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Country in the News: Thailand

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(The following is a post by Hong Ta-Moore, Reference Librarian for Southeast Asia Collection, Asian Division.)

HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej (1927-2016). “His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej,” by Thanpuying Manatnit Vanikkul, 2000. Photo: Asian Division.

On October 13, 2016, the United States joined the Kingdom of Thailand in paying homage to the passing of their longest-reigning monarch, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX). His Majesty passed away at the Siriraj Hospital in the capital, Bangkok, at the age of 88.

HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej was born on December 5, 1927 in Cambridge, Massachusetts and was educated in Europe prior to his ascension to the throne as Thailand’s ninth King of the Chakri Dynasty at age 19, in June 1946. Although he was not the youngest king at the time of his coronation, Bhumibol Adulyadej was the longest reigning monarch in Thailand’s history at the time of his passing away, having been head of state for 70 years. For many people, he was a visionary and a unifier despite the fact that his reign was beset with periods of economic instability and political turmoil. After the funeral, the next heir will be crowned as the tenth monarch of Thailand from the Chakri Dynasty.

Thailand. [Washington : Central Intelligence Agency, 2002]
Thailand. [Washington : Central Intelligence Agency, 2002]
The Chakri Dynasty was founded in 1782 by HM King Phra Phutthayotfa Chulalok, who ruled for 27 years. In 1918, HM King Vajiravudh (Rama VI), great-uncle of HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej, established the “Rama” nomenclature as a way to help non-Thais keep track of regal descendants. Another purpose of this practice was to conform to Thai culture which gives the monarchy a royal name so that they would not be called by their first names. To date, the House of Chakri has ruled Thailand longer than any other dynasty, having been in power for more than two hundred years. The nine kings of the Chakrin Dynasty reigned during the following periods:

  • 1782–1809: Phutthayotfa Chulalok (Rama I)
  • 1809–1824: Phutthaloetla Naphalai (Rama II)
  • 1824–1851: Nangklao (Rama III)
  • 1851–1868: Mongkut (Rama IV)
  • 1868–1910: Chulalongkorn (Rama V)
  • 1910–1925: Vajiravudh (Rama VI)
  • 1925–1935: Prajadhipok (Rama VII)
  • 1935–1946: Ananda Mahidol (Rama VIII)
  • 1946–2016: Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX)

[“The King of Siam speaks,” by Seni Pramoj and Kukrit Pramoj, 1948] (Photo: Asian Division)
Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country to have never been under colonial rule and is governed by a parliamentary system and constitutional monarchy. That is, while the head of the government is the prime minister, the head of the state is the monarch. Since August 2015, the head of the government has been the Interim Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-ocha, and the new head of state will likely be the next crowned monarch.

The country has enjoyed additional popularity attributed to the American musical “The King and I,” which is based on Margaret Landon’s novel “Anna and the King of Siam.” Interestingly, Landon’s novel was adapted from the memoirs of Anna Leonowens called “The English Governess at the Siamese Court,” which was published in 1870. Anna Leonowens was the governess of the children of HM King Mongkut, who was the great-great-grandfather of the late HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The musical was a huge theatrical success in the West, but created much resentment in Thailand because it portrayed HM King Mongkut as weak and Thai culture as inferior. To correct these sentiments, Seni Pramoj, M. R. (Mom Rajawongse, The Honorable) and Kukrit Pramoj, M.R. (Mom Rajawongse), brothers and former prime ministers of Thailand, wrote a book in 1948 called “The King of Siam Speaks” as a rebuttal to Landon’s novel. The Library of Congress has the typescript of this book in English in the rare collection within the Asian Division. Also in the Asian Division is the 1898 edition in Thai of Tipitaka, the Buddhist Theravada canon (Treravada, a school of Buddhism mainly practiced in Thailand), given to the Library of Congress by HM King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) in 1905. In addition to these rare items, the fast growing Thai collection at the Library of Congress, also includes many of HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s personal items, donated by the King himself, that are currently housed in the Music Division.

[Chulalongkorn Rama V, King of Siam, three-quarter-length portrait, standing, facing right]. Created / Published [between 1870 and 1910] Prints & Photographs Division.)
[Chulalongkorn Rama V, King of Siam, three-quarter-length portrait, standing, facing right]. Created / Published [between 1870 and 1910] Prints & Photographs Division.)
HM King Chulalongkorn (Rama V), Tipitaka. Uncataloged. 1898. Asian Division. Contact the Asian Division if you are interested in viewing this item.

Further readings:

Finestone, Jeffrey. “The royal family of Thailand : the descendants of King Chulalongkorn” = [Čhulālongkō̜nrātchasantatiwong : phrabō̜rommarātchawong hǣng Prathēt Thai.] Bangkok : Phitsanulok Pub. Co., 1989.

Mishra, Patit Paban. “The history of Thailand.” Santa Barbara, Calif. : Greenwood, c2010.

Turpin, François Henri, 1709-1799. “History of the Kingdom of Siam and of the revolutions that have caused the overthrow of the empire up to A.D. 1770.” Bangkok, Printed at the American Presby. Mission Press, 1908.

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  1. His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej was on the throne when I was young, and that was a while ago. He was much in the press in the west, not least because of his very beautiful consort, Queen Sirikit.

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