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soc.culture.thai Culture FAQ
Section - C.1) An introduction to Thai history and culture

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                   Thai History/Culture at a Glance.

No one really knows when and where the Thai civilization originated.
If the current popular theory, that the Thai people have been here
in their present location from the very beginning, is correct then the
Thai civilization is a very ancient one, as is attested by the various
recently unearthed artifacts. The bronze artifacts at Ban Chiang,
a small village in Northeastern Thailand for example, have been
dated to be as much as 1,000 years older than those of Mesopotamia.

Written record of the Thai people started in the 13th Century A.D.
when King Ramkamhaeng of Sukhothai Kingdom invented Thai alphabets
by an adaptation from Pali, the language used in Buddhist Scriptures.
Some scholars, however, contend that a similar script had already
been in use in the area long before the supposed invention.

Sukhothai's power gradually eroded and was superseded by the Southern
principality centering at Sri Ayudhaya. Under the Sri Ayudhaya
Kingdom, the Thai people had strengthen their identity both as a
unique group of people and as a nation through language, art, culture,
trades and warfares with neighboring countries.

In 1782, after Sri Ayudhaya was demolished for the second time by the
invading Burmese, the capital was relocated briefly at Thonburi and
then to Bangkok, where it has survived and prospered up to the present.

With the central capital established and the Kingdom's boundary secured
from warfare, art, architecture, and culture once again flourish.
Trades and contacts with the West also increased dramatically during this
period. Thailand's long acquaintance with the West together with her
shrewdness in diplomatic maneuvering and her strength had contributed
to her being the only country in South/Southeast Asia to have preserved
independence through the Colonial Era.

Despite her relative small size, Thailand is very diversified.
There are many ethnic groups within the country. But in general,
there are four major dialects (and hence subcultures) within Thailand:
the Central, the North, the Northeast and the South. Thai language
in particular is very rich, unique, subtle and poetic. It is no wonder
that poem has been an integral part of the Thai culture. Varieties
of Thai poems are as many and as tasty as Thai foods.

Buddhism has flourished in this area for a long time, as is evidenced
by the findings about the Suwannaphumi and the Srivijaya Kingdoms.
By the time of the Sukhothai Era, the Thai people had already accepted
Theravada Buddhism as their national religion, though sometimes mixed
with Hinduistic and animistic beliefs. In the deep South, however, Islam
has been the dominant religion. There are roughly 96% Buddhists and
4% Muslims in the Kingdom of Thailand. There has never been an incident
of religious or ethnic clash in Thailand, an indication of high
toleration among her diversified people.

There are about 10% ethnic Chinese in the Kingdom -- The result of years
of migration to escape poverty and famines from mainland China.
Inter-marriage, similarity in religious beliefs and high toleration
on both sides have all contributed to the peaceful co-existence
of the Chinese and the mainstream Thais, so much so that both sides
seem to completely forget about their differences. It is safe to
assume that the second and later generation Chinese think and act
like Thais and that they love Thailand and are proud to be Thais.
The traditional Thai ways of life have also been modified to some
extent by those of the Chinese, especially in the urban area.

Absolute Monarchy system was abolished by a bloodless coup d'etat
in 1932 and a Constitution Monarchy form of government was established.
Since then, Thailand  has been struggling with the Western ideal of
democracy and economy; many coup d'etats had alternated with
elected civilian governments. The past 60 years have seen the Thai
people tried to reshape their country to survive and to be respected
in the world community. Through all this, the ancient ways of life have
still largely been preserved as is attested by: the famous Thai smiles,
the serene Buddhist monks walking their alms rounds in early morning,
the water-throwing festival in April, the respect for the elderly,
the graceful Thai manner, Thai classical music and dances, etc.

Let's hope that Thailand will continue to be unique in her evolution
path so that she can faithfully do her parts in enhancing lives
on this planet earth.

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