Thailand History


The majority of the population of Thailand could trace their heritage to the Tai people who migrated to the region from southern China. The united kingdom of what is now know as Thailand dates back to around the thirteenth century but various civilizations have thrived in this area. Excavations done in at Ban Chiang in Northeastern Thailand shows evidence of an advanced civilization that flourished on the Khorat Plateau as far back as 3600 BC. The inhabitants of Ban Chiang forged bronze, and were the first to cultivate rice in Asia. This pre-dates the Bronze Age in the Middle East.

By the end of the first millennium B.C., a kingdom would emerge from the tribal territories. Funan was the one of the earliest kingdoms in the area controlling the centre of modern Thailand and all of Cambodia. Through its close contact with
India, Brahman merchants brought Hindu culture to Southeast Asia. Around this time Indians were also migrating to the area where they would engage in trade and intermarry with the locals. India's cultural influence was evident in all areas of Southeast Asian society, religion as well as architecture.

The migration of the closely related Mon and Khmers from southern China commenced around the ninth century B.C. The Khmer would settle in the Mekong River Valley, while the Mon would gravitate toward the delta region of Burma and the central plains and northern highlands of Thailand. The original inhabitants of the northern highlands were the Lawa but through kingdom expansion by the Mon they were forced further up into the highlands and continue to survive today as one of the major hill tribes. With the decline of the Funan Empire in the sixth century A.D., the Mon would establish their independent kingdoms of Dvaravati and Haripunjaya. The Khmer would take over the heart of the Funan Empire and centre their king- dom in Angkor. The Mon were receptive to the South Asian influences and in the eighth century missionaries from Ceylon would introduce the Mon to Theravada Buddhism. Through the Mon, Buddhism would spread to the Khmer kingdom. Hinduism would continue to be the foundation of society in Southeast Asia with Buddhist religious values and ethical standards. Just as in Burma, the Mon would eventually succumb to the control of their neighbours and by the tenth century Dvaravati was absorbed by the Khmer empire.

On a mountainous plateau south of the Yangtze River in what is now known as Yunnan province live a people known as the Tai. The Chinese of the Tang Dynasty referred to them as the southern barbarians from the state of Nanchao. The Nanchao rebelled against the Chinese, eventually extending their domain into Burma and northern Vietnam. By the thirteenth century the armies of Kublai Khan conquered the Nanchao incorporating their kingdom into the Chinese empire. All this time the Tai people continued migrating south into Southeast Asia. They were referred to by the Khmers as syam, or 'dark brown' people, which is the origin of the term Siam. In Burma they were known as the Shan and in the upper Mekong region as the Lao. The majority would settle in Thailand, which at the time was the northern and western fringe of the Khmer Empire. A Tai chieftain would declare his independence from the Khmer and establish the kingdom of Sukhothai. It was there that the people took the name Thai, meaning 'free' having freed themselves from Khmer rule. Further north another Tai prince would defeat the old Mon kingdom of Haripunjaya and found the kingdom of Lan Na, which was centred around the present day city of Chiang Mai.
 
Founded in the fourteenth century on the banks of the Chao Phraya River is the Kingdom of Ayuttahya. The Thai would rule there for over 400 years, absorbing most the Khmer empire, the kingdom of Sukhothai, and much of the Malay peninsular region. The kingdom of Lan Na eluded Ayutthayan control in the beginning but they were later conquered by the Burmese Toungoo dynasty in the sixteenth century who would also capture the city of Ayutthaya. The Burmese would be driven from Thailand for the time being until the eighteenth century when Ayutthaya was completely destroyed by the Toungoo kingdom. The Thai made a remarkable recovery and re-establish their capital further south in the city of Bangkok. From there they were able to reunite the entire Thai kingdom.

As Europe developed an interest in Southeast Asia, the westerners began to take increasing note of Thailand's influence in the area. The Portuguese were the first to make contact after their capture of Malacca, followed by the Dutch, the French and the English. Trade agreements were signed with all the European powers as well as the United States. The Thai's were successful at playing off one against the other while maintaining sovereignty over most of their lands and increasing the nation's economy. With the French in Indochina and the British in Malaya and Burma, Thailand became a buffer between the two European rivals.

Despite some internal struggles and bouts of economic uncertainty, Thailand has remained a stable, prospering nation. This could be attributed to the fact that it was never subjugated by a colonial ruler but more than likely because they are bound together by three basic tenets. The Thai people have a pride in the citizenship; they support the Thai monarchy and their commitment to Theravada Buddhism.