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

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“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 This line of explanation, however, is not only outdated, but also incorrect in many ways.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.

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... Indeed, the Chinese of Southeast Asia have often been compared to European Jews. This stems from an article written by King Vajiravudh Rama VI of Thailand in 1914 (Wongsurawat 2016). The king claimed that, just like European Jews, ethnic Chinese in Thailand were unwilling to assimilate to the native population. ...
Annually, around 10 million Chinese tourists, constituting almost a quarter of Thailand's total foreign visitors (before COVID‐19), have started to make a strong imprint on Thailand's tourist landscape. At the same time, a new wave of Chinese migrants to Thailand are seeking business and work opportunities. This paper focuses on these new encounters between local Thais and the incoming mainland Chinese in terms of how cultural boundaries are created, contested and renegotiated, specifically within the context of Thailand's long history of Chinese migration, which dates back several generations. The paper investigates the phenomenon of ‘re‐Sinicization’ in Thailand, and its contested nature within the broader Thai political and cultural milieu. It draws upon recent controversies regarding online battles between Thai and Chinese netizens to argue that the controversies are indicative of the unease from the increasing Chinese presence within Thai society and the increasing embroilment of Thailand within the political contestation of the wider Sinosphere.
The origins of the Cold War in Southeast Asia are most often located in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, in the late 1940s. Historians sometimes trace its origins to Japan's expansionist phase in the 1930s, which accelerated the decline of the European and American colonial order in this part of Asia. However, the necessity of the fight against communism appeared very clearly in the minds of the leaders of the major colonial powers well before the 1930s. Focused on the case of Siam, this article aims to show that the origins of the Cold War in Southeast Asia dated back to as early as the 1920s with the emergence of international cooperation in the fight against communism and the Thai elite's manipulation of imperialist powers to further their own political agenda and support their dominance in the domestic political arena. The Cold War in Southeast Asia was not only about the postwar fight against the spread of communism, but also closely intertwined with the decolonisation and nation-building efforts of every country in the region — including of the so-called un-colonised Thailand.
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