Nanzhao Subjugates Pyu

The Nanzhao completed their conquest of Pyu, forcing the Pyu to migrate northward, and eventually formed a cultural center at Pagan, which became the center of the Pagan Empire, the first organized kingdom of Burma.

Summary of Event

During the eighth and ninth centuries, China’s imperial domination began to wane, resulting in the rise of independent city-states such as the Shan kingdom of Nanzhao (modern-day Yunnan Province), the Mon in lower Burma, and the Pyu in the Irrawaddy Valley. The Nanzhao began to consolidate their kingdom during this period, and they emerged as a threat to Chinese territory during the Tang Dynasty (T’ang; 618-907). [kw]Nanzhao Subjugates Pyu (832)
[kw]Pyu, Nanzhao Subjugates (832)
Pyu;conquest of
Southeast Asia;832: Nanzhao Subjugates Pyu[0880]
Expansion and land acquisition;832: Nanzhao Subjugates Pyu[0880]
Government and politics;832: Nanzhao Subjugates Pyu[0880]
Kublai Khan

The Pyu, a Tibetan-Burmese tribe, established city-kingdoms in the Irrawaddy Valley during the first century b.c.e. By 128 b.c.e., they offered an alternative route for goods traveling between China and India, a network that would be used extensively by the Chinese and Roman empires. Their chief capital city and the base of their political power was Shrikshetra, located at the mouth of the Irrawaddy River. The city acted as a crucial portage stop for ships in the Gulf of Siam because it was a shorter route to India. This trade network helped make Pyu culture flourish and facilitated the development of a lucrative economy. The Pyu economy was essentially agricultural; the major cash crop was rice. However, trade in precious metals allowed the Pyu to erect elaborate brick palaces and pagodas with gold-decorated interiors and lead-tile roofs. Artisans also honed their skills with works made from crystal, gold, silver, jade, and tin. The Pyu eventually claimed sovereignty to eighteen tribes.

The Mon Mons lived to the south of the Pyu and spoke an Austro-Asiatic language. The port of Thaton was their capital and became an important trade city to India through the Malay peninsula. Between the first and fourth centuries, prosperity increased, and the Mon readily embraced Indian culture, law, and Theravāda Buddhism. The Mon shifted their political center to a delta region near the Pegu River, taking complete control of the trade network in southern Burma. The Mon never were able to form an empire but instead formed a loose confederation of states. They reached their peak of power during the seventh and eighth centuries.

By the eighth century, the Nanzhao state had evolved into the dominant power in southwestern China. In 751, Nanzhao broke off relations with China, and forty years later gained complete autonomy. In the late 700’, the Nanzhao, led by King Kolofeng Kolofeng , penetrated northern Burma, spreading their rule throughout the Irrawaddy River Valley and gradually coming into contact with the Pyu. By the 800’, the Nanzhao had made Pyu a vassal state. In 802, both Nanzhao and Pyu sent emissaries to the Tang Tang Dynasty;Nanzhao and court, opening up political relations and the negotiation of commercial agreements. However, over the next fifty years, the Nanzhao’s expansionist policies allowed them to defeat the Pyu, obtain crucial trade routes, capture Hanoi, and raid adjacent territories controlled by the Mon, a kingdom in lower Burma. Nanzhao was not able to take over the Mon, but the Pyu were not so fortunate. In 832, Nanzhao completed its capture of Pyu, already a vassal. The Nanzhao also invaded the Chinese portion of Sichuan but were defeated in 875. The Nanzhao would remain independent until they were conquered by the Mongols under Kublai Khan Kublai Khan in 1253.


The downfall of the Pyu in 832, the continuous plundering by the Nanzhao, and the decline of the Tang Dynasty disturbed the balance of trade and political power in the region. The Pyu were forced to migrate farther north, and a subsequent merger of local tribes led to the rise of the first Burmese empire, which endured from the eleventh to the thirteenth century. With the decline of Prome, the Pyu moved two hundred miles north and formed a new cultural center at Pagan. The Burmese took the opportunity for political unification of the region. Migrations;Pyu north to Pagan

In 1044, Anawrahta Anawrahta seized power and reigned for thirty-three years over the Pagan Empire Pagan Empire (1044-1287). Anawratha consolidated power by various means. First, he captured the Mon capital and forcibly relocated the royal family, craftspeople, and monks to Pagan. Then, he strengthened northern military defenses against the Nanzhao, created marriage alliances, explored new economic resources, and adopted Theravāda Buddhism in order to stabilize the empire. The Pagan Empire became the first organized kingdom of Burma, and it remained strong until 1287, when it was defeated by Mongol armies. Reunification would not occur until the sixteenth century.

Further Reading

  • Aung, Maung Htin. The History of Burma. New York: Columbia University Press, 1967. Traces the history of Burmese social, political, and religious institutions from Burma’s earliest kingdoms through the advent of British colonization and the regaining of independence. Includes a chronological table; a king list, 1044-1885; and bibliographical notes.
  • Cowan, C. D., and O. W. Walters, eds. Southeast Asian History and Historiography: Essays Presented to D. G. E. Hall. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1976. A series of essays dedicated to Hall, an emeritus professor of Southeast Asian history at the University of London and Cornell University. The papers reflect a wide range of topics, including anthropology, history, economics, linguistics, and literature.
  • Hall, D. G. E. A History of Southeast Asia. 4th ed. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1981. Hall traces the history of Southeast Asia from its earliest tribal kingdoms in the eighth century to European expansion and dominance from 1500 to 1950. Includes an extensive index, bibliography, colored maps, and illustrations. The appendix “Dynastic Lists” is particularly helpful.
  • Harvey, G. E. History of Burma: From Earliest Times to 10 March 1824, the Beginning of the English Conquest. 1925. Reprint. London: Frank Cass, 1967. Harvey concentrates his scholarship on the political aspects of Burmese history, focusing on kingdoms and dynasties. Contains an extensive notes/bibliography section and an index.
  • Holcombe, Charles. The Genesis of East Asia, 221 B.C.-A.D. 907. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2001. Holcombe explains the political, economic, and social history of East Asia. He argues that the region developed a distinct cultural identity because of its physical geography, diverse ethnic groups, and political interaction between states. Holcombe also asserts that a major unifying factor was the system of writing.
  • Htoo, Aung. “Ethnic Issues in Burma, Part One: The Fourth Burman Empire.” Legal Issues on Burma Journal no. 5 (April, 2000): 1-21. The author explains the history of ethnic groups and peoples in Burma. This is the first of three articles on the topic.
  • Stargardt, Janice. Early Pyu Cities in a Man-made Landscape. Vol. 1 in The Ancient Pyu of Burma. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1990. This work contains the results of data formulated by archaeologists over the past forty years for the early Pyu civilization. It showcases the economic and social dimensions of the Pyu culture; a major portion of Stargardt’s book focuses on the complex irrigation system the Pyu developed in Burma’s Dry Zone.
  • Steiger, G. Nye. A History of the Far East. 2d ed. New York: Ginn, 1944. Steiger outlines the history of eastern and southeastern Asia from ancient times to the end of World War II, focusing on China, India, Korea, and Japan. The work includes a list of maps and an impressive bibliography of primary and secondary sources divided into subject categories by country.