Land of Jade


Land of Jade; A journey through insurgent Burma

1990 By Bertil Lintner

Published by Kiskadale

'Land of Jade' must be one of the most unique of travel adventures since the Second World War.

Bertil Lintner, right, interviews former Kachin Independence Organization chairman Brang Seng in Pa Jau, Kachin State, in September 1986.

The account of an audacious journey of exploration from Kesan Canlam near the headquarters of the Naga rebels in East India in the province of Assam near Manipur. He is accompanied by Hseng Noung his pregnant wife who gives birth along the way. At this point they are travelling illegally and relying on letters of introduction from Kachin Independece Army (KIA) rebels in Myanmar in the Kachin Hills not far away across the border. There is a period of long waiting and hiding in often restrictive conditions but once they get across the border into Myanmar progress improves.


Once across the border the Lintners are still travelling illegally but now they are surrounded by Kachin who recognise their credentials from the KIA (Kachin Independence Army) and help is more forthcoming. In India the Naga rebels were relying on support from the Communists and had been less helpful. Despite the privations and hardships Hseng Noung and baby Ee Ying can at least blend in with the locals, something Lintner can't do.


Lintner writes “Perhaps only the impressionist genius of one of the landscape masters of the Sung dynasty might have done justice to the wild but profoundly restful magnificence of nature spread out before me.” As for the Kachin Guerrillas who escorted the Lintner's for more than half their arduous 2,275 kilometer journey from The Indian border in Naga land across the top of Burma to the Sino-Burmese border; “In my work as a journalist in East Asia, I have visited more than twenty different rebel groups in Burma, Kampuchea and the Philippines. But the Kachins are incomparably the finest soldiers I have seen.” The book is dedicated to three young Kachins who were killed during a Burmese Army attack on the camp where they were staying and to a fourth Kachin friend who was killed when Burmese Army troops fired indiscriminately into his village.


The Linters are following to a greater or lesser part the Ledo Road which was built during WW2 to carry supplies from India so the allies could supply the Chinese after the Japanese had cut the Burma Rd. Under US General Stillwell, and named after him after the war, the labour needed was substantial and was provided by the local population which added up to a large number of ethnicities and language groups. Probably one of the most important sources were the Kachin and they had hoped that the reputation earned during this operation would put them in a position to generate a place for themselves like the Gurkha had done in Nepal. Their hopes were never realised but the training and weapons that remained after the war were put to good use anyway fighting the Burmese.


Once across the border into Burma they were travelling illegally and the Burmese Government became aware of their presence fairly soon. Had the Lintners been killed under these circumstances the Burmese Government could easily absolve themselves of any blame just as they do to their own people with shocking frequency. During the trip Hseng Noung (Linter's wife) gave birth to a daughter which complicated matters but they were served well by their Kachin escort which saw to their safety, security, basic needs and transport. Hseng Noung was a Shan guerrilla for six years from the age of sixteen when she volunteered and had been a sergeant for two years when she met Bertil on one of his excursions into the Shan States. Ee Ying, their daughter, coped with the arduous journey which ended in the southern Chinese border with Yunnan where the Lintners were smuggled across the border where they then approached the Chinese Government officials and were taken into custody and deported to Hong Kong which was a British colony at the time.


After leaving Bangkok in Thailand in March 1985 they went to Calcutta and it wasn't until the 22nd of October that they finally managed to cross into Burma emerging 18 months later in Yunnan, in the People's Republic of China. Bertil was the first westerner to explore this remote region since World War 2. The account he provides gives detailed information about the different ethnic groups including the Naga in India and the Wa in Burma. Both groups had been head-hunters until World War 2 intruded into their remote homelands. It also gives a thorough account of the political situation including the relations between the Chinese Government and the Communist Rebels. Also the sad fate of the ethnic minorities in Burma who have been suffering under their own government is impossible to ignore.


Travelling by foot, jeep, bicycle and elephant they were able to appraise the military situation and witnessed a number of jungle battles. With his letter of introduction from the leadership of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) he was able to engage in frank and detailed discussions with the leadership in this remote location. The first person to do so since WW2.


Complete with maps, photos and background information it is more than a just a travelogue, it is a first class piece of exploration and journalism. It marked Bertil Lintner as the foremost journalist dealing with the plight of ethnic minorities in East Asia. Fascinating, unique, and thoroughly credible it is one of the major works looking at places and people who are rarely heard of in the West.

Bertil Lintner






Lintner, Bertil
Year Published: 
Land of Jade; A journey through insurgent Burma