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.