What are the Panthays?

Ted H

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Panthays are the oldest group of Chinese Muslims in Burma. They live in the northern regions of Burma (formerly known as Upper Burma), particularly in the Tangyan-Maymyo-Mandalay-Taunggyi area and Shan States. The word ‘Panthay’ is the Burmanized form of ‘Pan-si’, the name these people use for themselves, a term used in Yunnan and not other Chinese provinces. (Wiley Online Library)

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. In the pre-colonial times the Panthays emerged as excellent long-distance caravaneers of southern China and northern Southeast Asia. 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 Tongking, to the southern Chinese provinces of Szechwan, Kweichow and Kwangsi.

The merchandise brought from Yunnan by the Panthay caravaneers included opium, wax, silk cloth, tea, metal utensils, iron in the rough, felts, finished articles of’ clothing, walnuts, 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 (Anderson, 1876, 4). Raw cotton, which was reserved as a royal monopoly, was in great demand in China. Besides the caravaneers, there were other Panthays, though very small in number, who came to Burma, to trade in jades and other precious stones. They were chiefly interested in the jade mines of northern Burma and ruby mines of Mogok. With whatever purpose they had come to Burma, most of these early Panthays, whether caravaneers or precious-stone dealers, had no intention of taking permanent residence in the Burmese Kingdom. They came and went only as itinerant merchants. They were all men who never brought their wives and families along, since alone could have made such perilous and rigorous journeys of those days. This is the reason why no evidence of the existence of Panthay settlement anywhere in the Burmese Kingdom prior to the Konbaung period has yet been found. Beginning from the late Konbaung period, however, the Panthays started to settle in the royal capital of Mandalay, particularly during the reign of King Mindon. Although their number was small, a few of them seemed to have found their way inside the court as jade -assessors. They lived side by side with non-Muslim Chinese (T’ang Chinese) at Tayoktan(Chinatown) which had been designated by King Mindon as the residential area for the Chinese. The T’ang Chinese had started settling in Mandalay considerably earlier than the Panthays so that by the time the latter arrived, there already was a Chinese community at Mandalay, with their own bank, companies and warehouses and some kind of organized social and economic life. 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.

The Panthay rebellion of 1855-73. Islam being a non-indigenous religion of China, the Chinese Muslims Panthays tended to form in China exclusive circles. They resisted the unifying influences of Manchu China, earning for themselves the hatred of the T’ang Chinese of whose oppression they had become victims. Starting from 1855 the Muslim majority of Yunnan had risen against the oppression to which they were subjected by the mandarins. The mandarins had secretly hounded mobs on to the rich Panthays, provoked anti-Muslim riots and instigated destruction of their mosques (Anderson, 1876, 233). The widespread Muslim desire for revenge for insults to their religion led to a universal and well-planned rising. The Panthays came out ahead in the initial phases of’ the rebellion, wresting important cities of the Imperial mandarins. The Chinese towns and villages which resisters were pillaged, and the male population massacred, but the places, which yielded, were spared (Anderson, 1876, 233). 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 appeared in Yunnan. Panthay governorships were also created in a few important cities. The Panthays reached the high watermark of their power and glory in 1860. It was also during this time that King Mindon granted the Panthays were given the rare favor of choosing their own place of residence within the confines of the royal capital, and they chose the site on which the present-day Panthay Compound (Chinese Muslim Quarter) is located. 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.


Other Answers (1)

Panthays form a group of Chinese Muslims in Burma. Some people refer to Panthays as the oldest group of Chinese Muslims in Burma. However, because of intermixing and cultural diffusion the Panthays are not as distinct a group as they once were.

Panthay (Burmese: ပန္းေသးလူမ်ဳိး MLCTS: pan: se: lu myui: 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.[1] 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.[2][3]

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 travelers 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”.





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