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Thailand - Thonburi Period (1767-1782)

Conditions during the first decades of the eighteenth century were far from flourishing, although not decidedly bad ; and could have been immensely better but for the mismanagement of unscrupulous officials. From western writers the same refrain was repeated about exorbitant exactions which deterred the inhabitants from developing the natural resources of the island. The period of the last half dozen reigns under the old capital Ayuddhya had been one of misrule and weakness that much slackened the hold over the outlying provinces of the kingdom and consequently brought about discontent and disaffection which largely contributed to the crashing fall of the whole worm-eaten structure. Disintegration waxed complete after that disaster, and the whole kingdom became a prey to political factions and civil wars.

Ayuthia fell on the 7th April, 1767. The bulk of the Burmese army departed with the pillage soon after its capture, leaving only a few detachments to enforce the occupation. After the fall of Ayutthaya, there were many clans in the provinces; they each gathered their people and were prepared to fight for power. Among these clans of various sizes, King Taksin's group became stronger and he led the people in the fight for the independence from Burma. As they had in the sixteenth century, the Thai made a rapid recovery under a brilliant military leader.

King Thaksin the Great (r. 1767-82)

The man later known to history as Taksin was born in AD 1734 to a Chinese father by the name of Yong (or Yung) from T'ai-hung in the T'aichou district who was Khun P'hat, or gambling farmer at Ayuthia and had married there a Siamese woman by the name of Nok Ieng (Pied-starling) and established himself on the road round the city walls, just opposite the residence of Chau P'hya Chakkri the Minister of the North (not to be confounded with the founder of the dynasty of Siamese sovereigns). It is said that the boy looked well and healthy; but a day or two after birth, while he was lying still nameless in the kradbng, or corn van, an ominous incident occurred which impressed an entirely new turn to his life and ultimately led him to wear a noble royal crown instead of a prosaic Chinese queue. He. was found in the morning with the body df a python coiled round his tiny person. This was considered by his father as an exceedingly unlucky omen, portending dire calamities, which usually involves in China, it is said, the abandonment of the child or the drowning of the same in a stream. The mother could hardly be made to acquiesce in the rejection of her offspring imposed by the superstitious husband, and thus a conjugal dispute arose in the hitherto happy household, largely interspersed with loud cries and wailings.

While this noise was going on, the old Chau P'hya Chakkri had just come down to the road entrance to his residence in order to distribute alms of food to the passing monks. Hearing the unusual tumult and wailing in the house opposite, he sent to enquire into the cause, and upon being apprised of what had happened, he proceeded at once to the abode, and in order to cut short all altercation he proposed that since the Chinaman was resolved to part company with the baby, he would take charge of the latter himself, if agreed upon. This was readily and gladly consented to by the married couple, and Chau P'hya Chakkri became thus the protector of the child, whom he had nursed and taken care of exactly as he would of a son of his own. Upon the boy completing one month of age, he named him Sin, a Siamese word which means "wealth." He took afterwards such a liking to him that he eventually adopted him.

When Nat Sin, or "Master Sin," had become a grown-up lad, he presented him at court to take service as page in the king's household. Young Sin began thus the career of a successful Siamese official, becoming in about 1760 assistant governor at first and governor afterwards of Muang Tak, a province now called Raheng. Hence his title of P'hya Tak, to which his personal name Sin is usually added in order to distinguish him from the host of other P'hyiis Tak or governors, at other periods, of the same province.

In 1765, just a short time before Ayudhia was invested by the Burmese army, he had been recalled and promoted to the governorship of Kamp'heng-p'het with the title of Phya Vajiraprakara. But he never acted in this capacity; for while he was preparing to start off to take up his new appointment, the Burmese army approached and he was then requested to stay in order to co-operate in the defence of the capital. In this he was most active and he held on to his post until resistance became hopeless.

Taksin had slipped away from besieged Ayutthaya and, starting with a handful of followers who quickly grew into an army, organized a resistance to the Burmese invaders, driving them out after a long and arduous war. The king considered the ruined Ayutthaya beyond renovation, so he temporarily moved the capital closer to the sea at Thonburi [Thon Buri, Thon-buri , Dhanapuri], a fortress town in the delta across the Chao Phraya River from modern Bangkok. Here he could facilitate weapon collection and manpower delivery. When King Taksin arrived in Thonburi, his coronation took place by virtue of conquest, and he became King Thonburi.

P'hya Tak Sin who was now ready with a small body of gregaries and a flotilla of war boats, soon attacked the Burmese detachments in their strongholds. The kingdom was still in turmoil; groups struggling for power had to be conquered, and in less than one year he had cleared the country of its enemies and restored temporary order. At the same time the king had to accelerate rehabilitation of the economy and give the people moral support. P'hya Tak Sin gathered together the bands of dacoits who ravaged the country, and with this army he drove out the Burmans.

He had formerly been governor of one of the northern cities, and knew how to choose, and showed the good policy of remaining faithful to, his friends. By the aid of two brothers, sons of a nobleman of high rank, who were accomplished and brave generals, he succeeded in overcoming all other pretenders to the throne, and most luckily had time to recover the strength of the kingdom before another attack, as the Burmese were engaged in resisting the Chinese, who attacked them in 1767 and 1769. In 1769 Phya Tak conquered Korat and Cambodia. In 1772 he again attacked the latter country with twenty thousand men, and took Hatien, and put a Cambodian prince of his own choice on the throne, who was dethroned by the Anamites the next year. Two years later, the Tayson rebellion having nearly ruined Anam, My-tho and Vinh-long were retaken by the Cambodians.

P'hya Tak Sin proved a strong ruler. During his short reign he subdued the northern provinces, and compelled certain states in the Malay Peninsula to recognise him as their overlord. These states had long been ruled by semi-independent princes or rajahs, who were theoretically tributary to Siam, but who often asserted their complete independence when Siam was weak. The suzerainty of Siam was acknowledged by sending gold flowers to the capital. In the days of King Narai the Siamese dominion extended to the Strait of Malacca. He also promoted trade with China. By 1776 Taksin had reunited the Thai kingdom, which had fragmented into small states after the fall of the old capital, and had annexed Chiang Mai.

With a firm hand once more at the helm in the novel Siamese capital, order had been restored, the long lost grip over the outlying limbs of the kiugdom was re-tightened, and with the feeling of security that again had begun to prevail, despite the continuous wars that raged with an inveterate and unrelenting enemy, things bid fair to get into satisfactory shape. P'hya Tak, who had bravely started to unify it again and proved fully capable of keeping it well in hand, had barely accomplished the roughhewing part of the task when he turned insane, came within an inch of undoing all he had done and would have set the edifice once more a-crumbling on bis own shoulders, had he not been removed in the nick of time.

Taksin eventually developed delusions of his own divinity. P'hya Tak Sin reigned until the first months of 1782 when, owing to his insane doings, a revolution broke out in Bangkok which deposed him on the 10th March of the same year. This movement was captained by a Phya San, the governor of Muang San or Sankhaburi (Sargapuri), who thenceforward assumed the direction of public affairs but without having the leisure to proclaim himself king, because civil war broke out in the capital and kept him pretty busy. Taksin was deposed and executed by his ministers, invoking the interests of the state. But his manifold accomplishments, however, won Taksin a secure place among Thailand's national heroes.

Thonburi remained the capital for only 15 years and collapsed because of disorder at the end of the reign. Somdet Chao Phraya Maha Kasatsuek was then crowned through right of conquest and establish Rattanakosin as the capital in 1782.




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Page last modified: 08-04-2012 18:43:20 ZULU