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This is Ancient Land of Dinosaurs (Part X)

Man’s earliest true ancestor appeared on earth more than 2 million years ago, but it was not until 10,000 to 15,000 years ago that his descendants had peopled almost the entire globe. The first man known to have roamed beyond the continent of Africa was Homo erectus, who appeared about 500,000 years ago. During the 200,000 years of his existence, he moved around through Ethiopia, Yemen, Oman, South Persia, Pakistan, Central Bharata (India), Burma to reach Kanchanaburi and migrated to Baan Chiang that slowly spread to different directions. Sometime, somewhere __ the migration could go back to the same area and changed to the several other directions later on. Migrations depended on several factors __ geography, Climate, environment, food, living conditions, and their intelligence development.

From the last two Part (Pt. IX)..... It covered the main events during the first 80 years of Bangkok or Rattanakosin Era ruled by the four kings, Rama I to Rama IV. Siam had no more wars with Burma. It was long nightmare through those years since the powerful western countries tried to colonize other countries around the world. Of course, Siam had the terrible experience but it survived.

Bangkok and The Rattanakosin Era (กรุงเทพฯ แห่งยุครัตนโกสินทร์) .... Cont.

King Mongkut was succeeded by his son, Chulalongkorn (พระบาทสมเ"็จพระจุลจอมเกล้าเจ้าอยู่หัว) , who ruled as King Rama V (1868-1910). He was only fifteen when he ascended to the throne and waited through a period of regency before attaining the authority to rule. He had received his education from Mrs Anna Leonowens " as portrayed ‘loosely’ in the movie ‘The King And I’ which is still banned in Thailand due to its historical inaccuracies " and, like his father, was open to western influence. In 1874 King Chulalongkorn introduced Siam to broadly western models of justice, education and public welfare. Many of his proposed reforms were too extreme for the old guard officials, the “Hua Boraan” or ‘the ancients’ as the king himself called them, and had to be postponed until later in his reign.

The former Lanna Kingdom of the north had come under threat from the British logging commissions who had come over the border from Burma and in 1874 King Chulalongkorn sent an official to oversee the running of the region. This limited the powers of the ruling Chiang Mai princes and marked the first step towards integrating the region under the rule of the single kingdom that was not completed until many years later.

By the 1880s many of the ministers from the Fourth Reign were dying or leaving office, allowing Chulalongkorn to re-instigate his reform policies and replace the officials with his younger brothers who had received a similar education to himself and were thus largely like-minded. By 1905 it is said that slavery had been completely abolished in Siam as a result of measures gradually introduced over the years by the king.

The threat from the European nations had still not disappeared and in 1893 the Franco-Siamese Crisis saw the French sending gunboats from their province of Vietnam up the Chao Phraya River as far as Bangkok. The French used their military power to make outrageous demands of King Chulalongkorn and he was in no position to resist. In 1907 Siamese control over Cambodia fell to the French and in 1909 Britain took over three Siam controlled states in Malaya. Throughout this period Siam managed to maintain its independence whilst losing almost half of its territory and the borders of the nation were set as we still find them today. It is said that the loss of these territories or simply having to climb down to the European powers deeply wounded the king. He withdrew from public life in his later years and died in October 1910. 23rd October is now a national holiday " “Chulalongkorn Day” " in honor of the much revered king.

King Vajiravudh (พระบาทสมเ"็จพระมงกุฎเกล้าเจ้า อยู่หัว) succeeded King Chulalongkorn ruling as King Rama VI (1910-1925). He had received his education in England at Oxford University and Sandhurst Military Academy. In the early years of his reign he was hindered by the ministers he had inherited, many of whom were actually King Chulalongkorn’s children and although promoting the notion of nation through the slogan “nation, religion, king”, he actually ruled in an authoritarian manner. To back up his authority Vajiravudh created a paramilitary force called the Wild Tigers (เสือป่า). In 1912 members of the regular army felt undermined by the position held by the Wild Tigers and plotted a coup against the monarchy. Although stopped in its infancy this was something new to Siam but has since become a phenomenon that has plagued the country right up to present times.

World War I (สงครามโลกครั้งที่ 1) broke out in 1914 and although sympathetic towards the Germans, or perhaps simply anti British and French, Vajiravudh chose to remain neutral. By 1918 and the entry of the Americans into the fighting, however, he made the expedient decision of joining a winning team and even sent some 1300 men to France. This gained Siam no end of goodwill and during the early 1920s Vajiravudh was able to renegotiate unreasonable trade treaties and foreigners on Siamese soil lost their favorable status.

From a personal point of view, King Vajiravudh led an extravagant lifestyle and squandered most of the kingdoms treasury leaving financial problems for whoever would succeed him. As he left no heir, the next king, Rama VII (1925-1935) was to be Prince Prajadhipok (พระบาทสมเ"็จพระปกเกล้าเจ้าอยู่หัว), the youngest son and incredibly the 76th child of KIng Chulalongkorn. Like his predecessor he too had been educated in England at Eton and Woolwich Military Academy before completing his studies in France at the Ecole Superieure de Guerre. To a degree he reverted to his father’s ‘government by princes’ policies and although he was in favor of a constitutional government he was a weak willed man and easily opposed by the old guard.

The 1930 / 40s were difficult times and the monarchy operated with little effectiveness. King Prajadhipok handled Siam’s finances much better than King Vajiravudh but by the early 1930s the worldwide Great Depression reached the kingdom destroying the fragile economy. The cost of rice, the kingdom’s staple, dropped by two thirds and land values in Bangkok decreased by 80%. Declining economic fortunes were hitting people from all walks of life and there was a strong feeling of unrest everywhere. A prophecy associated with Princess Narinthewi, King Rama I’s younger sister, predicted the Chakri Dynasty would not last beyond 150 years but would fall on 6th April 1932. The prophecy proved remarkably accurate as on 24th June 1932 a group of mid-ranking officials fronted by a lawyer, Luang Pradit Manoothaam (หลวงประ"ิษฐ์มนูธรรม) or His Exellency Pridi Panomyong (พ".ปรี"ี พนมยงค์), and Lieutenant Colonel Luang Pibulsonggram (พ.ต.หลวงพิบูล สงคราม) or His Excellency Plaek Khittasangka (พ".แปลก ขิตตะสังคะ), known as Piboon and an army major, led a coup which King Prajadhipok weakly surrendered to. This event ended the era of 150 years of absolute monarchy in the kingdom and edged the king into a position of little more than symbolic importance but did not end the Chakri Dynasty completely.

Pridi was strongly opposed by the military who naturally backed Piboon and in 1933 Pridi was denounced as a communist in response to socialist policies he wished to introduce, sent into temporary exile in Europe and later that same year Siam came close to imploding into civil war. Pridi was allowed back home in 1934 but it was Piboon who won the election of 1938 to lead a cabinet dominated by the military.

This was all too much for King Prajahipok who in 1935 abdicated to leave his ten year old nephew, Prince Ananda Mahidol (พระบาทสมเ"็จพระเจ้าอยู่หัวอานันทมหิ"ล), to assume the throne as King Rama VIII. At the time he was a schoolboy living in Switzerland and his duties were carried out by two princes appointed by the newly created National Assembly. King Ananda did not actually take the throne as King Rama VIII until 1945 and then was found dead in his bed with a bullet through the head only six months later. Events surrounding his death have never been fully established and the subject is still sensitive in Thailand to the degree that books discussing the matter without any conclusion.

Under Piboon Siam became militaristic and xenophobic and he even led a program attempting to reconvert Thai Christians back to Buddhism. In 1939 he officially instituted Thailand to replace Siam as the new name for the kingdom. The aim of this was to make it clear that the country belonged to the Tai’s and not the economically dominant Chinese residents who were forced to endure discrimination at many levels.

With the monarchy reduced to a constitutional level, a change in the name of the kingdom and a surprise new king succeeding the unfortunate death of King Ananda, Thailand was to enter yet another phase in its long history. From the Second World War to the present time Thailand has moved, often with some difficulty, towards an effectual democratic government. The constitution has been amended on many occasions and military coups become commonplace. After King Ananda’s untimely death in 1946 King Bhumibol Adulyadej (พระบาทสมเ"็จพระเจ้าอยู่หัว ภูมิพลอ"ุลยเ"ช) took the throne as King Rama IX. Throughout the intervening years he has proved a constant foundation stone for the country demonstrating that he has everything required of a constitutional monarch and more.

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