Long Live the King

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Although Canada has a monarch, Britain’s queen retains very little presence in Canadian culture. The kind of curiosity and adulation that inspired thousands of Montrealers to flood the streets when King George VI visited in 1939 has long since vanished. It’s a bit of a shock, then, to visit Bangkok and realize the exent to which the King of Thailand appears to be adored, with utmost earnesty, by the city’s inhabitants. Shrines to the king are found throughout the city, on streets and in shopping malls. Each Monday, many people in Bangkok—a significant minority, at least—wear yellow shirts in honour of the king.

Of course, it’s easy to forget that, as well-loved as Thailand’s king appears, he is protected by lèse majesté laws that are used to prosecute anyone who dares criticize any of Thailand’s royalty. This despite the fact that the king himself, an American-born, Swiss-educated man named Bhumibol Adulyadej, has admitted that “the king can do wrong,” and that “I must also be criticized.” Nonetheless, accusations of lèse majesté levied against Thailand’s former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, were among the motives behind the 2006 military coup against the country’s democratically-elected government.

Earlier this year, the king’s only sister died; shrines to her have been erected in the city’s metro stations. In one station, the shrine is accompanied by a book in which passersby can write their condolences. If only I could read Thai — what have people written?


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This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Monday April 07 2008at 10:04 pm , filed under Asia Pacific, Politics, Society and Culture and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

One Response to “Long Live the King”

  • hat says:

    Hi Christopher,

    last year the king himself was hospitalized (his sister followed a few days later) and I went to Siriraj Hospital several times out of curiosity. They too had books for well-wishers and it’s usually a fixed formula the Thai have to write (back then under the guidance of officers). I couldn’t really read it since it’s the royal language which differs vastly from ordinary Thai – but it’s certainly not only – maybe not even mainly – a spontaneous expression of affection but part of a ritualized cult around Thai royalty which is meant to confirm hierarchy (through the use of royal language) and loyalty to the state. To be a good citizen is to write ones condolences. Furthermore, there is a great deal of sensationalism and an event-character to all of that. When the king was hospitalized, the crowd reminded me of masses gathering to watch a World Cup or something similar. It’s like: Everyone goes there, so I should join them (at least they got free water and food – which was as excellent as always in Thailand). This mass behavior is re-enforced by the media and stickers saying: Rao Rak Nai Luang (We Love The King). The “We” implies a collectivity that may not exist in reality since there are more than a few Thai who are fed up with this King-Mania already.

    Just to add: To be sure, the majority of “yellow-wearers” may do so out of their own free will, but one shouldn’t forget that they too are “advised” (if not forced by peer pressure) to wear yellow on Mondays by their employers. Even if you’d like to put on red on a Monday you would not be able to do so. It’s all about conformity.