Sunday, August 29, 2004

Outlawed pages of history

This was published by Nation on Jan 5, 2004. Since the link to the page is usually difficult to find. I thought it better to just copy the whole text here:

Scholar and publisher says the writings of erstwhile social pariahs have by no means lost their relevance for the mores and politics of modern-day Thailand. Literature has always been a most effective and timeless tool for reflection, especially when the books have been banned and their authors discredited by the authorities. At least that's the opinion of Chalong Soontravanich, a noted historian at Chulalongkorn University. Since 1995, Chalong and his social-science colleagues have reprinted five controversial books written by some of the most significant and controversial authors in the nation's history.

The books, reprinted by Chalong's Chakawal Witthaya ("Universal Learning") Institute, were first published between 1907 and 1937. They cover a wide range of controversial topics, from female monks to political decentralisation.

"We would like more people today to know what people of previous generations thought about society," Chalong said. "We've only selected books that were rejected at the time they were published. The writers were social outcasts, and some of them were even jailed for being too radical."

Chalong's literary revival focuses on unconventional thinkers who had ideas before their time. The project also serves to prove that censorship, which is an ancient tool used by the authorities to suppress rebellious thinkers, only works in the short term and seldom succeeds in the long term. Funded by the Osaka-based Thai Club of Japan, the institute has published 5,000 copies of rare books. The selection features the works of Kor Sor Ror Kularb or Kularb Trisananond (1834-1921), Narin Bhasit or Narin Klueng (1874-1950), Aum Boonthai (1902-1940), MC Sakol Wannakorn Vorawan (1888-1953) and Phraya Soontorn Pipit (1891-1973). Half of the published books were donated to libraries and academic researchers in related fields. The other half were put on sale at the Chulalongkorn University Book Centre.

Chalong said the group was always on the lookout for rare books that it might be able to publish. It is waiting for funding to reprint another extremely important book that contains biographies of 100 significant bureaucrats who served the country from the reign of King Taksin (1767-1782) to that of King Rama III (1824-1851). Some of the controversial issues of that time are still unresolved today. Not least of these was Narin Klueng's belief that women should have an equal right to be ordained into the monkshood. In 1928 he began a campaign for the acceptance of female monks and saw his two daughters ordained as female novices in a temple especially established for them.

Narin wrote a book called "Thalaaengkarn rueng Samanaree Watra Nareewong" ("Statement About Female Novices"), which campaigned for the revival of female novices and monks, which he believed had existed at the time of the Lord Buddha. But the novices were later derobed and arrested by the authorities. Narin fought back by sending a petition to King Prajathipok, who ordered that Narin end his campaign.

Several decades have passed, and the issue of female monks is still a controversial one in today's society. Last year Bhikkuni Dhammananda was ordained in Sri Lanka because female monks were not accepted in the Thai Buddhist tradition. The argument about female monks hasn't gone very much further than in the time of Narin Klueng. It's still centred on the question of whether or not the Lord Buddha allowed women to be ordained as monks. Bhikkuni Dhammananda believes that Narin Klueng represented the first wave in the struggle for the rights of female monks. Her late mother, Bhikkuni Woramai, who was ordained in Taiwan in the early seventies, represents the second wave. Chalong republished Narin's book last year as a part of his group's contribution to the debate concerning the case of Bhikkuni Dhammananda.

"I like the book because it challenged the status quo and authority," he said. His group believes that no other institutions would ever have reprinted Narin's book or any of the other books selected by the Chakawal Witthaya Institute. "This is because they are controversial and rebellious," Chalong said. The writers of these books had to pay a high price for having the courage to publish their beliefs. Narin Klueng was jailed many times while Kor Sor Lor Kularb was portrayed as "mentally retarded". Prince Damrong, the "father of Thai history", accused him of stealing knowledge about Siamese chronicles from the Royal Hall and rewriting them as his own work. Prince Damrong also discredited Kularb's works. He claimed they were fake history and asked for King Rama V's judgement. Though the king granted him a pardon, Kularb was sent to a mental hospital in 1900.

Kularb wrote "Aryatiwat" in 1911, explaining the 136 changes in royal and bureaucratic tradition. The Chakawal Witthaya Institute republished this book in 1995. Aum Boonthai was jailed on Tarutao island soon after his 1933 classic "Krisadarnkarn bon Theeraabsoon" was published. Aum was accused of being a member of the Bavordej Rebel Group, which fought against the government's People's Party in 1933. He died a prisoner in 1940. Aum published the book to introduce himself to the people ahead of the country's first general election. "His book is the first political template in Thai history. It's the first example of people's politics," Chalong said.

Another book that reflected people's politics was the 1935 classic "Pathakkatha Khong Phuthaenrasadorn Rueng Saphab Khong Jangwat Tangtang" ("MPs' Speeches on the Condition of the Provinces"), which Chakawan Witthaya republished in 1996.

"It's interesting that how these MPs viewed and thought of their provinces," Chalong said.

The latest Chalong revival was "Sakol Thesabal" ("Local Governance"), by MC Sakol-wannakarn Vorawan and Phraya Soontornpipit. The book was published in 1935 and was used as the country's first textbook on local administration.

"We selected this book because of our expectations of local administration and decentralisation under the present Constitution," said Chalong.

The two authors were interested in democracy despite being a nobleman and a member of the royal family. "MC Sakol Vorawan was one of those who defended Pridi Banomyong's economic policy," Chalong said.

The Chakawan Witthaya group hopes these reprinted books will encourage debate among those who believe that local governance is the root of democracy and civil society. The second edition of "Sakol Thesabal" will be launched today in Room 105 of Chulalongkorn University's Faculty of Arts Building I as part of an event from 12pm to 7pm including a seminar on "Rare Books and Thai Society". Speakers will include Professor Nidhi Eewsriwong, Nakarin Mektrairat, Attajak Satayanurak, Supoj Chaengraew and Anek Laothammathat.


To the authorities they were mad, bad or just too contrary

Progressive thinkers:

Kor Sor Ror Kularb/Kularb Trisananond (1834-1921)

Kor Sor Ror Kularb gained a reputation among Thai and foreign scholars as a historian and liberal writer, even though he was discredited by the "father of Thai history." In 1891 Kularb worked as an editor of the Siam Observer, a newspaper owned by Phraya Attakarn Prasit.

From 1897 to 1908 he published his own magazine called Siam Prapaet, which focused on history, chronicles, biographies of important people and legends. He also published a magazine called Samut Bamrungpanya Prachachon ("Book for Thought"). One edition of the magazine was called Aryatiwat, and others dealt with "official conversations" and "details of rules and traditions used in official business".

Narin Bhasit/Narin Klueng (1874-1950)

Narin was given the title of "Phra Phanomsarnnarin" by King Rama V and appointed governor of Nakhon Nayok. He resigned from the official post in 1909, when he was 35 years old, and began to study the teachings of the Lord Buddha. In 1912 Narin and his friends established the Buddha Borisat Samakhom in Bangkok. He wanted this samakhom ("association") to be a centre of Buddhist knowledge. Narin felt the wealth of Thai society was centred on institutional Buddhism. He thought people were fooled because they were ready to believe without reason. Narin also established two publications, Saradhamma and Lok kab Dhamma, where people could discuss Buddhism.

Narin is probably Thailand's first human-rights activist. Apart from his campaign for the acceptance of female monks, he distributed leaflets called Sa-ngob Yoo Mai Dai ("We Can't Live in Peace") during World War II, criticising the government's non-neutral policy. He also campaigned against the death penalty.

Aum Boonthai (1902-1940)

Before running in Thailand's first general election, Aum Boonthai was a teacher in Ubon Ratchathani. He was also a freelance writer for Witthayajarn magazine and the newspaper Prachachat. His articles focused on the "cooperative system". In his book, Krisadakarn bon Theeraabsoong, Aum criticised Pridi Banomyoung's economic policy. His ideas were more in line with the beliefs of King Prajadhipok. When he was arrested in 1933, Aum was ordered to stop writing, and his books were burned by the authorities.

MC Sakol Wannakorn (1888-1953).

The eldest son of Prince Narathip Praphanpong, MC Sakol Wannakorn was educated in England. He was interested in theories of the state, labour, social welfare and local governance and was among those who supported Pridi Banomyong's economic policy. He played an important role in drafting the Municipal Laws of 1930 and 1933.

Phraya Soontorn Pipit (1891-1973).

He was appointed governor of several provinces before being named director-general of the Home Ministry. He was also a political lecturer at Thammasat University. His topics were municipalities and the spirit of authority.

Subhatra Bhumiprabha, Nantiya Tangwisutijit


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