“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 This line of explanation, however, is not only outdated, but also incorrect in many ways.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.
Beyond Jews of the Orient: A New Interpretation of the Problematic Relationship between the Thai State and Its Ethnic Chinese Community
Wasana Wongsurawat; Beyond Jews of the Orient: A New Interpretation of the Problematic Relationship between the Thai State and Its Ethnic Chinese Community. positions 1 May 2016; 24 (2): 555–582. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10679847-3458721
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