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Title: Siam—Land of Free Men
Author: Deignan, H. G.
Language: English
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                       SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION
                       WAR BACKGROUND STUDIES
                            NUMBER EIGHT

                       SIAM--LAND OF FREE MEN

                            H. G. DEIGNAN

                         (Publication 3703)

                         CITY OF WASHINGTON
                          FEBRUARY 5, 1943

                      The Lord Baltimore Press
                      BALTIMORE, MD., U. S. A.


  Kingdom of Sukhothai-Sawankhalok
  Kingdom of Ayuthia
  Kingdom of Tonburi
  Kingdom of Siam



  1. 1, Gorge of the Me Ping
     2, Ancient wall at Chiengmai
  2. 1, A monolith in the Me Ping gorge
     2, Boat being pulled upstream through the rapids by ropes
  3. 1, The "mai kwao," tree that yields gum resin
     2, Transplanting young rice plants
  4. 1, Fishing from the roadsides after the rains
     2, Water buffalo
  5. 1, A primitive type of cart
     2, Elephants breaking up a log jam
  6. 1, Small river boats, and bamboo water wheel
     2, A temple
  7. 1, A reliquary
     2, The high altar of a Buddhist shrine
  8. 1, Royalty visits Chiengmai
     2, A princely funeral at Chiengmai

                             TEXT FIGURE

  1. Map of Siam

[Illustration: FIG. 1.--Map of Siam.]

                         SIAM--LAND OF FREE MEN

                           By H. G. DEIGNAN
                _Associate Curator, Division of Birds_
                       _U. S. National Museum_

                           (WITH 8 PLATES)

From the earliest times the great peninsula which lies between India
and China .... has been peculiarly subject to foreign intrusion.
Successive waves of Mongolian humanity have broken over it from the
north, Dravidians from India have colonised it, Buddhist missions from
Ceylon have penetrated it, and buccaneers from the islands in the
south have invaded it. Race has fought against race, tribe against
tribe, and clan against clan. Predominant powers have arisen and
declined. Civilisations have grown up, flourished and faded. And thus
out of many and diverse elements a group of nations have been evolved,
the individuals of which, Môn, Kambodian, Annamese, Burmese, Shan,
Lao, Siamese and Malay, fundamentally much alike, but differing in
many externals, have striven during centuries for mastery over each
other, and incidentally over the countless minor tribes and clans
maintaining a precarious existence in their midst. Into this mêlée
of warring factions a new element intruded in the sixteenth century A.
D. in the shape of European enterprise. Portuguese, Dutch, French and
English all came and took part in the struggle, pushing and jostling
with the best, until the two last, having come face to face, agreed to
a cessation of strife and to a division of the disputed interests
amongst the survivors. Of these there were but three, the French, the
English, and the Siamese, and therefore Further India now finds
herself divided, as was once all Gaul, into three parts. To the east
lies the territory of French Indo-China, embracing the Annamese and
Kambodian nations and a large section of the Lao; in the west the
British Empire has absorbed the Môn, the Burmese and the Shans;
while, wedged between and occupying the lower middle part of the
subcontinent, with the isolated region of British Malaya on its
extreme south border, lies the kingdom of Siam, situated between 4°
20' and 20° 15' N. latitude, and between 96° 30' and 106° E.

So wrote Graham at a period when the Siamese held sway over a
territory of more than 200,000 square miles or an area equivalent to
the combined areas of the States of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont,
Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey,
Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and almost half of Ohio. It must not
be supposed, however, that the Thai[2] had permanently resigned
themselves to a continuation of this political division of the
peninsula. Rich provinces to which they had more or less cogent
claims, based on facts of history or ethnography, lay under foreign
rule and, with the rise of world-wide nationalism in the 1920's and
1930's a lively irredentism came into flower. This irredentism and its
accompanying nationalistic fervor have colored the policies of the
Thai Government during the decade just passed and serve to explain
many political actions which are otherwise puzzling to the western

[1] Graham, W. A., Siam, vol. 1, pp. 1-2, London, 1924.

[2] Pronunciation near English "tie."


Whatever more or less final rectifications of frontiers result from
the current war, the land of the Thai will still, for general
purposes, fall into four geographic divisions of major importance:
Northern, Central, Eastern, and Peninsular.

Northern Thailand, lying between the Salwin and the Me Khong, two of
the world's most majestic rivers, is, for the most part, a country of
roughly parallel ranges and valleys running north and south. At the
heads of the flat-floored valleys, which vary in elevations above sea
level from 800 feet in the southeast to 1,200 feet in the northwest,
arise important streams, the Me Nan, the Me Yom, the Me Wang, and the
Me Ping, which, falling through narrow defiles to debouch in the low
land of Central Siam, eventually there conflow to form the Me Nam Chao
Phraya, the chief artery of that division. On the alluvia of these
streams, as might be expected in a country whose civilization was
originally based upon riziculture, live the great bulk of the northern
Thai or Lao, in a setting of rich fields and orchards. The ranges
similarly rise, southeast to northwest, from low, rounded hills to
imposing peaks, many of which exceed an altitude of 5,000 feet and two
of which achieve more than 8,000 feet. These mountains, rising
abruptly from the valley floors and, on the whole, densely forested,
are scarcely inhabited by man except for scattered groups of
seminomadic hill tribes, which exist there by hunting and a primitive
agriculture. The northernmost province, Chiengrai, is separated from
the sister provinces by a mountain wall and belongs wholly to the Me
Khong drainage; it is largely a region of marshes and grassy savannas.

Central Siam, the heart of Thailand, is the vast alluvial plain of the
Chao Phraya and may be described as 55,000 square miles of almost
unbrokenly monotonous scenery. The level of the land is but little
higher than that of the sea and, during the dry season, tidal
influence is plainly evident as much as 50 miles from the river's
mouth. Alluvial deposits, brought in the season of floods from the
northern hills, are, however, raising this level at an astonishing
rate; geological evidence shows that within comparatively recent times
a great part of the plain was covered by the sea and even now the
northern shores of the Gulf of Siam, at the mouth of the Chao Phraya,
are advancing seaward at a rate of almost a foot a year. Its rich
soil, its abundance of watercourses, both natural and artificial, and
its comparatively dense population combine to make it one of the most
eminently suitable areas of the world for the production of fine rice.

As Central Siam is the heart of the Kingdom, the royal city of Bangkok
or Krungthep is the very core of that heart. Situated on the banks of
the Chao Phraya, some 20 miles from its mouth, this metropolis, whose
history goes back not earlier than the mid-eighteenth century A.D., is
the center for scholarship and the arts, the filter through which pass
all goods and ideas received by the interior from the outside world,
and the nucleus of one of the most highly centralized of national
governments. Its citizenry of some 800,000 represents no less than 5
percent of the total population of the country.

Eastern Thailand is a huge, shallow, elevated basin, tilted toward the
east, so that while its western rim stands 1,000 feet above the sea,
its eastern rim is formed by low hills. The plateau is watered by the
system of the Me Nam Mun, a tributary of the Me Khong. A
poverty-ridden country of unproductive soil and adverse climatic
conditions, it supports indifferently well a comparatively limited

Peninsular Siam is the narrow, northern two-thirds of the Malay
Peninsula, sharply divided longitudinally by a mountain chain which
passes down its whole length. It is a country rich in forests, cattle,
fisheries, mines, and agriculture, and possessed of great natural
beauty in the countless islets off its shores, its beaches lined with
palms and casuarinas, and the verdure of it mountain-backed
landscapes. Most of the developed natural wealth of the Kingdom is
found in this portion, which has fine systems of highways and

The whole of Siam lies between the Tropic of Cancer and the Equator
and is subject to the typical monsoonal climate of southeastern Asia,
by which the prevailing winds, from the latter part of April to the
middle of October, consistently blow from the southwest and from
mid-October to April, from the northeast. In Northern, Central, and
Eastern Thailand there are three distinct seasons--the hot weather,
the rains, and the cold weather, the first extending from February or
March to May, the second from June to October, and the third covering
the remaining months of the year. When the northeast winds blow
strongly, the cold weather is very marked, but at such times as the
seasonal winds fail, the cold weather is scarcely distinguishable from
the hot. In Northern Siam, which lies at greatest distance from the
sea and possesses greater radiation, the days may be hot even during
the cold weather when the night temperatures afford a strong contrast
by dropping to as low as 50° F. and on the mountains even lower,
although never reaching freezing temperatures. The basin of Eastern
Siam, with its thin vegetation and cut off from cooling breezes by its
surrounding rim, is subject to terrific heats during the day and,
during the winter, very low temperatures at night. The central plain,
outside of Bangkok, is pleasantly cooled during the hottest season by
the continuous sea winds, night and day; in Bangkok, however, perhaps
owing to houses of masonry in place of thatch and the drainage of
surrounding marshes, the climate is not only appallingly hot but
actually becoming perceptibly more so year by year. Peninsular Siam
has the mildest and most equable climate, the greatest annual
rainfall, and only two noticeable seasons--the hot weather from
February to August and the rains from September to January, with the
peak of the wet season coming in December.

Owing to the fact that the political frontiers have little
relationship to biogeographical boundaries, the Kingdom possesses a
fauna and flora richer than those of most areas of comparable size.
The primeval jungles of the western and northern mountains show
untrammeled Nature at her tropical best. The slopes are enlaced with
countless streams and waterfalls, from roaring torrents to rills which
flow only during and after the rains. In the forests of these hills
and valleys, huge epiphyte-laden trees, bound together by vines,
shelter such animals as the elephant, the tiger, and the gaur, but so
dense is the cover that the presence of large game is more often made
known by signs than by actual sight, and only the hunter who is
willing to work hard and long is likely to shoot a worth-while trophy.
More than 1,000 different birds are recorded from the country, while
fishes of almost endless variety abound everywhere, from the Gulf to
the smallest roadside ditches. The natural vegetation ranges from the
most typically tropical plants, such as the mangosteen, to forms of
the Temperate Zone, such as pines and violets, on the northwestern
mountains. The central plain, where not devoted to rice cultivation,
shows the characteristic flora and fauna of a marsh and the eastern
plateau has an impoverished biota, characterized by a certain number
of endemic forms; the Peninsula, however, like the west and north,
bears great forests rich in species of animals and plants.


Archeology can still tell us little of the first human occupants of
Siam. The earliest evidence of man's existence here is furnished by
celts, uncovered in the Peninsula and on the eastern plateau, which
are supposed to date from the later Neolithic period; geology,
however, gives us no reason to conclude that the makers of these
implements were not preceded by other races.

[Illustration: 1. The rivers fall from the northern plateaus to the
central plain through narrow defiles.]

[Illustration: 2. Ancient wall at Chiengmai. The city walls are
preserved as picturesque ruins.]

[Illustration: 1. An international incident was caused by the European
alpinist who first scaled the monolith to plant his nation's flag upon

[Illustration: 2. Boats must be pulled upstream through the rapids by

[Illustration: 1. The valuable gum resin, Bengal kino, is yielded by
the "mai kwao" (_Butea frondosa_).]

[Illustration: 2. Young rice plants are transplanted from a seedbed to
the flooded fields.]

[Illustration: 1. At the end of the rains, fish may be captured from
the roadsides.]

[Illustration: 2. Cows and water buffaloes are treated as family

Among the mountains of the Malay Peninsula exist to this day small
groups of dwarf, black-skinned, kinky-haired people, different from
all other races of the country but closely related to the natives of
the Andaman Islands and the Negritos of the Philippines; it has been
surmised that these Ngo (Semang) are the dwindling remnant of a once
numerous population, successors to (and possibly descendants of) the
Neolithic men.

Following the Ngo and sometime during the past few millennia, it is
believed that there came successive waves of a people of Mongolian
origin who, making their way down the rivers, drove the primitive
Negritos into the hills and settled in their place. Now conveniently
known as the Mon-Annam family, their descendants are the Mon
(Peguans), the Cambodians, and the Annamese, as well as numerous
semibarbarous lesser tribes which persist among the mountains of the

Probably between two and three thousand years ago and certainly after
the arrival of the Mon-Annam immigrants, another great population
wave, known as the Tibeto-Burman family, rolled southward over
Indo-China but chiefly descended the valley of the Irrawaddy (where
they have given rise to the modern Burmese), thus scarcely entering
Siam at all. Only in comparatively recent times, driven from their
former homes by political disturbances, have tribes of this stock
(Yao, Meo, etc.) migrated into Thailand and the territories to the
east, where they are constantly being joined by others of their blood
brothers from farther north.

While the Mon and the Khmer (Cambodians) were still spreading over the
southern parts of Indo-China and before they had begun, under the
influence of colonists from India, to emerge from a condition of
savagery, the tribes which they had left behind them at different
points during their southward movement were already being driven back
into the mountains and brought into a state of partial subjugation by
the members of a third great family of migrants from the north. These
were the people now known as Lao-Tai, who, sending out bands from
their ancient seat in the valley of the Yangtze, had already, 2,500
years ago, established a powerful state on the banks of the Me Khong
in the neighborhood of the modern Wieng Chan (Vientiane).

The Lao-Tai of the Yangtze Valley were evidently very numerous, for
not only did they thus early establish kingdoms far from home but also
became a power in their own land and for some time bid strongly for
the mastery of all China. For centuries they waged successful wars on
all their neighbors, but their strong propensity for wandering
weakened their state and finally caused its disintegration. The
Chinese attacked them repeatedly, each attack producing a fresh exodus
until, during the thirteenth century A.D., the Emperor Kublai Khan
dealt them a final blow which crushed their power and scattered them
in all directions. Fugitives entered Assam, where earlier emigrants
had already settled, and became the dominant power in that country;
others invaded Burma, where for two centuries a Lao-Tai (Shan) dynasty
occupied the throne; while down the Salwin and Me Khong Valleys came
band after band of exiles who mingled with their cousins already
established in those valleys and, in time fusing with the Mon and the
Khmer, produced the race which, since the founding of the city of
Ayuthia, has been dominant in Siam.

The principal divisions of the Lao-Tai family now living within the
borders of Siam are the Thai ("free men") or Siamese proper; the Lao,
who occupy the former seats of those tribes of their own stock that
afterward developed into the Thai; and the Shans, a later intrusion of
distant cousins, descended from the Lao-Tai tribes that settled in the
more eastern districts of Burma in the twelfth century and earlier.


The history of Siam prior to the fourteenth century A.D. is chiefly
known from a hodgepodge of disconnected stories and fragments known as
the "Pongsawadon Mu'ang Nu'a" ("Annals of the North Country"),
compiled at different periods from such of the official records of
various cities and kingdoms as had escaped the destruction which at
intervals overtook the communities to which they referred. With the
omission of the numerous supernatural happenings there recorded and
comparative study of the chronicles of neighboring countries, scholars
have been able to draw a rough picture of the condition of Siam at the
dawn of historical time.

Their researches show a country inhabited by primitive people of
Mon-Khmer stock among whom had settled groups of their more civilized
cousins from Cambodia, who had brought with them the religion and
customs acquired by contact with colonists from India. These
communities grew from villages into cities and at the same time sent
out offshoots in all directions, which in time became the capitals of
small states, the chiefs of which constantly made war on each other
and against the Lao-Tai tribes at their borders and now and again rose
to sufficient strength to repudiate the vague suzerainty claimed over
them all by the empire of Cambodia.

Contemporary records of the period subsequent to the fourteenth
century A.D. are easily available. The most important is the
"Pongsawadon Krung Kao" ("Annals of the Old Capital" or "Annals of
Ayuthia"), which contains a complete and fairly accurate account,
compiled in successive reigns, of the history of the country from A.D.
1349 to 1765. The seventeenth and later centuries have also seen the
production of numerous works, by European travelers and missionaries,
which deal wholly or partly with Siam.


The most ancient Mon-Khmer settlement of which anything definite is
known was Sukhothai (located on the river Me Yom some 200 miles north
of the site of modern Bangkok), which by 300 B.C. was already a
sizable village. At first putting forth no pretensions to the status
of kingdom, the community evidently increased rapidly in importance,
for some two centuries later the chief, Phraya Thammarat, declared
himself King of the district, founded the new capital of Sawankhalok,
and appointed one of his sons viceroy of Sukhothai, which itself soon
grew into a fortified city. Thereafter, the two towns served
alternately as the capital of a country which, as the Kingdom of
Sukhothai-Sawankhalok, gradually grew to great wealth and strength.

Its monarchs occupied themselves with the waging of war against the
petty chieftains of neighboring states (founded in the same manner and
upon the same principles as their own but at somewhat later dates)
and, in course of time reducing all of them to vassalage, came to be
recognized as rulers of the whole country. The vague overlordship of
Cambodia continued for many centuries but with little or no influence
upon the destinies of its nominal dependency, which was left to manage
itself and its own subordinates as seemed to it best.

At the same time as the various Mon-Khmer states of Siam were
struggling to subdue each other, the Lao tribesmen inhabiting the
mountainous districts to the north, emboldened by their increasing
numbers and constantly raiding the rich villages of the plains, were
demanding an ever greater amount of attention and as early as the
fifth century A.D., the reduction of the Lao had become almost the
main preoccupation of the kings of Sukhothai-Sawankhalok. Expeditions
against them were constant, but while they were frequently defeated
and large numbers of them carried captive to Sukhothai or Sawankhalok,
the intercourse thus brought about served only to strengthen them,
since it enabled them to adopt the customs and civilization of the
conquerors and then turn the acquired knowledge against their
instructors with an ever-growing degree of success.

About A.D. 575, a Lao city, built in imitation of the Khmer capitals,
was founded at a spot about 250 miles north of Sawankhalok and given
the name of Haribunchai (later corrupted to Lamphunchai and the modern
Lamphun). The chief of this town married a princess of the Khmer state
of Lopburi and established a dynasty which closely followed the
Brahman rites and ceremonies in vogue at Sukhothai. During this time
other Lao states arose and the time soon came when the Khmer could no
longer hold the Lao in check. During succeeding centuries Lao armies
advanced far south into the Mon-Khmer kingdoms, marital and political
alliances between Lao and Khmer royalty became common, and Lao
settlements were established in various parts of southern Siam.

Despite wars with rival states to the south and the Lao to the north,
the Kingdom of Sukhothai-Sawankhalok prospered greatly and in time
attained to a high civilization. The arts were encouraged, the people
were well governed, trade was extensive, and friendly relations were
maintained with China and other distant countries by frequent exchange
of embassies. Envoys from the Emperor of China, who visited Sukhothai
in the seventh century A.D., have left records which indicate that the
populace were chiefly engaged in the cultivation of rice and the
manufacture of sugar and that in manners and customs they closely
resembled the modern inhabitants of Siam. The style of architecture,
remains of which still survive, followed, in somewhat degenerated
form, that seen in the ruins of Angkor and other Cambodian cities.

During the reign of the hero-King Rama Khamheng (Phra Ruang) the
country reached the zenith of its greatness and when he died, about
A.D. 1090, he left to his heir an empire which embraced much of the
Lao states to the north and all of the more southern Khmer kingdoms of
Siam. This heritage, however, was fated to endure but a short time.
During the eleventh century the Khmer King of Lopburi and the Lao King
of Lamphun, both vassals of Phra Ruang, had been intermittently at war
with each other without interference from the suzerain; toward the end
of the century Lopburi was finally overcome and, declaring itself
subordinate to Lamphun, was forced to admit large numbers of Lao to
settle within its borders. Soon after Phra Ruang's death, a great Lao
army composed of the warriors of several allied states and led by a
chief known as Suthammarat, invaded Sukhothai-Sawankhalok itself,
defeated its armies, overran its lands to the south, reduced the
cities, and founded the capital of Pitsanulok, southwest of Sukhothai
and in the heart of the Khmer Kingdom. Thereafter, although the rulers
of Sukhothai-Sawankhalok continued for some time to maintain regal
state, they were never again to hold a paramount position and were, in
fact, to become mere vassals of the ancient enemy until eventually,
some four centuries subsequent to the foundation of Pitsanulok, they
were to be no more than provincial governors representative of the
kings of Ayuthia.

Suthammarat, an admirer of the Khmer, in setting up his throne in the
conquered kingdom, imitated as closely as possible the ways of
Sukhothai and, by marrying a lady of the country, set an example for
his following which gave great impetus to that fusion of Lao and Khmer
which, already begun in Lopburi, was soon to result in the evolution
of the Thai (Siamese) race.

The early thirteenth century saw the beginning of the last and
greatest influx of Lao into the south of Siam. The suppression of the
Lao-Tai undertaken in southwestern China, culminating in the decisive
victories of the Emperor Kublai Khan, drove many thousands of these
people down into the mountainous regions of northern Siam, where the
newcomers upset the balance of power among their predecessors and
caused the disruption of several of their states. As a result, many
impoverished petty chieftains of ancient lineage gathered their people
together and set off down the rivers to seek new fortunes in the
kingdoms to the south. During the following century, mingling with the
Khmer and the Lao-Khmer and acquiring great strength of numbers, the
Lao wrested control from the original inhabitants and established
capitals of their own, one of which, Supanburi, was in time to become
dominant over all the rest. When, at the middle of the fourteenth
century, Phra Chao Uthong, King of Supanburi, fleeing from a
pestilence, marched westward to found a new capital, Nong Sano, now
the seat of the weak successors of the great Suthammarat, fell into
his hands almost without a struggle, its King fled to Cambodia, and
Uthong erected near the fallen city the new city of Maha Nakhon Si
Ayuthaya (Ayuthia), which was destined to become famous throughout the
world as the capital of one of the greatest kingdoms in the history of
Farther India.


Phra Chao Uthong (under the name of Phra Ramathibodi) became King at
Ayuthia in A.D. 1350 and thereafter was fully occupied in bringing the
outlying states and provinces into line, in organizing his government,
and in setting up a system of law, parts of which continue in use to
the present time. Before his death in 1369, he had brought together
the whole of the components of the Sukhothai-Sawankhalok Kingdom and
had welded them so closely together that, when Cambodia, annoyed by
the independent attitude of what was theoretically its vassal, sent an
army to reassert its rights of suzerainty, the united Siamese not only
defeated the enemy but pursued him well within the confines of his own

Under Ramathibodi's successors the Kingdom continued to prosper.
During the next two centuries, Buddhism definitely succeeded
Brahmanism as the popular religion throughout the country and great
treasure was expended in beautifying the cities by the erection of
graceful temples and reliquaries in the adapted Cambodian style which
persists in Siam to this day.

About A.D. 1527, the King of Pegu, enraged by the exploits of Siamese
marauders in his frontier province of Tavoy, collected an army at
Moulmein and sent it into Siam under the leadership of the heir
apparent, Bureng Naung. Defeating the Siamese near Supanburi, the
Peguan prince advanced to the walls of Ayuthia itself; so stout was
the resistance, however, and so prolonged the siege that his supply
system broke down and he was forced to return to his own country,
fighting rear-guard actions and losing heavily all the way. After 3
years, Bureng Naung, now King, taking the assumption by the King of
Siam of the title "Lord of the White Elephants" as a casus belli,
again attacked Siam with a great army and once more besieged the
capital. This time, to save the city, the "Lord of the White
Elephants" was compelled to negotiate and to turn over several of the
animals in question to the invader, who then retired. Only a few years
later, however, the Siamese King repudiated Peguan suzerainty; Bureng
Naung returned, by treachery gained admission to the city, sacked and
partially destroyed it, and sent the King, with many of his followers,
in chains to Pegu. Leaving the Siamese governor of Pitsanulok as his
viceroy in Ayuthia, Bureng Naung pressed on to subdue other cities but
was scarcely out of sight when a Cambodian army, burning to avenge
recent defeats and to reestablish ancient rights, appeared to begin a
new siege of Ayuthia; this enemy was repulsed but not before the
unprotected districts around the capital had been thoroughly looted.

Just now, when, attacked from east and west, her provinces despoiled
and her people fugitive or captive, Ayuthia seemed doomed to early
extinction, a hero arose to redeem her. This was Phra Naret, a son of
Bureng Naung's viceroy, who, appointed by his father governor of
Pitsanulok, in his youth saw military service defending his province
against robber bands and in the wars of Nanda Bureng, son and
successor to Bureng Naung, against the rebellious province of Ava. By
his ability bringing upon himself the dislike of the Peguan King, to
such a degree that his life was endangered, he revolted (ca. A.D.
1565) and led a Siamese army to sack and pillage Tenasserim and
Martaban. Two punitive expeditions sent against him were signally
defeated by Naret, who was then crowned King of Siam and at once began
to restore Ayuthia and to repopulate it by captives brought from
outlying districts which had attempted to cast off their allegiance.

Having established his supremacy at home, Naret inflicted a crushing
defeat upon yet another Burmese army sent to subdue him and then, to
avenge the humiliations imposed upon his country during her time of
weakness, led a strong force against Cambodia; this campaign ended
with the destruction of the Cambodian capital and the carrying of the
King and many of his people captive to Ayuthia, where the former was
executed. Finally, some time about the year 1600, Naret, at the head
of a great army, invaded Burma with the object of conquering the whole
of that country, but this was not to be: the King met death in one of
the early battles and his son and heir, abandoning the enterprise,
returned to his own dominions. But within the space of not more than
35 years, Naret had raised Siam from a condition of almost complete
ruin to a position of ascendancy over all the neighboring kingdoms and
he left to his successors a great empire which was to endure for a
period of 175 years.

During this period, Siam was becoming well known to the European
merchant adventurers trading in the Orient under the flags of
Portugal, Holland, and England. Early in the sixteenth century, the
Malay Kingdom of Malacca had been conquered by the Portuguese;
individuals of this nation had penetrated to Ayuthia and Pegu and had
served in the ranks of the contending armies during the Siamo-Burmese
wars; Portuguese factories had been established at the various Siamese
ports. At the beginning of the seventeenth century, Portuguese
missionaries arrived at Ayuthia, where they were well received and
given land for their churches. About this time also, English and Dutch
ships first appeared in Siamese waters and a bitter rivalry soon
sprang up among the foreigners, who competed for commercial supremacy
and the favor of the King, without which trade could scarcely be
carried on at all. This antagonism resulted in endless quarreling and
even in desperate battles between the representatives of the rival
powers and by 1634 the Dutch had so far prospered that they had built
a fortified factory at Amsterdam on the river Chao Phraya, carried on
extensive commerce throughout Siam, and monopolized the carrying trade
to China and Japan. With the taking of Malacca by the Dutch in 1641,
the influence of the Portuguese soon declined, although many
individuals continued to live in Siam, where such surnames as da Silva
and da Jesus persist to this day in families which no longer show any
other trace of European ancestry. The Dutch rapidly succeeded to all
the commercial outposts of Portugal in Siam, devoting themselves
chiefly to trade and taking little or no interest in internal
politics, except insofar as their commercial prospects were affected.
The first formal treaty contracted by Siam with any western power was
that entered into, in the year 1664, with the representatives of the
Dutch East India Company, authorized by the Dutch Republic. Dutch
trade with Siam continued until A.D. 1706, when the royal favor was
finally lost for good and the Company's agents expelled from the

In 1659 there arrived at Ayuthia one of the most extraordinary figures
in the history of Siam. This was Constantine Phaulcon, the son of a
Cephalonian innkeeper, who ran away to sea in an English ship and,
eventually making his way to Siam, stayed there to become Chief
Minister of the Crown and the trusted adviser of the King, Phra Narai.
Under Phaulcon's able guidance the country for a time prospered
greatly. Not only were the Portuguese and Dutch merchants, already
established, encouraged to extend the scope of their enterprise but
the English and French East India Companies were invited to set up
factories at the capital. The King himself, in partnership with his
First Minister, operated a profitable fleet of merchantmen and became
the principal trader of his own country.

About this time it came to be believed in Europe that the whole of the
Far East was ripe for conversion to Christianity and a Roman Catholic
Mission was organized in France to put this ambitious design into
effect. Ayuthia, possessing a cosmopolitan population and strong
commercial ties with Japan, China, the Sunda Isles, and India, was
considered the best central location for the project and, in A.D.
1662, three French bishops with a staff of priests arrived there to
inaugurate the work. These ecclesiastics were favorably received by
the King and within a short period the mission had acquired a
considerable number of adherents. In order further to strengthen their
position, however, they sought and obtained the official support of
Louis XIV of France, who exchanged complimentary letters and embassies
with the Siamese monarch. Phaulcon, in the confidence of the bishops,
was thus brought into correspondence with Colbert, Louis's minister,
and before long the French King's interest was centered on more
material aspects of Siam than its spiritual welfare. A scheme was set
afoot for securing the supremacy of France in the Asiatic kingdom
through the agency of the priests, who, apparently believing that,
with material support from Louis, they could convert the King himself
to Christianity, were not unwilling to do their part. Six French
men-of-war and a body of 1,400 soldiers were therefore dispatched to
Siam, ostensibly to assist in intimidating the Dutch, who were at the
time causing trouble from their fortress of Malacca. The two principal
ports of Bangkok and Mergui were garrisoned by a part of these French
troops and the King was induced to attach another part of them to his
own person. The missionaries then began to exhort the King with all
the eloquence at their command but found that his conversion was a
more difficult matter than had been expected. Their obstinate
insistence with him and Phaulcon's ascendancy over him ended by
alarming the Siamese, and when remonstrances against the
ever-increasing number of foreigners in the service of the State went
disregarded, a conspiracy was formed among high officers of the Court.
Phra Narai was driven from the throne, Phaulcon was killed, the
European troops were driven from the country, and Siam was saved from
becoming the keystone of a great French empire in the Far East.

[Illustration: 1. A primitive type of cart still is used in remote
districts. The teak logs shown in the background must be carted or
dragged by elephants from the forest to the nearest large stream.]

[Illustration: 2. Elephants are employed to break up a jam of logs at
the estacades of a bridge.]

[Illustration: 1. An extensive commerce is carried on between the
riverine towns by small boats. The water wheel of bamboo (left)
irrigates a garden on the shore.]

[Illustration: 2. The graceful temples of Thailand are adorned with
lacquer, gold leaf, and colored glass.]

[Illustration: 1. Ransacked reliquaries dot the jungles of Thailand.]

[Illustration: 2. The high altar of a Buddhist shrine.]

[Illustration: 1. Royalty visits Chiengmai.]

[Illustration: 2. A princely funeral at Chiengmai. White is the color
of mourning.]

The Kingdom of Ayuthia continued to prosper during several subsequent
reigns marked by friendly relations with European nations, including
the French, and a preoccupation with foreign commerce. But, about the
year 1759, the Burmese, reunited, after a long period of internal
strife, under the martial Alaung Phra, initiated hostilities against
the Siamese by an invasion which brought them to the walls of the
capital; the Burmese King, however, sickened at the beginning of the
siege and died before he could regain his own country. In 1766, under
his son, Sin Byu Shin, war was resumed by simultaneous marches on
Ayuthia from north and south and the city was again invested. Phra
Sucharit, the Siamese ruler, was unfamiliar with warfare but
encouraged his people to a spirited resistance, hoping that relief
would be afforded by the annual floods, coming in the wake of the
rains; the enemy merely patrolled the waters in hundreds of boats and,
as they subsided, threw up new earthworks even nearer the walls. In
the spring of 1767, Sucharit, disheartened, attempted to treat with
them but was rebuffed and when, with the arrival of reinforcements,
the Burmese made an assault in force, the weakened city fell to them
and was given over to looting, flames, and slaughter. The King,
unattended, escaped in the confusion but was to die of exposure only a
few days later.


Sin Byu Shin, leaving a viceroy with a small garrison to rule the
country, withdrew his army to meet a threatened Chinese invasion of
Burma and once again Siam fell into an interregnum of anarchy, with
outlying districts setting themselves up as independent while robber
bands preyed upon the people. An ex-official named Phraya Taksin, who
had deserted his King when Ayuthia seemed likely to fall, gathered
about himself a large number of deserters and broken men like himself
and, by guile and treachery, soon acquired complete authority in the
southeastern provinces, whence, in due time, he appeared before the
walls of Ayuthia as a national avenger. Overcoming the garrison and
killing the Burmese viceroy, Taksin declared himself King and
selected, as the site of his new capital, the village of Tonburi, on
the shore of the Chao Phraya opposite the settlement of Bangkok, where
a populous city soon came into being. To strengthen his position,
however, it was essential that Taksin destroy a legitimate pretender
to the throne whose claims had many adherents; this prince had
established himself at Khorat and thither the King sent an army with
orders to take the city. But in advance of his soldiers he sent secret
emissaries who so demoralized the prince's supporters that when the
usurper's army appeared at last, the city fell into his hands almost
without a struggle and the prince was captured and soon afterward
murdered. With this last threat to his power removed, Taksin was able
to send out expeditions in all directions and soon made himself
undisputed master of the whole country.

The authority of this ruthless man was not to endure long. His
appointment of humble relatives to high office offended the nobility,
while the popular mind was turned against him by his excesses and by
insidious references to his alien ancestry. In 1781, giving out that
he was mad, a cabal of his courtiers dethroned him and offered the
crown to one of themselves, the son of a secretary to the last kings
of Ayuthia. This nobleman, Phraya Chakkri, already popular through his
achievements as a royal minister and as a leader of the armies, was
readily accepted as King by the people and ascended the throne in A.D.
1782, to found the dynasty which still reigns in Siam.


Phraya Chakkri (hereafter to be styled as King Rama I) had scarcely
assumed his new dignity when Bodaw Phra, King of Burma, attempted a
new conquest of Siam. King Rama's military ability was such that the
Burmese were finally everywhere defeated and, with the abandonment of
Mergui and Tavoy by the Siamese in 1792, the recurrent wars between
the two powers may be said to have ended for good. With the foreign
danger averted, the King was able to organize his government, the seat
of which was transferred from Tonburi to Bangkok, on the left bank of
the river, where he constructed a fortified city.

Rama II became involved in war at the beginning of his reign. In 1786,
the regent of the now effete Kingdom of Cambodia had formally
recognized Siamese suzerainty and had sent the infant King to reside
at Bangkok, while he continued to rule the state under Siam's aegis.
Annam, to the east, however, made identical claims to supremacy and
when, in 1809, the Annamese King attempted to enforce his demands, an
army was sent from Bangkok to repel him. The brief campaign ended with
Rama's annexation of the Cambodian province of Phratabong, while the
rest of the country became a dependency of Annam.

Upon this King's death in 1825, the throne was usurped by one of his
sons by a lesser wife, while the legitimate heir, Chao Fa Mongkut, a
young man of twenty-one, retired to the safety of the Buddhist
monkhood. The reign of Rama III is chiefly notable for Siam's
resumption of political relations with the nations of the West. In
1833, a treaty drawn up between Siam and the United States of America
represented the first formal tie between this country and any Asiatic

Toward the end of the reign, Cambodian politics again caused bad blood
between Siam and Annam. A youth named Norodom, a son of the Cambodian
King, had some time since been brought to Bangkok and reared at the
Siamese Court. Upon his father's death, he was declared by Siam to be
the rightful heir and, supported by a Siamese army, returned to
Cambodia to gain the throne and, despite former agreements, to place
the country again under Siamese protection.

During his years of retirement, Chao Fa Mongkut, the King's half
brother, had assiduously devoted himself to the study of the English
language, the sciences, and the manners, customs, and systems of
government of foreign lands; at the same time, he missed no
opportunity to meet and converse with European travelers. Coming to
the throne as Rama IV in 1851, at the age of 47, he brought to his
task a remarkable degree of enlightenment, which resulted in throwing
the country open to foreign trade and intercourse, in the introduction
of such arts as printing and shipbuilding, in the construction of
roads and canals, in laying the foundations for systems of education
and public health, and in numerous other reforms directed toward
increasing the public welfare. His love of learning was indirectly
responsible for his death for, visiting a mountain peak to observe an
eclipse in 1868, he contracted the illness from which he died in that

The program of modernization initiated by King Rama IV was continued
and expanded by his son, the great Chulalongkon (Rama V). Among the
important reforms instituted during this reign were the abolition of
debt slavery, the establishment of law courts, the construction of
railways, the spread of education, regulation of the conditions of
military service, and radical changes in methods of revenue and rural
administration. The appointment of trained officials under organized
control in place of ignorant provincial governors and hereditary
chieftains welded the loose agglomeration of feudatory dependencies
into the modern, homogeneous state.

In the year 1863, Norodom, whom Siam had placed upon the Cambodian
throne, made a treaty with France, now master of Annam, by which he
accepted French protection; at almost the same time he made an exactly
similar compact with Siam. Thus each country found itself responsible
for the protection of Cambodia against any possible aggressor, while
each was given the sole right of dictating the foreign policy of that
state. So absurd a situation could not last and, after 4 years of
negotiation, Siam was compelled to yield to the French thesis of their
superior rights as successors to the Annamese kings, to abrogate her
treaty of 1863, and to abandon all claim to suzerainty over Cambodia.

Soon after Siam's withdrawal from Cambodia, the unofficial advocates
of colonialism in France began to advance the idea that certain
Siamese provinces east of the river Me Khong, having at one time
formed a part of Annam, should be restored to that Kingdom, now a
French protectorate. There is no historical basis for this claim,
which was at first unsupported even in Paris, but when the colonial
party added the argument that the unnavigable Me Khong, as one of the
future trade routes of Southwest China, must at all costs be acquired
by France, the French Government formally demanded of Bangkok the
provinces in question. The Siamese replied by suggesting that the
disputed territory be regarded as neutral until such time as the
frontier could be properly demarcated and this was agreed upon but
merely led to further trouble, each side accusing the other of
violating the compact. Siam asked for arbitration, which was declined
by the French. When, in 1893, bloody collisions occurred along the
border, French gunboats, dispatched from Saigon, ascended the Chao
Phraya, despite efforts of the Siamese naval forces to bar the way. In
consequence of Siamese resistance, the French greatly increased their
demands, now insisting that Siam give up all territory east of the Me
Khong (including about half of the rich province of Luang Phrabang, to
which no French claim had ever previously been laid). After 10 days of
blockade, the Siamese had no choice but to accept a humiliating treaty
which, among other concessions, required immediate evacuation of her
eastern outposts and the payment of an indemnity; as a guarantee,
France established a military occupation of the southeastern province,
of Chanthabun, which was to continue long after all the terms had been

Relations between the two countries were far from improved by this
episode and, during the following years, abuses in the exercise of
French extraterritorial rights were a fertile source of provocation.
In fact, despite every effort to avoid unfortunate incidents, the
Government of Siam found itself spending all its energies in replying
to diplomatic representations and to demands for inquiries,
explanations, and reparations.

As the French demands increased in numbers and severity, there was no
longer any question that Siam's national survival was at stake. But,
in 1896, Great Britain, at last alarmed by France's growing strength
in southern Asia and unwilling to have her approach too near the
eastern confines of India, intervened. High feelings were aroused in
both countries but, after lengthy negotiations, an agreement was
concluded in the same year, by which Siam's autonomy was guaranteed
that she might serve as a buffer between the rival empires.

Thereafter, relations between France and Siam tended to improve. It
was not, however, until 1907, that, in return for yet another
"rectification of the boundary," the French agreed to revise their
extraterritorial rights and to remove the garrison from Chanthabun. A
second convention of the same year resulted in Siam's restoring to
Cambodia the province of Phratabong, which she had held since 1809,
and receiving in exchange a part of the territory yielded in 1904 and
obtaining a recognition of Siamese jurisdiction over Asiatic French
subjects. Altogether, in warding off the European neighbor, Siam had
been compelled to sacrifice no less than 90,000 square miles of her
eastern lands.


Whether the modern traveler enters Siam by steamer from Hongkong or
Singapore or by comfortable Diesel-engined train from the Malay
States, his destination is certain to be Bangkok. Here, in bewildering
juxtaposition, the old Siam and the new Thailand confront him together
on every side. The former is represented in the complicated network of
canals, upon which thousands of boat-dwellers pass their lives; in the
narrow streets hung with the vertical signboards of the inevitable
multitude of Chinese traders; in the throngs of yellow-robed monks
that appear at daybreak from hundreds of gaily colored shrines whose
spires arise in every direction. The new is seen in the modern
boulevards lined with spacious wooden houses set among gardens and
orchards; in the motorcars competing for space with bicycle-drawn
jinrikishas; in the air-conditioned cinema theaters, where, before
World War II, were shown the new pictures shipped by air from
California; in the cement and match factories; in the great airport of
Don Muang, north of the city, where transports arrived daily from
Britain and Australia, from Java and The Netherlands.

Until recently, the inhabitants of towns and villages outside the
capital lived a life not greatly different from that of their
ancestors: one which revolved around the annual cycle of planting,
growing, and the harvest, with religious festivals to break the
monotony of living. Poverty, as understood in the industrial Occident,
was unknown for, while little actual money was seen by the average
family during the course of a year, yet a house could be built of
bamboo in a day or two; fruit trees bore around the year; clothing was
woven at home and shoes were little worn; virtually everyone owned
productive land or was at liberty to clear a tract from the forest
which covers much of the thinly populated country; taxes were light
and could be paid by a few days' labor on some project of public

During the decade just passed the Government has initiated a positive
program aimed at raising the standards of living of the common people
and especially of the peasants who constitute the great majority.
Among the means adopted have been the development of such new sources
of gain as the raising of tobacco and cotton on a large scale; the
construction of great irrigation projects and the development of
sources of electric power; the education of the farmer in livestock
breeding and scientific agriculture; the establishment of agencies to
enable him to obtain a fair market for his produce; the spread of
public-health and medical services in far corners of the provinces.
The results of this experiment had not yet become clear when the war
interfered to hinder its fulfillment.

The political aspect of the program leaned heavily toward economic
nationalism, in an endeavor to counteract the excessive proportion of
foreign capital in the country and to encourage more active
participation by the Thai in the building-up of their own land. If the
means to these laudable ends were perverted, by the paid agents of
Japanese propaganda and a handful of powerful men within the Thai
Government, to serve the cause of "co-prosperity," it must not
therefore be assumed that the misfortunes which have recently befallen
them are traceable to any activities and desires on the part of the
Thai people themselves.

A lively resistance to the usurpers continues, inside Thailand and
through her spokesmen abroad; we may confidently expect that the Thai,
with the aid and sympathy of their friends of the United Nations, will
at the earliest opportunity rid themselves both of their quislings and
their Japanese overlords, again proudly to style themselves "the free

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Siam—Land of Free Men" ***

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