Pa Chay Vu (Paj Cai Vwj)

Pa Chay Vue, (RPA: Paj Cai Vwj or Puas Cai Vue), commonly referred to as Pa Chay or Batchai, led the Hmong people in the War of the Insane revolt against French rule in French Indochina from 1918 to 1921. He was considered a hero among the Hmong nationalists, and a crazed man among the French subdued Hmong – but in present times, he is unanimously considered a hero by Hmongs everywhere.

Political Setting

In the European game of Risk, France ended up with the land between China and India which was termed Indochina. In 1918 the French colonial power in Indochina was still strong, but the ongoing World War I in Europe was beginning to weaken their choke hold on the land. The French heavily taxed the people; those who could not pay with silver or opium, had to sell their children to pay. As a way to make colonialism more profitable and as a way to have the people ‘earn their keep’ as colonial subjects, the French also forced corvee labor.


Pa Chay was an orphan who grew up in the province of Lao Cai, Vietnam and was raised by an uncle Xao Chu Vue (Xauv Tswb Vwj). He displayed much leadership and charisma. He performed such spectacular feats as jumping onto the top of a house, making a ball of cotton explode, etc. that the Hmong often attribute to him supernatural powers. After his marriage and the birth of his first child he claimed to be called by god to show the Hmong how to live in good health and harmony with their environment and to free the Hmong people from the oppressors, mainly the Tai and French. He was also instructed on a Hmong writing system which was practiced by many of his followers.[citation needed] Pa Chay began to be revered as a messianic leader and his followers took an “Oath to Heaven” in allegiance to him.

Pa Chay used his influence and the legend of his miraculous powers to convince his followers that he could deliver his people from French domination. Many Hmong united and began a Nationalist Hmong movement which drew villagers from all over northern Laos, northern Vietnam, and parts of southern China. Pa Chay then organized the Hmong nationalists to fight against the French in the rebellion known as “Guerre Du Fou” (Madman’s War “Nrog Paj Cai”).

The War

The stimulus for the rebellion was heavy taxation by the French and abuse of power by the ethnic Lao tax collectors. The Hmong people were divided into two opposing sides – those who resented the French presence and those who benefited from French patronage.

The rebellion, called “Rog Paj Cai” by the Hmong Nationalists and “Rog Phim Npab” by Hmong who sided with the French, was a purely Hmong movement; all the guns were the Hmong-designed and manufactured flintlock (a bit different from the traditional western flintlock gun). The gunpowder was also of a Hmong sort (salt peter, charcoal, and guano is used similar to western black powder, but shavings from a type of tree is added to increase the explositivity). There was much success in the beginning; the French were surprised and did not know how to fight in the jungles nor did they know how to fight a near invisible army, and as before mentioned, they were involved with World War I at home.

At its height, the rebellion encompassed 40,000 square kilometres of Indochina, from Dien Bien Phu in Tonkin to Nam Ou in Luang Prabang, and from Muong Cha north of Vientiane to Sam Neua in Laos. As World War I came to an end, the French reinforcements began to outnumber, and their firepower outpowered the Hmongs. The Hmong believed their defeats were temporary, caused by violations of the Oath to Heaven by some of the soldiers, and despite these defeats, there was still strong support from the populace.


In addition to their military might, the French also understood (through the ethnographic works of François-Marie Savina, a Catholic missionary) that in order to stop the rebellion they would have to kill the “messiah” – Pa Chay. Knowing the historical conflicts between the Khmu and the Hmong, they hired Khmu mercenaries to find Pa Chay. Many Hmong believe they also hired men who were close to Pa Chay to kill him. Of the four men hired to assassinate Pa Chay, Khau Kuam Lis is the only one known by name. Pa Chay was carrying his youngest child on his back at the farm house used for his hideout in Muong Heup, Luang Prabang, on 17 November 1921. The bullet pierced the child and killed both the child and Pa Chay Vue. His head was cut off and, along with his flintlock gun, was to be taken to the French officials as proof of his death.


The revolt against the French served to strengthen the bond between the pro-French Hmong leaders and their colonial rulers for another generation. Kiatong LoBliaYao (Lauj Npliaj Yob), a French loyalist and puppet leader, extorted many silver bars from those who had been loyal to Pa Chay Vue in exchange for their lives, an action that many Hmongs still remember even today, and which also ultimately caused his power to be given to Touby Lyfoung, his nephew. Touby Lyfoung was the famous Hmong royalist who fought, in succession, the Japanese, the Vietnamese and the Lao Communists.

To this day there is still a flower, called Pa Chay’s grass (Nroj Paj Cai), that blooms every year around the months of December and January. This little red flower appeared for the first time following his death that year and thus it was named in his honor to commemorate his glory and legacy.[citation needed]

The communist Lao government has named a military squadron in honor of Pa Chay, called, (Kong Pang Pa Chai) Koos Phaas Paj Cai. All members of this squadron are of the Hmong ethnic group. The squadron is heavily used to fight the Chao Fa (Hmong Freedom Fighers) in Laos.


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