In the late 1940s and early 1950s two of the most important events in the twentieth century took place on the Asian mainland. In 1949 there was a revolution in China which brought the Chinese Communist Party to power, and in 1954 the Việt Minh defeated the French and brought an end to decades of colonial rule.
How do we write about these events? Was the Communist Revolution a victory? Not to the KMT it wasn’t. So how should we write about it? From the victors’ standpoint, or from the perspective of those who lost? How about what transpired in Vietnam? Should we refer to it as a victory or a loss?
There is nothing in events themselves which can determine this. It all depends on the perspective that the historian takes.
With those thoughts in mind, yet another perspective about these events occurred to me recently as I was reading through the New Times of Burma for the early months of 1954.
On February 20, 1954 the New Times of Burma reported that KMT remnants were reported to be “terrorizing and endangering lives,” that elders were being held at ransom and that women were being kidnapped.
Some of the places that they were reported to be terrorizing were the villages of Mong Khak, Mong Lwe, Mong Yang and Mong Pawk.
On February 23, the same paper reported that the 18-day Việt Minh siege of Muong Sai had been lifted.
Finally, on March 9, 1954 the New Times of Burma carried a report of a campaign on the part of the Burmese army against the KMT remnants in Burma. It stated that the Burmese army was converging on a strategic site called Mong Ton.
What is significant about these articles? What struck me was the place names mentioned: Mong Khak, Mong Lwe, Mong Yang, Mong Pawk, Muong Sai and Mong Ton. These are all settlements of Tai peoples.
Remnants of the KMT army fled into Burma, and the Việt Minh fought the French in Laos. In both instances, Tai were caught in the crossfire.
Were we to write a history of that period from their perspective, what would it look like?