to those countries. Communist forces had played essential roles in the struggle against the Japanese occupation of their respective countries. They had weapons, and they did not think that the fight for their goals, socialism, and communism should be forgotten just because they had been instrumental in driving out the Japanese.

NEVERTHELESS, the CPB had become radicalized and condemned ‘Burma’s sham independence,’ which led to a severe conflict with the AFPFL and, mainly, the socialist stalwart Kyaw Nyein, who served as home minister in independent Burma’s first cabinet. But the radicalization was caused more by domestic issues than by attending meetings in Calcutta. On July 19, 1947, half a year before independence, Aung San had been assassinated by a team led by the rightist politician U Saw. Thakin Than Tun, Aung San’s brother-in-law, and other communist leaders were convinced of a British plot behind the assassination. Another seven national leaders and a young bodyguard were also gunned down.11

Independent Burma’s first prime minister, U Nu, was a talented intellectual but hardly the strong leader the country needed during its troubled first years of independence. In an attempt to placate Burma’s restless ethnic minorities, Sao Shwe Thaike, the Shan saohpa of Yawnghwe, had been appointed president of the new Union of Burma. But that was a ceremonial title with limited political significance. The Karen, the Karenni, and the Mon were ready to rebel against the government, which they did not long after Burma’s independence.

In mainstream politics, the situation was becoming tenser as Kyaw Nyein’s socialists rallied in the park outside the city hall and attacked the editorial offices of left-wing publications. At first, the CPB had no guns at its office in Bagayar Street, but they began to stock rifles and pistols on the premises as the situation deteriorated. The party also organized labor strikes and began to attack U Nu personally, branding him a ‘fascist.’ Then, on March 25, 1948, U Nu ordered the arrest of Thakin Than Tun. In a show of defiance, Thakin Than Tun addressed a crowd of three thousand people in downtown Rangoon. Three days later, the police raided the CPB headquarters. It was early in the morning, so the leaders had not yet arrived. At 11.30 am, the party’s politburo instructed all leading cadres to leave Rangoon as soon as possible and m.ove to rural areas, where the armed struggle was to be organized. This decision to go underground was much more severe than that taken by Thakin Soe two years earlier, which had led to only a few skirmishes with the police. The CPB was one of the most influential political organizations in the country. Now it was a civil war.

Some leaders left in different cars while Thakin Than Tun went in disguise by train. Ghoshal simply caught a bus to Toungoo. Hundreds of other party workers left by whatever mean possible. They were all headed for the Pegu Yoma, a densely forested mountain range north of Rangoon. On April 2, in a village near the town of Pegu, the first shots were fired in a civil war between government forces and communist rebels that was to last for several decades.

By the end of April, only a few underground party activists remained in Rangoon to act as the party’s eyes and ears,’ while in the Pegu Yoma, the CPB formed its own ‘People’s Liberation Army of Burma.’ The uprising spread quickly across the country, and within a year, the CPB had managed to raise a force of 15,000 armed partisans. Guns were snatched from police and army outposts or came from caches; various anti-Japanese troops had hidden in forested areas when World War II was over, and the British had returned to Burma. CPB units were now active in the Pegu Yoma and the Irrawaddy delta region, Tenasserim in the southeast, Arakan Yoma in the west, northern Sagaing Division, and even in the west parts of central Shan State.

Several Western writers on Burmese history, including German scholar Klaus Fleischmann, have argued that a thesis purportedly written by Ghoshal in December 1947 played an essential role in the CPB’s decision to resort to armed struggle. Titled On the Present Situation in Burma and Our Tasks and referred to as ‘the Ghoshal Thesis,' it outlines the strategy for a prolonged Maoist-style armed uprising in the countryside. Fleischmann believes it reflects a more extreme policy, which led to the party’s “taking up armed insurrection against the government.”12 Smith calls it "historic."13

It is, however, doubtful that Ghoshal, an ethnic Indian whose primary constituency was among the Indian working class in Rangoon and other major cities, would have advocated peasant-led guerrilla warfare in the Burmese countryside where he had no following. Smith acknowledges that there is a “lack of references to the document” in the CPB’s publications before the collapse of the party in 1989.14 He then goes on to state that “Bertil Lintner has speculated that the absence of copies of Ba Tin’s [Ghoshal’s] thesis on the CPB side has meant the document might not be authentic. Ba Thein Tin does not support this view,”15 and then comes a reference to his alleged correspondence with the CPB chairman.

I find this statement astonishing because Thakin Ba Them Tin told me—and I am the only foreign journalist to have met and interviewed the now late CPB chairman—that he had never heard of such a thesis. Other party veterans were equally bewildered when I asked them about it. I, therefore, promised to send the CPB leaders a copy of it when I was back in Thailand, which I did. Khin Maung Gyi, the CPB’s last general secretary, wrote in a letter to me dated April 15, 1992: “Many thanks for this document. As for us, this is the first time that we have got the opportunity to read the so-called ‘Ghoshal Thesis,’ which was non-existent inside our party and is merely a fabrication to accuse the CPB as the instigator of the civil war in Burma.”

Khin Maung Gyi, then a close acquaintance of Ghoshal, should have known if it were a party document and had been written by him. Both of them were in Rangoon when the party leadership decided to leave for the Pegu Yoma mountains. According to Khin Maung Gyi and Thakin Ba Thein Tin, Ghoshal was unwilling to go with them and the other party leaders and cadres because he was busy organizing a strike among ethnic Indian dockworkers in Rangoon. Instigating a civil war in the countryside would have been far from his mind.16

Thus, it is impossible that Thakin Ba Thein Tin himself wrote what Smith claims he did. Smith had no contacts with any CPB leaders until I introduced him to a cadre in Yunnan in 1988. Smith says he corresponded with Thakin Ba Thein Tin in 1988“ 1990,17 which is also unlikely because the Chinese dispatched the old chairman to Hunan Province after the April 1989 mutiny. He was kept there incommunicado until he died in 1995. It is more likely that a much younger party member, who was not in Rangoon in the late 1940s, wrote those letters, perhaps on behalf of Thakin Ba Thein Tin.

That, however, leaves an intriguing question: who wrote the so-called Ghoshal Thesis and why? A party veteran, now living in Rangoon, points at a strikingly similar document with an almost identical title written by Mao Zedong in December 1947: The Present Situation and Our Tasks.]8 Khin Maung Gyi might be right. It was fabricated by someone to discredit the CPB, and that ‘someone could only be in the psychological warfare section of the military intelligence service or perhaps in a department under Burma’s then hard-line interior minister Kyaw Nyein, who led the campaign against the communists. Whatever the case, Ghoshal did not write it, and it is not a genuine CPB document. But it shows how sophisticated Burma’s security services already were at that time.

Despite its initial successes on the battlefield, the CPB made some severe political blunders. In late 1951, at the height of its strength, its central committee decided to launch an entirely new policy. The Chinese revolution had succeeded because the communists had joined hands with the Kuomintang against the Japanese. Then, when the foreign invader had been defeated, they turned against their erstwhile Kuomintang allies and drove them into exile on the island of Taiwan. At this time, there was a strong belief that a similar strategy could be implemented in Burma. The CPB leaders suggested that their forces forge a united front with the Burmese government's army against the Kuomintang invaders in the northeastern and eastern Shan States. If successful, the Burmese communists would attain a stronger position and turn against the government.

In line with this new policy, called ‘PCG5 (Peace and Coalition Government), the CPB, as a conciliatory gesture, began to return to the landlords the land they once had confiscated from them and given to the cultivators. The inevitable outcome was that many CPB fighters, sons of peasants, became disillusioned and returned to their home villages. The government never accepted the CPB’s offer of a united front, and, consequently, the party lost nearly half of its fighting force in the process. The communist insurrection had failed.

Moreover, not everyone in the party agreed with the new policies. Shortly after the meeting in late 1951 at which the leadership had decided on their new line, groups of hard-liners began to leave secretly for China to seek support for the continuation of their armed struggle. The first batch of thirty Burmese communists led byyebaw Aung Gyi traveled north and crossed the border into Yunnan. Early the following year, Thakin Ba Them Tin, then vice-chairman of the party, set out on what was going to be an arduous year-long journey by elephant and on foot towards Yunnan. His party crossed into China near Laiza in Kachin State, then a tiny border village. Chinese border guards escorted them to the town of Baoshan, where they boarded a plane for Kunming and, later, Beijing. One more group followed shortly afterward, bringing the total of CPB cadres in China to 143. The group also included Bo Zeya, one of the Thirty Comrades and the chief of staff of the CPBs army, politburo member Thakin Than Myaing, and Thakin Baw, a senior member of the central committee.19

The Burmese communists were well received by the Chinese and allowed to remain in Chengdu in Sichuan Province, where they were given political training. But no military aid was forthcoming at this time; the government in Beijing was not willing to sacrifice its friendly relations with the U Nu government for the sake of a relatively small group of Burmese communists who were dissidents even within their party.

However, much to their surprise, the newly arrived CPB cadres were introduced to an old comrade who had disappeared almost a decade earlier—Aye Ngwe, a Sino-Burman party member and former student at Rangoon University. When it became clear that Aung San had failed to reach communist-controlled areas in China in 1941, the CPB had sent Aye Ngwe overland to Yunnan, a safer bet than going by ship to some little-known Chinese port.

In September 1941, Aye Ngwe had walked across the border bridge at Kyuhkok-Wanting, where the Burma Road crosses the international frontier. It took him five years to contact the Chinese communists, by which time he had lost touch with the CPB. In 1947, he became a member of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and learned to speak standard Chinese. In Burma, he had spoken only one of the southern dialects. When the CPB cadres began arriving in China in the early 1950s, Aye Ngwe was called upon to act as interpreter.20

Unbeknown to the CPB cadres in Sichuan, there was another group of former fighters from Burma in China. Naw Seng, a Kachin World War II hero who had fought with the British against the Japanese during the war, had first been a Burmese army officer leading several campaigns against the CPB in the Irrawaddy delta then turned his guns against the government. He led a Kachin and Karen warriors who captured one town in northern Burma and the Shan States. His goal was an independent country for the Kachin, which he called Jinghpaw Pawngyawng. But after several initial successes, his group, the Pawngyawng National Defence Force, was eventually cornered at Mong Ko in the northeasternmost corner of the Shan States. In April 1950, Naw Seng and about three hundred of his followers retreated into Yunnan. They were allowed to remain in China, but while the CPB exiles in Sichuan were allowed to study at various institutions in Chengdu and some were even sent to the central party school in Beijing, Naw Seng and his men ended up in a peoples commune in rural Guizhou, one of China’s poorest and most neglected provinces.

Burma's CPB was outlawed in 1953, after nearly 60 years. China-Burma relations were excellent. On April 22, 1954, China and Burma signed a bilateral trade agreement. On June 28-29, Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai visited Burma and met with U Nu. The two leaders signed a joint Sino-Burmese declaration on June 29, endorsing the ‘Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence: Mutual respect's territorial integrity and sovereignty, non-aggression, non­interference in each other's internal affairs, equal and mutual benefits, and peaceful coexistence.21

The next issue was to settle the disputed border, which U Nu discussed in detail during a September 1956 visit to China. The border was fixed in 1960, but that only led to more turmoil as the Sino-Burmese border agreement was one of the factors which led to a new rebellion among the Kachin. Whether Naw Seng was aware of this is unknown, but it is plausible to assume that they did not receive any news from home as he and his followers were toiling in their people’s commune in Guizhou, cut off from the rest of the world.

The Burmese communists, though, were much more connected with the outside world. In 1957, three promising younger cadres were selected to further their studies in Moscow. They were joined by two other Burmese communists who had made it to the Soviet Union from Burma in the early 1950s. The most outstanding five were the young intellectual Khin Maung Gyi and San Thu, a party worker from Pyawbwe in central Burma. Khin Maung Gyi attended the Academy of Social Sciences in Moscow and wrote a thesis on ‘Agrarian Problems in Burma.’22

The Burmese communists were active in their exile, but whatever they were doing had no impact on the situation inside Burma until general Ne Win seized power on March 2, 1962. The Chinese had long been wary of the ambitious and sometimes unpredictable general. Some critical events, which reflected that a new chapter in China-Burma relations had begun shortly after his coup. The first relatively innocuous step was taken when, on August 1, 1962, the CPB exiles published a document in English titled Some Facts about Ne Wins Military Government, denouncing the new regime. Until then, they had not been allowed to print any propaganda material in China. Now they were, and it would soon become even more apparent that Chinas policy towards Burma was undergoing some fundamental changes.

The most urgent task was to find a way to contact the CPB units that were still holding out in the Pegu Yoma and other places in central Burma. There had been no links between them and the exiles since the latter had trekked to China in the early 1950s. By a strange twist of fate, the new military regime in Rangoon unwittingly provided an opportunity for the Burmese communists in China to reestablish contact with the forces at home. Probably hoping that the country’s many communists and ethnic insurgents would give up when faced with the massive pressure of the new military government, Ne Win called for peace talks after about a year in power. In July 1963, the CPB, Thakin Soe’s much smaller Red Flag communist party, the Karen, Mon, Shan, and Kachin rebel armies, and some smaller groups attended the negotiations in Rangoon, with guarantees of free and safe passage to and from the peace parley, regardless of the outcome.

The colorful Thakin Soe probably attracted the most attention when he arrived, accompanied by a team of attractive young girls in khaki uniforms. He placed a portrait of Josef Stalin in front of him on the negotiating table. He then began attacking the revisionism’ of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and the opportunism of Mao Zedong’s China. Not surprisingly, Thakin Soe was soon excluded from the talks.

However, twenty-nine CPB members arrived by air from China, ostensibly to participate in the peace talks. Among the ‘Beijing returnees,’ as they came to be known, were yebaw Aung Gyi, Thakin Pu, ‘Thirty Comrade’ Bo Zeya, a woman cadre called Sein Win, and Thakin Ba Thein Tin, who did not participate in the talks but seized the opportunity to sneak out of Rangoon and visit the CPB’s headquarters in the Pegu Yoma. He had brought with him radio transmitters from China, and the communist fighters in the Pegu Yoma were shown how to use them to communicate with the exiles in Sichuan. They were also told to be patient. Big plans were being hatched in China, and help would soon be forthcoming.23

According to CPB documents, the government demanded that the communists concentrate all their troops and party members in an area stipulated by the authorities, inform the government if there were any remaining guerrillas or cadres elsewhere, and stop all organizational activities of the party, and cease fund-raising. 24 'The intransigence of the military regime was a blessing in disguise for the CPB. The talks broke down on November 14, and the various insurgents returned to their respective jungle camps. Thakin Ba Thein Tin and another CPB cadre flew back to China, while the remaining twenty-seven ‘Beijing returnees’ went to the Pegu Yoma, where they assumed de facto leadership of the party at home.

Following the split in the international communist movement at about the same time, Khin Maung Gyi, San Thu, and a third party member called Thein Aung were forced to leave Moscow. The CPB had sided with China in the split and was no longer welcome in the Soviet Union. The other two Burmese communists in Moscow, Aung Win and Kyaw Zaw (not the same Aung Zaw as the one from the Thirty Comrades), who had married Russian women, were allowed to remain in the Soviet Union. They later became Burmese language teachers at a school in Moscow where the Soviets trained diplomats and intelligence agents.

A ‘leading group of five’ to direct the work in China was set up in Beijing shortly after Thakin Ba Thein Tins return from the peace talks in Rangoon. This group, which became the nucleus of the new leadership of the CPB that emerged in the 1960s, consisted of Thakin Ba Thein Tin as ‘leader,’ Khin Maung Gyi as his secretary, and Thakin Than Myaing, Than Shwe, and Tin Yee as members. Than Shwe was a World War II veteran, who had been educated at an officers’ training school in Rangoon during the initial stages of the Japanese occupation. Tin Yee was a CPB cadre from Pegu who joined the party in 1943 when some communists had begun guerrilla warfare against the Japanese. Both had gone to China in the early 1950s.

In late 1963, San Thu, one of the Moscow returnees, was put in charge of surveying possible infiltration routes from Yunnan into northeastern Burma.25 The Chinese also built a network of new asphalted highways leading from Kunming to various points along the borders with Burma. Warehouses were stocked with arms and ammunition in preparation for a China-supported thrust into Burma, which would usher in a new era in the history of the CPB insurgency.

The problem was that the CPB cadres in China, except Than Shwe and a few others, were well-read Marxist intellectuals with little or no military experience. On the other hand, Naw Sengs Kachin were excellent fighters. In early 1963, even before the peace talks began in Rangoon, Naw Seng was brought to Chengdu to meet what had become known as The Sichuan laobingl or the Sichuan veterans. He was introduced to Thakin Ba Thein Tin and told that the time had come to go back to Burma and fight. Naw Seng, eager to leave his people’s commune in Guizhou, readily agreed. He assembled his men, known now as The Guizhou laobing, or the Guizhou veterans, and their military skills were enhanced at a training camp in Yunnan. Aye Ngwe gave them political lectures in Marxism-Leninism.

More alliances were forged in the early 1960s as the small cells of ethnic Chinese communists were first put in touch with the CPB. They were few, but the Chinese embassy in Rangoon arranged for ethnic Chinese from the capital and some smaller towns in the Irrawaddy delta to go to the CPB s then base area along the Shweli River in northern Shan State and wait for further instructions.26

In preparation for the momentous events planned in Beijing, the time was also ripe for a significant shakeup of the party at home. The CPB exiles in China declared in 1964 that the party was “struggling against revisionism or right-wing opportunism as the main danger in the international communist movement and inside our party.”27 There were no more connections with the Communist Party of India, which had been close when the CPB in the years after World War II operated openly in Rangoon and elsewhere. Now, the CPB was firmly on the Chinese side in the split in the international communist movement and condemned Khrushchev and the ‘Soviet revisionists.’28

In 1965, a prominent central committee member, Thakin Pe Tint, was sent overland to Yunnan to cement ties between the Pegu Yoma and elsewhere in Burma and the ‘leading group of five in China. Not long after, Aung Sein, a young Burmese communist who had been a soldier in the group that had escorted Thakin Ba Thein Tin to China in 1953, was sent back along the same overland route using old networks of local contacts, to the Pegu Yoma. He carried with him a letter in which Thakin Ba Thein Tin and the other leaders in China outlined the ‘invasion plans’ in detail. In 1963, the Pegu Yoma-based headquarters had been informed only in general terms of what would happen.29

Internally, China was about to embark on a decade of chaos and destruction. In May 1966, Mao called on young people to rise against ‘counter-revolutionaries within the Chinese leadership.30 Then, on August 12, the official weekly Beijing Review published a sixteen-point declaration that the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) had passed on August 8, launching what was called the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.31

The Beijing returnees, inspired by Mao’s Cultural Revolution and assigned the task of similarly ‘cleansing’ the CPB of ‘rightist deviationists,’ staged grisly trials in the Pegu Yoma. They enlisted the support of militant tat ni lunge, or Red Youth Guards, who often were orphans raised by the party and led to regard it as their ‘parent.’ Hence, they were immensely loyal to their new masters. Yebaw Htay, who had headed the CPB’s delegation to the 1963 peace talks, was branded ‘Burma’s Deng Xiaoping’ after Mao’s main ‘rightist’ rival in the CPC and executed. The veteran Ghoshal was denounced as ‘Burma’s Liu Shaoqi’ after China’s disgraced president and also killed.32 Bo Yan Aung (Thakin Hla Myaing), one of the Thirty Comrades who had gone with Aung San to Xiamen in 1940, was also among those executed, which meant bludgeoned to death by the tat ni lunge.

Many intellectuals who had joined the CPB in the wake of the 1962 coup were also purged and killed. The policy was unofficially referred to as pyouk-touk-hta, or, in English, ‘the Three Ds’: dismissed from office, dispelled from the party, and disposed of (that is, executed.) In 1986, when I asked Thakin Ba Thein Tin about the purges, he was unrepentant and referred to them as a “revolution within the party” and claimed that no more than fifty-three people were executed.33

One of the most hard-line of the Beijing returnees was Taik Aung. Born into a peasant family in Waw near Pegu, he had joined the party as a young man and was considered a ruthless fanatic. He led the pyouk-touk-hta purges and seemed to delight in having veterans and younger cadres killed by the tat ni lunge.34

Of the other Beijing returnees, Bo Zeya was killed in action in 1967 near Tharrawaddy, yebaw Aung Gyi fell in battle in 1968, Thakin Pu succumbed to illness in 1969, and Sein Win, the only woman among them, died fighting in the Irrawaddy delta. Among the exiles in China, Thakin Than Myaing was dismissed from the party and languished in a Chinese labor camp until he was released and ‘rehabilitated’ in 1973.35. He was fortunate to have survived his ordeal. Still, the CPB at home experienced five years of highly bloody purges before the master plan drawn up in Beijing was put into practice. Moreover, that plan went far beyond revitalizing the CPB insurgency.

At the time, China's intelligence chief and the mastermind behind forming a ‘new’ CPB, Kang Sheng, had grander plans. During the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s, the Americans talked about what they called ‘the domino theory; if communism were not stopped in Vietnam, it would spread to the rest of Southeast Asia and perhaps even beyond. That theory may have been correct, but for Maos chief strategist Kang, the North Vietnamese leadership and the National Liberation Front in the south were too close to the Soviet Union to be trusted. Kangs plan was to spread the revolution to the region through the CPB and then down to Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia, where Maoist-leaning communist parties were active. The plan, absurd as it may seem, also included the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist), a tiny group of pro-Beijing Australian radicals. One of Thakin Ba Thein Tins' closest foreign associates was its chairman, a Melbourne lawyer called Edward Fowler Hill. Thakin Ba Thein Tin told me: “Ted Hill and I were together in Beijing. We wrote appeals against the Soviet Union and for the world revolution. He was a fine, cultured kind of man.”36

The plan was put into action early in the morning of January 1, 1968. Naw Seng and his Kachin fighters crossed the border into Burma at Mong Ko, where he had retreated from in 1950. But this time, his men were heavily armed, and within hours overran the Burmese Army garrison there. Heavy fighting continued in surrounding areas, and for the first time in the history of the country’s civil war, the Burmese Army found itself outgunned. The n some cases, they even outnumbered as thousands of Chinese ‘volunteers’ streamed across the border to fight alongside the CPB.

Most Western historians have assumed that China’s decision to lend all-out support to the CPB was prompted by riots in Rangoon’s Chinatown in mid-1967.37 Ne Win’s disastrous economic policies, based on what he called “the Burmese Way to Socialism,” which, in effect, meant that everything in sight was nationalized and handed over to the military, had resulted in acute shortages of rice and basic foodstuffs in Rangoon. At the same time, the Chinese community in the capital had also been influenced by the Cultural Revolution, and many young Sino-Burmese began wearing Mao badges. This violated an official Burmese regulation, and the youthful ‘Red Guards’ in Rangoon were ordered to remove their badges. When some of them refused, anti-Chinese riots swept the capital in June and July. Chinese-run stores were ransacked and looted, and many Sino- Burmese, were killed in their homes. The authorities did not intervene until the mobs stormed the Chinese embassy in Rangoon. Burma’s military leaders orchestrated the riots to deflect attention from the food crisis. The Sino-Burmans were easy targets because many were merchants and controlled a large chunk of the black market that had emerged after the 1962 coup. But by attacking the embassy, mob violence had got out of hand and had to be curtailed.

Ne Win’s military government was denounced as “counter­revolutionary, fascist and reactionary”38 over Radio Beijing, and anti-Burmese demonstrations were held in the Chinese capital. Secretly, more Sino-Burmese from Rangoon and elsewhere were helped by the Chinese embassy to reach the CPB s base area along the Shweli River, to join their comrades who had fled some years before.

A few months after the Chinatown riots in Rangoon, Radio Beijing began accusing the Burmese Army of “border violations,” saying that Burmese forces had intruded into Yunnan and that Burmese aircraft had violated Chinese air space. Foreign observers were somewhat disconcerted, but no one seems to have understood that all this, and the Chinese reaction to the riots, amounted to little more than pretexts for Beijing’s move to support the CPB, which came across the border on New Year’s Day 1968. That decision was taken in 1962, not in 1967. Moreover, preparations on the ground, such as surveying infiltration routes, had been made well before the Chinatown riots.

For Kang’s masterplan to succeed, however, the Chinese and the CPB understood that the ‘new’ communist insurgent movement in Burma could not rely solely on the Burmese intellectual Sichuan laobing or even Naw Seng’s Guizhou laobing, who, apart from a handful of Karen, were exclusively Kachin. From the very beginning, the CPB contacted local ethnic warlords who operated in the border areas. They were not communist but would most certainly become allies if offered new automatic weapons from China, which the CPB had in abundance.

In July 1967, CPB cadres contacted Peng Jiasheng, an ethnic Chinese warlord in Kokang, and brought him to Beijing. He did not become a party member but accepted CPB leadership, and in return, received a generous supply of Chinese weapons. Five days after the capture of Mong Ko, he and his troops entered Kokang from the Chinese side of the border. By August, most of Kokang had been overrun.

West of Mong Ko and opposite the town of Namkham, there were two enclaves north of the Shweli River, which belonged to Burma. Ohn Kyi, a party veteran, came across the border from China in February and linked up with Saya Mong and Bo Kang Yoi, two local Shan rebel leaders. Those two enclaves, Khun Hai and Man Hio were also in CPB hands by August. Around Mong Ko itself, the CPB expanded the territory under its control to include the valleys of Mong Horn and Mong Ya, which were overrun in 1969. The communist juggernaut rolled on, and there seemed to be nothing the Burmese Army could do to stop it. In early 1970, communist troops took over Mong Paw, a small town west of Mong Ko. Then, on March 27, CPB troops armed with mortars, recoilless rifles, and machine guns launched an all­out attack on Panghsai, a garrison town next to Kyuhkok where the Burma Road crosses into China. It took the CPB only a day to capture it. The CPB now controlled territories stretching from the enclaves opposite Namkham to a contiguous area around Panghsai, Mong Ko, and Kokang in the East.39

The CPB also managed to establish a base area in Kachin State. In November 1967, two local commanders in the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Sakhon Ting Ying and Zalum, had broken away and contacted the CPB. The dispute with the KIA leadership was over tribal issues. Most KIA leaders were Jinghpaw, which some Maru were unhappy with. Zalum, a Maru, and Ting Ying, who belonged to the closely related Ngoshan, set up a new base area for the CPB in the mountains around Kambaiti, Pangva, and Hpimaw on the Chinese border in eastern Kachin State.

Fierce battles were fought with the KIA, which, hardly surprisingly, resented communist incursions into what the Kachin considered their territory. That was also a problem for Naw Seng. He was unaware even of the existence of the KIA when he and his men entered Mong Ko on January 1, 1968. Although located in northeastern Shan State, the mountains around Mong Ko are populated by Kachin tribes. Naw Seng found himself fighting his kinsmen, and he resented it. But he had no choice. He had to follow orders from the CPB leadership and their masters in Beijing. In 1969, he was appointed chief of the Northeastern Command of the CPB s army.

The CPB s tactics, which were to win over local warlords, appeared to be working. In 1967, some Akha tribesmen in the mountains near the Burma-Laos-China tri-border junction northeast of Kengtung rose against the Kuomintang due to heavy tax collection and general abuse. Led by Lao Er Ji Pyao and armed with homemade flintlocks, spears, and knives, they ambushed and harassed the Kuomintang incessantly without any outside support. In 1970, the CPB invited Lao Er Ji Pyao and a few of his men to China. According to him, “We were told that we would get modern arms if we joined hands with the CPB.”40 They agreed, and in October 1971, Pe Thaung, the CPBs political commissar in the area, proclaimed the formation of‘War Zone 815.’ The term probably had no meaning to the local Akha; it was named after the founding date of the CPB, August 15, 1939.

In October 1969, the CPB made its first foray into the Wa Hills. The party sent Mya Thaung to the Mong Mau area in the north as he was one of the few Sichuan laobing who had any military experience. After World War II, he came from Bassein in the Irrawaddy delta and was trained by the British Army in Dehra Dun in India. After returning to Burma, he had served with the Burmese military and joined a unit that mutinied after independence in 1948. That unit merged with the CPB, and Mya Thaung went to China in the early 1950s.

He had never seen any Wa before he ventured into their hills to contact local warlords. His assignment was to support any Wa chieftain who was waging a guerrilla war against the government-sponsored militia units.41 Taking advantage of tribal rivalries, he managed to win over two prominent Wa warlords, Zhao Yilai and Bao Youxiang. Zhao was born in 1940 in a small, poor Wa village near the Chinese border. When he was sixteen, his family moved across the frontier to Cangyuan in Yunnan, an area with a sizable Wa population. According to his official biography, Zhao worked in a people's commune before being recruited into a local police force. During that time, he also fought with the Chinese against a Kuomintang unit that had managed to cross the border into Yunnan.42 Back in the Saohpa area of the northeastern Wa Hills in 1967, Zhao and some of his comrades organized a local guerrilla unit that fought against local government-sponsored militia units.

The much younger Bao, born in 1949, came from Hkwin Ma in the northern Wa Hills and spent some time in Cangyuan in his youth. According to the same official account, Bao attended a Chinese primary school from 1959 to 1961 and then returned with his family to Hkwin Ma. At only seventeen years of age, Bao and some other young Wa formed a band against the government's militias.43

It is plausible to assume that Chinese intelligence services were aware of Zhao’s and Bao’s past and current activities and had briefed Mya Thaung before he crossed the border from China and marched into the Wa Hills with a small group of Burmese communists. Such a venture would have been suicidal without prior knowledge of local conditions and whom to contact.

In December 1969, Zhao Yilai and CPB commissar Kyaw Htin launched their first attack on Saohpa, a small garrison of government troops supported by a militia led by Saw Lu, a twenty-seven-year-old Wa. The CPB force overran Saohpa without much difficulty. The CPB had gained its first foothold in the Wa Hills.

However, the advance from Saohpa into other areas of the Wa Hills was slow. Saw Lu was not the only Wa who resisted the newcomers. Throughout history, these fierce and proud tribesmen had managed to resist any outsiders who had come to subdue them. Fighting between the CPB and local bands broke out across the Wa Hills. According to Mya Thaung, “In the Hkwin Ma area, an entire village, including women and children, put up a last stand, barricading themselves inside a longhouse. We fired a B-40 rocket through the door at the end of the longhouse. That finished them all off.”44

Within a year, local resistance had subsided, and the Wa came to accept the CPB s dominance through its superior firepower. Many Wa were now recruited into the CPB s army, and they turned out to be excellent fighters. But most of them were privates, while many of the officers were Kokang Chinese. Nearly all the political commissars, though, were Burmese.

The Peoples Voice of Burma, a clandestine radio station, was officially inaugurated on March 28, 1971, the 23rd anniversary of the CPB uprising, and began transmitting from Mangshi in Yunnan in April. Fighting bulletins were mixed with choirs singing revolutionary songs and announcers extolling the virtues of Marxism-Leninism. The broadcasts were in Burmese and several minority languages, including Wa, whose support was crucial for the survival of the CPB in the northeastern border mountains.

Everything seemed to be going to plan. But those remote areas in northern, northeastern, and eastern Shan State were seen as nothing more than springboards from which the communists would march down to Burma proper and seize important population centers.

In November 1971, the CPB launched a surprise attack on a Burmese army base near Kunlong on the Salween River. The objective was to capture the bridge that connected Kokang with areas west of the river. The Kunlong bridge was one of only two on the Salween River in Shan State. The other was at Ta Kaw on the main highway from Taunggyi to Kengtung in the south. The one at Ta Kaw was old, but the Chinese built the impressive suspension bridge at Kunlong when U Nu was Burma’s prime minister.

The Burmese army outpost was annihilated after a savage eight-hour battle. There were no survivors; all three commanders and their eighty soldiers died in the fighting. The CPB pushed on and took up positions on Shan Tele Mountain, overlooking the Salween River and the bridge. There are very few places where it is possible to cross the fast-flowing Salween and, if the CPB managed to capture the bridge and secure it, it would be an easy task to send thousands of troops to the west bank of the river. From Kunlong, it is only seventy-five kilometers to Hsenwi and another fifty to Lashio, the main town in northern Shan State. A victory at Kunlong would have left the entire north State Shan open for the CPB, and they would have been able to march on to Mandalay and the Pegu Yoma, where their old comrades were still holding out.

The government was aware of this and threw in all possible resources to defend the bridgehead at Kunlong. "The whole area became a war zone,” remembers Aung Myint, a Burmese army officer who took part in the campaign. “Convoys of trucks rumbled down the road to Hsenwi to the river carrying reinforcements and ammunition to the front. Command posts were established everywhere, and the roadside conducted daily weapons drills.”45

The Burmese commander, Tun Yi, was nicknamed ‘Napoleon because he was short and rotund. His first tactic was to charge Shan Tele peak with infantry forces. With fixed bayonets, the soldiers ran uphill, shooting as they advanced through the mountain's forested slopes. But the well-entrenched CPB troops on the top of the hill repelled more than forty such attacks, inflicting heavy casualties.

The firepower of the communists seemed inexhaustible, as was their logistical advantage. Shan Tele was close to the Chinese border, and fresh supplies of bullets and even rations for the CPB soldiers were sent in daily. Wounded CPB soldiers were treated in Chinese hospitals across the border. It also became apparent that most of the CPB’s troops were regulars from the Chinese army, or so-called volunteers, mostly Red Guards, who had joined their Burmese comrades in their fight against Rangoon. “We found tell­tale bodies in the forest on the hillsides,” recalls Aung Myint.46

When the communist forces resorted to Chinese-style human-wave tactics, the situation at Kunlong became desperate. Some defenders fled in disarray, while others deserted and were never seen again. ‘Napoleon Tun Yi ordered his men to mine the bridge with dynamite sticks and blow it up if the outer defenses fell to the CPB. Each battalion commander was ordered to keep one bullet for himself to commit suicide rather than be captured alive by the CPB or have to return in disgrace to Rangoon, where a court-martial was awaiting everyone who deserted his post. It was a do-or-die battle; the biggest and fiercest the Burmese army had ever fought.

A local militia force, led by a Kokang warlord called Luo Xinghan, also took part in the battle, mainly as local guides to help direct infantry assaults and artillery barrages rather than as conventional soldiers. Their knowledge of the terrain was far superior to the Burmese commanders’ whom all came from central Burma and did not even speak the local languages. In return, Luo was permitted to use army vehicles to transport his opium out of the area. Government soldiers would sometimes even come along to assist in protecting his convoys of mules and lorries that carried opium from his base in Lashio down to the Thai border.47

Howitzers were positioned around Shan Tele, and as the CPB soldiers came charging down the mountain in human waves, air-burst shells were fired. They proved effective even against CPB troops inside bunkers. Hundreds of CPB soldiers died, though the artillery had its impact. On January 7, 1972, after forty-two days of continuous fighting, the CPB finally pulled back from Shan Tele. The Kunlong bridge was safe, and so was the road to Hsenwi and Lashio. It was the Burmese army’s first significant victory in the northeast.

Despite the success at Kunlong, the Burmese military realized that it could not defeat the CPB in the northeast and drive them out of the base areas they had established along the Chinese border. But the CPB could be flushed out of its much weaker areas in central Burma, which had not benefited from the supply of Chinese munitions, and in that way, the grand plan to link up the ‘new’ forces with the ‘old’ would be thwarted. With the CPB isolated in the northeastern border mountains, central Burma would be secure.

The first target was the Pegu Yoma. The pyouk-touk-hta purges had depleted the units' ranks and effectively alienated the CPB from the urban intelligentsia. On September 24, 1968, less than a year after the thrust into Mong Ko, the CPBs official chairman, Thakin Than Tun, had been assassinated in the Pegu Yoma by a government infiltrator. He was succeeded by Thakin Zin, who tried to get support from the new powerful forces in the northeast. In 1969, ‘the Butcher’ Taik Aung and about ten cadres were sent to Mong Ko. They did not come back, and by the early 1970s, the government’s offensive against the CPBs old strongholds was in full swing. Communist and Karen insurgents were forced out of the Irrawaddy delta and the Pinlebu area in the north. The old Red Flag faction, never very influential in any case, had almost vanished after its maverick leader, Thakin Soe, was captured in his last base in the Arakan Yoma in November 1970. He was taken to Rangoon and jailed.

In early 1975, a major offensive was launched in the Pegu Yoma. All remaining CPB camps there were overrun, and on March 15, the Burmese army even managed to kill Thakin Zin and his secretary Thakin Chit. The survivors surrendered or fled to the Pokaung range in Magwe Division, where many CPB soldiers managed to hold out until 1979. Very few CPB cadres, probably not more than ten or twenty from the old base areas, ever made it to the new base area in the northeast.48 One of the few who did was Kyaw Mya, the leader of the CPB forces in Arakan. He left his place after the Burmese army had mounted a major offensive there in 1979. But he crossed the border into Bangladesh and went to Dhaka, where the Chinese embassy put him on a plane to Beijing. From there, he went down to the base area in northeastern Shan State. Kyaw Mya told me that was easy: “The Bangladesh authorities were very dose to the Chinese. They let me through, although I didn’t even have a passport.”49 The battle at Kunlong bridge and the ensuing eradication of their old base areas in central Burma turned out to be a turning point for the Burmese communists. The government's army had managed to contain them in remote mountains along the Chinese border, such as Kokang and the Wa Hills, where they did not belong and had never intended to stay. Kang Sheng’s plan to spread the revolution to Burma and beyond had also failed.


1. Interview with then CPB chairman, Thakin Ba Thein Tin, Panghsang.

2. FI. N. Ghoshal assumed the Burmese name Ba Tin when he was elected to the CPBs Central Committee in 1946, but was then referred to as yebaw (‘comrade’) Ba Tin, never, as Martin Smith writes in his book Burma: Insurgency and the Politics of Ethnicity (1991)- London: Zed Press, p. 46. ‘Thakin Ba Tin, I made the same mistake in the first edition of my book The Rise and Fall of the Communist Party of Burma (1990). Ithaca: Cornell University Southeast Asia Program), but corrected it on the online version ( when a CPB veteran pointed out my mistake. Dr. Naag also had a Burmese name, yebaw Tun Maung.

3. Sao Sanda Simms (2017), Great Lords of the Sky: Burma's Shan Aristocracy, p. 30. Self-published under Asian Highlands Perspectives, no. 48, p. 9. Available at http:// shan-aristocracy/hardcover/product-23272477.html 

4. Hans-Bernd Zollner (2006), Myanmar Literature Project, Working Paper no. 10: 2, Universitat Passau, pp. 38-39. Available at mlp10.02-0p.pdf

5. ‘Express Letter from the Chief Secretary to the Govt, of Burma, Police Department, No. 173-C-34,’ dated March 17, 1934, and reproduced in Communism in India: Unpublished Documents 1925-1934 (1980). Calcutta: National Book Agency pp. 177­78. The document does not give the Chinese name for the newspaper, which ceased publication in November 1929.

6. This version of the fate of Aung San and Hla Myaing alias Bo Yan Aung was told to me by several communist veterans during my stay at the CPBs Panghsang headquarters from December 18, 1986 to March 22, 1987.

7. Interview with Kyaw Zaw, Panghsang.

8. Bertil Lintner [1994] (2011), Burma in Revolt: Opium and Insurgency Since 1948. Fourth edition, Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books, pp.75-76.  -

9. Some writers erroneously refer to the two parties as to the CPB (White Flag) and the CPB (Red Flag). No communist party would call itself white flag’ because it was a derogatory term used by Thakin Soe, who accused the party of being ‘revisionist.’ The main party was always called the CPB. It is also incorrect to refer to the Thakin Soes party as the CPB (Red Flag). Therefore, he was an internationalist and did not include ‘Burma in the name of his party but called it the Communist Party (Red Flag). Moreover, the name Burmese Communist Party (BCP), which appeared in government publications and writings by some academics, was never used by the CPB. It was always the Communist Party of Burma in English.

10. Interview with Thakin Ba Thein Tin, Panghsang, December 23, 1986. Yebaw is Burmese for comrade’ and was often used to denote certain leading party members.

11. For the most comprehensive account of the murders in Rangoon’s Secretariat, see Kin Oung (1993), Who Killed Aung San? Bangkok: White Lotus. A second, expanded edition was published in 1996.

12. Fieischman, Klaus (ed.) (1989b), Documents on Communism in Burma 1945-1977. Hamburg: Mitteilungen des Instituts fur Asienkunde, p. 124.

13. Smith (1991), p. 103.

14. Ibid, p. 446.

15. Ibid.

16. Interview with Thakin Ba Thein Tin, Panghsang, December 23, 1986. Interview with Khin Maung Gyi, Panghsang, December 28,1986.

17. Smith (1991), p. 446.

18. Mao Zedong (1967), Selected Works, Volume IV. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, pp. 157-76.

19. Interview with Thakin Ba Thein Tin, Panghsang.

20. Interview with Aye Ngwe, Panghsang.

21. For a chronology of Sino-Burmese relations, see China Foreign Relations: A Chronology of Events 1949-1988 (1989). Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, pp. 207-15.

22. Interview with Khin Maung Gyi, Panghsang, December 28, 1987. 

23. Interview with Thakin Ba Thein Tin, Panghsang, December 24, 1986, Pegu Yoma survivors Aung Sein and Than Maung, Panghsang, December 25, 1986.

24. A Short Outline of the History of the Communist Party of Burma, an official party document dated June 1964 and printed in Beijing. 

25. Interview with San Thu, Panghsang.

26. Interview with one of those ethnic Chinese party members, who requested anonymity.

27. A Short Outline, p. 5.

28. Interview with Thakin Ba Thein Tin.

29. Interview with Aung Sein, Panghsang.

30. 'Key Developments in Chinas 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution (2016), Associated Press (June 2), available at key-developments-chinas-1966-1976-cultural-revolution

31. Those sixteen points are available at

32. Interview with Pegu Yoma survivors Aung Sein and Than Maung, Panghsang.

33. Interview with Thakin Ba Thein Tin, Panghsang.

34. Interview with Pegu Yoma survivors Aung Sein and Than Maung, Panghsang.

35. Several authors have assumed that Thakin Than Myaing was executed during the Cultural Revolution (for instance, Klaus Fleischmann (1989a), Die Kommunistische Partei Birmas: Von den Anfdngen bis zur Gegenwaht, Hamburg: Mitteilungen des Instituts fur Asienkundse, p. 421.) That is incorrect. Several party members  in Panghsang said that he was alive and living in Chengdu. He died in China in the 1990s.

36. Interview with Thakin Ba Thein Tin, Panghsang.

37. See, for instance, Josef Silverstein (1997), Burma: Military Rule and the Politics of Stagnation. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, pp. 178-79* See also Martin Smith (1991) pp. 224-27, and Martin Smith (1994), Ethnic Groups in Burma: Development, Democracy, and Human Rights. London: Anti-Slavery International, p. 59. The situation “became even more desperate in 1968, following anti-Chinese riots in Rangoon, Mao Zedong ordered full-scale backing to the CPB.”

38. David Steinberg, 'Burma Under the Military: Towards a Chronology (1981), Contemporary Southeast Asia, vol. 3, no. 3 (December), p. 262.

39. This account of CPB conquests from 1968 to 1970 is based on party veterans Kyaw Sein, Hla Pe, Lukm Zau, and Mong Ko.

40. Interview with Lao Er Ji Pyao, Man Hpai, April 4, 1987.

41. Interview with Mya Thaung, Mong Mau.

42. Miandian Lianbang Wa BangZhi (A Record of the Wa State of the Union of Burma). (2018), The United Wa State Party, Panghsang, pp. 652-53. Also, interview with Zhao Yilai, Mong Mau, December 11, 1986. Zhao Yilais name can also be spelled Chao Ngi Lai or, with Burmese phonetics, Kyauk Nyi Laing. His Wa name was Ta Lai. Bao Youxiang can also be spelled Bao Yuchang, and his Wa name is Ta Pang.

43. Ibid, p, 675.

44. Interview with Mya Thaung.

45. Interview with ex-officer Aung Myint (not his real name), Bangkok.

46. Ibid.

47. See Adrian Cowells and Chris Menge's excellent 1973 film, The Opium Warlords, which contains an interview with Khun Hseng, Khun Sas's uncle. While listening to intercepted radio messages, he gets the following information: “At present, the Burmese troops are also moving in to help the Kokang Ka Kwe Ye (Luos Kokang militia) to carry down the opium.” That the Burmese army in the early 1970s directly participated in defending the opium convoys from the north to the Thai border has also been confirmed by several former Burmese army officers I have interviewed in Bangkok.

48. Magnus Fiskesjo, in his otherwise excellent research, makes the mistake of assuming that CPB cadres who had been driven out of central Burma established the northeastern base area. See Magnus Fiskesjo (2012), ‘Kinesiska perspektiv pa Wa- folkets historia,’ Kinarapport (in Swedish), (March), p. 82. Available at http://

49. Interview with Kyaw Mya, Panghsang.


For updates click homepage here





shopify analytics