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Thailand - SOCIETY

Thailand - The Society


NEITHER A STATIC nor a revolutionary society, Thailand has always been able to harness the talents of its people, make effective use of its natural environment, and progress at an evolutionary pace. The tendency of the Central Thai--for centuries the controlling group in Thai society--to eliminate or suppress ethnic or religious differences was tempered by the Chakkri Dynasty, which had, for the most part, fostered toleration since assuming the monarchy in 1782.

Although Thai society appeared homogeneous, it actually represented a compromise among various groups, which, in order to preserve their own identity, accepted certain aspects of general Thai identity, or Ekkalak Thai. As in the past, in modern Thailand the basic social and communal structure was controlled by a power elite system comprising the monarchy, the military, and upper level bureaucrats. These groups had a symbiotic relationship with the economic and business community that strongly influenced decision making. As a result of modern education and international influences, however, the composition of all parts of the elite system was changing in the late 1980s.

As Thailand became more active in world trade and the international community in general, the traditional practice of measuring status by the extent of landholdings became less meaningful. Although the Buddhist sangha (monastic community) and the royal family remained the largest landholders, they were no longer the richest elements in society. Their wealth was often surpassed by that of members of the business community and the bureaucracy (including the military), who derived their growing affluence from diverse sources.

Commerce and other economic endeavors had always had a place in Thai society, but it was only in the late twentieth century that income derived by means other than landholding became socially acceptable. In modern Thailand, entrepreneurs, educated civil servants, and career military officers were all accepted into the elite ranks. This expansion of the ruling elite was reflected in the growing influence of elected members of the National Assembly. More kinds of people had the opportunity to participate in the shaping of Thai society after 1973; however, the gap continued to widen between rich and poor.

As it made the transition from less developed country to industrialized state, Thailand often was cited as one of the success stories of the Third World. Although Thailand benefited from modernization, being a rapidly developing nation was not without problems and costs. One problem related to increased urbanization and a growing market economy was the heightened desire for more consumer products at the expense of locally made goods, services, and recreational activities. The growing incidence of violent crime, divorce, prostitution, and drug addiction also could be attributed in part to increased urbanization. Modernization was also changing the traditional ways by which individual Thai improved their economic and social condition. A university education, for example, used to virtually guarantee financial betterment; by the late 1980s, however, large numbers of liberal arts graduates were either unemployed or underemployed. Modernization also hurt the rural Thai. Previously, their access to housing, forests, and usable water sources had been a given. By the 1980s, however, environmental destruction and a growing scarcity of arable land made it increasingly difficult for the rural Thai to be relatively independent of the government.

Another cost of modernization was loss of security by some, including the elderly and Thailand's Buddhist monks, who previously had had an assured place in Thai society. Care of and respect for the elderly had once been the responsibility of the immediate or extended family, but by the 1980s Thailand was beginning to build public and private senior citizen centers. Before World War II, the local monks and the sangha had been the main source of advice and information; in the 1980s, civil servants were often better equipped to attend to the needs of the people in an increasingly urban society.

One of the greatest changes in society following World War II was the emergence of a middle group that included affluent bureaucrats, medium-scale entrepreneurs, educated professionals, and small shopkeepers. The lower class included steadily employed wage workers and unskilled laborers who worked intermittently, if at all. Those in the middle and lower groups had not traditionally constituted self-conscious classes; those categories were relatively new and just beginning to develop common interests. Labor unions, for example, hopelessly divided over political differences in the past, made active attempts to unite on a number of issues, such as basic health and social benefits, in their negotiations with the government and the private sector.

The peasants still comprised the majority of the population. They were, however, much more differentiated than in the past. The peasantry could be defined in terms of its desire for or ownership of land or other agricultural resources, such as teak forests. The issue of landlessness in the central plain arose in the early twentieth century but was soon resolved by the opening of previously untilled areas in the northern part of the country. As a result of rapid population growth in the 1960s and 1970s, international competition in a number of Thailand's traditional agro-economic industries, and migration to the city, landlessness was again on the rise in the 1980s. The number of rural Thai remained large and continued to increase. As Thailand's economy continued to grow in the service areas of banking and tourism, more young adults were attracted to city jobs, thus reducing the ability of families to continue labor-intensive rice farming. At the same time, land increased in value, and absentee landlords bought up small family farms because there were no legally enforceable limits on the amount of land that could be acquired.

Cutting across rural and national strata was the system of patron- client relationships that tied specific households or individuals together as long as both patron and client saw benefits in the arrangement. In many respects, the dynamics of political and economic life were comprehensible only in terms of patron-client relations.

Another traditional system of complex values and behaviors that the majority of Thai shared through the 1980s was Theravada Buddhism. Complementing the religion were beliefs and practices assuming the existence of several types of spirits (phi) whose behavior was supposed to affect human welfare. The Buddhism of the Thai villagers, and even of poorly educated monks, often differed substantially from the canonical religion.



Thailand - Population


Since 1911 Thailand has taken frequent national censuses, and its National Statistical Office, working closely with a number of international agencies, was in the 1980s one of the most extensive sources of statistical information in Asia. One of the 20 most populous nations in the world, Thailand had in 1987 about 53 million people. This total was divided about equally between males and females. The regional breakdown was approximately 16.7 million in the Center (which included the Bangkok metropolitan area), 17.8 million in the Northeast, 11.3 million in the North, and 6.8 million in the South. As in most Southeast Asian nations, the population was youthful and agrarian; approximately 37 percent of the population was between the ages of 15 and 29. In the decades after World War II, however, the percentage of agricultural population declined; it decreased from 79.3 percent to 72.3 percent of the population between 1970 and 1980, for example.

The shrinking of the rural population resulted in part from internal migration to the capital and provincial centers. In 1987 about 10 percent of the population lived in Bangkok, which had 3,292 persons per square kilometer. The 9 largest cities after Bangkok ranged in population from 80,000 to 110,000. They were Khon Kaen, Hat Yai, Chiang Mai, Ubon Ratchathani, Nakhon Sawan, Nakhon Ratchasima, Krabi, Udon Thani, and Songkhla.

Bangkok, with 1,537 square kilometers, represented the combining of the royal capital of the Chakkri Dynasty with Thon Buri, the capital of King Taksin. In the late 1980s, this urban area was made up of 24 districts (khet), with a combined population of 5.5 million. In spite of massive construction and changes in the economy, many of the districts retained their unique identities. For example, Dusit District, where the royal family had its principal residence, was also home to many of the city's military officers and civil servants.

Rapid urbanization in the 1980s was changing not only where the Thai lived but also how they lived. Separate private houses were located in high-density areas or out in new sprawling suburbs. The Thai were also moving into townhouses and condominiums; by 1984 sixty-nine residential condominium communities had been built or were in the final phase of construction. A family compound along a tree-shaded khlong (canal) was a rare sight. Although ferries continued to ply the Chao Phraya, the boat was no longer the main mode of transportation. Bangkok had about 900,000 registered motor vehicles and a new superhighway system partially completed in the late 1980s; massive traffic jams, noise, and air pollution had become part of everyday life. Most of the canals in the "Venice of the East" had been replaced with roads; this replacement was in part causing the city to sink. Annual flooding in the city and growing slums such as Khlong Toei often made city services rather than politics the key issue in metropolitan elections. Bangkok had 10 percent of the national population, but the capital required a disproportionate percentage of the national budget to maintain basic city services.

Thailand's rush both to develop and to satisfy the demand for consumer products had several side effects, including dwindling agricultural land, the destruction of forests, and damage to watersheds. These consequences prompted the central government, with support from international agencies, to make a concerted effort to limit population growth. In 1968 the cabinet sanctioned a family-planning service, and by March 1970 a national population policy was announced. The official slogan "Many Children Make You Poor" and the economic arguments for keeping the number of children at two per family found acceptance among both city and rural populations. Successful programs were undertaken by the Planned Parenthood Association of Thailand and the Family Planning Services. By 1974 an estimated 25 percent of all married couples of childbearing age were using modern contraceptives, one of the highest percentages for developing countries. The population growth rate, 3.4 percent per annum in the 1960s, had been reduced to 1.9 percent per annum by 1986. The goal for the late 1980s was a growth rate of 1.5 percent.

<>Ethnicity, Regionalism and Language

Updated population figures for Thailand.


Thailand - Ethnicity, Regionalism and Language


Although the population was relatively homogeneous in the 1980s--an estimated 85 percent or more spoke a language of the Tai family and shared other cultural features, such as adherence to Theravada Buddhism--regionalism and ethnic differences were socially and politically significant. Moreover, these differences affected the access of specific groups and regions to economic and other resources, which in turn heightened ethnic or regional consciousness.

Perhaps the principal fact of regional and ethnic relations was the social, linguistic, and political dominance of the Central Thai, who were descendants of the subjects of the premodern kingdoms of the Chao Phraya floodplain. The Central Thai were defined as those who considered central Thailand their birthplace or the Central Thai (Standard Thai) dialect their first language. With the advent of increased migration, modern communication, and education, however, it was becoming increasingly difficult to use language to determine place of origin.

The Central Thai constituted but one of the regionally defined categories that made up the majority of Thai--the core Thai. The number of persons belonging to groups other than the core Thai was difficult to specify precisely, whether membership in those groups was defined by language, by other features of culture, or by an individual's self-identification. Part of the problem was the Thai government's policy of promoting assimilation but not encouraging the active collection of data on Thai ethnicity. Government statistics on aliens, tribal minorities, and refugees were more readily available, although sometimes disputed by both scholars and the groups in question.

Despite the inadequacy of the data, it was possible to make some rough estimates of the ethnic composition of the minority sector of the Thai population in 1987. Among the largest minority groups, Chinese constituted about 11 percent of the population, Malay about 3 percent, and long-term resident (as opposed to refugee) Khmer less than 1 percent. The remaining minority groups ranged in number from a few hundred to more than 100,000. Of these, the largest group was the Karen, estimated at about 250,000 in the 1980s. Some of the minority groups spoke languages of the Tai family but differed in several ways from the core Thai.

<>The Thai and Other Tai-Speaking Peoples
<>The Non-Tai Minorities
<>The Highland, or Hill, Peoples
<>The Khmer
<>The Mon
<>The Vietnamese
<>The Chinese
<>Ethnic and Regional Relations

More about the <>Population of Thailand.


Thailand - The Thai and Other Tai-Speaking Peoples


The core Thai--the Central Thai, the Northeastern Thai (Thai-Lao), the Northern Thai, and the Southern Thai--spoke dialects of one of the languages of the Tai language family. The peoples who spoke those languages--generically also referred to as Tai--originated in southern China, but they were dispersed throughout mainland Southeast Asia from Burma to Vietnam. It was conventional in the 1980s to refer to Tai-speaking peoples in Thailand as Thai (same pronunciation) with a regional or other qualifier, e.g., Central Thai. There were, however, groups in Thailand in the late twentieth century who spoke a language of the Tai family but who were not part of the core population.

Although the four major Tai-speaking groups taken together clearly constituted the overwhelming majority of Thailand's population, it was not entirely clear what proportion of the core Thai fell into each of the regional categories. Among the reasons for the uncertainty were the movements of many who were not Central Thai in origin into the Bangkok area and its environs and the movement of Central Thai, perhaps in smaller numbers, into other regions as administrators, educators, technicians, bureaucrats, soldiers, and sometimes as settlers. The Central Thai, of generally higher status than the general populace, tended to retain their identities wherever they lived, whereas those from other regions migrating to the central plain might seek to take on Central Thai speech, customs, and identity.

Although politically, socially, and culturally dominant, the Central Thai did not constitute a majority of the population and barely exceeded the Thai-Lao in numbers, according to a mid-1960s estimate. At that time, the Central Thai made up roughly 32 percent of the population, with the Thai-Lao a close second at about 30 percent. The Thai-Lao were essentially the same ethnic group that constituted the dominant population of Laos, although they far outnumbered the population of that country.

A number of linguistic scholars mark the reign of King Narai (1657-88) as the point when the Central Thai (or Ayutthaya Thai) dialect was established as the standard to which other forms or dialects were compared. Central Thai was the required form used in modern Thailand for official, business, academic, and other daily transactions. From Ayutthayan times, Central Thai borrowed words from Khmer, Pali, and Sanskrit. Thailand still maintained a court language called Phasa Ratchasap, although King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX, 1946- ) encouraged the use of Central Thai. Similarly, Pali, the religious language, although still used, gradually was being replaced by Central Thai for many ceremonies and writings. Although the Thai Royal Academy was the final arbiter of new words added to the language, post-World War II Thai has been influenced heavily by American English, especially in the area of science and technology.

Increasingly, Central Thai was spoken with varied fluency all over the country as the education system reached larger numbers of children. Nevertheless, regional dialects (or their local variants) remained the language of the home and of the local community. Learning Central Thai is not a simple matter. The dialects of the four regional components of the core population are only mutually intelligible with difficulty. There are lexical and syntactic differences as well as differences in pronunciation.

Differences in dialect were sometimes an irritant in relations between those whose native tongue was Central Thai and persons from other regions. On the one hand, if persons migrating from other regions to Bangkok spoke their own dialect, they might be treated with contempt by the Central Thai. If, on the other hand, such persons failed to speak Central Thai with sufficient fluency and a proper accent, that, too, could lead to their being treated disrespectfully.

Generally, before the trend toward homogenization of dress, language, and forms of entertainment fostered by modern communication, there were regional differences in costume, folklore, and other aspects of culture among the Thai people. The continuing retention of these differences into the 1980s seemed to be a function of relative remoteness from Bangkok and other urban areas. Of some importance, according to observers, was the tendency to cling to, and even accentuate, these regional differences as symbols of a sense of grievance.

In the past, some Thai governments put great pressure on the various Thai peoples to forsake regional customs and dialects for "modern" Central Thai culture. In the 1980s, however, there was a rebirth of the study and teaching of local languages, especially Lanna Thai in the North and also the Southern Thai dialect. Efforts were also made to expose all Thai to the different cultures and traditions of the various regions through regional translation and art programs. At the same time, Central Thai became more readily accepted as a second language. The success of the national identity programs could be explained in part by the Thai literacy rate, one of the highest in Asia.

The Tai-speaking peoples of the Northeast, known as Thai-Lao or Isan, live on the Khorat Plateau. Once the weakest in Thailand, the Northeast's economy started to improve somewhat in the 1970s because of irrigation and energy projects, such as the construction of the Khuan Ubon Ratana (Nam Phong Dam). Moreover, because the Northeast was the location of several United States military bases during the Second Indochina War (1954-75), the region had one of the best transportation systems in Asia, which facilitated internal migration as well as communication with Bangkok. Historically, this area relied heavily on border trade with Laos and Cambodia; in 1987 the Thai government permitted increased Laotian border commerce and lifted a ban on the export of all but 61 of 273 "strategic" items previously barred from leaving Thailand. Also, traditional handicrafts, e.g., silk weavings and mats, increasingly were being sold outside the region to produce extra income. Still, approximately 82 percent of the region's labor force was involved in agriculture.

In terms of language and culture, both the Northeastern Thai and the Northern Thai were closer to the peoples of Laos than to the Central Thai. Speakers of the Tai language of Kham Mu'ang (known as Yuan in its written form) made up the majority of the population of the 9 northernmost provinces from the Burmese-Lao border down through the province of Uttaradit, an area of about 102,000 square kilometers. Highly independent, the Northern Thai lived mainly in small river valleys where they grew glutinous rice as their staple food. The Chakkri Dynasty continued to maintain a court in Chiang Mai, the largest city of the North, which the Thai people looked to as a major religious and cultural center.

The fourteen provinces of the South made up the poorest region of Thailand. Primarily rural, the South had an urban population of only 12.2 percent of its total inhabitants. Although rice was the staple food, the South's economy was not based on wet-rice agriculture. Never directly colonized, the southern provinces, with their dependence on rubber and tin production and fishing, had nonetheless long been vulnerable to international economic forces. As world market prices for rubber and tin declined in the 1970s, more southerners went to work in the Middle East; and as neighboring countries established 200-mile limits on their territorial waters, an increasing number of Thai fishing vessels could be found as far away as the coast of Australia.

In 1985 there were more than 6 million Southern Thai. Malay vocabulary was used in the Southern Thai dialect, and Malay in Jawi (Arabic) script remained in many instances the medium of written communication. Like the other regions of Thailand, the South at times opposed the central government. Following the closer incorporation of the Pattani region into the Thai kingdom as the result of the provincial administrative reform of 1902, reactions in the form of rebellions, underground movements, and violent uprisings were common. For many years, any type of antistate behavior or banditry reported by the government or press was usually attributed either to Muslim insurgents or the Communist Party of Thailand. By the mid-1980s, the press and government had become more objective in reporting and recognizing problems caused by environmental factors, other groups, and government policies. Moreover, the Muslim leadership, together with progressive political and military forces in the Thai government, had begun addressing some of the problems of the South, which led to increased national tranquillity.

Of the more than 85 percent of the country's population that spoke a language of the Tai family, only a small fraction constituted the membership of the half-dozen or so ethnic groups outside the core Thai. These groups lived in the North or Northeast and were often closely related to ethnic groups in neighboring countries. In Thailand, the largest of these Tai-speaking minorities were the Phutai (or Phuthai) of the far Northeast, who numbered about 100,000 in the mid-1960s. There were also many Phutai in neighboring Laos. The Phuan and the Saek, also in the Northeast and with kin in Laos, were similar but much smaller groups. Whereas all other Tai languages spoken in Thailand belonged to the southwestern branch of the family, that spoken by the Saek belonged to the northern branch, suggesting a more recent arrival from China. The Khorat Thai were not considered Central Thai, despite their close resemblance in language and dress, because they and others tended to identify them as a separate group. The Khorat Thai were said to be descendants of Thai soldiers and Khmer women. The Shan (a Burmese term) in the North were part of a much larger group, the majority of whom lived in Burma, while others lived in China. Different groups of the Shan called themselves by names in which the term Tai was modified by a word meaning "great" or something similar. The Thai called them Thai Ngio or Thai Yai. Also in the North were a people called the Lue, estimated in the mid-1960s to number less than 50,000. Like the Shan, they resided in greater numbers elsewhere, particularly in southern China.


Thailand - The Non-Tai Minorities


Besides the Tai-speaking minorities, there were a number of peoples speaking languages of other families (although increasing numbers were acquainted with a Thai dialect, especially Central Thai, if they acquired the language in school). Some--such as the Khmer in the eastern portion of the country, the Karen in the northern and western parts of Thailand, and the Malay in the South--found themselves within the boundaries of Thailand as a consequence of conflict and shifting borders. Others, such as many of the hill peoples, were relatively recent migrants from China and the Indochinese Peninsula. They found their way to the peripheries of Thailand either in search of land or to escape political turmoil. Groups entering Thailand that had been minorities in their countries of origin, as hill peoples typically were, became more or less permanent residents of Thailand, although still largely unassimilated. Others, particularly the Mon, who lived in the central region, became substantially integrated. The groups of Vietnamese who had arrived for various reasons from the nineteenth through the mid-twentieth centuries varied in the extent to which they were rooted in Thailand. Some groups of Khmer, refugees from political turmoil in their own country since 1975, were also recent arrivals in Thailand. Finally, there were the Chinese. Of the estimated 6 million in Thailand in 1987, most could be differentiated by the region of China from which they came, when they had arrived, and the extent to which they had been assimilated into Thai society.


Thailand - The Highland, or Hill, Peoples


Commonly included among the highland people were the ethnic groups living in the mountains of northern and northwestern Thailand in the area known, because of its illegal opium production, as the "Golden Triangle." Until the 1970s, the Thai central government tended to regard these groups chiefly as opium cultivators engaged in illegal activities. Since that time the highland minorities, through their own efforts and government-organized crop substitution projects, have become involved in the legal market economy of the country.

Among the larger groups of highland people were the Karen (Kariang, Yang), Hmong (Meo, Miao), Mien (Yao), Lahu (Mussur), Akha (Kaw), and Lisu, or Lisaw. Some of the smaller groups preceded the Tai-speaking peoples in the area, but many were relative latecomers. Through natural increase and immigration, the population of the highlands increased from approximately 100,000 in 1948 to about 700,000 in the late 1980s, according to Ministry of Interior estimates. This population growth led to a significant increase in the number of landless people in the highlands. As a result, many of the landless began cultivating forest reserves, thereby accelerating the depletion of the country's forestland.

The varying estimates for specific groups in some cases reflected the tendency of estimators to include only those still living in relatively isolated mountain communities, whereas other observers might include some or all of those who had come down from the mountains and were at various points in the process of becoming Thai. Observers noted that for some groups, more individuals were in the process of assimilation than remained in the mountain communities that were their traditional homes. The languages spoken by the hill peoples fell into three broad categories: Tibeto-Burman (a subfamily of the larger Sino-Tibetan language family), Mon-Khmer (a subfamily of the Austro-Asiatic language family), and the small Miao-Yao language family. The language of the most numerous of these hill peoples, the Karen, was generally considered Sino-Tibetan, but some authorities included it in the subset Tibeto-Burman, or placed it in a category of its own. The other languages included in the Tibeto-Burman category--Akha, Lisu, Lahu, and Jinghpaw (Kachin)--have been estimated as ranging from a few hundred speakers (Jinghpaw) to about 25,000 speakers (Akha).

The category of Mon-Khmer included a number of highland groups: the Kui (called Soai by the Thai), which totaled between 100,000 and 150,000 in the mid-1960s; the Tin, about 20,000; and several smaller groups, including the Lua (also called Lawa), about 9,000; the Khmu, about 7,600; and the Chaobon, about 2,000. The Kui were said to be largely assimilated into Thai society. The figure for the Khmu pertained only to those presumably living in the highlands in a more or less traditional setting. Substantial numbers were said to be pursuing a Thai way of life.

The Miao-Yao languages were spoken by two peoples, the Hmong and Mien, both originally from China (the terms Miao and Yao are Chinese). There were Hmong and Mien still living in China as well as other Southeast Asian countries. Called Meo by the Thai, the Hmong began to arrive in Thailand in the late nineteenth century, and some continued to migrate directly from China or other neighboring states, particularly Laos. Numbering about 50,000 in 1970, the Hmong were one of the largest groups of hill peoples. An additional 40,000 Hmong fled from Laos to Thailand in 1975, but by the late 1980s many of these had migrated elsewhere, some going to the United States. The Mien were even more recent arrivals, most of them having come from Laos after 1945. Their numbers were estimated at 30,000 in the 1980s. These two groups, particularly the Hmong, were among those affected by the security operations of the Thai government that began in the mid-1960s. These actions occurred in part because the Hmong, like other mountain groups, were said to be destroying forests in the course of practicing their traditional shifting cultivation, and in part because their chief cash crop was the opium poppy.


Thailand - The Khmer


Two groups of Khmer could also be distinguished--long-time inhabitants of Thailand and more recent arrivals. By the midfifteenth century, much of the western region of the Khmer Empire had come under the control of Ayutthaya. Many of the Khmer peoples remained in the area that had come under Thai domination. Five centuries later the protracted civil conflict in Cambodia, which began with the overthrow of the Lon Nol regime in 1975 and included the Vietnam-supported overthrow of the Pol Pot regime in 1979, led to the arrival at the Thai-Cambodian border of additional hundreds of thousands of Khmer. Some Khmer had crossed over into Thailand; many others might be expected to do so if several political obstacles were overcome.

Theravada Buddhists and wet-rice cultivators, the Khmer spoke a language of the Mon-Khmer group and were heirs to a long and complex political and cultural tradition. If long-term resident Khmer and Khmer refugees were both included, there were perhaps as many as 600,000 to 800,000 Khmer living in Thailand in the 1980s. Many of the long-resident Khmer were said to speak Thai, sometimes as a first language, and religious and other similarities contributed over time to Thai-Khmer intermarriage and to Khmer assimilation into Thai society. Newly arrived Khmer, however, were not yet assimilated.


Thailand - The Mon


Perhaps the first Theravada Buddhists in Southeast Asia, and the founders in the seventh century of the kingdom of Haripunjaya near present-day Chiang Mai, the Mon greatly influenced the development of Thai culture. Mon architecture dotted the North, where a number of temples were still inhabited by Mon monks in the 1980s. The Mon, also known as Raman or Tailaing, migrated from Burma during the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries. They were welcomed by the Chakkri rulers, and their religious discipline helped inspire the reforms made by King Mongkut (Rama IV, reigned 1851-68). The Mon who settled chiefly in the North and the central plain, e.g., at Nonthaburi, Ayutthaya, Lop Buri, Uthai Thani, and Ratchaburi, generally were wet-rice farmers who also had specialized skills such as pottery-making. They maintained a social organization similar to that of the Thai and other lowland cultures. Their villages were governed by Mon headmen, who in turn were responsible to district and provincial officers of Mon ancestry. Although their language was related to Khmer, the Mon incorporated a large number of Thai words into their vocabulary. Moreover, language differences became less important as Mon children, educated in Thai schools, learned Central Thai. In the 1980s, some Mon still used their own language in certain contexts, but few did not know Thai. In general, the Mon were more integrated into Thai society than any other non-Thai group.


Thailand - The Vietnamese


In the mid-1970s, the number of Vietnamese in Thailand was estimated at between 60,000 and 70,000, most of them in the Northeast. Three broad categories of Vietnamese were in the country. The first were the descendants of persons who fled from political upheaval and persecution during the precolonial era in the late eighteenth century and through much of the nineteenth century. Most of them settled either in Bangkok or in the area southeast of it, and many of their descendants were absorbed into Thai society, although some still lived in villages that were identifiably Vietnamese. Many who came in the nineteenth century were refugees from anti-Catholic persecution by rulers in Cochinchina (southern Vietnam, around the Mekong Delta) before the French established political control over that area. The second category consisted of persons who opposed the establishment of French domination over all Vietnam in 1884 and presumably expected their stay in Thailand to be short. With some exceptions, however, their descendants and those of other Vietnamese who came to Thailand in the first decades of the twentieth century remained. The earliest arrivals in this category, like their predecessors, mostly came to southeast Thailand. Later immigrants tended to go to the Northeast. The third category included those who fled from Vietnam between the end of World War II in 1945 and the consolidation of North Vietnamese rule over all of Vietnam in 1975. For those who came after the Second Indochina War had ended, Thailand was simply a way station en route to somewhere else, usually the United States.

Most of the 40,000 to 50,000 Vietnamese who came in 1946 and shortly thereafter were driven from Laos by the French, who were then reimposing their rule over all of Indochina. More Vietnamese came later, and, like those who came in the 1920s and 1930s, they expected to return to Vietnam. Between 1958 and 1964 (when the intensification of the war in Vietnam inhibited their return), arrangements were made for the repatriation of Vietnamese to the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam), and an estimated 40,000 left Thailand. Over the years a few families went to the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam). The movements of this period, both voluntary and involuntary, left between 60,000 and 70,000 Vietnamese in Thailand, an undetermined portion of which were post-World War II migrants who could not or would not return to their homeland.


Thailand - The Chinese


The largest number of non-Tai peoples were the Chinese. In 1987 an estimated 11 percent of the total Thai population, or about 6 million people, were of Chinese origin, which meant that Thailand had the largest Chinese population in Southeast Asia. Assimilation of the various Chinese communities was a continuing process. Chinese were encouraged to become Thai citizens, and in 1970 it was estimated that more than 90 percent of the Chinese born in Thailand had done so. When diplomatic relations were established with China in the 1970s, resident Chinese not born in Thailand had the option of becoming Thai citizens; the remaining permanent Chinese alien population was estimated at fewer than 200,000.

Given their historic role as middlemen, Chinese were found everywhere in Thailand, particularly in the towns. There was, however, a major concentration in the Bangkok metropolitan area and another in the central part of peninsular Thailand, where many Chinese were engaged in several capacities in the tin mines and on the rubber plantations. Although many Chinese played an important part in the ownership and management of economic enterprises and in the professions, a substantial portion had less lucrative and significant occupations.

Except for a minority, the Chinese not only were Thai nationals but also had, in some respects at least, assimilated into Thai society; many spoke Thai as well as they spoke Chinese. Most of the descendants of pretwentieth-century immigrants and those people of mixed Chinese-Thai ancestry (the so-called Sino-Thai) were so fully integrated into Thai society that they were not included in the Chinese population estimates.

The accommodation between Thai and Chinese historically depended in part on the changing economic and political interests and perspectives of the Thai monarchs and others in the ruling group. Also relevant were the roles assigned to the Chinese at various times, e.g., in the nineteenth century, that of tax farmers. Under the tax farming system, private individuals were sold the right to collect taxes at a price below the actual value of the taxes. The barriers between Thai and Chinese became more rigid in the early twentieth century with the emergence of Thai and Chinese nationalism and also the increased tendency of Chinese females to accompany male immigrants, which reduced the amount of intermarriage. Consequently, despite a level of Chinese integration in the host society surpassing that found elsewhere in Southeast Asia, the Chinese remained a separate ethnic community, although the boundaries became less defined in the more mobile post-World War II society. The Chinese spoke a number of southern Chinese dialects, the most important being Teochiu, which was used by most Chinese as a commercial lingua franca.


Thailand - Ethnic and Regional Relations


In the past, the government took the position that all Tai people should be accorded all the rights, privileges, and opportunities that went with being a citizen. In the 1980s, members of non-Tai minority groups were being afforded similar rights, and efforts were being made to incorporate them into the Ekkalak Thai. The higher a person's aspirations, however, the more thoroughly he or she needed to assimilate into Central Thai culture. Thus, most of the representatives of the government were either from Central Thailand or had absorbed the perspective of that region.

By law the Central Thai dialect was taught in all government schools, and all who aspired to government positions, from village headman on up, were expected to master Central Thai. Nonetheless, because local dialects remained the medium of communication in schools, markets, and provincial government offices, differences between the Central Thai and other dialects survived. The Central Thai tended to see other Thai as both different and inferior. In turn, the latter saw the Central Thai as exploiters. Inevitably, many non-Central Thai sometimes felt inferior to the Central Thai, who represented progress, prestige, wealth, and national power.

In the past, the government had often ignored the needs of the outlying regions. Neglect, corrupt administration, and heavy taxation perhaps affected the Thai-Lao more than others. Until King Mongkut established central control through administrators in the nineteenth century, the Thai-Lao region was governed by local Lao princes who were really vassals of the Thai monarch. Corvee (forced) labor and oppressive taxation supported a rapidly expanding Thai court, bureaucracy, and military. Peasant revolts erupted and were suppressed. Real social and economic changes did not began until the reign of King Bhumibol, who in the early 1960s was assisted in these efforts by Prime Minister Sarit Thanarat, a northeasterner. In the 1960s, programs of community and agricultural development were coupled with counterinsurgency measures; these efforts continued into the 1980s with mixed results.

The problems had accumulated over time, and solutions were difficult. Whether the tensions and the potential for conflict between the central government and the Thai-Lao could be understood solely or even largely in ethnic terms was questionable. Besides ethnicity and regionalism, a number of other factors required consideration, including the inadequacy of most economic reform measures and the insensitivity or repressiveness of administrators. The Central Thai lack of understanding of social forms and practices different from their own contributed to the mishandling of local situations and the imposition of so-called reforms without full consideration of the effects of these changes on the local people. The Thai-Lao had a close cultural and linguistic relationship with the people of Laos that was further strengthened by trade and kinship. Laos was viewed by many northeasterners as their home country.

In the South the language, religion, and culture of the Malay or Thai Muslims were markedly different from those of other Thai. Although Islamic religious and cultural practices accentuated the differences, more divisive and destabilizing were economic and political factors. In the past, Central Thai administrators from the national government assigned to the South often spent their time amassing personal fortunes rather than attending to the welfare of the people of the region. Government provision of health, education, and welfare services was inadequate or nonexistent; schools were established only in the cities, for the benefit of children of Central Thai officials. In the 1980s, King Bhumibol and government leaders, especially those from the South, were deeply involved in rectifying those inequalities, but resentment and suspicion hampered development.

Substantial numbers of Malay were loyalists who saw no point in making impossible demands. They were prepared to work within the system toward amelioration of their economic, educational, and administrative situation. Those Malay were not prepared to become Thai culturally, but they saw government programs, including secular education in Thai- language schools, as a means to social mobility and to an expansion of their administrative and economic roles.

Because of severe restrictions on Chinese immigration that were put into effect in the early 1950s, the great majority of Thailand's Chinese in the late 1980s had been born in Thailand. Not only did most Chinese speak Thai, many also acquired Thai names (in addition to their Chinese ones) and were Mahayana Buddhists (one of the major schools of Buddhism, active in China, Japan, Korea, and Nepal). Although many Thai resented the significant role the Chinese played in commerce and envied their wealth, the Thai also admired Chinese industriousness and business acumen, a pattern common elsewhere in Southeast Asia.




The rural areas, where most Thai live, have been affected by change for many decades, especially since the mid-nineteenth century, when the impact of European economic and political activity was first felt. The full effects of change started to become manifest in the 1930s. Among the factors reflecting and creating change in local social patterns was the coup of 1932, which brought military and bureaucratic elites into power and extended the power of the central government more effectively than before into rural areas. More important in its cumulative effect, however, was the rapid growth of the population and the consequent shortage of land, which led to the development of occupations outside agriculture and the emergence of a rural and small-town bourgeoisie.

At the national level, society was stratified at the beginning of the twentieth century into three classes--kin of the reigning king and his immediate predecessors, government officials (often nobles granted their particular status by the king), and, by far the largest group, the peasantry. These classes comprised a social system in which those who had political power and status also had prestige and access to wealth. Buddhist monks had a special status outside this system. Also outside the system were the Chinese, who were largely laborers and small traders in the early twentieth century.

As the twentieth century progressed, the government bureaucracy proliferated. A growing number in the higher ranks had their origins outside the hereditary nobility, as did the upper ranks of the expanding armed forces. By the 1960s, the military and the bureaucracy included persons from several levels of the social and economic hierarchy. Directly or indirectly, the military and bureaucratic elites disposed of power and economic resources, the latter often in combination with those Chinese who controlled the major business enterprises of Thailand. Hereditary nobles retained high status, but they no longer wielded power and did not match some of the members of the military oligarchy in wealth. Monkhood remained a source of special status and was an avenue of social mobility for persons of rural origin with talent and a willingness to give part or all of their lives to the sangha; but monkhood was less and less attractive to urbanites or to those who had access to other avenues to power, wealth, and status. After World War II, an incipient urban middle class and an urban proletariat also emerged, particularly in Bangkok, partly in response to a commercial and tourist boom generated by the presence of large numbers of foreigners, particularly Americans.

Still outside the social system, in the sense that their direct access to political power was restricted and that their sense of a worthwhile career differed from that of most Thai, were the Chinese. Members of other non-Thai ethnic groups could occasionally make a place for themselves in the middle or upper reaches of Thai society by assimilating Thai culture. The Chinese were less able to do so until the 1960s and 1970s, when they began to move into the upper bureaucracy in larger numbers.

More significant in the daily life of many Thai than differences in status was the relationship between patron and client. This link between two specific persons required the client to render services and other kinds of support in return for protection, the use of the patron's influence on the client's behalf, and occasional favors or financial aid. The basic pattern was old, but the relationship had evolved from a social one with economic overtones to one in which economic transactions and political support were more important.

<>Rural Social Patterns
<>National and Urban Structures: Class and Status


Thailand - Rural Social Patterns


Certain basic rural social patterns were discernable in modern Thai society. According to United States anthropologist Jack M. Potter, "The spatially defined rural village, which receives the allegiance of its members, furnishes an important part of their social identity, manages its own affairs and communal property, and has its own temple and school, is present in all parts of Thailand as an ideal cultural model, although in many cases the actual form of community life only approximates it."

Affecting the degree to which specific communities approached the model were "ecological, economic and demographic circumstances and the nature of rural administration," Potter writes. In the densely settled central plain, villages were often spatially indistinct, although boundaries defined by patterns of marriage, wat (Buddhist religious complex) attendance, and other social factors might be discerned. In other cases, some of the important features of a functioning community were lacking. Thus, if the proportion of nonlandholders was high and if landowners were absentee and did not provide the social or political leadership typically supplied by wealthy local peasants, community structure was weak.

The wat in the 1980s remained the center of the rural community in many respects, although some of its functions, e.g., as an educational center, were lost, and it was increasingly difficult to retain monks. Most rural communities built and maintained a wat because, as Potter states, the Thai consider it "necessary for a civilized social existence." The wat included the special quarters and facilities reserved for monks, a building for public worship and religious ceremony, and a community meeting place. Typically, the wat was run by a temple committee that consisted of prominent laymen as well as monks who had left the sangha without prejudice. Abbots and senior monks often enjoyed considerable prestige. In times of personal crisis, people often sought their advice.

The wat was first of all a center for religious ceremony, much of which was regularly carried out according to a ritual calendar. These scheduled rites involved the community as a whole, even if their ultimate purpose was the acquisition of merit by individuals. Other irregularly held rites also took place in the wat and almost always included the community or a significant segment of it. The temple was also the locus for astrological and other quasi-magical activities. Although such rites were outside the canon of Buddhism, they were important to the community and were often carried out by monks. Thus, a person would go to a monk versed in these matters to learn the propitious day for certain undertakings (for example, a wedding) or to be cured of certain illnesses by the application of holy water. A large wat usually had a crematorium; almost all dead were cremated.

The temple committee often administered a loan fund from which the poor of the community might borrow in emergencies. The wat was also the repository of mats, dishes, and other housewares that could be borrowed by members of the community. If an aged person had nowhere else to go, the wat was a refuge. The wat was not reserved solely for serious matters; entertainment and dances open to the community were also held there.

Within the village in the 1980s, the basic organizational unit was the family, which changed its character in the course of a developmental cycle. A nuclear family became, in time, a larger unit, but the death of the older generation once again left a nuclear family. Typically, a man went to live with the parents of the woman he married. Such residence was temporary except in the case of the youngest daughter. She and her husband (and their unmarried children) remained with her parents,taking care of them in their old age and inheriting the house when they died. Thus, at some point in the cycle, the household included what has been referred to as a matrilineal extended stem family: the aging parents, their youngest daughter and her husband, and the younger couple's children.

Emerging from this developmental cycle was a cluster of related and cooperating households consisting of the extended stem family household and the households of those daughters who had settled nearby with their husbands. That pattern was predicated on the continuing control over land and other resources by the senior couple. The closeness of these related households and the extent of their cooperation in a range of domestic activities varied considerably. With a growing shortage of arable land in parts of the country and the aggregation of substantial holdings by a limited number of landowners, the pattern was no longer as common as it had been. The senior couple may have had little or no land to allocate to their older daughters, and the daughters and their husbands may have had to move elsewhere. In the case of wholly landless agricultural workers, even the extended stem family might not be possible.

Most villages were divided into local units or neighborhoods. In the North, neighborhoods were often the entities that on a weekly basis collectively provided food for the monks in the local wat, but these neighborhoods also engaged in other forms of cooperation. Inasmuch as the nucleus of a neighborhood, perhaps all of it, often consisted of related households, activities such as house-raisings might be undertaken in response to either territorial or kinship requirements. If the community was the result of relatively recent pioneering by landless families from other communities, the neighborhood was important, and those living in the same area might come to address each other in kinship terms.

The labor exchange system was initially based on villagers' relative parity in landholding and their participation in subsistence agriculture. Typically, those involved in an exchange system were kin or neighbors, but the system sometimes extended beyond these categories. Each household arranged with others to provide labor at various stages in the agricultural cycle; in return, the same number of units of labor would be provided to those who had worked for it. Besides a labor exchange, the system provided opportunities for socializing and feasting. Although the arrangements were made by a single household with other specific households, the regularity with which representatives of households worked together gave the households a grouplike character.

The growing commercialization of agriculture in certain parts of the country and increasing landlessness and tenancy in the 1980s diminished the ubiquity of reciprocal work arrangements. Wealthy peasants hired labor; those who had no land or too little to subsist on worked for wages. Commercialization alone, however, did not prevent the use of a labor exchange system if those in it held roughly equivalent amounts of land. In some cases, a household would hire labor for one task and engage in the exchange system for others.

Peasants could be categorized on the basis of the nature of their land rights and the quantity of the land they held. The holdings that made a peasant family rich in one part of Thailand might not make it rich elsewhere. A rich rural family was one with substantial landholdings, some of which it might rent out. Moreover, if a family had the capital to hire agricultural labor and the implements necessary to cultivate additional land, it might rent plots from others. In any case, such a family would rely almost exclusively on hired labor rather than on the system of labor exchange, and it was likely to invest in other local enterprises, such as rice mills, thereby acquiring additional sources of income. The category of rich peasants could be subdivided into those with very large quantities of land and those with smaller but still substantial amounts. Usually that distinction would correlate with the magnitude of their nonfarming enterprises and the extent to which they had money to lend to others. In any case, rich peasants tended to be creditors, while other peasants were often debtors.

At the other end of the scale were the agricultural laborers, who held no land as owners or tenants except, perhaps, for the small plot on which their houses stood. To the extent that opportunities were available, they supported themselves as hired farm workers. Life was so precarious for some families, however, that they had to resort to hunting and gathering. Between the wealthy peasants and agricultural workers were two other categories. The families in the first group had sufficient land (some of it rented) to meet their own rice needs. If there were a crop surplus, it would be sold, but the families in this category did not produce primarily for the market, as the rich peasants did. They might also acquire cash through wage labor from time to time if opportunities were available. The families in the second category owned less land and had to rent additional parcels. Owned and rented holdings combined, however, did not always provide the means for subsistence, so these families frequently had to resort to wage labor. Not all tenants were poor. In some cases, tenants did well in good crop and market years, particularly in central Thailand. In general, however, the tenant farmer's situation was precarious. Rents, whether in cash or in kind, tended to be fixed without regard for the size of the harvest, and in a bad year tenant farmer families were likely to go into debt. Tenants and agricultural laborers had little or nothing of their own to pass on to their children.

In some areas, particularly in central Thailand, the land was controlled by absentee landlords who lived in Bangkok or in provincial towns and for whom landownership was another form of investment. They could have direct or indirect effect on the social and political lives of their tenants, and some occasionally acted as patrons to their tenants. At the local level, however, it was the rich peasant who wielded political power and was granted deference by others in the community. Differences in wealth were consistent with the Thai villager's understanding of the Buddhist concept of merit. According to this view, the accumulation of merit led not to nirvana but to a better personal situation in this world, preferably in this life. Wealth signified that one had merit. One might, therefore, demonstrate one's merit by striving and succeeding. Villagers at the lower end of the social scale, however, sometimes questioned the doctrine of merit if they perceived the behavior of those at the upper end as unrighteous.

Most observers agreed that the patron-client relationship was pervasive in Thai society, not only at the village level but throughout the military and the bureaucracy. There was less agreement on its links to a class system and the degree to which the relationship was typically marked by social ties of affection and concern as opposed to a clearly calculated assessment of relative economic or political advantage. At the village level, it was not necessary to be rich to have a client, although a wealthy family was likely to have more than one client. It was possible for an ordinary peasant (although not a landless one) to provide limited benefits to someone less fortunate in return for certain services. Often such a relationship was arranged between kin. In the modern era, however, it was the wealthy villager who could provide benefits and expect, even demand, certain services from his client.

In principle, a patron-client relationship lasted only so long as both parties gained something from it, and the relationship could be broken at the option of either. Often, however, the client had few alternatives and would remain in the relationship in the hope of eliciting more benefits than had hitherto been forthcoming. To the extent, however, that prestige and power accrued to the person (or family) who had and could retain a large number of clients, the patron was motivated to provide benefits to those dependent on him.

The patron-client relationship also linked villagers and persons at other levels of the social, political, and economic orders: leading figures in the village, themselves patrons of others in the rural community, became clients of officials, politicians, or traders at the district or provincial levels. In such cases, clientship might reinforce the status of the rich villager who could, at least occasionally, call on his patron at a higher level for benefits that he might in turn use to bind his own clients to him. Just the fact that the rich villager was known to have a powerful patron outside the village could enhance his status.


Thailand - National and Urban Structures: Class and Status


Although in the 1980s the hierarchy of social status or prestige and the hierarchy of political and economic power in the rural community overlapped, a disjunction of sorts existed between them at the national level. A rich villager--other things being equal--wielded political and economic power and had prestige. In the national system, the hierarchy of status began with the hereditary nobility--the royal family and the holders of royal titles. None of these people were poor; the royal family owned much land and some of its members had political influence. The royal family was not part of the ruling class, however, nor did it control the economy. The ruling class consisted of several levels, the uppermost of which comprised the military and, to a lesser extent, the bureaucratic elite.

In general, the Thai accorded high status to those who wielded power, and the prestige accorded the highest bureaucrats was consistent with a historical pattern, even if in modern times these bureaucrats were rarely members of the royal family. Whether the position of the military was fully legitimated in the eyes of most Thai was uncertain. The military was given deference, but it was not clear that its members were freely accorded esteem.

Below the military and bureaucratic elites were those in high government posts who performed the tasks requiring considerable knowledge, technical competence, or simply experience in the ways of bureaucracy. Like the bureaucratic elites, these upper middlelevel bureaucrats were well educated, often holding undergraduate or graduate degrees from foreign universities. From the point of view of the Thai, such officeholders had much prestige even if they were not the primary wielders of power.

Positions at the highest levels of the military and the bureaucracy brought very good incomes to those holding them. Often these positions provided access to other sources of income, including large landholdings and other real estate, or participation in the actual ownership of businesses, often in conjunction with Chinese businessmen. With some exceptions, the latter exercised day-to-day control of financial, commercial, and industrial organizations and institutions.

The social status of the Chinese economic elite was not clear. After World War II, a limited number of Chinese business families, who had begun as middlemen financing aspects of agricultural production and marketing, became bankers and industrial and commercial entrepreneurs. These families had considerable economic power, and they clearly influenced some political decisions through the Thai military and bureaucrats with whom they had connections. Whether the Thai in general granted them the prestige ordinarily given to those holding high posts in government was another matter.

These Chinese businessmen should be distinguished from the many Thai in the military and the civil bureaucracy who had Chinese ancestry. In many cases, this Chinese ancestry was several generations removed. In any case, such individuals were considered Thai, operated chiefly in a Thai social and cultural milieu, and were evaluated on the same social scale as other Thai.

Until the 1970s, persons who were fully Chinese entered the bureaucracy only at the middle levels or, if higher, as technical staff. This was in part a matter of Thai policy, in part a matter of Chinese orientation. The Chinese were not indifferent to political power or administrative skill as desirable qualities or as sources of prestige, but they adapted to the limits imposed by their minority status. Within the Chinese community there was a hierarchy of political influence, and there were organizations (ranging from chambers of commerce to community groups and mutual aid societies) in which Chinese had the opportunity to exercise their power and skills. Even there, however, political power and prestige flowed to those who had been successful as entrepreneurs, whereas among the Thai, achievement in the military or the bureaucracy preceded access to significant economic opportunities or resources. Chinese in the economic elite who moved into important positions in Chinese-centered organizations or, occasionally, other organizations, not only gained prestige within the Chinese community but also became the links between that community and Thai elites, particularly with respect to the establishment of economic ties.

By the early 1970s, significant numbers of Chinese had been admitted to the higher bureaucracy. According to one analyst, they held roughly 30 percent of the posts in the special grades (upper ranks) at that time. Presumably they were the sons and daughters of wealthy entrepreneurs and had acquired the higher education necessary for admission to the bureaucracy's upper ranks.

Below the hereditary nobility and the ruling class was a socially and occupationally heterogeneous middle class that emerged in the years after World War II, especially after 1960. Its members were diverse with respect to their control over wealth, their social status, and their access to power. The simplest distinction within this amorphous category was based partially on income and partially on occupation, but subcategories thus drawn were rather mixed. The wealthier segment of this middle class (for convenience, the upper middle class) consisted of bureaucrats and military men at middle levels (including higher provincial officials), salaried administrative and managerial workers in private enterprise, middle-level businessmen, provincial notables and landlords living in provincial towns, and professionals. A much larger group, the petty bourgeoisie, comprised those who provided a range of services, largely in Bangkok, to the ruling class, the upper middle class, and to tourists and other foreigners. Often this petty bourgeoisie consisted of small-scale independent businessmen, some of them shop owners, others furnishing their services contractually. Some were salaried clerical staff. Both upper and lower segments of this middle category include many Chinese as well as Thai.

In the Thai scale of values, higher prestige tended to be accorded to those in government employment and perhaps to those in the professions. The private sector as a source of substantial income was a relatively new idea to the Thai, however, and their scale of values might change as an entrepreneurial bourgeoisie began seeking to have its status validated. In any case, the elements in the upper segment of this middle category could be said to share the same outlook and values or the same political status implied in the notion of class. The position of bureaucrats and notables (middle-level businessmen and landowners) who lived in provincial towns was of particular interest. On their home ground they exercised considerable power, formally and informally, but they owed this power at least in part to their connections, usually as clients to patrons in Bangkok, although they in turn had clients at lower levels.

There was also a lower urban stratum, but this too was heterogeneous. On the one hand, there were the more or less steady wage workers in commercial and industrial enterprises, mainly in Bangkok (and in mining outside Bangkok). On the other hand, there were large numbers of persons, like the wage workers, often from rural areas, who had no steady work and sought to eke out a living by offering their services as unskilled labor.

There were two other urban groups that were not part of the status hierarchy. Just as the monks of a village wat were outside the local rural system of stratification but enjoyed a special status, so too was the hierarchy of the sangha, the highest elements of which were located in Bangkok. Within the monkhood, the supreme patriarch and the Council of Elders exercised considerable authority, and they were given a great deal of deference by laymen, even those in the royal family and the ruling class. They did not have significant power outside the sangha, although some monks have had a substantial impact on politics.

Also outside the urban status hierarchy--but sometimes with higher incomes than those in the upper middle class and themselves requiring the services of those in the lower middle category--were the many men and women engaged in illegal activities that were nonetheless countenanced or protected. Among them were prostitutes, pimps, and narcotics dealers. In the mid1980s , the number of women in Bangkok estimated to be engaged in prostitution or in related services ranged from 100,000 to 1 million. Some observers noted that prostitution was firmly entrenched in modern Thailand as a result of historical, economic, and social factors. The majority of Bangkok prostitutes were rural migrants providing economic support to relatives back in the country, which was expected of Thai daughters within the extended stem family system. In other words, Thai prostitutes were not fleeing from a family background or rural society that oppressed women in conventional ways but were engaging in an entrepreneurial move designed to sustain the family units of the rural economy, which had come under increasing pressure. Since these women usually did not reveal the source of their remittances back to the village, their families could retain or gain status based upon their earnings.

Class Consciousness

Of the categories or strata discernible in Thai society, only one--the royal family and the hereditary nobility--constituted a self-conscious group. It was not clear that class consciousness had developed among the power elites or upper middle-level bureaucrats by the 1980s, in spite of their shared views and aspirations. Nevertheless, as social mobility diminished, which it had begun to do in the early 1980s, and as each category or section increasingly generated its own replacements, distinct status groups might emerge. Outwardly there were many indications of a conscious middle class, consumer-oriented, cosmopolitan way of life. For example, golf, tennis, delicatessens, fast-food restaurants, boutiques, and shopping malls were very popular among the Thai residents of Bangkok in the late 1980s.

Militating against solidarity, particularly at the upper and middle levels, was the continuing competition for political power and the access to economic opportunities and resources that flowed from such power. People competing for high-level positions in the military, the bureaucracy, or within the economy were engaged in a complex and shifting pattern of patron-client relationships. In this system, all but the individuals at the highest and lowest ends of a chain of such relationships were simultaneously patrons to one or more others and clients to someone above them. A developing career was likely to put a person at different places in the chain at various stages.

Given the fluctuations in the fortunes of individuals (to which the patron-client system contributed), patrons and clients, particularly at the higher levels, had to make judgments as to the benefits accruing to them from their relationship. Moreover, a client had to assess present and potential sources of power and the extent to which his support and services would be reciprocated by the current or alternative patrons. It was not uncommon in this system for both patrons and clients to shift allegiances. Patrons often had several clients, but there were no real bonds between the clients of a single patron.

Social Mobility

The expansion of the bureaucracy and the military and the movement of the Thai into a rapidly growing private sector created opportunities for social mobility, although the major part of the population remained rural workers or moved into low-level occupations in the urban labor force. Associated with upward mobility, given the Thai orientation toward bureaucratic careers, was the availability of education. Expansion of education facilities beyond the secondary level occurred in the early 1970s. In 1961, for example, about 42,000 full-time and part-time students were enrolled in 6 higher education institutions, but by 1972 there were roughly 72,000 in more than a dozen institutions. The oldest and most prestigious universities, such as Chulalongkorn, Thammasat, and Mahidol, were in Bangkok. Many students attended universities outside Thailand, but these were more likely to be the children of Thai or Chinese who had already attained a fairly high socioeconomic position.

Education was necessary for entry into the bureaucracy, but other capabilities or characteristics, including political reliability and involvement in the patron-client system, also played a part in upward mobility within the bureaucracy. In the military, the system played perhaps a greater role than education. Military expertise as such did not seem to be an important consideration.

The sangha offered a special avenue of social mobility to some of the sons of the peasants at the base of Thailand's socioeconomic pyramid. Positions in the upper tiers were filled by examination, and monks were offered higher education at two Buddhist universities (Mahachulalongkorn and Mahamongkut), which by the 1960s included significant secular components in their curricula. The Buddhist education system provided support for its talented students through the highest level; access to these opportunities by villagers might reflect the declining interest among the urban classes and the provincial middle group in a career in the sangha. The social mobility achieved through the sangha was not necessarily limited to those who were lifetime monks. Monks who left the sangha in their thirties and forties could legitimately enter other careers, and their education and experience in the sangha were helpful.

By the mid-1970s, the number of aspirants to the bureaucracy with undergraduate and even graduate degrees had begun to exceed the number of openings. Moreover, the economy was no longer expanding as it had in the 1960s and early 1970s. Opportunities for upward mobility had lessened in the early 1980s, and children of families already established in the upper or middle reaches of the socioeconomic system were able to maintain their head start in a system that was no longer growing so rapidly.


Thailand - RELIGION


Theravada Buddhism, the form of Buddhism practiced in Sri Lanka, Burma, Cambodia, and Laos, was the religion of more than 80 percent of the Thai people in the 1980s. These coreligionists included not only the core Thai, but most other Tai speakers, as well as the Khmer, the Mon, and some members of other minorities, among them the Chinese. Relatively few Thai were adherents of Mahayana Buddhism or other religions, including Hinduism, Christianity, Taoism, animism, and Islam. Of these only Islam, largely identified with but not restricted to Southern Thai of Malay origin, was a dominant religion in a specific geographic area.

Theravada Buddhism was the established religion, in that there were formal organizational and ideological links between it and the state. Thai rulers (the king formerly, and the military and bureaucratic oligarchy subsequently) sought or--if they thought it necessary--commanded the support of the Buddhist clergy or sangha, who usually acquiesced to (if not welcomed) the state's support and protection. A Thai religious writer pointed out that Thailand was the only country in the world where the king was constitutionally required to be a Buddhist and upholder of the faith.

Buddhism's place in Thai society was by no means defined solely by its relation to the state. The role of religious belief and institutions in Thai life had changed, and, with increasing commercialism and urbanization, some observers questioned the prevalence of Thai piety and good works. However, the peasant's or villager's view of the world remained at least partly defined by an understanding of Buddhist doctrine, and significant events in his or her life and community were marked by rituals performed or at least supervised by Buddhist clergy. Often, the villager's city-dwelling siblings would return to the home village for significant events such as weddings and funerals. Additionally, much of Thai village life--social, political, economic, and religious--centered on the local wat.

As is often the case when a scripturally based religion becomes dominant in a largely agrarian society, the religious beliefs and behavior of most Thai were compounded of elements derived from both formal doctrine and other sources. The latter either developed during the long history of Buddhism or derived from religious systems indigenous to the area. Implementation of the same Buddhist rite and tradition often varied from region to region. In Central Thailand, for example, praiseworthy priests were selected and honored by the king, whereas in the Northeast this recognition was bestowed by the people.

<>Historical Background
<>Buddhist Doctrine and Popular Religion
<>The Sangha
<>Buddhism, Politics, and Values
<>Religious Minorities


Thailand - RELIGION - Historical Background


Thai Buddhism was based on the religious movement founded in the sixth century B.C. by Siddhartha Gautama Sakyamuni, later known as the Buddha, who urged the world to relinquish the extremes of sensuality and self-mortification and follow the enlightened Middle Way. The focus was on man, not gods; the assumption was that life was pain or suffering, which was a consequence of craving, and that suffering could end only if desire ceased. The end of suffering was the achievement of nirvana (in Theravada Buddhist scriptures, nibbana), often defined negatively as the absence of craving and therefore of suffering, sometimes as enlightenment or bliss.

By the third century B.C., Buddhism had spread widely in Asia, and divergent interpretations of the Buddha's teachings had led to the establishment of several sects. The teachings that reached Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka) were given in a final written form in Pali (an Indo-Aryan language closely related to Sanskrit) to religious centers there in the first century A.D. and provided the Tipitaka (the scriptures or "three baskets"; in Sanskrit, Tripitaka) of Theravada Buddhism. This form of Buddhism reached what is now Thailand around the sixth century A.D. Theravada Buddhism was made the state religion only with the establishment of the Thai kingdom of Sukhothai in the thirteenth century A.D.

The details of the history of Buddhism in Thailand from the thirteenth to the nineteenth century are obscure, in part because few historical records or religious texts survived the Burmese destruction of Ayutthaya, the capital city of the kingdom, in 1767. The anthropologist-historian S.J. Tambiah, however, has suggested a general pattern for that era, at least with respect to the relations between Buddhism and the sangha on the one hand and the king on the other hand. In Thailand, as in other Theravada Buddhist kingdoms, the king was in principle thought of as patron and protector of the religion (sasana) and the sangha, while sasana and the sangha were considered in turn the treasures of the polity and the signs of its legitimacy. Religion and polity, however, remained separate domains, and in ordinary times the organizational links between the sangha and the king were not close.

Among the chief characteristics of Thai kingdoms and principalities in the centuries before 1800 were the tendency to expand and contract, problems of succession, and the changing scope of the king's authority. In effect, some Thai kings had greater power over larger territories, others less, and almost invariably a king who sought successfully to expand his power also exercised greater control over the sangha. That control was coupled with greater support and patronage of the ecclesiastical hierarchy. When a king was weak, however, protection and supervision of the sangha also weakened, and the sangha declined. This fluctuating pattern appears to have continued until the emergence of the Chakkri Dynasty in the last quarter of the eighteenth century.

By the nineteenth century, and especially with the coming to power in 1851 of King Mongkut, who had been a monk himself for twenty-seven years, the sangha, like the kingdom, became steadily more centralized and hierarchical in nature and its links to the state more institutionalized. As a monk, Mongkut was a distinguished scholar of Pali Buddhist scripture. Moreover, at that time the immigration of numbers of Mon from Burma was introducing the more rigorous discipline characteristic of the Mon sangha. Influenced by the Mon and guided by his own understanding of the Tipitaka, Mongkut began a reform movement that later became the basis for the Dhammayuttika order of monks. Under the reform, all practices having no authority other than custom were to be abandoned, canonical regulations were to be followed not mechanically but in spirit, and acts intended to improve an individual's standing on the road to nirvana but having no social value were rejected. This more rigorous discipline was adopted in its entirety by only a small minority of monasteries and monks. The Mahanikaya order, perhaps somewhat influenced by Mongkut's reforms but with a less exacting discipline than the Dhammayuttika order, comprised about 95 percent of all monks in 1970 and probably about the same percentage in the late 1980s. In any case, Mongkut was in a position to regularize and tighten the relations between monarchy and sangha at a time when the monarchy was expanding its control over the country in general and developing the kind of bureaucracy necessary to such control. The administrative and sangha reforms that Mongkut started were continued by his successor. In 1902 King Chulalongkorn (Rama V, 1868-1910) made the new sangha hierarchy formal and permanent through the Sangha Law of 1902, which remained the foundation of sangha administration in modern Thailand.


Thailand - Buddhist Doctrine and Popular Religion


The doctrine of Theravada Buddhism can be found in the three-part Tipitaka. The first of the three baskets (or sections) sets forth the discipline governing the monastic order. The second presents the sermons or discourses of the Buddha and contains the dharma (literally, doctrine). The third comprises the commentaries and explications produced by learned monks in the centuries after the death of the Buddha. It is here that significant differences exist between Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism.

In the first basket, and central to the structure of Buddhist belief, are the doctrines of karma, the sum and the consequences of an individual's actions during the successive phases of his existence, and samsara, the eternal cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. Both doctrines were derived from the Indian thought of the Buddha's time, although he invested the concept of karma with very strong ethical implications. Broadly, these ideas taken together assert that evil acts have evil consequences for those committing them, and good acts yield good consequences, not necessarily in any one lifetime, but over the inevitable cycle of births and deaths. A concomitant to the belief in karma and samsara is the view that all forms of life are related because every form originated in a previous one. In the canonical view, but not in the popular one, the entity that undergoes reincarnation is not the soul (although the idea of soul exists) but a complex of attributes--actions and their consequences--that taken together are said to constitute the karma of an individual. It is karma in this sense that survives in another form.

The second basket, containing the dharma, provides the essentials that define the way to nirvana. The foundation of the system lies in the Four Noble Truths: suffering exists, it is caused by craving or desire, it can be made to cease, and it can be brought to an end by following the Noble Eightfold Path. The last Noble Truth contains the eight precepts to be followed by Buddhists: right view, or having an understanding of the Four Noble Truths; right thought--freedom from lust, ill will, and cruelty; right speech, which means abstention from lying, gossiping, harsh language, and vain talk; right action, by which killing, stealing, and sexual misconduct are proscribed; right livelihood, which requires an individual's sustenance be earned in a way that is not harmful to living things; right effort, by which good thoughts are encouraged and bad thoughts are avoided or overcome; right mindfulness, or close attention to all states of the body, feeling, and mind; and right concentration, that is, concentration on a single object to bring about a special state of consciousness in meditation. Following the Noble Eightfold Path conscientiously is necessary if a person aspires to become an arhat (usually translated as saint), ready for nirvana.

Virtually from the beginning, however, the Buddha acknowledged that it would be difficult for a layperson to follow all aspects of the Noble Eightfold Path singlemindedly. The conditions appropriate to such pursuit are available only to mendicant monks. The demands on the layperson are therefore less rigorous, and most interpret the doctrine as requiring acts gaining merit so that the layperson may achieve a condition in the next life that will allow stricter attention to the requirements of the path.

The acts that bring merit are, in principle, those that conform as closely as possible to the ethical demands of the Noble Eightfold Path. Acts that support the brotherhood of monks are also included. Consequently, providing material support, e.g., food, to the members of the sangha, showing them deference, underwriting and participating in certain ceremonies, and supporting the construction and maintenance of the wat have come to be the chief methods of gaining merit. The powerful ethical content of the Noble Eightfold Path is reduced to five precepts or injunctions. The laity are expected to refrain from the following: taking life, stealing, lying, engaging in illicit sexual relations, and drinking intoxicating liquors. Thai Buddhists--like many followers of other religions--select only a few of the Buddha's teachings to guide them. Many Buddhist principles, while not actually practiced, are venerated as ideals.

According to some observers, most Thai place little emphasis on the achievement of nirvana, whether as a final state after many rebirths or as an interior condition. What is hoped for is an improved condition in this life or the next. In Thai thinking, the ideas of merit and demerit so essential to the doctrine of karma are linked linguistically to those of good and evil; good and merit are both bun; evil and the absence of merit are bap. The Theravada idea of karma (and the Thai peasant's understanding of it) charges the individual with responsibility for good and evil acts and their consequences. Thai do not rely solely on the accumulation of merit, however gained, to bring that improved state into being. Other forms of causality, ranging from astrology to the action of spirits of various kinds, are also part of their outlook.

The world of the Thai villager (and that of many city folk as well) is inhabited by a host of spirits of greater or lesser relevance to an individual's well-being. Although many of these are not sanctioned by Buddhist scripture or even by Buddhist tradition, many monks, themselves of rural origin and essentially tied to the village, are as likely as the peasant to accept the beliefs and rituals associated with spirits.

Most important are the spirits included in the rather heterogeneous category of phi, thought to have power over human beings. The category includes spirits believed to have a permanent existence and others that are reincarnations of deceased human beings. Phi exist virtually everywhere--in trees, hills, water, animals, the earth, and so on. Some are malevolent, others beneficial.

The ghosts of persons who died violently under mysterious circumstances or whose funeral rites were improperly performed constitute another class of phi; almost all of these spirits are malevolent. In contrast, the ghosts of notable people are said to reside in small shrines along the roads and are referred to as "spirit lords." They are often petitioned in prayers and can enter and possess the bodies of mediums to give oracles. Among the more important of the spirits and ghosts is the evil phi pop (ghoul spirit), which, at the instigation of witches, can enter human beings and consume their internal organs.

Another category consists of the chao (guardian spirits), of which perhaps the most important is the chao thi, or guardian of the house compound (an alternative name is phra phum). Fixed on a post in the compound of most houses in Thailand's central region is a small spirit dwelling. Food offerings are made to the chao thi on the anniversary of the spirit's installation in the house, on New Year's Day, and on other special days. The spirit is told of the arrival of guests who are to stay any length of time, of projected journeys by members of the family, and of births and deaths. The spirit's intercession is also sought during illness and misfortune.

Other spirits protect gardens, the rice fields, and the wat. The spirit of the rice field is worshiped only once a year, at the beginning of the rice planting; the Rice Goddess receives offerings when the seedbed is to be prepared and when the harvest is ready. The Mother Earth Goddess often receives offerings at transplanting time.

In addition to the rites dedicated to an assortment of spirits either regularly or as the occasion demands, other rites intended to maximize merit for the participants are practiced. The Buddha prescribed no ceremonies for birth, death, and marriage, but the Hindu rites, which were adopted by the Thai people, entail the participation of Buddhist monks. The ceremonies, which are held at home rather than in the wat, have no scriptural sanction. The monks limit their participation to chanting the appropriate Buddhist scriptural texts or to providing holy water.

The propitiation of an individual's khwan (body spirit or life soul) remains a basic feature of Thai family rites. Any ceremony undertaken to benefit a person, animal, or plant is referred to as the making of khwan. On important occasions, such as birth, ordination into the priesthood, marriage, a return from a long journey, or the reception of an honored guest, a khwan ceremony is performed.

Of all the life cycle and family ceremonies, funeral rites are the most elaborate. When a person is dying, he or she should fix his or her mind on the Buddhist scriptures or repeat some of the names of the Buddha. If the last thoughts of the dying person are directed toward the Buddha and his precepts, the fruits of this meritorious behavior will be repaid to the deceased in the next incarnation. After his or her death, other meritorious acts are performed for the benefit of the deceased, such as attendance at the wake and provision of food to the officiating monks. Every effort is made to banish sorrow, loneliness, and fear of the spirits by means of music and fellowship.

Ceremonies in the wat consist of those that benefit the entire community and those that primarily affect the sangha. The first kind include the rites held on such occasions as Mahka Bucha (an important February holiday that marks the beginning of the season for making pilgrimages to Phra Phuttabaht, the Buddha's Footprint Shrine), Wisakha Bucha (a festival commemorating the Buddha's birth, enlightenment, and death), Khao Phansa (the holiday marking the beginning of the three-month Buddhist holy season, July to October), and Thot Kathin (a festival during which robes and other items are given to the monks by the laity). Ceremonies that primarily concern the sangha include ordination, confession, recitation of the 227 monastic rules, and distribution of new robes after Thot Kathin.

Of all the ceremonies affecting the sangha, ordination is the one in which the laity are most involved, both physically and spiritually. Frequently, before a young man makes his initial entry into the sangha, a ceremony is held in the home of the aspirant to prepare him for ordination. His khwan is invited to enter the sangha with him; otherwise, evil and illness might befall him. He is informed of his parents' happiness with his decision, of the sacrifices they have made for him, and of the life of austerity and discipline he is to begin. In Thailand, it is a popular belief that by becoming a monk great merit is gained, merit which also accrues to persons or parents who sponsor the ordination.


Thailand - The Sangha


The sangha comprises two sects or schools, the Mahanikaya and the Dhammayuttika. The first has far more members than the second, but the Dhammayuttika--exercising a more rigorous discipline, having a reputation for scholarship in the doctrine, and having a close connection to royalty--continues to wield influence beyond its numbers among intellectuals and in sangha administration. Both schools are included in the same ecclesiastical hierarchy, which is very closely tied to the government. The strengthening of those ties began in the nineteenth century, ostensibly to deal with problems of internal disorganization in the sangha but also so that the sangha could be used to help integrate a government that was just beginning to extend and strengthen its administrative control over the North and Northeast. Each of these regions in effect had had its own sangha, and the unification of the sangha was seen as an important step toward the unification of Thailand. The pattern of legislative and other steps culminating in the Sangha Act of 1963 tended to tighten government control of the sangha; there was no significant resistance to this control from the monks. Conflicts existed between the two schools, however, over issues such as position in the hierarchy.

In spite of a long tradition of monkhood in Thailand, the great majority of males did not become monks. Those who did usually entered in their early twenties but did not necessarily remain monks for a long time. During the three-month holy season Khao (Phansa), sometimes referred to as the Buddhist Lent, monks go into retreat, and more attention than usual is given to the study of dharma. In the mid-1980s, Thai male civil servants were given three months leave with full pay if they spent the Lenten period as monks. It has been estimated that the proportion of temporary monks during this period varies between 25 and 40 percent of the total. The motivation for monkhood of such short duration is complex, but even the temporary status, for those who are unable or unwilling to commit themselves to the discipline for life, brings merit, not only to the monk but also to his parents, particularly to his mother. (Some Buddhist women live as nuns, but they enjoy lower status than monks do.) Whether temporary or permanent, a monk in principle is subject to the 227 rules of conduct embodied in that portion (basket) of the Tipitaka devoted to the sangha.

Aside from the religious motivation of those who enter and remain in the sangha, another inducement for many is the chance to pursue the contemplative life within the monastic community. Other reasons in modern Thailand include the opportunity for education at one of the two Buddhist universities and the chance, particularly for monks of rural origin, to gain social status.

Thai villagers expect monks to be pious and to adhere to the rules. Beyond that, monks are expected to provide services to individual members of the laity and local communities by performing various ceremonies and chanting appropriate passages from the Buddhist scriptures on important occasions. The presence of monks is believed to result in the accrual of merit to lay participants.

Thai Buddhists generally do not expect monks to be directly involved in the working world; the monks' sustenance is provided by the members of the community in which the monks live. Their contribution to community life, besides their religious and ceremonial functions, is primarily educational. Beginning in the late 1960s, the government encouraged monks to engage in missionary activity in the remote, less developed provinces, particularly among the hill peoples, as part of the effort to integrate these groups into the polity. Leaders at the Buddhist universities have taken the stand that monks owe something to society in return for the support given them and that, in addition to the advanced study of Buddhism, the universities ought to include secular subjects conducive to the enrichment of the nation.


Thailand - Buddhism, Politics, and Values


The organizational links between the sangha and the government are an indication of their interdependence, although the fine points of that relationship may have changed over time. The traditional interdependence was between religion and the monarchy. The king was, in theory, a righteous ruler, a bodhisattva (an enlightened being who, out of compassion, foregoes nirvana in order to aid others), and the protector of the religion. Because succession to the throne was problematic and the position of any king in many respects unstable, each ruler sought legitimation from the sangha. In return, he offered the religion his support.

After the king became a constitutional monarch in 1932, actual power lay in the hands of the elites, primarily the military but also the higher levels of the bureaucracy. Regardless of the political complexion of the specific persons in power (who, more often than not, had rightist views), the significance of Buddhism to the nation was never attacked. In the late 1980s, the king remained an important symbol, and public ideology insisted that religion, king, and nation were inextricably intertwined. Opposition groups have rarely attacked this set of related symbols. Some observers have argued that the acceptance of religion, king, and nation as ultimate symbols of Thai political values was misleading in that the great bulk of the population--the Thai villagers--although attached to Buddhism and respectful of the king, often resented the particular manifestations of government in local communities and situations. It seemed, however, that whatever discontent there was with the political, social, and economic orders, most Thai remained at least passively committed to a national identity symbolized by the king and Buddhism.

Puey Ungphakorn, a former rector of Thammasat University and human rights advocate, viewed the ethical precepts of Buddhism as insurance against oppressive national development. Although the fundamental role of development was to improve the welfare of the villagers, in a number of nations without the protection of religion the rights of the villager were often abused. In Thailand, according to Puey, the peasant, like the urban dweller, has an individual identity protected by the shared belief in Buddhism.

The support given the king (and whatever political regime was in power) by the sangha was coupled with a prohibition on the direct intervention of monks in politics, particularly in party, political, and ideological conflicts. It was taken for granted that members of the sangha would oppose a communist regime, and available evidence suggested that virtually all Thai monks found Marxist thought alien, although monks elsewhere in Southeast Asia have been influenced by socialist, if not explicitly communist, ideas. Historically, monks occasionally have been involved in politics, but this involvement was not the norm. In the second half of the twentieth century, however, monks became aware of the political and ideological ferment in Southeast Asia and in a few cases engaged in political propaganda, if not in direct action. A few were accused of doing so from a position on the left, but the most explicit instance of political propaganda in the 1970s was that of a highly influential monk, Kittivuddha Bikkhu, who preached that it was meritorious to kill communists. Although not supported by the religious and political establishments, he provided right-wing militants with a Buddhist ideological justification for their extremist activities.


Thailand - Religious Minorities


Defining Thai minority religions was as complex as defining Thai ethnic minorities. This problem was further compounded by the number of Thai whose Buddhism was a combination of differing beliefs. In the 1980s, the religious affiliation of the Chinese minority was particularly difficult to identify. Some adopted the Theravada beliefs of the Thai, and many participated in the activities of the local wat. Most Chinese, however, consciously retained the mixture of Confucian social ethics, formal veneration of ancestors, Mahayana Buddhist doctrine, and Taoist supernaturalism that was characteristic of the popular religious tradition in China. To the Chinese community as a whole, neither organized religion nor theological speculation had strong appeal. There were some Chinese members of the sangha, and most large Chinese temples had active lay associations attached to them. It was estimated in the 1980s that there were about twenty-one Chinese monasteries and thirteen major Vietnamese monasteries in Thailand.

The practice of Islam in the 1980s was concentrated in Thailand's southernmost provinces, where the vast majority of the country's Muslims, predominantly Malay in origin, were found. The remaining Muslims were Pakistani immigrants in the urban centers, ethnic Thai in the rural areas of the Center, and a few Chinese Muslims in the far north. Education and maintenance of their own cultural traditions were vital interests of these groups.

Except in the small circle of theologically trained believers, the Islamic faith in Thailand, like Buddhism, had become integrated with many beliefs and practices not integral to Islam. It would be difficult to draw a line between animistic practices indigenous to Malay culture that were used to drive off evil spirits and local Islamic ceremonies because each contained aspects of the other. In the mid-1980s, the country had more than 2,000 mosques in 38 Thai provinces, with the largest number (434) in Narathiwat Province. All but a very small number of the mosques were associated with the Sunni branch of Islam; the remainder were of the Shia branch. Each mosque had an imam (prayer leader), a muezzin (who issued the call to prayer), and perhaps other functionaries. Although the majority of the country's Muslims were ethnically Malay, the Muslim community also included the Thai Muslims, who were either hereditary Muslims, Muslims by intermarriage, or recent converts; Cham Muslims originally from Cambodia; West Asians, including both Sunni and Shias; South Asians, including Tamils, Punjabis and Bengalis; Indonesians, especially Javanese and Minangkabau; Thai-Malay or people of Malay ethnicity who have accepted many aspects of Thai language and culture, except Buddhism, and have intermarried with Thai; and Chinese Muslims, who were mostly Haw living in the North.

The National Council for Muslims, consisting of at least five persons (all Muslims) and appointed by royal proclamation, advised the ministries of education and interior on Islamic matters. Its presiding officer, the state counselor for Muslim affairs, was appointed by the king and held the office of division chief in the Department of Religious Affairs in the Ministry of Education. Provincial councils for Muslim affairs existed in the provinces that had substantial Muslim minorities, and there were other links between the government and the Muslim community, including government financial assistance to Islamic education institutions, assistance with construction of some of the larger mosques, and the funding of pilgrimages by Thai Muslims to Mecca. Thailand also maintained several hundred Islamic schools at the primary and secondary levels.

During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Portuguese and Spanish Dominicans and other missionaries introduced Christianity to Siam. Christian missions have had only modest success in winning converts among the Thai, and the Christian community, estimated at 260,000 in the 1980s, was proportionately the smallest in any Asian country. The missions played an important role, however, as agents for the transmission of Western ideas to the Thai. Missionaries opened hospitals, introduced Western medical knowledge, and sponsored some excellent private elementary and secondary schools. Many of the Thai urban elite who planned to have their children complete their studies in European or North American universities sent them first to the mission-sponsored schools.

A high percentage of the Christian community was Chinese, although there were several Lao and Vietnamese Roman Catholic communities, the latter in southeastern Thailand. About half the total Christian population lived in the Center. The remainder were located in almost equal numbers in the North and Northeast. More than half the total Christian community in Thailand was Roman Catholic. Some of the Protestant groups had banded together in the mid-1930s to form the Church of Christ in Thailand, and nearly half of the more than 300 Protestant congregations in the country were part of that association.

Other religions represented in Thailand included Hinduism and Sikhism, both associated with small ethnic groups of Indian origin. Most of the Hindus and Sikhs lived in Bangkok.




In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, United States and British missionaries introduced formal European education, primarily in the palaces. Up to that time, scholarly pursuits had been confined largely to Buddhist temples, where monastic instruction, much of it entailing the memorization of scriptures, was provided to boys and young men. Like his father Mongkut, King Chulalongkorn (Rama V, 1868-1910) wanted to integrate monastic instruction with Western education. Unsuccessful in this effort, he appointed his half brother, Prince Damrong Rajanubhab, to design a new system of education. Western teachers were engaged to provide assistance, and in 1921 a compulsory education law was enacted. In 1917 the first university in the country, Chulalongkorn University, was established.

Emphasis on education grew after the 1932 coup as a result of the new constitutional requirement for a literate populace able to participate in electoral politics. Government efforts focused on primary education; private schools, concentrated in Bangkok and a few provincial centers, supported a major share of educational activity, especially at the secondary level. Despite ambitious planning, little was accomplished. Even after World War II, the educated segment of Thai society continued to consist mainly of a small elite in Bangkok. The postwar years showed the influence of American education. By the mid-1980s, perhaps as many as 100,000 Thai students had studied in the United States, and tens of thousands had benefited from Peace Corps and other United States government educational assistance projects.

Only 4 million children were enrolled in government schools in the 1960s, but by the late 1980s nearly 80 percent of the population above the age of 11 had some formal education. This dramatic change reflected government interest in accelerating the pace of social development through education, especially in less secure areas of the country, as a means of promoting political stability. By 1983 an estimated 99.4 percent of the children between the ages of 7 and 12 attended primary school. (Compulsory schooling lasted only until grade six.) Adult literacy reportedly was more than 85.5 percent in the mid-1980s, compared with about 50 percent in the 1950s. Substantial public investment and foreign assistance made significant gains possible in literacy and school enrollments.

The government operated schools in all parts of the country, but there were many private schools as well, chiefly in Bangkok, sponsored principally by missionaries or Chinese communal organizations. Several universities ran what were effectively their own preparatory academies. In the late 1970s, the schools were reorganized into a six-three-three pattern that comprised six years of primary schooling, three years of lower secondary education, and three years at the upper secondary level.

Students in the upper secondary program could choose either academic or vocational courses. A core curriculum was common to both tracks, but the academic program focused on preparation for university entrance, whereas the vocational program emphasized skilled trades and agriculture. Only a small percentage of students continued their education beyond secondary school. Some who would have chosen to do so failed to qualify for university acceptance. Secondary-school graduates often had difficulty finding suitable employment. Even vocational graduates in rural areas frequently found their industrial skills poorly fitted to the agro-economic job market.

Access to education and the quality of education varied significantly by region. At the primary level, rural schools, administered since 1963 by the Ministry of Interior, tended to have the least qualified teachers and the most serious shortage of teaching materials. In an effort to increase the number of teachers, other ministries, including the Ministry of Defense, offered teacher-training programs. Although more students gained access to education, this arrangement led to a duplication of resources. Competition began to replace cooperation among some of the teachers' colleges and universities. Opportunities for secondary education were concentrated in major towns and in the Center. In the mid-1970s, Bangkok, with 10 percent of the country's population, had 45 percent of the secondary-school population, while the North and the Northeast combined, with 55 percent of the nation's population, had only 26 percent of these students. The government has since attempted to rectify these inequities by improving administrative structure, making education more relevant to socioeconomic development, and adding qualitative and quantitative support to both public and private systems. Nevertheless, in the late 1980s the underlying problem of inequitable distribution of funds between the Center and the outlying provinces remained.

The Office of University Affairs administered higher education at government universities (except for teachers' colleges, military academies, and the two Buddhist universities) and supervised higher education in private colleges. By the late 1980s, the country had 13 public universities, 3 institutes, and about 10 private colleges, the latter accounting for only about 7 percent of total university enrollment. A Western education was highly valued, and those who could afford to study abroad often did. Chulalongkorn University was the leading domestic university. Until the establishment of Ramkhamhaeng University in 1971, Chulalongkorn had the largest student body (18,000 full- time and part-time students in 1987). Thammasat University (11,000 student population in 1987) ranked next in academic quality. Operations at Thammasat suffered somewhat from punitive measures imposed after the massive student disorders of October 1973. Thereafter, Mahidol University (formerly the University of Medical Sciences), which had nearly 9,000 students in 1987, began to overtake Thammasat University as Thailand's second-best university. Another respected academic institution was the agricultural university, Kasetsart University, which in 1987 had 11,000 students. All the major universities were located in Bangkok. The various provincial universities, which were established in the 1960s and the 1970s, and a number of specialized academies, some of them in Bangkok, mostly had small student populations. Chiang Mai University, founded in 1964, however, had 13,000 students by 1987.

Pressure from a society that increasingly valued career-oriented education was in part responsible for the government's establishment of two "open universities," beginning in 1971. Both open universities were established for those who could not be accommodated by the older institutions of higher learning, and each admitted secondary school graduates without any competitive examination. Ramkhamhaeng University conducted classes, whereas Sukhothai Thammathirat University offered its courses via national radio and television broadcasts and by correspondence. In 1987 Ramkhamhaeng had more than 400,000 students enrolled and Sukhothai Thammathirat more than 150,000.

To maintain its own language and script, Thailand constantly promoted reading through both formal and informal education. Thailand had one of the highest levels of functional literacy in Asia as well as one of the largest publishing rates per person of any developing nation. In 1982 there were 5,645 titles published, more than 7 million radio receivers, 830,000 televisions, 69 daily newspapers, and 175 periodicals. Thai-language paperbacks, often translations of English-language best-sellers or "how to" books, had a wide audience. The publishing house of Kled Thai, with 60 percent of the national market, distributed between 80,000 and 120,000 volumes monthly.

Thailand had a long history of written literature dating back to the thirteenth century, when much of the literature written in poetic style was religious or related to the monarchy. Examples include the Maha Chat Kham Luang, an epic adapted from the Buddhist Jataka tales, and Kotmai Tra Sam Duang, a legal work on Buddhist ethics. Beginning with the Chakkri Dynasty in the late eighteenth century, writing for both the court and the public flourished. New trends in literary style included Phra Aphai Mani, by Thailand's greatest poet Sunthon Phu (1786-1855), the written version of the popular epic romance poem called Khun Chang Khun Phaen, and Sang Thong, attributed to King Loet La (Rama II, 1809-24). Dynastic chronicles and poetry usually were dominant until the twentieth century, when King Vajiravudh (Rama VI, 1910-25) helped foster the birth of the modern Thai novel. Modern life was the theme of books such as Phudi (The Genteel) by Dotmai Sot (1905-63) or Songkhram Chiwit (The War of Life) by social realist Si Burapha (1905-74). Specific social ills, such as inadequate education, were documented in Khammaan Khonkhai's Khru Ban Nok, translated by Genhan Wijeyeaardene as The Teachers of Mad Dog Swamp, or in the revolutionary writings of Chit Phumisak and the progressive poetry of Naovarat Pongpaiboon.

American culture influenced modern Thai art forms both through Thai artists studying in the United States and through the popularity of Hollywood movies. Modern artists such as Kamol Tassananchalee have integrated American ideas into Thai art, just as centuries before the artists of Sukhothai and Ayutthaya applied Indian or Khmer concepts to Thai design. The modern period in Thai art began in 1932 with the breakdown of the traditional patterns of static society. A strong artistic influence in the modern period was exerted by the work of Silpa Bhirasri, an Italian-born professor. The Thai motion picture industry's first film was made by a younger brother of King Chulalongkorn in 1900. By the late 1980s, some 3,000 feature films had been produced and a National Film Archives established. Although a few of these films, such as Tong Pha Luang (Yellow Sky, 1980) and Sut Thon Nun (End of the Road, 1985), were well known outside Thailand, the language barrier rather than their quality or relevance limited their distribution internationally.

In theater in the 1980s, Thailand produced khon (classical masked drama) based on epics such as the Indian Ramayana (Ramakian in Thai), as well as more modern plays. Drama, like books, movies, and art, has moved out of the royal palaces within the last century to be enjoyed by a wider audience in a less controlled form, which incorporates Western elements. The Thai people accepted Westernization in all areas, including the arts, on their own terms as a pragmatic necessity and not as something imposed by foreigners. For example, modern techniques in set and costume designs, makeup, lighting, sound systems, and theater construction were combined with traditional drama such as the khon. Thai monarchs beginning with King Mongkut initiated and led this modernization. King Bhumibol not only continued this movement but also widened its scope in an effort to make regional art forms an integral part of the Thai national identity.




By Asian standards, the level of public health in Thailand was relatively good. In 1986 the life expectancy for men was 61 years; for women it was 65 years. In 1960 for both sexes life expectancy had been only 51 years. In 1984 deaths among children under age 4 averaged 4 per 1,000, while infant mortality for the same year was 47.7 per 1,000. The crude death rate for the population as a whole declined fairly consistently between 1920 and 1984, from 31.3 to 7.7 per 1,000. Much of the decline was a reflection of the successful struggle against malaria, which once had been the single greatest cause of illness and death. The expansion of the public health system in general, however, was also an undeniable factor in the improved health picture.

Health and related social welfare services received an allocation of 10.3 percent of the total 1984 budget. Of this amount, about 50 percent was assigned to public health activities; the remainder went to social security and welfare, housing, and community services. Although a disproportionate number of health care facilities were concentrated in the Bangkok area, Western-style medical treatment was provided throughout the country by a network of hospitals, regional health centers, and other clinics. In 1981 there were 359 hospitals, with 1 bed per 734 people and 1 physician per 6,951 people. In the same year, the nation registered 1,142 dentists and more than 50,000 nurses and midwives.

Despite progress in lengthening life expectancy, combating disease, and building public health facilities, Thailand in the late 1980s faced a bleak public health situation. One of the most critical national health problems was the water supply. In the mid-1970s, little more than 20 percent of the population, most of that portion being urban dwellers, was reported to have access to safe water. Even in Bangkok, where the proportion with such access was highest, only about 60 percent of the population had access to potable public water. In the countryside, inhabitants depended on shallow wells, roof drainage, rivers, and canals.

Throughout Thailand, but especially in Bangkok, the traditional skyline with its Buddhist temples was becoming overshadowed by Western-style buildings and skyscrapers. Construction was done mostly by laborers who usually lived on site with their families. In 1980 there were more than 373,000 construction workers (79 percent of whom had once been farmers) living in temporary housing, which typically measured only 3 to 4 meters square and had a door but no windows. Workers' compensation and paid sick leave were almost nonexistent, and illness and inadequate sanitation were common in these shantytowns. Although public and private agencies were becoming aware of the seriousness of the problem from both a health and a legal point of view, the transient nature of the burgeoning construction community made this population difficult to serve. In the urban areas, modern development and outward prosperity often masked deficiencies in basic infrastructure that arose from rapid and unplanned growth. Urban planners were confronted with traffic congestion, housing shortages, and air, water, and noise pollution.

The development of an international consumer economy brought new challenges and Western diseases, particularly for urban dwellers. Prostitution and narcotics use, which had been part of Thai culture for centuries, took on new dimensions as health hazards. With the worldwide spread of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) and new strains of venereal diseases, Thailand became concerned about the welfare of its female citizens and the effects on tourism. By mid-1987 eleven people in Thailand were reported to have AIDS and about another eighty to be AIDS carriers. The government had begun to take such action as testing homosexuals and drug addicts for AIDS, testing donated blood supplies, sponsoring public information campaigns, and funding the development of an inexpensive AIDS testing kit by Mahidol University.

In the mid-nineteenth century, narcotics were seen as a domestic problem, but one limited mostly to the Chinese. By the 1960s, drug use was considered a security or a foreign affairs issue. Only by the late 1970s did Thailand recognize drugs as a growing domestic problem. By that time, in addition to organic narcotic production, there was a dramatic rise in the production and use of synthetic drugs. Narcotics-related crimes ranked third among all types of criminal activity in 1983. In that year, there were 28,992 convictions for drug offenses nationally and 11,777 in Bangkok, which resulted in the overcrowding of prisons and detention centers. To combat the problem, the government instituted both public information campaigns and drug treatment centers. The national media began to make daily announcements about the social effects of drug use, and even in small provincial cities billboards were used to carry the message. Some traditional social systems were also employed in an innovative fashion. For example, Wat Tam Krabok, in Sara Buri Province, became one of the most important centers for the treatment of opiate addiction. Moreover, the government responded to the increase in health-related problems by placing new emphasis on meeting basic social needs in its economic and social development planning.


CITATION: Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress. The Country Studies Series. Published 1988-1999.

Please note: This text comes from the Country Studies Program, formerly the Army Area Handbook Program. The Country Studies Series presents a description and analysis of the historical setting and the social, economic, political, and national security systems and institutions of countries throughout the world.

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