On This Day

The Day Myanmar’s Rebellious Prince Died in Exile

By Wei Yan Aung 4 January 2021

Yangon — On this day in 1946, Prince Saw Yan Paing, a grandson of King Mindon, who attempted to fight the British with military assistance from China, died in Mengzi in China’s Yunnan Province. He was 81.

He and his brother, Saw Yan Naing, the sons of the prince of Mekkhaya, were known as the Chaunggwa princes as they rose against the British based in Chaunggwa, Inwa (then Ava), after King Thibaw was sent into exile. The British colonial authorities offered rewards for their arrest.

A plot was hatched in 1887 in Mandalay to put Prince Saw Yan Paing on the throne. The plan was foiled by the British, who arrested his brother, Saw Yan Naing. He then fled to Shan State and continued his resistance movement with support from a feudal Hsenwi lord and Kachin chieftains.

Following fierce attacks by the British in 1890, the prince relocated to Yunnan. He rejected repeated British offers to return and sought assistance from the Manchurian government to oppose the British. He asked the Guangxu emperor, Zaitian, in China to give him troops but the emperor asked him to stay in China and see how matters developed.

Prince Saw Yan Paing was kept informed about the independence movement by Burmese Buddhist monks. He also asked Sun Yat-sen for help when the nationalist leader took power.

With the rise of Burmese nationalism in the 1920s, he asked his sons who had grown up in China to challenge British rule in Hsenwi and Muse in Shan State and Myitkyina and Bhamo in Kachin State. He asked his son, Saw Ne Win, to live in Yangon (then Rangoon), so he could participate in Burmese politics. He met Saya San, who would later lead a peasants’ rebellion against British rule, and Thakhin Kodaw Hmaing, who the British labeled an “enemy of the state”.

Chiang Kai-shek and Japan refused to support the prince as Sun had.

The prince moved to Mengzi when Japanese forces attacked Tengchong in southwest China in 1942. The prince, known by the Chinese name “Chiang-Kuo”, reportedly participated in the anti-Japanese movement. He purportedly liked to wear Chinese clothes and spoke fluent Chinese. He allegedly asked that the phrase “the tomb of Prince Chiang-Kuo, the eldest grandson of Burmese King Mindon, who lived in Tengchong” be written in Chinese on his grave.

Burmese independence was secured on Jan. 4, 1948, exactly two years after the death of Prince Saw Yan Paing, who had lived in Yunnan for more than five decades.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko

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