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  • A King and a Sultan
  • Neil Khor Jin Keong
Through the Eyes of the King: The Travels of King Chulalongkorn to Malaya Patricia Lim Pui Huen Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2009178 pp. ISBN: 978-981-2307-73-6
Johor: Local History, Local Landscapes 1855–1957 Patricia Lim Pui Huen Singapore: Straits Times Press, 2009240 pp. ISBN: 978-981-4266-26-0

Patricia Lim Pui Huen was formerly Reviews Editor of JMBRAS and is best known for her work on Wong Ah Fook, a Johor entrepreneur and developer. Lim's professional reputation is as a librarian whose published bibliographies have aided many scholars interested in the history of the Malaysian region.

These two books are products of her continuing interest in assembling biography and visual history into compelling narratives. Through the Eyes of the King gives readers an insight into the travels of King Chulalongkorn and how the monarch learned about the outside world and later used the knowledge gained to move Thailand forward as a nation-state. The transition from kingdom to nation-state, achieved in the 1930s, had its roots in the institutions and policies initiated by King Chulalongkorn.

Tracing King Chulalongkorn's development as a young man travelling out of Thailand for the first time and all his subsequent visits to Malaya on his outward voyages, Lim is able to put together a fairly good picture through the king's social programmes, the personalities he met and the reception he received.

The first tour took place in 1871 and the last in 1907. In those three decades, Malaya changed dramatically. British forward movement began with the Pangkor Treaty in 1874. By the turn of the twentieth century, British ambitions to take over the entire Malayan Peninsula were finally realized. In fact, two years after King Chulalongkorn's 1907 visit, the Bangkok Treaty saw him ceding Perlis, Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu to the British.

From the very first study tour, King Chulalongkorn realized that he was studying to be a very different kind of monarch. The old ways of ruling were over. His father, the late King Mongkut, had set in place the blueprint for a modern Thai [End Page 121] monarchy. It was now up to King Chulalongkorn to modernize Thailand without losing the kingdom in the process.

What were the lessons and knowledge gained from these outward voyages? Patricia Lim describes how the early visits gave the young king and his entourage some fundamental lessons in diplomacy. A royal visit was also a trade mission. It was as much a pleasure cruise as an opportunity to establish personal relationships with the colonial officers, some of whom were implementing British policy in Malaya.

These trips also fostered good business ties and enhanced King Chulalongkorn's reputation as a forward-looking Asian monarch. This created as much impact overseas as it did in Bangkok. In the Straits Settlements, King Chulalongkorn visited cities that were being modernized through Western technology. It was also his first experience of Western-style 'civil' society where traders and administrators managed the daily affairs of the colony.

In short, these trips were opportunities to learn about what best to adopt for Thailand. It was also a chance to tie in business interests and investments, the basic ingredient for Thailand's continued independence. Whilst in Penang, King Chulalongkorn had a chance to meet Khaw Sim Bee, his consul in Penang and a governor of Ranong (in south Thailand). The king was also given a first-hand account of the situation in the Malay states under Thai rule, then undergoing dramatic change owing to their proximity to the expanding British 'commercial' empire.

Although the book does not describe at length King Chulalongkorn's reforms and modernization, Patricia Lim's second book about the Sultanate of Johor, which is her home state, is almost a contrapuntal companion to her book about the Thai monarch. Johor, a kingdom created by the division of the old Johor-Riau Empire, was fast modernizing at the same time these outward voyages were undertaken.

In fact, King Chulalongkorn was able to meet Maharajah Abu Bakar in Singapore and Johor Bharu. In 1871, the young Thai monarch met the Maharajah, already developing...


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