Bangkok(1890-1910)/ The Converging Parties In the Transformation from Water to Land
During King Chulalongkorn’s reign (r. 1868-1910), over 120 new roads were built (Porphant 1994:84), most of which were constructed between 1890 and 1910. The funds for the road construction were from four sources: donations by the king; the Privy Purse Bureau revenue; private donations; and taxes. Although the king’s protagonist role cannot be overestimated since his permission was a must for every road construction, there were other parties involved in the process which falls into four categories: The Privy Purse, the Ministry of the Capital, the local royal landlords and the foreign capitalists.
The Privy Purse Bureau was the largest land owner of the city. It was the major source of capital for the king. “Road construction went hand in hand with row house investment by the PPB to accommodate the swelling population, most of which was made up of Chinese immigrants,” as Porphant writes.
The Ministry of the Capital was another party that took care of the construction of new roads. It once came up with the Amphur Sampeng Project as is mentioned in the bibliography.
The two of the them saw the construction of roads as a source of national income as well as an important urban infrastructure. The development of road network which would bring about new residential areas was considered a crucial way to solve the housing shortage caused by the city’s population growth.
For other parties who wanted to build a road, they needed to petition to the king.
The royal members constitutes to one part of private petitioners. To give an example, here is one petition letter from 4 noblemen at the rank of Phraya in request of building a new road which led to the finish of Si Phraya Road in 1905.
“13 August 1905.
To His Majesty:
In regard to the land at the corner of Charoenkrung Road at Hongkong Bank, we bought land from a number of people. However, there are no comfortable roads cutting across this Tumbon [district]. In my opinion, if the construction of a road is undertaken, it will facilitate the transportation and communication. Conferring with the residents in this Tumbon, they are pleased to join co-operation by granting money to build a road. So I would like to ask you to give a permission to construct a road running from Charoenkrung Road to the corner Wat Hua Lumpong with a total length of 35 sen 8 wa and a width of 5 wa. The road will be surfaced by the brick pavings.
Phraya Indhrathipbordisriharaj rongmuang
[Office of the Prime Minister 1970: 148-149J”
At the time, the royal members owned a large amount of land in the city. For the sake of revenue, they constructed new roads for the later building up of shop houses and residential quarters.
The foreign settlers also requested road construction in order to continue their western lifestyle in the foreign piece of land. In 1910, for example, the Siam Commercial Bank petitioned for a new road in front of their newly built building as it writes in the petition letter:
“…One of the most effective improvements towards the achievement of this intent is the building of a new road leading to the river between the premises of the Harbour Department and those of the Bank…”
For all the four parties, the purpose of constructing new roads were mostly commercially driven, whether it is to activate the local economy or to connect two economic centers. Apart from this, it is also part of royal constructions and the actions to solve the livelihood of the citizens in the eye’s of the Privy Purse and the Ministry of the Capital.
For all the things mentioned above, it is not difficult to summarize that the construction of new roads was the common will between the autocratic government led by the king, the western capitalists and the royal aristocracy. Unlike other reforms that would violate the existing status of certain party, Bangkok’s road construction seemed to be the converging point where the absolute monarchy cohered with the western capitalism, and the individual interest cohered with the state ideology. The three forces together drove the city’s physical transformation from water to land. At the same time, it accentuates the top-down nature of the westernization process where there is an absence of public opinions in the decision making.
PORPHANT OUYYANONT. (1999). Physical and Economic Change in Bangkok,1851-1925. 東南アジア研究 / 京都大学東南アジア研究所 編. 36, 437-474.
STERNSTEIN, L., & DANIELL, P. (1976). Thailand: the environment of modernisation. Sydney, McGraw-Hill.
TERWIEL, B. J. (1983). A history of modern Thailand, 1767-1942. St. Lucia, University of Queensland Press.