Jotika Khur-Yearn discusses the legacy of Professor Sai Aung Tun’s work on Tai Shan communities.
Sai Aung Tun, author of the History of the Shan State, from Its Origin to 1962, was a respected historian in academic communities in Myanmar (Burma) and a well-known figure among his native Tai/Shan communities. After he passed away on 25 September 2020, many people, and especially those from different corners of the Tai Shan communities, shared their grievances on social media and praised him for his tireless works that contributed to their communities.
Sai Aung Tun was born in 1932 at Tabok Village in Hsipaw, northern Shan State. After graduating with a BA Honors in History from the University of Yangon (Rangoon) in 1957, he was awarded a scholarship for postgraduate study at the University of Denver, USA, where he earned an MA in International Relations in 1958.
Sai Aung Tun had a long and eventful career in the Higher Education sector of Myanmar, contributing his academic and administrative services at several institutions. His notable appointments include: Head of Department of History, Taunggyi College (now Taunggyi University; 1961), Department of History, Arts & Science University, Mandalay (1964), Head of Dept of History, Magwe University (1968), Principal, Myitkyina College (now Myitkyina University) (1970), and Principal, Yangon University of Foreign Languages (1980).
During his lifelong career, Sai Aung Tun also worked tirelessly for the promotion of Shan literary and cultural programs. While working at the abovementioned colleges and universities, he often spent time outside his official work hours teaching the Shan scripts to Shan university students. He also organized several literary and cultural activities, including teaching Shan language courses to young Shan children during summer vacations.
He was a member of the government’s State Council from 1985 to 1988, and in 1992, he was appointed as the Vice-Chair of the Myanmar Historical Commission and Emeritus Professor of International Relations of the University of Yangon.
After retiring from teaching, and while still serving as vice-chair of the Myanmar Historical Commission, he continued, and in fact, spent more time on his works for the promotion of the Shan history, language, cultures and identities. He led frontline Shan events, such as the annual Shan New Year and other cultural and religious events, where he was invited to give keynote speeches. He also dedicated more time towards doing research and giving paper presentations at academic conferences nationally and internationally.
Of the large number of publications by Sai Aung Tun, the book, History of the Shan State, from Its Origin to 1962 (2008), is a legacy of his work. He spent years doing research and gathering information for the book. Members of the Shan community in the UK, led by Venerable Prof. Dr Khammai Dhammasami, founder of the Oxford Buddha Vihara and the Shan State Buddhist University, have good memories of giving our support to his research and gathering historical documents, mainly from the British Library and the Cambridge University Library. We had another opportunity of supporting Sai Aung Tun again during his last trip to the UK to participate in a Shan Study Panel of the ASEASUK Conference held at the Cambridge University in 2011.
During his life, Sai Aung Tun has made valuable contributions to education sectors and social engagements in Myanmar, especially on Shan history, language, culture and identity.
Jotika Khur-Yearn is a Shan native from the Shan State, Myanmar. He did his PhD in Shan literature at SOAS University of London and obtained an MSc in Library Science at City University of London. He currently works as the librarian for SE Asia and Arts & Humanities of the SOAS National Research Library, University of London while also occasionally continues his research on classical Shan literature. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org