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King Chulalongkorn, Rama V

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King Chulalongkorn, Rama V

The Fifth King of the Chakri Dynasty

THAILAND CELEBRATES many auspicious occasions but none with more feeling or genuine sentiment than the festivities held on October 23rd every year in commemoration of his Majesty King Chulalongkorn.

Born September 20, 1853, King Rama V was to inherit the throne from his father, King Monkut (Rama IV), in 1868 at the tender age of 15. Because he was still a child, Thailand was governed by regency for the first five years of his reign and the boy King took advantage of the time to travel the world. His father had been one of Siam's most educated monarchs, recognizing the need for education and also the importance of the western world, yet understanding fully the threat of colonization. Wisely, he had instilled these principles in his son who was an apt student. During those first five years, King Chulalongkorn visited most of the major western powers, learning about their cultures, traditions, political organization and technology while in neighboring countries he spent time making political friends, realizing the need for allies in the fight to prevent colonization.

On his return to Siam and absolute rule, King Rama V set about the task of reforming his country, a monumental assignment to bring Siam into the modern world. At that time there were no communication systems, ox carts and elephants were the only form of transport and government was administered in some 20 regional "Mini Kingdoms" by Governors whose only loyalty was to themselves. Taxes were collected by ordinary citizens, most of whom were thieves, and law and order was based on "Trial by ordeal" the strongest party being declared the winner of the dispute.

At home, King Chulalongkorn reorganized the Government, appointing 12 ministers, all either his sons or loyal members of the nobility, to run the country centrally from Bangkok. Faced with confrontation, he allowed the Governors of the provinces to continue in their posts but skillfully planted people loyal to the crown into positions where they were gradually able to take over. Abroad, King Rama V continued a diplomatic strategy against the colonizing powers of France and England, one notable exchange being with Queen Victoria. The British Monarch had proposed that the East India Company construct a railroad in Siam but fearful that England would use the project to trick Siam out of its sovereignty, King Rama V sent a message to Queen Victoria saying "Siam is not yet ready for a railroad due to insufficient economy and a relatively low population." He added a note that the ox cart was the most common form of transport and quite sufficient for the time.

In the meantime, forestalling the British attempt to sneak in by the back door, King Chulalongkorn approached other western nations for their technology and skills, encouraging bidding and plans for a railway system. As these experts arrived from across Europe they discussed plans, argued incessantly and could not agree on a strategy. King Rama V made use of these disagreements to forestall even longer until eventually a railroad could be built by a combination of resources from European countries, giving no single power to any country. Queen Victoria backed off, Siam got its railway and no political power had been compromised.

King Rama V was to become the

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