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Thailand - History

Southeast Asia has been inhabited for more than half a million years. Recent archaeological studies suggest that by 4000 B.C., communities in what is now Thailand had emerged as centers of early bronze metallurgy. This development, along with the cultivation of wet rice, provided the impetus for social and political organization. Research suggests that these innovations may actually have been transmitted from there to the rest of Asia, including to China. The Thai are related linguistically to groups originating in southern China. Migrations from southern China to Southeast Asia may have occurred in the 6th and 7th centuries. Malay, Mon, and Khmer civilizations flourished in the region prior to the arrival of the ethnic Thai.

Thais date the founding of their nation to the 13th century. Throughout its 800-year history, Thailand can boast the distinction of being the only country in Southeast Asia never to have been colonized by European powers. Its history is divided into five major periods.

Located on the southwestern border of Chinas Tang empire (AD 618907), Nanchao (6501250) served as a buffer for and later rival to China. The Tai, a people who originally lived in Nanchao, migrated into mainland Southeast Asia over a period of many centuries during the first millennium AD. The supremacy of China is indicated by occasional missions sent, as on the founding of a new dynasty, to Peking.

During the Sukhothai Period (1238-1378 AD) Thais began to emerge as a dominant force in the region, gradually asserting independence from existing Khmer and Mon kingdoms. According to tradition, in 1238, Thai chieftains overthrew their Khmer overlords at Sukhothai and established a Thai kingdom. By this time, in about 1257 AD, one of the Thai princes within the Khmer-Empire Khan Sri Indradit, a name of Sunskrit origin bestowed by the Khmer King, with the help of his able son named Khun Ram Kamhang, or popularly known in legends as Ph ra Ruang, succeeded in making himself independent of the Khmer and establishing Sukhothai as his capital. Khun Ram Kamhang succeeded him as King of Sukhothai and enlarged his territory further south into the Malay Peninsula and further west to Mataban, the Mon country, in present Lower Burma.

Called by its rulers "the dawn of happiness", this is often considered the golden era of Thai history, an ideal Thai state in a land of plenty governed by paternal and benevolent kings, the most famous of whom was King Ramkamhaeng the Great. However in 1350, the mightier state of Ayutthaya exerted its influence over Sukhothai. This Sukhothai Kingdom lasted nearly two centuries (1257-1438 AD) when it became a vassal state to King U-thong the founder of the City of Ayuthia in the lower part of the Menam Valley, which was subsequently mer ged into the Kingdom of Ayuthia (1438 AD).

By the 1400s, three sizable kingdoms had emerged in the territory that later became modern Thailand: Ayutthaya (Siam) in what is now central Thailand, Lanna (Chiang Mai) in what is now northern Thailand, and Lan Xang (or Lan Sang) ranging from the Khorat Plateau into present-day Laos. All three were of mixed ethnicity, but each nurtured local dialects of Tai that eventually developed into three distinct languages. The Isan region is largely coterminous with the Khorat Plateau of northeastern Thailand, a low-lying sandstone platform noted for its thin and acidic soils, wet-season floods, and dry-season droughts. Considering its meager environment, Isan is densely settled; its twenty million people form roughly a third of Thailands population.

During the Ayutthaya Period (1350-1767 the Ayutthaya kings adopted Khmer cultural influences from the very beginning. During this Ayuthia period Cambodia, the remnant of the Khmer Empire, became in turn a vassal state to Ayuthia. No longer the paternal and accessible rulers that the kings of Sukhothai had been, Ayutthaya 's sovereigns were absolute monarchs and assumed the title devaraja (god-king). The early part of this period saw Ayutthaya extend its sovereignty over neighboring Thai principalities and come into conflict with its neighbours, During the 17th century, Siam started diplomatic and commercial relations with western countries.

The first ruler of the Kingdom of Ayutthaya, King Rama Thibodi, made two important contributions to Thai history: the establishment and promotion of Theravada Buddhism as the official religion -- to differentiate his kingdom from the neighboring Hindu kingdom of Angkor -- and the compilation of the Dharmashastra, a legal code based on Hindu sources and traditional Thai custom. The Dharmashastra remained a tool of Thai law until late in the 19th century. Beginning with the Portuguese in the 16th century, Ayutthaya had some contact with the West, but until the 1800s, its relations with neighboring nations, as well as with India and China, were of primary importance. After more than 400 years of power, in 1767, the Kingdom of Ayutthaya was brought down by invading Burmese armies and its capital burned.

The brief Thon Buri Period (1767-1772) followed a Burmese invasion which succeeded in capturing Ayutthaya. Despite their overwhelming victory, the Burmese did not retain control of Siam for long. A young general named Phya Taksin and his followers broke through the Burmese and escaped to Chantaburi. Seven months after the fall of Ayutthaya, he and his forces sailed back to the capital and expelled the Burmese occupation garrison. General Taksin, as he is popularly known, decided to transfer the capital from Ayutthaya to a site nearer to the sea which would facilitate foreign trade, ensure the procurement of arms, and make defense and withdrawal easier in case of a renewed Burmese attack. He established his new capital at Thon Buri on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River. Ayuthia herself as the capital of Thailand in the course of history, gave place to Bangkok or Kr ung Thep as called by the Thai which was founded in 1782 AD and has since remained the capital of Siam or Thailand in its modern name of today. The rule of Taksin was not an easy one. The lack of central authority since the fall of Ayutthaya led to the rapid disintegration of the kingdom, and Taksin's reign was spent reuniting the provinces.

The Rattanakosin Period (1782 - the Present) began after Taksin's death, when General Chakri became the first king of the Chakri Dynasty, Rama I, ruling from 1782 to 1809. After a single-reign capital established at Thonburi by Taksin, a new capital city was founded in 1782, across the Chao Phraya at the site of present-day Bangkok, by the founder of the Chakri dynasty. His first action as king was to transfer the royal capital across the river from Thon Buri to Bangkok and build the Grand Palace. Rama II (1809-1824) continued the restoration begun by his predecessor. Rama's heirs became increasingly concerned with the threat of European colonialism after British victories in neighboring Burma in 1826. King Nang Klao, Rama III (1824-1851) reopened relations with Western nations and developed trade with China. The first Thai recognition of Western power in the region was the Treaty of Amity and Commerce with the United Kingdom in 1826. In 1833, the United States began diplomatic exchanges with Siam, as Thailand was called until 1938.

King Mongkut, Rama IV, (1851-1868) of "The King and I" concluded treaties with European countries, avoided colonization and established modern Thailand. He made many social and economic reforms during his reign. King Chulalongkorn, Rama V (1869-1910) continued his father's tradition of reform, abolishing slavery and improving the public welfare and administrative system. During the later reigns of Rama IV (or King Mongkut, 1851-68), and his son Rama V (King Chulalongkorn (1868-1910)), that Thailand established firm rapprochement with Western powers. The Thais believe that the diplomatic skills of these monarchs, combined with the modernizing reforms of the Thai Government, made Siam the only country in South and Southeast Asia to avoid European colonization.

Compulsory education and other educational reforms were introduced by King Vajiravudh, Rama VI (1910-1925). During the reign of King Prajadhipok, (1925-1935), Thailand changed from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy. In 1932, a bloodless coup transformed the Government of Thailand from an absolute to a constitutional monarchy. King Prajadhipok (Rama VII) initially accepted this change but later surrendered the kingship to his 10-year old nephew. The king abdicated in 1933 and was succeeded by his nephew, King Ananda Mahidol (1935-1946). Upon his abdication, King Prajadhipok said that the obligation of a ruler was to reign for the good of the whole people, not for a select few.

The country's name was changed from Siam to Thailand with the advent of a democratic government in 1939. As with the rest of Southeast Asia, Thailand was occupied by the Japanese during the Second World War. Since Japan's defeat in 1945, Thailand has had very close relations with the United States. Although nominally a constitutional monarchy, Thailand was ruled by a series of military governments interspersed with brief periods of democracy until the 1992 elections. Threatened by communist revolutions in neighboring countries such as Burma, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, Thailand actively sought to contain communist expansion in the region. Recently, Thailand also has been an active member in the regional Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN). Since the 1992 elections, Thailand has been a functioning democracy with constitutional changes of government.

The monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, is King Rama IX of the Chakri Dynasty.




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