June 4, 2010

Pibulsonggram's Cultural Mandates

I was somewhat surprised to find that little has been written in English on the web about the so-called Cultural Mandates, also known as the State Decrees (รัฐนิยม ratthaniyom), issued by Field Marshal Plaek Pibulsonggram between 1939 and 1942, during his first term as prime minister. So I figured one way to remedy this would be to start an English Wikipedia article.

These Cultural Mandates were a series of 12 edicts the government issued, utterly changing the face of the country. Though not everything stuck, I think it is hard to underestimate how much influence the mandates had on the development of modern Thailand. They were a remarkable--if questionable--feat of social engineering, though only part of the larger social engineering schemes of Chom Phon Po (จอมพล ป., or "Field Marshal P.").

Among the cultural reforms enacted by the Field Marshal:
  • Changing the name of the country to Thailand, and temporarily eradicating the word 'Siam', including from the royal anthem, traditional titles, and even the names of businesses and organizations.
  • Declaring a new Thai national anthem, still in use today.
  • Playing the national anthem at 8:00 am and 6:00 pm every day.
  • Playing the royal anthem (which used to be the national anthem) before all theatrical shows and requiring patrons to stand during it.
  • Establishing Thai as the national language and forcing non-Thai ethnic groups to learn it.
When you read the mandates themselves the language is often weak -- Thais "should" do X or Y. But in reality these state mandates were backed up with negative incentives or threat of force. It was during these years of nation-building that the Thai state also outlawed Chinese instruction in schools, assessed extra taxes on Chinese-owned businesses, or founded state enterprises designed to compete with and run foreign businesses into the ground.

For example, the Thailand Tobacco Monopoly was founded in 1939 when the state began seizing private tobacco factories. Just months later Mandate 5 was issued, exhorting Thais to use only Thai products and government-run services.

So while it is easy today to see only the positive benefits of many of these mandates, or forget that the mandates ever happened, the actual history is much more complex. Many of Pibulsonggram's mandates, including his simplified Thai alphabet, were scrapped as soon as he was forced to resign (the first time) in 1944.

You can find the original mandates in Thai on the Royal Gazette website by searching the term รัฐนิยม. (The website works best in IE, sadly.) They are also linked directly in the references section of the Wikipedia article.


  1. I flout the one forbidding men to wear sarongs.

  2. Ha! Way to stick it to the man.

  3. This is a brilliant blog post. As usual...