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(lä`ōs), officially Lao People's Democratic Republic, republic (2015 est. pop. 6,664,000), 91,428 sq mi (236,800 sq km), SE Asia. A landlocked nation, Laos is bordered by China on the north, by Vietnam on the east, by Cambodia on the south, and by Thailand and Myanmar on the west. The capital and largest city is VientianeVientiane
, city (1990 est. pop. 140,000), administrative capital and largest city of Laos, N central Laos, on the Mekong River, c.130 mi (210 km) southeast of the former royal capital of Luang Phabang.
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Land and People

The MekongMekong
, Chinese Lancang, one of the great rivers of SE Asia, c.2,600 mi (4,180 km) long. From its marshy source (definitively identified in 1994) on the Rup-sa Pass in the highlands of Tibet, it rises as the Za Qu (Dza Chu) and flows generally S through Yunnan prov.
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 River, most of which flows in a broad valley, forms much of the boundaries with Myanmar and Thailand. For two stretches, however—one greater than 300 mi (480 km)—the Mekong flows entirely through the territory of Laos. Except for the Mekong lowlands and three major plateaus, the terrain of Laos is rugged, mountainous, and heavily forested; jagged crests in the north tower over 9,000 ft (2,740 m). In addition to the capital, important cities include Savannaket, Pakse, and Luang PhabangLuang Phabang
or Luang Prabang
, city (1995 est. pop. 55,300), capital of Luang Phabang prov. and the historic, religious, and cultural capital of Laos, NW Laos, on the Mekong River.
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 (the former royal capital).

Laos is one of the nations of Southeast Asia least touched by modern civilization. There are no railroads; roads and trails are limited; and use of the country's main communications artery, the Mekong River, is impeded by many falls and rapids. More than half the people live along the Mekong and its tributaries, and most are subsistence farmers. The urban areas are more prosperous, with a slowly growing middle class.

About two thirds of the population are Lao Loum, a people ethnically related to the Thai, who live along the Mekong River valley. The Lao Theung or Mountain Mon Khmer (about 22% of the population) generally reside in upland valleys. Highland groups include the Hmong (Meo), Yao (Mien), Black Thai, Dao, and several Tibeto-Burman speaking peoples. There are also important minorities of Vietnamese and Chinese. A majority of Laotians are Theravada Buddhists; although the mountain peoples are generally animists, some have adopted Buddhism. Lao is the official language; French and English are also spoken.


Laos is one of Asia's poorest nations. Agriculture employs most of the Laotian workforce and accounts for about half of its gross domestic product. Rice is by far the chief crop; sweet potatoes, vegetables, corn, and peanuts are also grown. Commercial crops include coffee, sugarcane, tobacco, cotton, and tea. Illegal opium and cannabis were long produced in the northwest, part of the "Golden Triangle" (which also includes neighboring portions of Thailand and Myanmar), but production there was largely eradicated by 2005. Water buffalo, pigs, cattle, and poultry are raised, and fish from the rivers supplement the diet. Forests cover over half of the country; tropical hardwoods are cut and lac is extracted; much timber is exported illegally to Vietnam. Copper, gold, tin, and gypsum are mined; other mineral resources include gemstones. Manufacturing is limited; textiles and garments are the most important products. Tourism has become increasingly significant in the 21st cent, providing service jobs for Laotians.

Laos has significant hydroelectric potential and, with the increasing construction of dams in the 21st cent., electricity has become a prime export, mainly to Thailand and Vietnam. Dozens of dams have been built, are under construction, or are planned for tributaries of the Mekong, and a number of dams are also planned for the river itself. The first two Mekong dams, Xayaburi in N Laos and Don Sahong in S Laos, began producing power in 2019. The other principal exports are textiles and garments, timber and wood products, coffee, and tin. Since machinery and equipment, vehicles, fuel, and most consumer goods have to be imported, there is a continuing foreign trade deficit. Leading trade partners are Thailand, Vietnam, and China. In an attempt to expand the nation's economy, a foreign investment law was passed in 1989; the statute was further liberalized in 1994, and since the start of the 21st cent. the government has sought increasingly to develop the private sector.


Laos is governed under the constitution of 1991. The president, who is the head of state, is elected by the legislature for a five-year term. The government is headed by the premier, who is appointed by the president. The unicameral legislature consists of the 115-seat National Assembly, whose members are popularly elected for five-year terms. The only permitted political party is the Lao People's Revolutionary party (the Lao Communist party). Administratively, the country is divided into fifteen provinces and one municipality (the capital).


Early History to Independence

The Laotians are descendants of Thai tribes that were pushed southward from Yunnan, China, in the 13th cent. and gradually infiltrated the territory of the Khmer EmpireKhmer Empire
, ancient kingdom of SE Asia. In the 6th cent. the Cambodians, or Khmers, established an empire roughly corresponding to modern Cambodia and Laos. Divided during the 8th cent., it was reunited under the rule of Jayavarman II in the early 9th cent.
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. In the mid-14th cent. a powerful kingdom called Lan Xang was founded in Laos by Fa Ngoun (1353–73), who is also credited with the introduction of Theravada Buddhism and much of Khmer civilization into Laos. Lan Xang waged intermittent wars with the Khmer, Burmese, Vietnamese, and Thai, and by the 17th cent. it held sway over sections of Yunnan, China, of S Myanmar, of the Vietnamese and Cambodian plateaus, and large stretches of N Thailand. In 1707, however, internal dissensions brought about a split of Lan Xang into two kingdoms: Luang Phabang in upper (northern) Laos and Vientiane in lower (southern) Laos. During the next century the two states, constantly quarreling, were overrun by the armies of neighboring countries.

In the early 19th cent. Siam was dominant over the two Laotian kingdoms, although Siamese claims were disputed by Annam. After French explorations in the late 19th cent. Siam was forced (1893) to recognize a French protectorate over Laos, which was incorporated into the union of IndochinaIndochina,
Fr. Indochine, former federation of states, SE Asia. It comprised the French colony of Cochin China and the French protectorates of Tonkin, Annam, Laos, and Cambodia (Cochin China, Tonkin, and Annam were later united to form Vietnam). The capital was Hanoi.
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. During World War II, Laos was gradually occupied by the Japanese, who in 1945 persuaded the king of Luang Phabang to declare the country's independence.

In 1946 the French reestablished dominion over Laos, recognizing the king as constitutional monarch of the entire country. The French granted an increasing measure of self-government, and in 1949 Laos became a semiautonomous state within the French Union. In 1951, a Communist Laotian nationalist movement, the Pathet Lao, was formed by Prince Souphanouvong in North Vietnam. In 1953, Pathet Lao guerrillas accompanied a Viet MinhViet Minh
, officially Viet Nam Doc Lap Dong Minh [League for the Independence of Vietnam], a coalition of Communist and nationalist groups that opposed the French and the Japanese during World War II.
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 invasion of Laos from Vietnam and established a government at Samneua in N Laos. That year Laos attained full sovereignty; admission into the United Nations came in 1955.

A New Nation's Struggles

The new country faced immediate civil war as Pathet Lao forces, supported by the Viet Minh, made incursions into central Laos, soon occupying sizable portions of the country. Agreements reached at the Geneva Conference of 1954 provided for the withdrawal of foreign troops and the establishment of the Pathet Lao in two northern provinces. In 1957 an agreement was reached between the royal forces and the Pathet Lao, but in 1959 the coalition government collapsed and hostilities were renewed.

A succession of coups resulted (1960) in a three-way struggle for power among neutralist, rightist, and Communist forces. The Communist Pathet Lao rebels remained under the leadership of Prince Souphanouvong in the northern provinces. The right-wing government of Boun Oum, installed in Vientiane, was recognized by the United States and other Western countries and controlled the bulk of the royal Laotian army. The Soviet Union and its allies continued to recognize the deposed neutralist government of Souvanna PhoumaSouvanna Phouma, Prince
, 1901–84, government official of Laos. Of royal descent, he was trained as an engineer. From 1950 he held a variety of key government posts, including the premiership (1951–54, 1956–58, and 1960). Caught between U.S.
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, who had fled to neighboring Cambodia.

In May, 1961, with Pathet Lao and neutralist forces in control of about half the country, a cease-fire was arranged. A 14-nation conference convened in Geneva, producing (1962) another agreement providing for the neutrality of Laos under a unified government. A provisional coalition government, with all factions represented, was accordingly established under the premiership of Souvanna Phouma. Attempts to integrate the three military forces failed, however, and the Pathet Lao began moving against neutralist troops.

Open warfare resumed in 1963, and the Pathet Lao, bolstered by supplies and troops from North Vietnam, solidified control over most of N and E Laos. Disgruntled right-wing military leaders staged a coup in 1964 and attempted to force the resignation of Souvanna Phouma; the United States and the Soviet Union emphasized their support of the premier, however, and he remained in office with a right-wing neutralist government.

The Vietnam War and Communist Rule

Pathet Lao guerrilla activity decreased after the start (1965) of U.S. bombings of North Vietnamese military bases and communications routes. The bombings also included attacks on what came to be known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a North Vietnamese supply route through E Laos. Communist pressure increased during 1969, and early in 1970 the Pathet Lao launched several major offensives. Early in 1971, South Vietnamese troops invaded Laotian territory in an unsuccessful attempt to cut the Ho Chi Minh trail. The attack drove the North Vietnamese deeper into Laos, and Laos became another battleground of the Vietnam WarVietnam War,
conflict in Southeast Asia, primarily fought in South Vietnam between government forces aided by the United States and guerrilla forces aided by North Vietnam. The war began soon after the Geneva Conference provisionally divided (1954) Vietnam at 17° N lat.
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, with heavy U.S. aerial bombardments.

During this period, the United States extended enormous military and economic aid to the Laotian government, armed Hmong tribes (who also fought in Vietnam), and financed the use of Thai mercenary troops, whose numbers peaked to over 21,000 in 1972. The Pathet Lao, supported by North Vietnamese troops, scored major gains, consolidating their control over more than two thirds of Laotian territory (but over only one third of the population). Heavy fighting persisted until Feb., 1973, when a cease-fire was finally declared. A final agreement between the government and the Pathet Lao, concluded in Sept., 1973, provided for the formation of a coalition government under the premiership of Souvanna Phouma (inaugurated in Apr., 1974), the stationing of an equal number of government and Pathet Lao troops in the two capitals, and the withdrawal of all foreign troops and advisers.

After Communist victories in Vietnam and Cambodia, the Pathet Lao took control of the country in 1975, abolished the monarchy, and made Laos a republic. Souphanouvong became president, and Kaysone Phomvihane, head of the Communist party, became premier. Huge numbers of Laotians (many Hmong) fled to Thailand and many eventually sought refuge in the United States. (Small Hmong forces, however, continued to fight against the Communists into the 21st cent.) Laos became increasingly dependent on Vietnam for military and economic assistance, and the two countries signed a 25-year treaty of friendship in 1977.

In the early 1990s Laos abandoned economic communism for capitalism, but the party retained tight political control, and political dissent was harshly suppressed. Meanwhile, the nation pursued improved relations with such former enemies as China, Thailand, and the United States. Kaysone became president in 1991. He died the following year and was succeeded as president by Nouhak Phoumsavan. Khamtay Siphandone, a former military leader of the Pathet Lao, became party leader and, when Nouhak retired in 1998, assumed the job of president as well. Laos was admitted to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 1997.

Khamtay retired as party leader in Mar., 2006; he was succeeded in the post by Vice President (and Lt. Gen.) Choummaly Sayasone, who also succeeded Khamtay as president in June, 2006. Vice President Bounnhang Vorachith succeeded Choummaly in 2016; he was elected party leader in January and president in April. In Jan., 2021, Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith was elected party leader.


See M. S. Viravong, History of Laos (tr. 1959, repr. 1964); H. Toye, Laos: Buffer State or Battleground (1968); P. F. Langer and J. J. Zasloff, North Vietnam and the Pathet Lao (1970); M. Gdański, Notes of a Witness: Laos and the Second Indochinese War (1973); P. Ratnam, Laos and the Super Powers (1980); A. J. Dommen, Laos (1985); N. B. Hannah, The Key to Failure: Laos and the Vietnam War (1988).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



People’s Democratic Republic of Laos.

Laos is a state in Southeast Asia, on the Indochinese Peninsula. It is a landlocked country bounded by the People’s Republic of China in the north, Vietnam in the northeast and east, Cambodia in the south, Thailand in the west, and Burma in the northwest. Area, 236,800 sq km. Population, 3,110,000 (1972, UN estimate). The capital is Vientiane.

Administratively, Laos is divided into 16 provinces (khoueng): Attopeu, Borikhane, Vapikhamthong, Vientiane, Khammouane, Luang Prabang, Phong Saly, Savannakhet, Say a Boury, Saravane, Sedone, Xieng Khouang, Sithandone, Champassak, Houa Khong, and Houa Phan.

Laos is a constitutional monarchy. The present constitution was promulgated May 11, 1947, and substantially revised in 1956. Under the constitution the head of state is the king, who is empowered to confirm legislation adopted by the National Assembly, issue edicts that have the force of law, sign treaties with foreign states and ratify them after they have been approved by the National Assembly, establish and confer civil and military ranks, and grant pardons and mitigate punishment. The king is also the commander in chief of the armed forces, and, as the supreme protector of Buddhism, he has great religious authority.

The highest legislative body is the parliament, called the National Assembly, whose deputies are popularly elected for five-year terms. All citizens who have attained 18 years of age have the right to vote. Under the constitution the National Assembly has the right to enact laws concerning the budget, national debt, and administrative expenses and to resolve amnesty questions. The 12-member King’s Council (six appointed by the king at his discretion and six appointed by him on the recommendation of the National Assembly) is an advisory body under the head of state. The most important issues, such as changes in the constitution, are resolved by the King’s Council and the National Assembly meeting jointly as the National Congress.

The highest executive body is the government, called the Council of Ministers, whose chairman is appointed by the king. The chairman forms the government, which must then be approved by the National Assembly.

Each province is headed by a governor (chao khoueng), appointed by the government. He is assisted by a popularly elected provincial council that functions as a consultative body. Officials of the districts and rural areas of the provinces are also appointed by the government. In the large cities there are municipal councils headed by mayors.

The court of highest judicial instance is the Supreme Appellate Tribunal. The courts of lowest judicial instance, known as first-class tribunals, consider mostly civil cases. All judges are appointed by royal edict, and the High Council of Judges supervises the work of judicial bodies.


Laos is largely a mountainous country. In the north there are middle-altitude ranges composed of granites and gneisses and sandstone and limestone plateaus. In the bend of the Mekong River lies the Tranninh Plateau, formed chiefly from intrusive rocks of the Upper Paleozoic; the country’s highest mountain, Phou Bia (2,820 m), is located here. In the east rises the southwestern slope of the Truong-Son Range—part of the Annamite Cordillera—composed chiefly of granites and limestones and broken up by faults into separate massifs with dome-shaped peaks ranging from 1,500 to 2,711 m. The slope descends by steps to the low-lying alluvial valley of the Mekong. In the south lies the Bolovens Plateau, rising to 1,572 m. Mineral resources include large iron ore deposits near Xieng Khouang and deposits of tin and other nonferrous and rare metals.

The climate is subequatorial and monsoonal. The average January temperature ranges from 15°C in the north to 23°C in the south; frosts occur in the northern mountains. In the summer it is hot everywhere, with July temperatures of 28°-30°C. Annual precipitation ranges from 1,500–1,700 mm in the plains to 3,000 mm in the mountains. The rainy season lasts from June to October. The largest river, the Mekong, flows for most of its length along the country’s western border and is navigable in sections. Its most important tributaries, mountain rivers, are the Ou, Ngum, Theun, and Bang Hieng. A stretch of the Ma River flows through the northeast. Mountain lateritic soils predominate. More than two-thirds of the country is covered with monsoonal forests containing teak, bamboo, rosewood, ebony, and sandalwood. At altitudes above 1,000 m grow broadleaf evergreen forests with magnolias and laurels, and the mountain crests are covered with mixed forests of oak and pine. The plateaus and valleys are occupied by secondary savanna.

The fauna is rich and varied. Among the larger animals are elephants, tigers, leopards, panthers, bears, boars, wild oxen, and monkeys (gibbons, macaques, and Asia langurs). Reptiles are numerous and include snakes (cobras, pythons), lizards, and crocodiles. There are many species of birds, including peacocks, parrots, and wild roosters (Gallus), and bats are common.


The approximately 70 peoples and tribes living in Laos are divided into three ethnolinguistic groups: the Lao-Lu, or lowland Lao; the Lao-Theung, or upper Lao; and the Lao-Soung, or Lao of the summits.

The Lao-Lu group includes the Lao proper (1,900,000 persons, 1970 estimate) and the related upland Tai, comprising the Tai Neua, Black Tai, White Tai, Phu Tai, Yuan, and Lu (about 250,000 persons in all). They speak languages of the Tai group. The Lao-Theung include mountain Mon (Khmu, Lamet, Phouteng; about 380,000 persons in all) and mountain Khmer (Souei, Alak, Katang, Tau-oi; a total of about 250,000), whose languages belong to the Mon-Khmer family. The Lao-Soung (Man, Meo; about 120,000 persons) speak languages of the Miao-Yao group. Chinese, Vietnamese, Indians, Burmese, and others live in Laos.

The official language is Lao. The majority of the population professes the southern branch of Buddhism, and the mountain peoples have retained their ancient animistic beliefs. Two calendars are used today, the Laotian (lunar-solar) and the Gregorian.

Average annual population growth is 2.4 percent (1963–71). More than fourth-fifths of the gainfully employed population (1,500,000 persons in 1970) is engaged in agriculture and about 5 percent in industry and crafts. The unevenly distributed population is concentrated in the valleys. Urban dwellers account for 15 percent (1970) of the population. The largest cities are Vientiane (150,000 persons in 1972), Savannakhet, Luang Prabang, Pakse, and Thakhek.

TO THE MIDDLE OF THE FIRST MILLENNIUM A.D. The earliest traces of human habitation on Laotian territory date from the Upper Paleolithic. The Austroasiatic tribes living in the area began to employ bronze implements in the middle of the first millennium B.C.; rice cultivation became their primary occupation. A distinctive early Iron Age culture characterized by megaliths in the form of jars emerged in northern Laos at the beginning of the Common Era. Handicrafts and agriculture (irrigation) attained a high level, and a complex tribal organization evolved. Tai-speaking elements played a notable role in the history of Laos, and the Khmer state of Funan wielded considerable political and economic influence throughout the first half of the first millennium A.D.

THE FEUDAL PERIOD (FROM THE MIDDLE OF THE FIRST MILLENNIUM A.D. TO THE 19TH CENTURY). The Khmer states of Chenla Land (seventh-eighth centuries) and Kambuja (ninth-13th centuries) that succeeded Funan encompassed present-day southern and central Laos, where Khmer fortresses and cities arose. Between the sixth and 13th centuries class relations similar to those of the Khmers developed. During this period the Tai-speaking ancestors of the Lao migrated into the area of modern Laos in great numbers. Among these people the dissolution of tribal organization was followed by the emergence of feudal class society. In the ninth century, Tai from the state of Nan Chao began to invade northern Vietnam through northern Laos, where the first Laotian and Tai feudal principalities arose and soon came into conflict with Kambuja. In the 13th century the Tai-Laotian ethnic group began to predominate over the local Austroasiatic peoples in northern and central Laos. In the 1280’s northern Laos became part of the Tai state of Sukhothai. Theravada Buddhism (Hinayana) became the prevailing religion. Of the Laotian principalities subject to Sukhothai, the most important was Muong Swa in the valley of the Nam Ou River.

In 1353, Laotian principalities on the territory of present-day Laos and eastern Thailand were united by the Muong Swa ruler Fa Ngoun into a centralized state called Lan Xang, one of the strongest states in Indochina. Feudal relations became characteristic of the agriculturalists of the river valleys and Korat and Xieng Khouang plateaus. Among the other Lao and the smaller ethnic groups feudalization was not yet complete, particularly in mountain areas. In the struggle for hegemony among the Laotian principalities on the territory of present-day northern Thailand, the interests of Lan Xang came into conflict with those of Ayutthaya, the strongest Tai state. Lan Xang was frequently at war with Burmese states, which also laid claim to the region. Friendlier relations were maintained with the Vietnamese state of Dai Viet, which Lan Xang aided in its conflict with China in 1421.

The cultural flowering and political power of Lan Xang reached its culmination in the 16th and 17th centuries. Economic prosperity was accompanied by the spread of feudal relations and Buddhism to the interior regions, and outstanding works of architecture and religious literature were created.

The centralization that the state attained in the second half of the 17th century proved fragile, however, as strong feudal lords strove for political independence. In 1707, Lan Xang was partitioned into the principalities of Luang Prabang and Vientiane, and the principality of Xieng Khouang became a dependency of Vientiane in 1710. In 1713 the principality of Champassak in southern Laos seceded from Vientiane. In 1828 part of Vientiane was annexed by Siam after a military victory, and another portion was nominally ceded to neighboring Laotian principalities. In 1832 a large section of Xieng Khouang was acquired by Vietnam. The largest of the remaining Laotian principalities— Luang Prabang and Champassak along both banks of the middle course of the Mekong—fell under strong Siamese and weaker Vietnamese influence. From the mid-19th century northern Laos was subjected to devastating invasions by armed bands from southern China (Meo and Tai).

After the conquest of Vietnam and subjugation of Cambodia (1863) by the French, Laos fell within the French colonial sphere of influence. Great Britain, which had seized Burma and strengthened its position in Siam, also claimed influence in Laos. In 1885, France was able to establish a vice-consulate in Luang Prabang.

FRENCH COLONIAL RULE (FROM THE LATE 19TH CENTURY TO 1953). In 1893, France established a protectorate over Luang Prabang. French troops occupied eastern Champassak and the former principality of Vientiane on the left bank of the Mekong, and under a treaty with Siam, Laotian territory east of the Mekong was recognized as a zone of French influence. Called French Laos, these regions became in effect a French colony and a member of the Indochinese Union (French Indochina). In 1904 the French colonialists annexed part of the right bank of the middle Mekong to French Laos. The French colonial authorities began to exploit Laos economically, transforming it into a market for manufactured goods and a source of tax revenues. The French colonialists sought to preserve the obsolete feudal relations, and capitalist relations developed extremely slowly. The people of Laos rebelled against French rule many times, the largest uprisings occurring between 1901 and 1907 and between 1910 and 1936.

After World War I (1914–18) the exploitation of Laos by French capital intensified. Plantation farming was introduced. In 1923 tin mining was begun in the Nam Patene region, chiefly with labor imported from Vietnam. The first major working-class strikes (at the Nam Patene mines) and demonstrations by the petite bourgeoisie of the cities took place in 1932–34. The national-liberation movement became part of the democratic movement of the peoples of Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam that developed in French Indochina in 1936–38 under the leadership of the Communist Party of Indochina, established in 1930.

In 1941, during World War II (1939–45), Laos was occupied by the Japanese militarists. In the course of the people’s struggle against the Japanese aggressors, the Lao Issara (Free Laos) anticolonial movement arose, in which Prince Souphanouvong and Prince Souvanna Phouma became active. After Japan’s surrender in 1945, the Lao Issara movement, opposing the restoration of French rule in Laos, incited a rebellion. On Oct. 12, 1945, it proclaimed the independence of Laos. The National Assembly and a government were formed, and a provisional constitution was promulgated.

After France reoccupied Laos in early 1946, the national liberation movement took the form of guerrilla warfare. The People’s Liberation Army stubbornly resisted the French forces. On Aug. 27, 1946, France was obliged to sign an agreement by which Laos received a measure of autonomy. In May 1947 the Constituent Assembly, meeting in Vientiane, ratified a constitution declaring Laos a constitutional monarchy under French protection. In July 1949 the formal independence of Laos within the French Union was recognized. The Lao Issara movement disintegrated during this period, although the patriotic wing of the movement, led by Prince Souphanouvong, continued the struggle for independence.

On Aug. 13, 1950, the United National Front of Laos (Neo Lao Issara) was formally created at a congress of people’s representatives, and a national government of liberation was formed, which functioned in the liberated areas of Laos. The royal government, controlled by the French authorities, ruled the rest of the country. On Mar. 8, 1951, the creation of a united front for the liberation of the peoples of Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia was proclaimed. In the spring of 1953, Vietnamese volunteers entered the liberated areas of the country at the request of the national government of liberation and fought with the Laotians against the French colonialists. As a result of the successes of the national-liberation struggle in Laos, the government of France was forced to recognize Laos as an independent state under a treaty concluded with the royal government on Oct. 22, 1955.

SINCE INDEPENDENCE. At the Geneva Conference of 1954, Laos’ independence received international recognition. Under the Agreement on Ending Military Actions in Laos, French troops and Vietnamese volunteers were withdrawn from the country. Units of the Pathet Lao—the armed forces of the Neo Lao Issara—were concentrated in two northern provinces, Houa Phan and Phong Saly, and the armed forces of the royal government held the rest of the country. The government of Laos promised to bring about a political settlement by holding general elections to the National Assembly in 1955 and to grant equal rights to participants in the Neo Lao Issara movement. However, reactionary circles, with the support of the USA, succeeded in removing Souvanna Phouma (who had become premier of the royal government in 1951) from power in September 1954. They placed the leader of the Nationalist Party (founded in 1947), Katay Don Sasorith, at the head of the government. As premier until February 1955, Katay Don Sasorith implemented a pro-American policy. The government broke off negotiations with the Neo Lao Issara and ordered an offensive against the provinces of Houa Phan and Phong Saly. In December 1955 it held elections to the National Assembly, refusing to allow the Neo Lao Issara to participate, thereby violating the Geneva agreements. In December 1955, Laos was admitted to the United Nations.

On Jan. 6, 1956, at the second congress of the Neo Lao Issara, the organization was transformed into the Patriotic Front of Laos (PFL; Neo Lao Hak Sat). (The second congress is often referred to as the first congress of the PFL). At the same time, a new program for the creation of a peaceful, independent, united, and prosperous Laos was adopted, and broad democratic reforms were outlined, to be carried out with the cooperation of all progressive forces. The leadership of the PFL and the royal government began negotiations for a political settlement that would fulfill the Geneva agreements of 1954.

Negotiations between the various Laotian parties continued after the government of Prince Souvanna Phouma came to power in 1956, proclaiming a policy of peace, neutrality, and national reconciliation. In 1957–58 a number of documents known as the Vientiane Agreements were signed. A coalition government (government of national union) headed by Prince Souvanna Phouma was formed in accordance with the agreements. It included two representatives of the PFL, which acquired the status of a legal party. Provision was made for the inclusion of two battalions of the Pathet Lao in the royal army. Supplementary elections to the National Assembly were held in May 1958. The PFL received 13 deputy mandates out of 20. In the provinces of Houa Phan and Phong Saly a royal administration was established in which representatives of the PFL were to participate.

Meanwhile, reactionary forces were consolidating. An ultrarightist political party, the Committee for the Defense of National Interests, was formed, demanding the annulment of the Vientiane Agreements and the removal of Prince Souvanna Phouma. At the end of 1958 the government of national union was overthrown, and right-wing Laotian forces came to power. The PFL was banned, and in May 1959, Prince Souphanouvong and other leaders of the PFL were arrested. The policies of the right-wing forces in power, which strengthened foreign domination, provoked general discontent. On Aug. 9, 1960, a battalion of paratroopers of the royal army led by Captain Kong Le staged a coup d’etat with the support of the population. Prince Souvanna Phouma was invited to head the new government. Proclaiming a policy of peace, neutrality, and domestic concord, the government was supported by the PFL. The neutralists (who later founded the Neutralist Party of Laos—the Lao Pen Kang) and the PFL formed an alliance that played an important role in the struggle against reaction.

To counter the Souvanna Phouma government, the reactionary forces created the so-called Revolutionary Committee in the south in September 1960, headed by Prince Boun Oum and General Nosavan. In the fall of 1960 fighting broke out between forces of the right-wing faction, headed by Boun Oum and Nosavan and supported by imperialist circles in the USA and their SEATO allies, and the united forces of the PFL and the neutralists, led by Souvanna Phouma. The successes of the national patriotic forces, who had the sympathy and support of the socialist countries and progressive people throughout the world, made possible a settlement through negotiations. As a result, on June 11, 1962, a government of national union was established under the leadership of Premier Souvanna Phouma which included representatives of the three political forces of Laos—the neutralists, the PFL, and the right-wing (Boun Oum-Nosavan faction). Soon after the international conference of 14 countries that had been convened in Geneva on May 16, 1961, to settle the Laotian problem completed its work. On July 23, 1962, the Declaration on the Neutrality of Laos and the Protocol to the Declaration on the Neutrality of Laos were signed. The government of national unity published a program aimed at pursuing an independent course in foreign policy and building a united, democratic, and flourishing state. In September 1962, Laos established diplomatic relations with a number of socialist countries; relations with the USSR were established in October 1960.

In 1963 reactionary elements wrecked the negotiations on domestic political issues that were being conducted by the PFL, the neutralists, and the rightists, and they paralyzed the government of national unity. On Apr. 1, 1963, the reactionaries killed the neutralist minister of foreign affairs, Quinim Pholsena. The ministers who represented the PFL were forced to leave Vientiane. Part of the neutralist faction moved closer to the rightwing forces, gradually forming a right-neutralist bloc that opposed the PFL and the left neutralists who remained faithful to the former alliance. The second congress of the PFL, held Apr. 6–10, 1964, adopted a program of action aimed at resuming the struggle under new conditions. The program called upon the Laotian people to unite in order to secure the fulfillment of the Geneva agreements of 1962.

On Apr. 19, 1964, ultrarightist elements attempted to stage a coup to overthrow the government of national unity. They arrested some members of the government, including Souvanna Phouma, and tried to seize power. The actions of the rebels were condemned by most of the countries that had participated in the 1961–62 Geneva Conference on Laos. The rebels were obliged to free Souvanna Phouma and the other members of the government. However, under pressure by reactionary forces, Souvanna Phouma reorganized the government in June 1964. Left neutralists were dismissed, and right neutralists were appointed to replace the PFL ministers absent from Vientiane, although seats in the government were formally retained for representatives of the PFL. Beginning in the summer of 1964 the USA intensified its military intervention in Laos, regarding it as a springboard for its aggressive actions in Indochina. The American Air Force began bombing regions controlled by the PFL, and the bombing increased in proportion to the expansion of US military actions in Vietnam. The situation in the Vientiane zone remained unstable; rightist forces did not abandon their plans of overthrowing the government of Souvanna Phouma. In February 1965, General Nosavan made another attempt to overthrow the government of Souvanna Phouma, but he was routed by troops loyal to Souvanna Phouma and fled to Thailand with his supporters.

The third, extraordinary congress of the PFL, held at the end of 1968, adopted a new political program aimed at strengthening the united front and expanding it in order to accelerate the struggle against imperialist intervention. Right-wing Laotian forces stepped up military actions against the PFL in 1969 with a series of major offensive operations in regions controlled by the patriotic forces. Subsequently, patriotic forces succeeded in reestablishing control over the positions that had been temporarily lost. By 1970 the strategic initiative at the front had again passed to the patriots.

On Mar. 6, 1970, the Central Committee of the PFL announced a five-point program for the political settlement of the Laotian problem. The document emphasized that the USA must cease all acts of aggression and war against Laos, including bombing, and that foreign troops and technical personnel must be withdrawn in order to create for all concerned Laotian groups the conditions for negotiations and for the independent resolution of all problems on the basis of the Geneva agreements of 1962.

At the beginning of February 1971, American and Saigon forces totaling 30,000 men, supported by the American Air Force, invaded southern Laos from South Vietnam. In late March 1971 they were forced back. After halting the enemy, the patriotic forces of Laos took the offensive in a number of sectors at the front.

The struggle for the peaceful resolution of the Laotian problem on the basis of the Geneva agreements of 1962 continued. During 1971–72 the PFL offered a number of new proposals calling for the cessation of military actions throughout Laos, including the halting of American bombing of liberated areas, and for negotiations between the Laotian parties. In October 1972 negotiations began in Vientiane between delegations of patriotic forces and the Vientiane government of Souvanna Phouma on the restoration of peace and the achievement of a domestic political settlement. The signing in Paris on Jan. 27, 1973, of the Agreement on Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam created the conditions for a political settlement in Laos and other countries of Indochina.

On Feb. 21, 1973, the Laotian parties signed in Vientiane the Agreement on Restoring Peace and Achieving National Concord in Laos. The agreement called for a halt to military action throughout Laos as of Feb. 22, 1973, and provided for the establishment of a provisional government of national unity and of an advisory political council to prepare and hold general elections to the National Assembly and form a permanent coalition government. The agreement also provided for the withdrawal of foreign military personnel from Laotian territory. On Sept. 14, 1973, in Vientiane, representatives of the PFL and the Vientiane government signed the Protocol to the agreement of Feb. 21, 1973, providing for specific measures to implement the agreement.

The struggle of the people of Laos for the right to resolve their domestic problems independently and their struggle against imperialist aggression received the support of the USSR and other socialist countries and of peace-loving forces throughout the world. This support was expressed in the address of the Twenty-fourth Congress of the CPSU entitled “Freedom and Peace for the Peoples of Indochina!” (April 1971); the declaration of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR of July 15, 1970; the declaration of the Soviet government of Feb. 25, 1971; the declaration of the heads of government of eight socialist countries—Bulgaria, Hungary, the German Democratic Republic, Mongolia, Poland, Rumania, the USSR, and Czechoslovakia—of May 14, 1970; the declaration of the Political Consultative Council of the Warsaw Treaty Organization in connection with the exacerbation of the situation in Indochina (Dec. 2, 1970); and the declaration of leaders of socialist countries at a meeting in the Crimea in July 1973.

In July 1975 the National Congress of People’s Representatives was convened on the initiative of the PFL. The Congress complied with the request of the provisional government of national unity that it be dissolved, accepted the king’s abdication, proclaimed the establishment of the People’s Democratic Republic of Laos, and created supreme organs of state power.


“Dokumenty Zhenevskogo soveshchaniia.” Mezhdunarodnaia zhizn’, 1954, no. 1.
“Peregovory o vnutrennem uregulirovanii ν Laose.” Ibid, 1956, no. 11.
“Deklaratsiia o neitralitete Laosa. Protokol k Deklaratsii o neitralitete Laosa.” Izvestiia, July 31, 1962.
Popov, G. P. Za nezavisimyi i neitral’nyi Laos. Moscow, 1961.
Pavlovskii, V. Laos ν bor’be za svobodu. Moscow, 1963.
Kozhevnikov, V. A. Laos. Moscow, 1962.
Kozhevnikov, V. A., and L. A. Sedov. Laos. Moscow, 1962.
Kozhevnikov, V. A., and R. A. Popovkina. Sovremennyi Laos. Moscow, 1966.
Mikheev, Iu. Ia. Amerikantsy ν Indokitae. Moscow, 1972.
Burchett, W. Vverkh po Mekongu (Reportazh o Kambodzhe i Laose). Moscow, 1958. (Translated from English.)
Burchett, W. V’etnam i Laos ν dni voiny i mira. Moscow, 1963. (Translated from English.)
D. V. DEOPIK (to 1940) and V. A. KOZHEVNIKOV (from 1940)

The Patriotic Front of Laos (PFL; Neo Lao Hak Sat), a broad-based patriotic organization, was founded in 1956. The People’s Revolutionary Party of Laos, established in 1955, became legal in 1975.

Laos is an underdeveloped agrarian country with a mixed economy. Precapitalist structures of low productivity predominate; feudal relations persist, manifested primarily in the form of various obligations. Agriculture and forestry account for about three-fourths of the gross national product. Natural resources have been little studied, and there is almost no modern industry. Domestic economic links are weak because of poorly developed transportation, and foreign trade is also limited.

After independence was proclaimed in 1953, a number of economic development plans were adopted providing for national self-sufficiency in foodstuffs and for the development of transportation and industry. The plans were to be financed by foreign aid. The deterioration of the internal political situation and the escalation of military action, resulting from imperialist aggression, prevented the implementation of these measures and caused great damage to the already weak Laotian economy.

In the areas controlled for a long time by the patriotic forces all forms of feudal exploitation have been abolished. The economic policy of the PFL has assured a rising standard of living for the population; problems of the rational development of agricultural land, of irrigation, and of the introduction of drought-resistant varieties of agricultural crops are being solved.

AGRICULTURE The main branch of agriculture is crop cultivation. Small-scale peasant land ownership and tenure (plots of 1 to 3 hectares [ha]) are typical, and the holdings of large landowners do not exceed 30 ha. French plantations, producing coffee, opium, and cotton, have disappeared. Slash-and-burn farming prevails in mountain areas. A total of 17,000 ha of land is irrigated (1970). Agricultural land constitutes 7.5 percent of the total area (1970; 1,800,000 ha), of which more than half is cultivated and the rest is meadow and pasture. Most of the cultivated land, chiefly in the south, is sown to rice, the main food crop. The total crop area, including land yielding two harvests, is 665,000 ha, with an output of 830,000 tons in 1971. In the northern mountain areas corn is also sown (40,000 ha; 27,000 tons). Other crops include sweet potatoes, vegetables, manioc (tapioca), oil crops (peanuts, soybeans), tobacco, cotton, fruit (mangoes, papayas, citrus fruits), coffee (on the Bolovens Plateau), and opium and spices (cinnamon). Cattle are raised chiefly for draft purposes; In 1970–71, livestock totaled 1,400,000 head of cattle including 900,000 buffalo, 1,200,000 hogs, and more than 12,000,000 poultry.

FORESTRY The forests yield various valuable woods, notably sandalwood, teak, jacaranda, and ebony. Timber is floated down the Mekong and its tributaries. About 900 elephants are employed in logging. Also produced are sticklac, benzoin, cardamom, and betel.

INDUSTRY The chief form of industry is handicraft-artisan production. Small quantities of tin, iron ore, copper, lead, manganese ore, silver, and semiprecious stones are extracted. Tin is mined by a French company near Thakhek and Phon Tiou, and tin concentrates are exported to tin-smelting plants in Malaysia, Thailand, and Singapore. There are several small steam power plants that use imported fuel. An international program for utilizing the resources of the lower Mekong basin envisages the construction of three hydroelectric power plants in Laos, one of which has already been completed on the Ngum River. The chief manufacturing industries are sawmilling, rice hulling, and the production of building materials. There are also small enterprises producing sugar, vegetable oil, tobacco, ceramics, textiles (including silk), clothing and knitwear, and various metal articles, such as small tools, vehicles, and utensils. (See Table 1 for the output of selected industrial products.)

Table 1. Output of selected industrial products
Electric power (million kW-hrs) . .
Tin concentrate (tons).......2683311,380
Commercial lumber (thousand cu m) ...............71

Traditional artistic handicrafts include the fashioning of jewelry from silver, ivory, semiprecious stones, and gold.

TRANSPORTATION Laos has no railroads. Ferry service is maintained across the Mekong into Thailand near Vientiane and Tha Deua. Motor-vehicle roads totaled about 7,400 km in 1970, of which 2,000 km were hard-surfaced and the rest dirt roads passable only during the dry season. A total of 10,900 automobiles and 1,800 trucks were registered in 1970. There is small-scale navigation on the Mekong and its tributaries. Airports have been built in Vientiane, Luang Prabang, and Savannakhet.

FOREIGN TRADE The foreign-trade balance shows a chronic deficit, covered primarily by foreign aid. Foreign trade is for the most part one-sided. The chief exports are coffee, timber and lumber, tin concentrates, cardamom, benzoin, and sticklac. The main import commodities are rice, textiles, petroleum products, and transportation equipment. Principal trading partners are Thailand, the USA, and Japan. The monetary unit is the kip.


Kozhevnikov, V. A., and R. A. Popovkina. Sovremennyi Laos. Moscow, 1966.
Ioanesian, S. I. Laos: Sotsial’no ekonomicheskoe razvitie (konets XIX-60-e gody XX v.). Moscow, 1972.
Halpern, J. M. Economy and Society of Laos. New Haven, 1964.


The People’s Liberation Army of Laos (PLAL) consists of a ground force, air force, and river force. The supreme commander in chief is the president. Direct leadership of the army is exercised by the minister of defense through the general staff and through the commanders of the combat arms. The minister of defense is commander in chief and chief of the general staff. Since the revolution of 1975 the People’s Liberation Army of Laos has been reorganized. Some units of the former royal army, as well as patriotically oriented personnel from it, became part of the PLAL.

There are no reliable demographic data on Laos. Infectious and parasitic diseases are most commonly encountered, as well as protein and vitamin deficiency. Malaria, tuberculosis, trachoma, and, in the cities, venereal diseases are prevalent. Up to 60 percent of the population is afflicted with ascariasis, and ancylostomiasis and tsutsugamushi are common. Cases of leprosy, frambesia, wuchereriasis, clonorchiosis, and fasciolopsiasis have been recorded, and there are periodic outbreaks of smallpox and cholera.

In 1969 there were 30 general hospitals with 1,900 beds (0.7 beds per 1,000 inhabitants), of which 14 were city hospitals (975 beds) and 16 were rural hospitals (948 beds). The state owns 22 of the hospitals with 1,700 beds. Outpatient care is provided in hospital polyclinics, in dispensaries (117), and by doctors in private practice. There are 58 doctors, or one for every 50,000 people, seven stomatologists, eight pharmacists, and about 1,000 intermediate medical personnel. Medical training is offered at a school for doctors’ assistants and schools for intermediate medical personnel. In 1968–69 expenditures for public health amounted to 2.8 percent of the state budget. In the areas controlled by the PFL public health services, both military and civilian, are being organized and measures are being taken to control epidemics.


VETERINARY SERVICES Infectious and parasitic diseases prevail among farm animals. Much economic damage is inflicted by pasteurellosis of cattle, sheep, hogs, and poultry. In 1972, nine foci of swine plague were recorded, 25 of hemorrhagic septicemia, and 12 of rabies. Nearly all types of farm animals and fowl are afflicted with tuberculosis, and anthrax and cattle plague are periodically recorded. A large number of cattle suffer from paratuberculosis, and many horses are infected with trypanosomiasis. Entomoses and helminthiases are found throughout the country. There were 18 veterinarians in Laos in 1972.

Until the early 20th century the centers of education were Buddhist temples, where monks and novices acquired elementary general knowledge while studying religious doctrines. Secular education was introduced after Laos became part of French Indochina. In 1945 school enrollment totaled 11,000. In 1951 a law was enacted providing for compulsory free elementary education for children between the ages of six and 12, and by 1955 the number of students had increased to 45,900.

The achievement of independence served as a stimulus for the development and democratization of education. Because of the country’s de facto partition, however, two systems of education evolved. The educational system in the regions controlled by the Vientiane administration includes first- and second-level elementary schools, of three years each, four-year secondary schools called collèges, and seven-year secondary schools, or lycées. The language of instruction is Lao in elementary schools and French in secondary schools. In 1969–70 there were 217,000 students in elementary schools and 13,100 students in secondary schools. A ten-year educational system has been organized in the liberated areas, comprising a four-year elementary school, a three-year lower secondary school, and a three-year higher secondary school. By 1973, there were about 700 schools of different levels with 82,000 students. Instruction is in Lao.

Specialized secondary education is provided by the National Education Center in Vientiane, the Pedagogical School in Samneua, the Technical College in Vientiane, and medical and agricultural schools in Vientiane and Samneua. In the 1967–68 school year more than 1,000 people were attending specialized secondary schools.

The Royal Scientific Society (until 1970, the Literary Committee) in Vientiane promotes the development of the national literature and language. The National Library, also in Vientiane, is small since temples continue to be the main repositories for books.


In 1971 there were nine newspapers and periodicals in Laos. The main publications in Vientiane were Lang Xang Kaona (Modern Laos), a biweekly bulletin issued in Lao (founded in 1969, circulation 500); Lao Presse Bulletin, an official daily bulletin and the organ of the Ministry of Information, Propaganda, and Tourism, published in both Lao (circulation 700) and French (circulation 1,300); Lao Samai (Laos Today), a daily newspaper with a circulation of 600, published in Chinese and Lao; Pittupum (Homeland), a daily newspaper with a circulation of 500, published in Lao; Xat Lao (The Land of Laos), a weekly newspaper with a circulation of 3,500, representing the interests of right-wing nationalistic circles; and Sieng Seri (Voice of Freedom), a daily newspaper with a circulation of 1,000.

The principal publications in the territory controlled by the patriotic forces are the newspaper Lao Hak Sat (Patriot of Laos), the organ of the Central Committee of the PFL, and the magazine Seng Savan (Light).

The news agencies are the Lao Press Agency, the government information service in Vientiane, founded in 1951, and Khaosan Pathet Lao, the information agency of the PFL. The royal government’s National Radio of Laos broadcasts from Vientiane. The radio station of the PFL is the Voice of the Pathet Lao.


The oldest epigraphs discovered in Laos date from the second half of the 13th century. After the rise of the Lan Xang state in the 14th century and the spread of Buddhism, written literary works, at first religious and later secular, appeared, notably the narrative poem Prince Khung, describing the internecine feuds of Laotian rulers, and the prose work Story of Khun Borom (13th to 15th centuries) about the legendary founder of one of the first principalities in Laos. Such ancient Indian works as the Ramayana, known in Laos as the Pha Lak Pha Lam, and the Buddhist canon Tripitaka, translated from Pali, also influenced the development of Laotian literature. The jatakas of the Tripitaka enjoyed great popularity, especially the Vessantara Jataka and the Kampara Jataka. The themes of ancient Indian literature were reworked and reinterpreted, incorporating local folklore traditions. Popular heroes were Pha In (Indra), Metteyya (Buddha-Maitreya), and the Buddhist zealot Malai, as well as figures from the indigenous folklore of Laos, such as the giant Chet Hai and the clever urchin Xieng Mieng.

Laotian literature of the 16th and 17th centuries reached its culmination in the epic poem Sin Xay by Pang Kham. The late Middle Ages also produced a number of didactic works on religious and everyday subjects reflecting ethical norms and legal relations in medieval Laos: Keo Douangta’s Admonitions of Inthiyan and Admonition of a Grandfather to His Grandchildren and the anonymous frame stories Siao Savat, Puttasen, and Munla Tantai.

From the 18th century, with the disintegration of Lan Xang in 1707 and loss of independence in the late 19th century, literature entered a period of stagnation. It revived only after World War II (1939–45) and the growth of the national liberation movement. Contemporary literature is dominated by small forms—short stories, novellas, poems, and songs—and by journalism. Literature is developing more successfully in the liberated areas of Laos. Notable works include the poems of Somsi, the songs of Sisan, the stories Little Si (1969) by Khamling Pholsena, and Road of Life (1970) by Duong Savan.


Finot, L. “Recherches sur la littérature laotienne.” Bulletin de l’Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient, 1917, vol. 17, no. 5.
Bernard-Thierry, S. “Littérature laotienne.” In Histoire des littératures, vol. 1. [Paris, 1955.]
Maha Sila Viravong. Vannakadi lao py kansuksa. Vientiane, 1960.
Phimmasone, Phouvong. “Cours de littérature Lao.” Bulletin des Amis du Royaume Lao, 1971, nos. 4–5.

The oldest artistic relics are huge granite “vessels,” probably burial urns, found chiefly on the Plain of Jars (Tranninh Plateau) and dating from the beginning of the Common Era. In the middle of the first millennium A.D. the influence of Khmer culture spread throughout Laos. Among the extant monuments from the middle of the first and early second millennium A.D. are the temples near Savannakhet (That Ing Hang), resembling Cambodian prasats of the sixth to 11th century. With the rise of the Lan Xang state in the 14th century, Buddhism became firmly established and an original artistic culture developed, drawing on the art of Cambodia and Siam. Many monastery complexes, or wats, have survived, notably Xieng Thong in Luang Prabang (1561), Pra Keo (1565, rebuilt in 1938), and Sisaket (1820) in Vientiane. The wats include rectangular temples-bots with porticoes and multilayered tiled gabled roofs, libraries, residences for the monks, and that shrines (stupas). Varying greatly in their size and shape (hemispherical, bell-shaped, stepped, or tower-like with spires), thats may also stand separately, forming independent complexes with terraces, galleries, and surrounding small thats, for example, That Luang in Vientiane (16th century, rebuilt 1909–31).

Relics of medieval representational art include stone, wood, and bronze statues of Buddha (from the 14th century), in which a canonical pose and generalized modeling are combined with marked ethnic features (prominent narrow eyes and a short nose) and soft lines. Small sculptural pieces, frequently not Buddhist, were also executed, such as figurines of female dancers. Ornamental gilded carving adorned the wooden pediments of temples, as well as the doors and shutters. The interiors of temples were decorated with frescoes on religious themes. French colonial domination retarded the development of the national culture. Streets with a regular layout and two- to four-story European houses appeared in Vientiane and Luang Prabang.

With independence, national cultural traditions revived. Architecture is represented both by contemporary designs, for example, the Lan Xang Hotel in Vientiane (1963; architect, Khamphet), and by traditional forms, such as the Ministry of the Interior in Vientiane (1960’s; architect, Serg). The traditional frame house on piles with a gabled roof and often a veranda is still the dwelling of the common people. Easel painting (both lacquer and oil; Nuanravong and Virivong), graphic art (Samnan), and sculpture are developing. In addition to Buddhist mythology, subjects now include scenes from the life of the people, landscapes, and still lifes. Such traditional arts as carving on doors and shutters, decorative painting, weaving, and metal-working are reviving.


Ngo Huy Quynh. “Arkhitektura Laosa.” In Vseobshchaia istoriia arkhitektury, vol. 9. Leningrad-Moscow, 1971. Parmentier, H. L’Art du Laos, vols. 1–2. Paris-Hanoi, 1954.


Originating in the 12th century, Laotian music preserved the purity and originality of its folk tradition despite strong Indian and Chinese influence. Without a system of musical notation, Laotian musicians memorize folk melodies, skillfully varying them as they perform. Vocal and choral singing is highly developed among the people. The improvised ballads of itinerant singers and love songs in the form of lyrical duets are most popular.

The most widely played musical instrument is the khene, made of several small bamboo tubes. It is an indigenous instrument, not encountered in the other countries of South and Southeast Asia. Also popular are flutes and, among the bowed instruments, a two-stringed violin resembling the Cambodian violin. Percussion instruments include various drums, gongs, xylophones, and the complex khoung vong, consisting of 16 small bronze gongs mounted on a horseshoe-shaped frame. All these instruments are included in the small Laotian orchestra, which accompanies choral and solo singing. In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, European violins and accordions were introduced in the small orchestras. Augmented by clarinets and large drums, the orchestra participates in royal and religious processions and performances of the court ballet. In the national orchestra, which accompanies war dances and the ritual of “driving out evil spirits,” gongs are the most important instruments, although flutes, clarinets, single-stringed bowed instruments, and xylophones are also used.


The Laotian theater, closely related to the theater of other countries of South and Southeast Asia, combines dance, music, pantomime, and drama. It originated in rituals and dances depicting work, some of which are still performed during religious and seasonal holidays. Buddhism influenced the development of the theater. Stories from the Indian epic Ramayana and the Mahabharata became the basic dramatic material for the Laotian theater. The repertoire also includes dramatizations of romantic tales, legends, and religious stories, some of which are of Khmer, Siamese, and Burmese origin. The actors perform in magnificent costumes and stylized colored lacquer masks. Despite the absence of scenery and props, the performances are a splendid, majestic spectacle. For several centuries Laos has had a court ballet, which performs at the palace in Luang Prabang. Numerous traveling companies perform skits under the open skies, and performances sometimes last the whole night. The shadow and puppet theater, long established in Laos, reveals Javanese and Chinese theatrical influence, but preserves national features (costumes, movements). All theatrical performances are accompanied by the small Laotian and national orchestras.

The Laotian theater declined during the colonial period. It revived during the years of struggle for independence, taking its subjects from the national-liberation movement. A young people’s company performs in army units and villages.


Parmentier, H. L’Art du Laos, vols. 1–2. Paris-Hanoi, 1954.
Laos, Its People, Its Society, Its Culture. New Haven, 1960.

S. M. MAKAROVA [14–444–3; updated]

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


Official name: Lao People’s Democratic Republic

Capital city: Vientiane

Internet country code: .la

Flag description: Three horizontal bands of red (top), blue (double width), and red with a large white disk centered in the blue band

National anthem: “Xat Lao”

Geographical description: Southeastern Asia, northeast of Thailand, west of Vietnam

Total area: 91,430 sq. mi. (236,800 sq. km.)

Climate: Tropical monsoon; rainy season (May to Novem­ber); dry season (December to April)

Nationality: noun: Lao(s) or Laotian(s); adjective: Lao or Laotian

Population: 6,521,998 (July 2007 CIA est.)

Ethnic groups: More than 40 ethnic groups, broken down descriptively as follows: Lao Loum (lowland) 68%, Lao Theung (upland) 22%, Lao Soung (highland) including the Hmong and the Yao 9%, ethnic Vietnamese/Chinese 1%

Languages spoken: Lao (official), French, English, local languages

Religions: Buddhist 65%, indigenous religions 32.9%, Christian 1.3%, other and unspecified 0.8%

Legal Holidays:

Children's DayJun 1
Labor DayMay 1
National DayDec 2
New Year's DayJan 1
Women's DayMar 8
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.


a republic in SE Asia: first united as the kingdom of Lan Xang ("million elephants") in 1353, after being a province of the Khmer Empire for about four centuries; made part of French Indochina in 1893 and gained independence in 1949; became a republic in 1975. It is generally forested and mountainous, with the Mekong River running almost the whole length of the W border. Official language: Laotian. Religion: Buddhist majority, tribal religions. Currency: kip. Capital: Vientiane. Pop.: 5 787 000 (2004 est.). Area: 236 800 sq. km (91 429 sq. miles)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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