YANGON — Olive Yang, also known as Yang Jinxiu, the de facto ruler of Kokang in the 1950s, died at the age of 91 in Shan State’s Muse Township on July 13.
Yang, a woman who once had her own army of nearly 1,000 men, was an influential figure in the opium trade of the Golden Triangle region and received the backing of Chinese nationalist Kuomintang (KMT) forces.
She was known for her marksmanship, a skill colored by her proclivity to carry two Belgian army pistols on each hip, according to journalist Bertil Lintner.
In his book Merchants of Madness, he describes her as a “warlady” who was the first to send opium trucks to the Thai border rather than mules. She also had a taste for wearing men’s clothes, according to reports.
Celebrated among the Kokang people, she was commonly referred to in Chinese as the “second daughter of the Yang family.”
Between 1940-50, she set up a free school in Kokang where she invited KMT generals to teach the pupils. Drug lords Peng Jia Sheng and Lo Hsing-han were among her students, according to Kokang media.
She married the son of a chieftain in 1948 and divorced him in 1950. The pair had a son together. After General Ne Win’s 1962 coup, the military removed her and her brother Sao Edward Yang Kyein Tsai, the chief of Kokang, from power.
In the 1960s, she built a big residence in downtown Yangon, keeping a low–profile over the decades she lived there. But in 1989, she played a role in negotiating the ceasefire agreements between Burma (Myanmar)’s military government and the Communist Party of Burma.
At the age of 77 in 2002, she became chronically ill and returned to Kokang the following year.
Kokang media described her as a revolutionary figure in the region who contributed greatly to the local economy and education. The public was also entertained by her personal life, as, according to Bertil Lintner and other writers, she had affairs with popular musicians and famous actresses of the time, including Wa Wa Win Shwe.