The Shan people are a distinct ethnic group that today constitute Myanmar’s largest minority group. However, from the 13th until the 16th Century, they dominated most of the country. They traces their origins back to the Tai Kingdom of Mao legendarily founded in 93 B.C. The Tai people rose established numerous small kingdoms across the lands of modern Thailand, Laos. and Myanmar. It is from these independent kingdoms from which the unified Shan state would emerge early in the 13th Century. After successfully repelling the Mongol invasions, Shan armies capture the capital of the rival Pagan Kingdom and entered the period of their greatest power.
The Shan are largely Buddhist, and their language and customs are closely related to the Thai and Laotians, their neighbors to the south and east who also trace their ancestry back to the Tai people. In the 19th Century, long after Shan power had eroded, they were distributed among thirty petty states that paid tribute first to the Burman King, then to the British. This arrangement remained more or less in tact until 1922 when the Federated Shan States were joined together. In 1947, a unified Shan States was created under the Burmese Constitution. Although much of their autonomy has been relinquished to the central government, the Shan retain their unique cultural identity and ethnic heritage.