Bangkok (1932-1942) / 1.1 Bangkok & Modernization
Looking back at the history of Thailand, the political system had been going through significant transformations in different stages of time. Due to the occurrence of key historical events, new ideas were brought in and the government had been greatly reformed by the ruler. In the chosen historical period, King Chulalongkorn had been a key figure that had brought new western ideas back to Thailand, in order to facilitate his political reform during his reign.
The political system that Siam had been using before 1932 was absolute monarchy, which one ruler had absolute power in the authority of a country. He would not be restricted by any legislature, law or governmental ministers. He would be the person having the most power in the government. The ruler would have the titles of the King of Thailand, Head of State, Head of the Royal Thai Armed Forces, Adherent of Buddism and Upholder of religions. It represented that the king would have the physical power, as well as the spiritual power to rule his citizens.
King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) (1868-1910) had become the fifth king of Chakri Dynasty at a young age of 15 years old in 1868, which was the ruling royal house of Thailand at that time. Later on, he became the King of Siam on 16 November 1873. Under the guidance of his father (King Mongut), he had been receiving western education by a governess, Anna Leonowens, since he was very young. Also, he visited a lot of western countries and British colonies, including Singapore and Java in 1870 and British India in 1870-1872. He had learnt about the administration method of these places and hoped to apply back to Siam in the future. He was the first monarch of Siam which had left the country and learnt about the western governing ideas.
During the reign of King Chulalongkorn, he kept pushing the process of modernization in Siam after learning the administrative ideas from the British colonies, which was called ‘self-colonization’ later on. The king allowed hundred s of students going to colleges in England (Oxford and Cambridge etc). In 1930 there were about 200 Siamese students in England, 50 in the United States etc. There were 70% of the students studying in Anglo-Saxon schools or universities. Through the help from the elites and the driving force from the King, Siam had adopted and implemented urban practices from more developed western countries, guiding them a step forward to modernization, including road and transportation system. By trying to catch up with the western urban development, the possibility of Siam being colonized could be largely reduced.
‘By bringing the different parts of a country within close communication the railway renders possible that close and beneficial supervision which is necessary to effective administration. By furnishing rapid and easy means of transportation, it adds materially to the value of the land and its products’, (King Chulalongkorn).
One significant urban development implemented by the King would be the construction of Ratchadamnoen Avenue. After visiting Europe in 1897, the King proposed this construction project learning from the Champs-Élysées in Paris. He aimed to create a major circulation and link the landmarks in Siam, which formed a symbol of modernization in Siam. This avenue also became the major site of political demonstrations and gatherings.
Lapomarede, Baron De. “The Setting of the Siamese Revolution.” Pacific Affairs 7, no. 3 (September 1934): 251. doi:10.2307/2750737.
Sintusingha, Sidh, and Morteza Mirgholami. ‘Parallel modernization and self-colonization: Urban evolution and practices in Bangkok and Tehran.’ Cities 30, 2013, 122-32