Built on the foundation of ancient kingdoms and dynasties, warring city-states, Thailand has been undergoing a transformation into a modern nation and striving for democratic rule since the early 20th century.
Until the 20th century, various kingdoms competed for power across the country, creating a fascinating historical saga. Thailand was called the Kingdom of Siam until 1939, when its name was officially changed to Thailand. The country changed its name to Siam once more between 1945 and 1949, and from May 9, 1949, to the present day it is referred to as Thailand.
Early history of Thailand
Signs of life have been found throughout present-day Thailand since the Bronze Age (about 1,500 B.C.).
The first civilizations to arrive in the territory of Simam were the Malay and the Khemer. Their empires and kingdoms stretched throughout the region, encompassing today’s Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. The strong influence of Indian culture is characterized by the religious beliefs, art, and architecture of the ancient city-states.
Around the 10th century AD. the Tai tribes began to migrate south of China. They brought with them their own language as well as their belief systems and traditions. Initially, they remained near the mountains and in the river valleys, living in small villages among the indigenous Khmer, Malay and Mon tribes. Nevertheless, for several centuries, the vast central plains were inhabited for the most part by the Tai people.
In 1238 the dominance of the Khmer Empire was overthrown by the Tai tribes. A new kingdom called Sukhothai was formed in central Thailand. Other Tai tribes moved north and created a second Thai principality, Lana.
For more than a century, Sukhothai and Lana flourished. The Sukhothai kings promoted the penetration of Teharawada Buddhism, encouraged free trade, and opened diplomatic and trade relations with China. However, the kingdom soon fell under pressure from the principality of Ayutthaya, located on an island surrounded by three rivers. Soon Lana fell as well.
The years of the new state’s reign stretched from 1350 to 1767. Teharawada Buddhism was recognized as the major religion and the first legal code, the Dharmashastra, was compiled. This legal code has had a significant influence on the culture and laws of Thailand.
Having gone through many wars, Ayutthaya was weakened in the struggle and was eventually subjected to invasion by Burma. Thus began a brief period of foreign domination. The capital city of Ayutthaya, which was one of the largest and most powerful trading centers in the world, was destroyed. Nevertheless, the strength and solidarity of the Thai people made it possible, after only a decade, to overthrow foreign oppression through popular uprising and create the kingdom of Siam.
The Chakri dynasty ruled Siam from 1782 to 1932. They are responsible for moving the capital to its current location, Bangkok.
Siam existed at a time when European colonialism was spreading rapidly in Southeast Asia. Through skillful negotiation, the Chakri kings skillfully rotated in the world of global politics. Although they had to sacrifice some of their territories to the north and east, the Kingdom of Siam was the only country in Southeast Asia that did not fall under colonization. A series of treaties with England and France in the early 1900s defined the country’s borders with Malaysia to the south, Cambodia, and Laos to the northeast.
After centuries of warring kingdoms and city-states, the Thai people have gained the desired stable and democratic government. In 1932, a successful coup d’état created a constitutional monarchy in Siam and gave the people their first constitution.
However, the new government did not last long. Secret intrigue and pressure from the outside world, led to a military coup. The authoritarian regime of Pibunsogram soon began to dominate the lands of Siam. Propaganda and harsh attitudes toward religion and the arts completely limited people’s development. In 1939, the name of the country was officially changed to Thailand to reflect the unity of the Thai people.
During World War II, Thailand was involved in a number of wars, invasions, alliances, and treaties. By 1945, Thailand was in close alliance with the United States, and had gained membership in the United Nations.
Various military dictators ruled Thailand until 1976.
The 1980s, under Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanon, saw economic growth and development. Manufacturing and tourism have taken the top spot in the state economy, surpassing agriculture and rice exports by leaps and bounds. Nevertheless, military coups and popular uprisings in the 1990s made the road to democratic rule rather bumpy.
The 21st century in the history of Thailand witnessed a new round of economic and infrastructure development. Universal health care has been greatly strengthened, funds have been allocated for rural development, and huge steps have been taken to reduce drug use throughout Thailand.