The wiry Manchurian must have been thinking about the Japanese officer who had adopted the Burmese name “Moejo” meaning ‘Thunder’ while working with the young Burmese activists (later to be known as the Thirty Comrades) fighting for Independence, when he took up the Shan name “Falang” (or Hpalang to the Southern Shan) also meaning “Thunder” when he decided to work with Khun Sa for Shan freedom.
But on 3 June, he died a bitter and angry old man (84) for ever taking that decision in the early 1960s, according to a source close to him.
Falang, who was born Zhang Suquan, a native of Manchuria and an ex-officer in the Kuomintang Army before he joined Khun Sa, was, like his late boss Khun Sa (1934-2007), a controversy among the Shans.
Khun Sa aka Zhang Qifu died nearly 4 years ago, but every time his name pops up in a discussion, there are two opposing sides: one maintaining he was a fifth columnist sent by the late Gen Ne Win to sabotage the Shan resistance and the other saying he was a patriot misunderstood and betrayed by the people in whose interests he was working for.
Falang’s name is also a topic for hot debate: Was he a loyal follower who did his best to make Khun Sa’s dreams come true or the director who was running the show behind the scenes, Khun Sa being merely his chief comedian as most Shans seem to believe?
According to a source who was close to both during their lifetimes, the role of the two was “Khun Sa proposed and Falang disposed.” Falang had never done anything to impose his will upon Khun Sa, he claimed. He only followed orders, even though they might go against his better judgments.
One example was his opposition to Khun Sa’s declaration of Independence on 12 December 1993. “He thought that the move was premature and said so, but Khun Sa didn’t listen.”
He was also against Khun Sa’s operations against the Burma Army in 1994, which turned out to be military disasters as he feared though highly valuable as propaganda bringing even his erstwhile critics to his side.
Khun Sa’s success was, as he foresaw, short-liveed. His Mong Tai Army (MTA). once considered the strongest rebel group, fell apart by mutiny and by military, political and economic blockades. Two years after his declaration of independence, Khun Sa surrendered and died 12 years later under house arrest, at the age of 73.
Falang, who was a health addict and therefore had always kept himself fit by exercises, lived longer.
According to admirers, the following are Falang’s outstanding achievements:
- It was him who had trained the ragtag armed band of Khun Sa into a fighting force
- It was him who had successfully pulled out the Shanland United Army (SUA), the predecessor to the MTA, in 1967 from the battlefield of Ban Kwan in Laos, when it was attacked by a superior combined force of the Kuomingtang, an event later to be known as “the 1967 Opium War.”
- It was also him who had staged the spectacular kidnapping of 2 Russian doctors in Taunggyi in 1973 which culminated in the freedom of Khun Sa, who had been detained and imprisoned in Mandalay since 1969
Perhaps, like many others including his late boss, he was born only for the trail but not for its end. Maybe Sao Yawdserk and other existing leaders who had more or less learned from him will do better. If so, he should feel proud of it wherever he may be.