October 17, 2014
King Chulalongkorn is known as the ‘Great Reformer’
King Chulalongkorn Day (Thai: “Wan Piyamaharaj Day” loosely translated as ‘The Beloved Great King’). Is a national holiday in Thailand and is held on the 23rd of October every year.
Born on September 20th 1853; King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) ascended the throne in 1868 at the tender age of only 15. His Majesty passed away on October 23rd 1910 at the age of 57. He had ruled what was then Siam, for 42 years. He is the grandfather of the current King of Thailand, His Majesty the King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX).
Why is King Chulalongkorn one of Thailand’s most loved and revered Kings?
King Chulalongkorn is considered one of the greatest kings of Thailand, his picture can be seen hanging in reverence in many public buildings and Thai homes and still adorns the back of Thailand’s 100 baht note. His reign was characterized by extensive social, educational and economic restructuring and development.
His greatest achievement was started in 1874 and became law in 1905, with the introduction of the “Slave Abolition Act” which made slavery a crime and thus ending the traditional corvee system; unpaid labour imposed by the state on certain classes of people. (The Abolition of Slavery was passed in England in 1833 and in the USA in 1865).
Slavery in Thailand
Corvee/slavery had been in existence in the Kingdom for 387 years prior to 1905. At the beginning of his reign, more than 1/3 of the Thai population were classed as slaves. He began the process of removing slavery in 1874, in a slow and gradual manner, as the King understood that the system of Corvee was so etched in Thai culture that he was concerned the blood bath that was the American Civil War would also occur in his country, should he provide this mass of humanity over-night freedom where there was once only knew servitude.
Slaves (Household Slaves) were made of two separate entities at this time: 1) those who found themselves unable to survive on their own, sold themselves into slavery. 2) Borrowers who defaulted on a loan, become a slave of the lender. (Debt Bondage) A slave could regain their freedom by redeeming the debt, but the laws governing both the payments to slaves and the set amount required to be released from slavery made this dream almost impossible. The situation was further exasperated when the same slaves had children, for their children would be born into slavery and their chances of freedom were remote as their own redemption price was extremely high.
In 1874, the King enacted a law that lowered the redemption price of household slaves born in 1867 (his ascension year) and freed all of them when once they had reached 21. In introducing a tapered system of release from slavery, newly freed slaves were given time to settle themselves as farmers, fishermen or merchants, rather than simply leave them destitute and unable to fend for them-selves once the yolks of bondage were removed.
His Other acheivements
The King is also famed for his skill in fending off the threat of European colonialism, despite the fact that large tracts of Siam were ceded to the Europeans during his reign. His understanding of European matters ensured that Thailand, remained as it is still today, the only country in Southeast Asia to have never been colonized.
Throughout the King’s reign and for the first time ever in the Kingdoms history radical writers could have their works published and works that were previously banned were allowed to be read by the general public. He also allowed faiths other than Buddhism to be preached openly.
The King was also instrumental in improving his subject’s lives in the changes that he made in the governance, communication and rail transport within the country during his reign.
The main ceremonies are centered in the Royal Plaza, Dusit District, Bangkok. (Dusit is one of the 50 districts that make up Bangkok) It is here that many Thai’s, including politicians and the heads of the armed forces will show their respects for the departed monarch, by placing wreaths at the Equestrian Statue.
Much of this leafy part of Bangkok was originally built during the reign of King Chulalongkorn and bears the architectural mix of Thai and European styles characteristic of the era, including the Dusit Palace; a complex of palaces and royal residences he created to escape the heat and chaos of the Grand Palace. The seat of power in Thailand is to this day still in the district, along with numerous political institutions, international organisations and other royal palaces.
The ceremonies are not restricted to the capital and happen through-out the Kingdom but on a far smaller scale, where the Thai people will show the same reverence to all other statues of King Chulalongkorn. Most businesses function as normal but Government organizations and the banks are closed on this day.
It is for the reasons detailed here that King Chulalongkorn is known as the ‘Great Reformer’ and why he is so revered even today 117 years after his death.
This site may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of Thailand or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from asia-backpackers.com, please contact us.