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Nationalism and the Radical Intelligentsia in Thailand

Nationalism and the Radical Intelligentsia in Thailand

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This article was downloaded by:
[Thammasat University] 
7 March 2010 
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Access Details: [subscription number 918399230] 
Informa Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK
Third World Quarterly
Publication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information:http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/title~content=t713448481
Nationalism and the Radical Intelligentsia in Thailand
Thongchai Winichakul
Department of History, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI, USA
To cite this Article
Winichakul, Thongchai(2008) 'Nationalism and the Radical Intelligentsia in Thailand', Third WorldQuarterly, 29: 3, 575 — 591
To link to this Article: DOI:
Full terms and conditions of use:http://www.informaworld.com/terms-and-conditions-of-access.pdfThis article may be used for research, teaching and private study purposes. Any substantial orsystematic reproduction, re-distribution, re-selling, loan or sub-licensing, systematic supply ordistribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden.The publisher does not give any warranty express or implied or make any representation that the contentswill be complete or accurate or up to date. The accuracy of any instructions, formulae and drug dosesshould be independently verified with primary sources. The publisher shall not be liable for any loss,actions, claims, proceedings, demand or costs or damages whatsoever or howsoever caused arising directlyor indirectly in connection with or arising out of the use of this material.
Nationalism and the RadicalIntelligentsia in Thailand
The prominent Thai scholar, Chatthip Natsupha, has gone frombeing a Marxist intellectual in the 1970s to a cultural nationalist advocate of a genuine Thai essence which, he believes, is an antidote to the dominance of theWestern neoliberal capitalism. His case is not an anomaly. The intellectual path from the Marxist left to the cultural nationalist right is well-trodden and reflects broader changes in nationalism in the country. The cultural nationalistThai ex-left rejected what it called ‘bad’ nationalism and embraced a ‘good’ one.However, its ideas were significantly drawn from conservative nationalism.Such nationalism, which is widespread among the Thai intelligentsia, was animportant factor in their support for the military coup which, in 2006, ousted anelected government on the dubious grounds that it was a proxy for globacapitalism.
In his preface to the book,
Prawattisat lao 17791975
(History of Laos,17791975), written by one of his students, Chatthip Natsupha (hereafter‘Chatthip’ as a Thai is called by his first name), one of the best knownscholars in Thailand, writes:
If it had not been for French imperialism, the whole Lan Sang Kingdom, boththe left and right bank of the Mekong, would have been included in the ThaiKingdom today.
He goes on to add:
The ethnic
people are strong. In the long term, in making serious efforts toconsolidate the
in the Golden Peninsula
into the same federation, theBangkok
should admit their past mistakes and establish relationshipswith the Lanna
and the Lan Sang
both in Laos and in thenortheastern region [of Thailand] as equals and with respect...The consolida-tion of all the
peoples in these three regions would be a highly meaningfulstep.
Thongchai Winichakul is in the Department of History, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 5211 Humanities,455 N Park Street, Madison, WI 53706, USA. Email: twinicha@wisc.edu.
Third World Quarterly, Vol. 29, No. 3, 2008, pp 575591
ISSN 0143-6597 print/ISSN 1360-2241 online/08/030575–17
Third World Quarterly
DOI: 10.1080/01436590801931520
 D o w nl o ad ed  B y : [ Th a m m a s a t  U ni v e r si t y]  A t : 08 :31 7  M a r ch 2010
In order to appreciate the import of Chatthip’s remarks, a brief excursus intoethnic and linguistic labels is necessary. In contemporary Thai, the word thatconnotes the Tai/Thai ethnicity is spelled in two ways. With exactly the samepronunciation—‘thai’—one is spelled with a y at the end and the otherwithout, respectively as ‘thaiyand ‘thai’. When spelled ‘thaiy’ the worddenotes the modern nation-state and its citizens, although in its Romanisa-tion as ‘Thai(land)’, the letter ‘y’ is dispensed with. When spelled without they ending, it is a looser term denoting the ethnic peoples whose languagesbelong to the same Tai/Thai linguistic family. This
(without a yending) includes the Shan of Burma, the Lao people on both sides of theMekong, and people speaking various Tai/Thai dialects in Thailand today,including the Muang people of former Lanna (Chiang Mai), the Tai Lue, theTai Maung, the Tai Khoen in the border areas between China, Burma andLaos, the Black and White Tai in Vietnam, and others. In this meaning, theword has recently come to be commonly written in Thai with the un-aspirated letter ‘t’. It is Romanised as ‘Tai’, in order to mark it off even moreclearly from
, both in writing and pronunciation. Thus, in recentacademic writings, ‘Tai’ refers to the larger ethnic and linguistic groups and‘Thai’ to the modern nation and its citizens. However, many Thai writers stilluse ‘Thai’ without the y ending and with the aspirated t, and never use ‘Tai’.Chatthip is one of them. In the passage quoted above, as in his other writings,he spells ‘Thai’ without a y ending for the second meaning—Tai (the Tai-speaking peoples). For reasons which should become clear later in thisarticle, I suspect that the refusal to use the unaspirated ‘Tai’ is a consciouschoice. Most of Chatthip’s followers do the same. In this article I will followthe convention when using my own voice. However, in a quote from theworks of Chatthip and others like him, I will use the italicized ‘
’, as Ihave in the quotations above, to note that the original spelling is ‘Thai’without the y ending.Chatthip’s remarks quoted above now become more revealing. Themistakes to which Chatthip refers are Siamese overlordship over the Tai-speaking peoples in the region in general and the brutality of Siam (theBangkok Thai) towards King Anuwong of Vientiane and towards the Laopeople during the 182629 conflict in particular. The conflict is rememberedwell among the Lao people in the official history of Laos, as well as in folkliterature, as the heroic but tragic failure by Anuwong to liberate the Laofrom the yoke of Siam.
Today Anuwong remains a Lao national hero,celebrated by both the pre- and post-1975 regimes. The same episode,however, is remembered in Thai historiography as a Thai national triumphover the rebels to preserve the country’s national sovereignty. Here Chatthipthinks of the Lao and Thai peoples as Tai brothers. The mistake is theexcessive violence among brothers. Chatthip, like most Thais today, blamesFrench colonialism for preventing Laos from being part of the greater ThaiKingdom.Chatthip’s perception of the past is undeniably nationalistic. The rhetoricof a ‘federation of the Tai people in the Golden Peninsula’ is the rhetoric of aracial nationalism which in Thailand dates back to the 1940s and 1950s. Such
 D o w nl o ad ed  B y : [ Th a m m a s a t  U ni v e r si t y]  A t : 08 :31 7  M a r ch 2010

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