Bangkok (1932-1942) / 4 Building up Siamese Identity
National identity is a sense of a nation as a cohesive whole, as represented by distinctive traditions, culture, and language. Each country should have its own characteristics and be acknowledged by their local citizens. A nation consists of a group of people belonging to the same biological race whinin the same cultural life. The development of a nation can be significantly affected by the decision making of the leader and the political system.
In the history of Thailand, there were a few turning points in the development of the political system. One of the key years would be 1932. Before 1932, the traditional kingship dominated the Siam government, which the king would be in control of all the political affairs. The hier would be passed on to the king’s later generation. Due to the absolute monarchy system, the king was also in charge of the urban development. King Chulalongkorn was deeply affected by western influence, in which many foreign ideas, such as democracy and architectural style were brought back to Siam. Under his reign, Ratchadamneon Avenue was constructed according to the western model, like Champs-Élysées in Paris. Many buildings along the avenue belonged to the royal or noble families, which signified the importance of the avenue to symbolize the king’s power.
During 1932, People’s Party intiated the Siamese Revolution due to their discontent towards King Prajadhipok regarding the economic crisis and unemployment problem. They started to propose to replace the absolute monarchy with constitutional monarchy. Therefore, the country would be governed by the state instead of one single ruler. The governance would be regulated by a constitution created by the people. Few years after 1932 would be a transition stage from royal to democratic power. There was collaboration between the two for handing over the political power. With the new vision brought in by People’s Party, they have proposed an urban plan to re-construct the Ratchadamneon Avenue, as a way to display the transition to the public.
In 1938, Plaek Phibunsongkhram became the third Prime Minister of Thailand. He supported modernization in Thailand, which he thought Thailand needed to show its power to the foreign countries, in order not to be colonized. They started to reject the western influence, and keep the local identity, displaying their independence through the construction of the Democracy Monument near the Ratchadamneon Avenue
According to history, People’s Party was overthrown in later years because they realized that the royal power was still an important part of Thailand’s culture. Therefore, they adopted Royal nationalism. The prime minister would be responsible for political affairs while the king would not have any position in the government. The king acted as the spiritual support and guidance for the people. The king and the politician would co-exist in the same system. In Thailand, it had been going through different kinds of testing in the political structure, from the royal dominance to demoncracy, and finally to the co-existance of royal and politics. One generation was be the example for another, aiming to find out the most suitable system for Thailand. Through this process, the characteristics and the local identity could be built up in the nation, which could become the real ‘Thai’-ness and passed on to the next generations.
Sturm, Andreas (2006) The king’s nation: A study of the emergence and development of nation and nationalism in Thailand. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science (United Kingdom).