Awarded as a symbol of the autonomous status of the T'ai Federation, its medals were presented broadly to people of T'ai ethnic stock and to French officers and officials, Vietnamese, and Lao serving with the T'ai. The medals were produced in France by Delande and possibly others, but were also available commercially in Saigon in a cruder make until 1975. The decorations were not recognized in France by the Grand Chancellery of the Legion of Honor, and thus, according to the decree of November 6, 1920, were not supposed to be worn in public. A number of photographs of French officers in Indochina show them wearing the T'ai awards, General Bigeard, for instance, wearing the star of the Order of Civil Merit.
The inscription is in the unusual T'ai script of Nghia Lo, a variation of the Sanscrit Indic alphabet. It appears different from Thai, Lao, and Cambodian in part because it was written with the Chinese brush, which led to a diminution of the more delicate curlicues of those other scripts. It also represented an attempt to accommodate the Sancrit alphabet to a tonal language. J. Silvestre wrote about it in his "Notes sur les Chau Lao du Tonkin," Excursions et Reconnaissances, (Saigon), XI, No. 26, March-April 1886
The Medal of the Nung Autonomous Zone, according to well-informed French officers, was never officially authorized. It also was sold in Saigon, and its ribbon sometimes appeared in the groups of senior Vietnamese officers who had served before 1954. One officer who wore it was General Pham Van Dong, the Minister of Veterans Affairs in 1971 (and a namesake of the Hanoi leader). He was an ethnic Nung who had served in a Tonkinese regiment. During the chaos of 1945 he became a free-booter in Kwangsi and on the seacoast of Tonkin. He later rejoined the French-led army, and then in 1955 commanded the Nung units that became the core of the ARVN 5th Division.
The above is the insignia of the 1er bataillon Thaï, formed from the bataillon autome de Dien Bien Phu in August 1947. The insignia shows the Thai flag of blue-white-blue, with the red sun of sixteen rays, each representing a province of the Federation. It also pictures the mountains of upper Tonkin and the Black River. The initials N-O on the anchor of the Colonial Infantry are for Nord-Ouest.