at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa

Bookshelf Spotlight: Thailand, Lèse-majesté, and Her Monarchy

Featured University Of Hawai’i Press Publishing

* Saying the Unsayable: Monarchy and Democracy in Thailand

Saying the Unsayable: Monarchy and Democracy in Thailand

ed. Soren Ivarsson, & Lotte Isager
University Of Hawai’i Press, 2010

The Thai monarchy today is usually presented as both guardian of tradition and the institution to bring modernity and progress to the Thai people. It is moreover seen as protector of the nation. Scrutinizing that image, this volume reviews the fascinating history of the modern monarchy. It also analyses important cultural, historical, political, religious, and legal forces shaping the popular image of the monarchy and, in particular, of King Bhumibol Adulyadej. In this manner, the book offers valuable insights into the relationships between monarchy, religion and democracy in Thailand–topics that, after the September 2006 coup d’état, gained renewed national and international interest.

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Featured Books

* Lords of Things: The Fashioning of the Siamese Monarchy’s Modern Image
* Monarchy in South East Asia: The Faces of Tradition in Transition
* Nai Luang Beloved King of Thailand: A History of the Chakri Dynasty
* The King Never Smiles: A Biography of Thailand’s Bhumibol Adulyadej
* Truth on Trial in Thailand: Defamation, Treason, and Lèse-majesté

Lords of Things: The Fashioning of the Siamese Monarchy’s Modern Image

by Maurizio Peleggi
University Of Hawai’i Press, 2002

Lords of Things offers an intriguing interpretation of modernity in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Siam by focusing on the novel material possessions and social practices adopted by the royal elite to refashion its self and public image in the early stages of globalization. It examines the westernized modes of consumption and self-presentation, the residential and representational architecture, and the public spectacles appropriated by the Bangkok court not as byproducts of institutional reformation initiated by modernizing sovereigns, but as practices and objects constitutive of the very identity of the royalty as a civilized and civilizing class.

Bringing a wealth of new source material into a theoretically informed discussion, Lords of Things will be required reading for historians of Thailand and Southeast Asia scholars generally. It represents a welcome change from previous studies of Siamese modernization that are almost exclusively concerned with the institutional and economic dimensions of the process or with foreign relations, and will appeal greatly to those interested in transnational cultural flows, the culture of colonialism, the invention of tradition, and the relationship between consumption and identity formation in the modern era.

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Monarchy in South East Asia: The Faces of Tradition in Transition

by Roger Kershaw
Routledge, 2000

This title is the first study to relate the history and contemporary role of the South East Asian monarchy to the politics of the region today. Comprehensive & up-to-date, Monarchy in South East Asia features an historical and political overview of Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Laos, as well as the region in general. The excellent coverage of this fascinating subject should be of interest to general reader as well as to specialists focusing on region.

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Nai Luang Beloved King of Thailand: A History of the Chakri Dynasty

by Tenzin Dawa
ThaiSunset Publications, 2011

His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej is divinely revered by Thais. Still, during His Majesty’s long reign of 65 years [as of 2011], the King has seen over 15 military coups, 16 constitutions, and 28 changes of prime ministers. The King has also used his influence to stop military coups, among others, including attempts in 1981 and 1985.

It has often been said that the independence and integrity of Thailand is assured by three unifying factors: its people’s carefree disposition, the tolerant Buddhist Religion, and the Thai Throne. For seven centuries Thailand has successfully survived as an independent country while countries all around in Southeast Asia disintegrated or fell victim of colonialist powers. For that reason, no Thai would now deny that as these unique and sacred institutions survive and flourish, so the Thai nation will also survive and flourish. Without either one of them, no one could foresee what Thailand would be like

King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Queen Sirikit, and the Heir-apparent are legally considered “inviolable” and criticism can result in three to fifteen years imprisonment; although the King said in his 2005 birthday speech that he would not be offended by lèse-majesté, since “the King is human.”

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The King Never Smiles: A Biography of Thailand’s Bhumibol Adulyadej

by Paul M. Handley
Yale University Press, 2006

Thailand’s Bhumibol Adulyadej, the only king ever born in the United States, came to the throne of his country in 1946 and is now the world’s longest-serving monarch. The King Never Smiles, the first independent biography of Thailand’s monarch, tells the unexpected story of Bhumibol’s life and sixty-year rule–how a Western-raised boy came to be seen by his people as a living Buddha, and how a king widely seen as beneficent and apolitical could in fact be so deeply political and autocratic.

Paul Handley provides an extensively researched, factual account of the king’s youth and personal development, ascent to the throne, skillful political maneuverings, and attempt to shape Thailand as a Buddhist kingdom. Handley takes full note of Bhumibol’s achievements in art, in sports and jazz, and he credits the king’s lifelong dedication to rural development and the livelihoods of his poorest subjects. But, looking beyond the widely accepted image of the king as egalitarian and virtuous, Handley portrays an anti-democratic monarch who, together with allies in big business and the corrupt Thai military, has protected a centuries-old, barely modified feudal dynasty.

When at nineteen Bhumibol assumed the throne, the Thai monarchy had been stripped of power and prestige. Over the ensuing decades, Bhumibol became the paramount political actor in the kingdom, silencing critics while winning the hearts and minds of his people. The book details this process and depicts Thailand’s unique constitutional monarch–his life, his thinking, and his ruling philosophy.

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Truth on Trial in Thailand: Defamation, Treason, and Lèse-majesté

by David Streckfuss
Routledge, 2011

Since 2005, Thailand has been in crisis, with unprecedented political instability and the worst political violence seen in the country in decades. In the aftermath of a military coup in 2006, Thailand’s press freedom ranking plunged, while arrests for lèse-majesté have skyrocketed to levels unknown in the modern world. Truth on Trial in Thailand traces the 110-year trajectory of defamation-based laws in Thailand. The most prominent of these is lèse-majesté, but defamation aspects also appear in laws on sedition and treason, the press and cinema, anti-communism, contempt of court, insulting of religion, as well as libel. This book makes the case that despite the appearance of growing democratization, authoritarian structures and urges still drive politics in Thailand; the long-term effects of defamation law adjudication has skewed the way that Thai society approaches and perceives “truth.”

Employing the work of Habermas, Foucault, Agamben, and Schmitt to construct an alternative framework to understand Thai history, Streckfuss contends that Thai history has become “suspended” since 1958, and repeatedly declining to face the truth of history has set the stage for an endless state of crisis.

This book will be of interest to students and scholars of South East Asian politics, Asian history, and media and communication.

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