The Shan State is a state of Burma, which takes its name from the Shan ethnic group, the majority ethnic group in the Shan State. This state is made up of 52 districts. Its capital is Taunggyi. The population of the state was 3,718,706 inhabitants in 1983, and its extension was 155,400 km², being the largest area of Burma. It is located in the center of this country and its most important cities are Taunggyi, the capital, and Lashio. It limits to the north with China, to the east with Laos and to the south with Thailand.
Most of the territory of the state of Shan is located on a plateau where the hills abound, although there are higher mountains to the north and south. The throat of the Thanlwin River divides the state in two. Silver, lead and zinc are extracted, notably at the Bawdwin mine. Among the crops, rice stands out. Shan is located in the Golden Triangle, an area that produces much of the opium and heroin consumed in the world. Drug trafficking is controlled by local warlords, some of whom have private armies of thousands of soldiers. The Shan, whose language and customs resemble those of the Thais and the Laos inhabit the flat land. Most of the Shan is of Buddhist religion and is dedicated to agriculture. Among the Shans live Burmese, Chinese and Karens.
Several villages live in the hills, among them the Wa, formerly headhunters, which are numerous in the north and along the border with China. The Shan dominated most of Burma from the 13th to the 16th century. In the nineteenth century, long after losing their former power, they were distributed in more than 30 tiny states, most of which paid tribute to the King of Burma. Under British colonial rule, the Shan states were ruled by hereditary chiefs called saophas, vassals of the British Crown. In 1922, most of these small states joined the Shan States, under the control of a commissar who also administered the Wa states. This arrangement lasted until the constitutional changes of 1923 and 1937. The Burmese Constitution of 1947 established a single Shan state, which included the former Wa states. In 1959 the sawbwas gave much of their power to the Burmese Government.
The autonomy of the Shan State was further weakened by the federalization of the Burmese government in the 1970s. In general, it can be said that the Shan remain committed to the preservation of their peculiar ethnic heritage. An interesting curiosity of this State is the presence of the Kayan or Karen tribe, where they live a women called women of giraffe neck or Padaung.