A name board on a wat in Chiang Mai written in the Tai Tham alphabet ("Lan Na alphabet", อักษรธรรมล้านนา). The use of this script was discouraged and the Northern Thai language is now written with the Thai alphabet.

Thaification, or Thai-ization is the process by which people of different cultural and ethnic origins living in Thailand become assimilated to the dominant culture of Thailand, or more precisely, to the culture of the Central Thais.

Thaification was a step in the creation in the 20th century of the Thai nation state where Thai people occupy a dominant position, away from the historically multicultural kingdom of Siam. A related term, "Thainess", is held to describe a characteristic that persons and things possess when they are Thai.


Thaification is a byproduct of the nationalist policies consistently followed by the Thai state after the Siamese coup d'état of 1933. The coup leaders, often said to be inspired by Western ideas of an exclusive nation state, acted more in accordance with their close German nationalist and anti-democratic counterparts (pre-Nazi) to effect kingdom-wide dominance by the central Thais. The businesses of interspersed minorities, like the traditionally merchant Thai Chinese, were aggressively acquired by the state, which gave preferential contracts to ethnic Thais as well as cooperative ethnic Chinese.[1]

Thai identity was mandated and reinforced both in the heartlands and in rural areas. Central Thailand became economically and politically dominant, and central Thai (differentiated from multi-lingual Siamese) became the state-mandated language of the media, business, education, and all state agencies. Central Thai values were successfully inculcated into being perceived as the desirable national values, with increasing proportions of the population identified as Thai. Central Thai culture, being the culture of wealth and status, made it hugely attractive to a once-diverse population seeking to be identified with nationalist unity.


The main targets of Thaification have been ethnic groups on the edges of the kingdom, geographically and culturally: the Lao of Isan (อีสาน),[2] the hill tribes of western and northern Thailand, and the Muslim (มุสลิม) ethnic Malay minority of southern Thailand.[3][4] There has also been a Thaification of the large immigrant Thai Chinese population.


Thaification by the government can be separated into three sets of policies:

Rural development

In the first set of policies, the government targeted specific policies and actions at fringe groups. An example of this is the Accelerated Rural Development Programme of 1964, the Isan component of which included the strengthening of allegiance to Bangkok and the rest of the country as one of its objectives.


The second set of policies consists of policies applied nationally, but that disproportionately affect fringe groups. One example of this is the prescribed use of Central Thai in schools. This had little effect on the Central and Southern Thai or Thai Siam who already used the language in everyday life, but made bilinguals of speakers of Isan in the northeast, of Northern Thai (คำเมือง) in the north, and of Pattani Malay (ยาวี) in the south.

Harsher methods were imposed on the Thai Chinese.[5] After the People's Republic of China was founded in 1949, a series of anticommunist Thai military juntas, starting with that of dictator Plaek Phibunsongkhram, sharply reduced Chinese immigration and prohibited all Chinese schools in Thailand.[5]

Thai Chinese born after the 1950s had "very limited opportunities to enter Chinese schools".[5] Those Thai Chinese who could afford to study overseas studied English instead of Chinese for economic reasons.[5] As a result, the Chinese in Thailand have "almost totally lost the language of their ancestors", and are gradually losing their Chinese identity.[5]

Encouraging Thai nationalism

The third set of policies was designed to encourage Thai nationalism in all the country’s people. Examples include the promotion of the king as a national figurehead, saluting the flag in school and the twice daily broadcasts of the national anthem (Phleng Chat - เพลงชาติ) on radio and television at 08:00 and 18:00. Encouraging Thai nationalism had the obvious side effect of discouraging other loyalties, such as that to Laos resulting from central Thais' perceived threat of Lao cultural and political dominance in the Isan region[6] or that to Melayu (มลายู) in the south.

See also



  1. Booth, Anne (2007). Colonial Legacies: Economic and Social Development in East and Southeast Asia. University of Hawaii Press. p. 122.
  2. Ganjanakhundee, Supalak (5 October 2016). "Lao are lazy': The problem with 'Thai superiority'" (Opinion). The Nation. Retrieved 6 October 2016.
  3. Ivanoff, Jacques (2010). The Cultural Roots of Violence in Malay Southern Thailand: Comparative Mythology; Soul of Rice. White Lotus Company Limited.
  4. Haji Umar, Umaiyah (2003). The assimilation of Bangkok-Melayu communities in the Bangkok metropolis and surrounding areas. ISBN 9789749121344.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 Tong, Chee Kiong; Chan, Kwok Bun (2001). Alternate Identities: The Chinese of Contemporary Thailand. Brill Publishers. pp. 170–177.
  6. Reyland, William (2009). Sons of Isan (Google Books ed.). Booksmango. p. 47. ISBN 6162450651. Retrieved 13 May 2015.

External links

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