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Xieng Khouang History

While the origin of the Plain of Jars` people is unknown, the recorded history of Xieng Khouang is interlinked with the Tai Phuan. The Tai Phuan or Phuan people are a Buddhist Tai-Lao ethnic group that migrated to Laos from southern China and by the 13th century had formed the independent principality Muang Phuan at the Plain of Jars with Xieng Khouang (the contemporary Muang Khoun) as the capital.

They prospered from the overland trade in metals and forest products. In the mid-14th century, Muang Phuan was incorporated into the Lane Xang Kingdom under King Fa Ngum.

The Phuan population were able to retain a high degree of autonomy although they had to pay tax and tribute to Lane Xang. During the 16th century expressive Buddhist art and architecture flourished. The capital was dotted with temples in a distinct Xieng Khouang style, i.e. simple low roofs with a characteristic ‘waist’ at the foundation. In 1930 Le Boulanger described it as ‘a large and beautiful city protected by wide moats and forts occupying the surrounding hills and the opulence of the sixty-two pagodas and their stupas, of which the flanks concealed treasures, obtained the capital a fame that spread fear wide and far.”

After the Kingdom of Siam, contemporary Thailand, extended control to Lao territories east of the Mekong in the 1770s, Muang Phuan became a Siamese vassal state and also maintained tributary relations with Dai Viet (Vietnam). To exert greater control of the lands and people of Muang Phuan, the Siamese launched three separate campaigns (1777–79, 1834–36 and 1875/76) to resettle large parts of the Phuan population to the south in regions under firm Siamese control. Subsequent invasions by Haw marauders, splinter groups of ex-Taiping Revolution rebels from Southern China plundered Luang Prabang and Xieng Khuang in the 1870s, and desecrated and destroyed the temples of the Phuan region.

The Franco-Siamese treaties of the 1890s placed Xieng Khouang under colonial rule as part of French Indochina until briefly after World War II. The French used Xieng Khouang today called Muang Khoun as their provincial capital. A few ruinous colonial public buildings remain such as the governor’s residence, church and the French school.

During the Second Indochina War that raged in Laos during the 1960s and early 1970s Xieng Khouang suffered heavy aerial bombing. Since Laos gained full independence in 1975, Xieng Khouang and the Plain of Jars are enjoying peace and tranquility after centuries of conflict. More details next section.