Tuesday, February 19, 2013

1902 Shan Rebellion in Northern Thailand (3)

Captain Hans Jensen.
Captain Marqvard Jensen’s bravery is not forgotten, and his name has been recalled now and then through all these years. In 1929 a Dane, Mr. Steiner wrote to The Committee for The Danish Society and told them that the original eight foot tall memorial post at kilometer 130 had fallen to pieces. It bore the inscription: ‘Here fell Captain Jensen in a battle with the Shan’ (translated from Thai).

Mr. Steiner then collected two pieces with the inscription and forwarded them to the Society. He then suggested that the small area where the Captain actually fell, 30 meters from the road should be registered and that a small memorial stone should be placed there. He asked the Society to bear the expenses. Someone financed a small durable memorial, which is still there today.

Recently a foreign friend told Mr. Torben Poulsen, a Dane residing in Chiang Mai, that the inscription on the obelisk of Hans Marqvard Jensen was no longer readable and the stone was dirty. He asked the Embassy for support to renovate the memorial, but in the end found that all he needed was some scouring powder and a bit of elbow grease. He then did the job himself.

And so, the name of the courageous Danish Captain who broke the back of the Shan rebellion and helped the Kingdom regain control of the North is again readable and his reputation lives on – at least among us who live here, know the conditions and respect him.

Original article about Danish Captain Hans Jensen.
Dr. Briggs and the Shan Rebellion (Battle of Chiangrai)

After working in Lampang 10 years, Canadian Doctor William A. Briggs wanted to carry enlightenment and advancement to legendary T’ai people way up the Mekong, in Sipsongpanna, China - even further from the emerging modern world than the cities of Lampang, Lamphun and Chiang Mai, which, large though they were, had no connecting highways, railroads, telegraph or even effective (rapid, anyway) boat connections to the world at large.

The north of Siam wasn’t even as advanced, safe or comfortable as it had been 500 years beforehand; and Yunnan was quite a bit more backward. There was exciting work to be done, and Dr. Briggs wanted to do it.

For 100 years Canada had been a successful colony; India the jewel of empire, had been a success for Britain twice that long. Four hundred years before, filthy Europeans had begun spreading disease and death throughout the globe we call our world; hundreds of millions died premature deaths due to European ignorance, aggressiveness and lack of hygiene and manners.

But, as a result of the food sources and stimulants they’d found and brought home, for a hundred years there’d been ample energy devoted to growth and development. Russia had expanded east, civilizing much of Siberia, and the world was becoming industrialized, with electricity, motors, steel, interchangeable parts and many important advances in scientific understanding.

It appeared as if the white man’s sins would be counter-balanced by contributions; soon the world would not only be understood, but well-managed, polite and happy. Surely, to Briggs’s mind, all that was needed was for good men to spread science and Christianity.

In modern times, the presumption of offering advice in a host’s home has been cruelly obvious to the few sensitive expats trying to politely fit in, but Briggs wasn’t just a guest, or missionary. He was a doctor, engineer, social scientist and agriculturalist well-welcomed for his skills and energetic hard work.

The American Presbyterian Mission of New York, for whom he worked, though, wouldn’t send him further than Chiangrai. It was wild and dangerous enough there: tigers still were found roaming the few streets at night, and not so far off in ChiangSaen was a community of dacoit bandits.

Farengi/Farang (the term comes from Frank, used by Persians, many of whom were traders but a few Siamese Court officials) in the area were few, though Brits had come to Chiang Mai as early as 1829 (to purchase elephants, oxen and buffalo) and had attached the Shan States in 1886.

The French made a clear declaration of their intentions on Laos in 1893. What later became the province of Chiang Rai had only about 5000 people, when Dr Briggs came, with the little “city” under Doi JomTong only 500. This was remote enough, the danger already great enough, the Presbyterian Mission surely felt.

Indeed, it was so. After five years in his new position, Dr Briggs found himself at war.

But what a strange war. The people he fought were people he was the chief governmental representative of, although they were from Burma and this was in Siam! For, in addition to everything else, Briggs served as British consul for Chiangrai, a very important position, due to the teak trade.

Christian missionaries and clergymen began helping plan educational, medical and health matters, construction and town mapping. The most important person in planning the modern ChiangRai City was Dr. Briggs.

In addition to founding the areas first hospital (Overbrook), he mapped out official building areas, business areas, residential areas, recreation areas, a prison, and a military camp (with another hospital), with a drainage ditch around the town. Officials from Bangkok, come to implement the new administrative structures, didn’t help much: they imposed harshly excessive taxes, supposedly meant to replace corveé labor. Traditional demands for unpaid labor didn’t end, though.

Shan ruby-miners, teak-workers and road-builders, nominally British subjects in an area economically dominated by the British, began rebelling in July 1902. They seized Chiang Mai, killing over 20 officials there. Other Shans beheaded the Siamese governor at Phrae, sacked the town and murdered all Siamese they could find. With Phrae’s hereditary ruler along, they marched on Lampang. Shans revolted in Nan and attacked ChiangRai too, but were defeated by Dr Briggs and companions, barricaded in their hospital with a canon.

Those rebels fantasized establishing their own independent state. Whether this was to be a revival of Lanna is unclear; there is a Shan belief in a King Surakhanfa the Great (1291 - 1364) who ruled Ahom, Dali, Keng Tung, Chiang Saen, Luang Prabang, Lampun, Sukhotai, Chiang Mai, Pegu, Ava and even Mergui (a small port way to the south).

Shans did rule the Ava Kingdom (some say including Assam and Lampun) until the middle of the 16th century. Their rendition of history excludes any idea of Lanna, except as another Shan principality. At the time of the rebellion, Indian and Chinese money was at least as common as Siamese (similarly as Thai and Chinese money is used in Shan State now).

The Siamese and few remaining Khon Muang (Lanna people), quite equally, saw themselves as distinct from each other. Perhaps the Shan workers expected not only local, but also British, support. They didn’t get it.

According to Singkaew Suriyakam, a “troop of Shans from the Shan States numbering 200 strong tried to plunder the city of Chiangrai. They encamped on the opposite bank of the river. At that time the river was high. There was a bridge made of bamboo across the river. The news of the approaching force come suddenly, therefore hasty preparations had to be made to defend the city.

The police force was not properly organized and no army barracks was nearby. Before the enemy came near the city, the rulers, acting on the suggestion made by Dr. Briggs, sent post-haste to the barracks at Chiangmai an appeal for troops. Moreover Dr. Briggs advised the ruling prince of Chiangrai to arrest all Shans and Burmese living in the city and confine them in the precincts of Phra Singh Temple and hold them as hostages, fearing that the Shans would act as spies or what people today call a "fifth column."

The people who lived along the banks ran away into the forest. Well-to-do people who had elephants and big families did as Phya Pakdirajakit, a next door neighbor to Dr. Briggs. He put all his family on the backs of elephants and they fled north of the city. Many Christian and non-Christian families took refuge in the house of Dr. Briggs, which offered convenience and protection.”

Today's Chiang Rai Map.
Dr Briggs “hoisted a big Union Jack flag in front of his house so that it could be clearly seen from the other end of the bamboo bridge. This action on his part reminded the invaders that their official head was in this residence and that no guns were to be aimed in that direction.

At that time the writer of this story was a child and his mother took him to Dr. Briggs' house too. His mother told him later that Dr. Briggs ordered all refugees to lie flat on the ground should firing of guns occur. The writer himself was forced to lie flat under the bed of Dr. Briggs.

The bamboo bridge mentioned above was just opposite to the present-day police station. The ruling princes of that time placed an old mortar with its muzzle pointed to the bridgehead on the other bank ready to fire at any moment. The bamboo mat floor in the middle of the bamboo bridge, where the current was very strong, had been removed and a camouflaged floor had been put in its place in order to lure the enemy to be drowned there.