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The History of Thailand

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The history of Thailand is believed to have began during the Stone Age. In the cliffs, rock paintings were discovered dating back to 3,000 years ago. Numerous settlements were built throughout Thailand during 2000 B.C. At these settlements, the people practiced their several ways of agriculture, creating pottery, and weaving together cloth. Ancient Thai people or “Thais” used the rivers as ways of communication, and transportation purposes. Several canals soon connected the rivers throughout Thailand together to provide more routes. Various different types of boats were the first way of transportation to carry numerous goods through markets and towns. Some of the earliest Thai kingdoms originated from inside the Northern Hills.

The numerous colorful and prosperous tribes that lived in the Northern Hills eventually created the many kingdoms that have rose. The most well known kingdoms from the provinces are Chiang Mai, Chiang Saen, Chiang Rai, Chiang Phayao, and Chiang Nan. The important kingdoms located in the extreme northeast, were Non Nok Tha and Ban Chiang. The Ban Chiang settlement began around the time 3500 B.C. By the time 1000 B.C. had passed, Ban Chiang was now an astounding complexity of brilliant ceramics. Since it’s last period which was between 300 B.C. through 300 A.D, it has achieved a high degree of craftsmanship in bronze and iron tools, bronze and glass jewelry, and painted pottery. Most of the ancient artifacts were uncovered beneath burial sites, where the citizens of Ban Chiang buried their own dead with large amounts of exotic goods. Indian immigrants from the Malay Peninsula had began arriving during the 3rd century B.C. Around the birth of Christ, they had established 10 city states. The most important city state was Nakhon Si Thammarat. When a group of people from southern China known as the Mons, migrated to the Menam Chao Basin, the Mons took over entire civilized areas.

The Mons also adopted Indian handicraft and religion. The Mons then established the kingdom of Dvaravati at Nakhon Pathom in the 6th century. Then they expanded north to Haripunjaya which is now known as Lamphun, south as far as the Malay Peninsula, and west as far to Burma. There at Burma, they founded an important state at Pegu. The Mons relatives known as the Khmers settled into the Lower Mekong area and then expanded east. A war took place in the Central Plains during the 9th century, and the Khmers overpowered the Mons out of the area. Like the Mons, the Khmers adopted Indian religion and handicraft. The king’s authority was identified as a sacred power shown during public ceremonies. The Khmers power peaked during the 11th century, until King Anawrahta of Burma pushed the Khmers out of his country, Burma. Despite being forced out, the Khmers still controlled the majority of Thailand through their outposts at Lopburi and Phimai. They also controlled their southern states. But during the early 13th century, a revolt in the west pointed the rising of a new group of people that would eventually turn into a great and prosperous empire, overpower the Khmers, and become the center of Thailand.

The people of Sukhothai. As the Mons and Khmers power grow weaker, other states grew in power and rose. In 1238, Thais at Sukhothai, both refused to pay the customary water tribute to the Khmer lords, and threw the Khmers out of their land and formed a new state. Their new leader became Si Inthratit and he took over the throne. Intrathit was more like a well-respected chieftain than a ruler, and more like a father to the people than the king. Inthratit died in 1270. Under the control of their new king, Ramkhamhaeng, the Sukhothai Kingdom conquered and controlled Khmer territory to as far south as Nakhon Si Thammarat. Ramkhamhaeng also created the first Thai alphabet and introduced his people, appreciations for the arts. When his death in 1300 arrived, the rapid descension of the Sukhothai Kingdom began. First, provinces around Sukhothai broke off all their ties to the empire. Then the Mons of Pegu attacked and conquered part of the Malay Peninsula. Finally a new state arose from the ground, and in 1378, they attacked and conquered the entire Sukhothai Kingdom. Then from that moment forward, the Kingdom of Ayutthaya which was founded in 1350, became the mightiest and powerful of all of the Thai states. Ayutthaya was a state where the king was the lord over all existing life. A royal language was even developed when speaking to or of the king and his family. Ayutthaya society was formed under King Trailok.

Many nobles of different grades were ranked and given personal titles according to how much land they owned. Commoners were not allowed to have ordinary relationships with the nobles, or even talk to them at all. Slavery was common, with the victims being prisoners of war. Wars and expansion with Ayutthaya’s neighbors is what characterized Ayutthaya’s first 2 centuries. Once Ayutthaya moved on from Sukhothai, the Kingdom of Ayutthaya which was also known as Siam, began to conquer the South. During 1431, King Boromarja II sacked the Khmer city of Angkor Thorn, and forced the Khmers to move to Phnom Penh. The Khmers were never a threat to the Thais again after that. But despite Siam’s great prosperous power, they were unsuccessful against the northern kingdom of Chiang Mai. Under the power of King Tilokaraja, Chiang Mai defended against every one of Siam’s attacks. While Siam continued their failed attempts to hammer Chiang Mai to dust, a new threat emerged on Siam’s western flank. The ambitious Burmese kings began their march into the land. Chiang Mai fell to the invaders in 1557. Eventually, in 1569 Ayutthaya surrendered themselves in 1569. Sian then became Burmese territory until 1584, when Prince Naresuan took advantage of a war occuring Burma and declared Siam’s independence against Burma. Naresuan then became king in 1590, and in only three years drove the Burmese completely out of the entire region. Naresuan became the ruler of a vast, expansive region. This includes all of the north and parts of Laos. During the next century, Siam found themselves involved with the West. Many Dutch merchants set up trade in the south at Pattani during 1601.

English traders than arrived in Siam during 1602. European rivalry for port privileges and trade peaked under Narai The Great. Siam then sent ambassadors to the French king, Louis XIV. Louis XIV in return sent one ambassador to Narai. Amongst the many adventurers that dared to journey across Asia during the 17th century, the most spectacular was a clever Greek sailor known as Constantine Phaulkon. Phaulkon was also known as the Falcon of Siam. Phaulkon was an employee of the British East India Company that had immediately caught the eye of King Narai during trade negotiations. Phaulkon quickly mastered the Thai language and the nuances of court behavior, and soon became a special advisor to the king. Siam profited a great amount from his guidance, from trading with the Europeans. Phaulkon’s work with Siam displeased the British, so he switched his favors to the French. The court of France asked Phaulkon to persuade King Narai to become a Catholic. Phaulkan’s efforts had angered the Buddhist court so much, that once King Narai had died, the next king immediately had Phaulkon beheaded and drove out a large percentage of Europeans from the country. Narai had died in 1688, Europeans suddenly found out that there were out of favor when several rebellions broke out all over Siam. The Burmese immediately tipped the situation into their favor, and took over the north. A drastically weakened Siam was no match for the Burmese. While the Kingdom of Ayutthaya enjoyed their last period of stability under their king Boromakot, in April 1767 Burmese soldiers set the capital ablaze.

Once Ayutthaya officially plundered into ruins, a Siamese general known as Taksin was in the general vicinity. Taksin gathered many followers, and retook the city during that year. However the destruction of the original Ayutthaya had been catastrophic, that Taksin decided to move the capital farther downriver to Thonburi. Taksin was aided with the help of two brother generals named Chao Phya Chakri and Chao Phya Surasih, and chased fierce vessels, defended a Burmese attack, and recaptured the north. Taksin’s success drove him insane and turned him extremely cruel. His generals threw Taksin off his throne and executed him in 1782. Chao Phya Chakri known as Rama I, became the new king. He began the Chakri dynasty, which to this day still exists. Rama I moved the capital again, this time to area where Bangkok sits today. He constructed a city based of Ayutthaya, and revived Thai literature and Thai art. To achieve back the Thai literature, Rama I mostly called upon memories of the old Thais that had escaped Ayutthaya’s destruction. During that time, Europe was occupied by the Napoleonic Wars. In 1818, starting with a Portuguese treaty, the new Kingdom of Ayutthaya or Siam re-established trade with the West. Siam was generally aiming at gaining favorable trading privileges and terms. Treaties were established with Britain in 1826, and established with the United States in 1831.

Meanwhile France and Britain began to conquer Siam’s neighbors. At this point, Siam was blessed with the reigns of two incredible rulers who were excellent in Western ways. They preserved the country’s independence by creating vital reforms that has modernized and strengthened the nation. The first ruler was King Mongkut, or Rama IV. Rama IV was a widely traveled ex-monk who had hired foreign teachers and built roads. Rama’s successor, Chulalongkorn ruled until 1910. Chulalongkorn disposed of submissive behavior under his presence, made national and local administration better, abolished slavery, and oversaw the development of trams, railways, and automobiles while hiring foreign advisers to serve the government. The next ruler of Thailand, Rama VI entered Siam into the Allied side during the First World War. His actions led to favorable treaty improvements with France and the United States. Rama VI had also introduced compulsory education and surnames, which was a first time in Asia. Siam was now catching up with the modern and developed world. However, a restless new social class arose and found the monarchy to further progress. Under Rama VII, Siam’s crisis with politics peaked high. In the 1930s, the Great Depression hit rice exports hard, creating financial problems. Rama VII tried to solve this with a new tax on salaries, but it angered the people even more. In 1932, a group of intellectuals and Europe-educated army officers overthrew the government and announced a constitutional monarchy, where they had limited the king’s powers. Besides announcing the official start of the constitutional monarchy, the new rulers immediately extended the required elementary education, improved administration of the nation, and changed the country’s entire name from Siam to the new Thailand.

Under the control of Marshal Phibun Songkhram who had gained power in 1938, Thailand demanded the return of territories in Kampuchea and Laos that was formerly under Siam. Thailand’s attitude placed them into Japan’s corner during the Second World War. The government declared war on the United States, but Thailand’s ambassador, in Washington, had refused to deliver the declaration. The ambassador stated that it did not represent the people’s will. The United States also said it did not recognize the declaration anyway. After the war, Thailand had returned captured territory. At the same time, the United States asked France and Britain to drop their claims. This started a unique relationship America has since enjoyed with Thailand. Tragedy hit, however, when King Rama VIII was mysteriously assassinated during 1946 immediately after the post-war period. The government of Thailand fell when army had announced that it had assumed the role of, “protector of the nation,” and staged a coup. Phibun Songkhram returned to the throne for 10 years until another military coup threw him off. The new government made building the country up, a goal. They turned away from state-owned companies and promoted easier investment laws. The recent effects of the Vietnam War had also helped economic growth, while a rise of middle class that did not like the way that the country was being ruled then, took place.

In October, 1973, a student-led revolution occured. When the army had refused to obey orders the king had indicated that he also wanted a change, the government had given up. Thailand moved toward socialism. Numerous students went to support labor and farmer. When the Communists became extremely powerful in Indochina, the government requested to the United States to close down it’s military bases in Thailand to avoid any major conflict. Thailand didn’t already need more problems while they were in enough trouble with the Communist guerillas inside the country. During the next few years, Thailand had several minor changes in the leadership of Thailand. In 1980, Prem Tinsulanonda took over and governed for eight full years, and oversaw peace, rapid development, and the decline of socialism. Prem retired in 1988. Then Chatichai Choonhavan became the prime minister. Unfortunately, Chatichai became a coup victim when his government was overthrown in 1991. The only leader that has kept his role during his time is King Bhumibol or Rama IX. King Bhumibol was very active in helping Thailand. Beyond his own ceremonial role, King Bhumibol frequently visited all parts of the country and had recommended many development schemes to his people. The king is held with extreme honor in many of his people’s hearts even though King Bhumibol does not rule directly. King Bhumibol died on October, 13 2016 and his son, Maha Vajiralongkorn, is the current king of Thailand.

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