Irene Stengs
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Dramatising Siamese independence
Thai post-colonial perspectives on kingship
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In Thailand, an exalted veneration for the monarchy generates a continuous production of royalist and nationalistically inclined popular culture. One strand within this royalist nationalism evolves around the patriotic quality of ‘being Thai’ or ‘Thainess’, a combination of being united as a people in love with the monarchy while remaining proud of the nation’s everlasting independence. This narrative emphasises the bravery and wisdom of the old Siamese kings in fighting their arch-enemy, the Burmese, and their successes in maintaining the kingdom’s independence throughout its entire existence, including the period of Western high imperialism and aggression towards Siam. This particular historiography originated during the reign of King Chulalongkorn (r. 1865–1910), which paradoxically involved a grand scheme of internal colonisation by the absolute monarchy. Although scholarly work has thoroughly deconstructed the royalist account of the Siamese experiences with colonialism, this post-colonial perspective still exerts a strong impact on the cultural politics of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, inspiring a continuous production of monuments, novels, movies and television soap operas. Focusing on statues and monuments as material mediators in the domains of popular religiosity, nationalism and entertainment, this chapter explores the present-day popularity of Siamese royal historiography.

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