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Thai Country Studies

Introduction to Thailand Country Studies

A STABLE AND PROSPERING NATION located in the heart of mainland Southeast Asia, Thailand faced the 1990s with abundant resources, not the least of which was its people. Thai society was characterized by a rich blend of cultural traits, an openness to new ideas, and a high degree of adaptability to new situations. Despite a certain amount of diversity, Thai society, according to many observers, was bound together by three basic tenets:

Theravada Buddhism, support for the Thai monarchy, and pride of citizenship in the only nation in Southeast Asia to have maintained its independence throughout its history, including the colonial era.

Wat Kukut (Wat Chama devi), Lamphun, Thailand - Example of Dvaravati artCenturies of migration of various peoples into the region centered on the valley of the Mae Nam (river) Chao Phraya, followed by decades of conscious nation building by the rulers of the Chakkri Dynasty, had resulted in a relatively homogeneous society based on a wide range of cultural influences.

The majority of the populace could trace its lineage over the centuries to the Tai peoples who inhabited southern China in the first millennium A.D. Forced southward by the pressure of an expanding Chinese empire, bands of Tai filtered into Southeast Asia interacting with other ethnic groups that had preceded them. By the late thirteenth century, the Tai states of Sukhothai and Lan Na had been founded in regions previously ruled by the Khmer and the Mon, respectively.

Through interaction with these two peoples, the Tai were exposed to the culture, religion, arts, and languages of India. The Hindu-Buddhist traditions of neighboring Mon and Khmer kingdoms strongly influenced the development of the Tai concept of kingship.

Following the fourteenth-century relocation of the Sukhothai capital southward to Ayutthaya on the floodplain of the Chao Phraya, Theravada Buddhism was made the state religion. The Ayutthaya kings gradually extended their suzerainty southward into the Malay Peninsula in the fifteenth century, where their expansion was stopped by the Muslim state of Malacca. To the east, Ayutthaya established intermittent control over the old Khmer Empire. The sixteenth to eighteenth centuries were marked by frequent wars with the Burmese kingdoms to the northwest, culminating in the destruction of the capital of Ayutthaya by the Burmese in 1767. Out of the ashes of Ayutthaya arose a new Tai kingdom centered at Thon Buri on the Chao Phraya Delta. In the following century the rulers of the Chakkri Dynasty, having moved the capital across the river to Bangkok, expanded their control over neighboring Tai principalities centered at Chiang Mai to the north and Vientiane and Luang Prabang to the east.

The new kingdom, known as Siam, also established a tributary relationship over the Khmers of Cambodia. Trade with China and India was greatly expanded, and Siamese control was established over many of the trade depots of the Malay Peninsula.

The economy of Siam, as that of its predecessers, Ayutthaya and Sukhothai, was based on wet-rice agriculture. The peasantry, who worked not only their own rice fields but also performed service for a lord or patron under a system known as sakdi na, made up the vast majority of the population. Rice production was greatly increased in the second half of the nineteenth century as new lands were cultivated by an expanding peasantry. By the end of the century, Siam was a major rice-exporting country, with most exports going to India and China. Jobs associated with the rice trade — merchants, millers, and stevedores — were filled by Chinese immigrants, who increasingly flooded into the region from southeastern China after 1850. Many Chinese also entered the lower echelons of the Siamese civil service at that time.

The ruins of Wat Mahathat, Sukhothai Historical Park.
The international side of Siam’s rice trade was largely handled by Western merchants. European traders and missionaries had made their way to the Tai court at Ayutthaya as early as the sixteenth century. Substantial Western impact on Siam, however, began with the reign of King Mongkut (Rama IV, 1851-68). Prior to his accession to the throne, King Mongkut had had extensive contact with Western missionaries and had studied European languages, science, and mathematics. Determined that his kingdom should not fall under Western colonial rule, as had neighboring Burma, King Mongkut established diplomatic and trade relations with Britain, France, the United States, and other Western powers during his reign. As a result, Siam became a part of the international economic community. Under King Mongkut’s son and successor, King Chulalongkorn (Rama V, 1868-1910), major reforms and Westernization of the bureaucracy and society were adopted. At the same time, the central government tightened its control over outlying territories in the North and Isan geographical regions that had previously been rather loosely governed through local princes and chiefs. By the early twentieth century, however, Siam had been forced to give up its suzerainty over Laos and western Cambodia to the French and its control over four Muslim states on the Malay Peninsula to the British. In return for these losses, Siam became a protected buffer state between French Indochina and British Malaya and Burma.

The city of Ayutthaya was destroyed by the Burmese invaders in 1767 CE.
Reform and modernization supported by King Mongkut and King Chulalongkorn led to the rise of a Westernized military and political elite who increasingly agitated for a liberalizing of the political process. The Chakkri kings of the early twentieth century and their close advisers were somewhat less concerned with modernization of their rule and resisted efforts at establishing a constitutional monarchy. In 1932 a small group of Westernized military leaders and top bureaucrats organized a bloodless coup, forcing a constitutional monarchy on King Prajadhipok (Rama VII, 1925-35). Divisiveness within the coup leadership, however, resulted in several decades of new constitutions and repeated coups, led by various military-bureaucratic factions.

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Thai Covid-19
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In Thailand, the health authorities reported 21 new corona infections by the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration within 24 hours. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the CFCSA has counted a total of 3,998 infections with Sars-CoV-2 in Thailand. The number of deaths related to the virus rose 0 to a total of 60.

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Thai Travel Warning

1. Anti-government student protests have occurred in Bangkok and other areas of Thailand. The security environment can be unpredictable and turn violent. Those attending protests can face arrest or other legal consequences. Monitor media reports from for information on protest locations and avoid public gatherings. As a foreigner take official warnings seriously.

2. Thailand has high levels of air pollution. Air pollution can make bronchial, sinus or asthma conditions worse.

3. If you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel to Thailand. This applies to everyone, no matter how healthy and fit you are.

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