The Burmese Pyu Kingdom mentioned in Manshu Texts
The Burmese Pyu Kingdom mentioned in Manshu Texts is primarily related to the geopolitics of Southwest China, particularly focused on the historic kingdom of Nan Zhao during the Tang Dynasty. During the 15th Century, some of the Manshu texts were lost and others fragmented. In the 18th century, Chinese scholars extracted parts of the Manshu Texts from various other translations. The 18th-century Chinese scholars, however, mentioned that many mistakes were made in the combined extractions of the Manshu texts collected from the other books.
Recently I read a fascinating paper by Professor Bhone Tint Kyaw of Yangon University presenting his views related to the Pyu which was mentioned briefly in the Manshu texts. His paper is insightful and presents some debate regarding the translations of the Manshu texts done by Gordon H. Luce, the author of “Old Burma, Early Pagan” and several other publications related to 1st millennium Burma.
Considerations regarding Professor Bhone Tint Kyaw’s research and the views presented in his paper are that since Luce left Burma in 1964, there have been further archaeological findings related to the Pyu period which are more recent through research done by Archeologist Elizabeth Howard Moore and others and for those interested in this subject her book “The Pyu Landscape: Collected Articles” discusses the links and relationship between the Pyu and Nan zhou (Nan Chou).
About Gordon H. Luce
Gordon H. Luce was born in 1889, in 1912 he has appointed a position in Burma as a lecturer in English literature at Government College, Yangon, and remained there until 1942. When WW2 broke out, he and his wife escaped to India. On his return in 1946, he took up his old position at Government College.
In 1964 due to the military regime that took hold of Burma, he was forced to return to his home country, England, along with many other foreigners living in Burma at the time. The last fifteen years of his life were spent in Jersey where he died in 1979 at the age of 89 years.
Luce was fascinated with Burmese history and wrote several well-known publications related to early Burmese history and languages as well as maps and photographs. His writings are widely cited. There are over 2000 books in the Luce collection, many of his manuscripts were acquired by the National Library of Australia in 1980 and are stored in thirty-two boxes and twenty-two folios. Original unpublished writings which include his transcriptions of Burmese inscriptions are held at SOAS University of London.
Luce undoubtedly contributed considerably to what is generally known about early Burmese history, the love he held for Burma, its history, and its people, and the knowledge he acquired over a period of 50 years living in Burma is inspiring.
About Luce’s translation of the Manshu texts
Professor Bhone Tint Kyaw, mentions in his paper that Luce’s research on the Pyu people was largely derived from the writings of the 9th century Manshu Texts, authored by Fan Chuo, which presented some discrepancies about the geographical locations of the Pyu and suggested that Luce’s writings were not fully researched or entirely accurate.
NOTE: The Manshu texts Luce referred to at the time were fragmented and many of them were lost, many scholars had difficulty translating from the available texts regarding Nan Zhou’s interactions with the Pyu Kingdom of Burma.
Professor Bhone Tint Kyaw mentioned in his paper that Luce’s Book “Old Kyaukse and The Coming of Burmans,” Luce states that he referenced the Chinese Manshu texts as his main source of information related to historical accounts of the destruction of the Pyu Kingdom by the Nan Zhao.
Referenced: Professor Bhone Tint Kyaw – The Ancient History of Pyu-Byam-mar Before A-Naw-Ra-Htar
This paper can be downloaded from or viewed on Academia.
Luce’s Translation – Burmese Pyu Kingdom Mentioned in Manshu Texts
Luce interpreted and translated the first English version of the Manshu texts, which was published by Cornell University Press in 1961 – “Manshu: Book of the Southern Barbarians”
Whilst many transcriptions of the Man Shu texts were in circulation during that period, few of them were annotated and collated properly which resulted in a lot of inaccuracies in the translations. Although Luce had enlisted the help of Chinese scholars, many names of places were not identifiable, and the result was to his own regret unsatisfactory. During this period, Luce had many other research tasks accruing and called a quick end to the project leaving a lot of the English translation unpolished and a little vague.
Pyu Kingdom in 832 AD.
Professor Bhone Tint Kyaw refers to Luce’s writing in his book “Old Kyaukse and The Coming of Burmans,” where he mentioned that in 832 AD., the Pyu capital was attacked and destroyed completely by the Nan Zhao which Professor Bhone Tint Kyaw suggests left a vacuum relating to the Pyu Kingdom when referring to the Manshu texts, he questions the validity of Luce’s writings implying that the whole of the Pyu Kingdom was destroyed.
Professor Bhone Tint Kyaw says that in the Manshu texts, there is no mention of the name of the town or the region which was besieged, and the texts did not mention that it was the Pyu capital, Pyu Garrison town, ordinary Pyu Town or the inner part of Pydor (?? possibly today’s Nay Pyi Taw) a town of other aboriginal tribes under Pyu or near the Pyu border. The names of the besieged places are unknown. So, it may be inaccurate to say that either the Pyu capital or the Pyu Kingdom was destroyed.
Luce himself also mentioned in his English translation of Manshu that there was no clear evidence that the Nan Zhou had reached the Pyu border.
Manshu records of Man People
Records of the Man people, also known as Yunnanzhi (Records of Yunnan) is a classical work of 10 volumes, offering a reasonably accurate comprehensive historical depiction of the kingdom of Nan Zhao during the middle and late Tang periods.
Translation of Manshu texts by Mr. Bu Shaoxin (deceased 2016)
A later translation of the Manshu texts by the late Professor Shaoxin Bu, a native of Hequing, Dali, and professor at Dali University for several years, was partially completed in 2015 and approved by the Ministry of Education in May 2016 before his untimely death in January 2016. The translation was eventually published in 2018. Some of the English translation, annotations, and indexing work were not completed fully before his death.
According to Professor Bu Shaoxin – “Luce tried twice to translate the Man Shu text into English. The first draft was destroyed in the chaos after the Japanese invasion of Burma. On his return to Burma after the war, he made a second attempt and chose two separate 18th-century editions known as “Jianxicunshe Cong shu” and “Haining Yangwensun (Yunshi) Shuzhengzhai” as the source text. Both of these editions were transcriptions made from Neiju Zhenben (Mandarin) during the early republic era”.
Professor Shaoxin Bu’s translation of the Manshu texts referencing the Pyu of Burma is as follows:
“The Kingdom of Pyu is a 75-day journey distant to the south of Yongchang city of Nanzhao. Emperor Geluofeng opened trade with the Pyu kingdom, where the people used gold and silver for trade. Their green bricks form a circular city wall, taking a day to circumvent. The population lives within the walled city which has twelve gates, with the king’s residence at the front gate. There is an elephant seated in the open air, over a hundred feet high and as white as snow”. Note: The elephant’s height is likely an error in the Manshu translation or that it was exaggerated in the original text).
Note: Geluofeng was the fifth ruler of the Nan Zhao Kingdom, eventually shifting his allegiance from the Tang to Tibet.
According to the Manshu translation by Shaoxin Bu it would seem the relationship between Nan Zhou and the Pyu people was peaceful, the texts state that “the Pyu treasured honour, they are amiable and of few words and faithful to the Buddhist doctrine, with no butchering in the city. There is much fortune telling by astrology. If one litigates against another, the king will order them to burn incense in front of an elephant and introspect their right and wrong before they retreat. Should any disastrous epidemic disease or anything unsettling occur, the king will as well burn incense in front of an elephant, remorseful and repentant. Men usually wear white kapok apparel, while women, with a tall bun adorned with gold and silver and pearls atop the head, are clad in a green ceiba silk skirt and a silk cloak as well that drapes over the back, with a fan in hand if walking outdoors. Women of a noble family will invariably have three- or five persons holding fans by their sides”.
However, it is recorded in the Manshu texts that in the 6th year of Taihe (832AD) the rebels of Nan Zhao plundered Pyu, capturing three thousand or so of its folks, and deporting them to Zhidong to fend for themselves. Today the offspring who also eat fish, insects, and the like are their descendants.
Note: In other writings, it is mentioned that the Pyu people did not wear silk, as it meant killing the silkworm, which they were opposed to the killing of living things, instead they wore silk made from the ceiba seeds. The ceiba seeds when cracked open expose a white substance that is twisted up into threads, after which they are knitted in square fabrics for robes. This cloth was worn by the people from Mandalay and Pyu people.
Referenced: Professor Shaoxin Bu’s translation
Professor Bhone Tint Kyaw’s Theory regarding the destruction of the Pyu Kingdom presents an interesting point of view and questions whether the Pyu Kingdom was actually destroyed by Nan Zhou or not.
“The New Tang History mentions that there were thirty-two Pyu cities, nine garrison towns, and two hundred and ninety-eight other tribes and their regions under Pyu'” in addition to the Pyu Capital. Professor Bhone questions which town or region did Nan Zhao attack in 832 AD”
“Did Nan Zhao attack a town of Pyu or a tribe under Pyu? Nothing is certain to confirm that the Pyu Kingdom as a whole was attacked and destroyed or that a tribe under Pyu near the Pyu border was attacked and destroyed by Nan Zhou”.
“According to New Tang History, it is not sure if the invaders are Nan Zhao or the barbarians under Nan-Zhao. If the invaders were the barbarians under Nan Zhou, robbery was likely the main motive because they were small tribes. Even if the Pyu had been destroyed Luce could not be sure in stating that the entire Pyu Kingdom had been destroyed because the period of the war was short-lived, no longer than a year”.
“If a Pyu town was destroyed it would very likely have been rebuilt by the many other Pyu Towns. How could the barbarian tribes under Nan-Zhao destroy forty-two strong Pyu towns and nine garrison towns as well as the Pyu capital within a year”?
The later translation of the Manshu texts by Professor Shaoxin Bu related to the Pyu mentions vaguely what happened to the Pyu population, he mentions that they only took around 3,000 prisoners back to China. At that time there would have been several thousand Pyu inhabitants, it is likely that the Pyu people felt vulnerable to future raids by the Chinese and found refuge under King Anawrahta of Pagan which left the Pyu city-states uninhabited.
Note: In the Manshu texts translated by Professor Shaoxin Bu the current Mandalay area is a 60-day journey to the southwest of Nan Zhao’s city Yongchang, whereas the Pyu Kingdom is a seventy-five-day journey South of Yongchang. In the 9th year of Dahe (835AD), three years after the raid on the Pyu Nan Zhao conquered the kingdoms around Mandalay, looting gold and silver and driving two or three thousand of their clan folks into exile to the Lishui River to pan for gold.
The Ancient History of Pyu (Byammar Kingdom) By Bhone Tint Kyaw can be sourced on Academia.