Shan - Orientation

Identification. The people refer to themselves as "Tai," often with a second term identifying their particular Tai group. "Shan" is a Burmese term that Europeans use. The word "Shan," used by colonial writers, refers to any non-Siamese Tai group. Burmese refer to these people as "Shan" and many of these people also use "Shan" as a broad label to refer to themselves and other lowland Tai peoples in Myanmar (Burma), southern China, and northern Thailand. Siamese refer to Shan living in Thailand and in the northern area of the Shan State as "Thai Yai" (big Thai) ; the people in this area refer to themselves as "Tai Long" (great Tai). Northern Thai refer to Shan as "Ngio" or "Ngiaw," a term Shan find pejorative. Chinese refer to Shan living in southern China as "Dai" or "Pai-I." There are a number of different Tai groups living in this area, including the Tai Lu, similar to the Northern Thai; Tai Mao, similar to the Tai Long, who refer to them as "Tai Nu" (northern Tai) or "Tai Khe" (Chinese Tai). Those in Kengtung, Myanmar, refer to themselves as "Tai Khun."

Location. Shan are widespread in mountain valleys in southern China, eastern Myanmar (the Shan State), and northern Thailand. As in the rest of monsoon Asia, there is a hot dry season from February until June, when the rains begin. These last until October or November, followed by a colder season until February. In the higher elevations of Myanmar and southern China there are frosts.

Demography. Population estimates are practically meaningless. Reports from Myanmar systematically underreport minority populations; a 1931 British census reported 1.3 million Shan in Burma. Thai census figures do not include a separate Shan figure since most are Thai citizens. The third Chinese national census, in 1982, lists the number of Dai as 839,000.

Linguistic Affiliation. Shan speak Thai, linguistically related to Siamese and Lao. Tai Long, Tai Mao, Tai Khun, and Tai Lu all have separate scripts: Tai Long resembles Burmese; Tai Mao, an angular Tai Long; and Tai Khun and Tai Lu, Northern Thai. The scripts were primarily used for religious texts and court chronicles. Most men learned to read and write when they were ordained as novices or monks; some women also learned to read and write.

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