In terms of number of speakers, the Tibeto-Burman language family is the largest in the world after Indo-European. Yet by comparison little is known of its past. The family tree of Tibeto-Burman has undergone much revision (e.g. Shafer 1955,1974; Benedict 1972,1976; Burling 1983; Thurgood 1985; Bradley 1994a, 1994b). Particularly the position of Chinese has been a topic of great uncertainty. Because comparatively little was known of the historical phonology of Chinese, it was assigned to a superordinate node in the family. The language family was originally called 'Sino-Tibetan' and its main branches were Chinese, or Sinitic, and Tibeto-Karen. The Tibeto-Karen branch, in turn, consisted of Karen and the numerous Tibeto-Burman languages. The 'Tibeto-Karen' construct was the result of ascribing too much significance to the syntactic element order of Karen and to other Southeast Asian areal features in which Karen differs superficially from other Tibeto-Burman languages. Similarly, the prominence assigned to Chinese was the result of both a Sino-centric cultural bias and the pioneering state of the art in Old Chinese phonology and Tibeto-Burman historical comparison.