History of Thailand
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|History of Thailand|
Thai people, who originally lived in southwestern China, migrated into mainland Southeast Asia over a period of many centuries. The oldest known mention of their existence in the region by the exonym Siamese is in a 12th-century inscription at the Khmer temple complex of Angkor Wat in Cambodia, which refers to syam, or "dark brown", people. It was believed that Siam derived from Sanskrit śyāma or "brown (people)" with a contemptuous signification. Chinese: 暹罗; pinyin: XiānLuó was the name for the northern kingdom centred on Sukhothai and Sawankhalok, but to the Thai themselves, the name of the country has always been Mueang Thai.
The country's designation as Siam by Westerners likely came from the Portuguese, the first Europeans to give a coherent account of the country. Portuguese chronicles noted that the Borommatrailokkanat, king of the Ayutthaya Kingdom, sent an expedition to the Malacca Sultanate at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula in 1455. Following their conquest of Malacca in 1511, the Portuguese sent a diplomatic mission to Ayutthaya. A century later, on 15 August 1612, The Globe, an East India Company merchantman bearing a letter from King James I, arrived in "the Road of Syam". "By the end of the 19th century, Siam had become so enshrined in geographical nomenclature that it was believed that by this name and no other would it continue to be known and styled."
Indianised kingdoms such as the Mon, the Khmer Empire and Malay states of the Malay Peninsula and Sumatra had ruled the region. The Thai established their own states: Ngoenyang, the Sukhothai Kingdom, the Kingdom of Chiang Mai, Lan Na and the Ayutthaya Kingdom. These states fought each other and were under constant threat from the Khmers, Burma and Vietnam. Much later, the European colonial powers threatened in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but Thailand survived as the only Southeast Asian state to avoid European colonial rule because the French and the British decided it would be a neutral territory to avoid conflicts between their colonies. After the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932, Thailand endured sixty years of almost permanent military rule before the establishment of a democratically elected-government system. In 2014 there was a coup d'état.
Prior to the southwards migration of the Tai peoples from Yunnan in the 10th century, mainland Southeast Asia had been a home to various indigenous communities for thousands of years. The recent discovery of Homo erectus fossils such as Lampang man is an example of archaic hominids. The remains were first discovered during excavations in Lampang Province, Thailand. The finds have been dated from roughly 1,000,000–500,000 years ago in the Pleistocene. Stone artefacts dating to 40,000 years ago have been recovered from e.g. Tham Lod rockshelter in Mae Hong Son and Lang Rongrien Rockshelter in Krabi, peninsular Thailand. The archaeological data between 18,000 – 3000 years ago primarily derive from cave and rock shelter sites, and are associated with Hoabinhian foragers.
Initial states of Thailand
There are myriad sites in Thailand dating to the Bronze (1500-500 BCE) and Iron Ages (500 BCE-500 CE). The most thoroughly researched of these sites are located in the country's northeast, especially in the Mun and Chi River valleys. The Mun River in particular is home to many 'moated' sites which comprise mounds surrounded by ditches and ramparts. The mounds contain evidence of prehistoric occupation.
Around the first century, according to epigraphy of the Kingdom of Funan and the records of Chinese historians, a number of trading settlements of the south appear to have been organised into several Malay states, among the earliest of which are believed to be Langkasuka and Tambralinga. Some trading settlements show evidences of trade with the Roman Empire: a Roman gold coin showing Roman emperor Antoninus Pius (161 AD) has been found in southern Thailand.
Prior to the arrival of the Thai people and culture into what is now Thailand, the region hosted a number of indigenous Austroasiatic-speaking and Malayo-Sumbawan-speaking civilisations. However, little is known about Thailand before the 13th century, as the literary and concrete sources are scarce and most of the knowledge about this period is gleaned from archaeological evidence. Similar to other regions in Southeast Asia, Thailand was heavily influenced by the culture and religions of India, starting with the Kingdom of Funan around the first century until the Khmer Empire. Indian influence on Siamese culture was partly the result of direct contact with Indian settlers, but mainly it was brought about indirectly via the Indianised kingdoms of Dvaravati, Srivijaya and the Khmer Empire. E. A. Voretzsch believes that Buddhism must have been flowing into Thailand from India in the time of the Indian emperor Ashoka of the Maurya Empire and far on into the first millennium after Christ. Later Thailand was influenced by the south Indian Pallava dynasty and north Indian Gupta Empire.
The Chao Phraya River in what is now Central Thailand had once been the home of the Mon Dvaravati culture, which prevailed from the 7th century to the 10th century. The existence of the civilisations had long been forgotten by the Thai when Samuel Beal discovered the polity among the Chinese writings on Southeast Asia as “Duoluobodi”. During the early 20th century the archaeologists led by George Coedès made grand excavations on what is now Nakhon Pathom Province and found it to be a centre of Dvaravati culture. The constructed name Dvaravati was confirmed by a Sanskrit plate inscription containing the name "Dvaravati".
Later on, many more Dvaravati sites were discovered throughout the Chao Phraya valley. The two most important sites were Nakorn Pathom and U Thong (in modern U Thong District, Suphan Buri Province). The inscriptions of Dvaravati were in Sanskrit and Mon using the script derived from the Pallava alphabet of the South Indian Pallava dynasty.
The religion of Dvaravati is thought to be Theravada Buddhism through contacts with Sri Lanka, with the ruling class also participating in Hindu rites. The Dvaravati art, including the Buddha sculptures and stupas, showed strong similarities to those of the Gupta Empire of India. The most prominent production of Dvaravati art are dharmachakras, stone wheels signifying Buddhist principles. The eastern parts of the Chao Phraya valley were subjected to a more Khmer and Hindu influence as the inscriptions are found in Khmer and Sanskrit.
Dvaravati was not a kingdom but a network of city-states paying tributes to more powerful ones according to the mandala political model. Dvaravati culture expanded into Isan as well as southwards as far as the Kra Isthmus. Dvaravati was a part of ancient international trade as Roman artefacts were also found and Dvaravati tributes to the Tang Chinese court are recorded. The culture lost power around the 10th century when were submitted by a more unified Lavo-Khmer polity.
Below the Kra Isthmus was the place of Malay civilisations. Primordial Malay kingdoms are described as tributaries to Funan by second-century Chinese sources – though most of them proved to be tribal organisations instead of full-fledged kingdoms. From the sixth century onwards, two major mandalas ruled southern Thailand – the Kanduli and the Langkasuka. Kanduli centred on what is now Surat Thani Province and Langasuka in Pattani Province.
Southern Thailand was the centre of Hinduism and Mahayana Buddhism. The Tang monk Yijing stopped at Langkasuka to study Pali grammar and Mahayana during his journey to India around 800. At that time, the kingdoms of Southern Thailand quickly fell under the influences of the Malay kingdom of Srivijaya from Sumatra. Rajendra Chola I of the Chola dynasty invaded the Tambralinga Kingdom in Southern Thailand in the 11th century.
From about the 10th century to the 14th century, Thailand was known through archaeological findings and a number of local legends. The period saw the Khmer domination over a large portion of Chao Phraya basin and the Isan. The expansion of Tai tribes and their culture southwards also happened during the classical era.
According to the Cāmadevivaṃsa, the city of Hariphunchai (modern Lamphun) was founded by the hermits; Camadevi, a princess of the Lavo Kingdom, was invited to rule the city in around 700. However, this date is considered too early for the foundation of Hariphunchai as Camadevi brought no dharmachakras to the north. Hariphunchai may be a later (about the 10th century) offshoot of the Lavo Kingdom or instead related to the Thaton Kingdom.
Hariphunchai was the centre of Theravada in the north. The kingdom flourished during the reign of King Attayawong who built Wat Phra That Hariphunchai in 1108. The kingdom had strong relations to another Mon kingdom of Thaton. During the 11th century, Hariphunchai waged lengthy wars with the Tai Ngoenyang kingdom of Chiang Saen. Weakened by Tai invasions, Hariphunchai eventually fell in 1293 to Mangrai, king of Lan Na, the successor state of the Ngoenyang kingdom.
Arrival of the Tais
The most recent and accurate theory about the origin of the Tai people stipulates that Guangxi in China is really the Tai motherland instead of Yunnan. A large number of Tai people known as the Zhuang still live in Guangxi today. Around 700 AD, Tai people who did not come under Chinese influence settled in what is now Điện Biên Phủ in modern Vietnam according to the Khun Borom legend. Based on layers of Chinese loanwords in Proto-Southwestern Tai and other historical evidence, Pittayawat Pittayaporn (2014) proposes that this migration must have taken place sometime between the 8th-10th centuries. From there, the Tais began to radiate into northern highlands and founded the cities of Luang Prabang and Chiang Saen District.
The Simhanavati legend tells us that a Tai chief named Simhanavati drove out the native Wa people and founded the city of Chiang Saen around 800 AD. For the first time, the Tai people made contact with the Indianized civilisations of Southeast Asia. Through Hariphunchai, the Tais of Chiang Saen adopted Theravada Buddhism and Sanskrit royal names. Wat Phrathat Doi Tong, constructed around 850, signified the piety of Tai people on the Theravada religion. Around 900, major wars were fought between Chiang Saen and Hariphunchai. The Mon forces captured Chiang Saen and its king fled. In 937, Prince Prom the Great took Chiang Saen back from the Mon and inflicted severe defeats on Hariphunchai.
Around 1000 AD, Chiang Saen was destroyed by an earthquake with all the inhabitants killed. A council was established to govern the kingdom for a while, and then a local Wa man known as Lavachakkaraj was elected the King of the new city of Chiang Saen or Ngoenyang. The Lavachakkaraj dynasty would rule over the region for about 500 years.
The overpopulation might have encouraged the Tais to seek their fortune further southwards. By 1100 AD, the Tai had established themselves as Po Khuns (ruling fathers) at Nan, Phrae, Songkwae, Sawankhalok, Chakangrao, etc. on the upper Chao Phraya River. These southern Tai princes faced Khmer influence from the Lavo Kingdom. Some of them became subordinates to it.
Around the 10th century, the city-states of Dvaravati merged into two mandalas – the Lavo (modern Lopburi) and the Supannabhum (modern Suphan Buri). According to a legend in the Northern Chronicles, in 903, a king of Tambralinga invaded and took Lavo and installed a Malay prince to the Lavo throne. The Malay prince was married to a Khmer princess who had fled an Angkorian dynastic bloodbath. The son of the couple contested for the Khmer throne and became Suryavarman I, thus bringing Lavo under Khmer domination through personal union. Suryavarman I also expanded into the Khorat Plateau (later styled Isan), constructing many temples.
Suryavarman, however, had no male heirs and again Lavo was independent. King Anawrahta of Bagan invaded Lavo in 1058 and took a Lavo princess as his wife. The power of the Lavo kingdom reached the zenith in the reign of Narai (1072–1076). Lavo faced Burmese invasions under Kyansittha, whose mother was the Lavo princess, in 1080 but was able to repel. After the death of Narai, however, Lavo was plunged into bloody civil war and the Khmer under Suryavarman II took advantage by invading Lavo and installing his son as the King of Lavo.
The repeated but discontinued Khmer domination eventually Khmerized Lavo. Lavo was transformed from a Theravadin Mon Dvaravati city into a Hindu Khmer one. Lavo became the entrepôt of Khmer culture and power of the Chao Phraya river basin. The bas-relief at Angkor Wat shows a Lavo army as one of the subordinates to Angkor. One interesting note is that a Tai army was shown as a part of Lavo army, a century before the establishment of the Sukhothai kingdom.
Sukhothai Kingdom and Lan Na
Thai city-states gradually became independent from the weakened Khmer Empire. It is said that Sukhothai Kingdom was established as a strong sovereign kingdom by Sri Indraditya in 1238. A political feature which "classic" Thai historians call "father governs children" existed at this time. Everybody could bring their problems to the king directly, as there was a bell in front of the palace for this purpose. The city briefly dominated the area under King Ram Khamhaeng, who tradition and legend states established the Thai alphabet, but after his death in 1365, Sukothai fell into decline and became subject to another emerging Thai state, the Ayutthaya Kingdom in the lower Chao Phraya area.
Another Thai state that coexisted with Sukhothai was the eastern state of Lan Na centred in Chiang Mai. King Mangrai was its founder. This city-state emerged in the same period as Sukhothai. Evidently Lan Na became closely allied with Sukhothai. After the Ayutthaya Kingdom had emerged and expanded its influence from the Chao Phraya valley, Sukhothai was finally subdued. Fierce battles between Lan Na and Ayutthaya also constantly took place and Chiang Mai was eventually subjugated, becoming Ayutthaya's vassal.
Lanna's independent history ended in 1558, when it finally fell to the Burmese; thereafter it was dominated by Burma until the late 18th century. Local leaders then rose up against the Burmese with the help of the rising Thai kingdom of Thonburi of king Taksin. The 'Northern City-States' then became vassals of the lower Thai kingdoms of Thonburi and Bangkok. In the early 20th century they were annexed and became part of modern Siam, the country is now called Thailand.
The city of Ayutthaya was located on a small island, encircled by three rivers. Due to its superior location, Ayutthaya quickly became powerful, politically and economically. Ayutthaya's name is derived from Ayodhya, an Indian holy city.
The first ruler of the Kingdom of Ayutthaya, King Uthong (ruled 1351-69), made two important contributions to Thai history: the establishment and promotion of Theravada Buddhism as the official religion to differentiate his kingdom from the neighbouring Hindu kingdom of Angkor and the compilation of the Dharmaśāstra, a legal code based on Hindu sources and traditional Thai custom. The Dharmaśāstra remained a tool of Thai law until late in the 19th century.
In its 417 years of existence, the Ayutthaya Kingdom was frequently plagued by internal fighting but this did not prevent its rise as a major power on mainland Southeast Asia. Ayutthaya's culture and traditions became the model for the next period in Thai history, the Bangkok-based Rattanakosin Kingdom of the Chakri dynasty.
In 1511 Duke Afonso de Albuquerque dispatched Duarte Fernandes as an envoy to the Ayutthayan kingdom, known then to the Europeans as 'Kingdom of Siam'. This contact with the West during the 16th century lead to a period of profound economic growth as lucrative trade routes were established. Ayutthayan became one of the most prosperous cities in Southeast Asia. According to George Modelski, Ayutthaya is estimated to have been the largest city in the world in 1700 CE, with a population of around 1 million. Trade flourished, with the Dutch and Portuguese among the most active foreigners in the kingdom, together with the Chinese and Malayans.
The War with Burmese
Starting in the middle of the 16th century, the kingdom came under repeated attacks by the Taungoo Dynasty of Burma. The Burmese–Siamese War (1547–49) began with Burmese an invasion and a failed siege of Ayutthaya. A second siege (1563–64) led by King Bayinnaung forced King Maha Chakkraphat to surrender in 1564. The royal family was taken to Bago, Burma, with the king's second son Mahinthrathirat installed as the vassal king. In 1568, Mahinthrathirat revolted when his father managed to return from Bago as a Buddhist monk. The ensuing third siege captured Ayutthaya in 1569 and Bayinnaung made Mahathammarachathirat his vassal king.
After Bayinnaung's death in 1581, uparaja Naresuan proclaimed Ayutthaya's independence in 1584. The Thai fought off repeated Burmese invasions (1584–1593), capped by an elephant duel between King Naresuan and Burmese heir-apparent Mingyi Swa in 1593 during the fourth siege of Ayutthaya in which Naresuan famously slew Mingyi Swa. The Burmese–Siamese War (1594–1605) was a Thai attack on Burma, resulting in the capture of the Tanintharyi Region as far as Mottama in 1595 and Lan Na in 1602. Naresuan even invaded mainland Burma as far as Taungoo in 1600, but was driven back.
Ayutthaya expanded its sphere of influence over a considerable area, ranging from the Islamic states on the Malay Peninsula, the Andaman ports of present-day India, the Angkor kingdom of Cambodia, to states in northern Thailand. In the 18th century, the power of the Ayutthaya Kingdom gradually declined as fighting between princes and officials plagued its political arena. Outlying principalities became more and more independent, ignoring the capital's orders and decrees.
In the 18th century, the last phase of the kingdom arrived. The Bamar people, who had taken control of Lan Na and had also unified their kingdom under the powerful Konbaung Dynasty, launched several blows against Ayutthaya in the 1750s and 1760s. Finally, in 1767, after several months of siege, the Burmese broke through Ayutthaya's outer and inner walls, sacked the city, and burned it down. The royal family fled the city and Ayutthaya's last king, Ekkathat, died of starvation ten days later while in hiding. The Ayutthaya royal line had been extinguished, the dynasty laid waste. Overall there had been 33 kings in this period, including an unofficial king.
Five dynasties ruled the Ayutthaya Kingdom:
- U-Thong Dynasty which consisting of 3 kings
- Suphanabhumi Dynasty consisting of 13 kings
- Sukhothai Dynasty consisting of 7 kings
- Prasart Thong (Golden Palace) Dynasty consisting of 4 kings
- Bann Plu Dynasty consisting of 6 kings
After more than 400 years of power, in 1767, the Kingdom of Ayutthaya was brought down by invading Burmese armies, its capital burned, and the territory split. Despite its complete defeat and occupation by Burma, Siam made a rapid recovery. The resistance to Burmese rule was led by a noble of Chinese descent, Taksin, a capable military leader. Initially based at Chanthaburi in the south-east, within a year he had defeated the Burmese occupation army and re-established a Siamese state with its capital at Thonburi on the west bank of the Chao Phraya, 20 km from the sea. In 1768 he was crowned as King Taksin (now officially known as Taksin the Great).
Unification war of Five separate states
After the sacking of Ayutthaya, the country had fallen apart, due to the disappearance of the central authority. Besides King Taksin, who had organized his force in the south-eastern provinces, Prince Teppipit, King Boromakot's son, who had been unsuccessful in a diversionary action against the Burmese in 1766, had set himself up as the ruler of Phimai holding sway over the eastern provinces including Nakhon Ratchasima or Khorat, while the Governor of Phitsanulok, whose first name was Ruang (Thai:เรือง), had proclaimed himself independent, with the territory under his control extending to the province of Nakhon Sawan. North of Phitsanulok was the town of Sawangburi (known as Fang in Uttaradit Province), where a Buddhist monk named Ruan had made himself a prince, appointing his qualified fellow monks as army commanders. He had himself pursued Buddhist studies at Ayutthatya with such excellent results that he had been appointed the chief monk of Sawangburi by King Boromakot. In the southern provinces up to Chumphon, a Pra Palad who was the acting Governor of Nakhon Si Thammarat declared his independence and raised himself to the princely rank.
Having firmly established his power at Thonburi, King Taksin set out what can be called 'the reunification' of the good old day kingdom,crushing the regional rivals. After a temporary repulse by the Governor of Phitsanulok, he concentrated on the defeat of the weakest one first. Prince Teppipit of Phimai was quelled and executed in 1768. Chao Narasuriyawongse, one of Taksin's nephews, was substituted for him as Governor. King Taksin himself led an expedition against him and took it, but the Prince disappeared and could not be found again.
In dealing with the Prince of Nakhon Si Thammarat, who was taken prisoner by the loyal Governor of Pattani, the King not only pardoned him but also favoured him with a residence at Thonburi. However, later due to stress and many factors, King Taksin went mad. After a coup d'état removing Taksin from power was restored by General Chakri (later becoming Rama I), Taksin was sentenced to death on Wednesday, 10 April 1782.
General Chakri succeeded him in 1782 as Rama I, the first king of the Chakri dynasty. In the same year he founded the new capital city across the Chao Phraya river in an area known as Rattanakosin Island. (While settlements on both banks were commonly called Bangkok, both the Burney Treaty of 1826 and the Roberts Treaty of 1833 refer to the capital as the City of Sia-Yut'hia.) In the 1790s, Burma was defeated and driven out of Siam, as it was then called. Lanna also became free of Burmese occupation, but was reduced to the Kingdom of Chiangmai: the king of the new dynasty was installed as a tributary ruler of the Chakri monarch.
Rama I restored most of the social and political system of the Ayutthaya kingdom, promulgating new law codes, reinstating court ceremonies and imposing discipline on the Buddhist monkhood. His government was carried out by six great ministries (Krom) headed by royal princes. Four of these administered particular territories: the Kalahom the south; the Mahatthai the north and east; the Phrakhlang the area immediately south of the capital; and the Krom Mueang, the area around Bangkok. The other two were the ministry of lands (Krom Na) and the ministry of the royal court (Krom Wang). The army was controlled by the King's deputy and brother, the Uparat.
The heirs of Rama I became increasingly concerned with the threat of European colonialism after British victories in neighbouring Burma in 1826. The first Thai recognition of Western power in the region was the Burney Treaty with the United Kingdom in 1826. In 1833, United States diplomatist Edmund Roberts exchanged a treaty with Siam, updated in 1856, 1945 and 1949. Numerous treaties with foreign powers were signed during the reigns of King Mongkut (1804–1868), and his son King Chulalongkorn (1853–1910).
Chulalongkorn (Rama V) was the first Siamese king to have a full western education, having been taught by a British governess, Anna Leonowens - whose place in Siamese history has been fictionalised as The King and I. At first Rama V's reign was dominated by the conservative regent, Chaophraya Si Suriyawongse, but when the king came of age in 1873 he soon took control. He created a Privy Council and a Council of State, a formal court system and budget office. He announced that slavery would be gradually abolished and debt-bondage restricted.
Chulalongkorn retained Belgian attorney Gustave Rolin-Jaequemyns as "General Advisor" to act in a confidential attorney-client relationship on reforms to establish firm rapprochement with Western powers. Among his successors were Edward Strobel, the first American Adviser in Foreign Affairs, followed with lesser titles by Jens Westengard, Eldon James and Francis B. Sayre. Strobel, Westengard, James and Sayre were all Harvard Law Professors. It is a widely held view in Thailand that the diplomatic skills of these monarchs, combined with the modernising reforms of the Thai government, made Siam the only country in Southeast Asia to avoid European colonisation. This is reflected in the country's modern name, Prathet Thai or Thai‐land, used since 1939 (although the name was reverted to Siam during 1945–49), in which prathet means "nation".
The Anglo-Siamese Treaty of 1909 defined the modern border between Siam and British Malaya by securing Thai authority over the provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and Satun, which were previously part of the semi‐independent Malay sultanates of Pattani and Kedah. A series of treaties with France fixed the country's current eastern border with Laos and Cambodia.
One of Rama V's reforms was to introduce a western-style law of royal succession, so in 1910 he was peacefully succeeded by his son Vajiravudh, who reigned as Rama VI. He had been educated at Sandhurst military academy and at Oxford, and was an anglicised Edwardian gentleman. Indeed, one of Siam's problems was the widening gap between the westernised royal family and upper aristocracy and the rest of the country. It took another 20 years for western education to extend to the rest of the bureaucracy and the army: a potential source of conflict.
World War I
In 1917 Siam declared war on German Empire and Austria-Hungary, mainly to gain favour with the British and the French. Siam's token participation in World War I secured it a seat at the Versailles Peace Conference, and Foreign Minister Devawongse used this opportunity to argue for the repeal of the 19th century treaties and the restoration of full Siamese sovereignty. The United States obliged in 1920, while France and Britain delayed until 1925. This victory gained the king some popularity, but it was soon undercut by discontent over other issues, such as his extravagance, which became more noticeable when a sharp postwar recession hit Siam in 1919. There was also the fact that the king had no son; he obviously preferred the company of men to women (a matter which of itself did not much concern Siamese opinion, but which did undermine the stability of the monarchy because of the absence of heirs).
Thus when Rama VI died suddenly in 1925, aged only 44, the monarchy was already in a weakened state. He was succeeded by his younger brother Prajadhipok.
End of absolute monarchy, and military rule
The Siamese revolution of 1932 was led by the Khana Ratsadon, a group of young military officers and civil servants. The group held key figures, ministers who were of the royal blood as hostages while the king, Rama VII, was at the summer palace in Hua Hin. The coup, usually called 'The Revolution of 1932', transformed the Government of Thailand from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy. The cabinet was presided over by the prime minister. Military men played a significant role in politics even before 1932. As early as 1912, during the reign of Rama VI, young soldiers who had plotted a coup urging a constitution and a change of the king's status had been arrested.
The many unsettled constitutional roles of the crown and the dissatisfaction of Khana Ratsadon seizure of power culminated in October 1933 in a counter-coup, the Boworadet Rebellion staged by royalist factions. The royalists were led by Prince Boworadet and the many others who had permanently lost their influence and positions because of the seizure of power by the Khana Ratsadon. The rebellion was a failure, and although there is no evidence whatsoever that Prajadhipok was involved, his neutrality and indecisiveness during the brief conflict led to the loss of his credibility and prestige. Three years after the revolution, King Prajadhipok abdicated the throne and left Siam never to return. He died in England exile in 1941. He was replaced as king by his nine-year-old nephew Prince Ananda Mahidol (King Rama VIII), who at that time was attending school in Lausanne, Switzerland.
Within a decade Thai politics ran into turmoil as the revolutionary government plunged into factions; military and civilian figures. Fear of communism, extreme revolutionary ideas and ultranationalism caused sharp fighting among the new ruling elites. Eventually the military faction prevailed. The regime became authoritarian under the prime minister Plaek Phibunsongkhram, a member of the Revolutionary military wing. His regime was also famous for promoting 'Pan-Thaism', the ultra-nationalist policy aiming at unifying Tai, Thai-speaking people nearby into the kingdom. Moreover, in 1941, the Phibun regime decided to ally itself with Japan.
World War II
In early January 1941, Thailand invaded French Indochina, beginning the French-Thai War. The Thais, well equipped and slightly outnumbering the French forces, easily reclaimed Laos. The French, outnumbering the Thai navy force, decisively won the naval Battle of Koh Chang.
The Japanese mediated the conflict, and a general armistice was declared on 28 January. On 9 May a peace treaty was signed in Tokyo, with the French being coerced by the Japanese into relinquishing their hold on the disputed territories.
After the Franco-Thai war ended Thai Government decided to declared the position of neutrality. When the Japanese invaded Thailand on 8 December 1941, a few hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japan demanded the right to move troops across Thailand to the Malayan frontier. Phibunsongkhram turn crisis into opportunity by order an armistice. Shortly thereafter Japan was granted free passage, and on 21 December 1941, Thailand and Japan signed a military alliance. Subsequently, Thailand undertook to 'assist' Japan in its war against the Allies. Phibunsongkhram was forced to order a general ceasefire after just one day of resistance and allow the Japanese armies to use the country as a base for their invasions of Burma and Malaya. Hesitancy, however, gave way to enthusiasm after the Japanese rolled their way through Malaya in a "Bicycle Blitzkrieg" with surprisingly little resistance. On 21 December, Phibunsongkhram signed a military alliance with Japan. The following month, on 25 January 1942, Phibunsongkhram declared war on Britain and the United States. South Africa and New Zealand declared war on Thailand on the same day. Australia followed soon after. All who opposed the Japanese alliance were sacked from his government. Pridi Phanomyong was appointed acting regent for the absent King Ananda Mahidol, while Direk Jayanama, the prominent Foreign Minister who had advocated continued resistance against the Japanese, was later sent to Tokyo as an ambassador. The United States considered Thailand to be a puppet of Japan and refused to declare war. When the allies were victorious, United States blocked British efforts to impose a punitive peace.
The Thais and Japanese also agreed that Shan State and Kayah State were to be under Thai control. The rest of Burma was to be under Japanese control. On 10 May 1942, the Thai Phayap Army entered Burma's eastern Shan State, the Thai Burma Area Army entered Kayah State and some part of Central Burma. Three Thai infantry and one cavalry division, spearheaded by armoured reconnaissance groups and supported by the air force, engaged the retreating Chinese 93rd Division. Kengtung, the main objective, was captured on 27 May. Renewed offensives in June and November saw the Chinese retreat into Yunnan. The area containing the Shan States and Kayah State was annexed by Thailand in 1942. The areas were ceded back to Burma in 1945.
The Seri Thai (Free Thai Movement) was an underground resistance movement against Japan founded by Seni Pramoj, the Thai ambassador in Washington, with the assistance of the United States Office of Strategic Services (OSS). Led from within Thailand from the office of the regent Pridi, it operated freely, often with support from members of the Royal family such as Prince Chula Chakrabongse, and members of the government. As Japan neared defeat and the underground anti-Japanese resistance Seri Thai steadily grew in strength, the National Assembly forced out Phibunsongkhram. His six-year reign as the military commander-in-chief was at an end. His resignation was partly forced by two grandiose plans. One was to relocate the capital from Bangkok to a remote site in the jungle near Phetchabun in North Central Thailand. The other was to build a "Buddhist city" near Saraburi. Announced at a time of severe economic difficulty, these ideas turned many government officers against him.
The Allied Invasion of Italy and the downfall of Benito Mussolini sent shock waves through the Thai government. Khuang Abhaiwongse replaced Phibunsongkhram as Prime Minister, ostensibly to continue relations with the Japanese, but in reality secretly assisting the Seri Thai.
At the war's end, Phibunsongkhram was put on trial at Allied insistence on charges of having committed war crimes, mainly that of collaborating with the Axis powers. However, he was acquitted amidst intense public pressure. Public opinion was still favourable to Phibunsongkhram, as he was thought to have done his best to protect Thai interests. His alliance with Japan had Thailand take advantage from Japanese support the expansion of Thai territory in Malay and Burma.
Temporary Allied occupation of Thailand (1946)
After Japan's defeat in 1945, British, Indian troops and United States observers landed in September, and during their brief occupation of parts of the country, disarmed the Japanese troops. After repatriating them home the British left in March 1946. American support mitigated Allied terms, although the British demanded reparations in the form of rice sent to Malaya, and the French, return of territories lost in the Franco-Thai War. In exchange for supporting Thailand's admission to the United Nations, the Soviet Union demanded repeal of anticommunist legislation. It should also be noted that some former British POWs erected a monument expressing gratitude to the citizens of Ubon Ratchathani.
Seni Pramoj became prime minister on 26 May, and promptly restored the name Siam as a symbol of the end of Phibun's nationalist regime. However, he found his position at the head of a cabinet packed with Pridi's loyalists quite uncomfortable. Northeastern populist politicians like Tiang Sirikhanth and Bangkok upstarts like Sanguan Tularaksa were not the sort that the aristocratic Seni preferred to associate with. They, in turn, viewed Seni as an elitist who was entirely out of touch with Thailand's political realities. Pridi continued to wield power behind the scenes as he had done during the Khuang government. The regent's looming presence and overarching authority rankled the proud, thin-skinned Seni, fuelling a personal animosity that would poison Thailand's postwar politics.
In early September the leading elements of Major-General Geoffrey Charles Evans's Indian 7th Infantry Division landed, accompanied by Edwina Mountbatten. Later that month Seni returned from Washington to succeed Tawee as prime minister. It was the first time in over a decade that the government was controlled by civilians. But the ensuing factional scramble for power in late 1945 created political divisions in the ranks of the civilian leaders that destroyed their potential for making a common stand against the resurgent political force of the military in the post-war years.
Following the signature by Thailand of the Washington Accord of 1946, the territories that had been annexed after the Franco-Thai War, which included Phibunsongkhram Province, Nakhon Champassak Province, Phra Tabong Province, Koh Kong Province and Lan Chang Province, were returned to Cambodia and Laos.
Moreover, the post-war accommodations with the Allies weakened the civilian government. As a result of the contributions made to the Allied war efforts by the Free Thai Movement, the United States, which unlike the other Allies had never officially been at war with Thailand, refrained from dealing with Thailand as an enemy country in post-war peace negotiations. Before signing a peace treaty, however, Britain demanded war reparations in the form of rice shipments to Malaya. An Anglo-Thai Peace Treaty was signed on 1 January 1946, and an Australian–Thai Peace Treaty on 3 April. France refused to permit admission of Thailand to the United Nations until Indochinese territories annexed during the war were returned. The Soviet Union insisted on the repeal of anti-communist legislation.
Democratic elections and the Return of the Military
Democratic elections were subsequently held in January 1946. These were the first elections in which political parties were legal, and Pridi's People's Party and its allies won a majority. In March 1946 Pridi became Siam's first democratically elected prime minister. In 1946, after he agreed to hand back the Indochinese territories occupied in 1941 as the price for admission to the United Nations, all wartime claims against Siam were dropped and a substantial package of US aid was received.
In December 1945, the young king Ananda Mahidol had returned to Siam from Europe, but in July 1946 he was found shot dead in his bed, under mysterious circumstances. Three palace servants were tried and executed for his murder, although there are significant doubts as to their guilt and the case remains both murky and a highly sensitive topic in Thailand today. The king was succeeded by his younger brother, born in America, Bhumibol Adulyadej. In August Pridi was forced to resign amid suspicion that he had been involved in the regicide. Without his leadership, the civilian government floundered, and in November 1947 the army, its confidence restored after the debacle of 1945, seized power. After an interim Khuang-headed government, in April 1948 the army brought Phibunsongkhram back from exile and made him prime minister. Pridi in turn was driven into exile, eventually settling in Beijing as a guest of the People's Republic of China.
Phibun's return to power coincided with the onset of the Cold War and the establishment of a communist regime in North Vietnam. He soon won the support of the United Nation. Once again political opponents were arrested and tried, and some were executed. During this time, several of the key figures in the wartime Free Thai underground, including Thawin Udom, Thawi Thawethikul, Chan Bunnak, and Tiang Sirikhanth, were eliminated in extra-legal fashion by the Thai police, run by Phibun's ruthless associate Phao Sriyanond. There were attempted counter-coups by Pridi supporters in 1948, 1949, and 1951, the second leading to heavy fighting between the army and navy before Phibun emerged victorious. In the navy's 1951 attempt, popularly known as the Manhattan Coup, Phibun was nearly killed when the ship where he was held hostage was bombed by the pro-government air force.
Although nominally a constitutional monarchy, Thailand was ruled by a series of military governments, most prominently led by Phibun, interspersed with brief periods of democracy. Thailand took part in the Korean War. The Guerrillas from the Communist Party of Thailand operated inside the country from the early 1960s up to 1987. They included 12,000 full-time fighters at the peak of movement, but never posed a serious threat to the state.
Cold War and Pro-American Period
By 1955 Phibun was losing his leading position in the army to younger rivals led by Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat and General Thanom Kittikachorn, To shore up his position he restored the 1949 constitution and called elections, which his supporters won. But the army was not prepared to give up power, and in September 1957 it demanded Phibun's resignation. When Phibun tried to have Sarit arrested, the army staged a bloodless coup on 17 September 1957, ending Phibun's career for good. Thanom became prime minister until 1958, then yielded his place to Sarit, the real head of the regime. Sarit held power until his death in 1963, when Thanom again took the lead, beginning a long tradition of US-backed military regimes in Thailand.
Sarit and Thanom were the first Thai leaders to have been educated entirely in Thailand, and were less influenced by European political ideas, whether fascist or democratic, than the generation of Pridi and Phibun had been. Rather, they were Thai traditionalists, who sought to restore the prestige of the monarchy and to maintain a society based on order, hierarchy, and religion. They saw rule by the army as the best means of ensuring this, and also of defeating communism, which they now associated with Thailand's traditional enemies, the Vietnamese. The young King Bhumibol, who returned to Thailand in 1951, co-operated with this project. The Thai monarchy's present elevated status thus has its origins in this era.
The regimes of Sarit and Thanom were strongly supported by the US. Thailand had formally become a US ally in 1954 with the formation of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO). While the war in Indochina was being fought between the Vietnamese and the French, Thailand (disliking both equally) stayed aloof, but once it became a war between the US and the Vietnamese communists, Thailand committed itself strongly to the US side, concluding a secret agreement with the US in 1961, sending troops to Vietnam and Laos, and allowing the US to use airbases in the east of the country to conduct its bombing war against North Vietnam. The Vietnamese retaliated by supporting the Communist Party of Thailand's insurgency in the north, northeast, and sometimes in the south, where guerrillas co-operated with local discontented Muslims. In the postwar period, Thailand had close relations with the US, which it saw as a protector from communist revolutions in neighboring countries. The Seventh and Thirteenth US Air Forces were headquartered at Udon Royal Thai Air Force Base.
Cold War and development
The Vietnam War hastened the modernisation and Westernisation of Thai society. The American presence and the exposure to Western culture that came with it had an effect on almost every aspect of Thai life. Before the late 1960s, full access to Western culture was limited to a highly educated elite in society, but the Vietnam War brought the outside world face to face with large segments of the Thai society as never before. With US dollars pumping up the economy, the service, transportation, and construction industries grew phenomenally as did drug abuse and prostitution. The traditional rural family unit was broken down as more and more rural Thais moved to the city to find new jobs. This led to a clash of cultures as Thais were exposed to Western ideas about fashion, music, values, and moral standards.
The population began to grow explosively as the standard of living rose, and a flood of people began to move from the villages to the cities, and above all to Bangkok. Thailand had 30 million people in 1965, while by the end of the 20th century the population had doubled. Bangkok's population had grown tenfold since 1945 and had tripled since 1970.
Educational opportunities and exposure to mass media increased during the Vietnam War years. Bright university students learned more about ideas related to Thailand's economic and political systems, resulting in a revival of student activism. The Vietnam War period also saw the growth of the Thai middle class which gradually developed its own identity and consciousness.
Economic development did not bring prosperity to all. During the 1960s many of the rural poor felt increasingly dissatisfied with their condition in society and disillusioned by their treatment by the central government in Bangkok. Efforts by the Thai government to develop poor rural regions often did not have the desired effect in that they contributed to the farmers' awareness of how bad off they really were. It is interesting to note that it was not always the poorest of the poor who joined the anti-government insurgency. Increased government presence in the rural villages did little to improve the situation. Villagers became subject to increased military and police harassment and bureaucratic corruption. Villagers often felt betrayed when government promises of development were frequently not fulfilled. By the early 1970s rural discontent had manifested itself into a peasant's activist movement.
The 1973 democracy movement
Student demonstrations had started in 1968 and grew in size and numbers in the early 1970s despite the continued ban on political meetings. In June 1973, nine Ramkhamhaeng University students were expelled for publishing an article in a student newspaper that was critical of the government. Shortly after, thousands of students held a protest at the Democracy Monument demanding the re-enrolment of the nine students. The government ordered the universities to shut, but shortly afterwards allowed the students to be re-enrolled.
In October another 13 students were arrested on charges of conspiracy to overthrow the government. This time the student protesters were joined by workers, businessmen, and other ordinary citizens. The demonstrations swelled to several hundred thousand and the issue broadened from the release of the arrested students to demands for a new constitution and the replacement of the current government.
On 13 October, the government released the detainees. Leaders of the demonstrations, among them Seksan Prasertkul, called off the march in accordance with the wishes of the king who was publicly against the democracy movement. In a speech to graduating students, he criticized the pro-democracy movement by telling students to concentrate on their studies and leave politics to their elders [military government].
As the crowds were breaking up the next day, on 14 October, many students found themselves unable to leave because the police had attempted to control the flow of the crowd by blocking the southern route to Rajavithi Road. Cornered and overwhelmed by the hostile crowd, the police responded with teargas and gunfire.
The military was called in, and tanks rolled down Rajdamnoen Avenue and helicopters fired down at Thammasat University. A number of students commandeered buses and fire engines in an attempt to halt the progress of the tanks by ramming into them. With chaos on the streets, King Bhumibol opened the gates of Chitralada Palace to the students who were being gunned down by the army. Despite orders from Thanom that the military action be intensified, army commander Kris Sivara had the army withdrawn from the streets.
The king condemned the government's inability to handle the demonstrations and ordered Thanom, Praphas, and Narong to leave the country, and notably condemned the students' supposed role as well. At 18:10 Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn resigned from his post as prime minister. An hour later, the king appeared on national television, asking for calm, and announcing that Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn had been replaced with Dr. Sanya Dharmasakti, a respected law professor, as prime minister.
Democracy and political crisis
Post-1973 has been marked by a struggle to define the political contours of the state. It was won by the King and General Prem Tinsulanonda, who favoured a monarchy constitutional order.
The post-1973 years have seen a difficult and sometimes bloody transition from military to civilian rule, with several reversals along the way. The revolution of 1973 inaugurated a brief, unstable period of democracy, with military rule being reimposed after the 6 October 1976 Massacre. For most of the 1980s, Thailand was ruled by Prem Tinsulanonda, a democratically inclined strongman who restored parliamentary politics. Thereafter the country remained a democracy apart from a brief period of military rule from 1991 to 1992. The populist Thai Rak Thai party, led by prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, came to power in 2001. He was popular with the urban, suburban and rural poor for his populist social programs, his rule came under attack from the elite who saw danger in his parliamentary dictatorship. Also in mid-2005, Sondhi Limthongkul, a well-known media tycoon, became the foremost Thaksin critic. Eventually Sondhi and his allies developed the movement into a mass protest and later unified under the name of People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD).
On 19 September 2006, after the dissolution of the parliament, Thaksin then became head of a provisional government. While he was in New York for a meeting of the UN, Army Commander-in-Chief Lieutenant General Sonthi Boonyaratglin launched the bloodless September 2006 Thailand military coup d'état supported by anti-Thaksin elements in civil society and among the Democrat Party. A general election on 23 December 2007 restored a civilian government, led by Samak Sundaravej of the People's Power Party, as a successor to Thai Rak Thai.
2008–2010 political crisis
The People's Power Party (Thailand), led by Samak Sundaravej formed a government with five smaller parties. Following several court rulings against him in a variety of scandals, and surviving a vote of no confidence, and protesters blockading government buildings and airports, in September 2008, Sundaravej was found guilty of conflict of interest by the Constitutional Court of Thailand (due to being a host in a TV cooking program), and thus, ended his term in office.
He was replaced by PPP member Somchai Wongsawat. As of October 2008, Wongsawat was unable to gain access to his offices, which were occupied by protesters from the People's Alliance for Democracy. On 2 December 2008, Thailand's Constitutional Court in a highly controversial ruling found the Peoples Power Party guilty of electoral fraud, which led to the dissolution of the party according to the law. It was later alleged in media reports that at least one member of the judiciary had a telephone conversation with officials working for the Office of the Privy Council and one other. The phone call was taped and has since circulated on the Internet. In it, the callers discuss finding a way to ensure the ruling PPP party would be disbanded. Accusations of judicial interference were levelled in the media but the recorded call was dismissed as a hoax. However, in June 2010, supporters of the eventually disbanded PPP were charged with tapping a judge's phone.
Immediately following what many media described as a "judicial coup", a senior member of the Armed Forces met with factions of the governing coalition to get their members to join the opposition and the Democrat Party was able to form a government, a first for the party since 2001. The leader of the Democrat party, and former leader of the opposition, Abhisit Vejjajiva was appointed and sworn-in as the 27th Prime Minister, together with the new cabinet on 17 December 2008.
In April 2009, protests by the National United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD, or "Red Shirts") forced the cancellation of the Fourth East Asia Summit after protesters stormed the Royal Cliff hotel venue in Pattaya, smashing the glass doors of the venue to gain entry, and a blockade prevented the Chinese premier at the time, Wen Jiabao, from attending. The summit was eventually held in Thailand in October 2009.
About a year later, a set of new "Red Shirts" protests resulted in 87 deaths (mostly civilian and some military) and 1,378 injured. When the army tried to disperse the protesters on 10 April 2010, the army was met with automatic gunfire, grenades, and fire bombs from the opposition faction in the army, known as the "watermelon". This resulted in the army returning fire with rubber bullets and some live ammunition. During the time of the "red shirt" protests against the government, there have been numerous grenade and bomb attacks against government offices and the homes of government officials. Gas grenades were fired at "yellow-shirt" protesters, that were protesting against the "red-shirts" and in favour of the government, by unknown gunmen killing one pro-government protester, the government stated that the Red Shirts were firing the weapons at civilians. Red-shirts continued to hold a position in the business district of Bangkok and it was shut down for several weeks.
On 3 July 2011, the oppositional Pheu Thai Party, led by Yingluck Shinawatra (the youngest sister of Thaksin Shinawatra), won the general election by a landslide (265 seats in the House of Representatives, out of 500). She had never previously been involved in politics, Pheu Thai campaigning for her with the slogan 'Thaksin thinks, Pheu Thai acts'. Yingluck is the nation's first female prime minister and her role was officially endorsed in a ceremony presided over by King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The Pheu Thai Party is a continuation of Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai party.
2013–2014 political crisis
Protests recommenced in late 2013, as a broad alliance of protestors, led by former opposition deputy leader Suthep Thaugsuban, demanded an end to the so-called Thaksin regime. A blanket amnesty for people involved in the 2010 protests, altered at the last minute to include all political crimes – including all convictions against Thaksin – triggered a mass show of discontent, with numbers variously estimated between 98,500 (the police) and 400,000 (an aerial photo survey done by the Bangkok Post), taking to the streets. The Senate was urged to reject the bill to quell the reaction, but the measure failed. A newly named group, the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) along with allied groups, escalated the pressure, with the opposition Democrat party resigning en masse to create a parliamentary vacuum. Protesters demands variously evolved as the movement's numbers grew, extending a number of deadlines and demands that became increasingly unreasonable or unrealistic, yet attracting a groundswell of support. They called for the establishment of an indirectly elected “people’s council”—in place of Yingluck's government—that will cleanse Thai politics and eradicate the Thaksin regime.
In response to the intensive protests, Yingluck dissolved parliament on 9 December 2013 and proposed a new election for 2 February 2014, a date that was later approved by the election commission. The PDRC insisted that the prime minister stand down within 24 hours, regardless of her actions, with 160,000 protesters in attendance at Government House on 9 December. Yingluck insisted that she would continue her duties until the scheduled election in February 2014, urging the protesters to accept her proposal: "Now that the government has dissolved parliament, I ask that you stop protesting and that all sides work towards elections. I have backed down to the point where I don't know how to back down any further."
In response to the Electoral Commission (EC)'s registration process for party-list candidates—for the scheduled election in February 2014—anti-government protesters marched to the Thai-Japanese sports stadium, the venue of the registration process, on 22 December 2013. Suthep and the PDRC led the protest, of which security forces claimed that approximately 270,000 protesters joined. Yingluck and the Pheu Thai Party reiterated their election plan and anticipate presenting a list of 125 party-list candidates to the EC.
On 7 May 2014, the Constitutional Court ruled that Yingluck would have to step down as the Prime Minister as she was deemed to have abused her power in transferring a high-level government official. On 21 August 2014 she was replaced by army chief General Prayut Chan-o-cha.
- History of Asia
- History of Southeast Asia
- History of Isan
- List of Kings of Thailand
- List of Prime Ministers of Thailand
- Peopling of Thailand
- Politics of Thailand
- Thai studies
- 2015 Bangkok bombing
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