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Chapter 1
This chapter provides the reader with a snack view of Thailand. It
locates this land on the globe, describes its topography, the people, their
history, religion and the growth of the Catholic Church.
The word ‘Thai’ (ไทย) means ‘freedom’ in the Thai language and
therefore ‘Thailand’ signifies the ‘land of freedom’. It was never colonized by
foreign powers. It has an area of 514,343 square kilometres, approximately the
size of France.1 It has a total population of 63,927,708
with Tai, Lao, Khmer,
Chinese and Malay forming the major ethnic groups of the population. The
land is unique and picturesque in many ways. Thailand was officially known
as Siam, until May 11, 1949.3
1. The Kingdom of Thailand
The Kingdom of Thailand or Siam 4 is a country in Southeast Asia,
bordering Laos and Cambodia to the east, the Gulf of Thailand and Malaysia
to the south, and the Andaman Sea and Myanmar to the west and to the
north. Earlier it was, a buffer state between French and British colonial
possessions. Siam, ‘the land of the White Elephant’ or the country of the
Muang Thai lies between 4° and 21° north latitudes, and between 97° and 106°
east longitudes.5
Cfr. WIKIPEDIA, Thailand, in, (18 October
2005), 1; LEPOER B., Geography, in
thailand /thailand 5.html, (15 March 2006), 1.
2 Cfr. Appendix 4, Table 5: the year 2004.
3 Cfr. SIAM.COM LLC, Siam, in, (21 January 2006), 1.
4 ‘Sayam’, from which ‘Siam’ comes, was the name for Thailand in the Szechwan dialect
of Chinese.
5 Cfr. BILZ J., Siam, in KNIGHT K., The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XIII, New York,
in aPP.htm,
(21-January 2006), 1.
1.1 The Land
The southward extension into the Malay Peninsula gives Thailand a
long coastline on the Gulf of Thailand and on the Andaman Sea. The heart of
the country, the fertile and thickly populated central plain, is dotted with
numerous paddy fields, entirely flat and rarely more than a few feet above sea
level. It is watered by the Chao Phraya and lesser rivers and is elaborately
veined by a system of canals (called klongs - คลอง) for irrigation and drainage.
Bangkok and Ayutthaya, the old capital, are in that basin.6
Most of North-Eastern and Eastern Thailand is occupied by the Korat
plateau, which is cut off from the rest of the country by highlands and the
Phetchabun Mountain. It is a hilly, dry and generally poor region, where the
main occupation of the population is raising of livestock. Chief towns are
Nakhon Ratchasima (Korat), Udon Thani, and Ubon Ratchathani.
Peninsular Thailand in the south (which includes Phuket and other
offshore islands) is largely mountainous and covered with jungles. It is the
principal source of rubber and tin that make Thailand a major world producer
of both. Chief towns of the peninsula are Hat Yai and Songkhla, the second
largest port of the country.
Thailand has a tropical and monsoonal climate. It has a rainy, warm,
and cloudy southwest monsoon from mid-May to September, as well as a dry,
cool northeast monsoon from November to mid-March. The southern Isthmus
is always hot and humid.7
The kingdom of Thailand is divided into 76 provinces (changwat - จังหวัด,
singular and plural), which are grouped into 5 groups of provinces (North-17,
East-7, South-14, North-East-19 and Central-19). Each province is divided
into smaller districts - as of 2000 there were 795 districts (amphoe - อำเภอ), 81
sub-districts (king amphoe - กิง่ อำเภอ).8
1.2 History
Little is known of Thailand’s prehistory. The available evidence is so
scant that not much can be assumed either. Some research scholars believe
6 Cfr. LEPOER B., Geography of Thailand, in, (15 March 2006), 1.
7 Cfr.WIKIPEDIA, Geography of Thailand, in term/
Thailand #History, (8 October 2005), 1.
8 Ibid.
that there was human occupation in parts of Thailand right from the Stone
Kanchanaburi Province. Mysterious rock paintings were found in cliffs near
the Thai-Laotian-Kampuchean border as well as at Ko Hian in Phan Nga.
Besides estimating that they are at least 3,000 years old, scientists know next
to nothing of the artists.9
1.2.1 First Settlers
The first genuine settlements—where people lived in groups, practiced
agriculture, made pottery, and wove cloth—were on hillsides. By 2000 B.C.
there were several of these throughout the country. The most important were
two in the extreme northeast at Non Nok Tha
and Ban Chiang. It is
generally accepted that the Ban Chiang settlement started around 3500 B.C.
By 1000 B.C., it was a complex culture that also produced outstanding
ceramics. In its last period, from 300 B.C. to 300 A.D., it achieved a high
degree of craftsmanship in painted pottery, bronze and iron tools, 11 and
bronze and glass jewelry. Much of this was discovered when burial sites were
dug up, for the citizens of Ban Chiang buried their dead along with large
amounts of goods.12
1.2.2 The Origins of Thais
The Tai (ethnic group)13, a people who originally lived in south-western
China, migrated into mainland Southeast Asia over a period of many
9 Cfr. GOODMAN J., Thailand, in HEW S. (Eds.), Cultures of the world, Singapore,
Welpac Printing & Packaging Pte Ltd., 1991, 19; LEPOER B.,Historical Setting, in
http://reference.all, (15 March
10 Cfr. FARANG, Thailand (Siam) History as understood, in /
thailand_history.htm, (1 October 2005), 1. Pottery shards bearing the imprint of both grains and
husks of rice were discovered at Non Nok Tha near Korat dating from at least 4000 B.C. (6000
years ago).The pottery sherds found at the Non Nok Tha site are amongst the world's oldest.
11 Ibid. History books generally attribute the first Iron Age culture to the Hittites of
ancient Turkey Mesopotamia. Thai iron objects are just as old as anything the Hittites
12 Cfr. GOODMAN J., Thailand,19; LEPOER B., Early History, in http://reference.
allrefer. Com /country-guide-study/thailand/thailand13.html, (15 March 2006),1.
13 Cfr. LEPOER B., Thailand, in
thailand/thailand69.html, (15 March 2006),1; TERWIEL B., The Tai of Assam and Ancient Tai
Ritual, Volume I: Life-cycle Ceremonies, SAHAI SACHCHIDANAND (Ed.), Gaya, The South East
Asian Review Office,1980,1-28. The Tai (ไต,ไท) ethnic group a category or group of people
considered to be significantly different from others in terms of cultural (dialect, religion,
traditions, etc.) and sometimes physical characteristics (skin color, body shape, etc.) which have
been recognized as ‘Tai”. Such as the Shan, Kamti, Lue, Lao, Neua, Black Tai, White Tai, Red
centuries. The first mention of their existence in the region is a 12 th century
A.D. inscription at the Khmer temple complex of Angkor Wat in Cambodia,
which mentions that the sayam, or ‘dark brown’ people were vassals of the
Khmer monarch.14
There are conflicting opinions of the origins of the Thais (Tai Siam =
Thais).15 It is presumed that about 4,500 years ago Thais originated in northwestern Szechuan in China and later migrated to Thailand along the southern
part of China. They split into two main groups. One settled down in the North
and became the kingdom of ‘Lan Na’ and the other one went down further
south, got defeated by the Khmers later and became the kingdom of
However, this version of history is challenged by the archaeological
excavations in the village of Ban Chiang in the Nong Han District of Udorn
Thani province in the Northeast.
From the evidence collected there, from
bronze metallurgy, it now appears that the Thais might have originated here in
Thailand itself and later scattered to various parts of Asia, including China.17
The controversy over the origin of the Thais shows no sign of definite
conclusion as many more theories have been put forward and some even go
further to say that Thais were originally Austronesian rather than Mongoloid.
Tai, Tho, Chung Chai and Thai. Commonly recognized The Tai ethnic groups include Tai Siam
(Thailand). ‘Tai’, the core Thai--the Central Thai, the Northeastern Thai (Thai-Lao), the Northern
Thai, and the Southern Thai--spoke dialects of one of the languages of the Tai language family.
The peoples who spoke those languages--generically also referred to as Tai--originated in
southern China, but they were dispersed throughout mainland Southeast Asia from Burma to
Vietnam, Laos and some groups in the Northeast of India (Tai Ahom, Assamese Tai).
14 Cfr. LEPOER B., Historical setting, in 12. html, (15 March 2006), 1. The name Sayam or Siam could have
originated simply like a reference to the colour of this particular people, not connected then to
its freedom from other groups.
15 Cfr. LEPOER B., Buddhist Doctrine and Popular Religion, in http://reference. all refer.
com /country-guide-study/thailand/thailand69.html, (15 March 2006), 1.
15 Cfr. SERGE K., Thai History, in
Thai_History.htm , (21 January 2006), 1. It was conventional in the 1980s to refer to Taispeaking peoples in Thailand as Thai (ไทย) with a regional or other qualifier, e.g., Central Thai.
There were, however, groups in Thailand in the late twentieth century who spoke a language of
the Tai family but who were not part of the core population. Cfr. LEPOER B., Buddhist Doctrine
thailand69.html, (15 March 2006), 1.
16 Cfr. SERGE K., Thai History, in
Thai_History.htm , (21 January 2006), 1.
17 Cfr. FARANG, Thailand (Siam) History as understood, 2. Early Chinese people learned
how to make bronze from the Thai. The word for copper in several dialects of Chinese is ‘tong’,
the same word used in the oldest Southeast Asian languages. The Bronze Age community, 3600
BC, of Ban Chang covered a hill & was continuously occupied for more than 3000 years. Graves
dated to 3600 B.C. have produced bronze bracelets, bells and spearheads. There is a
comprehensive museum at the Ban Chang site. The hamlet of Ban Chang is near Udorn Thani,
in the northern part of the Eastern Region of Thailand.
Whatever the outcome of the dispute the fact remains: by the 13th century AD
the Thais had already settled down within Southeast Asia.18
1.2.3 Khmer Influence
In the 8th century, Buddhist missionaries from Ceylon (Sri Lanka)
introduced Theravada Buddhism to the Mons. The Mons embraced Buddhism
enthusiastically and conveyed it to the Khmers and the Malays of Tambralinga
(Nakhon Si Thammarat). The two Indian religious systems of Hinduism and
Buddhism existed side by side without conflict in Suwannaphum – สุวรรณภูม ิ or
Suvarnabhumi (the Golden Land). Hinduism continued to provide the cultural
setting in which Buddhist religious values and ethical standards were
articulated. Although Buddhism was the official religion of the Mons and the
Khmers, in popular practice it incorporated many local cults.19
From the 9th to the 11th century, the central and western area of
Thailand was under the influence of a Mon civilization called Dvaravati.
Besides the Mons, the Dvaravati embraced also the Khmers who later on
settled in southern Burma. Dvaravati was an Indianized culture and it had its
centres in Nakhon Pathom, Khu Bua, Phong Tuk and Lawo (Lopburi – ลพบุร)ี .
Theravada Buddhism remained the major religion in this area. By the 12 th
century, Mon held influence over central Thailand. Khmer cultural influence
was brought in the form of language, art and religion. The ‘Sanskrit’ language
entered in Mon-Thai vocabulary during the Khmer or Lopburi Period. The
architecture in ‘Angkor’ was also constructed according to the Khmer style.
However, the Khmer cultural dominance did not control the whole area but
exerted power through vassals and governors.20
1.2.4 Lan Na Period
The ‘Lan Na’ kingdom originated in ‘Chiang Saen’ on the Mae Kok River.
Its first leader King Mengrai ascended the throne in 1259.21 He extended the
origins, in , (12 November 2005), 1.
19 Cfr. LEPOER B., The Mon and the Khmer, in, (15 March 2006), 1.
Influence, in, (12 November 2005), 1;
LEPOER B., The Mon and the Khmer, 2.
21 Cfr. SERGE K., Thai History, in Thailand_ Chronology
Thai_History.htm, (2 January 2006), 1. In 1262 - Prince Mengrai of Nanchao, after having
kingdom from the borders of Laos to Lamphum and successfully captured the
ancient Mon Harupinjaya stronghold. 22 King Mengrai also founded a new
capital in Chiang Mai, located along the river Ping. Lan Na kingdom flourished
for over 200 years. Art and literature flourished especially in the middle of 15 th
century during the period of King Tilokoraj. The 8th world synod of Theravada
Buddhism was held at Chiang Mai in this period.
After the death of King
Tilokoraj, the kingdom suffered from internal conflicts. Furthermore Lan Na
weakened because of wars with Sukhothai's successors.23
1.2.5 Sukhothai Period (1238-1378)
Sukhothai was the first Thai kingdom. It was founded in 1238 by two
Tai governors, Khun Bang Klang Thao (Si Inthrathit) and Khun Pha Muang
who rebelled against the Khmers and brought independence to the region.
Sukhothai period was considered to be a golden age of Thai culture. During
that time in history, everybody could say that; ‘There are fishes in the water
and rice in the fields’. The boundary of Sukhothai stretched from Lampang
and Vientiane in the north to the Malay Peninsula in the south.24
After the death of Khun Pha Muang in 1279, Ramkhamhaeng (12791317), the third son of Si Inthrathit, ascended to the throne. King
Ramkhamhaeng organized a writing system which became the basis for
writing and eventually developed to be the modern Thai alphabet.25
Sukhothai developed strong friendly ties with neighbouring countries. It
absorbed elements of various civilizations with which they came into contact.
Thai maintained and advanced their cultural contacts with China. Extensive
trade was established also with Cambodia and India.26
escaped the wrath of Kublai Khan, establishes the Lanna Thai Kingdom with himself as king. To
serve as his capital, he founds the town of Chiang Rai.
22 Ibid., 2. In 1283 - King Mengrai of Lannatai conquers the Mon Kingdom of
Haripungaya (present-day Lamphun), making it a long lasting part of his realm. Later kingdoms
of the Mons will all be located at the western side of the mountain range that today separates
the territories of Burma and Thailand.
Period, in, (12 November 2005), 1.
24 Cfr. LEPOER B., Sukhothai, in
thailand/thailand17.html, 1987, (15 March 2006),1.
Sukhothai Period (1238-1378), in
1999, (12 November 2005), 1.
26 In 1347- King Lithai (King Tammaraja I) concentrates rather on religious than
political matters, a fact further contributing to the loss of political power of Sukhothai.
Tammaraja, a name he acquires posthumously, is a religious rather than political title.
In 1378 - King Tammaraja II of Sukhothai is forced to become a vassal of the King of
1.2.6 Ayutthaya Period (1350-1767)
Ayutthaya, the capital of the Thai Kingdom was found by U-Thong King
(King Rama Tibodi I) in 1350. Ayutthaya as an island at the confluence of
three rivers, the Chao Phraya, the Pasak, and the Lopburi and surrounded by
rice terraces. It is easy to see why the Ayutthaya area was settled prior to this
date since the site offered a variety of geographical and economic advantages.
The Thai kings of Ayutthaya became powerful in the 14th and 15th centuries,
taking over U-Thong, Lopburi, and Ayutthaya. King U-Thong and his
immediate successors expanded Ayutthaya's territory, especially northward
towards Sukhothai and eastward towards the Khmer capital of Angkor.27 The
society during the Ayutthaya period was strictly hierarchical. There were,
roughly, three classes of people with the king at the top of the scale. At the
bottom of social scale were commoners and the slaves.28
In the early 16th
century, the Europeans visited Ayutthaya, and a
Portuguese embassy was established in 1511. Portugal's powerful neighbour
Spain was the next European nation to arrive in Ayutthaya, towards the end of
the 16th century. The early 17th century saw the arrival of two other north
European groups: the Dutch merchants who set up trade in the south at
Pattani in 1601 and the British traders who came to Ayutthaya in 1612. The
French arrived in 1662. European rivalry for trade and port privileges came to
a climax under reign of King Narai the Great (1656-1588).29
In April 1767 Burmese soldiers put the capital to flames, and destroyed
everything, including temples, manuscripts, and religious sculpture. However
the Burmese could not hold the kingdom for even two years. Phraya Taksin, a
Thai general, promoted himself to be the king in 1769. He ruled the new
capital of Thonburi on the bank of Chao Phraya River, opposite Bangkok.
Thais regained control of their country and thus scattered themselves to the
provinces in the north and central part of Thailand.30
Ayutthaya. This marks the end of the independent Thai Kingdom of Sukhothai after 140 years
of existence.
27 Cfr. LEPOER B., The Ayutthaya Era1350-1767, in
country -guide-study/thailand/thailand17.html, (15 March 2006), 1.
28 Cfr. LEPOER B., Social and Political Development, in
country-guide-study/thailand/thailand12.html, (15 March 2006),1. Siam adopts the Khmer
system of slavery as well as the concept of absolute monarchy.
29 Cfr. GOODMAN J., Thailand, 23.; LEPOER B.,
Contacts with the West , in http://, (15 March 2006),1.
Ayutthaya Period (1350-1765), in,
(12 November 2005), 1.
1.2.7 Ratanakosin Period
The Chakri dynasty was inaugurated on April 6, 1782 with the
coronation of Rama I or King Buddha Yot Fa Chulalok. He moved the capital
across the Chao Phraya River from Thonburi to a small village known as
‘Bangkok’ and established new laws to rule the country. Under his reign,
Thailand covered all areas of present day Laos, parts of Burma, Cambodia and
the Kedah province in Malaysia.31
Rama IV or King Mongkut (Phra Chom Klao), who reigned from 1851 to
1868, lived as a Buddhist monk for 27 years. During his monastic period, he
could speak many languages including Latin and English. He also studied
western sciences and adopted the discipline of a local Mon monk. Under his
reign, he created new laws to improve women’s and children's rights, opened
new waterways and roads and created the first printing press. Rama V or King
Chulalongkorn, Rama IV's son, continued on the throne from 1868 to 1910.
He started to reform the traditional legal and administrative customs and
Under the reign of Rama V, Thailand developed relations with
European nations and the USA. He introduced schools, roads, railways, and
Thailand's first post office. He even established civil service system. In 1892,
Rama V changed the administration of Siam to a form of cabinet government
with 12 ministers.32
In 1886, Siam lost some territory to the French and the British. After
that King Chulalongkorn declared Thailand as an independent kingdom on the
23rd of October, making this day a national holiday. Every year this national
holiday is celebrated in commemoration of this event and people lay wreaths
in memory of the king they called ‘Phra Piya Maharaj’
Rama VI or King Vajiravudh, reigned from 1910 to 1925. During his
short reign, he initiated the westernization of Thailand and introduced the
primary school education.
The period 1925-1935 was of Rama VII or King Prachadhipok, Rama
VI's brother. He opted for democracy. This revolution developed the
constitutional monarchy along British lines, with mixed military and civilian
group in power.
Cfr. GOODMAN J., Thailand, 24-25.
Cfr. LEPOER B., Chulalongkon’ s Reforms, in, (15 March 2006), 1.
Rama VIII or King Ananda Mahidol, a nephew of Rama VII, ascended
the throne in 1935 but was assassinated under mysterious circumstances in
1946. His brother King Bhumipol Aduldej succeeded as Rama IX until today.33
2. People and Politics of Thailand
The Tai (Siamese), Lao, Khmer and Malay are Thailand’s four major
ethnic groups with their respective dialects and corresponding to the four
major geographic regions. The presence of Chinese population is seen mainly
in the cities.
The northern continental highland, home of the northern Tai, is also
occupied by the Shans and various indigenous hill tribes. In the east is the
water-hungry Khorat plateau, home of the north-eastern Thai-Lao or Thai Isan
and Khmer groups. Stretched south lies the rich, isolated peninsula where
Malay comprises the local population.34
The central plain, home of the central Thai, is occupied by the
dominant ethic group from whom came the official language. The region acts
as a powerful unifying force in preserving Thailand as a national unit.35
David K. Wyatt’s book Thailand: A Short History (1984), offers the best
summary of recent thinking:
The modern Thai may or may not be descended by blood from the latearriving Thai. He or she may instead be the descendant of still earlier Mon or
Khmer inhabitants of the region, or of much later Chinese or Indian
immigrants. Only over many centuries has a ‘Thai’ culture, a civilization and
identity, emerged as the product of interaction between Thai and indigenous
and immigrant cultures.36
The Thai people are described as a polite, hospitable, obliging, lighthearted, pleasure and feast-loving people, as gifted gold and silversmiths,
UNIVERSITY OF THAILAND, Ratanakosin Period (1782- ), in
/thai_his/ratanakosin.html , (12 November 2005), 1.
34 Cfr. LEPOER B., Society in http://
Thailand /thailand6.html, (15 March 2006), 1.
35 Cfr. GOODMAN J., Thailand, 42-49. Ethnic and Regional Groups: Four regional
categories make up core Thai population: Central Thai (32 percent); Thai-Lao (30 percent);
Northern Thai (17 percent); and Southern Thai (5 percent). Largest minority consists of Chinese
(11 percent), followed by Malay (3-4 percent), and Khmer (1 percent). Remaining minority
groups, including numerous hill tribes, together constituted no more than 2 percent of the
36 Cfr. MILLER T., Thailand, in MILLER T., SEEN W. (Eds.), Southeast Asia: the garland
Encyclopedia of world music, volume 4, New York and, Garland Publishing, Inc., 1998, 219,224333; WONG D., Popular Music and Cultural Politics in MILLER T., SEEN W. (Eds.), Southeast
Asia: the garland Encyclopedia of world music, 95-101.
possessing great taste for art and skill as painters, decorators, and carvers in
wood, stone, plaster, and mosaic. Although Thais have an intense love of
freedom and individuality, they have been accustomed to strong central and
paternalistic rule. Both individually and politically they are perceived to be
non-aggressive, polite, and restrained.37
During World War II Thailand was in a loose alliance with Japan;
following the conclusion of the war, Thailand became an ally of the United
States. Thailand then saw a series of military coups d'état, but progressed
towards democracy from the 1980’s onward. The country now enjoys an
enlightened constitutional monarchy. The king is still considered sacred and
above criticism, and must be a Buddhist. He is the chief of the state, head of
the armed forces, and the defender of all faiths. Thailand’s unifying slogan is,
‘Nation, Religion, and King.’ Stability is maintained by central government
control through a strong network of civil servants from governors of the 76
provinces through district officers to community leaders (kamnan - กำนัน ), and
village headmen (phu-yai-ban - ผู ้ใหญ่บ ้ำน ).
Restraint and ability to maintain friendly neutrality between major
powers and also with bordering countries is a characteristic of Thai foreign
policy.The official calendar in Thailand is based on the Buddhist Era, which is
543 years ahead of the western calendar. For example, the year 2000 AD is
equal to the year 2543 BE.38
2.1 Culture
Thailand's origin is traditionally tied up with the short-lived kingdom of
Sukhothai founded in 1238, after which the larger kingdom of Ayutthaya was
established in the mid-14th century. Thai culture was greatly influenced by
both China and India. Thailand is located in Indochina, the land between
India and China. According to orthodox history, it was believed that Thai
people used to live in the south of China long time ago. However, in terms of
culture, Thai people have been influenced by India rather than China. Why
so? M.R. Kukrit Pramoj, one of the great Thai scholars, remarks:
Why haven’t the Thai people been influenced by Chinese culture (except
some small matters)? Why have they been mostly influenced by Indian culture?
37 So it was on June 24. 1932, that almost seven hundred years of absolute monarchy
ended in a bloodless coup organized by middle-class civil servants and military officers.
38 Cfr. KREUTZ S., Religion, in, (23
October 2005), 1.
I suppose that this is so because Chinese culture is too rigid for the Thai
people who are flexible and don’t like strict rules. Indian culture is more
flexible. We have adopted Indian culture from two ways: Hinduism and
Over the centuries Thai national identity evolved around a common
language and religion and the institution of the monarchy. Although the
inhabitants of Thailand are a mixture of Tai, Mon, Khmer, and other ethnic
groups, most speak a language of the Tai family. A Tai language alphabet,
based on Indian and Khmer scripts, developed early in the 14th century. 40
Later in the century a famous monarch, the king Ramathibodi made
Theravada Buddhism the official religion of his kingdom, and Buddhism
continued into the 20th century as a dominant factor in the nation's social,
cultural, and political life. Finally, the monarchy, buttressed ideologically by
Hindu and Buddhist mythology, was a focus for popular loyalties for more
than seven centuries.41
Contact with various European powers began in the 16th century but,
despite continued pressure as stated earlier, Thailand is the only Southeast
Asian country never to have been taken over by a European power, though
Western influence, including the threat of force, led to many reforms in the
19th century and major concessions to British mercantile interest were
granted.42 In the late 20th
century monarchy remained central to national
Thai with its own alphabet is the national language of Thailand.
However, there exist many regional dialects. In certain areas people speak
Cfr. PRAMOJ K., “Culture” in Inculturation, the Proceedings of the Conference of the
Catholic Priests in Thailand, 19-23 October 1981, Saengtham College Sampran, no. 3.1;
SRIWARAKUEL W., Christianity and Thai Culture, the Proceedings of the Conference of the
Catholic Priests in Thailand, 13 October 2005, Sampran, [unpublished matter], 1-20.
40 Cfr. SERGE K., Thai History, 2. The Thai alphabet invented by King Ramkhamhaeng
draws on Sanskrit and Pali (both languages of Indian origin) as well as the written languages of
the Burmese and the Khmers, both of which are also Sanskrit and Pali based. But not only are
the letters of neighbouring languages used to provide for a written Thai language. Terms from
Pali, Sanskrit and the immediate neighbouring languages are also integrated into Thai which
otherwise is quite different from Burmese and the Khmer language.
41 Cfr. O'NEIL D., Cultural Anthropology Terms, 2002-2005, in, http://anthro.palomar.
edu / tutorials/ cglossary.htm # diffusionhttp: // / tutorials / cglossary.
htm # diffusion, (14 November 2005), 1. Subculture: a regional, social, or ethnic group that is
distinguishable from other groups in a society. Members of a subculture often share a common
identity, food tradition, dialect or language, and other cultural traits that come from their
common ancestral background and experience. Subcultures are most likely to exist in complex,
diverse societies.
42 Cfr. HIGH BEAM RESEARCH, Thailand: History, in
world / A0861512.html, (6 November 2005), 1.
43 Cfr. LEPOER B., Historical Setting, in, (15 March 2006), 2.
predominantly Isan-อีสำน or Khmer. Local trade is chiefly in the hands of the
Chinese and as a consequence there is substantial tension between Thais and
Chinese. Other substantial minorities include the Muslim Malays (Jawi,
Arabic), concentrated in the southern peninsula; the hill tribes of the north;
the Khmers, or Cambodians, who are found in the southeast and on the
Cambodian border; and the Vietnamese, chiefly recent refugees who live along
the Mekong River. While the ethnic minorities generally speak their own
languages, Thai is the official tongue; English predominates among the
Western languages. Although English is widely taught in schools, proficiency
is low. Thai government emphasizes on education, both formal and non
The standard greeting in Thailand is a prayer-like gesture called ‘wai,
ไหว’้ . Touching someone's head or pointing with the feet are considered
unacceptable. Stepping over someone, or over food, is also considered
insulting. Books and other documents are considered the most revered of
secular objects therefore one should not slide a book across a table or place it
on the floor. The king of the constitutional monarchy is extremely respected
and revered. It is illegal to insult the Royal Family.
2.2 Economy of Thailand
For centuries Thailand’s economy relied almost solely on agriculture.
But the 1960s saw industry as the way of economic modernization, and
Thailand quickly became a newly industrialized nation. Its economic growthrate of 11% was the highest in the world in 1990. Income per person per year
was U.S $1000, thus making the nation economically the fifth Asian Tiger.
Bangkok in the 1900’s was one of the mega-giant metropolitan city of the
whole of Asia. Urban growth has almost run out of control. It is the only
megalopolis with no mass transit system. Valiant work is being done to create
aerial expressways since it is too late for inner-city underground networks. In
1997 an economic crisis uncovered financial weaknesses and forced the
44 Cfr. LEPOER B., Society, in
thailand/thailand6.html, (15 March 2006), 2. Languages: More than 85 percent of population
speak dialect of Thai (a member of Tai language family); most prevalent are Thai-Lao, spoken in
Northeast, and Central Thai, which is official language taught in schools and used in
government. Other languages spoken by members of ethnic minorities include Chinese (chiefly
Teochiu- แต ้จิว๋ ), Malay, Karen, and Khmer. Smaller groups speak Tai languages such as Tais,
Shan, Lua, and Phutai. Many minority peoples, especially Chinese, Indians, also speak Thai.
government to float the currency. Prior to 1997 the US dollar cost 25 baht.
After the crisis the exchange rate was 1: 56 in January 1998; and the economy
contracted by 10.2% that same year. The crisis spread and contributed to the
Asian financial crisis.45
Thailand entered a recovery stage in 1999, expanding 4.2% grew to
4.4% in 2000, largely due to strong exports - which increased about 20% in
2000. Growth was damped by softening of global economy in 2001, but picked
up in the subsequent years due to strong growth in China and various
domestic stimulation programmes promoted by Prime Minister Thaksin
significantly to the Thai economy, and the industry has benefited from the
Thai bath’s depreciation and Thailand's stability. Tourist arrivals in 2002 (10.9
million) reflected a 7.3% increase from the previous year (10.1 million).
Thailand’s economy growth in 2003 was estimated to be around 6.3%, and at
8% to 10% in 2005.46
2.3 Politics of Thailand
The 1997 Constitution states that the king is the head of the state and
his sovereign power comes from the people. An addition to the Constitution
was promulgated on 11th October 1997. The king has little direct power under
the constitution but he is the anointed protector of Thai Buddhism and a
symbol of national identity and unity. The present monarch enjoys a great deal
of popular respect and moral authority, which on different occasions has been
used to resolve political crises. The head of the government is the Prime
Minister, who is appointed by the king from among the members of the lower
house of parliament, usually the leader of the party that can organise a
majority coalition government.47
The bicameral Thai parliament is the National Assembly (rathasapha รัฐสภำ) which consists of a House of Representatives (sapha phuthaen ratsadon
-สภำผู ้แทนรำษฎร) of 500 seats and a Senate (wuthisapha - วุฒส
ิ ภำ) of 200 seats.
Members of both houses are elected by popular vote. The House of
Representatives is elected by electoral district, the Senate is elected by the
Cfr. GOODMAN J., Thailand, 35-37.
Cfr. HIGH BEAM RESEARCH, Thailand: History, 2.
47 Cfr. CHULARAT A. (Trans.), Thailand Constitution 1997, in
/law/icl/th00000_.html, 2004, (1 April 2006), 1.
province. Members of House of Representatives serve a four-year term, while
Senators serve a six-year term. The law court system (san, ศำล) has three
layers, the highest judicial body being the Supreme Court (sandika, ศำลฎีกำ)
whose judges are directly appointed by the monarch.48
2.3.1 The Building of a Modern State
In the 19th century, the authority of Bangkok was at last established
over the North of Siam, and relations with the West were resumed; Siam
signed commercial treaties with Great Britain (1826) and the United States
(1833). The independence of the kingdom was threatened, however, when
Great Britain extended its sway to Malaya and Burma, and France carved out
an empire in Indochina.
By opening their posts to European trade, by bringing in Western
advisers, by strengthening the central administration as against the hereditary
provincial chieftains, and by playing off British against French interests, the
Siamese managed to stay free. Even so, the establishment of Siam's
boundaries meant the surrender of its claims to Laos (1893) and parts of
Cambodia (1907) and of its suzerainty over Kedah, Perlis, Kelantan, and
Terengganu (1909), on the Malay Peninsula. The Westernization of Siam took
place under an absolute monarchy and was chiefly the work of Mongkut
(reigned 1851–68), or Rama IV, and his son Chulalongkorn (reigned 1868–
1910), or Rama V. Siam became a constitutional monarchy in 1932, when a
bloodless coup forced Prajadhipok (reigned 1925–35), Rama VII, to grant a
2.3.2 Phibul and Pridi
The two young leaders of the coup, Phibul Songgram and Pridi
Phanomyong, both educated in Europe and influenced by Western ideas, came
to dominate Thai politics in the ensuing years. In 1934 the first general
elections were held; a year later Prajadhipok abdicated, and a council of
regency chose Ananda (reigned 1935–46) as Rama VIII. Phibul Songgram, a
48 Cfr. GOODMAN J., Thailand, 32; WIKIPEDIA, Politics of Thailand, in http://encycl., (8 October 2005), 1.
militarist, became premier in 1938. He changed the country's name from Siam
to Thailand in 1939 and instituted a programme of expansion.49
Pridi Phanomyang became premier in the post-war government, while
Phibul was briefly jailed as a war criminal. Pridi restored the name Siam as a
repudiation of Phibul's policies. Inflation, corruption in government, and the
mysterious death (1946) of King Ananda all contributed to the overthrow
(1947) of Pridi's government by Phibul. Pridi fled the country and in 1954
appeared in Beijing as the professed leader of the Communist ‘Free Thai’
movement, allegedly representing numerous Thais still in Yunnan, China.50
Under Phibul's military dictatorship, the name Thailand was again
adopted. Bhumibol Adulyadej, Rama IX, was crowned king in 1950 after a
four-year regency. Thailand signed (1950) a technical and economic aid
agreement with the United States and has received huge military grants from
the United States and was the seat (1954–77) of the Southeast Asia Treaty
Organization. The country, apprehensive over its proximity to China, remained
consistently pro-Western in international outlook.51
2.3.3 Modern Thailand
King Bhumibol Adulyadej proclaimed an interim constitution in 1959. A
new constitution was finally promulgated in 1968. The country's economy in
the 1960s continued to boom, spurred by a favourable export market and
considerable U.S. aid. The nation's foreign policy was closely geared to the
U.S. presence in Southeast Asia and its economy became increasingly
dependent upon U.S. military spending and subsidies. Thailand became one of
the founding members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)
in 1967.52
In addition, the security of the country appeared threatened by the
spread of the Vietnam War into Cambodia and Laos and by growing
insurgencies, chiefly Communist led. The increasing economic and security
problems prompted a coup in November 1971.
49 Cfr. LEPOER B., Pridi and the Civilian Regime, 1944 - 1947, in http://reference., (15 March 2006), 1; LEPOER B.,
World War II, in,
(15 March 2006), 1.
50 Cfr. LEPOER B., World War II, in
thailand/thailand29.html, (15 March 2006), 2.
51 Cfr. HIGH BEAM RESEARCH, Thailand: History, 3.
52 Cfr. CMU, Thailand, in, (7 October
2005), 1.
Thammasak as Thanom's successor, giving Thailand its first civilian premier
in twenty years. A new constitution was promulgated in October 1974. Over
the next few years the civilian government made little headway in establishing
its authority. In 1976, the military took control of the government once again.
After that, the military held power almost continuously until the early
While from late 1970s, Thailand's political concerns were dominated by
pressures resulting from warfare in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia and serious
unrest in Myanmar (Burma), Thailand also experienced a massive influx of
refugees from these countries. From 1975 onward, Thailand was a way station
for Hmong from Lao refugees immigrating to the United States under its
resettlement programme. The Khmer Rouge used Thailand as a staging area
after they were driven out of Cambodia by the Vietnamese and internal
fighting within the Cambodian government in 1977 sent a new flow of refugees
into Thailand. 55 In March 1980, General Prem Tinsulanonda became Prime
Minister with the support of younger officers of the armed forces and civilian
political leaders.56
In the September 1992 elections, parties opposed to the military won a
of a
constitutional reforms that lowered the voting age to 18, guaranteed equal
rights for women, and reduced membership in the military-dominated senate.
New elections were held in July 1995, after Chuan's government fell because
of a land-reform scandal; the Chart Thai (Thai Nation) party won a slight
majority, and Banharn Silpa-archa became Prime Minister, heading a sevenparty coalition. His government collapsed on December 1996, and he was
succeeded by Chavalit Yongchaiyudh. A new constitution was approved in
53 Cfr. LEPOER B., Thailand in Transition, in, (15 March 2006), 1.
54 Cfr. LEPOER B., Military Rule and Limited Parliamentary Government 1976- 83, in,
55 The Catholic Church in Thailand took on to her responsibility the refugees from
Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Burma. So the Church in Thailand assisted the government to
relieve and help them by organizing COERR (Catholic Office for Emergency Relief and Refugees)
in the Year 1975. These many efforts are aimed to protect the moral values of life and to face the
urgent problems created by the influx of refugees from Indochina.
56 Cfr. LEPOER B., Prem in Power, in
/ thailand/thailand33.html, (15 March 2006), 1.
September 1997.57 Elections in 2001 and 2005 resulted in a victory for the
Thai Rak Thai party (Thais Love Thais; TRT) and Thaksin Shinawatra of the
TRT became prime minister.
3. Religion
According to the last census (2000) 94.6% of Thais are Buddhists of the
Theravada tradition. Muslims are the second largest religious group in
Thailand at 4.6%. Most of them are ethnic Malays and they are mostly
concentrated in the south, where they form a strong majority in four
provinces. Christians, mainly Catholics, represent 0.75% of the population. A
tiny but influential community of Sikhs and some Hindus also live in the
country's cities.58
3.1 Pre-Buddhism
Ancient Tai-Thais belief is ‘Khwan - ขวัญ’59 a vital spirit that sometimes
possesses lifeless things. Thais believe there are 32 Khwans in the human
body, and the most important one is the head.60 This Khwan is said to be very
sensitive to bad behaviour, and the slightest insult will make it leave. It can
only be called back with a special ritual.61 All such beliefs were absorbed into
the newly-adopted stated religion of Buddhism.62 Between the 13th and 15th
57 Cfr. CHULARAT A. (Trans.), Thailand Constitution1997, in
/law/icl/th00000_.html, 2004, (1 April 2006), 2.
58 Cfr. WIKIPEDIA, Thailand, in , (18 October
2005), 1.
59 Cfr. LEPOER B., Buddhist Doctrine and Popular Religion, in http://reference. allrefer.
com /country-guide-study/thailand/thailand69.html (15 March 2006), 2. The propitiation of
an individual's khwan (body spirit, guardian spirit, life soul) remains a basic feature of Thai
family rites. Any ceremony undertaken to benefit a person, animal, or plant is referred to as the
making of khwan. On important occasions, such as birth, ordination into the priesthood,
marriage, a return from a long journey or the reception of an honoured guest, a khwan
ceremony is performed.
60 Cfr. TERWIEL B., The Tai of Assam and Ancient Tai Ritual, Volume I: Life-cycle
Ceremonies, SAHAI SACHCHIDANAND (Ed.), Gaya, The South East Asian Review Office,1980,
73-76, 84-86.
61 Ibid. 74-75. This accounts for Thai sensitivity about being touched or hit on the head.
When a person is dejected or lethargic the Thai say: ‘khwan haai - ขวัญหำย’ or his/her life-force
่ วัญ), ‘riak khwan has disappeared’. Calling and welcoming the ‘khwan’ (Suu khwan - สูข
เรียกขวัญ (calling the khwan)’, the ritual which is needed to make people and social feel secure
and confident, to set the mind peace.
62 Cfr. LEPOER B., Buddhist Doctrine and Popular Religion, 3. The world of the Thai
villager (and that of many city folk as well) is inhabited by a host of spirits of greater or lesser
relevance to an individual's well-being. Although many of these are not sanctioned by Buddhist
scripture or even by Buddhist tradition, many monks, themselves of rural origin and essentially
tied to the village, are as likely as the peasant to accept the beliefs and rituals associated with
spirits (Phi - ผี, Chawthi - เจ ้ำที,่ Praphom - พระภูม)ิ .
century, the Sangha became the central religious institution in Thai society.
By the time of King Mongkut, many non-Buddhist practices had crept in.
Under King Chulalongkhorn, a standard system of education for monks was
created and, in 1902, the Sangha was united under one leadership.63
3.2 Presence of Buddhism in Thailand
Buddhism was first introduced into Thailand as Hinayana (Theravada)
Buddhism in about 329 B.C., later in about 700 A.D., Mahayana Buddhism
came.64 However, in 1000 A.D. Theravada was re-introduced from Burma. In
1253 A.D., Thai Buddhist Monks went to Ceylon and brought back with them
the Pali scripts. They also invited the Ceylonese Monks to Thailand. Ever since
then all Kings of Thailand embraced Theravada Buddhism which then became
the National Religion. 65 Theravada Buddhism has come to be the state
religion of Thailand. Up to a few years ago the Buddhist monasteries were the
only establishments for education, which were restricted to the male
population only. Though Buddhism is the acknowledged religion of the state
and towards it the Government allows some $20,000,000 yearly, all other
religious creeds are granted full liberty of worship, nor does anyone incur
disabilities on account of his religious beliefs. The king, being the highest
‘supporter of the doctrine’, appoints all religious dignitaries.66
63 Cfr. GOODMAN J., Thailand, 68. Buddhism probably reached its height under the
reign of King Li Thai (1347-1374) of Sukhothai (King Ramkhamhaeng’s grandson) as it was
during his reign that the first Buddhist didactic literary work was written and it was known as
the ‘Tribhumikatha’. Though the centuries Buddhism has been the main driving force in Thai
cultural development. Thais of all classes subscribed to Buddhist doctrine. Although Buddhism
is proclaimed as the state religion, all Thais are endowed with full religious freedom,
64 Even though no concrete evidence can be found as to when and where Buddhism was
actually established in Thailand, it is presumed that Buddhism was first brought to the country
during the 3rd century B.C. when Tharavada Buddhist missionaries led by Venerable Sona and
Uttara were dispatched by the Buddhist Indian emperor Asoke and visited Suwannaphum –
สุวรรณภูม ิ or the present Nakhon Pathom. Once it was introduced, Buddhism became widely
accepted and gained a permanent ground in the peninsula.
65 Cfr. KREUTZ S., Religion, 2.
66 Ibid., 3.
3.2.1 The Supreme Patriarch
ั ฆรำช) is the head of
The Supreme Patriarch or Sangharaja (สมเด็จพระสง
the order of Buddhist monks in Thailand. The position is formally approved by
the King of Thailand, although the actual selection is made by senior
clergymen. It was first established in 1782 at the founding of the Chakri
dynasty by King Rama I.
The Supreme Patriarch has legal authority to oversee both Thailand's
Theravada sub-orders, the Maha Nikaya and the Thammayut Nikaya, as well
as the small minority of Mahayana Buddhists in the country. He is assisted by
a Supreme Sangha Council, which is led by the Sangha Nayaka (literally
‘director of the sangha’). In the event that the position of Supreme Patriarch is
vacant, the Sangha Council also nominates candidates for a successor to the
king. There has been recent discussion about reforming the Thai Sangha's
leadership structure, including a 2002 proposal which would have moved
many of the Sangha Council's and the Supreme Patriarch's powers to a new
executive council.67
3.2.2 Thai Interpretation of Buddhism
Buddhism, though often described as a religion for rationalists and
intellectuals, plainly developed not only along the line of wisdom (prajna ปั ญญำ) but also along that of compassion (karuna - กรุณำ) and to be liberated
means ‘Nirvana’ or ‘Nibanna’ – ‘นิพพำน’-—the stage of cessation of suffering.68
In the type of Buddhism followed in the southern countries of Ceylon,
Thailand and Burma, a meditation on Metta-เมตตำ, or the sending forth of
loving-kindness to the whole world, is practiced daily by the monks. 69 This
practice has its origin in an early scripture known as ‘The Discourse on
Universal Love’ in which the Buddha is quoted as saying:
Cfr. SIVARAKSA S., Buddhism and Social Values, in PITTMAN D. - HABITO R. (Eds.),
Ministry and Theology in Global Perspective: Contemporary Challenges for the Church, Michigan,
William B. Erdmann Publishing Co., 1996, 485-486,488. Buddhism works best in small
communities. In Siam (Thailand) you can see many temples where monks live. Although the
monks also compromise, they lead a celibate life and spend their time meditating on the truth.
Of course, they also work on indigenous medicine, they teach and so on; the stress is always on
the individual in community, with a harmonious natural surrounding.
69 Cfr. NANCY R., Three Ways of Asian Wisdom: Hinduism, Buddhism and Zen and their
significance for the West, New York, Simon and Schuster, 1966, 122-123; FERNANDO A.,
Buddhism Made Plain : An Introduction for Christians and Jews, Maryknoll, Orbis Books,
As a mother, even at the risk of her own life, protects and loves her
child, her only child, so let man cultivate love without measure toward the
whole world, above, below, and around, unstained, unmixed with any feeling of
differing or opposing interest. Let a man remain steadfast in this state of mind
all the while he is awake, whether he be standing, walking, sitting or lying
down. This state of mind is the best in the world.70
Thai Theravada Buddhism is its own blend. The Thais adopted the
essence of philosophy, of the simple argumentation about cause and effect and
re-incarnation, and the sets of commandments. 71 They also brought in the
important features of the Indian culture with its Brahminic rites without
dropping the beliefs and practices of animism. This syncretism is the basis of
its receptivity to religious discussion. But it is not to be confused with spiritual
responsiveness.72 King Lithai’s Sermon (1347-1374)
King Lithai’s Sermon on the Three Worlds, seeks to make the spiritual
dimension of Buddhism more accessible to the laity.73
The text reveals a mutual proximity and influence of ruler and
subjects. The King was not only a political leader but an ethical teacher.
Spiritually, the monkhood was placed even higher than the king: when the
monk sat on the stone slab, the sovereign remained on the floor, with his
subjects, listening to the sermon, as is still the custom today.74
Lithia inserts into a cosmological framework legends about Buddhist
deities, descriptions of heavenly realms and hellish beings and other elements
which, though not always compatible with Theravada orthodoxy, could serve
to communicate the Dharma to those who possessed only a minimum of
Cfr. NANCY R., Three Ways of Asian Wisdom, 123.
In Thai thinking, the ideas of merit and demerit so essential to the doctrine of karma
are linked linguistically to those of good and evil; good and merit are both bun (บุญ); evil and the
absence of merit are bap (บำป). The Theravada idea of karma (and the Thai peasant's
understanding of it) charges the individual with responsibility for good and evil acts and their
consequences. Thai do not rely solely on the accumulation of merit, however gained, to bring
that improved state into being. Other forms of causality, ranging from astrology to the action of
spirits of various kinds, are also part of their outlook.
72 Cfr. SRITANDON N., The Church in Thailand, in ATHYAL S. (Ed.), Church is Asia
Today: Opportunities and Challenges, Singapore, The Asia Lausanne Committee for World
Evangelization, 1996, 238-265; BUNNAG J., The Way of monk and the Way of the World:
Buddhism in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, in BECHERT H. - GOMBRICH R. (Eds.), The World
of Buddhism, London, Thames and Hudson, 1984, 168-169.
73 Cfr. REYNOLDS F. - REYNOLDS M., Three Worlds According to King Rung: A Buddhist
Cosmology, Berkeley, Asian Humanities Press, 1982; NA-RANGSI SUNTHRON, Buddhism in Thai
Culture in YOSHINORI TAKEUCHI (Ed.), Buddhist Spirituality: India, Southeast Asian, Tibetan,
Early Chinese, London, SCM Press LTD., 1994,109
74 Cfr. SIVARAKSA S., Thai Spirituality and Modernization, in YOSHINORI TAKEUCHI
(Ed.), Buddhist Spirituality: India, Southeast Asian, Tibetan, Early Chinese, London, SCM Press
LTD, 1994,112.
Buddhist learning. The cosmological scheme is correlated with the more
psychologically oriented analysis of consciousness and material factors that
are constitutive of Theravada doctrinal orthodoxy and with Theravada
conceptions of human social order and hierarchy. But these texts became
problematic for many thoughtful Buddhists when they were exposed to
Western science and ideology.75 King Mongkut (1804 - 1868)
Buddhist monk, Mongkut won distinction as an authority on the Pali
Buddhist scriptures and became head of a reformed order of the Siamese
sangha. Thai Buddhism had become heavily overlaid with superstitions
through the centuries, and Mongkut attempted to purge the religion of these
accretions and restore to it the spirit of Buddha's original teachings.
Mongkut’s twenty-seven years as a Buddhist monk not only made him a
religious figure of some consequence but also exposed him to a wide array of
foreign influences. Blessed with an inquisitive mind and great curiosity about
the outside world, he cultivated contacts with French Roman Catholic and
United States Protestant missionaries. He studied Western languages (Latin
and English), science, and mathematics. His lengthy conversations with the
missionaries gave him a broad perspective that greatly influenced his policies
when he became king in 1851. He was more knowledgeable of Western ways
than any previous Thai monarch.76
He felt the need to go beyond Lithai’s Three Worlds. He believed that if
Thai Buddhist were to survive the Western imperialism they must 1) Return to
the original teaching of the Buddha, beyond the Three Worlds and 2)
Reinterpret Ramkamhaeng’s message in the light of Theravada Buddhism, so
that the king would be a dhamma raja (Righteous King) rather than a deva
raja (God King).77 He held that the king had the right to rule as long as he was
Cfr. SIVARAKSA S., Thai Spirituality and Modernization, 113.
Cfr. BUNNAG J., The Way of monk and the Way of the World, 160; LEPOER B.,
Mongkut 's Opening to the West, in
thailand25.html, (15 March 2006), 1.
77 Cfr. SIVARAKSA S., Buddhism and Social Values, 488. Regarding the state: the
Buddha said the state or the king is like a snake: keep them at arm’s length but you cannot get
away from them; do not kill them as that would be violent. Handle the state as you handle the
snake: be kind and cautious. If you want to deal with the snake, go behind it, not front of it.
righteous, and that if the people did not want him on the throne, they had the
right to remove him.78 The Venerable Phra Buddhadasa Bhikkhu (1906-1993)
He was not interested in ceremonial details and going beyond the
literary message in the Pali Canon, he was able to grasp the essential
teachings of Buddha. He also studied Christianity and Islam in the spirit of
dialogue without any feeling of superiority or inferiority. He was very much
admired by Thai Christians and Muslims alike. Yet his influence on the
monkhood, of all sects, is tremendous. Both scholars and meditation masters
look up to him as a very important guru, although he only claims to be a Good
Friend (kalayanamitta- กัลยำณมิตร).
In conclusion it can be said that Buddhist ceremonies are an integral
part of every government and most public functions. The king supports all
religions, and past constitutions have given freedom for Thais to choose any
religion. They must have a religion, and animism is not recognized as a
religion. This ‘laissez faire’ attitude was not questioned while 95% of Thai have
understood implicitly that: “to be a Thai is to be a Buddhist.” But today there
is less religious complacency. The changes probably reflect a new social
acceptability of change in religion due to intercultural marriages.
3.3 Catholicism
The happy blend of Hindu, Buddhist and Animist culture of the people
made Thailand sufficiently open to the entry and growth of the Catholic
3.3.1 Entry of the Catholic Church into Thailand
The Nestorian Christians were perhaps the first missionaries to set foot
in Thailand (Siam) between 525 - 800 A.D. before the arrival of the western
Cfr. SIVARAKSA S., Thai Spirituality and Modernization, 113-114.
Cfr. SIVARAKSA S., Thai Spirituality and Modernization, 117; BUNNAG J., The Way of
monk and the Way of the World, 160.
80 Cfr. PHILIP T., East of the Euphrates: Early Christianity in Asia, Siam (Sornau), in showchapter.asp?title=1553&C=1365, (10 November 2005), 1.
In Marco Polo’s day, the trade routes from Baghdad to Peking were lined with Nestorian
Roman Catholic priests accompanied an embassy of Alfonso de
Albuquerque in 1511. 81 We owe the first historical record of an attempt to
introduce Christianity to John Peter Maffei who states that in 1550 a French
Franciscan, Bonferre, hearing of the great kingdom of the Peguans and the
Siamese in the East, went on a Portuguese ship from Goa to Cosme (Peguan),
where for three years he preached the Gospel, but without any result.
In 1552 St. Francis Xavier, writing from Sancian to his friend Diego
Pereira, expressed his desire to go to Siam, but his death on 2 December,
1552, prevented him. In 1553 several Portuguese ships landed in Siam, and at
the request of the king three hundred Portuguese soldiers entered his service.
In the following year two Dominicans, Fathers Hieronymus of the Holy Cross
and Sebastian de Cantù, joined them as chaplains. In a short time they
established three parishes at Ayutthaya and converted some fifteen hundred
Siamese. Both missionaries, however, were murdered by the pagans (1569),
and were replaced by Fathers Lopez Cardoso, John Madeira, Alphonsus
Ximenes, Louis Fonseca (martyred in 1600), and John Maldonatus (d. 1598).
The first resident Catholic missionaries arrived in 1567 and entered
They were warmly received but de Cruz and two other
missionaries were killed by the Burmese in 1569. Franciscan missionaries
first arrived in 1582. In 1606 the Jesuit Balthasar de Sequeira at the request
of the Portuguese merchant Tristan Golayo set out and the first Jesuit reached
Siam in 1607. In 1624 Father Julius Cesar Margico, came to Ayutthaya and
gained the favour of the king. A subsequent persecution, however, stopped the
propagation of the Faith
and no missionary entered till Siam was made a
vicariate Apostolic by Alexander VII on 22 August, 1662. Soon after, Mgr Pierre
de la Motte-Lambert, Vicar-Apostolic of Cochin China, arrived at Ayutthaya,
accompanied by Fathers De Bourges and Deydier. 83 By 1662, there was a
churches; the Muslim persecutions of AD 699 and 813 did not check the zeal of these earliest
missionaries. The mission was carried out by Persian, Indian and Chinese missionaries and
traders. Before the arrival of western powers, the commercial and cultural influences of China
and India were very widespread in other Asian countries. China and India met in Indo-China.
By far, South India exercised the greatest influence in South East Asia. For centuries, St.
Thomas Christians carried out missionary work both inside and outside India.
81 Cfr. VANAROTSUVIT V., A History of the Thai Catholic Church, Sampran, Saengtham
College Press, 1990, 9. It may be 1567 or 1568.
82 Cfr. METZLER J., Propaganda Fide Congregation in SUNQUIST W.(ed.) A dictionary of
Asian Christianity , Grand Rapids, Wm.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001, 676-678; Cfr. NIGHT
K., Siam, in, (8 October 2005), 1.
83 The French missionaries established the Missions Etrangeres de Paris in 1660. The
arrival of the first batch of the French missionaries happened by accident: a group on its way to
China and Vietnam stopped over in Ayutthaya on hearing of the serious persecution in those
Christian community of roughly 2,000 people in Ayutthaya, served by one
Spanish and 10 Portuguese priests.84
In August 1662, the Catholic Missions Étrang Eeres de Paris (MEP)85
sent three missionaries to Ayutthaya, including Pierre Lambert de la Motte,86
who was an apostolic vicar as well looking after a Christian community of
2,000; and in 1664, a second apostolic vicar, François Pallu,87 also was sent to
Ayutthaya along with a group of companions. In 1664, the French
missionaries in Ayutthaya held a synod in which it was agreed, among other
things, to open a seminary.88 In 1669, a papal bull, Speculatores, was issued
giving the apostolic vicars full authority over all Catholics in Ayutthaya, which
they had not had before. That same year the mission opened its first hospital,
and in the ensuing years the work of the mission prospered so that by 1674
there were roughly 600 Thai Catholics. There were many more Catholics of
other nationalities in the Kingdom of Ayutthaya, including Vietnamese,
Portuguese, and Japanese Christians.89 In 1688, however, the apparently proCatholic King Narai of Ayutthaya was deposed and the new king, Phra Phetraja, engaged in a severe oppression of Christianity. From that point onwards,
the church suffered under several periods of repression and Catholic
missionaries were closely regulated in their work.90
Matters improved with the establishment of the Chakri Dynasty in
1782, and in 1785 King Phra Phutthayotfa (Rama I) invited Catholic
missionaries to return to Siam. Catholicism began to grow, slowly, with about
2,500 Catholics in Siam in 1802 and roughly 3,000 by 1811. In 1838 Mgr.
Jean-Baptiste Pallegoix was consecrated as bishop of Siam, and in 1841 the
Vatican established the Mission of Oriental Siam, including Siam and Laos
84 Cfr. CHUMSRIPHAN S., A Brief History of the Catholic Church in Thailand, in
CATHOLIC PRESS OF THAILAND (Ed.), 2004 Thailand: The Catholic Directory, Bangkok,
Assumption Printing Press, 2004, 4-10.
85 Cfr. CHARBONNIER J., Paris Foreign Missions Society (MEP), in SUNQUEST W. (Ed.),
A dictionary of Asian Christianity, 636-638.
86 Cfr. LOMAX C. (Trans.), Memoirs of the Paris Foreign Mission Society (MEP), De La
Motte, Pierre Lambert in SUNQUEST W. (Ed.), A dictionary of Asian Christianity, 231-232.
87 Cfr. DO HUU A., Memoirs of the Paris Foreign Mission Society (MEP), HAMLIN J.
(Trans.), Pallu, Francois, in SUNQUEST W. (Ed.), A dictionary of Asian Christianity, 633-634.
88 Cfr. CHUMSRIPHAN S., Synod of Ayutthaya, 1664, in SUNQUEST W.
(Ed.), A
dictionary of Asian Christianity, 810-811.
89 In Thailand Buddhism and politics have always been closely linked. This is also true
of present time. The Thai people feel a sense of uniqueness because of Buddhism. To be Thai
means to be Buddhist; foreign elements are for the foreigners or the non-Thai (which include
Vietnamese, Laotian, Cambodian, Japanese, and Portuguese).
90 Buddhism was used to mobilize the Thai people against Christianity and the
missionaries who were accused of destroying Buddhism. This let the Buddhist monks and the
people to support King Phra Phet-raja.
with Pallegoix as its apostolic vicar.91 By 1875, the Siam Mission had roughly
10,000 Christians, 20 European missionaries, and 8 Thai priests. From this
point onwards, the mission work continued to grow rapidly. In 1885, it
established its first modern Western-style school in Bangkok, Assumption
College. St. Louis Hospital was founded in 1898. After 1910, Catholic work
began to spread quite rapidly into new areas of the country, particularly in
northern Siam.
In 1983 Archbishop Michael Michai Kitbunchu was appointed by Pope
John Paul II as Thailand's first cardinal and was also made a member of the
Congregation for the Evangelization of People.92 In1984 on the 10th of May, His
Holiness Pope John Paul II came for a short visit to Thailand; this gave a
wonderful opportunity to all the faithful to welcome him and to see and closely
feel his presence.93 In 1989 A.D. Pope John Paul II beatified the 7 Thai Martyrs
in Rome and on March 5, 2000 Fr. Nicolas Bunkerd Kitbamrung was declared
3.3.2 Profile of the Church
To describe the Catholics in Thailand in detail is a risky procedure. It is
too easy to give the impression of a cohesion and importance which it does not
have. If we were to ignore the geographical dispersion of the Church, there
would be no reason why Thailand should have more than one diocese, and
even that diocese should not be very important. So in all that follows the
reader should keep at the back of his mind that we are talking about a microchurch.95
In 1970, Thailand had 144,460 Catholics among a total population of
29,192,757 = 0.64%. In 1990, Thailand had 228,672 Catholics among a total
population of 55,237.060=0.53 %. In 2004, Thailand had 298,009 Catholics
among a total population of 63,927,708=0.55%. So the Catholic Church, with
91 Cfr. LOMAX C. (Trans.), Memoirs of the Paris Foreign Mission Society (MEP), Pallegoix,
Jean Baptists, in SUNQUEST W. (Ed.), A dictionary of Asian Christianity, 632-633.
92 Cfr. EAB (Episcopal Archives Bangkok), The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Thailand
(CBCT), Extraordinary Meeting, 17-19 May 1983, 6.
93 Cfr. EAB, The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Thailand, Ordinary Meeting, 7-10
February 1984, 3. On the occasion of the Papal Visit to Thailand, the love and reverence shown
towards His Holiness should reflect the union of the local Church with His Holiness, the Pope in
an ever increasing degree.
Cfr. CHUMSRIPHAN S., A Brief History of the Catholic Church in Thailand, 4-14.
Cfr. LEPOER B., Mongkut 's Opening to the West, 2.
0.55%, came third on the list of religious groups, after the Buddhists (95%)
and the Muslim (4%), and was followed by other Christians, the Brahmins,
Sikhs, the Hindus, etc.96
The Catholics are numerically a very small minority; nevertheless in the
educational field the Church has a definite importance . On the other hand the
Church has not made its mark in all the other fields of national life,
intellectually, culturally, politically, economically, and even - which is far more
serious - spiritually. 97
The failure to make an impact on national life is also
explained by the way the Christian population is scattered all over the place.
Christianity could not find its proper insertion in the social, political and
cultural life of the Buddhist nation. Moreover, since these Catholic groups
come from a background that is not properly Thai, it is hardly astonishing that
Catholic influence counts for very little. A good portion of the Catholic
population belongs to the Chinese, Vietnamese, Laos and other tribal ethnic
groups. This is also reflected when it comes to the group of the clergy. Finally
it should be noted that only very recently an official government statement
referred to Christians as ‘Thais’. One should not make too much of this, since
the government is far more concerned with applying the name Thai to the
Muslims who were inclined toward separation than to the Christians. It is
nevertheless the first time that the adjective ‘Thai’ has been applied to the
followers of non-Buddhist ‘foreign’ religions.
3.3.3 Ecclesiastical Organization
The division of the ecclesiastical territories was designed to leave a
homogeneous clergy (local or foreign) in a particular area. This has led to a
certain isolationism in these dioceses, and has brought about a local
individualism which does not encourage exchange.
By the middle of the 20th century, since the Catholic Church in
Thailand had grown considerably and had indicated even to greater growth in
the future, the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda Fide erected the two
96 Cfr. Appendix 4, Statistic of Catholic Church in Thailand, Table1-5; Appendix 5, The
Growth of the Catholic Church in Thailand (1662-2004).
97 Some leading Catholic schools and organizations are worth mentioning: Assumption
University (St. Gabriel Brothers), St. Gabriel School (St. Gabriel Brothers), Don Bosco Technical
School (Salesians), Mater Dei College (Ursulines), St. Joseph School (St. Paul de Chartres
Sisters), The Catholic Students Center, The Catholic Teachers Association of Thailand, The
Catholic Education Council of Thailand, The Catholic Council of Thailand for Development,
CBCT (1st: 25-27 September 1956) etc.
ecclesiastical provinces of Bangkok and Tharae Nongsaeng with John Gordon
and Angelo Pedroni as the Apostolic Vicars.
Thus on December 18, 1965
Thailand received its first Archbishops.98
The Ecclesiastical Province of Bangkok is made up of: The Metropolitan
See of Bangkok (Formerly an Apostolic Vicariate) with the following Suffragan
Dioceses: 1) Ratchaburi, created on Dec. 18, 1965. Previously it was erected
an Apostolic Vicariate on April 3, 1941. 2) Chanthaburi, created on Dec. 18,
1965. Formerly it was erected an Apostolic Vicariate on October 18, 1944 and
was assigned to the native clergy. 3) Chiangmai, created on Dec. 18, 1965. It
was erected an Apostolic Prefecture in 1960.99
Archdiocese of Tharae-Nongsaeng which was created by the Bull Qui in fastigio
of December 18, 1965. It was erected an Apostolic Vicariate on Dec. 21, 1950.
The Suffragan Dioceses are 1) Ubon Ratchathani, created on Dec. 22, 1965, by
the decision of the Holy See. It had been erected an Apostolic Vicariate on May
7, 1953. 2) Nakhon Ratchasima, created on Dec.18, 1965. Formerly it was
erected an apostolic Vicariate on March 22, 1965. 3) Udon Thani, created on
Dec. 18, 1965. Previously it was erected an Apostolic Prefecture on May 7,
Later two other dioceses were erected: 1) Nakhon Swan was erected on
Metropolitan. 2) Surat Thani was created on June 26, 1969 and was assigned
to the Salesian Congregation. The Diocese also became a suffragan diocese of
3.3.4 The Growth of the Catholic Church in Thailand
It is not easy to measure the growth of the Catholic Church in Thailand
on the basis of diocesan statistics. Three of the present dioceses were for a
98 Cfr. CHUMSRIPHAN S., A Brief History of the Catholic Church in Thailand, 10;
SRITANDON N., The Church in Thailand, in ATHYAL S.(Ed.), Church is Asia Today: Opportunities
&Challenges, 238-265.
99 Cfr. CHENEY D., Chanthaburi, in
html, (15 April 2006), 1; CHENEY D., Catholic Church in Thailand, in http://lox2. lox
/~thcatcom/, (15 April 2006), 1.
100 Cfr. CHENEY D., Ubon Ratchathani, in
dubon.html, (15 April 2006); CHENEY D., Udon Thani, in
diocese/dudon.html ; CHENEY D., Catholic Church in Thailand, /~th
catcom/ , (15 April 2006), 1.
101 Cfr. CHENEY D., Nakhon Swan, in diocese/
dnakh.html , (15 April 2006), 1.
long time under the Vicariate Apostolic of Laos, and little is available as
regards statistics from there. The rate of conversion in Thailand is very slow.
The number of catechumens is always less than one hundred, even in the best
of dioceses. To calculate the growth of the Catholic Church in Thailand, one
may simply take the birth-rate of the country and then add some tens of adult
conversions each year.102
Even here one has to be careful because of the mobility of the
population. A number of Catholics from the provinces leave their villages and
seek their fortune in Bangkok or elsewhere. This internal mobility is an
important factor in Thailand, especially in the last three decades. Usually
these Catholics are still on the census list of their original parish, but they
may well be included in that of the parish they belong to at present.
In fact, if we compare the figure of 1950 with those of 1970 and the
latest 2004, we reach practically the same percentage:
1950: 82,910 Catholics in a population of 18,000,000 = 0.46%.
1970: 144,460 Catholics in a population of 29,192,757 = 0.64%.
1980: 191,909 Catholics in a population of 44,578,734 = 054%.
1990: 228,672 Catholics in a population of 55,237,060 = 0.52 %.
2000: 268,185 Catholics in a population of 63,336,980 = 0.52 %.
2004: 298,009 Catholics in a population of 63,927,708 = 0.55%.
The statistics show that between the years 1950 and 2000 growth was
only 0.06%. So it seems that the growth of the Catholic Church in Thailand
Apart from the birth-rate, the growth of the Catholic community is due
mainly to mixed marriages, except in the Northeast, as the Catholic partner is
usually strong enough to stipulate the conversion of the other. For a long time
the ecclesiastical authorities were rather rigid on this point, but today it is
much easier to obtain a dispensation.104
After the second Vatican Council in 1965, Catholics sought to
contextualize rituals and practices to parallel those in Buddhist temples. They
borrowed many Buddhist terms including the name ‘temple’ (wat, วัด) for the
102 Cfr. Appendix 4, Statistic of Catholic Church in Thailand, Table1-5; Appendix 5, The
Growth of the Catholic Church in Thailand (1662-2004).
103 Ibid.
104 Cfr. KREUTZ S., Religion, in, (23
October 2005), 1.
church, causing a negative reaction from Buddhists.
They did not
emphasise evangelism. The growth was not among the central Thais, but
rather, among the northern tribal groups, Thai-Lao, Chinese in Bangkok, and
Vietnamese immigrants.
4. State and Catholic Church
Buddhist pragmatism determines the relation of the state with other
religions including the Catholic Church.
4.1 The Law of the Land
The 1997 Constitution did not pronounce Buddhism as the state
religion of Thailand. But the Buddhist nature of the state was guarded by a
clause which postulated that only a Buddhist could be the king of Thailand.106
At the same time the Constitution protected all religions. It gave equality of
status to all persons, whatever their origin or religion. All are free to profess
any religion, any religious belief, or belong to any religious sect, and to
practice the worship linked with it, on condition that there is no interference
with civic duties, public order and morality.107
In 1969 diplomatic relations were established between Thailand and the
Vatican, although its representative is not the dean of the diplomatic corps,
and therefore only has the rank of Pro-Nuncio. The Church is also assured of
the right to build and manage its schools once the Ministry has given
permission. Both state schools and private schools are subject to exactly the
same control.
Parish priests and their assistants are exempt from military service, and
it is up to the ecclesiastical superior to notify the authorities of this fact in
each individual case. Religious teaching has been allowed on the school
105 Cfr. EAB, The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Thailand, Ordinary Meeting, 26-29
May1981, 8-9; Ordinary Meeting, 14-17 December 1982, 4. Problem affecting the Church in
Thailand: The Catholic Church in Thailand has been accused and attacked by a group of
defenders of the Buddhist Religion, saying that the Catholic Religion has a plan for absorbing
Buddhism and using religious dialogue as a screen, that religious dialogue intends to subvert
Buddhism, that we are falsifying the teaching of Buddhism and using vocabulary and things of
Buddhism, etc..
106 Cfr. CHULARAT A. (Trans.), Thailand Constitution1997, 2. The Constitution 1997,
Chapter II, Section 9 [] The King is a Buddhist and Upholder of religions.
107 Ibid. 5-10. The Constitution 1997, Chapter I Section 5 [] The Thai people, irrespective
of their origins, sexes or religions, shall enjoy equal protection under this Constitution. Chapter III
Section 30 [] All persons are equal before the law and shall enjoy equal protection under the law.
Men and women shall enjoy equal rights…. religious belief.
premises, but must take place outside school hours even in confessional
schools. In 1993 this practice has been officially changed.
On the part of the government, the department for religious matters is a
sector of the Ministry of Education, and is responsible for the relations with all
religions, and therefore also with the Church. Here there has been some
confusion, but with the setting up of the Episcopal Conference this confusion
is gradually being cleared up.
4.2 The Reality
The actual state of affairs corresponds to the situation in law. The
Church in fact makes full use of what the Constitution and the laws have
granted it. Thus Catholic schools, like the private schools, are subsidized in
certain cases by the Ministry. The Church also receives the symbolic
contributions which the Department of Religious Affairs gives to the various
religions in proportion to their membership.
On the other hand, the importance of these facts should not be
exaggerated. The tolerance is real, and here the official attitude reflects that of
the average Buddhist who considers that all religions are good since they
contribute to a higher morality in society. But this becomes only a kind of
sympathy where the relations are influenced by personal friendship, which
happens to be the case with many who have been educated in Catholic
This tolerance makes it more regrettable that the Church is so little
involved in the life of the nation, and even seems content to let things rest
there. It may well be that the Church is tolerated because it keeps in the
background, and that a more active commitment might look like an attempt to
increase its influence, particularly since so far it has not proved that it is
seriously interested in the country. But perhaps the bad impression would be
given only if the Church acted as a power-structure. It would be a different
matter if the Church's image reflected its spiritual message.
5. Recent Theological Musings on Thai Evangelization
Evangelization in Thailand is more than three hundred years old,
though there were never more than a few thousand Catholics till near the end
of the 20th century.
5.1 Brief Survey of Church Presence
Here in this section, reference is made only to a few facts which deserve
particular consideration.
5.1.1 Indirect Evangelization
It is interesting to note that the work of evangelization in Siam began
indirectly. The first converts in Thailand were not Thais (or Siamese) but
refugees or immigrants from the neighbouring countries of Southeast Asia,
Confucians and Mahayana Buddhists lived peacefully together.
When Mgr. de la Motte and his companions arrived they no doubt found
an already existing community of some two thousand Catholics, but in fact
these Catholics lived on the fringe of the local society, even if they were Asians
or descendants from Portuguese mercenaries at the court of Ayutthaya who
had married Chinese, Anamneses or Cambodian women. Moreover, it was to
these troops that the missionaries who preceded Mgr. de la Motte had been
5.1.2 Chinese Priority
Again, Mgr. de la Motte himself had been sent not so much to
evangelize the Kingdom of Siam as to set up a seminary where Chinese and
Annamites could be trained for the apostolate in their country of origin. He did
in fact establish such a seminary in Ayutthaya, the capital. But it could not
stay there for long because the city suffered a Burmese invasion a century
later. And so it moved from place to place till it finally settled down in Penang
(Malaya), where it still remains today.108
As the ‘General College’ (the name by which the Seminary was known)
had only a small staff, it is understandable that the mission to the Siamese
took second place after the training of the seminarians. The clergy of the
General College’ became the new nucleus around which the Catholic
community could gather, and although it slowly progressed, the new converts
were Chinese and Anamneses, as before.
108 Cfr. CHUMSRIPHAN S., A Brief History of the Catholic Church in Thailand, 13. The
college continued to exist until the fall of Ayutthaya in 1767; It was founded again at Hondas in
Cambodia, than at Virampatnam in India until 1808, and then at Penang in 1809.
5.1.3 Strong Theravada Buddhism
Another feature which marked the beginnings of the mission was its
lack of success among the Theravada Buddhists of Siam, in spite of the hopes
raised by the short-lived courtship between the court of Ayutthaya and that of
Versailles, when King Narai (1657-1668) hoped to obtain French military aid
against Dutch aggression. As long as Christians limited their proselytism to
Chinese or Anamneses, the Buddhists were tolerant enough but as soon as
Christianity threatened to become a challenge to Buddhism, the relations
became very cool. On some occasions this turned even to violence when the
alliance between the Church of Siam and the great powers (France
particularly) began to appear a threat to the independence of the nation.
Because Catholicism succeeded with the ‘foreigners’ but failed with the
Buddhists, it was from the start seen as a foreign religion: it was not only
brought to Siam by Western foreigners but succeeded only with Asian
foreigners. And this is by and large still the impression one gets today.109
5.1.4 Single Ethnic Effort
For about 250 years missionary and pastoral work in Thailand was in
the hands of missionaries who were almost exclusively French. Besides, it was
these who were in charge of the formation of local priests in the Penang
seminary. Thus in many respects the Church in Thailand today is a faithful
reflection of the Church as it used to be in France.110
Cfr. SRIWARAKUEL W., Christianity and Thai Culture, 1-20.
Ibid. ‘III. No Inculturation: The Case of Catholicism in Thailand’, The Ideal Garden is to
the Gospel as the local landscape is to the local tradition. From history of landscape
architecture, there were two styles of landscaping: English and French. The English style will
adapt the Ideal Garden to the local landscape, but the French style will do the opposite, namely,
adapt the local landscape to the Ideal Garden. In fact, both ways are logically and factually
possible even though the French style is more difficult. It happened that the missionaries in
Siam chose to follow ‘the French style’ probably because they believed that the Gospel could
never change. At this point they perhaps misunderstood the idea of the permanence of the
Gospel. Of course, the ‘substance’ of the Gospel will never change, but its ‘form’ can be changed
and appropriated. Water is always water no matter it is in the form of ice, liquid or gas. So is the
Gospel. The missionaries did not make this distinction, so they tried to westernize Thai people
with their dos and don’ts. The Western tradition is like ice (more rigid) whereas the Thai culture
is like water (more flexible). To make the Gospel in the form of ‘water’ is easier than to make the
Thai culture in the form of ‘ice’ the missionaries did the opposite. That is the reason why they
could convert only the expatriates, the slaves, the sick, the poor and those who were occupied
the margins of the society.
5.1.5 Peripheral Effort
Even today there are two facts that point towards the continuation of
the foreign image. On the one hand, there have been some missionary
successes among the people that live in the mountains and are ethnically
different from the Siamese, and on the other hand, there has been an increase
in foreign missionaries who, expelled from China at the time of the Communist
revolution, were only too glad to find in Thailand the same kind of Chinese as
those they had so recently left behind. This continued the missionary
preoccupation with the non-Thai minorities.111
5.2 Future Challenges to Evangelization
Christianity has been in Thailand for more than three hundred years,
its message has not however penetrated the hearts of the Thai people fully.
Many reasons have been given till now. However, in order to arrive at a more
complete picture of the Catholic Church in Thailand, some existential
difficulties encountered in the work of evangelization today are highlighted in
this section.112 They are more on the level of feelings and of social character
rather than on the level of religion as such. Some of them will be singled out
with a brief indication of the socio-economic and political background.113
The Church has a duty to proclaim the Gospel to all people. John Paul
II had emphasized on this service to humanity: that is, the proclamation of the
Good News to all men. The correct methodology of mission work requires
missionaries to respect the recipients of the Good News. The Gospel
Proclamation must not be given with force; on the contrary, it must be given
because the recipient is willing to receive the truth and Faith. In our present
time, the Church wants to reserve and preserve all the good in other religions,
111 Cfr. Thailand in Transition, The Church in a Buddhist Country, in “Pro Mundi Vita ”,
48 (1973), 17-18.
112 Cfr. EAB, The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Thailand, The Future plan of Thailand
on Inter-religious Dialogue, Ordinary Meeting, 6-8 May1980, 14-16; EAB, The Catholic Bishops’
Conference of Thailand, Future plan of Thailand on Inculturation, Ordinary Meeting, 26-29
May1981, 8-9.
113 Cfr. Appendix 3, Letters to Pope John Paul II: regarding the intrusion of the Roman
Catholic Church onto Buddhism (in Thailand); EAB, The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of
Thailand, Problem affecting the Church in Thailand, Ordinary Meeting, 14-17 December 1982, 4.
not to destroy it, but only make it more perfect by purification. When this is
done, the Good News will strike root in all cultures.114
5.2.1 Foreign Image of the Church
As mentioned earlier, Christianity in Thailand remains the religion of
the minority and is looked upon as a religion of the foreigners, a foreign
religion. 115 The historical fact that, in the nearby countries, Christianity
entered together with the colonial thrust of the European countries aggravates
the situation. The effort of evangelization with its original aim of converting to
the institutional Catholic Church is thus seen as the effort of colonizing the
country by a foreign power. Therefore, the idea that evangelization is a threat
to the sovereignty of the nation itself is used as a pretext to hinder the effort of
evangelization. It seems to be the time that the Church has to struggle to free
herself from this historical burden, from the stigma of being foreign to the eyes
of both her children and the Thai people, and from the scars of being attached
to alienating structures.116
5.2.2 Cultural Gap
From the cultural point of view, Christianity that is known in Thailand
is of Western garb, understanding and religiosity. This brings with it certain
difficulties of comprehension for the Thai people. The fact that Western
categories are used in expressing the teaching of Jesus and in stating its
theological interpretation creates a cultural gap between the evangelizer and
his audience. Thus evangelization is seen as an intellectual colonization,
which is not less dangerous than the political one. The fact that the liturgy till
Vatican II was in Latin complicated the matter all the more. The use of
114 Cfr. EAB, The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Thailand, Ordinary Meeting 26-29
May1981, 5-6.
115 Cfr. SRIWARAKUEL W., Christianity and Thai Culture, 3-5. Thai people call Chinese
‘Jeck - เจ๊ก; Jeen - จีน’ they call the Indians ‘Khaeg - แขก’ They call all the Europeans ‘Farang ฝรัง่ ’. However, the word ‘Khaeg’ refers not only to the Indians but also the Parkistanis, the
Bangladesh people, the Ceylonese, the Nepalese, the Malays, the Persians, the Arabs and all
peoples in the Near East and the Middle East (except Jews), and the Africans (Khaek Deom แขกดำ). The Thai people do not see Buddhism as an ‘imported’ or a foreign religion but as
innate. Both Buddhism and Christianity were ‘imported’ to Thailand, but Buddhism has never
been ‘alien’ to the way of life of the Thai people because of its very effective inculturation.
116 Cfr. VIVAT S. - BANCHONG J., Buddhism and Evangelization, in The Far East:
Culture, Religions, and Evangelization., Roma, Dicastero per le Missioni Salesiani, 1989, 50-51;
AMALADOSS M., Beyond Inculturation: Can the Many be One?, Delhi, Vidyajyoti Education &
Welfare Society/ISPCK, 1998, 11-16.
vernacular in liturgy did not change much of this situation. Because what has
been done so far is only to transplant another mentality and way of thinking
and living (considered as universal truth) to a soil in which it can hardly
5.2.3 Evangelization as Threat to Buddhism
Evangelization with the aim of converting people to the institutional
Church constitutes a threat to Buddhism itself. Thus instead of living together
in a community of plurality of faith, we live in constant tension between
different Creeds. Each considers all others as potential enemies. Thus there is
no real dialogue of life, and the faithful of each Creed shut themselves in their
own community without any sharing of particular values and spirituality that
they believe in and live. We live in a religious ghetto, even though on the social
level we might be friends and collaborators. In other words, there seems to be
an urgent need to come closer to a point of living together in an openness that
respects the other's belief and practices. It would mean that the Church needs
to emerge from self-centeredness towards a maturity, which urges her to reach
out to all Buddhist brothers and sisters.118
5.2.4 Identification of Religions with Culture
One cannot understand Thai culture without having knowledge of
Buddhism. Buddhism indeed bears influence on the people's outlook of life,
their values, behaviour, politics, development, judgments as well as their
formulation. It has been closely intertwined and thus identified with the Thai
culture and even the whole Thai nation.
By this same token, Christianity has been seen as Western culture.
Christian formation as well as their life-style is associated with the Western
system. As a matter of fact, Catholic schools and institutes are known for their
teaching of Western languages. Even the names of these institutions have a
western tinge.
As a consequence, the Thai people, consciously or
unconsciously, are afraid of being Christian because of the fear of losing their
being Thai, both in its existential and relational aspects. During the colonial
117 Cfr. VIVAT S. - BANCHONG J., Buddhism and Evangelization, 51; AMALADOSS M.,
Beyond Inculturation: Can the Many be One?, 13-14, 61-65.
118 Cfr. VIVAT S. - BANCHONG J., Buddhism and Evangelization, 51-52.
period, in the process of conversion the people may have opted for ‘foreign’
symbols as a means of identifying themselves with the group in power,
especially as a gesture against the local political elite.119
5.2.5 Indifference towards other Religions
The prevalent attitude in Asia, particularly in the Thai society, is that
all Religions are the same. It implies that they are all one in their essential
contents, although each expresses them in his own particular way which is
largely due to each one's historical and cultural background. Such attitude is
also seen in expressions like: ‘All Religions are equal’, ‘All are good’, ‘All have
the same aim in so far as they all are expressions of man's quest for the
eternal, and all teach people to be good’.
As a consequence, there is a strong conviction that man should be
faithful to the traditional religion in which he was born. Conversion to another
faith is considered a betrayal. Moreover, there is the belief that Buddhism, in
its essential contents, is the one true religion, universal and eternal, valid for
all times. Buddhists will easily claim that the essential teaching of Christianity
can find a place within this universal religion.120
5.2.6 Division among Christians
Besides the negative relationship between the Buddhists and Catholics,
there remain several problems both within the local Church in Thailand and
the Universal Church. The prominent one seems to be that of the division that
exists among the various Christian denominations, all of whom claim to follow
Christ who brings peace, love, and unity. This contradiction of life has become
even more palpable to the Thai people in today’s world where communication
is as fast as lightning. And indeed, if divided Christendom is the source of
weakness for the West, it is a sin and a stumbling block for the Thai people
who value peace and harmony above all else.
The principal and most immediate need is to change the attitudes and
beliefs of Church leaders, to help them understand more fully that the
progress and stability of the Church depend on the people, the masses who
Cfr. AMALADOSS M., Beyond Inculturation: Can the Many be One?, 11-12.
Ibid. 41-44.
are still oppressed and manipulated: the Church does not work for the poor
but with the poor, learning from them their needs and their vision.121
The geographical position of Thailand invited interaction by various
peoples and cultures. It made them spontaneously open to one another and
taught them how to share their life in all its complexity for mutual benefit.
They were fortunate to fight together against outside aggression but they never
locked horns against each other for selfish ends. In cementing the various
peoples together religion played a major role. A combination of Hinduism and
Buddhism without at the same destroying the beliefs of the Animists evolved a
religion that was at once morally attractive and socially progressive. Thais are
a people of freedom, who not only kept foreign aggressions at bay but were
also able to decide freely. It is this atmosphere of freedom that made Christian
religion welcome at least among some people, even though Theravada
Buddhism coming from Sri Lanka was accepted as the state religion. This
peaceful, accommodative and outgoing community character evolved through
centuries of co-existence of various peoples and religious groups has enabled
Thailand to make a leap towards all round progress and prosperity with
121 Cfr.
ANGAUMETHANGKUR D., Catholicism and Thailand, in http://www., (21 January 2006), 2;
Appendix 19, Interviews with priests and brother.