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Beyond Jews of the Orient: A New Interpretation of the Problematic Relationship between the Thai State and Its Ethnic Chinese Community

Beyond Jews of the Orient: A New Interpretation of the Problematic Relationship between the Thai... “Jews of the Orient,” the infamous and highly polemical article penned by King Vajiravudh Rama VI of Siam and first published in one of the nation's leading newspapers in 1914 has long been employed as the fundamental evidence of the innate anti-Chinese nature of Siam's particular brand of royalist nationalism. The general line of the argument based on the interpretation of Vajiravudh's infamous articles is the king singled out the ethnic Chinese—known to be the largest ethnic minority as well as the dominant force controlling the Siamese economy—as the national other against which Thai nationalism was to be defined and developed. The situation of the ethnic Chinese was not unlike the unfortunate position the Jewish Diaspora found themselves in in Europe in the late nineteenth century to early twentieth century. This line of explanation, however, is not only outdated, but also incorrect in many ways. The proportion of the ethnic Chinese population in Siam is much greater than that of the Jews in Europe and, perhaps more important, the Chinese in Siam were much more closely related to the ruling class. As G. William Skinner had elaborated, even during Vajiravudh's reign, Chinese ancestry made up more than half of the Chakri royal bloodline. In other words, the Chinese were the ruling class in Siam. This article argues that, instead of discriminating against the Chinese, the Siamese ruling classes replaced their Chinese identity with a new Anglicized/Americanized identity, which appeared to be the more modern and influential style of the late nineteenth century to early twentieth century. The Chinese merchants and entrepreneurs who made up most of the Siamese middle class were allowed to keep their Chinese identity provided that they clearly, and oftentimes overtly, expressed their absolute and undivided loyalty toward the crown. The lower-/working-class Chinese either assimilated with the majority or faced persecution for sedition of all sorts—from republicanism and Bolshevism in Vajiravudh's reign to communism during the Cold War years. In reality, the Thai state's relationship with the ethnic Chinese community was more a class issue than a matter of ethnicity and, perhaps more interesting, the state's policy toward the ethnic Chinese changed very little despite the transformation of the state from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy through the People's Party Revolution of 1932. ethnic Chinese assimilation Vajiravudh Free Thai Movement Jews of the Orient Second World War Siam http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png positions asia critique Duke University Press

Beyond Jews of the Orient: A New Interpretation of the Problematic Relationship between the Thai State and Its Ethnic Chinese Community

positions asia critique , Volume 24 (2) – May 1, 2016

Beyond Jews of the Orient: A New Interpretation of the Problematic Relationship between the Thai State and Its Ethnic Chinese Community


True to its remarkable record of diplomatic ingenuity and incredibly skilled double talk, one of the most impressive achievements in the international arena of the Kingdom of Thailand -- or Siam, as it was officially known up to 1939 -- was its success in siding with the victors at the conclusion of the Second World War despite having entered into formal alliance with the Empire of Japan shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Permanently enshrined as national heroes of this near-impossible feat were the esteemed members of a group known as the Free Thai Movement, or the XO Group. This was a rather fragmented pro-Allied group that consisted mainly of three branches; the US, the British, and the Thai. The Free Thai Movement (FTM) came into being almost as soon as the Thai governpositions 24:2 doi 10.1215/10679847-3458721 Copyright 2016 by Duke University Press Published by Duke University Press positions positions 24:2 May 2016 ment proclaimed its allegiance to Japan. Mom Rachawongse Seni Pramoj, the Thai minister to Washington DC, declared that the Treaty of Alliance with Japan did not represent the true intentions of the Thai people. He therefore announced the establishment of the FTM that would lead the Thai nation in support of Allied forces and to fight toward the eventual defeat of Japan and the "liberation" of Thailand. Soon after, a similar declaration was made on the opposite shores of the Atlantic. A British branch of the FTM was established under the leadership of Prince Subhasavastiwongse Snith Savastivatana -- brother-in-law and close confidant of King Prajadhipok Rama VII, who had abdicated and was living in exile.1 The two foreign branches of the FTM consisted mostly of Thai students overseas, noncooperating diplomatic personnel, and exiled members of the royal family. There was a third, albeit highly secretive, branch of the movement in Bangkok, which at times acted as the headquarters. Leading members of the Thai...
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Duke University Press
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Copyright © Duke Univ Press
ISSN
1067-9847
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1527-8271
DOI
10.1215/10679847-3458721
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Abstract

“Jews of the Orient,” the infamous and highly polemical article penned by King Vajiravudh Rama VI of Siam and first published in one of the nation's leading newspapers in 1914 has long been employed as the fundamental evidence of the innate anti-Chinese nature of Siam's particular brand of royalist nationalism. The general line of the argument based on the interpretation of Vajiravudh's infamous articles is the king singled out the ethnic Chinese—known to be the largest ethnic minority as well as the dominant force controlling the Siamese economy—as the national other against which Thai nationalism was to be defined and developed. The situation of the ethnic Chinese was not unlike the unfortunate position the Jewish Diaspora found themselves in in Europe in the late nineteenth century to early twentieth century. This line of explanation, however, is not only outdated, but also incorrect in many ways. The proportion of the ethnic Chinese population in Siam is much greater than that of the Jews in Europe and, perhaps more important, the Chinese in Siam were much more closely related to the ruling class. As G. William Skinner had elaborated, even during Vajiravudh's reign, Chinese ancestry made up more than half of the Chakri royal bloodline. In other words, the Chinese were the ruling class in Siam. This article argues that, instead of discriminating against the Chinese, the Siamese ruling classes replaced their Chinese identity with a new Anglicized/Americanized identity, which appeared to be the more modern and influential style of the late nineteenth century to early twentieth century. The Chinese merchants and entrepreneurs who made up most of the Siamese middle class were allowed to keep their Chinese identity provided that they clearly, and oftentimes overtly, expressed their absolute and undivided loyalty toward the crown. The lower-/working-class Chinese either assimilated with the majority or faced persecution for sedition of all sorts—from republicanism and Bolshevism in Vajiravudh's reign to communism during the Cold War years. In reality, the Thai state's relationship with the ethnic Chinese community was more a class issue than a matter of ethnicity and, perhaps more interesting, the state's policy toward the ethnic Chinese changed very little despite the transformation of the state from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy through the People's Party Revolution of 1932. ethnic Chinese assimilation Vajiravudh Free Thai Movement Jews of the Orient Second World War Siam

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positions asia critiqueDuke University Press

Published: May 1, 2016

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