Mueang (Thai: เมือง mɯ̄ang, pronounced [mɯaŋ˧]), Muang (Lao: ເມືອງ mɯ́ang, pronounced [mɯaŋ˦]), Mường (Vietnamese pronunciation: [/mɨəŋ ˨˩/]) or Mong (Shan: မိူင်း mə́ŋ, pronounced [məŋ˦]) were pre-modern semi-independent city-states or principalities in Indochina, adjacent regions of Northeast India and Southern China, including what is now Thailand, Laos, Burma, Cambodia, parts of northern Vietnam, southern Yunnan, western Guangxi and Assam.

Mueang was originally a Thai term for a town having a defensive wall and a ruler with at least the Thai noble rank of khun (ขุน), together with its dependent villages.[1][2][3] The Mandala model of political organisation organised states in collective hierarchy such that smaller mueang were subordinate to more powerful neighboring ones, which in turn were subordinate to a central king or other leader. The more powerful mueang (generally designated as chiang, wiang, nakhon or krung — with Bangkok as Krung Thep Maha Nakhon) occasionally tried to liberate themselves from their suzerain and could enjoy periods of relative independence. Mueang large and small often shifted allegiance, and frequently paid tribute to more than one powerful neighbor — the most powerful of the period being the Ming of Imperial China.

Following Kublai Khan's defeat of the Bai Kingdom of Dali in AD 1253, new mueang were founded widely throughout the Shan States and adjoining regions — though the common description of this as a "mass migration" is disputed.[4] Following historical Chinese practice, tribal leaders principally in Yunnan were recognized by the Yuan as imperial officials, in an arrangement generally known as the Native Chieftain System. Ming and Qing-era dynasties replaced native chieftains with non-native Chinese government officials. In the 19th century, Thailand's Chakri Dynasty and Burma's colonial and subsequent military rulers did much the same with their lesser mueang; but, while the petty kingdoms are gone, the place names remain.

Place names

Place names in Southwestern Tai languages


Further information: Xishuangbanna


Laos is colloquially known as Muang Lao, but for Lao people, the word conveys more than mere administrative district. The usage is of special historic interest for the Lao; in particular for their traditional socio-political and administrative organisation, and the formation of their early (power) states,[5] described by later scholars as Mandala (Southeast Asian political model). Provinces of Laos are now subdivided into what are commonly translated as districts of Laos, with some retaining Muang as part of the name:


Further information: Saopha and Shan States

Northeast India


Further information: Amphoe, Boriwen, Monthon, Muban, Sukhaphiban, Tambon, and Thesaban

Thailand is colloquially known as Mueang Thai. After the thesaphiban reforms of Prince Damrong Rajanubhab, city-states under Siam were organized into monthon (มณฑล, Thai translation of mandala,) which was changed to changwat (จังหวัด) in 1916.[6] Mueang still can be found as the term for the capital districts of the provinces (amphoe mueang), as well as for a municipal status equivalent to town (thesaban mueang).

Mueang toponyms

Mueang still forms part of the placenames of a few places, notably Don Mueang District, home to Don Mueang International Airport; and in the Royal Thai General System of Transcription Mueang Phatthaya (เมืองพัทยา) for the self-governing municipality of Pattaya.

Nakhon mueang

Nakhon (นคร) as meaning "capital of a kingdom" has been modified to thesaban nakhon (เทศบาลนคร), usually translated as "city municipality". It still forms part of the name of some places.

Buri mueang

Sung Noen District is noted for having been the site of two ancient cities: Mueang Sema and Khorakhapura. Pali púra became Sanskrit puri, hence Thai บุรี, บูรี,[7] (buri) all connoting the same as Thai mueang: city with defensive wall.[8] "Khorakhapura" was nicknamed "Nakhon Raj," which as a portmanteau with Sema, became Nakhon Ratchasima.[9] Though dropped from the name of this mueang, Sanskrit buri persists in the names of others.


Further information: Sip Song Chau Tai


NB: Luo et al. employ /ü/ which may erroneously scan as /ii/.

Müang Fai irrigation system

Müang Fai is a term reconstructed from Proto-Tai, the common ancestor of all Tai languages. In the Guangxi-Guizhou of Southern China region, the term described what was then a unique type of irrigation engineering for wet-rice cultivation. Müang meaning 'irrigation channel, ditch, canal' and Fai, 'dike, weir, dam.' together referred to gravitational irrigation systems for directing water from streams and rivers.[10] The Proto-Tai language is not directly attested by any surviving texts, but has been reconstructed using the comparative method. This term has Proto-Tai-tone A1. All A1 words are rising tone in modern Thai and Lao, following rules determined for tone origin. Accordingly, the term is:

in modern Thai: เหมืองฝาย[11]
in modern Lao: ເຫມື່ອງຝາຍ.[12] (NB: SEAlang library's Lao entry omits tonal marking — a typographical error.)

Different linguistic tones give different meanings; scholarship has not established a link between this term and any of the terms which differ in tone.

Origin of mueang

Mueang conveys many meanings, all having to do with administrative, social, political and religious orientation on wet-rice cultivation. The origin of the word mueang yet remains obscure. In October 2007, The National Library of Laos, in collaboration with the Berlin State Library and the University of Passau, started a project to produce the Digital Library of Lao Manuscripts. Papers presented at the Literary Heritage of Laos Conference, held in Vientiane in 2005, have also been made available. Many of the mss. illuminate the administrative, social, political, and religious demands put on communities in the same watershed area that insured a high degree of cooperation to create and maintain irrigation systems (müang-faai) — which probably was the primary reason for founding mueang.[5]

Kham Mueang

Kham Mueang (Thai: คำเมือง) is the modern spoken form of the old Northern Thai language that was the language of the kingdom of Lan Na (Million Fields). Central Thai may call northern Thai people and their language Thai Yuan. They call their language Kham Mueang in which Kham means language or word; mueang; town, hence the meaning of "town language," specifically in contrast to those of the many hill tribe peoples in the surrounding mountainous areas.[13]

See also


  1. Terwiel, Barend Jan (1983). "Ahom and the Study of Early Thai Society" (PDF). Journal of the Siam Society. Siamese Heritage Trust. JSS Vol. 71.0 (digital): image 4. Retrieved March 7, 2013. khun : ruler of a fortified town and its surrounding villages, together called a mu'ang. In older sources the prefix ph'o ("father") is sometimes used as well.
  2. Vickery, Michael (1995). "Piltdown3: Further Discussion of The Ram Khamhaeng Inscription" (PDF). Journal of the Siam Society. Siam Heritage Trust. JSS Vol. 83.0j (digital): image 11. Retrieved August 3, 2013. Examples of the first are söaṅ, the name of Ram Khamhaeng's mother, and möaṅ. Khun Phasit said that these terms should in fact be read as /söŋ/ and /möŋ/....
  3. Wyatt, D.K. (1991). "Chapter 11: Contextual arguments for the authenticity of the Ram Khamhaeng inscription" (PDF). In Chamberlain, J.R. The Ram Khamhaeng Controversy (PDF). Bangkok: The Siam Society. Quoted text is found in image 7. Retrieved 2013-06-13. ...Lord Sam Chon, the ruler of Müang Chot, came to attack Müang Tak....
  4. Du Yuting; Chen Lufan (1989). "Did Kublai Khan's Conquest of the Dali Kingdom Give Rise to the Mass Migration of the Thai People to the South?" (free PDF). Journal of the Siam Society. Siam Heritage Trust. JSS Vol. 77.1c (digital). Retrieved March 17, 2013.
  5. 1 2 Raendchen, Jana (October 10, 2005). "The socio-political and administrative organisation of müang in the light of Lao historical manuscripts" (PDF 316 KB). In paper 31. The Literary Heritage of Laos: Preservation, Dissemination and Research Perspectives, Vientiane: National Library of Laos. The Literary Heritage of Laos Conference, 2005. Website content written by Harald Hundius and David Wharton, Lao translation by Oudomphone Bounyavong, edited by Harald Hundius. Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin Preußischer Kulturbesitz: Digital Library of Lao Manuscripts. pp. 401–420. Retrieved September 12, 2013. The use of the word müang is of special historic interest for the Lao; in particular for their traditional socio-political and administrative organisation, and the formation of their early (power) states.
  6. ประกาศกระทรวงมหาดไทย เรื่อง ทรงพระกรุณาโปรดเกล้า ฯ ให้เปลี่ยนคำว่าเมืองเรียกว่าจังหวัด (PDF). Royal Gazette (in Thai). 33 (ก): 51. 28 May 1916.
  7. Glenn S. (5 Aug 2013). "บูรี" (Dictionary). Royal Institute Dictionary - 1982. Retrieved 2013-08-03. บุรี; บูรี /บุ-รี; บู-รี/ Pali: ปุร [นาม] เมือง
  8. Turner, Sir Ralph Lilley (1985) [London: Oxford University Press, 1962-1966.]. "A Comparative Dictionary of the Indo-Aryan Languages". Includes three supplements, published 1969-1985. Digital South Asia Library, a project of the Center for Research Libraries and the University of Chicago. p. 469. Retrieved 5 Aug 2013. 8278 púra noun. fortress, town, gynaeceum
  9. "Nakhon Ratchasima (Khorat), Thailand". More about Nakhon Ratchasima. AsiaExplorers. 5 Aug 2013. Archived from the original (Text available under Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License 3.0 (Unported)) on 2013-08-05. Retrieved 5 Aug 2013. Nakhon Ratchasima was originally two separate cities namely Khorakhapura (also called Nakhon Raj) and Sema.... The present city of Nakhon Ratchasima, whose name is a portmanteau of Nakhon Raj and Sema, was established by King Narai (1656-88) as the eastern frontier of his kingdom centered on Ayutthaya.
  10. Luo, Wei; Hartmann, John; Li, Jinfang; Sysamouth, Vinya (December 2000). "GIS Mapping and Analysis of Tai Linguistic and Settlement Patterns in Southern China" (PDF). Geographic Information Sciences. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University. 6 (2): 129136. Retrieved May 28, 2013. Abstract. By integrating linguistic information and physical geographic features in a GIS environment, this paper maps the spatial variation of terms connected with wet-rice farming of Tai minority groups in southern China and shows that the primary candidate of origin for proto-Tai is in the region of Guangxi-Guizhou, not Yunnan or the middle Yangtze River region as others have proposed....
  11. เหมืองฝาย;
  12. ເຫມືອງຝາຽ
  13. Natnapang Burutphakdee (October 2004). Khon Muang Neu Kap Phasa Muang [Attitudes of Northern Thai Youth towards Kammuang and the Lanna Script] (M.A. Thesis). Presented at 4th National Symposium on Graduate Research, Chiang Mai, Thailand, August 10–11, 2004. Asst. Prof. Dr. Kirk R. Person, adviser. Chiang Mai: Payap University. P. 7, digital image 30. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-06-14. Retrieved June 8, 2013. The reason why they called this language ‘Kammuang’ is because they used this language in the towns where they lived together, which were surrounded by mountainous areas where there were many hill tribe people.
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