Bangkok/ Selective and Exclusive Self-Colonization

Although never officially colonized by any Western powers, it would be inaccurate to assume that there had been little external influences on Bangkok’s urban development. This statement is not referring to the “self-colonization” Westernization of the Thai authorities, but rather, the more subversive influences by the Chinese migrants. While recognizing the potential of population growth and income driven by Chinese immigrants would be huge, there was also a potential danger for the Thais to be overwhelmed and subsequently lose their cultural identity and heritages. The Thai authorities had been quick to be on the alert and the two ethnic groups were separated and segregated.

The rapid urbanization and modernization process naturally required the drafting in of a huge amount of Chinese craftsmen. To the Thai authorities’ dismay, most of these craftsmen were not used to Thai building skills and designs. Prince Wahchirayan directed the writing and publishing of a construction manual, known as the Baeb Nawakam. Through the manual, “Thai” styles and “Chinese” styles were to be clearly defined and delineated. An integration, union or even meditation was strictly denied. The official position would be, the people from the two races were to “live side-by-side but separately”.

In terms of architectural aesthetics and possibilities, it left a huge question mark of “what if?” with vast potential still to be explored. While it would be commendable for the awareness and agility on the Thais’ side to preserve and protect their own history and culture, their conservative and selective approaches in terms of referencing from external influences could not be thoroughly comprehensive and justifiable.

 

References:

Chua, L. (2014) ‘The City and the City: Race, Nationalism, and Architecture in Early Twentieth-Century Bangkok’. Journal of Urban History 40(5), 933-958

Baeb Nawakam Drawings with Thai idioms illustration © 1919, The National Archives of Thailand
Baeb Nawakam Drawings with Thai idioms illustration © 1919, The National Archives of Thailand

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