Jingpo people

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For the lake, see Lake Jingpo.
Alternative names: Jinghpaw, Jingpho, Singpho, Zaiwa, Tsaiva, Lechi, Theinbaw, Singfo, Chingpaw[1]
Kachin traditional dress
Regions with significant populations
Burma; Yunnan, China
 Burma 1 million
(Kachin State: 540,763)[2][3]
 China 147,828
Jingpo, Zaiwa, Maru, Lashi, and Azi
Christianity, Animism, Buddhism[4]
Unmarried Kachin women in 1910

The Jingpo people or Kachin people (Burmese: ကချင်လူမျိုး; MLCTS: ka. hkyang lu. myui:, pronounced: [kətɕɪ̀ɴ lù mjó]; Chinese: 景颇族; pinyin: Jǐngpō zú; also Jingpo or Singpho; endonyms: Jinghpaw, Tsaiva, Lechi, Theinbaw, Singfo, Chingpaw[1]) are an ethnic group who largely inhabit the Kachin Hills in northern Burma's Kachin State and neighbouring areas of China and India. The Jingpo form one of the 56 ethnic groups officially recognised by the People's Republic of China, where they numbered 147,828 people in the 2010 census. The Singpho constitute the same ethnic identity, albeit living in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, an area also controversially claimed by China. The Jinghpaws are also called Jinghpaw Wunpawng in Proper Jinghpaw language to include all the Kachins.

The Jingpo people are an ethnic affinity of several tribal groups, known for their fierce independence, disciplined fighting skills, complex clan inter-relations, embrace of Christianity, craftsmanship, herbal healing and jungle survival skills. Other neighbouring residents of Kachin State include the Shans (Thai/Lao related), the Lisus, the Rawangs, the Nagas, and the Burmans, the latter forming the largest ethnic group in Burma, also called Bamar.


In Burma all the six tribes: Jinghpaw, Lisu, Rawang, Lachid, Zaiwa and Lhaovo fall under the category of Kachin. The Kachins claim that the term Kachin is not from their language. Therefore, many of the Kachins only want to use the term "Jinghpaw Wunpawng" to mean all the Kachins ethnics while "Jinghpaw" is also used not only to mean one of the Kachin tribe "Jinghpaw", but also to include all the Kachins. Two different categorisation schemes complicate the terms Jingpo and Kachin, which also operate as political geography terms of British origin.

In one form of categorisation, a variety of different linguistic groups with overlapping territories and integrated social structures are described as a single people: the Jingpo or Kachin. In another form of categorisation, the native speakers of each language in the area are treated as distinct ethnic groups. Both schemes treat the Shan people who live in the same or contiguous areas as ethnically distinct. Jingpo people have frequently defied the Western expectation of lineage-based ethnicity by culturally "becoming Shans" (Leach 1965).

Just recently the Burmese Government announced to make family records of all the citizens by categorising each people who speak different dialects. As a result, many ethnics become confused what to choose to be named on their IDs. So are the Kachins. Kachins are divided and fighting over the name Kachin or Jinghpaw Wunpawng even though there are clear and vivid evidence that they all are from the same background with the closest identities. Despite the fact that all syntax, grammar, phonology, morphology, schools of thought, traditions, culture are all the same, while pronunciation, spellings, alphabets differ (which is nature for different tribes from the same ethnic), Kachins are divided and debating on the term Kachin and Jinghpaw Wunpawng.

British colonial Burma[edit]

In British colonial Burma, Kachin people were categorised by the Census as separate different "races" or "tribes" according to languages, including Jingpo, Gauri, Maru, Lashi, Azi, Maingtha, Hpon, Nung (Rawang), Lisu, and Khamti (Shan). Other officials, missionaries, and the local administration recognised them as a single ethnic group (Leach 1965:43ff). In the early independence period, the Burmese government recognised the Kachin people as an overarching category.

Present-day Burma[edit]

The current Burmese government views the Kachin people as a "major national ethnic race" comprising the Jingpo, Lisu, Trone, Dalaung, Gauri, Hkahku, Duleng, Maru (Lawgore), Rawang, Lashi (La Chid), Atsi(zaiwa), and Taron as distinct ethnic nationalities.[1]


The people classified as the Jingpo in the broader sense speak at least five different languages, Jingpho proper, Zaiwa, Maru, Lashi, Nung (Rawang) and Lisu.


Main article: Jingpho language

Jingpo proper (spelled Jinghpaw in Jinghpaw) is spoken by 425,000 people in Burma and by 40,000 people in China. It is classified as Sino-Tibetan, Tibeto-Burman, Kachin–Luic. Jingpho proper is also understood by many speakers of Zaiwa. The standard Jingpo language taught in China is based on the dialect of Enkun.


Main article: Zaiwa language

Zaiwa (also spelled Tsaiwa; called Atsi in Jingpo proper, Zǎiwǎyǔ (载瓦语) in Chinese, and Zi in Burmese) is spoken by approximately 80,000 people in China and 30,000 people in Burma. It is classified as Sino-Tibetan, Tibeto-Burman, Yi-Burman, and Northern Burmic. After the establishment of the People's Republic of China, a written language based on the dialect of the village of Longzhun (in Xishan district in Luxi county) and using the Latin alphabet was created and officially introduced in 1957.


Jingpo folk religion worships various gods as well as the spirits of their ancestors. The ancestor of all the Jingpo, who is worshipped as a spirit or god, is held to be named Madai. Jingpo Animists believe that spirits reside everywhere, from the sun to the animals, and that these spirits bring good or bad luck. For the Jingpo, all living creatures are believed to have souls. Rituals are carried out for protection in almost all daily activities, from planting of crops to warfare.

Buddhism is also a major religion among the Jingpo.[4]


Jingpo dwellings are usually two stories and built out of wood and bamboo. The houses are of oval form; the first floor serves as a storage and stable while the second is utilised for living quarters. Women often dress in black jackets with silver decorations. They also wear wool skirts made in bright colours. The men often wear black and wide pants, covering their heads with turbans: the youths with white turbans and the adults with black turbans.


The Jingpo ancestors lived on the Tibetan plateau and migrated gradually towards the south. At their arrival to the present province of Yunnan, the Jingpo were referred to as Xunchuanman. The Jingpo are likely related to the neighbouring Qiang.

Kachin tribe, depiction from 1900s

During the 15th and 16th centuries the Jingpo continued migrating to their present territory. They have received diverse names along the centuries: Echang, Zhexie, and Yeren, the latter name which was used in China from the Yuan dynasty to the formation of the People's Republic of China in 1949. During the British colonial period, some tribes were well integrated into the state while others operated with a large degree of autonomy. Kachin people, including those organised as the Kachin Levies provided assistance to British, Chinese and American units fighting the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II.

Following the end of World War II and Burma’s independence from Britain, long standing ethnic conflicts between frontier peoples such as the Kachin people and the Burman-dominated central government resurfaced. The first uprising occurred in 1949. The uprisings escalated following the declaration of Buddhism (which is not practised by the Kachin people) as a national religion in 1961. However, Kachin people fought both for and against the government during most of the ethnic conflicts. Kachin soldiers once formed a core part of the Burmese armed forces and many stayed loyal after the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) with its military wing, the Kachin Independent Army (KIA) was formed in 1961. After Ne Win's coup in 1962, there were fewer opportunities in the Burma Army for Kachin people. Much of Kachin State outside of the cities and larger towns was for many years KIO administered.

The KIO formed alliances with other ethnic groups resisting the Burmese occupation, and later despite its non-communist stance along with China informally supported the Communist Party of Burma (CPB), which held strategically sensitive parts of the country vis à vis the Kachin positions. The KIO continued to fight when Ne Win’s dictatorship was succeeded by another incarnation of the military junta in 1988 called the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). However, with a gradual withdrawal of Chinese support, in 1989 the Communist Party of Burma soon disintegrated into warlord led groups that negotiated ceasefire deals with the junta. This led to the KIO being surrounded by organisations effectively aligned with the SPDC. It was squeezed by redeployed battalions of the rearmed and ever growing Burma Army, and constantly urged to make peace by a civilian population suffering from years of warfare. In 1994 the KIO chose to enter into a ceasefire with the junta.

The ceasefire delivered neither security nor prosperity to the Kachin. With the end of hostilities the Burma Army presence has increased considerably, along with allegations of atrocities against the civilian population, including forced labour and rape.

High demand from China is currently encouraging logging-based deforestation in the Kachin region of Burma.[5] Increasingly impoverished, some Jingpo women and children are drawn into the sex trade in Thailand, China and Yangon (KWAT 2005).


The Jinghpaws or The Jinghpaw Wunpawngs are one of the people who are forced to migrate to countries: Malaysia and Thailand. The civil war between KIA and the Burmese Army caused Kachins to leave their mother land and seek for asylums in Thailand and Malaysia. Since both Thailand and Malaysia are not signatories to the 1951 Geneva Refugee Convention, these two countries are just a second place for the Kachin refugees and they have to go to third countries such as USA, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and other EU countries through UNHCR's resettlement programme. Since there are too many refugees in Malaysia to process for their resettlement process, refugees normally have to wait for five to seven years to be resettled. Most of the Kachin refugees are in Malaysia seeking asylums under UNHCR Malaysia, without much hope to be resettled.


  1. ^ a b Leach, E. R. (2004) [1959]. "The Categories Shan and Kachin and their Subdivisions". Political Systems of Highland Burma: A Study of Kachin Social Structure (2004 ed.). Oxford, UK: Berg. p. 41. Retrieved 20 August 2010. 
  2. ^ Myanmar Gov't
  3. ^ (Kachin National Organisation)
  4. ^ a b china.org.cn - The Jingpo Ethnic Group
  5. ^ Kahrl et al. 2005; Global Witness 2005.


  • E. R. Leach, Political Systems of Highland Burma: A Study of Kachin Social Structure (Boston: Beacon, 1965 [1954]).
  • Kachin Women's Association Thailand (KWAT), Driven Away: Trafficking of Kachin women on the China-Burma border (Chiang Mai, Thailand, 2005).
  • Fredrich Kahrl, Horst Weyerhaeuser, and Su Yufang, Navigating the Border: An Analysis of the China–Myanmar Timber Trade. Forest Trends, World Agroforestry Centre, 2004.
  • Global Witness A Choice for China: Ending the destruction of Burma's frontier forests, 2005.
  • Liú Lù, Jǐngpōzú yǔyán jiǎnzhì - Jǐngpōyǔ 刘璐景颇族语言简志——景颇语 (Introduction to a language of the Jingpo nationality - Jingpo; Běijīng 北京, Mínzú chūbǎnshè 民族出版社 1984).
  • Xú Xījiān 徐悉艰, Xú Guìzhēn 徐桂珍, Jǐngpōzú yǔyán jiǎnzhì - Zǎiwǎyǔ 景颇族语言简志——载瓦语 (Introduction to a language of the Jingpo nationality - Tsaiva; Běijīng 北京, Mínzú chūbǎnshè 民族出版社 1984).
  • All Kachin Students and Youth Union (AKSYU), Kachin Development Networking Group(KDNG), Valley of Darkness; 2007
  • Valley of Darkness: Gold Mining and Militarization in Burma's Hugawng Valley (Chiang Mai, Thailand, 2007)

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