Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Tai (T'hai), i.e. "Free," "Noble," most general collective name of a widespread Indo-Chinese race, who were formerly dominant throughout the southern half of China, and who still occupy large tracts in Yunnan together with nearly the whole of Farther India between Burma in the West and Tonking, Annam, and Camboja in the east. The peoples of Tai speech number altogether over thirty millions, the chief divisions being the Shans of Yunnan, the Ngiou or Shans of the border-lands between Burma, Yunnan, and Siam, the Lao of North and East Siam, the Siamese proper, the Ahoms ofAssam, and the Khanti of the Upper Irawadi basin. The Shans and the Lao are essentially the same people, and they differ from the Siamese only in their somewhat ruder culture, more vigorous constitution, and more energetic character. All alike are Tai, or T'hai, as the Siamese pronounce the word with an aspirate, all are of Mongoloid stock, all are Buddhists, and all speak slightly divergent dialects of the same Indo-Chinese language, which, before the arrival of the Bak tribes (Chinese proper), was the current speech throughout the whole region between the Yang-tse-Kiang and the Gulf of Siam. The fundamental unity of the race is recognized by the various branches, who appear to regard the T'hai-nai or "Great T'hai" of the province of Xieng-Mai has the oldest member of the family. Despite their political ascendancy, the Siamese are only T'hai-noi, or "Little T'hai," while the other great branches are named either from their respective position to the T'hai-niai, or from their respective provinces. Thus, those of Yunnan are T'hai-neua, "Upper Tai," and Tai-Lem, Tai-La, etc. The substantial unity of the Tai race is a great ethnological fact, which has now been thoroughly established, although not yet recognized by European politicians in their dealings with the indigenous populations of Indo-China.