Government rhetoric has long focused on reinforcing Thai identity. Bhumibol Adulyadej, Thailand’s late monarch and national symbol is often depicted in household decor as an image that represents all Thais.
Promoting nationalistic sentiments has had the unintended consequence of diminishing other allegiances, such as Isan and Malaysia. One experiment showed participants reading nationalistic narratives giving significantly less money to their northern neighbors.
The Roots of Thai Identity
Thai national identity encompasses both love for Thailand and an attachment to its traditions, with roots both in Thai royalism and Buddhism, including feelings of cherishing Thai territory and pride at being identified as Thai citizen. This awareness of cultural heritage and desire to identify as Thai has been fostered through government initiatives to increase national consciousness across Thailand.
The Siamese Revolution of 1933 marked a crucial juncture in this process, altering social organization and shifting away from multi-identity politics towards culture-based political structures. Phibun’s regime used the change from Siam to Thailand as a way of forging new identities within his state while simultaneously creating cultural uniformity through 12 Thai Cultural Mandates that dictated every aspect of Thai culture from dress codes to religion.
Though the state attempted to create a cohesive culture for Thailand, many groups refused to be considered citizens. Most often this occurred with communities not belonging to Tai linguistic group such as Chinese, Malay and Indian communities as well as mountain dwellers living in mountainous areas in northern and northeast Thailand. Due to being excluded from participating in developing the national narrative these minorities could not develop their identities or sense of loyalty towards their country.
These groups were seen as the “other,” and considered the source of all problems within the country, from poor agricultural production to communist ideology spreading. People belonging to these ethnicities were labeled as the Yellow Peril; King Rama VI even issued a pamphlet denouncing their supposed economic exploitation of Thailand.
In the 1940s and 50s, this attitude gained increasing prevalence under King Rama V and his regime’s policies aimed at cultivating Thai identity while appealing to foreign investors. Part of a larger project called Thaification that sought to transform Thailand into a modern nation with global influence. Universal education, mapmaking, centralizing Buddhism and national propaganda were employed as state tools to foster unity within its population and create national loyalty.
Culture is at the core of who we are as individuals, providing nourishment for life, enhancing understanding and creating harmony within society. Thailand’s culture is strongly influenced by Buddhism which advocates self-sustainability while aiding society through charitable giving, friendly speech and positive actions.
Thai culture and history play an essential part in its cultural identity. The royal family has always been central to Thai national identity and all citizens should respect its history and traditions. When playing its national anthem ‘Phleng Chat’ it is customary for participants to stand when performing it to show respect.
Another influential force on Thai culture is Buddhism’s belief in Karma. According to this philosophy, one’s actions and thoughts have lasting effects that impact his or her future – good deeds will bring good luck while poor ones could have negative repercussions for life in general. Therefore it is a person’s duty to help other humans as well as the universe in order to live happily within this interdependent system.
Thailand has an extremely close family system and it is quite common for extended families to reside under one roof, such as grandparents, aunts and uncles, grandchildren or all three living together in one home. Younger members of the family are expected to provide care for older relatives by providing financial support or performing various chores around the house.
Thai arts and culture is rich with artistic heritage that has produced many acclaimed artists. Thai contemporary art combines traditional and modern styles that draw on influences like Buddhism, natural elements and local environments – while today’s generation of Thai artists strives to develop an original and distinctive modern style that stands apart.
Thais are highly interested in music, movies and drama – not only art – and are very welcoming of other cultures; however they will not tolerate aggressive speech or behavior from visitors to Thailand. Therefore it is imperative for visitors to the nation to familiarize themselves with its rich culture before visiting this amazing nation.
Thai culture has long been influenced by Buddhist philosophy and ethics, placing a great deal of importance on self-sustainability as well as giving (dana), friendly speech (piyavaca) and helpful action (atthacariya). At its core lies an understanding of all existence being an endless cycle of suffering that one must escape if life is to become truly fulfilling.
Thai society is dominated by Theravada Buddhists who practice moral code and social cohesion as central components of Thai identity. Religious ties between individuals are maintained through temporary ordinations lasting five days to three months for young people and celebration of important Buddhist holidays such as His Majesty the King’s birthday on December 5, Chinese New Year in late January or early February and Vassa, or Buddhist Lent which begins June-July.
Thailand is home to diverse religious communities, such as Muslims, Hindus and Christians. The state provides financial support for religious schools and mosques within Thailand’s Central Islamic Council of Thailand while also prohibiting any attempts at insulting or defaming religion; public officials must monitor teachings from all religious groups in order to maintain social harmony.
Thai society encourages all Thais to be accepting of religious and cultural diversity and learn from it. Educational programs offered include Professor Tanin Kraivixien’s “Thai Identity” project, initiated in 1976 to raise awareness of Thai heritage and foster pride for belonging to this vibrant nation. Religious education is offered to public school students both primary and secondary education levels in Thailand. Here, they gain knowledge of all officially recognized religions within Thailand. The Ministry of Education mandates that all Thai public schools provide courses on social and religious studies; students wishing to delve deeper can attend private religious schools. The Ministry of Education has also developed courses specializing in Buddhism and Islam for study by both Buddhist and Muslim teachers, in order to help preserve students’ cultural identities while living peacefully within an interconnected global environment.
Thai national identity is an integral component of Thai culture and can be felt daily in daily life. Yet its impact varies from individual to individual and can often be hard to measure as it involves personal interpretations and responses to particular situations. Furthermore, cultural identity changes with time; therefore the Thai experience will reflect this dynamic shift.
Thailand is a constitutional monarchy with a prime minister as head of government and an hereditary monarch as head of state. Since the end of absolute monarchy in 1932, military has played an outsized role in politics through coups; even so, its constitution of 1997 remains one of the world’s most democratic as it features public participation during drafting as well as its explicit recognition of civil rights; plus it also established new organs to oversee administrative power thereby decreasing future coup risks.
Thailand was long dominated by bureaucrats and generals affiliated with the ruling party until more recently, when new grassroots parties formed but none managed to gain power of any kind in government. Most voters reside in rural areas where populist parties connected with former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra enjoyed greater support.
Thai local government bodies operate according to a decentralized model. Provinces (changwat) and districts are major political units, with provincial assemblies and district governments exercising most governing power. Communes (tambon) are larger political units made up of several villages under one village chief’s direction that possess financial and administrative authorities that serve as breeding grounds for politicians hoping to win election to provincial assemblies or the National Assembly.
Thai society, in response to the rise of PAD, has experienced an awakening, prompting them to realize they require a stronger sense of national-cultural identity. Thais must protect traditional values while accepting external cultures such as those brought by modernization – something which requires striking a balance between traditional values such as Buddhist detachment and otherworldliness, and secular ones like contentment and non-compulsive acquisitiveness.