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03 01 Lecture Notes - Thailand.docx

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Geography 3312A/B
Haroon Akram Lodhi

Life on the Frontier: Thailand to 1985  Geography: o Lies within the Indochina peninsula o Mountains are the dominant geographical feature, running north to south through central Thailand and then extending east. o North and East is a low, barren plateau called the Khorat Plateau – 1/3 of the country  Bordered on the east by the Mekong River valley o Between the central and west mountains is a vast alluvial plain. Country’s most populated and fertile region. o Peninsular region bordered by narrow coastal plains  Climate o Moist tropical climate o April to October, temperature from 26 to 37 C. October to April 13 to 33 C o Lots of diverse flora and fauna – increasingly threatened o Area around Bangkok (capital) has both air and water pollution (traffic congestion, industrial waste). Environment and development is important to contemporary Thailand  Population Demographics o Population mostly rural – 32% is urban o ¾ of the people are Thai. 21% are Chinese. Many minorities o “Central” Thai is the official language – tonal language (syllables change meanings based on the tone used) o Dialect changes depending on the region while indigenous groups maintain their own  Bulk of the Chinese population speaks Thai as a first language o Theravada Buddhist is the dominant religion. Also Muslim, Hindu, Sikhs and Christian o Monarchy with a history of military coups and political polarisation  Development o Positive face of “development” – remarkable progress in 20 years th  Per capita income: $2720 (65 and almost equal to Romania – part of EU)  Life expectancy: 70 years (91 ) th  Adult literacy: 93% (44 – higher than Singapore)  Combined gross school enrollment: 74%  HDI: 74th  History o Called Siam until 1939 o Primarily agrarian – almost all lived in the countryside o Ayutthaya period (1351 – 1767)  Social and economic developments.  Portuguese described it as one of the three great powers of Asia  Power based on political economy of forced (corvée) labour, rice agriculture and trade in products from the tropical forest (medicine, spice, dye, skin, ivory, timber and ores)  Key was the Chao Phraya River – people settled along the river for water  Facilitated production and trade o Rice production began around 2500 BC – forest being cleared for both the indigenous people and migrants to till the soil th th  Became a major supplier of rice to China (17 and 18 century)  15 to 19 century – entrepot (trading post where merchandise can be imported and exported without paying import duties – often at a profit)  The rice trade lead the way to become a gateway for wider trade  Integration into intra-Asian/global trade has a long history  Ayutthaya was probably the largest city in southeast Asia and most cosmopolitan (multi-cultural) o Trade become the economic foundation for power: Trading profits given to the king and senior nobility were used to invest in the building of Buddhist temples (enthusiasm)  Theravada Buddhism – or the way of the elder – gives a central location to the monk and monastic practice, which must preserve the teachings of the Buddha (thamma) by keeping monastic codes  It’s the people’s duty to sustain the monkhood (Sangha)  In theory, Theravada is egalitarian: all have the same opportunity to become a monk, patronise the monkhood and to achieve release from the material world  In practice, the nobility and Sangha negotiated over their roles – the Sangha needed the patronage of the wealthy & the nobility sought approval for the rule  Theravada now plays an important role in identity o Trade become the economic foundation for politics: trading profits given to the king & se
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