Keynote 1

The Crown and the Capitalists: Thai Studies from a Transnational Perspective

Wasana Wongsurawat, Ph.D.
History, Chulalongkorn University

Friday, Nov. 13, 21:00 - 22:00 (US CST)
Saturday, Nov. 14, 10:00 - 11:00 Thailand

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Thailand was never colonized by the West. Yet, the kingdom definitely experiences its fair share of colonial trauma. As an independent state that granted extraterritoriality to colonial subjects and one with the largest ethnic Chinese community in Southeast Asia, Siam survived and prospered through the colonial era by taking advantage of the extensive and influential trade network of ethnic Chinese colonial subjects across the South China Sea. While all its neighbors in Southeast Asia were parts of global colonial empires, Siam remained economically competitive through the alliance between the kingdom’s political elite and ethnic Chinese entrepreneurs who enjoyed extraterritorial rights and used Siam as the headquarter of their transnational trade empire across the colonized universe of the South China Sea.

Through the many decades since the end of the Second World War, ethnic Chinese tycoons and the Thai political elite merged to become one and the same by the turn of the 21st century. As globalization appears to be intensified by the effects of the internet and social media, together with the destabilizing effects of the passing of the late King Bhumibol Rama IX, a new wave of young Thais demanding for more political rights, social equality and democracy are taking the domestic political scene by storm. At the same time ASEAN members are being forced to choose between superpower alliances amidst the Sino-American Trade War and South China Sea territorial disputes. Thailand, once again, becomes the key player in this superpower contest over Southeast Asia. Many parallels could be drawn and much could still be learned from the many similarities of Thailand and Southeast Asia of the colonial period. The future of Thai Studies lies in the transnational perspective, which is key to understanding both the colonial and post-Cold War periods through the same wavelength.



Kanjana Thepboriruk, Ph.D., (กัญจนา เทพบริรักษ์)
Chair, NIU Thai Studies Committee

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