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Brief History of Thailand

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Modern History

The Thai people established their own states in the early 20th century, with the Ayutthaya kingdom showing itself to be the most dominant for a time. The states were all constantly threatened by the Khmers, Burma, and Vietnam, not to mention the presence of the French and British who were vying for colonies in Southeast Asia at the time. When European colonial powers threatened in the 19th and 20th centuries, Thailand managed to escape as the only country not to fall under colonial rule. This was due to a compromise between the French and British to keep it as a neutral territory between them. The Siamese Revolution was sparked by young military personnel and other civil workers in 1932. This event ended the absolute monarchy of the Ayutthaya Kingdom and established a constitutional monarchy that was largely overseen by military personnel. Civilian and military factions bickered over power in the newly established government, and fear of communism and ultra-nationalism caused instability amongst them. Thailand endured sixty years of military rule, oftentimes with no clear direction or leader aside from the top general.

The current military leaders at the time of World War II opted to ally Thailand with Japan to avoid becoming a victim in its path. During the postwar era, Thailand maintained close ties with the United States, avoiding adherence to the communist influences that many of its neighbors embraced. A democratic government was established in 1992 which has resumed to the present day.

Ancient History

A number of indigenous Mon-Khmer and Malay civilizations used to live in the region now known is Thailand. Yet little is known about the area prior to the 13th century since literary sources are scarce and most of the knowledge we have today is taken from archeology only. Thailand's cultural influences have included the culture and religions of India, the Kindgom of Funan, and the Khmer Empire. The “Indianized” kingdoms – what is now central Thailand, Srivijaya, and Cambodia – contributed to the flow of Buddhism from India to what was known as Siam. Other influences throughout the centuries included the Maurya Empire, the Pallava dynasty, and Gupta Empires of India.

From about the 10th to the 14th centuries, Thailand saw a period of Khmer domination over a large portion of what is now Central Thailand, as well as a southward expansion of Thai tribes. Thai city states gradually became independent as the Khmer Empire weakened. The Lanna - based in Chiang Mai, Sukhothai, and Ayutthaya Kingdoms, among others, ended up wrestling amongst each other for control. The Kingdom of Ayutthaya ended up being successful in retaining its independence from other countries and city states. Ayutthaya maintained independence for about 400 years before falling to the Burmese as other city states had previously done.  The state of Thonburi, located in the region that now contains Bangkok, was taken back by General Taksin in 1768. From his capital of Thonburi, Taksin used his power throughout Thailand to liberate the city states from Burmese control and reunite them.  The resulting country was then called Siam. The Lanna kingdom was also effectively liberated and retained its own form of independence in Northern Thailand.

Thailand's diplomacy skills led them to enter into various treaties with western nations during the period starting in the late 18th century. Thai relations were built particularly with Britain and France. Many say this diplomatic strategy may be the only reason that they retained control during a time of such heavy western colonization in the region.

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