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The Myth of the "Three Shan Brothers" and the Ava Period in Burmese History

Michael Aung-Thwin
The Journal of Asian Studies
Vol. 55, No. 4 (Nov., 1996), pp. 881-901
DOI: 10.2307/2646527
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2646527
Page Count: 21
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The Myth of the "Three Shan Brothers" and the Ava Period in Burmese History
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Abstract

Michael Aung-Thwin challenges the widely held notion that the Ava period was a Shan era in the history of Burma. He attributes this erroneous assumption to colonial historians who repeatedly misread the sources because of their reification of ethnicity and their unconscious prejudice towards this period. As a result, the three famous ministers of the Pagan Court of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and their descendants who established the Ava Dynasty in the late fourteenth century emerged in the colonial literature tagged as ethnic Shan, thus establishing the foundations of the myth of the "Three Shan Brothers." By reexamining indigenous sources and reevaluating the colonial writings that generated this myth, the author finds that there was no contemporary basis for identifying the three ministers as Shan; nor was the Ava period particularly characterized by disorder and fragmentation. Yet these myths gained currency and have greatly colored subsequent interpretations of Burmese history.

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