publisher colophon
Long before Marshall McLuhan made his well-known declara­tion that “The medium is the message,” King Vajiravudh was aware of the importance of the media. The “messages” of Vajiravudh’s nationalistic campaign were transmitted to the Thai people in a prodigious variety of ways. The “media” were exploited by a king who was often acutely aware of what he was doing. What Vajiravudh was trying to do, above all, was affect the hearts of his people. Although legislation and decrees could have a role in reaching this objective, such measures were obviously more effective in bringing about changes in people’s acts than in their minds. Decrees smacked too much of the concept behind paid weepers at royal funerals; they had too little of the spontaneous show of love of nation, king, and religion that Vajiravudh hoped for among his people.

Legislation, however, cannot be ignored. Although nationalism cannot be legislated, certain acts of legislation undoubtedly aid in the development of nationalism. Laws, in this regard, can also be con­244sidered media. The legislative acts that provided for the formation of the Wild Tiger Corps and the Boy Scouts, the adoption of surnames, the change in flag design, the inauguration of special medals, the entrance into World War I, the institution of compulsory education, the attempt to develop a Thai merchant marine, can all be seen as instrumentalities that in whole or part were meant to make the Thai people strong, united, and proud. These acts were designed to produce habits that would eventually affect attitudes.

In the stricter meaning of the word, however, the media Vajira­vudh used to make direct emotional appeals included speeches, plays, essays, letters to the press, poems, songs, films, pageants, fetes and fairs, various celebrations, fund-raising campaigns, and royal appearances and visits. Usually, each of the nationalistic messages the King attempted to convey to his people was conveyed by a variety of media. And each medium was used for a variety of messages. The message that Siam was a nation of warriors, for example, was brought home by all the media mentioned—from speeches to royal appear­ances. And fund-raising campaigns were used to elicit interest in and support for the Wild Tigers, the Siamese Expeditionary Force, the Navy League, the Siamese air units, and the Red Cross.

A mere list of the media gives but scant clue to the diversity of uses to which each medium was put. The fund-raising technique alone involved such means as showing films; staging plays, shows, and pageants; sponsoring sports events; holding auctions and lot­teries; issuing special postage stamps; putting on art shows and fairs; staging air displays and military tournaments; organizing motor races; and making out-and-out appeals for contributions. The conclusion of one newspaper writer that “the frequent appeals to help patriotic movements by gifts is surely a distinctive feature of today” is abun­dantly borne out.1 Much ingenuity went into the planning of such events. In July 1920, for example, there was at Bang Pa-in a special art exhibition of amateur drawings by the King and various govern­ment officials. The drawings went on sale—the King’s satirical cartoons of some of his officials drew the largest bids—and the proceeds were used to purchase rifles for the Ayutthaya contingent of Wild Tigers.2 In January 1924, another Tiger benefit fund was aided by the extraordinary fund-raising method of having His Majesty man the photographic booth at the annual Winter Fair. As might be expected, this method was a great success, with long lines of people waiting each evening “for the attention of the Photographer Royal.”3 Fund-raising as a means of promoting nationalism, however, was put to its most telling use during the reign in the sustained campaign to purchase the warship Phra Ruang as a gift from the Thai people to their King and navy.245

Cartoon of Prince Purachatra by King Vajiravudh. Prince Purachatra, running the Siamese Railway Department, bumps former German aides off the line. One of a series of cartoons by the King published in Dusit samit. Originals were sold in various fund-raising drives.

246There is no doubt that Vajiravudh was media-conscious. He was very much aware, for example, that his royal appearance in and of itself made any occasion a special event for his people. Therefore, to encourage the arts he attended arts and crafts shows; to encourage sports, he attended sports events; to promote enthusiasm for the war effort, he attended special celebrations connected with Siam’s partici­pation in World War I. The King explicitly pointed out that his trips to the provinces had the clear goal of letting his people see him so as to increase their devotion and loyalty.4 And he often planned his appearances for maximum effect. On one of his southern tours he travelled from Chumphο̨n to Ranο̨ng by elephant and made his en­trance into Ranο̨ng riding a “big handsome tusker” in a “fine roomy howdah” followed by a retinue of more than 300 elephants.5

The King’s Speeches and Essays

The King also approached his speechmaking with great deliberation. Vajiravudh delivered hundreds of speeches. The largest number were given before Wild Tiger assemblies. Other audiences included stu­dents at the Royal Pages School, the Boy Scouts, the army, the navy, and the princes and officials who attended his birthday celebrations. Some of the speeches were the formal and routine kind that any monarch or head of state is obliged to give. The annual “Birthday Speech,” a sort of state of the nation address, was competent but rarely inspired.6 But many were ringing nationalist appeals. The Bangkok Times, commenting on several of the King’s speeches during the coronation events, said they were “marked by earnestness and imagination, and by a power of compelling thought and of getting into direct touch with those he is addressing.” The Times added that His Majesty’s speech to the children “was certainly a happy effort.”7 The Wild Tiger speeches were outstanding examples of Vajiravudh’s speech-making abilities. The Bangkok Times singled these out for a special accolade: “There the object was to be stirring and effective, and His Majesty was able to make the most of a freedom that is denied to more formal occasions.”8 According to the King’s own comment, the Wild Tiger speeches were given without notes. He aimed at spontaneity and simplicity. He aimed at easy comprehension. He told one Tiger audience directly: “I intend to speak in Thai that is most easily understood.”9 He pointed out, for example, that the “sermons” he gave to the Wild Tigers, that is, his expositions of the value of Buddhism and Buddhist morality, were not like the sermons 247of monks; they were just his own views of the truth that he wished to share with friends.

As a speaker it appears that Vajiravudh was effective among the special audiences he preferred—the Wild Tigers and student groups. His voice is said to have been low, his manner quiet. He was not, by accounts of his listeners, a spellbinder. He was not an orator for the multitudes.

The King’s nationalistic writings bear a close relationship to his speeches. In fact, some speeches were later published as essays, and, on occasion, some essays were later read as speeches. Several series of addresses were issued in printed form during the reign—after the King had made minor emendations in the scribe’s transcriptions. His first series of Wild Tiger lectures, which ended in July 1911, was in print “for all to read” by December.10 The King hoped that the speeches, in their simple spoken style and with their everyday images, would, in print, convey his ideas to a large audience.

The King even made suggestions as to how his printed speeches should be used to attain maximum effect. His instructions on how Plukčhai su̓apa (Instilling the Wild Tiger Spirit) should be used in the schools have already been noted.11 The long speech Sadaeng khunnanukhun (A Definition of Virtue), which Vajiravudh edited and printed for distribution within a few months of its delivery in May 1918, was also meant to be read aloud. The King said it should be read to soldiers, to Wild Tigers, and to schoolchildren. But, he elabo­rated, it should not be read at one sitting; it should be broken up into smaller sections. And whenever the reader felt the audience did not fully understand the text he should stop and explain its meaning in his own words.12

In an effort to have his ideas reach a large public audience, Vajiravudh also wrote and published a great number of essays, many of which were republished in various forms. Some of his more im­portant essays were “Wake Up, Siam,” “Clogs on Our Wheels,” “The Cult of Imitation,” “On Becoming a Real Nation,” “Might Is Right,” “Victory,” “The Jews of the Orient,” “Principles of Govern­ment,” “Grinding Pepper Sauce in the River,” “A Comparison of Surnames with Clan Names,” “The Affairs of China,” “Education and Unrest in the East,” “The Failure of the Young Turks,” “The Fruits of Turkish Constitutionalism,” “Japan for Example,” “Uttarakuru,” “Isn’t a Four-Wheeled Vehicle More Stable Than a Two-Wheeled Vehicle?” “A Definition of Virtue,” “A Symbol of Civilization: The Status of Women,” “Freedom of the Seas,” “A Visit to the Land of Phra Ruang,” and “What Is the Knowledge Attained by the Buddha 248on His Enlightenment.” The majority of these essays were national­istic in content. Although the King did publish prose writings on other subjects—for example, some short pieces on the spelling of specific words and some literary commentaries (usually written as introductions to poetic works)—the prose works designed for a mass audience were, by and large, attempts to stimulate public devotion, loyalty, and morality as a means of strengthening the nation.

Vajiravudh used several tactics to make his prose essays more effective. One was the use of pseudonyms. The name Asvabahu (“horseman”)13 was most frequently attached to nationalistic essays. As Asvabahu the King could write as if he were an ordinary citizen who approved of government policies and wished to urge others to approve of them. A similar motive probably applied to the King’s use, in other essays, of the pen names Ramachitti (“the wisdom of Rama”), Phan Laem (“thousand-pointed”), and Sukhrip (the name of a monkey king in the Rammakian who assisted Rama). To broaden his audience, the King ordered the widespread distribution of free copies of some of his works. The printed speeches on “Instilling the Wild Tiger Spirit” were issued to schools and were made prescribed reading there.14 The King’s essay “A Definition of Virtue” was ap­parently also made available to schools.15 His patriotic address to the members of the departing Siamese Expeditionary Force was issued in print as an army order.16 The King also sought to develop a sym­pathetic audience among Westerners in Siam by making many of his works available in English—“the King’s English,” in fact, since he usually undertook the translations himself.

The King’s Plays

In the realm of the theater, a world he particularly loved, the King made extensive use of plays for nationalistic purposes. During his reign Vajiravudh wrote some sixty Western-style plays—thirty-four original dramas and about twenty-six translations or adaptations. The introduction of the Western-style play, or “spoken” play (lakhο̨n phut), in Siam has been attributed to Vajiravudh, who is also credited with introducing sets and, by 1919, the practice of allowing actresses to play female roles.17 In addition to plays, the King composed many khon and other forms of the traditional poetic drama.

A large number of the King’s Western-style plays had a distinctly didactic quality; they were intended to instruct, to enlighten, to rally the Thai people behind some cause or other. Not all the plays had such motives; many were light entertainments, pleasant farces, melodramas, ­249or drawing-room comedies. But even some of these were made to serve useful purposes.

The “moral” plays all contributed in a broad way to the King’s program of stirring up Thai nationalism. Some were direct and open patriotic appeals; others approached nationalism more indirectly by recommending a course of social or cultural improvement to strengthen the nation. All were performed on many occasions, even in the provinces.

The nationalistic message is loud and clear in many of Vajiravudh’s most famous plays. Again and again, in play after play, the main theme is the necessity for the Thai to be united, to put their nation first, to love their land, their religion, and their king above all, to be willing to give up even life itself for these three. The nationalist call is particularly strong in the plays Phra ruang, Huačhai nakrop (The Soul of a Warrior), and Mahatama. It appears to a lesser degree in other plays such as Sia sala (Sacrifice), Phu̓an tai (Friends to the End), and Wiwaha phra samut (Neptune’s Bride). Other plays with political and social themes include Chuai amnat! (Coup d’état!), Khanom som kap namya (The Right Amount of Noodles for the Sauce), Nο̨i inthasen (Noi Inthasen), Topta (Deception), Phurai phlaeng (The Evil Doer), Phongphang (Fishtrap), Čhatkan rap sadet (Preparing for a Royal Visit), and Khwamdi mi chai (The Triumph of Virtue). The best known and most frequently performed of all of Vajiravudh’s nationalistic plays was Huačhai nakrop. It was produced very often in Bangkok, and it was also performed in the provinces: in Songkhla, in Nakhο̨n Sithammarat, and in Phuket. The play has been described by one appreciative viewer as a “hit” that never palled. And that Vajiravudh succeeded in getting his nationalistic message across is clearly demon­strated by this viewer’s further comment: “You got excited seeing it and wanted to help the good people who loved their nation. It made you hate traitors and want to slap them on both sides of their faces.”18

Many of Vajiravudh’s plays with a didactic or propagandist purpose are, from a purely aesthetic point of view, overburdened with message. Some of the patriotic speeches are perhaps longer than the dramatic structure can comfortably carry. But in this whole area the King was breaking new ground. Dramatic literature of this sort had not been known before in Siam. The whole technique of using the theater to instruct, to propagandize, to influence an audience in favor of an idea, was a contribution of the King’s. Although all literature to an extent teaches (even the Ramayana sets forth ideals of proper 250behavior), this kind of instruction is much attenuated and is uncon­scious. The conscious, deliberate fashioning of literature for the stage in order to sell an idea was King Vajiravudh’s gift to Thai drama.

The majority of King Vajiravudh’s plays were not message plays; they were written to entertain. They were farces, comedies, light romances. He enjoyed writing them; he enjoyed producing them; he enjoyed acting in them. Yet even here a nationalistic purpose was not completely absent. The plays were not arguments for any causes, but they were used as fund-raisers for causes. The play Buang man (Noose of Evil), for example, which tells the story of a man whose wife runs off with a lover, was first produced on October 12, 13, and 14, 1916, and all three times the proceeds went to help fill the coffers of the Red Cross of Siam. And so with play after play after play. The idea of benefit performances of royal plays started in 1915 with a performance of Mahatama, the proceeds in this case going to the cruiser fund of the Royal Navy League. And other benefits were held in later years for other pet projects of the King such as the Siamese Expeditionary Force sent to Europe in World War I, the Wild Tiger rifle fund, and various hospital funds. The fund-raising aspect of the theater was very important in Vajiravudh’s eyes. One advertisement for a benefit performance for a royal charity starts out: “Are You a Friend of Siam?”19 It became, then, one’s patriotic duty to go to plays. It is possible even that the rather large number of plays the King wrote in English (ten of them) were written, at least partly, to tap some of the farang money in the community for one or another of the King’s favored benefits.

Vajiravudh used traditional theatrical pieces—“sung dramas” and masked dance-dramas—as well as Western-style plays to convey his patriotic messages. The poetic rendering of the Phra Ruang story, Khο̨m damdin (The Cambodian Earth Diver), is outstanding in this regard. And two dance-dramas, Mit mi chai (The Triumph of Friend­ship) and Thammathamma songkhram (The War between Good and Evil), were propaganda pieces for the Allied cause in World War I. These dance-dramas presented their messages in the transmutation of classical-style ballets. Mit mi chai, first performed in October 1917, shows Phra Mit, the god of friendship, leading the gods and goddesses in dance. The envious demon Phalasun appears to interrupt the proceedings, claiming that the gods and goddesses are trying to deprive him of his “place in the sun.” A great fight between gods and demons takes place. The gods win and celebrate their victory with a joyful dance in which the dancers, in a charming touch to guarantee that the audience will not miss the true meaning of the 251allegory, wave on stage the flags of the Allied nations.20 Thammathamma songkhram has a very similar theme. Although written shortly after the end of the war, the drama reflected the King’s thoughts on the war’s meaning. It was inspired by a sermon by Prince Patriarch Vajiranana on the victory of the forces of good over the forces of evil. In Vajiravudh’s version the leader of the forces of evil argues that might makes right and, making the intended identification with the Germans inevitable, echoes the infamous phrases chosen by the German chancellor to justify the violation of Belgian neutrality:

A solemn treaty is but a scrap of paper;

Laws are disposable when necessity requires.21

For his dramatic works, as for his essays, the King frequently resorted to pseudonyms. Classical pieces and serious plays such as Phra ruang, Mahatama, and Huačhai nakrop bore his own name, but informal plays were written under the pen name Si Ayutthaya or Phra Khanphet. Perhaps by this means the King hoped to dispel some of the criticism that he was excessively devoted to the stage.

The Press

The one medium that caused Vajiravudh some trouble was the press. The King appreciated the press. He used newspapers often as an outlet for his views. But the press was a problem. It had its own voice. Newspapermen presented their own views. And these views the King often regarded as antithetical to his own and pernicious to the kinds of development he desired for Siam.

Some of the King’s most prominent essays appeared first in the press. Nangsu̓phim thai carried his articles, frequently in series, in Thai, and the Siam Observer followed later with English translations. Other papers, of course, gave considerable prominence to all the King’s words and actions as newsworthy items. In 1917, as a sign of particular favor, Vajiravudh invited members of the press to the official audience at which he delivered his speech from the throne about entering the war; this was the first time the press in Siam had been honored by an invitation to attend such an audience.22 And to ensure that there would be accurate reporting of affairs at court, the King instituted the “Court Circular” on May 21, 1912. By this move he made the main events of life at the court, which had been “a sealed book to the bulk of the Siamese people,” known to all news­paper readers; as the Bangkok Times put it, he “substituted facts for gossip.”23

The King was an avid newspaper reader. He read all of the Bangkok papers and some of the leading British news journals, and he subscribed ­252to a press clipping service for “cuttings related to Siam.”24 Vajiravudh also wrote, under a variety of pen names, rejoinders to press comments of which he disapproved. On July 17, 1915, for example, he sent a long criticism to the editor of the Nangsu̓phim thai concerning an earlier two-part article on the poverty of the people. The article had said that the poor people of Siam were being driven to robbery and had blamed the government for the people’s distress. Vajiravudh’s rejoinder vehemently denounced the writer, likened him to a senseless yapping dog, refuted the logic of his arguments, and criticized the newspaper for wasting paper on such nonsense.25

Similar criticisms of critics abound in Vajiravudh’s writings. In general what the King objected to were writings that exposed govern­ment weaknesses—inefficiency, inattention to rural problems, finan­cial difficulties, and the like. Although he claimed that “I do not and cannot possibly object to … fair comment or criticism,”26 in fact he objected to all criticism. Even a mildly unfavorable review of the diction in his translation of Romeo and Juliet evoked a scathing attack on the English critic. The King wrote that he had not written the play for a European “with some knowledge of Siamese” but for well-educated Thai.27

Vajiravudh had a theory as to the reason why so many writers for the press were so critical. He saw them as men who were “of very indifferent education, or dismissed officials with mountains of grievances against the Government.” Journalists in Siam thus were men without responsibilities and so were “practically always critical and destructive.” The people of Siam bore their share of blame for the “trashy news and irresponsible vapourings of disappointed, dis­missed Government servants” because they read these writings and bought the papers.28 The King (as Asvabahu) spoke as a “well-wisher” who felt the need to warn the people that Siamese journalists were concocting their sweet offerings from “water from the nearest street gutter.”29

Although his own sarcasm may have provided the King with a momentary catharsis, the press problem remained. And the problem was real, not merely the product of the King’s sensitivity. The Siamese-language papers in particular were noted for their carelessness in handling facts and for their defamations of character. Their attitude was made clear by an editorial in one paper which stated that the paper’s only duty was to print what it received; if someone were defamed in the process, he always had the option of refuting the defamation.30

Control of the press was one way to solve the press problem. 253But Vajiravudh was loath to resort to control or censorship. He admired the free press of England; he was proud of his own tolerance, of Siam’s record of liberality. As Phraya Arthakar Prasiddhi, Siam’s Attorney General, put it, “No restrictions have been placed on the press in Siam of any nature whatsoever, and the press in Siam since its birth became free, whereas it took hundreds of years in England to attain that end.”31

Many high officials in Vajiravudh’s government, however, did not share the King’s compunctions with regard to the press. In June 1912 Prince Paribatra recommended the passage of a press law.32 In July of the same year Prince Chakrabongs came forth with the same recommendation.33 By August 1912 an accord had been reached to draft a law. But, the King noted in his diary, a severe law such as existed in Russia and Germany was to be avoided. Such a law would not end adverse criticism, it would only direct it into other channels.34 His philosophy here was clearly stated in another diary entry: “It is important that we not cut off people’s means to air their grievances.”35 At a special meeting of the Council of Ministers in 1915 agreement was reached that a mild law to ensure press responsibility should be enacted.36 Nothing was done. In 1916 Čhaophraya Yommarat urged the King to ban immoral books; Vajiravudh promised to consider the matter.37 In 1917 a fairly harsh newspaper act patterned after the Japanese law was drafted, probably on the initiative of Prince Cha­krabongs.38 In a note on this law Vajiravudh characterized Japanese methods as “glorified caricatures” of Western laws, as containing the appearance of justice but in fact enabling the government to discrimi­nate “between its favourites and those it has a down upon….”39 The King again suggested deferment. The subject of a press law came up again in 1922, and a new draft was prepared.40 After several revisions, the draft in 1923 became the Law on Books, Documents, and Newspapers. This law required that all newspapers be licensed. Licenses could be denied or could be revoked in the interest of “public order,” but a newspaper had the right to court appeal. The Bangkok Times editor made it clear that, although he was not delighted with the law, it could be lived with.41 It would appear that, insofar as application of the law was concerned, the government during the Sixth Reign continued to act circumspectly.

The mild control of the law of 1923 added little to the controls already present in the civil and criminal codes. And these codes were on occasion used. A Thai paper, the Sam samai, was closed in May 1911 on a charge of lèse majesté for an indiscreet reference to the running aground of the royal yacht.42 The editor of the Chino-Siam 254Daily News was imprisoned on losing a court case in which he was charged with defaming a prince.43 Another case of libel, this time by a writer of the Bangkok Daily Mail against the Minister of Justice, was settled by a formal apology.44 The Chino-Siam Daily News was in trouble again briefly in 1918, but the matter was settled with a light fine.45 In 1925 two Chinese papers were closed for printing articles regarded as inflammatory.46 Although very few papers were closed, many were warned. Generally a newspaper accused of printing errors rushed to make retractions. But not always. The Bangkok Daily Mail not only refused to retract a statement it had made about an action taken by the Ministry of War, but also refused to print the ministry’s own explanation. The ministry consoled itself by denouncing the Daily Mail in other papers for its discourtesy.47 On other occasions the government, although very much irritated by sly innuendos in the press, decided not to press charges for fear of making a “big clamor … for the public’s benefit.”48

Probably the most effective means the government found for exercising influence over the press was buying it. At least two news­papers, the Nangsu̓phim thai and the Nangsu̓phim čhino, received government subsidies.49 The Siam Observer, it seems clear, had government connections.50 And in 1917 the Bangkok Daily Mail and its Thai-language edition, the Krung Thep Daily Mail, were purchased by a government official, Phraya Bο̨ribun Kosakο̨n, from the American proprietor, P. A. Huffman; the purchaser, it was noted by another paper, was not acting on his own account.51 The Daily Mail had been an annoyance to the government from the start, and as early as 1912 Čhaophraya Yommarat had suggested to the King that a controlling interest in the company should be bought secretly by government officials.52 The Nangsu̓phim thai was widely known as the voice of the government.53 It had been receiving aid secretly before the Sixth Reign started, and in December 1910 the paper was reorganized and given increased financial support on a regular subsidy basis.54 Government officials up to the King seem also to have become increasingly concerned with the paper’s circulation, rates, and effec­tiveness. In a memorandum of March 1912, for example, an official suggested that in order to make the circulation of the Nangsu̓phim thai, then about 500, match the 1,000 figure of the Daily Mail the rates should be reduced, the subsidy should be increased, and government offices should break news to the paper first so as to give it an advantage over the competition.55

A certain number of journals were openly owned and published by the government or government-supported agencies. Most of these, 255however, were specialized or professional journals with little popular appeal. Several journals were initiated by the King, who had played the role of editor himself since his issuance of Thawipanya as a prince. In the days of Dusit Thani, two newspapers, Dusit samai and Dusit sakkhi, and one monthly, Dusit samit, were published there. These publications, however, were virtually limited in circulation to the courtiers of Dusit Thani. The King also sponsored several journals: Čhotmaihet su̓apa, the Wild Tiger monthly; Samutthasan, the Navy League monthly; and a literary magazine entitled Sap thai. Čhotmaihet su̓apa and Samutthasan served as outlets for some of the King’s more important speeches, essays, and poems, but, again, their circulation was not wide.

The outstanding newspaper of the reign in terms of fairness, reliability, and absence of sensationalism was the English-language Bangkok Times. The Times was English owned. Its editor, W. H. Mundie, knew the Thai language and people well. He was sympathetic to Siam, but not to the point of sycophancy. The editor’s ideal, as he once expressed it, was to produce the kind of paper admired by Robert Louis Stevenson, a journal that appeared “to have been written by a dull, sane Christian gentleman, solely desirous of imparting informa­tion.”56 Despite its caution, the paper sometimes got into trouble. In March 1914, for example, the King’s private secretary objected to an editorial concerning alleged government involvement in or mishan­dling of the failure of a bank. The secretary asked the editor, who had a “well deserved reputation for fairness,” to correct the “false impressions” he had produced. The editor did so, although in so doing he wrote that more meaning had been “read into” his words than was intended.57 The Times was aware that it had won the repu­tation of “constantly ‘grousing’ against the administration.” The paper saw itself not as a grouser but as a constructive critic “keenly and honestly interested in the advancement of the land we live in.”58 The editor by and large realized how far he could go without getting into trouble. He once wrote: “If one has to write in this country, one has to learn to convey a meaning and at the same time to use great restraint in doing so.”59

Although restraint was the watchword of the Bangkok Times, articles of great frankness were published. One series of such articles, written by a Westerner under the pseudonym Junius, began appearing in September 1919.60 The articles were not sensational; they did not indulge in personalities; they were calmly reasoned analyses of “The Future of Siam”—the future Siam might have if, Junius said, the prevailing inefficiencies, corruption, short-range policies, lack of 256leadership, and policy of drift were to give way to a firm program of economic development led by honest and practical men. The Junius articles were exceedingly strong. And they were exceedingly critical, calling into question fundamental principles of government in Siam.

In 1923 a new series of articles of much the same nature began appearing under the name Hermit.61 Hermit, a Thai, argued for an increase in funds for national development, a reduction in military spending, and a more rapid movement toward democracy. Hermit expressed his ideas clearly and pointedly, and his ideas were far from congenial to the King.

Yet no actions were taken against Junius or Hermit or any other such writers. The King was disturbed. But he did nothing but pen the following, in English, to one of his officials:

You know I have been ill and my nerves are in anything but good condition. I am being continually annoyed by having to read such foolish (or knavish) correspondences as those of “Hermit” and such like in the “Bangkok Times.” As I feel that nothing could be done to stop such annoyance, the only thing that I can ask you to do is to stop sending up the “Bangkok Times” for the present, otherwise I shall become quite a nervous wreck, for I feel it more and more difficult to control my temper!62

It appears that the King shielded himself from the barbs of the Bangkok Times for a total of eight days!63

Long-time newspapermen such as Sathitya Semanil,64 Ome Pa­langtirasin,65 and Chalerm Vudhikosit66 have given complimentary assessments of the freedom permitted to the press in Vajiravudh’s days. And their assessments seem thoroughly justified. One of the earliest acts of Vajiravudh’s successor was to issue a rescript warning the press in effect that the new government was not going to be so tolerant of journalistic excesses as its predecessor had been. But it was not until the absolute monarchy came to an end in 1932 that full censorship of the press was instituted.


1. BT, December 11, 1920.

2. Thawi, pp. 591–605; BT, July 10, 12, and 13, 1920. 320

3. BT, January 14, 1924.

4. “Kansadet čhak phranakhο̨n,” in Phraratchaniphon thi naru, pp. 170–178.

5. BT, April 17, 1917.

6. The custom of giving such an address was started by King Chulalong­korn. Some of Vajiravudh’s early speeches in this category were written by himself, but by 1916 the speech was drafted by officials, corrected by the King, and translated into English by Prince Devawongse. See NA 128/8.

7. BT, December 9, 1911.

8. Ibid.

9. Ru̓ang thetsana su̓apa, p. 174.

10. BT, December 8, 1911.

11. See chapter 6, section on “Education.”

12. “Sadaeng khunnanukhun,” in Phraratchaniphon bang ru̓ang, p. ii.

13. This strange pen name is explained in a letter of Chamun Amorn’s as a term that derives from one of the epithets of the Buddha, who is called a vehicle for men as the horse is a vehicle. Since horses were highly valued in ancient India, particularly among the Kshatriya caste to which the Buddha belonged, the epithet had favorable connotations. (Probably in the way that “shepherd‚” applied to Christ, had special significance to the pastoral Near Eastern peoples.) Vajiravudh used a different word from that applied to the Buddha, but the meaning was the same. The implication was that the king as horseman or horse vehicle was playing the role of teacher to his people. See Chamun Amorn Darunrak, Mahatlek nai thamniap (Bangkok: Khuru­sapha, 1974), pp. 100–102.

14. NA 84, Ministry of Religious Affairs to King, July 1, 1911.

15. See preface to “Sadaeng khunnanukhun.”

16. BT‚ January 17, 1918.

17. Sathitya Semanil, Wisasa (Bangkok: Phrae Phittaya, 1970), pp. 14, 21.

18. Phraya Bamrung, “Huačhai nakrop,” Wachirawutthanusο̨n (1967), p. 249.

19. BT, December 23, 1914.

20. Ibid., October 8, 1917.

21. Thammathamma songkhram, p. 30.

22. BT, July 24, 1917.

23. Ibid., November 26, 1925.

24. NA 139, General Press Cutting Association, Ltd., bills and clippings. The service was apparently started by King Chulalongkorn.

25. Phraratchaniphon thi naru, pp. 117–122.

26. A Siam Miscellany, p. 50.

27. BT, November 25, 1922; Bangkok Daily Mail, November 27, 1922. 321

28. Clogs on Our Wheels, pp. 28, 33–35.

29. A Siam Miscellany, p. 50.

30. Nangsu̓phim thai, as referred to in BT, November 3, 1920.

31. BT, January 14, 1913. The Attorney General was W. A. G. Tilleke, a Singhalese lawyer who was a life-long civil servant in Siam.

32. NA 217/2, Paribatra to King, June 1911.

33. NA 139/1, “Lek” to King, August 29, 1912.

34. Čhotmaihetraiwan, pp. 100–103.

35. Ibid., p. 97.

36. NA 263, report of meeting of Council of Ministers, May 31, 1915.

37. NA 263, Čhaophraya Yommarat to King, June 5, 1916; King’s note on same letter.

38. NA 139/3, “The Newspaper Act of 2460.”

39. NA 139/3, undated note by King.

40. NA 252/6, Čhaophraya Aphairacha to King, December 15, 1922.

41. BT, December 5 and 6, 1923.

42. NA 139, Čhaophraya Yommarat to King, May 3, 1911, and clippings from Sam samai, May 1 and 2, 1911.

43. BT, January 14 to July 22, 1913.

44. Ibid., February 26, February 27, and April 2, 1918.

45. Ibid., April 20 and May 10, 1918.

46. NA 133, Čhaophraya Yommarat to Čhaophraya Mahithο̨n, July 2, 1925.

47. BT, June 18, 1912.

48. NA 139, Čhaophraya Yommarat to King, July 17, 1923.

49. NA 139, Čhaophraya Yommarat to King, January 24, 1911. The subsidy for the Nangsu̓phim thai was 8,000 baht annually; for the Nangsu̓phim čhino, 4,000 baht annually.

50. See NA 117/43, Acting General Adviser Pitkin to Phraya Arthakar, October 9, 1915. Pitkin denied that the government “as such” had connec­tions with the Observer; his statement seems equivocal. BT, May 8, 1914, refers to the Observer’s “usual policy of ‘buttering up’ Government officials irrespective of what they do or contemplate doing.”

51. BT, December 27, 1917.

52. NA 139, June 4, 1912.

53. BT, July 23, 1912.

54. NA 139, Čhaophraya Yommarat to King, December 21, 1910; Nang­su̓phim thai mai, December 23, 1910.

55. NA 139, Phra Ratchasewok to King, March 24, 1912.

56. BT, October 24, 1913. 322

57. Ibid., March 9 and 10, 1914.

58. Ibid., September 20, 1919.

59. Ibid., October 13, 1921.

60. Ibid., September 24, 1919.

61. The first article appeared in BT, May 31, 1923. Further articles con­tinued into the reign of King Prajadhipok.

62. NA 137, King to Čhaokhun Ratcha-aksο̨n, undated but shortly before April 24, 1925.

63. The archives contain the unforwarded copies of the Bangkok Times from April 23 to May 1.

64. Interview with Sathitya, June 24, 1970.

65. Bangkok Post, September 6, 1970.

66. Ibid.

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