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New Guidebook Highlights Ethnic Repression in Burma’s Shan State

The recent publication of a guidebook about Burma’s Shan State highlights the destruction and repression of its culture and people by the Burmese military junta and reveals the darker side of tourism in that region.

Entitled “Forbidden Glimpses of Shan State,’ the book was published by Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN) to bring readers’ attention to the subtle ways in which the oppressive regime is erasing and remaking the unique culture and heritage of the state.

The Shan people are an ethnic minority and have their own culture and language, distinguishing themselves from the dominant Burman culture. Between 1996 and 1998, the junta forced more than 300,000 villagers in Shan State from their homes at gunpoint. Most have since fled as refugees to Thailand.

The guidebook’s introduction states, “Given that experiencing local “culture’ is a primary aim of tourists visiting Burma, we feel it is important to expose how Shan State culture, religion and history are being distorted and erased, and gradually replaced by the regime’s own homogenized and artificially imposed “Myanmar culture.'”

The guide illustrates, for instance, how the military regime is destroying the last remaining palaces of the 34 former Shan principalities. The historic Kengtung Palace was demolished in 1991; in its place now stands an unattractive modern hotel that remains largely unoccupied due to rumors that it is haunted.

In keeping with its ideology, the regime has destroyed symbols of Shan self-rule and replaced them with monuments that glorify ancient Burmese kings. The guidebook provides pictorial evidence of the contrast between these ornate structures and the local Shan temples which have been desecrated and left to crumble.

“We want visitors to open their eyes to the repression going on around them, even in the cultural sites they are visiting,” SWAN spokesperson Moan Kaein stated in a press release.

The guidebook also brings readers’ attention to places of great natural beauty and cultural significance that are off-limits to tourists but are at risk of being destroyed. The Kengtawng Falls for example, may soon fall victim to hydropower developments with backing from Thai and Chinese investors.

The guidebook authors have included a section on well-known political prisoners who have been banished to remote prisons in Shan State. The guide states, “They will never be physically seen by tourists but their presence should be a constant reminder to us all of the cruel reality of repression in Shan State and the rest of Burma today.”

The guidebook is available at the following link:

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