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Lords of Things

The Fashioning of the Siamese Monarchy's Modern Image

Maurizio Peleggi

Publication Year: 2002

Lords of Things offers a fascinating interpretation of modernity in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Siam by focusing on the novel material possessions and social practices adopted by the royal elite to refashion its self and public image in the early stages of globalization. It examines the westernized modes of consumption and self-presentation, the residential and representational architecture, and the public spectacles appropriated by the Bangkok court not as byproducts of institutional reformation initiated by modernizing sovereigns, but as practices and objects constitutive of the very identity of the royalty as a civilized and civilizing class. Bringing a wealth of new source material into a theoretically informed discussion, Lords of Things will be required reading for historians of Thailand and Southeast Asia scholars generally. It represents a welcome change from previous studies of Siamese modernization that are almost exclusively concerned with the institutional and economic dimensions of the process or with foreign relations, and will appeal greatly to those interested in transnational cultural flows, the culture of colonialism, the invention of tradition, and the relationship between consumption and identity formation in the modern era.

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

List of Illustrations

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p. vi-vi

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p. vii-vii

This book was born out of a doctoral dissertation undertaken at the Australian National University, where my stay was made possible by scholarships from ANU and the Australian government’s Department of Employment, Education, and Training. The Division of Pacific and Asian History, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, ANU, covered all fieldwork expenses. Source materials were freely provided by Ronald Mahoney...

A Note on Romanization

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pp. ix-x

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Introduction: Monarchy and Modernity

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pp. 1-16

In 1996 the people of Thailand rejoiced in an unprecedented celebration: the Golden Jubilee of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, ninth monarch ofthe Chakri dynasty and the longest-reigning in the world today. Among the events that punctuated Bhumibol’s jubilee was the October visit of Elizabeth II, herself a long-serving monarch, on the throne since 1953. This...

Part I: Practices

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Chapter 1: Consumption Modes, Tastes, and Identity of Siam’s Modernizing Elite

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pp. 19-43

In February 1889, while cruising the South China Sea, the Duke of Sutherland’s yacht moored in Bangkok, where the duke and his party were the guests of King Chulalongkorn. Florence Caddy, a lady of the party with a Victorian bent for matters of fashion and décor, later published a travelogue that contains a vivid description of the banquet held at the Siamese...

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Chapter 2: Presentation and Representation of the Royal Self

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pp. 44-72

The conviction that a modern self could not be disjointed from a perceivably civilized body made bodily and clothing practices central to the refashioning of the Siamese monarchy’s image. The relations entertained with Southeast Asia’s colonial elites since the early 1870s awakened the Siamese royalty to the importance of a presentation of the self adequate to the status and authority they were claiming within the Victorian ecumene; hose...

Part II: Spaces

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Chapter 3: Suburban Playgrounds

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pp. 75-93

The refashioning of the Siamese monarchy’s image could not leave outthe private space in which the court’s daily life unfolded and the urbanlandscape in which royal authority was manifested by means of layoutand architecture as well as pageantry. During most of the Fifth Reign,however, new buildings representative of the court’s Westernized taste were...

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Chapter 4: Field of Glory

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pp. 94-110

With Dusit Park and the princely mansions built nearby, the Siamese royal elite acquired a private space at once more comfortable and moresuited to their self-image as civilized individuals than the cramped Grand Palace. The palace, however, retained during the early years of the twentieth century its symbolic preeminence as the realm’s “exemplary center,”...

Part III: Spectacles

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Chapter 5: Refashioning the Theater of Power

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pp. 113-142

The splendor of traditional Siamese state ceremonies had been a cause of amazement to foreign observers since the seventeenth century. Yet the final years of the Fifth Reign witnessed a series of public spectacles unprecedented in scale. In November 1907, a majestic pageant was staged for King Chulalongkorn’s return from Europe. The following month, a three-day...

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Chapter 6: On the World Stage

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pp. 143-163

At the same time that the Siamese modernizing elite appropriated Western objects to refashion their self- and public images, they were also engaged in representing Siam by means of its material culture for the European and American audiences of international exhibitions—one of the prominent invented traditions of the second half of the nineteenth century. What the promoters of these events concocted by blending...

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Epilogue: Monarchy and Memory

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pp. 164-170

This book has shown how and why things Western became, along with cultural and social practices, crucial to the self-representation of the Siamese royal elite in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Before that time, the elite’s social identity was grounded in a cosmological, cultural, and trading space in which an Indic civilizational sphere, informing religion, state theatrics, and the arts, overlapped with a Sinic civilizational sphere, whereby...


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pp. 171-206


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pp. 207-224


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pp. 225-232

E-ISBN-13: 9780824863388
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824824488

Publication Year: 2002