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Memory and Power on Ratchadamnoen Avenue

Acharn Chatri Prakitnonthakan is known for his writings on the political history of Thai architecture and are of interest to students of Thai politics and history, as well as architecture.  This paper was delivered to the 10th International Thai Studies Conference which was recently held at Thammasat University and is published with the author's kind permission.


Memory and Power on Ratchadamnoen Avenue


Chatri Prakitnonthakan

Faculty of Architecture, Silpakorn University



Memory is not just the remembering of events that happened in the past. Memory is also the recollection of the past that has power in explaining the connections to actions in the present and future.


Historical memory is the choice of remembering some things forgetting others which we think are not important or which we don't want to remember. The choice of whether to remember something or not is connected to power relations in society. Memories which have characteristics opposed to the power structure of the present should be hidden away or weeded out, while memories which support the current power structure will be chosen to be remembered, repeated and disseminated widely as the collective memory of society.


However the memories that are weeded out in one period may be recalled and repeated in another period, while memories that are well remembered in one period will be covered up and forgotten as well, if the connection to social power changes. When memory and power are two sides of the same coin, the scope of memory will be a battlefield where there is constant conflict.


This paper therefore attempts to study this issue of the conflict of historical memory and to define the relationship of social power in a context other than the history textbooks. The writer is interested in studying the relationship of power through the struggle of memory in the area of Ratchadamnoen Avenue.


Throughout the past hundred or more years, Ratchadamnoen Avenue has taken a role in many scenes of Thai social and political history. The memories that have arisen have not been consistent but have been full of conflicting diversity and disunity. Each memory constantly struggles for precedence and tries to crowd out competing memories.


If we compare Ratchadamnoen Avenue and history textbooks as entities that form the collective memory of society, the study of meaning in history textbooks operates through the analysis of the interpretation of plot and language. The study of memory in public places like Ratchadamnoen Avenue must operate through an analysis of the physical components of the area, which change over time, whether these are Buildings, streets, trees, monuments, advertising sins, etc. These components are like another form f language, which can be called "architectural language".


This architectural language has its own grammar which relates to the context of each period. To understand it, it is necessary to rely on the study of, and create an understanding of, the grammar of this language in the context of the period. In this way we can translate the meaning hidden in these components.


Fro such a study we can see that the conflicts of memory and power on Ratchadamnoen Avenue in the past revolve around problem issues to do with the structure of power relations between the basic power groups in Thai society.


This struggle for memory and power leaves traces which can be seen clearly from the various components that have been built on Ratchadamnoen Avenue. The details will be clarified in the following sections.




From the Royal Way to the People's Way1


Ratchadamnoen Avenue comprises three roads: Ratchadamnoen Nok (outer) Avenue, Ratchadamnoen Klang (middle) Avenue, and Ratchadamnoen Nai (inner) Avenue. Ratchadamnoen Nok Avenue was constructed first of compacted earth paved with brick. Construction began in August 1899 so that the road could be used for the Royal Procession to Dusit Palace2 and lasted 2 years.


Later, in 1901, King Rama 5 proclaimed the immediate construction of Ratchadamnoen Klang Avenue and Ratchadamnoen Nai Avenue at the same time. The 3 sections of the road were named collectively "Ratchadamnoen Avenue". The entire length of the road crosses 3 important canals: Khlong Khu Mueang Doem, Khlong Rob Krung and Khlong Phadung Krung Kasem.. King Rama 5 therefore proclaimed that the Ministry of Public Works would build new bridges in a western architectural style to connect the three parts into one road. The bridges are Phipob Sila, Phan Fa Lilat, and Makhawan Rangsan.


Ratchadamnoen Avenue is a symbol connecting the "old Siam" area of the Royal Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha with the "new Siam" area of Dusit Palace and Wat Benjamabophitdusitwanaram (Marble Temple), which reflected the change of political ideals from an empire to an absolute monarchy The components of the Ratchadamnoen Avenue environment, including bridges, palaces and the houses of nobles, which were built in a western architectural style, reflected the new royal power and the centre of the universe of the absolute monarchy system.3


Ratchadamnoen Avenue also serves the purpose of being a "scene of civilization" for Siam to show other civilized countries, in concrete form, a symbol of moving Siam forward to modern progress in an ingenious and timely manner so that Siam can avoid colonization. Thus all occurred under the aegis of King Rama 5 of the Chakri dynasty, with symbols of the most important memories, i.e. the equestrian statue and Ananta Samakhom Hall at the end of Ratchadamnoen Nok Avenue.


But with respect to symbols, conflict over the meaning began after the revolution in the system of government in 1932 by the People's Party.


The People's Party tried to build a new memory by a historical line between "old Siam" and "new Siam", where the period before 1932 was "old Siam", which was old-fashioned, while in the period after 1932 Siam ad become "new Siam", which was up-to-date.4 The memory that King Rama 5 brought civilization to politics was replaced by the memory that the democratic system was real political progress. This historical line was created in concrete form in many ways, in art,5 architecture, language, literature, dress, etc, which were in an almost completely distinct form from those of the absolute monarchy period.


Ratchadamnoen Klang Avenue is an important area built as a symbol of this new memory. In 1935, the People's Party government began to change the landscape of Ratchadamnoen Klang Avenue completely. This began with the felling of mahogany trees planted in the reign of King Rama 5, widening the road, and constructing commercial buildings, hotels, shops, and most importantly, the Democracy Monument. This was built on the middle of Ratchadamnoen Klang Avenue as a memorial to the change to a democratic form of government6 on 24 June 1932. The dimensions of with width and height and design details of the monument were all based on the numbers in the date 24 June 1932.7


The buildings on both sides of Ratchadamnoen Klang Avenue were designed in the style of "modern architecture" (which was influenced by the modern architecture style of Europe), which was completely different in architectural form from, the architecture of the absolute monarchy. The architectural style is plain and its components cut out architectural decoration and reject the idea of status in architecture so as to reflect the principle of equality in a democratic system8 where citizens hold sovereign power and not the monarchy.


Ratchadamnoen Avenue during this period, especially Ratchadamnoen Klang Avenue, replaced the former memory of the period of absolute monarchy (with the symbols of western architecture in various forms and the Equestrian Statue) with the memory of the People's Party (with symbols of modern architecture and the Democracy Monument).


The project which began on Ratchadamnoen Nai Avenue in this period reflects the power relationship only between the "monarchical institution" and the "state" (People's Party) which had just changed the system of government. This relationship was a power conflict and competition among the elite and had never reached the wider circle of the people in any way. The relationship between these two power groups was conducted in a power structure of a democratic system with a constitutional monarchy.


The "monarchical institution" had only symbols and no power. Even though the Crown Property Bureau was responsible for looking after the land on both sides of Ratchadamnoen Klang Avenue, it operated as a government agency under the strict control of the state through the Ministry of Finance.9


The "monarchical institution" had no land on which to display symbols to represent itself to the public. Many royal ceremonies were cancelled, such as the Giant Swing Ceremony, the Ploughing Ceremony, the Oath-Taking Ceremony, and so on. This was in large part because at this time the monarch was out of the country. But it is also difficult to deny that that social power structure at this time was also a consideration. There was no way open to the "monarchical institution" while the "state" was very strong and free to set numerous policies. The complete control over public paces and over public ceremonies can be seen from the examples raised on Ratchadamnoen Avenue.


The creation of new memories by the People's Party on Ratchadamnoen Avenue is not seen as eradicating the symbols of the absolute monarchy because the symbols clearly share the same space. The memories of the People's Party are on Ratchadamnoen Klang Avenue, while the memories of the absolute monarchy are on Ratchadamnoen Nok Avenue.


However, the power relations in this form did not last long, only 15 years. After the mysterious death of King Rama 8 in 1946 and the coup in 1947, the People's Party was forced out of the arena of power and the power of conservatism was revived which needed to restore the royal power of the monarchy. This had repercussions on the structure of power relations in a new form and the creation of new memories on Ratchadamnoen Avenue.





Ratchadamnoen Avenue and the Struggle for Memory through the Birth of Democracy


It is generally known that after 1947, conservative forces, finding expression through "royalist" politics, began to take a greater social and political role, while the ideals of the People's Party disintegrated.


After World War Two, many of the elite got their titles back and permission to play a political role under the 1947 constitution and especially the 1949 version. These important measures gave increased power to the monarch, who had the power to appoint and dismiss the Prime Minister and Cabinet, to select and appoint the Senate, etc.10 Even though Field Marshal P. Phibulsongkhram was able to return as Prime Minister, on this occasion he abandoned almost all the principles of the People's Party and had to make many compromises with the royalists.


In the royalist atmosphere, memories of the 1932 revolution began to be reconstructed in meaning. Many members of the royalist faction began to take a greater role in the period after 1947, in particular MR Seni Pramoj and MR Kukrit Pramoj.


MR Seni re-invented the origins of democracy by explaining that Thailand had had a constitution since the Sukhothai era, not just since 1932. In this view, Inscription No 1 of King Ramkhamhaeng is the first Thai constitution,11 which is the equivalent of saying that there has been a democracy in Thailand ever since the Sukhothai era.


MR Seni was the first person to start constructing a memory that King Rama 7 was a democratic monarch, a monarch who initiated Siam's true democratization and was already in the process of granting a constitution to the Thai people. This would also demonstrate that the Thai monarchy was democratic before the change of government by the People's Party.12 This was the beginning point of the memory that the People's Party "acted prematurely" in the previous period.


The conflict over the memory of the origins of the constitution and democratic system, in the dimension of efforts to build a memory on Ratchadamnoen Avenue, first became visible in concrete form in 1951. The Cabinet of the day passed a resolution to construct a monument to King Rama 7, which would be 3 times life size. The committee was of the opinion that the tray holding the constitution was just an object. Why then not replace it with a royal statue which would be more appropriate as a memorial to the change in government?13


It is clear to see the efforts in the area of the Democracy Monument to replace the memory that democracy originated with the People's Party with the memory that democracy originated with the initiative of Kong Rama 7. However Prime Minister Field Marshal P. Phibulsongkhram, despite his compromises with the royalists, would not allow this project to go forward, claiming there was no budget. After that, the project quietly disappeared.


Success in the form of a symbol of memory on Ratchadamnoen Avenue, that democracy originated as a royal gift, came later, but not directly on Ratchadamnoen Avenue. In 1974 a parliament building was constructed on U-thong Nai Road, at the end of Ratchadamnoen Nok Avenue, north of Ananta Samakhom Hall. Later, in 1980, a monument to King Rama 7 was erected in front of the parliament building. This clearly symbolizes the memory that democracy originated with the monarchy.




Constructing a Memory of the Monarchical Institution on Ratchadamnoen Avenue and Surrounding Areas


Apart from the monument to King Rama 5 in the grounds in front of the Ministry of Justice, which was built by the People's Party in 1939 as a memorial to the absolute independence of Thailand (judicial independence), a statue of Krom Luang Ratchaburi Direkruet was erected in 1964 as a memorial to the "Father of the Judiciary", one of a set of statues memorializing "fathers" in various fields. This is a large set which was erected from 1947 on.14 This is one of many phenomena of the royalist trend which arose at that time. These statues built up the power and authority of an important explanation for modern Thai society. It is the power of this new memory which attributed progress in all vocations to the exceptional ability of various members of royalty.


On both sides of Ratchadamnoen Nok Avenue after 1947, many ministries and other government buildings were erected, including the Ministry of Communications and Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives in 1956, the Ministry of Culture in 1954 (at Sanam Suea Pa), Sala Santhitham in 1953 (at Makhawanrangsan Bridge - now demolished) and the Forest Industry Organization.


This group of buildings were constructed after 1947 in the Thai Applied Architecture style under the nationalist cultural policies of Field Marshal P. Phibulsongkhram. This inculcated revisionist ideas towards more conservative approaches, which corresponded closely to the concepts of the royalist group, who constructed the memory of "Thainess". This was closely connected to the Thainess of ancient customs, not the new Thainess created in the People's Party period on both sides of Ratchadamnoen Klang Avenue in the decade from 1936 to 1947.


All the physical changes on Ratchadamnoen Avenue in the 1947-1956 decade are an image reflecting the revival of the royal power of the monarchy in Thai society. This is shown in various projects on Ratchadamnoen Avenue. Memories relating to the People's Party on Ratchadamnoen Avenue almost all faded away.


Another important concrete form showing the growing power of the monarchical institution was the initiation of Royal Projects which began in 1951,15 while the power of the state was going in the opposite direction, that is, declining. Examples on Ratchadamnoen Avenue that clearly reflect this relationship are the passing of the Crown Property Law in 1948 to give the Crown Property Bureau the status of an organization independent of the government. Oversight and management rested with a committee directly appointed by the King. This law had the effect of placing a large part of both sides of Ratchadamnoen Avenue under the direct control of the palace.16


In the 15 year period after Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat staged a coup against the government of Field Marshal P. Phubulsongkhram in 1957 and took over the premiership in 1959, until Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn became Prime Minister in 1973, the power of the "state" fell into the hands of a military group. That society has the characteristics of a dictatorship that was illegitimate, but which claimed legitimacy by demonstrating its role in supporting the ascendancy of the power of the "monarchical institution".17 The monarchical institution was becoming the central core of the essence of the Thai nation. It was becoming the most important institution of nationalism.


At the time, various public places were used to show various narratives that surround and relate to the monarchical institution. The power of the "state", even though it was strong, had importantly to rely on royal power. Royal ceremonies that had been abandoned in 1932 were revived and again took a role and place in society.18


Apart from the revival of former royal ceremonies, new ones were created. What was important at that time was the celebration of HM the King's 3rd cycle birthday (36 years) in 1963, which was a ceremony special to his reign. Celebratory arches and illuminations were put up on roads, especially Ratchadamnoen Avenue. What was most important was the revival of the royal circuit of the city by road, which in the past was performed only at a coronation ceremony. Since the present King had not done it in his coronation ceremony, the government staged it later and this is considered a "re-invented tradition" during this reign.


The royal procession progressed out of the Grand Palace, along Na Phra Lan Road into Ratchadamnoen Avenue , then Phra Sumeru Road, to Bowon Nives Temple. Once the ceremony in the temple's main ceremonial hall (ubosod) was completed, the procession went back to the Grand Palace.19


This royal ceremony is another major symbol of the construction of a collective social memory in which the "monarchical institution" began to step into the spiritual core of the Thai people in a serious way, with Ratchadamnoen Avenue being an important prop.





Compartmentalization of the Middle Class's Memory on Ratchadamnoen Avenue


Another important aspect of the impact of Field Marshal Sarit's dictatorship, which continued into the era of Field Marshal Thanom, was the great economic change in Thai society. The National Economic and Social Development Board was created together with the National Economic Development Plan, many infrastructure development projects, several regional universities, and capitalist economic development under the supervision of the state, etc.


These factors gave rise to a "new middle class" of increasing numbers.20 This new middle class began to be dissatisfied with the military dictatorship government in which one clique monopolized power. This new middle class, especially students and intellectuals, wanted to participate more in the power structure and wanted democratic governance and a constitution.


Dissatisfaction with the military dictatorship multiplied into the mass mobilization of October 1973, which may be considered a revolution of the new middle class to overthrow the long-ruling military dictators.


The result of the 14 October event was that the new middle class took an increased share of the power structure. Because Ratchadamnoen Avenue was clearly the concrete venue for the demonstration of power by the new middle class, it became a symbol of the struggle, negotiations and demands of the new middle class, with the meaning of "Democracy Avenue".


In addition, the pictures of the mass of people filling Ratchadamnoen Avenue and surrounding the Democracy Monument have given the monument its true meaning that it previously lacked.21


Consequently, Ratchadamnoen Avenue after the 14 October event contained not only the memory that reflected the power of the "monarchical institution" and "state" but also the memory of the struggle of the people (the middle class) for democracy. The push by students and intellectuals to build the "14 October Memorial" in 197422 was testimony to the power of the middle class that wanted a share of the memory of space of Ratchadamnoen Avenue.


However, after the tragic and cruel events that happened in the middle of Sanam Luang and Thammasat University on 6 October 1976, a major crack on the memory occurred between the monarchical institution and the state on one side, and the students and intellectuals (who were part of the middle class at the 14 October events) on the other, that has yet to be filled. The result was the cancellation of the memorial project.23


The project to construct the "14 October Memorial" was seriously revived once again after the "Black May" events of 1992, which was when the middle classes again demonstrated their force in the struggle for democracy in the middle of Ratchadamnoen Avenue. After this event, demand increased for a commemoration of 14 October and Black May in some space on Ratchadamnoen Avenue. Finally the "14 October Memorial" was constructed in a space at the corner of Khok Wua intersection by the side of Ratchadamnoen Klang Avenue. It was officially inaugurated on 14 October 2001.24


Nonetheless, from the point of view of architectural design, it must be said that the Memorial was not yet sufficient as a commemoration of the powerful expression of the masses that has struggled for democracy. The most prominent focus of the Memorial is the heroes' stupa, which is of course meant to honour those who lost their lives. But the weakness in the choice of the stupa was clear to see - the absence of the great mass of hundreds of thousands of people who gathered on Ratchadamnoen Avenue with the goal of opposing the power of military dictatorship and demanding a constitution and democracy. The stupa in itself is a symbol based on Buddhism; when you look at it, it invokes a feeling of peace and emptiness of mind more than a sense of the urgent and violent force of the masses who stood up against dictatorship.


Though the middle class were able to push demands for the inclusion of their own meaning on Ratchadamnoen Avenue and to build their bargaining power further, since then, however, the memorial has neglected to include the most important memory of all - the great force of the masses and the urgent spirit of democracy in the young people that was displayed on Ratchadamnoen Avenue on 14 October 1974.


One reason (the most important, to the writer's mind) which contributed to the loss of such an important memory from the "14 October Memorial" was that the victory of the masses in that event was only partly explained under another set of memories, which seem to context with the main meaning of 14 October.




Royalist Nationalist Democracy


Most noteworthy in the struggles for democracy by the new middle class on 14 October 1973 was the choice of using the "monarchical institution" symbol as the very instrument in fighting the power of the state. This shows that not only the military dictatorship, but also the movement of students and intellectuals relied on the "monarchical institution" for legitimacy and had a role in elevating the "monarchical institution" to ever greater heights.


The citation of King Rama 7's abdication speech as an instrument against military dictatorship, the reliance on royal influence by carrying royal pictures in the marches, and the royal speech on television and radio on the evening of 14 October 1973, calling for all parties to abstain from violence and appointing Sanya Dharmasakti as Prime Minister,25 are all examples of this.


Such events became the mainstream memory, which in one respect seems to conform to and complement the memory of the mass struggle against dictatorship. But at the same time, in another respect, this memory snatches the power of explaining the 14 October event from the hands of the people.


Competition for memory in this manner is, in the writer's opinion, the main reason why the 14 October memorial could not clearly express the memory of mass struggle. The "monarchical institution" in this social context, though theoretically a constitutional monarchy, has acquired much more power than stated in the constitution, through its role in the 14 October 1973 events and through Royal Projects which intervene directly in solving the people's problems.


Prachak Kongkirati made an interesting observation that the key contribution of the middle class intellectuals in the 14 October 1973 event was the construction of the pre-eminent royal power discourse of the monarchical institution, which he called "Royalist Nationalist Democracy", a combination of the "Royalist Nationalism" and "Monarchic Democracy" discourses.26


The Royalist Nationalism discourse is the memory of the genius of King Rama 5 in maintaining Siam's independence in the face of threats from the European powers, while leading the country towards civilization at a level equal to other civilized countries.27 In the discourse of Monarchic Democracy, the memory of democracy did not originate in 1932, but dates back to the Sukhothai period, and the main focus is on King Rama 7's democratic activism in granting a constitution to the Thai people, as mentioned above.


The maturing of monarchic democracy after the 14 October event manifested itself through the re-appearance of a monument to King Rama 7 in front of the newly constructed parliament building in 1974, which secured a deeper sense, up to the present day, that the birth of democracy was his gift (not that of the People's Party).


The appearance of the Ratanakosin Island Committee in 1978, which assumed the duty of overseeing the conservation and development of Ratanakosin Island, was one sign of the importance given to the construction and reinforcement of the monarchical institution-centred memory.


In considering the master plan for the conservation and development of Ratanakosin Island, it is found that the main goals were to provide a perspective on national-level historical sites (mostly temples, palaces and government buildings that were built between the reigns of Kings Rama 1 and 5) and to open up green spaces (parks) and reduce congestion by moving some government agencies out of the area.28


A reflection of this idea can be clearly seen in the plan for the conservation of development of historical sites within Ratanakosin Island at the time of the bicentennial celebrations in 1982, which consisted of a restoration project, 2 revival projects and several other minor projects29, all of which were either palaces, temples or other "high-level culture" sites.


The demolition of the Chalerm Thai cinema in 1989 in order to allow a clear view of the Lokaprasat of Wat Ratchanaddaram and the construction of a raised platform with Maha Chetdsada Bodin pavilion in its place was another important milestone that showed how royal power and the Royalist Nationalism memory was edging what little that remained of the people's memory (symbolized by the cinema) from the stage of social memory as a whole.


The establishment of the King Prajadhipok Museum in the former Public Works building by Phan Fa Lilat Bridge in 2001 is a symbol of the reinforcement of the Monarchic Democracy discourse of King Rama 7 again on Ratchadamnoen Klang Avenue.


The most noteworthy is the repeated appearance, at an increasing frequency, of the royal celebratory arches on Ratchadamnoen Avenue on a variety of occasions.


The tradition of building official celebratory arches can be said to have begun with the royal welcoming arches during the reign of King Rama 5 on the occasion of his return from a visit to Singapore in 1896. At the time, various government and private agencies built and decorated many arches, especially along the Chao Phraya River.30 The greatest and most important occasion was the return of King Rama 5 from his second visit to Europe in 1907.


There were 10 main welcoming arches at that time along Ratchadamnoen Avenue, each under the responsibility of a ministry; for example, the arch of the Ministry of Justice on Ratchadamnoen Klang Avenue next to Dinso intersection, the arch of the Ministry of City Adminsitration at the foot of Phan Fa Lilat Bridge, the arch of the Ministry of Education at Chakkaphat Road intersection, and the arch of the Ministry of Agriculture at the foot of Makhawan Rangsan Bridge.31


The building of royal welcoming arches of that time has become an inspiration for the arches of the current reign, such as in the Jubilee Celebrations in 199632 and for the 60th anniversary of the reign in 2006.


The arches can be found on every corner of Ratchadamnoen Avenue and adjacent areas. They are symbols of the royal power that has spread over the entire Ratchadamnoen Avenue, reflecting the monarch's overall power over the country at the present time.




Royal Power over Ratchadamnoen Avenue: Symbols and Meanings


As mentioned earlier, the royal power of the "monarchical institution" that has been expressed will assume a scared aura. His Majesty has become like a divine being, replete with virtue and ethics. With such a status, he assumes the duty of balancing the corrupt power of politicians and a political system that most people believe is full of dishonesty, corruption and self-interest. The King assumes the duty of pushing for clean, ethical and virtuous democracy while remainong above the political conflict.


Such an image of royal power has been reinforced and reproduced for all to see in public spaces in the form of the traditional legends of Thai society, the clearest example being the idea of building celebratory arches in the Jubilee celebrations.


At that time, the organizers decided there would be 7 arches with a design based on the belief of the "royal emperor" of the Buddhist teachings. A royal emperor in Buddhism is a virtuous king who practises the 10 virtues of rulers.33 When any king is honoured as "emperor", there will appear "7 jewels" to accompany his influence: chakra, elephant, horse, gem, woman, financier and warrior.34


It can be seen that the image of the new royal power so manifested in Thai society has been communicated quite fittingly and smoothly through traditional beliefs. Therefore, it is no wonder why, in comparison to the arches built to welcome King Rama 5 back from his second European visit in 1907, the arches built in this reign appear to have gone back in time to ancient codes of conduct that even King Rama 5 himself had abandoned.


The arches during King Rama 5's reign were of a modern design featuring European architecture; some were unbelievably modern. That is because the treatment of the royal power of Kin Rama V is different in nature from that of the present king.


King Rama 5 was an absolute monarch who was leading the country towards modernity in a European model. In this context, ancient beliefs were looked down on as backward and uncivilized.. The new world of King Rama 5 had its prototype in Europe's modern prosperity.


At present, however, the world has progressed incomparably further than in King Rama 5's reign. The monarchical institution is now under the constitution and the country's administration is undertaken by agencies of that state which derive their power from every person in Thai society through the electoral process within a democratic system.


Instead, the monarchical institution treats royal power in relation to the principles of virtuous kings and emperors, focusing on sacred power and influence according to ancient beliefs. Apart from the arches, other constructions employ traditional architectural designs as their main them. The latest example is the project to build a new Supreme Court near Sanam Luang, as part of the 80th Birthday Celebrations project. The old court, which represents the memory of the People's Party era, is to be demolished and replaced with one that represents the new memory. The chosen architectural design is "Applied Thai Architecture"; its grand form and elaborate detail seems to suggest that this court building is meant to be a wiman (celestial mansion). Indeed, this would be a big step back in time in terms of architectural design.




Ratchadamnoen Avenue: A Journey to Get Back to the Same Place?


The significance of the traditional monarchical image is that of limited power but far-reaching influence. The feelings of the subjects towards such an ideal monarchy will be respect, awe, or even fear. Such a monarch is comparable to a deity, above and beyond ordinary citizens. This is the model of the power structure of the monarchy that appeared in the outline of the constitution that King Rama 7 initiated in order to bestow it on the citizenry at the 150th anniversary of the city, which took the monarch out of direct administration of the land, leaving a prime minister and other agencies to take up the burden instead.35 Under closer scrutiny, however, it is found that the monarch is still behind and in control of ultimate power while other agencies appear in the forefront, seemingly exercising power in the monarch's place.


In the same instance, King Rama 7 tried to present a new image and role for the monarchical institution in the dimension of extraordinary accumulated royal power and influence according to the traditional Siamese ideal of the imperial king. This focuses on the sanctity of the monarchy in order to re-assert its meaning in place of the image of the absolute monarchy that was constructed in the reign of King Rama 5.


Nidhi Eoseewong has analyzed the monument to the first king of Bangkok (built according to the initiative of King Rama 7) and found that the image of the monarchical institution that appears in the monument is that of the traditional all-powerful and sacred monarchy. This was the image that King Rama 7 tried to revive and it correlated with the power structure of the royally-initiated constitution.36


That power structure that King Rama 7 tried to install 75 years ago correlates to the structure that has emerged at the present.


If we take a walk along Ratchadamnoen Avenue from Ratchadamnoen Nai to the end at Ratchadamnoen Nok, and at the same time look at the for the memories and power that are hidden in the structures that line both sides of the avenue, we will find, at the end, that throughout the past 75 years after the change of government on 24 June 1932, Thai society has "returned to its origins".37

1 The writer has borrowed this expression from the blurb on the cover of the book Walking Tour, a Stroll through Thai Political History, by Niphaphon Rachadaphatanakun and Thoedphong Khongjan, published by Matichon in 2005, which the writer believes corresponds clearly with the topic. (Translator's Note: The name ‘Ratchadamnoen' is a compound of the morphemes ‘ratcha' (royal) and ‘damnoen' (walk, process, when used of royals).)

2 National Archives, King Rama 5 YoTho 9/41 Draft Proclamation of the Construction of Ratchadamnoen Nok Avenue, 1 November, 122 Rattanakosin Era.

3 For details see Chatri Prakitnonthakan, "The Absolute Monarchy and the New Cosmology in Wat Benjamabophit", Arts and Culture Vol 24 No 9 (July 2003): 80-96.

4 In current academic debate, the term "old Siam" is understood as the period before the national reforms of the reign of King Rama 5 and "new Siam" as the period after this. But if we go back to the period after the 1932 revolution, the expression "old Siam" took on a new meaning as the period of the absolute monarchy before the 1932 revolution, and the term "new Siam" took the meaning of the period of democracy after 1932. (This paper uses the latter definitions.) Importantly, this second meaning is used in the writings of Jamkad Phalangkun in "Philosophy of New Siam" (published in 1936), which sues the expression with the meanings above. But with the change of the name of the country from Siam to Thailand, the leaders of the People's Party popularized the expression "new Thailand" instead.

5 For details see Chatri Prakitnonthakan, "People's Party Art", Fa Diaw Kan, Vol 5, No 1 (Jan-Mar 2007): 90-111.

6 Copy of the minutes of the 1st meeting of the National Day Management Committee, 30 January 1936, quoted in Malini Khumsupha "The Democracy Monument and its Invisible Meaning" (Bangkok: Wiphasa, 2005) p 105.

7 The 4 wings of the monuments are 24 m tall, and radius of the monument is 24 m, after the date 24 June. There are 75 cannons around the monument, a reference to the year 2475 (B.E, or 1932 C.E.). The tray holding the constitution is supported by a round tower and is 3 m tall, a reference to the fact that June was the 3rd month of the old calendar. The 6 double-edged swords decorating the central tower refer to the 6 principles of the People's Party. For details see the Department of Publicity's "Inauguration of the Democracy Monument" (Bangkok: Department of Publicity) pp 2-3.

8 For details see Chatri Prakitnonthakan Socio-politics in the architectural arts in the Siam period: Thai Prayuk Chat Niyom (Bangkok: Matichon, 2005), pp 299-322.

(Translator's note: Thai Prayuk Chat Niyom is the name of a journal, meaning ‘Applied Thai [architecture], nationalist [architecture].)

9 Somsak Jiamthirasakun, "What is the Crown Property Bureau?" Fa Diaw Kan, Vol 4, No 1 (January-March 2006): 90.

10 Nattaphon Jaijin, "1932 Revolution: Real Dreams of True Blue Idealists", Arts and Culture Vo 27, No 2 (December 2005): 93-94.

11 MR Seni Pramoj, Collected Lectures and Speeches, 1946-1966 (Phranakho: Ruamsan, 1966), p 154.

12 Malaeng Wi (pseudonym), Behind History Book 1, quoted in Nattaphon Jaijin "1932 Revolution: Real Dreams of True Blue Idealists", Arts and Culture Vo 27, No 2 (December 2005): 93-94.

13 National Archives (1) MoTho re King Prajadhipok Monument , 14 February 1953, p 1.

14 Important statues in the "father" set include the statues of Krom Phra Kamphaeng Phet Akharayothin in front of the State Railways of Thailand, the statue of HRH Krom Phraya Damrong Ractahanuphab in front of the Ministry of the Interior, and the statue of HRH Prince Mahidol Adulyadej at Sirirat Hospital.

15 Chanida Chitbandit, Royally Initiated Projects: Establishing the Supremacy of HM the King (Bangkok: Foundation for Social Science and Humanities Textbooks Project, 2007) p 63.

16 For details of this analysis, see Somsak Jiamthirasakun "What is the Crown Property Bureau?" Fa Diaw Kan 67-93.

17 Thak Chaloemkiat, Dictatorial Political System Under Royal Patronage (Bangkok: Foundation for Social Science and Humanities Textbooks Project, 2005) pp 352-364.

18 op cit p 365.

19 For details see The Royal 3rd Cycle Birthday Ceremony, 5 December 1963 (Bangkok Royal Household Bureau, 1990)

20 Benedict Anderson, "Withdrawal Symptoms: Social and Cultural Aspects of the October 6 Coup" in From 14 to 6 October (Foundation for Social Science and Humanities Textbooks Project, 1998) pp 102-116.

21 Michael Wright, "Democracy Monumnet: the Monument of Lies that were turned into the Truth", Arts and Culture, Vol 14, No 2 (December 10992): pp 178-181.

22 The Inaugural Ceremony of the Heroes of Democracy Memorial at Khok Wua Intersection, Ratchadamnoen Klang Avenue, 14 October 2001 (Bangkok; Duean Tula Printing Co., 2001) p 10.

23 Even though the memory of the major wound to Thai society on 6 October 1976 is not yet erased, it is one that the majority of Thais want to forget. So it has been suppressed and hidden away until the present day. However, as stated at the beginning of this paper, whenever there is a change in the power structure from the current one, a memory that is hidden under the rug is ready to reappear to demand space on the page of history.

24 The Inaugural Ceremony of the Heroes of Democracy Memorial at Khok Wua Intersection, Ratchadamnoen Klang Avenue, 14 October 2001, p 19.

25 Charnvit Kasetsiri, "14 Octiber: A Historical Memorandum" in From 14 to 6 October, pp 195-6.

26 Prachak Kongkorati, And then there was a movement: the Political Culture of Students and Intellectuals before 14 October (Bangkok: Thammasat University Press, 2005) p 533.

27 See similar ideas in Thongchai Winichakul, "Thai History According to Royal Nationalism" Art and Culture Vol 22, No 1 (November 2001: pp 56-65.

28 For details see The Ratanakosin Project (Bangkok: Office of the National Environmental Committee, Ministry of Science, Technology and Energy, 1996)

29 For details see National Chronicle, Department of Fine Arts, The Chronicle of Ratanakosin Island Conservation (Bangkok: Saha Pracha Phanit, 1982)

30 See Chali Iamkrasindh, "When the Siamese Welcome the King", Architect, 200 Years of Ratanakosin Edition (1982), p 94.

31 Department of Fine Arts, Chronicle of the Ceremony to Welcome Back the King from Europe for the Second Time, Ratanakosin Era 126 (B.E. 2450), p 28.

32 Bandit Liuchaichan, Arches in the Jubilee Celebrations (Bangkok: STP World Media, 1998) pp 13-14.

33 Ibid., p 16

34 "7 Jewels of the Royal Emperor Celebratory Arches" Arts and Culture, Vol 17, No 10 (August 1996), pp 28-31.

35 See the draft constitution of Mr Raymond B Stevens and Phraya Sriwisanwacha, B.E. 2474 (1931 C.E.) in Sonthi Techanan, Political Paean to "Democracy" according to King Prajadhipok (Bangkok: Academic document Production Project, Department of Political Science and Public Administration, Faculty of Social Science, Thammasat University, 1976) pp 147-150.

36 Nidhi Eoseewong, "Monuments, Warfare and the Thai State", Thai Nation, Thailand, Textbooks and Monuments (Bangkok: Matichon Press, 1995): p 92.

37 One thing that the writer thinks is very important concerning the past and future direction of Ratchadamnoen Avenue is the Development of Ratchadamnoen Avenue and Vicinity Project, known by its nick-name as the "Champs Élysées of Thailand". In the writer's opinion, this project is the product of the capitalism-tourism drive that emerged in Thai society some time ago (the establishment of the Tourism Organization of Thailand in 1987 being evidence of this). This drive is manifested on Ratchadamnoen Avenue in the commodification of the memories of Ratchadamnoen Avenue into cultural goods. An interesting question is what such a commodification would involve in order not to destroy the sacredness of the memories related to "royal power". The delaying of the project during the Thaksin government and after the coup d'état against his government on 19 September 2006 did not put an end to the idea of integrating capitalism-tourism into the Ratchadamnoen Avenue memory, only a slow-down in order to look for new formulae that that would not infringe on the royal power memory. If this project does materialize, it would have a vast impact on the new form of "memory" on Ratchadamnoen Avenue. However at this time, the writer does not have the capacity to analyze it. For those interested in studying Ratchadamnoen Avenue further, the writer recommends this issue as a important one that needs to be taken up.


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