Lan Xang

Lan Xang

It was as a result of these family conflicts that the Kingdom of Lan Xang--the name still carries associations of cultural kinship among the Lao--was established. The younger brother, Fa Ngum, married one of the king's daughters and in 1349 set out from Angkor at the head of a 10,000-member Khmer army. His conquest of the territories to the north of Angkor over the next six years reopened Mongol communications with that place, which had been cut off. Fa Ngum organized the conquered principalities into provinces (muang), and reclaimed Muang Sua from his father and elder brother. Fa Ngum was crowned king of Lan Xang at Vientiane, the site of one of his victories, in June 1354. Lan Xang extended from the border of China to Sambor below the Mekong rapids at Khong Island and from the Vietnamese border to the western escarpment of the Khorat Plateau.

The first few years of Fa Ngum's rule from his capital Muang Sua were uneventful. The next six years (1362-68), however, were troubled by religious conflict between Fa Ngum's lamaistic Buddhism and the region's traditional Theravada Buddhism. He severely repressed popular agitation that had anti-Mongol overtones and had many pagodas torn down. In 1368 Fa Ngum's Khmer wife died. He subsequently married the ruler of Ayuthia's daughter, who seems to have had a pacifying influence. For example, she was instrumental in welcoming a religious and artistic mission that brought with it a statue of the Buddha, the phrabang, which became the palladium of the kingdom. Popular resentment continued to build, however, and in 1373 Fa Ngum withdrew to Muang Nan. His son, Oun Huan, who had been in exile in southern Yunnan, returned to assume the regency of the empire his father had created. Oun Huan ascended to the throne in 1393 when his father died, ending Mongol overlordship of the middle Mekong Valley.

The kingdom, made up of Lao, Thai, and hill tribes, lasted in its approximate borders for another 300 years and briefly reached an even greater extent in the northwest. Fa Ngum's descendants remained on the throne at Muang Sua, renamed Louangphrabang, for almost 600 years after his death, maintaining the independence of Lan Xang to the end of the seventeenth century through a complex network of vassal relations with lesser princes. At the same time, these rulers fought off invasions from Vietnam (1478-79), Siam (1536), and Burma (1571-1621).

The Division of Lan Xang

In 1690, however, Lan Xang fell prey to a series of rival pretenders to its throne, and, as a result of the ensuing struggles, split into three kingdoms--Louangphrabang, Vientiane, and Champasak. Muang Phuan enjoyed a semi-independent status as a result of having been annexed by a Vietnamese army in the fifteenth century, an action that set a precedent for a tributary relationship with the court of Annam at Hué.

Successive Burmese and Siamese interventions involved Vientiane and Louangphrabang in internecine struggles. In 1771 the king of Louangphrabang attacked Vientiane, determined to punish it for what he perceived to be its complicity in a Burmese attack on his capital in 1765. The Siamese captured Vientiane for the first time in 1778-79, when it became a vassal state to Siam. Vientiane was finally destroyed in 1827-28 following an imprudent attempt by its ruler, Chao Anou, to retaliate against perceived Siamese injustices toward the Lao.

The disappearance of the Vientiane kingdom and the weakened condition of Louangphrabang led to a period of direct Siamese presence on the left bank of the Mekong and to the virtual annexation of Xiangkhouang and part of Bolikhamxai by the Vietnamese. The Siamese also soon became more directly involved with the Kingdom of Louangphrabang, whose ruler, Manta Thourath (r. 1817-36), had sought to preserve neutrality in the conflict between Siam and Vientiane. The Siamese intervention was caused by an appeal by King Oun Kham (r. 1872-94) for help in clearing his northeastern territories of the Hô (Haw), bands of armed horsemen who had fled the bloody Manchu campaign to pacify Yunnan.

The last major migration into Laos in the nineteenth century was that of the Hmong. Accustomed to growing crops of dryland rice and maize at the highest elevations in mountainous southern China, where they had lived for centuries, the Hmong practiced a peaceful coexistence with their neighbors at lower elevations. Their major interaction occurred in selling their chief cash crop, opium.

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