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HISTORY OF THAILAND

 


Thailand is a constitutional monarchy occupying an area of 513,115 sq km (slightly larger than Spain) in Southeast Asia. Of its population of 67 million, the majority are Thais and the largest minority group is Chinese, who have mostly been assimilated through intermarriage and long-time residence.


The origin of the Thai race is still unclear today. Some believe they have migrated from southwestern China, other say they have lived in the border areas between China, Laos, Burma and Thailand for at least 2,000 years, and still others suggest that they originated in what is today’s Thailand and then moved northwards.


Anyway, it was recorded in history that two Thai chieftains, Khun Bang Klang Hao and Hun Pha Muang, established the first independent Thai kingdom in Sukhothai in 1238 after driving away the Khmers who had ruled this region in the 11th and 12th centuries.

 

 

The Sukhothai Period (1238 – 1438)

 

Sukhothai (Dawn of Happiness) is regarded as the first truly independent Thai state and the birthplace of Thai culture. The Sukhothai era, which declared its independence in 1238, saw the Thais’ gradual expansion throughout the entire Chao Phraya River basin, the establishment of Theravada Buddhism as the dominant religion, the creation of the Thai alphabet and the first true Thai art forms including painting, music, architecture and literature.


During the Sukhothai period, the Thai people liven countries, including China, arts were developed and “Buddhism was firmly established as the state religion.

 

The Sukhothai era declined in the late 14 century and eventually became a vassal state of the rising Ayutthaya Kingdom, the dynamic kingdom further south, in 1378. It was completely absorbed by Ayutthaya in 1438.

 

 

The Ayutthaya Period (1350 – 1767)

 

Ayutthaya was the capital of the second Thai kingdom ruled by 33 successive kings. Founded in 1350. Ayutthaya, approximately 86 kilometers north of Bangkok, was regarded by both Asians and Europeans as one of the most progressive and wealthiest kingdoms on the planet during that period.


Because of its ideal location, Ayutthaya had a well-developed agriculture and did a thriving trade with foreign countries both in the East and the West.  The city was beautified by glittering palaces, ornately designed temples and gold-plated pagodas and was recognized as a major metropolis of the world during the reign of King Narai the Great (1656-1688).


During Ayutthaya’s 417 years of prominence, the Thais brought their distinctive culture to fruition, ridding their lands of the Khmer presence and fostering contact with Arabian, Indian, Chinese, Japanese and European powers, especially Portugal and Holland.


Ayutthaya lasted as a capital for 417 years from 1350 to 1767. Many times it had to fight with invading neighboring countries, notably Burma (today’s Myanmar). After 1758, Ayutthaya was in disarray because of the bitter rivalries for the throne among members of the royal family, which resulted in its humiliating defeat in the war with Burma and its subsequent surrender to the Burmese in April 1767.


The destruction by the Burmese was a severe blow to the Thais. However, the Burmese could not maintain control of the Kingdom.

 

 

The Thon Buri Period (1767-1782)

 

Seven months later, Phraya Taksin, who had served in the army of the last king of Ayutthaya, succeeded in expelling the Burmese and reestablishing Thai sovereignty, the new capital in Thon Buri, on the banks of the Chao Phraya River, regained control of the Kingdom.


During his 15-year rule, Taksin the Great restored the religion, arts and literature and extended the territory of his kingdom to Laos and Cambodia.


On King Taksin’s death in 1782, his general and friend Chao Phraya Maha Kasatsuk ascended the throne and was known as King Buddha Yodfa or Rama I. he moved the capital across the river to Bangkok on the opposite side of the river and established the Chakri Dynasty.

 

 

The Rattakosin Period (1782-present)

 

During the early part of the Chakri Dynasty, arts, culture and literature were in full bloom. Relations with the Western countries were restored by King Rama III. The reigns of Rama IV and Rama V, Western culture was introduced to Thai society, leading to its modernization.


Two Chakri monarchs, King Mongkut (Rama IV), who reigned between 1851 and 1868 and his son King Chulalongkorn (Rama V), who reigned from 1868 to 1910, saved Thailand from Western colonization through brilliant diplomacy and selective modernization. It is largely due to these two monarchs that Thailand was able to retain dominance over its own destiny without the interference of foreign powers.


But Thailand also lost large pieces of its territory during this period due to the expansion of Western colonialism. Yet the Thais pride themselves on their ability to maintain independence while all their neighbours were reduced to the status of a colony one after the other. In 1932, a group of foreign-educated military officers and students staged a peaceful revolution and Thailand changed its political system from absolute monarchy to constitutional monarchy which has remained up to this day.


Although the Thais have always referred to their country as Muang Thai or Prathet Thai, meaning the Land of the Free, the country had been known to the outside world as Siam until 1939, when the Thai government formally adopted Thailand as the official name of the country. After that Siam and Siamese became historical terms.


There have been a number of coups since then, and a cycle of economic boom and bust in the 1980s and 90s, but Thailand remains relatively stable in comparison to neighboring countries. Although Thailand is no longer an absolute monarchy, the love and reverence felt by the Thai people toward their king have not diminished in any way.


Today, Thailand has a constitutional monarchy. Thai kings, including the present monarch, H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej, have exercised their legislative powers by means of a cabinet headed by a prime minister and their judicial powers through the law courts, and the king remains the stabilizing element of the country and is generally recognized as one of the most beloved rulers in Thai history.
 

 
 
 

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