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Paper presented to First Thai-Chinese Strategic Research Seminar
, Bangkok, 24-26, Aug., 2012
New evidences of The Phylogenetic relationship of the Thai people in Thailand and the
Zhuang people in China
ASEAN Studies Centre, GXUN,PRC
The Thai people in Thailand and the Zhuang people in China live in different countries and separated
away from each other, but up to now, there are still many similar customs in their daily life such as food, clothing, shelter and method of transportation. The similarity of these customs did not spread, but the two nations at a time in the history of jointly formed, and has been retained so far. Therefore, the Thai race and the Zhuang people have the phylogenetic relationship between them.
In his book The Thai Race: Elder Brother of the Chinese
which was published in 1923, Dodd did some
research on the origin of the Thai race, suggesting that the Thai race originated in the Mount Altai area of China. Now 89 years later, has anyone still believed in Dodd’s opinion? There certainly is. But Dodd’s viewpoint has been obsolete. I believe that there is the phylogenetic relationship between the Thai race in Thailand and the Zhuang people in China. They have the same ancestors of Bai Yue People (a variety of Yue peoples) who used to live in Lingnan (the South of the Five Ridges area) of China.
I. Some Problems about the Thai Race in Thailand
At present, “Thai”
is internationally used to refer to people who use Tai Language. Academics
often apply terms like “Thai Studies”
or “Tai Culture”
, which can be translated into Chinese as “泰学”(tai xue) or “泰文化”(tai wenhua). In such case, one Chinese character “泰”(tai) has two English equivalents---“Thai” and “Tai”, leaving an impression that they refer to the same people and share the same meaning.
Actually it is not the case. “Thai” and “Tai” have different meanings. “Thai” refers to the Thai race or the
Thai people. It is since Thailand changed its name from Siam to Thailand in 1939 that a new meaning has been attached to the word “Thai”. In a broad sense, it means all the citizens of Thailand; while in a narrow sense, it refers to people who speak in Tai Language, share some common customs as their own culture characteristics, like living in stilt houses, having rice and fish for meals, and taking boats as the main transportation vehicles etc. and call themselves “Tai”. It is in the narrow sense that “Thai” is understood as the Thai race. In a broad sense, it can be interpreted as the Thai people. We should also notice that the word “Thai” is used in Vietnam. Its Vietnamese spelling is the same as it is in English. It refers to Tai Dam and Tai Khao who live in Vietnam. But seen from the way they call themselves “Tai Dam” and “Tai Khao”, it’s “Tai”, not “Thai” that is their real name. “Thai” is a new name of ethnic group that the Vietnamese government applies to refer to the race after ethnic identification. In Laos, Tai Dam、Tai Khao and Tai Deng (there are no Tai Deng in Vietnam、 Thailand and Myanmar) are all called “Thai”, which differs from the reference of “Thai” both in Thailand and in Vietnam. Clearly, “Thai” is not the way that an ethnic group calls itself, besides, “Thai” refers to different groups of people in Thailand、 Laos and Vietnam.
Then, what does “Tai” mean? So far there is only one explanation of this term. Ms. Yu Kang from Yunnan
University for Nationalities suggests at the beginning of an essay on the dwellings、 beliefs and customs of the Dai Lue people in Xishuangbanna, that “Khun” in “Khuntai” means “human”, and “tai” means “bag and warehouse”. The reason why the Dai people are called Khuntai is that they adhere to the instructions of their
ancestors to cultivate more virgin lands and feed more livestock so that they lead a happy life with “warehouse filled with food and yard filled with livestock”. That is why the race is called khuntai.
The population of people who call themselves “Tai” is the largest in Zhuang-Thai ethnic groups. In
pronunciation, “T” is an unaspirated voiceless sound. When Dai Lue people in Xishuangbanna of China say the name of their race, the voiceless sound “T” is changed into the voiced sound “D”. In spite of the difference in pronunciation, “Dai Lue” means “human”, the same as “Tai”. A classification of those people calling themselves as “Tai” is shown below in tabular form for better understanding more details of them:
Table: 17 Names of Different Tai People and Their Distribution
Main Area of Their Distribution
Xishuangbanna (China), Luang Namtha and Louang Phabang (Laos), Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai (Thailand), Lai Chau and Dien Bien Phu (Vietnam)
Xishuangbanna and Dehong (China)； Luang
Shan State (Myanmar)；Central Part of Thailand
Shan State (Myanmar)；North Thailand；Bokeo
The table above does May not cover all those people who call themselves “Tai”, because in Laos、
Thailand、 and Myanmar, some groups of people identify themselves by the name of the places of residence. Although the first three letters of their names are “Tai”, they do not deserve objects of our research, therefore they are not listed in the table above. Especially, we can do nothing to figure out how many groups of people who identify themselves as “Tai” in Shan State of Myanmar so far, leaving a blank to be completed in the future.
The above analysis on “Thai” and “Tai” drives us to a conclusion: the English equivalent of the Chinese
character “泰” is “Tai” which means “human” rather than “Thai”. It is doubtful that many scholars suggest “Tai” means free man.
In Thailand, it is believed that “Tai” means “free man”, which reflects that people of Thailand have freed
from the reign of Khmers and become free men. In Laos, same as in Thailand, Mon-Khmers are called “Theung”, which means “slaves or people in humble status”. It indicates that the “Lao” race is opposed to the “Theung” race and governs the Mon-Khmers. It also demonstrates the fact that the “Lao” people conquered and ruled the “Theung” people, and of course rulers are free men. The “Thai” race in Thailand might experience the same history as the “Lao” race. After the “Thai” people had become rulers, they were also opposed to the “Theung” race, which attached the new meaning of “free man” to the word “Tai”. The original
meaning of “Tai” should be “human”. If “Tai” meant “free man” from the very beginning, how can we explain people identify themselves as “Tai” in Vietnam、 Myanmar and China who have never been ruled and then been the ruler? Therefore, the real meaning of “Tai” is “human”.
The “Tai” race in Thailand deserves specific analysis. In Thailand, people who call themselves “Tai”
include three branches: Tai Yai, or Tai Luang、 Tai Noi and Tai Dam. Some races name themselves after the names of their places of residence, for example, people who live in Khorat Plateau are called “Tai Khorat”. Such means of naming is likely to cause confusion, so it will not be applied in this essay. The Tai Yai people mostly live in north Thailand. They are also called “Tai Nua” or “Tai Mao”, because they originally resided in “Muang Mao”----a large border area between China and Myanmar, with Dehong (Yunnan Province of China) as the centre. Afterward, the Tai Yai people migrated to Shan State of Myanmar, and successively moved from North Thailand to the Middle and South Thailand, and a small group of them settled down in Laos. Although we can not find any account about the Tai Yai people’s settlement in Laos, when I did some surveys in Chiang Xieng and Chiang Khong----two places in Chiang Mai of Thailand in August of 2005, I was told by local people that those living on the other side of Mekong River in Laos are “Tai Yai” people.
The branch of Tai Noi gets its name when taking Tai Yai as the point of reference. Rui Yifu holds that the
Tai Noi people are decedents of Siamese before 1939, and Xu Songshi believes that most of the Tai Noi people live in South of Thailand, serving as backbone in people of Thailand. After investigation, Joachim, a German scholar, also thinks “Tai Noi” is one of the another name used by the modern Thai race of Thailand. Living on plains in central Thailand, they are the main ethnic group and account for one third of the total population of Thailand.
Why people distinguish the Tai Yai from the Tai Noi? One explanation is that “there are many branches in
the Thai race, and they are commonly called the Tai Yai and the Tai Noi. Those who moved southward first are called Tai Noi, and the others who moved there later or stayed in Yunnan are called Tai Yai.” Another explanation is that Tai Yai is “a branch of the eldest Shan people”, which was quoted from a western scholar named Dalton by Yang Yongsheng.
The “Tai” race is divided into different branches by color as well. They are Tai Dam、 Tai Khao and Tai
Deng, scattering in Northwest Vietnam and Laos’ northern and northeastern borders upon Vietnam. The Tai Dam、 Tai Khao and Tai Deng people in Xam Nua of Laos migrated from Vietnam, that is to say, they originally resided in an area of Vietnam with Dien Bien Phu as the centre. Why the race is divided by color? Chinese and foreign scholars hold different suppositions. German scholars believe it can be explained by the names of rivers in their places of residence. The Tai Dam people live by the Black River in Vietnam. The “Ou” in Nam Ou River has a meaning of milk in Laotian language, which is white, for which the Tai Khao is named. Vietnamese scholars cannot understand this problem, either. They are doubtful about the explanation that the Tai Dam people wear black dress and black scarf so they are called Tai Dam and the same with the Tai Khao, for they notice that the Tai Dam people occasionally wear white dress and white scarf too. When I made surveys in Laos, I paid attention to the classification of Tai Dam、 Tai Khao and Tai Deng, and I was also told that they are classified by the color of their clothes. Maybe the color of clothes as the criterion is the best answer so far.
The Tai Deng people only reside in Laos, not in Vietnam、 Thailand、 Myanmar or China. They dwell in
a concentrated manner in three counties of Sam To、 Muong Xoi and Xieng Kho, Houaphan of Laos. These three counties are bounded on by northwest Tinh Thanh Hoa of Vietnam and Moc Chau County in Son La of Vietnam. The Tai Deng people in Laos say they moved from Muong Khong、 Muong Ca Da and Muong Deng of Tinh Thanh Hoa (Vietnam) and Muong Mun and Muong Ha of Hoa Binh (Vietnam). They have settled in Laos for nine or ten generations (about 200 years). Their answer to the question why they are called
Tai Deng is that in funerals, daughters and daughters-in-law of the dead must be dressed in red mourning. Another explanation is that they originally resided in southwest China, migrating to Vietnam along the Red River, reaching Tinh Thanh Hoa at first and finally settling in Laos. They are named after the Red River. The third explanation is that they are called Tai Deng because their original residence in Vietnam is Moung Deng. It is for sure that the Tai Deng people of Laos have moved from Vietnam, but it’s difficult to know when and from where they moved to Vietnam. Therefore the Tai Deng people should also be included in the groups who identify themselves as Tai.
The Tai Dam people reside in Laos and Vietnam, with the majority in Vietnam. In Thailand, there also
live Tai Dam people. One part of them live in a village of Chiang Khan County of Loei, who had migrated from a place currently called Dien Bien Phu in 1882. The other part scattered in several provinces of the central Thailand, who were captured by Siam army from a place currently called Dian Bien Phu during the period from the end of 18th century to the beginning of 19th century. Such people are called Lao Song and Lao Song Dam.
The Ahom people in India also call themselves Tai. The name Ahom was given by local people in Assam
of India. There is another interpretation that Ahom refers to such a group of people who moved from the inland of Myanmar to Assam and defeated Barahi and Moran. The Ahom people moved from Mengmao of China to Assam under the leadership of Sue-Ka-Phaa. Afterwards they still regarded Mengmao as their native land and remained courtesy exchanges with people in Mengmao. It is quite right for some Chinese scholars to hold that the Ahom people are Dai people moving from Dehong of Yunnan province (China), for Dehong is within the original administration territory of Mengmao.
Some scholars classified those people who use Tai language in the northeast India as two categories: one
uses Tai language in daily life while the other does not. The latter refers to Ahom while the former refers to groups like Phake, Khamti, Aiton, Kangyang and so on. Such point has obviously put Ahom on a par with groups like Phake, Khamti, Aiton and Kangyang, which means there are five ethnic groups using Tai language in northeast India. Chinese linguists used to divide Ahom into 5 branches of Tai-Ahom, Tai-Khamte, Tai-Pharkit, Tai-Aiton and Tai-Tulong. Kangyang was not included, while Tai-Tulong appeared as a new one. Actually, Kangyang is quite different from Tai-Tulong. In Gogoi’s book, Kangyang was paralleled with Turong. Consequently, it seems that there are six branches of peoples or groups using Tai language in the northeast India. As to whether these six branches can be called by a joint name of “Ahom men” or “Ahom people” or “Assamese”, the current Chinese materials have gone their own way without a universal conclusion. Table 1 above lists all of these six branches. For the convenience of writing, the author applied the term “Ahom people” to indicate those using Tai language in the northeast India.
The “Tai” race should also contain Phu Thai people. Phu Thai people mainly live in places such as
Savannkhet and Khammuane in Laos and Nakhon Phanom and Skon Nakhon in northeast Thailand. Phu Thai people in Thailand moved across the Mekong River from Laos 130 years ago. They were not mentioned in W.A. Graham’s book in 1924, while they first appeared in Erik Seidenfaden′s book published in 1930. Up to 2003, the population of Phu Thai people in Thailand accounted for 70,000; and that in Laos was 187,391 in 2005. The origin of Phu Thai people has not been known for sure. Some scholars think they are from Guangxi of China, which needs more evidence to prove. In a word, the origin of the “Tai” race has attracted the long-term attention among academics worldwide. As it is related to the big issue of how to review the traditional territory of China, Chinese scholars have made responses to be reckoned with. The area where the Zhuang-Thai ethnic groups who call themselves as “Tai” live is shown in slash as below.
This essay claims to survey those people who call themselves “Tai” as a whole in order to meet the needs
of doing an overall research on the “Tai” race. Considering what has been listed above about the various
groups who call themselves “Tai”, the currently-recognized independent groups such as Dan、Dai、Tai even Ahom could be classified into the “Tai” race. Thus, Zhuang-Tai ethnic groups out of China just contain peoples such as Tai、Lao、Dai and Nong. The number of groups is less while the classification is clearer.
. Some problems about Zhuang People in China
Now the most influential book written in English about Zhuang people is Creating the Zhuang :ethnic
politics in China by Kate Palmer Kaup. The main idea of this book is that the Zhuang people have not initially existed but they were created by Chinese Communist Party. The author is a scholar on political science rather than ethnology, so she knows little about the theories and methods of the ethnic origin. She just noticed the event that the Zhuang people were recognized by Chinese government as an ethnic group in 1950s, rather than the basic fact that they have been living in China before the recognition. So the conclusion drawn by the author is only a comment and statement to what happened in 1950s, rather than a discussion about the origin of the Zhuang people.
The Zhuang people originate in China. Many scholars relate the Zhuang people to Bai Yue people (a
variety of Yue Peoples) recorded in history books in ancient China. The earliest record of Bai Yue can be seen in The Spring and Autumn of Lv Buwei, written in 221 B.C., which indicates “Bai Yue peoplelived in the whole area of Yang Zhou and Han River”. In 82 A.D., namely, 300 years later, Ban Gu mentioned in History of the Han Dynasty that “in a vast land covering 7000-8000 kilometers from Jiao Zhi to Hui Ji, Bai Yue people (a variety of Yue Peoples) lived together and each group had its own name”. Such description reflects that the area where Bai Yue people lived had expanded southwards to Jiao Zhi (the recent Vietnam).
Now Lingnan (the South of the Five Ridges area), Yun-Gui (Yunnan and Guizhou) Pleteau and the north
Vietnam are still the areas where the Zhuang people and their homologous peoples such as Dai、Nong、Buyi、Molao、Maonan and Li widely scatter. The fact shows there is an inheritance relationship in the residence area from Bai Yue people to current peoples mentioned above. It is true that the Zhuang people have initially existed and their ancestors are Bai Yue people.
. New evidences of the phylogenetic relationship of the Thai people in Thailand and the Zhuang
people in China
The affirmation of phylogenetic relationship of Thai people in Thailand and the Zhuang people in China
should be based on sufficient scientific evidence. In the former researches of the Thai-Zhuang relationship, the accordance in vocabulary, pronunciation, meaning, grammar and metaphor between the languages used in the two peoples has been affirmed, which drawing the conclusions that the two peoples use the same language and share the same origin. Same language means same origin.
In this essay, comparisons between Thai and Zhuang people are made in four aspects to find some new
evidences: accordance in the name of plants, place name in Muang, the function of chairs and tables, similarity of numerals.
1.The same name of plants is the results of common knowledge for a plant,is a reference factor to identify
whether the national origin is homologue.The same name of Chinese cabbage,taro,and so on in Zhuang and Thai ethnic group is another evidence to identify their"the same root nation".Their different names of tobacco,corn,sweet potato and other exotic plants shows their differentiation of homology.The fact that Thai and Lao do not distinguish between mustard and cabbage indicates that they had left China’s Lingnan region in the sixth century AD.
2. Muang is a very popular play name in peninsula Southeast Asia.It is distributing in the connected
area of outhwestern China,northwestern Vietnam,Laos,Thailand and the Shan State of Burma.Its original meaning is "a piece of land".Later,it had changed into "country","city".Muang became a social organization of the Zhuang-Tai People.The emerged time of Muang was about 9～10 century.
3.The usage of chair and desk: the reference of time of breakup of zhuang and tai
Pursuing comfortableness is the basic momentum of human continuously innovating and
improving indoor furniture. During the Wei and Jin dynasty, chair and desk appeared in central areas of
china，thereafter was introduced to the rest of china, making china as the cradle of oriental chair and desk
culture. Living history of Zhuang and Tai also experienced the change form no chair and desk available to
utilizing chair and desk in daily live. However，so far most proportion of Zhuang and Tai population still do
not use chair and desk, the Zhuang, Dong of china and the Dai, Nong of Vietnam who have use chair and desk
are the section of those nationalities under the influence of Han Culture from central china. On these grounds,
we can say the breakup of Zhuang and Tai nationality is before the Wei and Jin dynasty.
4. From Numeral to Discuss the Disintegrated Time and Started Migration Site of the Zhuang-Tai
After compared the Numeral in the languages of the Zhuang,Dai,Tai,Nong,Thai, Laotian with
those of Vietchinese,Cantonese,Ping Hua,the author have discovered that all the numeral of these languages
are closely similar. It means that the Zhuang-Tai Ethnic Groups had borrowed the Chinese numeral from the
Guangxin Dialect,an official language used in the area in the southern China at the end of the Tang
dynasty.The end of the Tang dynasty should be the time of the disintegration of the Zhuang-Tai Ethnic
Groups.The area of the Guangxin Dialect should be the departure station of the migration of the
Dai,Tai,Nong,Thai, Laotian ethnic groups.
The conclusions made from the above four comparisons are universal, with more similarities than
differences. If Mr. Dodd were still alive, I think he will agree with me. This is partly because I am one member of the Zhuang people, talking about things of my own people. I of course know that our research should be based on scientific attitude rather than emotion. It is expected by all scholars in this field to interpret the relationship between Thai people and Zhuang people in a scientific way and to get convincing conclusion.
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