Cultural Insight

 |  August 31, 2009

The Chiang Mai Chronicle ends in 1828. Thereafter we hear little of events in the north of Thailand until the 1870s. But they were troubled times with dacoits in the Shan States beyond the Salween and horrific atrocities committed by Chin Haw bandits throughout the lovely and prosperous lands beyond the Mekong and to the north of Luang Prabang, which resulted in many families fleeing to the safer lands of northern Thailand.

The north was, except for Chiang Mai, Lamphun and Lampang, where the Kawila family had been active, largely denuded of population. People were sent from Lampang to settle in deserted Phayao, and from Lamphun to Amphur Phan. Chiang Saen, Chiangrai and Fang were ghost towns.

A major event towards the end of the nineteenth century was the advance of the British into the Shan states and of the French into Laos, both of which areas had, at times, owed loose allegiance to the Princes of Chiang Mai. This, together with the activities of the American missionaries and the British teak companies caused great concern in Bangkok and resulted in the signing of a treaty between Great Britain and Siam in 1883, the appointment in 1884 of E.B.Gould as British Vice Consul at Chiang Mai and the appointment of a Bangkok Commissioner who, in effect, controlled the ruler of Chiang Mai.

So began the Siamification and the westernisation of the north of Thailand. Reginald Le May toured the north of Siam in 1913-4 when in the employ of the British Consular Service and in 1926 he wrote ‘An Asian Arcady’ based on his experience. This book gives a vivid account of people and life in the northern region.

The 1920 census gave the two northern Circles – Payap and Maharat – a population of 1,350,000, made up of Siamese, Chinese, Lao, Lue, Khon, Shan, Mon, Karen, Lawa and various hilltribes. Le May and other foreigners persisted in calling the northern people Lao and it is true that the southern Siamese were deeply resented.

The use of the northern script was banned in all schools; the Bangkok sangha imposed its dogma on Kruba Sivichai and other Buddhist leaders; new taxes were imposed on fruit trees and other crops; land ownership by Shans and other foreigners was questioned; Siamese and their Chinese officials took jobs from the Lao. All this resulted in the 1902 Shan Rebellion.