The Death of Chaopandin, Seeing Sipsong Panna through the Royal Cremation Ceremony of Chao Mhom Kham Le, the Last King

Main Article Content

Wasan Panyagaew


On 1st October 2017 the late Chao Mhom Kham Le, 89 years old, passed away in Kunming. His death has been perceived by the Lue, living both inside and outside China, as the loss of their Chaopandin, the last king of Sipsong Panna. The death of the last king led to the revivals of traditional rituals of the Tai royal cremation ceremony, co-organized by Xishuangbanna Buddhist Association, family members, and lay peoples. This ritual performance reflected Lue traditional belief and their loyalty to the lost king. Drawing from data collecting from several fieldtrips, conducted from May 2018 – December 2019 in Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture, the article proposes a new way to interpret the relationship between the Chinese state, which is dominated by the Hans and the Lue of Sipsong Panna within a changing context, structurally, from the Republic to Chinese Communism, and economic development which lead to the internal displacement among the Lue. In the Tai traditional state, the Chaopandin represented the state, the symbolic power, and the spiritual center that unified the Lue. In the inter-state relations, between the Tai states, for example, Lue identity, or the Lue-ness, is vitally expressed through the self-identification with their supreme ruler, the Chaopandin. The article argues that by contextualizing the revivals on Lue’s traditional royal cremation ceremony under the changing contexts of modernization in Sipsong Panna which have recently led to urbanisation, farmland grabbing and forest encroachment, the ritual conducted on the king cremation and the king’s spirit worshipping thus could be interpreted as the new cult and belief that is provocatively resurrected. It is a symbolic space that reflected the Lue’s yearning for their lost king, the Chaopandin. Metaphorically, it is a hidden transcript that is written by the Lue, reflecting on their traditional state structure, in encountering with the invasion of economic and trading development which is manipulated by the Han Chinese and the domination of Chinese Communism.


Download data is not yet available.

Article Details

How to Cite
Panyagaew, W. (2020). The Death of Chaopandin, Seeing Sipsong Panna through the Royal Cremation Ceremony of Chao Mhom Kham Le, the Last King. Journal of Anthropology, Sirindhorn Anthropology Centre (JASAC), 3(2), 34-83. Retrieved from
Research Article


Evans, G. 2000. “Transformation of Jinghong, Xishuangbanna, PRC”. in Evans, G., Hutton C., and Kuah, K. E. (eds.), Where China meets Southeast Asia. (pp. 162-182). United States: Palgrave Macmillan.

Gillette, M. 2000. Between Mecca and Beijing. Palo Alto. CA: Stanford University Press.

Harrell, S. 1995. “Introduction: Civilizing Projects and the Reaction to Them”. in Steven Harrell (ed), Cultural Encounters on China’s Ethnic Frontiers. (pp. 3-36). Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Hsieh, S. C. 1989. Ethnic-Political Adaptation and Ethnic Change of the Sipsong Panna Dai: An Ethnohistorical Analysis. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Washington, Seattle.

Hsieh, S. C. 1995. “On the Dynamics of Tai/Dai-Lue Ethnicity”. in Steven Harrell (ed), Cultural Encounters on China’s Ethnic Frontiers. (pp. 301-328). Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Kaup, K. P. 2000. Creating the Zhuang. Boulder. CO: Lynne Rienner.

Keyes, C. 1992. Who are the Lue Revisited? Ethnic Identity in Laos, Thailand, and China. Working Paper, Centre for International Studies. Cambridge: MIT.

Litzinger, R. 2000. Other Chinas. Durham. NC: Duke University Press.

McCarthy, S. 2009. Communist Multiculturalism. Seattle and London. University of Washington Press.

Moerman, M. 1965. “Ethnic Identification in a Complex Civilization: Who are the Lue?”, American Anthropologist, 67(5) (Part 1): 1215-1230.

Mueggler. E. 2001. The Age of Wild Ghosts. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Scott, J. C. 1990. Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts. Yale University Press.

Turton, A. 2000. “Introduction to Civility and Savagery”. in Turton, A. (ed), Civility and Savagery. (pp. 3-31). Richmond, Surrey: Curzon.

Wasan Panyagaew. 2008. “Moving Dai: The Stories of a Minority band from the Upper Mekong”. in Challenging the Limits. Chiang Mai: Mekong Press: 307-329.

Wijeyewardene, G. 1993. “Ethnicity and Nation: The Tai in Burma, Thailand and China (Sipsong Panna and Dehong)”. paper presented at the 5th International Conference on Thai Studies. SOAS, London.

Wyatt, D. K. 2003. Thailand: A Short History (2nd edition), New Haven and London: Yale University Press.