Daily Archives: January 29, 2014

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Vol. 2, No. 3, BOOK REVIEWS

Contents>> Vol. 2, No. 3



Strong Soldiers, Failed Revolution: The State and Military in Burma, 1962–88
Yoshihiro Nakanishi
Singapore and Kyoto: NUS Press in association with Kyoto University Press, 2013, xxi+358 p.

Millions of words have been written about politics in Myanmar since the collapse of General Ne Win’s socialist revolution in 1988. However, works of genuine scholarship on the structure and underlying nature of Myanmar politics are as rare as snow in summer. Strong Soldiers, Failed Revolution is a welcome exception. Yoshihiro Nakanishi has made a significant addition to the meagre literature on the politics of modern Myanmar. My criticisms which follow, and there are several, in no one way detract from the fundamental contribution that this book makes in confirming how the political and administrative core structure of the post-1962 state in Myanmar, the army, was constructed and survived unto today. The stability, and continuity, of army rule in Myanmar since 1962 is, as Dr. Nakanishi makes clear, unusual and requires explanation. The central chapters of this volume provide an explanation of that stability and grounds it in detailed, empirical, and highly original research.

Chapters four through seven are the most important parts of the argument of Strong Soldiers, Failed Revolution, but the earlier and later chapters are also important contributions to our understanding of modern Burmese politics, although at places one can take issue with some of the points the author advances. Chapter one provides an overview of the volume and takes the reader through some of the relevant, and sometimes irrelevant, largely American, political science literature on comparative politics. If words mean anything, some of this is just jargon, such as “dictatorship democracies,” which some seem to favor. However, this chapter is important in setting the scene, particularly as the author does not make the mistake of many commentators on Myanmar politics and dismiss General Ne Win’s commitment to his socialist revolution. He was willing to deny his army resources for the sake of that revolution, and that sacrifice became part of its strength and the reason the army could continue to rule after the revolution had failed.

The second chapter provides the historical background to the Ne Win revolution. The author’s grasp of this material is rather weaker than of the more recent history, though perhaps some of the problems stem from the fact that the language he is using has been translated at least three times—from English into Japanese and back into English again. For example, colonial Burma never had a governor-general (p. 33). It was the British Government of Burma Act of 1935 which separated Burma from India in 1937, not 1936 (also p. 33), though later this author gives the dates accurately (p. 38). These are petty criticisms, though it is important to note that the so-called British “divide and rule policy” was an accusation made by Burmese nationalists, and perhaps a consequence of British rule. Whether it was intentional is highly debatable. Aung San did not go to London to negotiate independence with the colonial governor, Sir Hubert Rance, but with the British Prime Minister, Clement Attlee (p. 50), the “Panrong agreement” is presumably the “Pang­long agreement,” though whether it is a document proposing federalism is debateable (also p. 50), and the Mujahids wanted to merge northern Arakan with East Pakistan, not form a separate Islamic state (p. 51). However, as no one will read this book for the sake of this background chapter, this criticism is by-the-by.

Chapter three on how the ideology of the Burma Socialist Programme Party came to be written is informative, though the author’s lack of reference to a third ideological tract, the Specific Characteristics, which was the last published as a corrective to earlier texts, is surprising, given how thorough is his research. The author’s attempt to draw a distinction between ideology and philosophy, at least in terms of political practice, I find unconvincing. That the author of the Party’s ideology, U Chit Hlaing, could use his theory to justify two different regimes should surprise no one who studies politics. Chit Hlaing was following the orders of his military employers. Whether Ne Win had a clear idea of what kind of ideology he required to justify his rule to himself and others is something that Dr. Nakanishi doubts, but that he gave Chit Hlaing instructions he confirms. In an age of ideology, had Chit Hlaing’s ideas not been available, they, or something like them, would have had to be invented because that was the zeitgeist of what was then called Third World politics, in this case in a Theravada Buddhist context.

Chapters four through seven provide the reason Strong Soldiers, Failed Revolution will be cited by other Myanmar scholars as well as comparative political scientists for years to come. Chapter four explains why the single party that Ne Win invented was never able to gain autonomy from its military founders. Finding jobs for the officer corps as they retired from the army was not only a personal kindness but a political strategy and prerequisite for remaining in power. Chapter five, entitled “Destroy the Bureaucracy! Transformation of the Civilian Bureaucracy in the Name of the Revolution,” provides a detailed account of how the bureaucracy became captured by retired military personnel. Whether Ne Win realized what he was doing when he created the first deputy ministers in 1969 is unclear, but now we know the consequences. However, I believe that the author underestimates the weaknesses in the bureaucracy that already existed when the army seized power in 1962. It was then just a shadow of what had existed in 1942, the last effective year of British rule. When many of the remaining senior bureaucrats resigned on the cusp of inde­pendence, the then ruling civilian party was able to fill many posts with their own appointees, regardless of their qualifications. This, in part, explains why the army was able to so dramatically improve the administration of the country during the first, brief period of its rule, in 1958–60.

Chapter six, entitled “‘Winner-Take-All’: An Analysis of Burma’s Political Elite,” begins with a misleading and unhelpful allusion to something called “Burma’s political culture.” What that may be remains in doubt, other than that some analysts, when at a loss to explain political decisions, gloss what they do not know in terms of an unknowable “political culture.” Happily, Dr. Nakanishi quickly abandons that discussion and returns to the close empirical analysis of the members of the legislative and other bodies in the government of Burma during the 1970s and 1980s. He once more demonstrates, despite Ne Win’s apparent intentions, that army and ex-army personnel dominated the government just as they did the party. This leads logically into the final substantive chapter, seven. Here his command of his data is impressive, though his lack of knowledge of pre-1962 history lets him down. Amongst Myanmar’s ministers of defense, he omits Bo Let Ya and U Win (p. 243), but this minor error detracts not at all from the empirical validity of the author’s conclusions.

After a very cogent and helpful restatement of the key points in the thesis of the Strong ­Soldiers, Failed Revolution, Dr. Nakanishi does what everyone writing a book on Myanmar these days seems to feel impelled to do and speculates about what comes next. Much of this is quite helpful and informative, particularly suggesting how the legacy of the Ne Win-BSPP period allowed the post-1988 military regime not only to maintain itself in power, but to expand and develop the capacity to make the transition to a civilianized regime after 2011. Indeed, this could be expanded upon with advantage for one of the most misunderstood aspects of modern Myanmar politics is the nature and purposes of the military regime between 1988 and 2010.

Unfortunately, he falls into what I see as an error in being drawn into the discourse of political critics of the army, rather than remaining in the discourse of political analysis. He repeats the previously heard allegation made by critics of the post-1988 military regime that the army then perceived the general public as a threat and “also exhibited a sense of paternalism” (p. 294). That the army arrogated to itself a claim to be practicing “national” politics in a selfless manner is undoubtedly the case, but there is nothing new in that claim. That was a claim made from the 1940s onwards. Moreover, a reading of the documents of the 1990s indicates the army leadership knew exactly who their political opponents were, and they were not some generalized “citizenry.” Indeed, the army used the near same language as in the socialist period: the people’s army, together with the people, against the enemies of the state, whether leftists or rights. As in the introduction to the book, so also at the conclusion, Nakanishi perhaps becomes victim to the same philosophical fault as U Chit Hlaing. That democracy is the reigning ideology of today, rather than socialism, is obvious, but in terms of their approaches to the subject of comparative politics, there is little ­difference. Democracy, like socialism, is not an analytical category, it is a vague ideological ­preference.

Robert H. Taylor
Institute of South East Asian Studies (Singapore)

Surabaya, 1945–2010: Neighbourhood, State and Economy in Indonesia’s City of Struggle
Robbie Peters
Singapore: NUS Press, 2013, 272 p.

Before moving to Jakarta, I lived in Surabaya as a student from 1982 to 1990. The Surabaya of then was just beginning to represent itself as a world class city with the new landmarks of Tunjungan Plaza and later Delta Plaza, forming a belt of international hotels, offices, and shopping malls around kampung neighborhoods. Little did I realize that the city then was undergoing a major transformation marked by a shift from a city of work to a space of consumption. Robbie Peters came to Surabaya almost a decade later but at a most critical time in the history of the city during the fateful year of 1998. He thus understood especially well how the aftermath of 1998 (and what came before) had triggered a series of unprecedented crises in the forms of ninja, terrorism, and urban renewals all of which have profoundly shaped the neighborhood of Dinoyo—the subject of his study.

Surabaya, 1945–2010 focuses on a kampung where people live a life at the margins of center of the city across different socio-political fields of postcolonial Indonesia. This neighborhood is specific in its proximity to factories and later shopping malls which took advantage of their labor, but the people in the kampung are more informal workers than proletariats. This set the stage for Peters to show the uneven relations between the kampung and the city as a kind of tension-filled duality that represents the larger relation between people and the state. Sometimes it appears we are being offered a choice between seeing Dinoyo surrender to the bureaucratic rationality of the state or stay with their kampung ethos of solidarity. The choice seems clear when outside in the street lurks the world of state power and capitalist modernization.

Consistent with the interest of anthropologists, Peters shows how Dinoyo kampung is given substance of neighborliness through the practices of slametan (feast-giving) to observe important events that happen in one’s life such as death, marriage, and birth, which at once constitute a sense of solidarity and community. Peters however, does not regard kampung as inherently coherent or harmonious, indeed he believes its formation to be an outgrowth of control and crisis, territoriality and domination against which slametan continues to be enacted. This kind of formulation allows politics (rather than culture) to play a significant part in the book. Surabaya, 1945–2010 is thus, an anthropological book that goes beyond anthropology, or better yet, it is a book that represents the best side of the discipline. Against the depiction of culture as a timeless way of living, Peters takes seriously the historical dimension of the kampung cultures, making them part of the violence of the national time as he emphasizes social change while identifying key practices that continue to be reproduced for self-definition and self-defense.

The first two chapters already show the coordination of time and space. They introduce Dinoyo within the changing context of Indonesia and see it as a “third” space beyond the confrontation between the city and the village which constitutes the essence of an urban kampung. The story starts from chapter 3 which sets the tone of the book by offering a chilling account of the 1965 purge of the communists and its associated space of kampung. Peters narrates the story (in this and other chapters) through the memories of people he got to know such as Eko, Rukun, Neng, and Arifin to show how Dinoyo is never a coherent space. The politics that culminated in the purge of 1965 did radically change kampung lives. This chapter raises questions of how the terror of 1965 affects the subsequent development of the Dinoyo. What do the inhabitants think about their communities, old and new? In the context of 1965, what do we mean by the subsequent Kampung Improvement Project (KIP)? Is it indeed a “success” story of a pro-poor urban agenda?

Chapter 4 responds to these questions by suggesting that KIP was involved in the “pacification” of the kampung world of Dinoyo in the aftermath of 1965. However, this was not an easy enterprise. There are interesting discussions here about the challenges of collecting data for the project. It details the processes by which the kampung is approached by technologies of measurement, such as maps, statistics, and questionnaires. Peters pays attention to how this technology of abstraction was carried out by civil servants and university researchers who worked from the position of observers, standing outside the kampung. This reveals not only the limits of their methods, but also the sense of gap and otherness as well as a distrust of the kampung residents to government officers due to their memories of the terrifying 1965 purges by the New Order. The KIP was nevertheless accepted eventually when it offered rights to ownership to the occupants of the kampung. However, one would note, as Peters did, that landownership entails the production of a tax-paying “middle class.” It also constitutes a division within the communities of the kampung as landownership produces the discourses of legibility and citizenship. Peters devotes an insightful account of how to secure the neighborhood at the time when the “middle class” house owners in the kampung increasingly feel the threat from the floating mass (massa).

In the 1980s, I remember people in Surabaya seem to identify the urban space through the width of the streets. The wide street (where malls, hotels, and government buildings are located) is associated with the image of the city, whereas the alleyways, such as gang and lorong are seen as the world of kampung. The world of the city and that of the kampung were indeed clearly different but they were not so divided. Becak (rickshaw) could then bring people to plazas, and kampung was accessible by any two-wheel vehicle. The two worlds constituted each other beyond the physical environment. There were social economic ties as well even though this was marked by uneven relations. In chapter 5, Peters makes it clear how the move from factories to malls to symbolize national urban progress was supported by kampung which provided inexpensive accommodations for sales girls working in the mall. The kampung not only contributed to the development of the city, but it also watched the rise and the fall of those who engaged with the city. Peters nicely describes this process by which the malls, the hotels, and the entertainment districts came to symbolize not so much the idea of progress, but the illegitimacy of the state and the crisis of society as the New Order began to crumble at the end of the 1990s.

Chapter 6 shows the impact of monetary crisis (krismon) in the 1990s and how it affected the material conditions of the Dinoyo neighborhood. The focus of this chapter however is on how people survived that difficult time; how different enterprises were created to cope with the time of crisis. The people of Dinoyo intensified and diversified their existing informal networks by doing what they could to generate income, from setting up coffee stalls to riverside service enterprises. The best part of this chapter is the discussion on how cultures were reinvented to live through tough times, from pigeon racing to betting on soccer games to prostitution, and how these different activities were received by the authorities which sought to control them.

The effects of crisis produced uncanny happenings. Chapter 7 deals with the infamous stories of Ninja terror that for a while, saw East Java become a spectacle for a global media. Peters argues that the hysteria over the attack and killing of ninja is best understood as a “metaphor for anonymous incursions,” a kind of defensive response to an uncertain condition of life that occurred when the source of power that used to inhabit the neighborhood suddenly became unclear and subjected to misappropriation by unlocatable forces during the economic and political crises. There is a shadow of Foucauldian analysis in this chapter. The self-defense of the community began with the perception of one’s own self that needed clarification by way of imagining the incursion of “out­siders” whose identities were hard to locate. These others (the insane, the ninja, the informant, and even the police officer) constituted profound anxieties in the community and yet they were perversely instrumental for the community to regain its self-hood. At the time of political transition, it wasn’t clear to members of the neighborhood, as to Peters, if they themselves were the living dead of the spectral New Order state.

Chapter 8 shows how social life in the kampung in the Post-Suharto era is virtually uncontainable by the state. The key component in the “art of not being governed” (to use James Scott’s term) is the ritual of slametan. The enactment of this inclusive tradition serves to recognize both residents and non-residents, and they thus counter the exclusionary practice of residential cards. The “being there” constitutes a community beyond the official recognition of IDs. The focus of this chapter thus is the formation of collective identity and the role of alleyway as an almost organic social space that helps bring people together. Peters examines in detail the use of the alleyway in the event of a death, and shows how people in Dinoyo master the alley. The focus on the alley allows Peters to discuss how people in Dinoyo act on the street, the counter-space of alley, which is considered as a domain of the outside world marked by domination and conflict (with authorities and upper middle class).

Chapter 9 concerns the present challenge of Dinoyo. Peters discusses some of the most recent attempts by the municipality of Surabaya to rebuild itself after the “time of insanity,” but in this last chapter Peters shows how the New Order’s techniques of capitalist modernization continue well into the post-Suharto era, as if time had never changed or in fact gotten worse for the kampung folks of Dinoyo. In the present era of reformasi, when the notion of rakyat (people) has become the keyword for political legitimacy, the folks of Dinoyo continue to be marginalized. This however does not mean that people in Dinoyo are just victims of urban renewal. In the last section on “Sovereignty and Slametan” Peters nicely brings back the ritual of Slametan for a wedding that enacts social identity to reproduce the agency of Dinoyo’s residents. This Slametan defies submission to state registration.

In the end, after reading the conclusion, we realize that what made Dinoyo possible and held itself together is not merely the power of culture (such as that of Slametan), but also politics, or political bargaining. Peters approaches Dinoyo slowly and attentively to reveal the capacity of people in living their daily lives. Surabaya 1945–2000 is an excellent book represented in an engaging narrative via life stories of the kampung people. It is also a book attentive to scholarship. Peters pays homage to earlier anthropological studies of Indonesian kampungs, following their paths and themes while engaging critically with their findings. Robbie continues this great tradition of studying kampung, making sense of the people’s lives and the changes they experienced, but he does it in a way that makes us aware of the politics of the city and the nation. We learn from his study that the new time of reformasi is nothing other than an extension of the past New Order. At least this is what is seen from the margin. From the kampung, Peters offers a fascinating study of a neighborhood undergoing a time of insanity when the future is uncertain and the past is carried over to blur the present.

Abidin Kusno
Institute of Asian Research, University of British Columbia

The Encyclopedia of Indonesia in the Pacific War: In Cooperation with the Netherlands Institute for War Documentation
Peter Post, William H. Frederick, Iris Heidebrink, and Shigeru Sato, eds.
Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 2010, xxix+684 p.

The twentieth century has been characterized as the century of wars. It experienced two world wars, many regional wars in the context of the Cold War, and various kinds of internal wars. These wars produced many casualties, both military and civilian. In return, the many nation-states that the two great wars brought into being have made it a habit to commemorate those who sacrificed their lives for their countries. By the end of the century, “remembering war” has become a common exercise for national governments and a civic duty for citizens. In this context, intensive efforts at recollection, collective reflection and redress in relation to these wars have materialized in academia as well as public sectors. In addition, international and intergovernmental cooperation has produced new memories, understandings, and interpretations of the wars. As such, the “memory boom” has taken place in many parts of the globe (Winter 2006, 1).

Two reasons deserve to be mentioned regarding this trend from a global perspective. First, as those who experienced war age, they are eager to archive their memories for future generations. In the Netherlands, many memorials and statues bearing the names of those who fell in a war have been established by local communities. Second, many developing countries that were also former European or American colonies have been democratized in the process of “the Third Wave” ­(Huntington 1991). For these countries, democratization has been a process of confronting colonial and authoritarian legacies through historical fact-finding efforts that are concerned with addressing human rights violations that occurred under authoritarian regimes (De Brito et al. 2001). Thus, the politics of memory sheds light on those who suffered as well as the oppressed. This process has made possible, for instance, international cooperation between a former colony (Indonesia) and its erstwhile suzerain power (The Netherlands) to present the truth about what happened during the war period.

Under these changing international and domestic socio-political circumstances, over the years, tremendous international collaborative efforts have borne fruit in the form of the Encyclopedia of Indonesia in the Pacific War. It is a timely publication and provides a broad understanding of the topic. It has 56 contributors from various parts of the globe with 684 and xxix pages, plus 24 pages of pictures at the end of the volume. It has eight major chapters—chapter one general introduction; chapter two historical overview; five middle chapters on matters directly related to the Japanese occupation (chapters three to seven), namely, administration and policies, coercion and control, economy, society and social change, and culture; and chapter eight on postwar burdens and memory. The 156-page long “Lexicon of People, Events and Institutions” addendum to the book is especially useful for readers and scholars in need of quick reference. To describe this Encyclopedia as “a strong encyclopedia” that “can help you to get an early, broad understanding of a topic” (Storey 2008, 5) is indeed accurate.

In his introduction Peter Post, one of the editors of the Encyclopedia, explains the purpose of the tome. It “aims to go beyond the myths and misconceptions and treats the varied aspects of the Japanese occupation period in a comparative way,” “gives factual details of how different groups of people initially reacted towards Japanese military rule and how these groups experienced the changes in their living circumstances,” and “pays attention to the legacies of the war in the three main countries concerned, e.g. Japan, Indonesia, and The Netherlands” (p. 2). According to Post, four major advancements in the historiography of the Japanese period in Indonesia over the last two decades have made this Encyclopedia project possible. Two of the new developments relate to the availability of records and materials; these were made possible through a project of the Japan Center for Asian Historical Records initiated by the National Archives of Japan, which has made public all Asia-related records, and the Netherlands Institute for War Documentation which has digitized relevant Malay-language newspapers and periodicals and made them publicly available. The other two advancements were the oral history projects—one was “The End of The Netherlands’ Colonial Presence in Asia” undertaken by the Foundation for the Oral History of Indonesia of the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies, while the other was the “South Sulawesi under the Japanese Occupation” by the Center for Regional and Multicultural Studies of Hasanuddin University in Makassar, Indonesia (p. 3). Nevertheless, Post acknowledges that due to the still-limited availability of the sources the Encyclopedia spends more pages on developments in Java and Sumatra than in Kalimantan, Sulawesi, and the islands of the eastern archipelago (p. 4).

The main body of the book is devoted to the description and analysis of “occupation” by the Japanese. But since the chapters do not have footnotes or detailed references (only selected references), the readers will have some difficulties if they wish to pursue further information or even to crosscheck the accuracy of an introduced fact. There is no information on how the reader can access the sources or the materials on which contributors have relied. The Encyclopedia appears to have been built upon many untouched and scattered materials gathered and analyzed in the course of their research. It is, therefore, regrettable that such new and no doubt valuable sources are not available to the reader. This shortcoming also makes it difficult to measure the original contributions offered by this Encyclopedia compared to the existing literature on the subject.

Some of the new findings and developments in the scholarship are made implicit in the text. For example, William Bradley Horton’s piece on “Comfort women” would not have been written without the comprehensive research conducted and funded by the Asian Women’s Fund established in 1995 (active until 2007). The chapter on “Postwar Burdens and Memory” also points out some new aspects concerning Japanese, Dutch, and Indonesian individuals as well as governmental efforts in remembering World War II. The newness of these sections reflects the recent development of international norms concerning human rights that focus more on individual memory and the present actions of those who suffered for redress.

The Encyclopedia, however, does not address the current politics of war memory, such as redress. The issue of reparations entered a new phase at the end of the twentieth century ­(Bottigliero 2004; Miller and Kumar 2007) and it was a major concern among states after World War II. Japan, as a defeated nation paid reparations to its Asian neighbors after the San Francisco Peace Treaty was signed in 1951, as proposed by the United States. On the state-to-state level, by paying reparations, the Japanese government perceived it had fulfilled its duty and redeemed its past transgressions to its neighbors. But these reparations rarely reached local individual victims. In the meantime, a new idea regarding reparations has gained currency since the 1990s, an idea that is rooted in the concept of human rights and has created opportunities for individual victims to demand their rights for reparation independently from the state. Victims such as “comfort women” in the former Japanese imperial territories and atomic bomb survivors in Hiroshima and Nagasaki have raised their voices with the support of non-governmental organizations and civil society organizations. It should be noted, however, that the former case draws more attention in the international arena than the latter one, in part because it intersects with gender issues.

The voices of marginalized groups also remain to be heard in the Encyclopedia. One representative group was the ethnic Chinese. They constituted a major group within the local populations in the Indies, and yet their socio-political position and experience during the Japanese occupation is understudied. It is partially because the Japanese imagined them as their main enemy when they fought against China, while the Indonesians were their younger brothers, and therefore not many official sources on the Chinese are available. To be fair, the Encyclopedia pays careful attention to the Chinese population. Gin Keat Ooi’s essay recounts the series of Chinese massacres that took place in South and West Kalimantan, while Didi Kwantanada illustrates the radical socio-cultural and educational changes this ethnic group had to confront. But as these accounts are without noted (primary) sources, thus one hardly gets to hear a “Chinese” voice in them. It is a historical fact that the Japanese military authorities interned many Chinese in concentration camps, although few sources are available on the matter. Their experiences and afflictions during this time, however, are vividly featured in literary works published after Indonesia gained independence in August 1945 (Chandra 2012). Although documenting violence against prisoners of war is a challenging task (Jones 2011), it is regrettable that the Encyclopedia does not provide new evidence on prison life from the period in question.

The other invisible group is the so-called collaborators with Japanese authority. Such people were not always opportunists; some were realists. In the case of the Philippines, this group includes notable names such as Emilio Aguinaldo, José P. Laurel, and Manuel Roxas. In the case of Indonesia, one may recall Soekarno and Mohammad Hatta as collaborators, and yet many other names are “unknown” or forgotten. For instance, there were many prominent journalists, Indonesian as well as Chinese, who worked for the occupying regime and maintained their reputation even after independence. As I understand that writing about the collaborators is politically sensitive, the Encyclopedia appears to maintain a safe distance from this issue.

There is another kind of challenge in constructing historical reality. We still know little about those who died for the “imperial nations” (Winter 2006). In the case of the British Empire, various war memorials record the names of those who “sacrificed their lives” for it. However, in the case of the Netherlands and its former colonies, the remembrance of war “heroes” seems to exclude those who had died, especially those in the colonies. It is natural to commemorate those who died for the Dutch fatherland, while those who fell defending the colony and sacrificing themselves for an imperial possession, it appears, remain a forgotten issue in Dutch and Indonesian historiography.

Ultimately, does this Encyclopedia contribute to construct a common understanding of history concerning Indonesia in the Pacific War? Overcoming “the myths and misconceptions” of occupied Indonesia may not be easy because some of them inevitably are linked with personal and collective experiences and memory. The essays in the Encyclopedia may not be accepted by all parties concerned, yet they provide basic elements of the historical facts and developments. This is the first step towards an ideally more complex, multi-faceted understanding of Indonesia during the Pacific War, and is therefore a valuable contribution to future projects of history writing on this topic.

Yamamoto Nobuto 山本信人
Department of Political Science, Faculty of Law, Keio University


Asian Women’s Fund. 2007. Digital Museum: The Comfort Women Issue and the Asian Women’s Fund. Accessed February 10, 2013, www.awf.or.jp.

Bottigliero, Ilaria. 2004. Redress for Victims of Crimes under International Law. Leiden: Brill Academic Publications.

Chandra, Elizabeth. 2012. Indies Prison Notebooks. IIAS Newsletter 62(6). Accessed February 10, 2013, http://www.iias.nl/sites/default/files/IIAS_NL62_06.pdf.

De Brito, Alexandra Barahona; Enriquez, Carmen Gonzalez; and Aguilar, Paloma, eds. 2001. The ­Politics of Memory and Democratization: Transitional Justice in Democratizing Societies. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.

Huntington, Samuel P. 1991. The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

Jones, Heather. 2011. Violence against Prisoners of War in the First World War: Britain, France and Germany, 1914–1920. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Miller, Jon; and Kumar, Rahul. 2007. Reparations: Interdisciplinary Inquiries. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.

Storey, William Kelleher. 2008. Writing History: A Guide for Students. 3rd ed. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.

Winter, Jay. 2006. Remembering War: The Great War between Memory and History in the Twentieth Century. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Japan’s Relations with Southeast Asia: The Fukuda Doctrine and Beyond
Lam Peng Er, ed.
London and New York: Routledge, 2013, xvii+203 p.

The Fukuda Doctrine, enunciated in 1977, is one of the most important developments in Japanese relations with Southeast Asia after the Second World War. Marking the end of a low-profile policy that focused primarily on trade, the Doctrine suggests a Japanese willingness to assume the “responsibilities” that befit a big power in Southeast Asia, something many Americans and Southeast Asians had been urging Japan to do. But mindful of their war record in Asia and their domestic politics, Japan eschewed the approach of a “normal” big power, or what the editor of this book calls a neorealist approach. Thus, the use of military force was rejected and economic power, if used for political purposes, was only exercised indirectly. The emphasis of the Doctrine was on what was called a “heart-to-heart” relationship, an approach that attempted to cultivate the trust and goodwill needed to ensure some semblance of equality between a big power like Japan and a group of developing countries like ASEAN.

This book deems the Doctrine a Japanese foreign policy success. Largely an outcome of a conference organized on the 13th anniversary of the Doctrine in 2007,1) this book however, has chosen not only to treat the Doctrine purely in bilateral terms but also to go beyond to that of the relationship between the Fukuda Doctrine and the regional architecture i.e. East Asian community building. To consider these two themes, the editor has drawn on contributions from academics in Japan and ASEAN and from one Chinese scholar. In addition, someone who had a hand in drafting the Doctrine, an ex-Japanese ambassador, was included to provide the perspective of a policy maker.

The book begins with an introduction, after which, it is divided into three parts, of which the first examines the origins and norms of the Fukuda Doctrine since it was first announced, while the second considers the Doctrine, power, and order in Southeast Asia. The third section mainly expatiates on the wider aspect pertaining to the relationship of Japan and ASEAN with the East Asian community. Each section consists of three chapters. Lam Peng Er, the editor, in the introduction, sees significance in the Fukuda Doctrine not only in Japan-ASEAN and East Asian community terms, but also in terms of the establishment of new norms in the international relations of Asia. The major aspects of these norms are the renunciation of power politics based on military capabilities by Japan, a “heart-to-heart” and an equal relationship between Japan and ASEAN. Such norms are not consonant with neorealism, one of the major theories of international relations, and hence unlikely to last, if the neorealist theory applies here. Yet, according to Lam, the Doctrine has outlasted the Cold War and has undergirded Japan’s relations with ASEAN into the twenty-first century. It could conceivably be valid for that of the East Asian community.

Lam also discusses, in the first chapter, the origins, ideas, and praxis of the Fukuda Doctrine, of which an interesting part is an account, albeit short, of how the diplomats drafted the Doctrine and how Fukuda put his stamp on it. Lam goes on to affirm how the Fukuda Doctrine and its spirit of tolerance should underpin an incipient East Asian community. In the second chapter, Edamura Sumio, a former ambassador and a key drafter of the Doctrine, gives the view of an insider. He believes the Doctrine represents diplomacy with vision and echoes Lam in regarding its applica­bility for a greater East Asia. Yamamoto Yoshinobu, in the third chapter, shows how great power relations have shaped the Doctrine. He argues nevertheless that there is some power element in the Doctrine—at least in practice and application—as it can be interpreted as a measure against, then as a soft counter to, the increasing influence of China. Despite that, he argues that the Doctrine should be considered in theoretical terms as a constructivist approach, a theoretical approach which has only recently come into vogue and something distinct from the neorealist approach.

Two ASEAN scholars, Rizal Sukma and Tang Siew Mun, and a Chinese scholar, Wang Jianwei contributed to the third section. Sukma, from Indonesia, explores how the bilateral relations can cope with the new strategic situation engendered by the power shift in Asia. He argues that an important first step towards this is for both Japan and ASEAN to identify the common challenges facing them in the political and security arenas and to find where their interests converge. He listed many challenges, one of which is to ensure the peaceful rise of China. Wang from China acknowledges that the conscious and purposeful cultivation of hard and soft power by Japan since the Doctrine has given Japan a reservoir of goodwill in the region. As a consequence, China cannot take a hard approach to Southeast Asia, and will likely compete with Japan as to who will be the better practitioner of the heart-to-heart approach. Tang, a Malaysian scholar, examines how Japan is perceived by the ASEAN states in the wake of the Doctrine. Agreeing that the Doctrine is one of Japan’s most successful initiatives, he nevertheless thinks it ought to be examined in the light of the changing times and environment.

The third section deals with Japan, Southeast Asia and the East Asian community. In the seventh chapter, Kitti Prasirtsuk from Thailand gives one of the more detailed accounts of the roles Japan and ASEAN can play in an East Asian community. He concludes that through a combination of trade and investment plus cultural exchanges, Japan has advanced de facto regional integration in tandem with ASEAN. Yamakage Susumu, the doyen of Japanese scholars on Japanese relations with ASEAN, believes that as far as Japan and ASEAN are concerned, their relationship should remain the central hub of the complex multi-layered schemes of regional cooperation. Finally, Kikuchi Tsutomu argues that the Doctrine is still relevant despite the rise of regional institutions and a regime change in Japan (referring then to the replacement of the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan [LDP] by the Democratic Party of Japan [DPJ]). He also states that it should be Japan’s priority to enhance unity and cooperation among Southeast Asian countries through ASEAN, just as the Doctrine had intended.

The book has done a good job of explaining the importance of the Fukuda Doctrine to those interested in bilateral Japanese-ASEAN relations as it is generally not much appreciated by specialists working on bilateral relations, concerned as they are with the economic penetration of Japan and its possible security posture in Southeast Asia: how much Japan’s peace diplomacy or heart-to-heart approach has influenced Southeast Asian perceptions of Japan in a positive way. The book is also right in arguing for the centrality of Japan and ASEAN, and the validity of a heart-to-heart approach, in East Asian regionalism. But it has not made a fully convincing case. Present Sino-Japanese tensions suggest it will take time and very much effort before both nations can be reconciled by the norms of the Fukuda Doctrine to play positive roles in East Asian regional groupings. Furthermore, the book’s treatment of theory is far too short. It may not be its main aim but it tantalizes with its rejection of neorealist theory. Could it not have expatiated a bit more on the constructivist theory suggested by Yamamoto Yoshinobu?

Finally, the book could have included the perspective of a scholar from the newer members of ASEAN, the so-called CLMV countries of Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam. Even if the Doctrine began way before they joined ASEAN, the Doctrine was supposed to bridge Indochina and the old ASEAN. At any rate, an ASEAN 10 poses one of the great challenges facing ASEAN unity, something much desired by the Doctrine.

Lee Poh Ping 李宝平

Institute of China Studies, University of Malaya


Lee, Poh Ping; and Md Nasrudin Md Akhir. 2009. Japanese Relations with ASEAN since the Fukuda Doctrine. Kuala Lumpur: Japan Studies Program, Department of Southeast Asian Studies, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Malaya.

The Authority of Influence: Women and Power in Burmese History
Jessica Harriden
Copenhagen: NIAS Press, 2012, xiii+370 p.

European visitors to Burma in the nineteenth century frequently remarked on what they perceived to be the startling freedom and equality enjoyed by Burmese women, and currently the “unofficial slogan” of the Union of Myanmar’s government-approved women’s organization states that “Myanmar women have enjoyed equal rights with Myanmar men since time immemorial” (p. 1). But while it is true that historically Burmese women have had access to economic power and have been able to exercise influence in the domestic sphere, they have also been considered spiritually inferior, and thus unfit for positions of leadership. Largely excluded from direct political power, with a few prominent (and often demonized) exceptions, women in Burma could usually exercise political power only through indirect influence. The upheavals of the colonial and post-colonial eras have not resulted in any measurable increase in the status of Burmese women.

Jessica Harriden’s monograph The Authority of Influence: Women and Power in Burmese ­History analyzes women’s access to power in Burma, and how this access has changed from the classical era to the present day. In doing so, Harriden enriches the existing understanding of gender and power relations in Burma. The book is divided into nine chapters, ordered chronologically, with the first chapter outlining the cultural context of gender relations in Burma. In this first chapter Harriden unpicks the meaning of power in the Burmese context, distinguishing between the Burmese conceptions of awza, an indirect influence, and ana, or direct political authority. Burmese women rarely possessed ana, although they could exercise awza. Expectations regarding power were shaped by religious influences, and also included the notion of hpoun, a spiritual power possessed only by men. Women’s innate spiritual inferiority meant that while women could command influence in the domestic context, there was deep ambivalence about women exercising direct political power, as exemplified by Burmese attitudes towards those exceptional Burmese women who wielded political authority, discussed in the third chapter.

Chapter two discusses depictions of female power in classical and pre-modern Burma. Given the scope of the subject, Harriden is necessarily selective in the material that she chooses to include here. This chapter combines a much broader chronological scope with a relatively narrow focus on the religious and familial influence of selected elite Burmese women, resulting in an analysis that seems a bit speculative and incomplete in comparison to the following chapters. While many of the early sources concerning women in Burma are prescriptive, incomplete, and possibly fictional, Harriden argues that nonetheless these materials “influenced the cultural construction of gender roles which had important implications for women’s ability to exercise social power in the more recent past” (p. 51). Since Harriden does not attempt to give a complete account of female power in the classical and pre-modern eras, but rather focuses on a few important themes, it might have been preferable to integrate this material into the first chapter. Harriden emphasizes that the exercise of female power in Burma, as far as can be judged from the available sources, tended to be indirect. Because of the importance of kinship networks in shaping Burmese power structures, women could exert influence while remaining in their prescribed domestic sphere. While women could be valued for exerting their influence in a subordinate role, women who were more overtly dominant were viewed with suspicion and distrust—the “evil, scheming queen” became a reviled archetype (p. 74). Chapter three focuses on three powerful queens of the Konbaung dynasty who exemplified this archetype: Me Nu, Setkya Dewi, and Supayalat, the last queen of Burma. Each of these women was popularly depicted as an “evil queen,” and accused of exercising power in a manner that was both fundamentally illegitimate and destructive to Burma.

British colonial rule, described in chapter four, changed the status of women in Burma. The British had mixed feelings about Burmese women’s economic independence and freedom of movement in the public sphere, and while not a deliberate policy, the effect of British colonial rule was to diminish Burmese women’s economic power, as Chinese and Indian migrants competed for the positions that had traditionally been occupied by Burmese women. Whereas traditionally women had sometimes been able to exert political influence indirectly through marriage and family connections, this route to power was diminished as Burmese men were pushed out of positions of administrative authority. By the late nineteenth century, the colonial authorities discouraged marriages between Burmese women and European men, and Burmese nationalists would come to criticize women who engaged in relationships with “foreigners” for diluting Burmese culture and national identity. Women actively participated in the Burmese nationalist movement, but they tended to be confined to subsidiary roles, and subject to male authority.

Although the independent government of Burma was in theory committed to gender equality, in practice women’s opportunities for access to political power did not increase with independence. Chapter five’s title, “Social Workers, Beauty Queens and Insurgents,” sums up the limited options available to Burmese women after independence. Women were limited in the professions that they could access—and almost universally confined to subordinate roles in every context. While women participated in leftist and ethnic minority movements, and at times even assumed leadership roles, they were usually expected to remain subordinate to male authority.

The imposition of military rule, described in chapter six, was disastrous for women’s advancement in Burma. The various military dictatorships that ruled Burma from 1962 onwards not only decreased women’s access to economic and political power, but also targeted ethic minority women in violent repressive campaigns. The military, of course, was an almost entirely male institution, and it came to control almost every aspect of life in Burma. As the economy, conditions of life, and public sphere in Burma suffered from military rule, so too did Burmese women, though a few elite women, personally connected to the military, were able to continue to exercise influence in the traditional manner.

In chapter seven, Harriden addresses the case of Aung San Suu Kyi, the exception to the rule of Burmese women’s general exclusion from political power. Harriden seeks to account for Aung San Suu Kyi’s tremendous influence, and finds some of the explanation in traditional Burmese models of family power: Aung San Suu Kyi is the daughter of the martyred hero of Burmese nationalism Aung San. But more than this, Aung San Suu Kyi’s moral authority and personal charisma—her awza—have given her a unique position in Burmese politics (p. 221). But this personal prominence has not translated into greater opportunities for Burmese women more generally, as Aung San Suu Kyi has commonly been treated as a singular and exceptional case, both in terms of her lineage and her personal qualities. Harriden also notes that the military regime attempted to use Aung San Suu Kyi’s marriage to Michael Aris to discredit her, drawing on nationalist discourses that censured Burmese women who married foreigners.

The final two chapters of the book analyze women’s position in Burma post-1988, with chapter eight addressing women’s “advancement” (the quotation marks belong to Harriden) under the military regime since then, and chapter nine discussing the various women’s organizations formed by Burmese women in exile. While the women’s organizations associated with the military regime were able, by their association with the dictatorship, to obtain a sizeable membership, these organi­zations have accomplished little in the way of substantial betterment of women’s lives in Burma, serving rather to defend the regime against international criticism. The expatriate women’s organi­zations dedicated to reform, many of which integrate non-traditional conceptions of gender equality in their platform, seem to be a more promising vehicle for change. Harriden concludes with an assessment of the possibilities for collaboration and connection between these expatriate organizations and groups within Burma.

This work is a significant contribution to the existing scholarship on Burma, and is innovative in its focus on the nuances of gendered power relations. As noted above, this work is strongest when discussing women’s access to power in Burma from the Konbaung era onwards, but overall Harriden’s research is notably thorough. This study will be of interest to scholars of Southeast Asian history and gender relations, and anyone who seeks a better understanding of contemporary Burmese society.

Ashley Wright
Demn State University

The Perfect Business? Anti-trafficking and the Sex Trade along the Mekong
Sverre Molland
Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2012, viii+276 p.

Transnational Crime and Human Rights: Responses to Human Trafficking in the Greater Mekong Subregion
Susan Kneebone and Julie Debeljak
Oxon: Routledge, 2012, xiii+276 p.

Recently, as a response to the global crisis of human trafficking, more attention has been paid to human trafficking in the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS). However, the literature of human trafficking mainly focuses on prostitution and irregular migration, and always considers the “maximization of profit” as the central logic behind human trafficking. But this is only part of the story.

Explaining the social-cultural discourses of human trafficking in the GMS, Sverre Molland, Susan Kneebone, and Julie Debeljak present alternative perspectives on human trafficking in the GMS. In their opinions, there is a tension between the discourse of policy enforcement and human rights in the region.

Transnational Crime and Human Rights: Responses to Human Trafficking in the Greater Mekong Subregion evaluates the legal policy frameworks for responding to human trafficking in the GMS. At international, national, and subnational levels, the authors point out two essential contexts in human trafficking, namely, prostitution and labor migration. Meanwhile, they apply Foucault and Habermas’ ideas about discourse to evaluate how competing discourses have shaped policies and how policy responses have respectively changed the discourses.

For instance, Kneebone and Debeljak adopt Foucault’s concepts of “bio-politics” and “govern­mentality”2) to illustrate the trafficking discourses at both a global and regional level not only explaining “the increased interests in ‘securitization’ by those who are in power,” but also analyzing “why some discourses that may unsettle the status quo are excluded” (Kneebone and Debeljak, p. 24).

In The Perfect Business? Anti-Trafficking and the Sex Trade along the Mekong, Sverre Molland comments on the three discourses of traffickers, victims, and anti-traffickers in human trafficking along the Thai-Lao border, with a specific focus on the border towns of Vientiane and Nong Kai. At the same time, Molland interprets human trafficking along the Thai-Lao border from three theoretical approaches. First, he utilizes the “discourse”3) to explain that institutional practices do not only shape the external world, but also respond to it. Second, he adopts practice theory to explain “how individuals and groups employ a range of strategies and maneuvers to archive certain ends,” and “internalize these very same ends” (Molland, p. 14). And third, he introduces Jean-Paul Sartre’s analysis of “bad faith”4) to explain “deliberate ignorance” in human trafficking.

Molland carefully analyzes the price and income hierarchies within the sex industries in Vientiane and Nong Kai, which are different from the idealized depiction of human trafficking. He concludes that human trafficking is not parasitic on migration flows from poorer to richer areas. In many cases advanced by Molland, “price for commercial sex in Laos is higher than that in Nong Kai” (Molland, p. 127). Furthermore, Lao sex workers cross border to work in Nong Kai, who break the logic of “maximization of utility.” Molland highlights the fact that the analytical models assumed by anti-traffickers do not explain the movement of Lao sex workers mentioned above.

In both books, the authors pose serious challenges both analytically and methodologically to the literature on human trafficking in the following three areas.

First of all, the two books criticize the effectiveness of the definition context of human trafficking in the GMS.

In The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (“the Trafficking Protocol”),5) one of the most essential international texts to any study on human trafficking, the definition context of human trafficking contains “a range of contradictions and ambiguities” (Molland, p. 8). For example, the overall objective of the Trafficking Protocol is to “protect states (through controlling migration), not individuals (protecting migrant laborers’ working rights) (p. 43). Moreover, the Trafficking Protocol implies that “there is a clear distinction between smuggled and trafficked persons” (Kneebone and Debeljak p. 127). From Molland’s point of view, “any recruitment, whether deceptive or not, into prostitution is deemed to be trafficking” (Molland, p. 70). The definition of human trafficking should not be simply accounted for trafficking by referring to ideal models of profitability.

Meanwhile, Molland contends that the literature on human trafficking, which regards human trafficking as a most profitable illegal crime, ignores the fact of low-profit margins along the Thai-Lao border. Molland utilizes the approach of “socialization process” within the venues (such as bar) to explain the reason why sex workers “would consider exploitative prior to recruitment but not after socialization” (Molland, p. 99). In contrast, Kneebone and Debeljak show that the discourse of human trafficking is dominated by traditional security discourse, which regards human trafficking as a transnational organized crime. As a result, “anti-trafficking programmes have focused on alleviating the lack of human security at source” (Kneebone and Debeljak, pp. 64–65).

Secondly, the authors draw lessons from the anti-trafficking sector in the GMS. For a long time, little consideration has been given to the social relationships between a trafficker and a trafficked victim. According to the fieldwork conducted by Molland, recruitment in human trafficking is primarily driven by informal networks of extend acquaintances. Molland suggests that “the greater the emphasis on the horrific situation to which trafficked victims are subjected, the less possible it becomes to imagine any forms of social relationships between a trafficker and a trafficked victim” (Molland, p. 202).

Kneebone and Debeljak show that the anti-trafficking policies in the GMS are shifting from “a female-gendered focus to include trafficking of men and boys,” meaning that the discourse is “shifting from prostitution to labour exploitation” (Kneebone and Debeljak, p. 160). However, at the national level, the discourse of anti-trafficking is not reflected in bilateral arrangements in the GMS. For instance, most arrangements responding to human trafficking are not linked with anti-trafficking policies.

In the opinion of Molland, human trafficking employs “both deceptive and non-deceptive recruitment practices” (Molland, p. 141). Concerning the social relationships between a trafficker and an anti-trafficker, Molland explains that traffickers and anti-traffickers have something in ­common: for example, they are “both actors of bad faith” (p. 234). Because “deliberate ignorance is instrumental for the reproduction of recruitment within the sex industry, anti-traffickers are dispositioned to act in bad faith, as willed avoidance of complexity is intrinsic to the perpetua­tion of program activities” (p. 235). For the sex workers, “client” and “health worker” have something common in the Thai-Lao context, since “they are both potential sources of material support” (p. 23).

Thirdly, the two books explore the implications for security governance in the near future. Based on the case studies at the Thai-Lao border, Molland describes the heterogeneity in human trafficking as three concentric circles, which provide a clear framework for security governance at three levels: dyadic power relationships between victims and perpetrators as the core circle, organ­ized crime as the middle circle, and the cross-border markets as the outer circle. Furthermore, Molland considers that deceptive and voluntary recruitment are co-present along the Thai-Lao border areas. Recruiting acquaintances and friends into sex work does not necessarily entail negative moral sanctioning. Because the common practice among sex workers’ recruitment of others is based on patronage, it is a way of fulfilling reciprocal obligations through patron-client relationships.

Based on the assessments on the social context of sex workers along the Thai-Lao border, Molland concludes by remarking on cultural and social similarities in Thailand and Lao. First, “patron-client relationships remain central” to both countries (Molland, p. 85). For instance, the sex industries in the Vientiane and Nong Kai is “through informal networks of patronage” (p. 140). Second, pre-marital sex places many young women in highly marginalized positions. Third, there is no effective moral sanctioning of prostitution, though stigma regarding sex workers certainly exists. Without necessary governing mentalities6) on the ground, the trafficking discourse would “allow itself to circulate within its own sphere” (p. 234).

Kneebone and Debeljak compare “Asia Regional Trafficking in Persons Projects” (ATRIP Project)7) with “Coordinated Mekong Ministerial Initiative Against Trafficking” (COMMIT),8) and explain why the two mechanisms develop different anti-trafficking measures through “communicative action,”9) a core concept developed by Habermas. For instance, NGOs are essential actors of “communicative action,” especially in the discourse of the trafficking of children. NGOs should work toward the reintegration and repatriation of victims into village communities. Though the “discursive formation” of human trafficking discourse mainly focuses on traditional security discourse, there are still a few exceptions. For example, COMMIT recognizes the importance of a “victim-centered” approach, and involves responses at multi-lateral levels. In contrast, the ATRIP Project mainly focused on law enforcement in human trafficking.

The two books do find answers to the challenges of human trafficking, and deal with human trafficking in a more “victim-centered discourse.” However, the two books should have discussed the phenomenon of child soldiers, one of the most highly prevalent forms of human trafficking in the GMS and a marginalized discourse in the field of anti-trafficking policies. On one hand, without consensus among stakeholders, it is impossible to put into place effective mechanisms against child soldiering in the GMS. On the other hand, the stakeholders in anti-trafficking sectors possess different understanding of what child soldiers are.

Though Kneebone and Debeljak discuss the discourse of trafficked children in Transnational Crime and Human Rights the length of discussion is comparatively limited, and does not include discussions of child soldiers. As the authors conclude, there is “little independent empirical work on the structured factors leading to trafficking in children” (Kneebone and Debeljak, p. 251). In the GMS, there is not only a lack of “consensus on the definition of trafficking in children,” but also a lack of “understanding about exploitation of children in the region” (p. 251), which causes “the lack of incorporation of principles of child protection into the major policy instruments” (p. 255).

Most child soldiers not only face stigma and resentment, but also suffer mental scars. Therefore, the cells composed of child soldiers will likely transform into terrorist cells or criminal cells, which can act in a more extreme and radical fashion than other ones. There was a historic precedent in the GMS. Along the Myanmar-Thailand border, there is a faction of the Karen National Union called “God’s Army,” which was mainly composed of child soldiers. “God’s Army” operated independently and was led by Johnny and Luther Htoo, who were both child soldiers. This faction launched many terrorist attacks on citizens and policemen in Thailand, pushing Thailand’s border security into a desperate situation.10) As a critical security threat, child soldiering in the GMS should be given more attention in the literature of human trafficking in the GMS.

Overall, The Perfect Business and Transnational Crime and Human Rights represent a breakthrough in the literature of human trafficking in the GMS. They are essential works which not only benefits specialists in the Greater Mekong Subregion, human trafficking and human rights studies, but can be very useful to future students as well.

Kai Chen 陈锴
College of Public Administration, Zhejiang University


Australian Agency for International Development. 2009. Asia Regional Trafficking In Persons Project (ARTIP)—Mid-Term Review. http://www.ausaid.gov.au/Publications/Documents/artip-mtr.pdf, accessed on September 1, 2013.

The Coordinated Mekong Ministerial Initiative against Human Trafficking. 2011. COMMIT 3rd Sub-Regional Plan of Action (COMMIT SPA III 2011–2013). http://www.no-trafficking.org/reports_docs/commit/commit_resources/commit_spaiii_en.pdf, accessed on September 1, 2013.

Molland, Sverre. 2010. “The Perfect Business”: Human Trafficking and Lao-Thai Cross-border Migration. Development and Change 41(5): 831–855.

United Nations. 2000. Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, Supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. http://www.uncjin.org/Documents/Conventions/dcatoc/final_documents_2/convention_%20traff_eng.pdf, accessed on September 1, 2013.

Questioning Modernity in Indonesia and Malaysia
Wendy Mee and Joel S. Kahn, eds.
Singapore and Kyoto: NUS Press in association with Kyoto University Press, 2012, vi+257 p.

In Asia, there is a lot of emphasis on the progress. In this light, the term “modernity” is one that is very much bantered about by national leaders and the society in general, but perhaps little understood. The book Questioning Modernity in Indonesia and Malaysia engages readers less in a theoretical discussion of the concept of modernity as in its application to two significant countries in the region. The contributors problematize a simplistic East versus West discussion in the study of modernity, contending that the form found in Indonesia and Malaysia “cannot be viewed as merely derivative of a European/Western modernity” (p. 1). The work of Joel S. Kahn, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at La Trobe University, which argues for what historian John S. Smail called an “autonomous” understanding of modernity in Southeast Asia, is drawn upon in the book. Kahn’s work calls for an ethnographic understanding of modernity that is rooted in cultural and historical context, an approach that has been well-executed by the volume’s contributors in their examination of modernity (p. 3).

The editors rightly include the caveat that the volume “does not pretend to be comprehensive in its thematic and geographic scope” (p. 1). Rather than aiming for even distribution of case ­studies for both countries, the contributors saw value in a wide-ranging distribution of themes. The thematic scope in the examination of modernity is one of the book’s strong points. Issues as diverse as capitalism in the border areas and technology in Indonesia and Malaysia are raised in the book.

The first section of the book examines transnational and border-zone identities. Kahn studies manifestations of modernity in marginal communities in his chapter on Islam and capitalism. He argues that modernizing processes are able to come about irrespective of state leadership and criticizes the assumption that modernity is linked to any particular civilization (p. 38). Kenneth Young and Yekti Maunati discussed ethnic identities in Malaysia and Indonesia respectively in separate chapters. Both acknowledge that cultural identity is a construction shaped by the push and pull of historical development (pp. 60, 91). Drawing on Kahn, both highlighted the intercultural foundation of the modern societies in both countries. Young also questions the adequacy of Western social theory in explaining the “modern” concept of social imaginary in Indonesia (p. 81).

The second section discusses the topic of nation-states and citizenships. While, as argued above, a multiplicity of civilizations form the foundations of contemporary life in general, the chapters by Goh Beng Lan and Thung Ju-lan reinforce Kahn’s observation of the equally modern “dark aspect” of exclusion and oppression of fringe groups. As Thung pointed out, the modern nation-state is imbued with the “power to exclude” (p. 161). Goh tries to remedy this, looking not at a “modern” universal expression of entitlement to values such as human rights, but to examples from a country’s own past for a different way “towards a détente” (p. 128) in resolving the political impasse that resulted from the exclusion. Both acknowledge, however, that the resolution for religious and ethnic minorities in Indonesia and Malaysia will be long in coming and there are no easy answers to the problems of modernity (p. 162).

The final part of the book studies cultural and moral orientations of modernity in Malaysia. Modernity, usually seen as a linear progress towards a certain utopia, ironically fears the inability to continue towards the ideal future. For example, in the case of Malaysia, Maila Stivens observed that the state’s response towards its new generation is one of “moral panic” (p. 172), fearing the subsequent generation’s inability to carry the successes of the present towards the future. Oh Myung-Seok’s chapter critiques Western-centric observations of modern capitalism and emphasizes the importance of local cultural frames of societal analysis in studying aspects of Southeast Asia (p. 201). Meanwhile, Wendy Mee’s study aims to shed light on new inventions that represent quintessential modernity and challenge state-led narratives that usually accompany such discussions. Her work posits that it is the ordinary users of technology that sustain modern inventions.

Given the comprehensive coverage in terms of thematic approaches, the discussions could have been better extended geographically. The majority of the case studies in the volume concentrate on Malaysia. Out of the nine chapters, six chapters are dedicated to examining Malaysia and only two look at Indonesia. As the discussion on Malaysia in the volume has been rich and detailed, additional chapters covering issues of modernity in Indonesia would have made for a more balanced perspective.

Other than issues of Indonesian ethnicity and citizenship that had been addressed by Kenneth Young and Thung Ju-Lan, there is definitely a case for a wealth of possible studies on modernity in Indonesia. For instance, the last section in the volume, “Cultural and Moral Orientations,” would have benefited from a comparative study of Indonesia. The anti-corruption campaign targeting high-profile officials in the recent years, for example, would have made a fascinating case study of issues pertaining to modernity. Since Indonesia’s independence in 1949, the bureaucratization of its economic, political, and military practices has been ongoing. Yet, corruption meant that contemporary Indonesian state institutions, while practicing Western-style bureaucracy, also bear the hallmark of patrimonial culture: patronage (Bünte and Ufen 2009). It would be interesting to have a contributor address the question of how the Indonesian nation-state adopts and adapts to “modern” Western forms of institutions for checks-and-balances. He/she could also ponder the manner in which modern monetization of values leads to conceptions of corruption.

Since Kahn’s idea of modern forms of exclusion is not merely ethnic, but also religious, Indonesia would have made an excellent illustration. A study of the subjugation of the religious minorities would confirm Kahn’s argument of the “dark side” of contemporary life. For example, post-New Order decentralization, which replicated the state at a local level, has given rise to the central government’s inability to protect the Yasmin Bogor Church congregation’s freedom to worship. The Indonesian state faces a dilemma in the modern form of exclusion. On the one hand, outside of the six official religions, indigenous religions such as the Sunda Wiwitan are not allowed to declare their faith on their identity cards. On the other hand, while the central government professes adherence to secularist principles in governing the nation, its inability to accept secularist views among its citizens is evident in the jailing of atheist civil servant Alexander Aan for posting “God does not exist” on his Facebook account in June 2012.

There is space for comparative study of both countries in the volume as well. For one, like Malaysia, Indonesia is also seeing the entrance of Islam into both its public and political sphere (Fealy and White 2008). Muhammad Syafii Antonio and Umar Juoro have written about Islamic banking and other economic initiatives in Indonesia (ibid.); their insights would make for a fascinating comparison with Kahn and Oh’s chapters in the book. Looking at how Indonesia and Malaysia’s modernity included looking towards the Middle Eastern-derived, global form of Islam would have enriched the discussion of modernity in the volume.

Finally, given the theoretical nature of the book, it will make useful reading material for ­academics who teach theoretical analysis. Students of area studies will also find this volume a good read.

Jennifer Yang Hui 黄阳慧
Centre of Excellence for National Security,
S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University


Bünte, Marco; and Ufen, Andreas, eds. 2009. Democratization in Post-Suharto Indonesia. Oxon and New York: Routledge.

Fealy, Greg; and White, Sally, eds. 2008. Expressing Islam: Religious Life and Politics in Indonesia. Singapore: ISEAS Publishing.

Freedom from the Press: Journalism and State Power in Singapore
Cherian George
Singapore: NUS Press, 2012, xiii+272 p.

This multi-disciplinary study of the relationship between the Singapore government and the press comes from the author of one of the most widely cited books on Singapore politics in recent times. Cherian George’s first book, Singapore: The Air-Conditioned Nation: Essays on the Politics of Comfort and Control 1990–2000 (2000), was written for a more general audience, and tackled a range of particular ironies that come about in living in illiberal Singapore. In that earlier book, George already pointed out the fact that while “In liberal democracies, it is all about freedom of the press from the government; in Singapore, it is about the government’s freedom from the press” (George 2000, 69). These initial instincts have now fully taken root and blossomed in Freedom from the Press, reflecting the author’s move from a journalistic milieu to an academic one.

Based on extensive historical research, and balanced with insider anecdotes, Freedom from the Press is a nuanced, courageous, and perceptive analysis of the relationship between the Singaporean press and the government. Unlike other more quotidian critiques of the journalists, publications, and the government of the country, George provides a far more thorough critical history and theoretical basis for his observations. Crucially, he also acknowledges his own complicity in the matter, having spent most of his early career as a fairly successful journalist for The Straits Times—Singapore’s main newspaper. This accounts for the book’s greatest strength and weakness: although George is able to reveal the inner workings of the mainstream press in Singapore, he is never really able to completely step outside of the system that he is analyzing. What is apparent though is his unwavering (if somewhat old-fashioned) commitment to the primacy of the mainstream press and his genuine belief that a more independent press would benefit everyone in Singapore, the authoritarian People’s Action Party (PAP) government included. George also extrapolates with ease between the micro and macro implications of the PAP’s focus on elite control, noting how the independence of the press is entwined with the country’s prospects for growth, dynamism, and creativity. He argues that an independent and professional press is essential for the proper functioning of a democracy since it allows self-determination and collective decision-making by providing a credible source of information that benefits both the citizens and the government.

Singapore has a complex, unique political system and media scene, and by providing a succinct primer on the country at the beginning of the text, Freedom from the Press allows non-specialist readers to quickly grasp the key historical and social issues at stake. What follows is a comprehensive look at nearly all aspects of the press industry in Singapore and its inextricable ties to the government. A few elements make this book particularly useful for scholars—George’s insider perspective, his careful parsing of the historical context for the arguably dysfunctional relations between the government and the press, his keen grasp of the main theoretical and practical elements involved in these relations, and his initial look at the impact of alternative media in Singapore. One criticism that might be leveled against the book is that it too quickly dismisses the broadcast media (television and radio) in the city-state, arguing that it merely provides propaganda for the government. A more balanced and in-depth history and analysis of Singaporean news television and radio remains to be written, but the reader will not find one here. In particular, the implications of running a regional news network (Singapore’s Channel NewsAsia) based in Singapore really need to be considered in greater detail for a more complete understanding of Singapore’s media landscape. Finally, while he does not explicitly say so, George’s book also seems to suggest that only journalists and editors in the print media struggle with government directives and self-­censorship on a daily basis, an implication which is clearly untrue.

Aside from these minor caveats, the book does justice to its goal of elucidating the complex and seemingly paradoxical relations between the Singapore government and the press. George’s first chapter “Beyond the Singapore Paradox” proposes a more balanced and nuanced view of Singaporean society against more simplistic and polemical rationales for its success. George explains the distortions in the relationship between the media and the public by pointing out how much the government uses its legal and institutional power to selectively intimidate and coerce the news media. He also points out crucially that we must see the press as “an institution enmeshed with others and shaped by historical, cultural and economic forces” (p. 15). This too has been critical to the government’s success in shaping a more compliant media landscape since historical actions against the press, cultural conformity in the country, and a vested interest in the country’s stability (the press companies have shareholders to be accountable to) have reduced the impulse for confrontational or contentious journalism. George argues that “sustaining a profoundly undemocratic media system does not require corrupt politicians and dishonest journalists. [. . .] The system’s inadequacies are more structural” (p. 21).

In the next chapter: “Journalism Tamed: The Mechanics of Media Control,” George provides keenly researched detail on exactly how the government has been able to coerce the media through a mix of ideology, cooptation and legal controls, and how the full weight of the law, its “coercive power underwrites its politest requests for cooperation” (p. 45). He also documents how journalism in Singapore has shifted to “cultivating the public as consumers and investors rather than citizens” (p. 45) by focusing on stories on “lifestyle,” entertainment and personal finance. The book’s third chapter “Inside the Press: Routines, Values and ‘OB’ (Out of Bounds) Markers,” provides an insider’s view on the day to day running of the national newspaper and cautiously critiques the lack of “objective journalism” in the country. George posits that it is not the journalists or editors who lack objectivity; rather, a combination of the exigencies of news production, governmental and popular expectations, and the absence of political pluralism mean that the finished product is often less than satisfactory.

George’s book then moves to a wider critique of the Singapore government’s policy of elite control. In the chapters “Government Unlimited: The Ideology of State Primacy,” and “Calibrated Coercion: The State Strategy of Self-Restraint,” George delineates the position of the press in Singapore as “subordinated to the overriding needs of the integrity of Singapore, and to the primacy of purpose of an elected government” (p. 74). Summing this up, he recalls the elder statesman Lee Kuan Yew quipping that “While democracy and human rights are worthwhile ideas, we should be clear that the real objective is good government” (p. 77). This belief, he argues, prevents any progress in press reform and the development of a thoroughly informed and committed populace, since the PAP paradoxically infantilizes the population through censorship and expects it to be “rational” and vote for the PAP out of self-interest. Even more interesting is George’s concept of “calibrated coercion” which he believes is the PAP’s key to continued dominance. Calibrated coercion, which George defines as the government’s refusal to use excessive force and violence against its citizens, “minimizes the sense of moral outrage that could be used to mobilize the public against the state [. . .] reduces the salience of coercion, making consensus seem like the sole basis for stability, thus strengthening hegemony [. . . and] preserves incentives for economic production and wealth creation, which rulers need as much as the ruled” (p. 108). Singapore’s government is only able to accomplish this form of coercion through the “perfect storm” of a monopoly of power, a history of repression, a restricted political arena and its access through invisible forms of coercion in the form of market forces and technological constraints. The government also practices what George terms “meta-censorship”—the “censorship of information about the exercise of censorship” (p. 115)—making the unknowns completely unknown as it were.

The rest of George’s book mostly functions as a more recent chronicle of developments in Singapore’s media scene. While, chapter six, “The Harmony Myth: Asian Media’s Radical Past,” provides a historic background to the current media controls, the subsequent chapters “Freedom of the Press: A Cause Without Rebels,” “Alternative Online Media: Challenging the Gatekeepers,” and “Rise of the Unruly: Media Activism and Civil Disobedience” ostensibly go beyond the book’s initial brief of analyzing the print media in Singapore. George provides a fairly comprehensive roundup of the effects of the internet on the availability and reliability of news in the country and also documents a small but growing activist movement. One particularly salient point that he brings out is how the internet functions as a space that unveils the counter-hegemonic conversations that are actually taking place on the island, what he calls the “hidden transcript” of Singaporean life. The revelation of this blackly humorous and irreverent transcript, he argues, has had a powerful psychological effect since “Singaporeans showed one another a different way of relating to their government, not as obedient children, but as citizens who deserved to be treated with respect” (p. 181).

The book’s most ambitious theoretical and wide-ranging ambitions however are reserved for George’s last chapter “Networked Hegemony: Consolidating the Political System.” George posits that the PAP has “embedded itself in dense networks that keep it connected with its mass base, local elites, and global economic actors” (p. 202) to compensate for the limits of its authoritarian style of government. Yet, George argues that networked hegemony has its limitations too, particularly when combined with a weakened press. He ominously concludes his book with a poignant awareness of the unfulfilled potential of Singapore’s five million strong cosmopolitan city, stymied by the PAP’s authoritarian rule and its “single-minded focus on the risk of total failure” (p. 225). Freedom from the Press is indispensable for scholars of Singapore’s media landscape, politics and culture. Indeed, it has many interesting theoretical implications for those readers interested in other illiberal societies in the region and beyond.

Joanne Leow
Department of English, University of Toronto


George, Cherian. 2000. Singapore: The Air-Conditioned Nation: Essays on the Politics of Comfort and Control 1990–2000. Singapore: Landmark Books.

Ghosts of the Past in Southern Thailand: Essays on the History and Historiography of Patani
Patrick Jory, ed.
Singapore: NUS press, 2013, xxix+336 p.

“While the southern insurgency continues, the history of Patani will continue to be a battleground” (intro. xix).

Since the outbreak of the insurgency in southern Thailand in 2004, numerous studies about Patani have been published by Thai and international scholars. However, those dealing with the history of Patani from a Malay and Islamic viewpoint are rare. This volume, a product of the international seminar organized by Walailak University, Chulalongkorn University, and other institutes in 2009, is one of them. It can be said that this volume is a sequel to the previous book co-edited by Michael Montesano and Patrick Jory, Thai South and Malay North (2008), but it is unique in the way that it highlights the history and historiography of Patani from different perspectives, especially from Malay and Islamic studies. In effect, it offers a new framework that challenges conventional ways of studying Patani within the context of Thai studies.

The book consists of four parts. The first explores Patani as a plural community and its identity in the early-modern era. Anthony Reid begins chapter one by pointing out the fact that Patani in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was a multi-racial community and not just a Malay society, as stressed by Patani nationalists. Reid’s argument on Patani’s pluralism has been stressed previously in Thai South and Malay North. In this essay, however, Reid draws on contemporary Dutch sources to illuminate the people and society of Patani. Another highlight of this essay is a full English translation of an account of Patani by Jacob van Neck, a Dutch merchant who visited Patani in 1602, an account that sheds a light on the social history of the polity. Barbara Watson Andaya’s chapter discusses Patani identity through the symbology of Hikayat Patani, the most well-known indigenous source originally written in Jawi. The most potent symbols include the elephant gate, elephants, Patani canons, and the nobat orchestra. Geoff Wade provides a summary of various Chinese accounts referring to Patani, dating from the sixth to the nineteenth centuries. His translation and summary of these accounts emphasizes how Chinese sources are important in unraveling the early-modern history of Patani.

Three articles in the second part draw attention to Patani’s Islamic scholars, or ulama, and their connections with the Middle East. Azyumardi Azra examines the life and work of Shaykh Dawud b. Abd Allah al-Fatani, one of the most famous Patani scholars who produced numerous scholarly works on Islam in the nineteenth century. Numan Hayimasae also describes the role of Patani ulama from the eighteenth to mid-twentieth centuries in shaping the networks that linked Muslims in Patani to Mecca. Christopher M. Joll, on the other hand, argues that some of the prominent ulama, especially in the early period, were not pure “Malay,” but “creole ambassadors,” using terminology drawn from the work of Michael Laffan. He points out that they came from well-to-do elite families and had pluralistic ethnic backgrounds that enabled them to play significant roles as religious ambassadors between Southeast Asia and the Middle East.

The third part explores Patani in the periods of political transitional in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Francis R. Bradley focuses on the wars between Siam and Patani during 1786–1838 that not only devastated Patani and its people, but also ended the traditional Mandala relation between Thai and Patani. Bradley points out a number of tactics Siam employed to subdue Patani and argues that these wars were no small-scale raids but were systematically carried out, a fact that counters the prevailing paradigms concerning early-modern Southeast Asian warfare. Philip King uses Raman, a tin-rich interior region of Patani sharing a border with Perak, as a vantage point for the analysis of Anglo-Siamese activity/rivalry in the interior zone of the Malay Peninsula in the late nineteenth century. King describes the British struggle to claim the land in Raman as a part of Perak, at the time a British protectorate, and Siam’s counterclaim. Interestingly, he shows that both the British and Siam tried to write new histories of this area based on their own assumptions about natural boundaries and ethnic identity to back their claims.

The last part deals with the contested historiographies of Patani, the most debated theme on the subject. Dennis Walker analyzes some of the works of Patanian nationalist historiography from the classic period to post-1945 (including recent cyber writers on the internet), their attitude toward the Buddhist Thais and the West, and the consolidation of Islam in shaping Patani identity. Walker points out that the secular nationalism of Patani’s nationalists in the post-1945 has been transformed today into “Islamo-nationalist” visions that engage closely with the Middle East and Islam. The article of Iik Arifin Mansurnoor provides a similar overview of the influential works composed in Jawi-Malay and describes the decline and defeat of Patani from the perspective of Malay scholars such as Ahmad Fathi and A. Bangnara. Kobkua Suwannathat-Pian provides a narrative description of Patani history in relation to Thailand and its socio-political change from 1782 to 1980s. By exploring historical works written between 1940s and 1980s by Thai, Malay, and international scholars, Kobkua notes that these works, despite their contradicting versions, have managed to coexist with, while challenging, the history written the victors. Duncan McCargo’s chapter focuses on the anonymous leaflets widely distributed after the outbreak of violence in 2004 in southern Thailand. By analyzing the content in the leaflets, he points out that they were issued by various groups including militants, Thai security forces, and Muslim and Buddhist groups. At the same time, they all seek to use alternative readings of history for propaganda purposes, and the multiple narratives of Patani’s history reflect the ambiguities underpinning the violence in the south and the lack of clear leadership among the militants.

As stated above, the highlight of this book is that it brings together scholars from various disciplines to shed light on Patani’s history and its historiography. There is, however, considerable overlap in the content in many chapters. For example, in Part Two, the life and work of Patani’s ulama, Shaykh Dawd Al-Fatani, is discussed in both Azra and Numan’s chapters. Even though both chapters have a slightly different framework, they reach similar conclusions about the role of ulama and their network. In Part Four, Walker and Mansurnoor both focus on the historiographies of Patani by Patani nationalists and offer similar remarks on Patani’s changing national identity from secular to Islamic and Middle East-oriented. Yet, only their terminology differs: Walker uses the term “Islamo-Malay Patanian nation” (p. 185), while Mansurnoor uses “Patani Jawi nation” (p. 276). The unevenness of topics is also noticeable. Stories about the rise and fall of Patani and its female rulers written in Hikayat Patani are repeatedly discussed in many chapters, while the history of Patani in the crucial period of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are discussed in only two chapters in Part Two.

Overall, this book is a valuable collection that deepens and broadens the existing knowledge and public consciousness of the history of southern Thailand. Ethno-religious conflict between Thai Buddhists and Malay Muslims still continues, as does historical writing. However, as Jory notes, history does not necessarily have to determine Patani’s destiny. At the same time, history should not be hijacked by any one group to serve its political or religious objectives.

Piyada Chonlaworn ปิยดา ชลวร


Laffan, Michael F. 2003. Islamic Nationhood and Colonial Indonesia: The Umma below the Winds. ­London: Routledge.

Montesano, Michael J.; and Jory, Patrick, eds. 2008. Thai South and Malay North: Ethnic Interactions on a Plural Peninsula. Singapore: NUS Press.

The Lahu Minority in Southwest China: A Response to Ethnic Marginalization on the Frontier
Jianxiong Ma
Oxon: Routledge, 2013, xvii+254 p.

Ever since economic liberalization in the 1980s, modernization and policies that deal with ethnic minorities have become important issues in the study of present day China. Since the establishment of the Chinese Communist Party, ethnic diversity in Southwest China has been a major component in ethnic policy, and therefore ethnic issues in this area have drawn much academic interest. Most of the existing studies about minority groups in Southwest China focus on state construction of ethnic categories, representations of identity, and the politics of cultural discourses on ethnicity (e.g. Schein 2000; Harrell 1995), while only a few works have provided detailed anthropological data about what happens in the everyday lives of the people. This book focuses on the daily experiences of ethnic minorities to highlight the pressures they face as they deal with the challenges brought about by modernization and marketization. In doing so, it aims to explain the social and cultural mechanisms of ethnic marginalization in China, a result of the long-term pressure brought to bear on minorities by mainstream Han societies. With ample data from long-term fieldwork among the Lahu people, Ma Jianxiong vividly describes and analyzes Lahu lives on the frontier that have hitherto been inaccessible.

The book consists of eight chapters, including an introduction and concluding remarks. Cover­ing a wide range of topics and contents, it discusses the relationships between ethnic minorities and the Han majority and their identity formation.

In the introduction, Ma briefly explains the identity-building process of the Lahu. He argues that Lahu identity is constantly generated through their relationship with the state or the Han majority. Along with contact with Han migrants in the eighteenth century, Mahayana Buddhism was introduced to the Lahu area and combined with the worldview of the Lahu and subsequently became the “E sha Buddha religious movement.” This movement was seen as a form of resistance to the state and was destroyed by the Qing army. Chapter two follows the history of changing ethnic relationships between the Han and the Lahu since the 1920s when Han migrants first came to his field site. Through policies such as the creation of People’s Communes and the Cultural Revolution itself, the Lahu belief system was repeatedly undermined. Subsequently, after the revival of the market economy in the 1980s, Han cadres and businessmen “hijacked” representatives of the Lahu.

Chapter three discusses the supernatural world and belief system of the Lahu. With ample citation from mythological tales and case studies, the author shows the cyclical nature of the cosmic view of the Lahu, and the traffic between the world of the dead and world of the living. There are various actors that mediate between the two worlds, such as dead parents, numerous spirits and carnivorous spirits. Everyday life is full of tension because of these actors, and the author claims that their rituals are “self-negation rituals” (p. 96) because issues that arise with such actors are considered a result of their own personal wrongdoings. As such, these rituals are a cultural response to long-term external pressure.

Chapter four deals with the Lahu kinship system. From detailed case studies of division of land upon marriage, Ma meticulously illustrates the bilateral and non-hierarchical kinship system. He states that because the kinship system lacks an internal mechanism of collective cohesion, the Lahu needed political and religious authority from outside their community such as that provided by E sha Buddha to forge unity against historical Qing state power. This authority has now disappeared and is exacerbated by an absence of representatives among the Lahu, becoming more problematic since 1958 when all religious activities were banned.

Chapter six merits being dealt with before five and seven which are both closely related. It deals with poverty reduction and education and concerns itself with a government project for frontier people and its effects on their daily lives. Since local government revenue in Lan County can only cover a small portion of the county expenses, various kinds of funding from higher-level governments have become a fundamental resource for maintaining the administrative system. Villagers are forced to cooperate with cadres or teachers and to prepare for endless inspections. These projects and education become, as Ma puts it, a demonstration of a kind of ethnic dichotomy between “the advanced Han” and “the backward Lahu.”

Chapters five and seven deal with the Lahu people’s responses to pressure and marginalization by the Han. Chapter five, “To Become Wives of the Han,” is about women’s escape from their homeland or even at times Lahu identity. Since the 1980s, the ratio imbalance between the sexes at birth has continued in rural China and therefore many Lahu women have married Han men outside Yunnan through brokering networks. This is because these brokers, and even local Han cadres, repeatedly emphasized the discourse of “leaving is better,” thereby reinforcing the dichotomy between the “advanced Han” and “backward Lahu.” Chapter seven focuses on the responses to this situation among young Lahu men. Alongside women’s departures, young Lahu men face difficulties in finding spouses and hence they “escape” to the world of the dead. This is the reason for the high rate of suicide among Lahu people in Lan County. Ma points out that the suicides and departures resulted from pressure in their daily lives and “the pain of being Lahu.” Ma concludes with a discussion of how the dual discourse of the Han and the Lahu is strengthened through daily tensions.

This book is based on fieldwork of more than 15 years. It is indeed rare for researchers to conduct such long-term research in Yunnan’s borderlands, so the data and insights are valuable in themselves. Because of his bottom-up perspective, we can learn about the experiences of the Lahu and observe the changes that the Lahu value system has undergone over the years. Monographs on the Lahu in China are far fewer compared to those on the Lahu in Thailand, so this book is an important scholarly resource. The detailed descriptions are very engaging and Ma’s conscious efforts to incorporate historical considerations render his contribution even more valuable. Much of the current discussions about ethnic minorities in China have concentrated on ethnic formation after the communist party. This book persuasively shows how Lahu ethnic identity took shape through their encounters with the Han. This is in sharp contrast to another ethnographic work on the Chinese Lahu, Du Shanshan’s Chopsticks Only Work in Pairs, which is about Lahu gender unity and egalitarianism (2003). She vividly discusses the notion of gender but pays little attention to historical aspects of identity formation. Ma’s book supplements Du Shanshan’s work by citing many valuable sources.

Although the book is a valuable contribution, some points should be raised for further discussion. First of all, I would like to draw attention to literature on the Lahu in Thailand, most of which is not currently available in English. Ma emphasizes the contrasting conditions in China and Thailand: E sha belief is well practiced in Thailand and social problems are seldom found. However, Nishimoto Yoichi (2000) has shown that a narrative of inferiority exists as well among Christian Lahu in Thailand who have been marginalized through complex border politics. Furthermore, Kataoka Tatsuki’s (2007) discussion of Christianity among the Lahu highlights the characteristics of Lahu religion, centering on the coexistence of monotheism and animism, and the history of several charismatic religious movements. These were not always one-way processes, but rather a religious vacillation between monotheism and animism. By taking these studies into consideration, Ma’s research can be placed in the continuum of such dynamic religious movements. As an aspiring researcher of Lahu people, I hope that there will be more communication across language barriers among Lahu scholars in the near future.

The second point concerns the description of the marginalization process. In spite of a wide variety of data, all the chapter conclusions culminate in “marginalization by the Han,” as if it were a pre-established fact. In fact, some of the practices described may not necessarily be interpreted as marginalization. For example, Ma interprets the practices related to the ne spirits as a “self-negation ritual” resulting from marginalization. His reasoning is that the ritual appeared in Ban village only after the loss of their charismatic “E sha Buddha” and since then they believed their sickness or misfortune was due to their own wrongdoings, as a result of which their dead parents let ne spirits bite their children as punishment. Are “self-negation” and “marginalization” the only interpretations possible? One can argue, for example, that the phenomenon can be understood as a way of thinking about reasons for misfortune. Even if E sha Buddha were not destroyed by the state, personal misfortune can be explained as a result of one’s own wrongdoings such as impiety towards E sha Buddha. While this is a way of explaining misfortune by personal “wrongdoings,” it does not have to be seen as “self-negation.” Certainly the Lahu are a marginalized ethnic group in China, but the author seems to be too hasty in overemphasizing their marginalization as an explanatory factor.

Finally, I would like to question the way the author repeatedly emphasizes the difference between “native Lahu” and “Lahu-minded Han.” It is not clear what is Lahu-ness or Han-ness. The relationship between culture and ethnicity has been much discussed in mainland Southeast Asia (Moerman 1965; Keyes 1992), and scholarship has repeatedly questioned the assumptions of ethnic essentialism. Since the arrival of the Han, there have been many inter-ethnic marriages between the Lahu and the Han in Lan County over 200 years, and the differences between the Lahu and the Han are, in many situations, blurred. In my own field site, many Lahu farmers said that in ancient times they had been Han and migrated from the North, but now they have become Lahu through inter-marriage, changing customs and practices. Would such villagers be categorized as “Lahu-minded Han” or “Lahu of Han origin”? Ma emphasizes the contrast between two ethnic­ities so as to illustrate the marginalization by one over another, but at the cost of neglecting the dynamic relationships that obtain between the two. Of course there is oppression and marginalization. But in everyday life the Lahu and the Han are inevitably related and have to interact with each other. In some situations the narrative of differences would have to be seen as strategies in themselves. Had Ma been able to illustrate the ties and interaction between them alongside the differences, without reducing these ties to the issue of “marginalization,” the wealth of field data could have been used even more persuasively.

Although I have pointed out some issues in the author’s interpretation of his data, I certainly agree that there are many tensions and problems in the local politics of many minority areas in modern day China. This book employs a bottom-up perspective to issue an important warning against serious future ethnic destruction. At the same time, it shows how ethnic identity is constituted through historical processes. The Lahu Minority in Southwest China is an important contribution towards the understanding of the complex politics of ethnic formation in southwest China.

Horie Mio 堀江未央
Graduate School of Asian and African Area Studies, Kyoto University


Du, Shanshan. 2003. Chopsticks Only Work in Pairs: Gender Unity and Gender Equality among the Lahu of Southwest China. Columbia University Press.

Harrell, Stevan, ed. 1995. Cultural Encounters on China’s Ethnic Frontiers. Seattle and London: University of Washington Press.

Kataoka Tatsuki 片岡 樹. 2007. Tai Sanchi Isshin Kyoto no Minzokushi: Kirisuto Kyoto Rafu no Kokka, Minzoku, Bunka タイ山地一神教徒の民族誌――キリスト教徒ラフの国家・民族・文化 [An ethnography of monotheists in the hills of Thailand: The state, ethnicity, and culture of Christian Lahu]. Tokyo: Fukyosha.

Keyes, Charles F. 1992. Who Are the Lue Revisited? Ethnic Identity in Laos, Thailand and China. ­Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Center for International Studies, Working Paper.

Moerman, Michael. 1965. Ethnic Identification in a Complex Civilization: Who Are the Lue? American Anthropologist 67(5): 1215–1230

Nishimoto, Yoichi. 2000. Lahu Narratives of Inferiority: Christianity and Minority in Ethnic Power Relations. Chiang Rai: Center for Inter-Ethnic Studies, Rajabhat Institute Chiang Rai.

Schein, Louisa. 2000. Minority Rules: The Miao and the Feminine in China’s Cultural Politics. Durham, NC and London: Duke University Press.

1) Another conference was held in Kuala Lumpur in 2007, organized by the Malaysian Association of Japanese Studies (MAJAS). A book also eventuated. See Lee and Md Nasrudin (2009).

2) In the opinion of Kneebone and Debeljak, bio-politics and governmentality produce “knowledge and discourses that become norms for the behaviour and control of populations.” For example, “the discourse of human (in) security is inextricably linked within a broader framework of the bio-politics of the population” (Kneebone and Debeljak, p. 24). In brief, Kneebone and Debeljak use Foucault’s ideas to “illuminate the narratives which have led to trafficking discourses at the global level and then at the regional level” (p. 26).

3) In the view of Molland, “the human trafficking discourse is not a coherent body of theorized scholar­ship but a meta-language which consists of a range of loosely connected assumptions which allows for contradictions and discursive slips to co-exist” (Molland 2010, 837).

4) As Molland argues, “bad faith” means “deliberate ignorance” (Molland, p. 19). For example, “anti-traffickers actively attempt to camouflage to themselves what is by necessity a subjective and ambiguous decision they need to make, by giving it an aura of objectivity and due process” (p. 225).

5) See United Nations (2000).

6) Kneebone and Debeljak interpret “governmentality” of Foucault into “governing mentality,” which emphasizes mentality of the main actors in the governing mechanism.

7) See Australian Agency for International Development (2009).

8) The Coordinated Mekong Ministerial Initiative against Human Trafficking (2011).

9) “Communicative action” means “action oriented to arguing and mutual understanding” (Kneebone and Debeljak, p. 25).

10) For example, in January 2000, 10 members of God’s Army hijacked a bus near the Burmese-Thai border and forced the driver to take them to Ratchaburi, they seized a hospital in Ratchaburi, Thailand. They held 700 to 800 patients and staff members hostage for 22 hours.



Contents>> Vol. 2, No. 3


Farmers’ Perceptions of Imperata cylindrica Infestation in a Slash-and-Burn Cultivation Area of Northern Lao PDR

Bounthanh Keoboualapha,* Suchint Simaraks,* Attachai Jintrawet,** Thaworn Onpraphai,** and Anan Polthanee*

* ບຸນ ທັນ ແກ້ວ ບົວ ລະພາ; สุจินต์ สิมารักษ์; อนันต์ พลธานี, System Approaches in Agriculture Program, Faculty of Agriculture, Khon Kaen University, 123 Moo 16 Mittapap Rd., Nai-Muang, Muang District, Khon Kaen 40002, Thailand

Corresponding author (Bounthanh Keoboualapha)’s e-mail: k.bounthanh[at]gmail.com

** อรรถชัย จินตะเวช; ถาวร อ่อนประไพ, Crop Science and Natural Resources Department and Center for Agriculture Resource System Research, Faculty of Agriculture, Chiang Mai University, 239 Huay Kaew Road, Muang District, Chiang Mai 50200, Thailand

This paper discusses farmers’ perceptions of Imperata infestation and its impact on agricultural land uses in a slash-and-burn area of Nambak District in Luang Prabang Province, northern Laos. Our study showed that slash-and-burn cultivation (SBC), which has been practiced for generations, remains the main agricultural land use system and provides an important source of food and income for farmers. Imperata, which first took root one and a half decades ago, is gradually proliferating, affecting the livelihoods of nearly 38% of households in the five target villages of this study. The positive cause-and-effect relationship among such factors as accelerated land clearing, young fallows, declining soil fertility, and land shortages—suggested to be the main cause of the Imperata infestation—has reduced not only cultivable land but also its productivity. According to the majority of farmers, the most significant problems caused by Imperata infestation are reduced crop yields, increased weeding, and reduced crop growth. To overcome the problems, farmers employ a combination of strategies—the most common being weeding, fallowing the land, applying chemicals, and exchanging labor. However, the implementation of these strategies is encumbered by many constraints, primarily lack of labor and capital, rice insufficiency, and limited land. Given the constraints and the available technologies, it will be very difficult for farmers in the study area to adopt a more permanent, diversified, and productive agricultural system, which is a high priority of government development policy in the uplands. To meet this challenge, the thrust of research and development communities working in the uplands should be on more systematic and integrated interventions that combine technological, social, economic, and political resolutions based on knowledge of the causes of Imperata infestation, the problems it creates, management strategies to cope with the infestation, and the specific constraints perceived by farmers.

Keywords: slash-and-burn cultivation, Imperata infestation, agricultural land uses

I Introduction

Slash-and-burn cultivation (SBC), also called shifting cultivation, is an important food production system widely practiced in the tropical mountainous regions of Southeast Asia (Rasul and Gopal 2003). SBC practices, which involve repeated cycles of slashing and burning of secondary forest or shrub vegetation, temporarily growing crops, and then letting the land revert to secondary forest growth or fallows, are similar throughout the region. In Laos, the SBC system is practiced in about 13% of the land by 39% of the total population (JICA 2001) and is viewed by the government as an unsustainable form of land use. It needs to be replaced with more permanent and productive land use systems.

The SBC system in Laos has been less and less productive in recent decades as a result of the reduction of fallow periods and the introduction of new species of weeds. Average fallow periods reported for the 1950s, 1970s, 1990s, and 2000s were 38, 20, 5, and 2–3 years respectively (Roder et al. 1997; Saito et al. 2006). Short fallow periods serve to increase weed infestation in upland rice (Roder et al. 1995), deteriorate soil fertility (Gourou 1942; Whitaker et al. 1972; Brown and Lugo 1990; Fujisaka 1991), and lead to a decline in non-timber forest products (NTFPs) (Foppes and Ketphanh 2005). The increase in population coupled with improper planning and implementation of upland development policies in many SBC areas has resulted in more land shortages and rural poverty (ADB 2001; Jones et al. 2005).

Imperata cylindrica is one of the most dominant, competitive, and difficult weeds to control in the humid and sub-humid tropics of Asia, West Africa, and Latin America. It is one of the most stubborn weeds in both SBC as well as intensive agriculture in West Africa (Chikoye et al. 1999; 2002). Lao upland farmers in the north perceive Imperata to be one of the most important weeds after Ageratum conyzoides, Chromolaena odorata, Commelina spp., Panicum trichoides, and Lygodium flexuosum and one of the most undesirable fallow species after Cratoxylon prunifolium and Symplocos racemosa in slash-and-burn rice systems (Roder et al. 1995; 1997). Imperata is also perceived as a key indicator of poor soil and land degradation (Saito et al. 2006; Lestrelin et al. 2010).

There may be as much as 57 million hectares of Imperata grassland in Asia, about 25 million hectares of which is in Southeast Asia. In Laos, Imperata was reported to have the potential to invade 0.8–1 million hectares (World Bank and Australian International Development Assistance Bureau 1989; Garrity et al. 1997), a figure that is expected to have increased in recent decades. There are primarily two reasons for this: shortened fallow periods, due to which the suppression of aggressive weeds such as Imperata ­cylindrica is less effective; and/or intensive use of short fallow lands for crop production where Imperata is still dominant.

Our study on the spatial distribution of Imperata grassland (characterized as a “micro-grassland”) in northern Laos revealed that it was unevenly distributed throughout the study area (Fig. 1). In addition, the study found that increased land use intensification through diversifying SBC areas into more permanent crop production systems was strongly correlated with the spread of Imperata grassland (Keoboualapha et al. 2013). The purpose of this study was to capture the local perceptions of such infestation and its impacts on agriculture. The more specific objectives of the study were: (1) to charac­terize the main agricultural land uses and major crops in the most Imperata-infested area of Nambak District in Luang Prabang Province, northern Laos; (2) to estimate the extent of and describe Imperata infestation at the household level as perceived by affected farmers; and (3) to identify the existing strategies and constraints in dealing with Imperata infestation. The findings of this study will highlight the significance of Imperata grassland to concerned research and development communities as a crucial issue for sustainable development in the uplands of Laos.


Fig. 1 Location of the Target Villages for Household Interviews

II Materials and Methods

II-1 Study Area
The study area is located in the southeast part of Nambak District, about 100 kilometers northwest of the capital of Luang Prabang Province, occupying a total area of 72,200 hectares or 37% of the district’s territory. This area (Zone 3 in Fig. 1) has been identified as the most Imperata-infested zone, with an average Imperata infestation level of 4.4%. It is characterized as an area of very intensive land use, a significant amount of shrub forest, and less natural and bush forests as compared to the other zones, i.e., Zones 1 and 2. Five villages in this zone were chosen for the household interviews (Fig. 1). The selection of the villages was based on the recommendation of the district Agriculture and Forestry Office.

II-2 Household Sampling Method
At the outset, an informal meeting was held with the village headmen and their committees to inform the villagers of the objectives of the study. At the meeting, the appropriate authority of each village was asked to differentiate its farmers into sets of those who had and did not have Imperata infestation on their farmland. All the lists with the names of farmers from the five villages whose fields were infested by Imperata were compiled into a single list comprising 278 households (Table 1); this list was, in turn, used for selecting households/farmers for individual interviews. A total of 100 from the 278 households pooled were randomly selected with the help of a table of random numbers.

Table 1 Total Households in Target Villages and Total Households with Imperata-infested Land


II-3 Data Collection
A structured questionnaire was developed for the individual farmer interviews. All the information that related to socioeconomic data, land uses, and Imperata infestation was collected for the wet season of 2011. Questionnaire pretesting exercises were conducted outside the five target villages to further fine-tune the data collection process. The actual interviews of 100 farmers were conducted after the pretesting.

II-4 Data Analysis
Microsoft Excel software was used as a tool for the data processing and statistical ­analyses. Descriptive statistics, including mean, frequency, and confidence level, were used to describe the important characteristics of the farmers with Imperata infestation within the study area. In addition, a semi-quantitative matrix ranking method (Ashby 1990) was used to rank the importance of Imperata infestation-related issues as reported by the farmers.

III Results and Discussion

III-1 Socioeconomic Characteristics of Farmers with Imperata-Infested Land
The sample statistics indicate that 89% of the farmers interviewed were less than 65 years old, with 80% between the ages of 35 and 64 (Fig. 2a). About 87% of the farmers had been living in their villages for less than 31 years and 13% for more than 30 years to a maximum of 50 years (Fig. 2b). The average family size was 5.7 persons. About 66% of families had between four and seven members (Fig. 2c). They mostly had low educational levels, with an average of 3.4 years in school. About 88% of the farmers had attended school for six years or less—among them, 18% had not been to school at all (Fig. 2d).


Fig. 2 Some Important Social and Economic Characteristics of the Farmers Interviewed (n=100)

Most of the farmers interviewed (94%) had been farming for more than 10 years (Fig. 2e). They commonly had limited manual labor to help with farming activities: only about 89% of them had one or two full-time laborers (Fig. 2f).

About 58% of the farmers reported that they experienced a shortage of rice in 2011. It was common enough to purchase rice for three to four months a year. That year, however, the shortage was so severe that about 19% of the farmers had to buy rice for more than six months (Fig. 2g). It was observed that the farmers rarely relied on a single source of income to support their families but combined various sources. About 62% of the farmers interviewed had income from more than two sources (Fig. 2h).

Annual crops were by far the most important source of income for most farmers in the study area, followed by livestock, perennial crops, NTFPs, and off-farm activities. NTFPs, although ranked fourth in the income scale, ranked second for a large number of farmers after upland annual crops. About 10% of the farmers said that Imperata grass also provided a source of income, but it was much lower down the scale when compared to other income sources (Table 2).

Table 2 Main Sources of Income (n=100)


III-2 Main Agricultural Land Uses and Major Crops
Upland annual crop production, fallows, orchards, tree plantations, and paddy were identified as the main agricultural land uses adopted by farmers. SBC, which involves growing upland annual crops and fallowing the lands, was important not only for farmers who had no paddy but also for farmers who had paddy fields. In 2011, 27 of the 36 farmers who had paddy fields had upland annual crops occupying about 25% of their farmland (Table 3).

Table 3 Descriptive Statistics of the Main Agricultural Land Use Typesa


The sample statistics indicate that the average farm sizes were not significantly different, ranging from 2.87 to 2.97 hectares hh–1. The average size of farms rated with a confidence level of 95% ranged between 2.48 and 3.26 hectares hh–1 and 2.53 and 3.42 hectares hh–1 for farmers with and without paddy fields, respectively. Upland annual crops and fallows were the most important land uses practiced by both groups of farmers, and comprised 75% and 47% of the farm area owned by farmers without and with paddy fields, respectively. Land use intensification through perennial crop diversification had reduced the slash-and-burn area by 25% and 30% for farmers without and with paddy fields, respectively. In addition to upland annual crops, farmers with paddy tended to intensify their slash-and-burn areas into tree plantations, while farmers without paddy intensified into both tree plantations and orchards (Table 3).

III-3 Farmers’ Perceptions of Imperata Infestation in Relation to Land Uses: Persistence and Areas
The longest period of Imperata invasion into farmlands, as recalled by the farmers interviewed, was 21 years. However, about 95% of farmers reported that Imperata had invaded their fields for less than 16 years (Fig. 3a). As a result, we believe that Imperata has only recently rooted itself in the study area. Almost all farmers mentioned that the Imperata-infested areas had expanded and compacted together in some parts of their farmland.


Fig. 3Imperata Infestation: Years of Infestation and Main Causes (n=100)

Asked about their perceptions on the mode of proliferation and persistence of ­Imperata in the area, 91% of the farmers interviewed reported that accelerated clearing of the same piece of land by either slashing or burning practices, short fallow periods (one to two years) or young fallows, and poor soil were the factors essentially responsible for Imperata grass infestation (Fig. 3b). The limited areas of land available for SBC compelled the farmers to reduce the length of the fallow periods, which in turn contributed to low soil productivity. Poor soil and dry lands were often repeated problems among the farmer interviewees. On the other hand, because of the reduction in the SBC area, short fallow land had to be cleared more frequently for annual cropping, which again reduced soil productivity and increased the annual weed population.

Due to low biomass, short fallows can result in weak burning. A good burn improves soil productivity through the addition of fertilizer derived from ash and reduced weeds (Saito et al. 2006). This study therefore suggests that the positive cause-and-effect relationship between the aforementioned factors is an important cause of Imperata infestation in the study area.

Farmers mentioned that Imperata grass had invaded fields under different types of land uses. They identified two types of Imperata grass infestation: mixed and pure. The former refers to land use or fields where Imperata grass grows together with crops or natural vegetation and is known as “mixed Imperata stand,” while the latter refers to land use or fields where Imperata grass grows with a few, or without any, other plant species and is known as “pure Imperata stand.” Imperata infestation area (patch or field size), given a confidence level of 95%, was 0.62–1.13 hectares and 0.37–0.76 hectares for mixed and pure infestation, respectively (Table 4).

Table 4Imperata Infestation Areaa


The farmers claimed to have experienced higher mixed, rather than pure, infestation. The most infested land uses were fallows and tree plantation, consisting of 53.7% and 77.7%, and 40.9% to 44.8% of the total area of the particular land uses, or 15% and 5%, and 17% and 10% of the total farm area owned by farmers without and with paddy (Table 5). In addition, farmers with paddy were found to have more severe Imperata infestation than farmers without paddy (41% versus 34%). Therefore, it is important that farmers who own paddy fields should not be ignored by the agencies concerned when developing sustainable Imperata management strategies in the uplands.

Table 5Imperata Infestation: Percentages of Total Land Uses on Farm


In general, about 37% of the total farmland covered by our study is infested by Imperata: about 12% is unproductive for cropping because it is invaded by the pure variety of Imperata infestation explained above, and 25% has been rendered less productive with a high risk of crop failure due to mixed Imperata infestation. The remaining 63% of farmland, untouched thus far by Imperata, is expected to be more productive and therefore suitable for upland crop production. However, this area can also be at risk from an Imperata invasion unless proper control and management practices are implemented.

III-4 Farmers’ Perceptions of Imperata Infestation in Relation to Crop Production: Problems, Management Strategies, and Constraints
When farmers were asked to rank the problems they considered offshoots of Imperata infestation in ascending order of importance, most of them cited more than one challenge. They believed that reduced crop yields, increased weeding procedures, and reduction in crop growth were the most significant impacts of Imperata infestation (Table 6). Repeated clearing of short fallow land for annual cropping, while Imperata is still dominant, significantly increases the need for weeding. As a result, maintaining crop yields by providing adequate weeding can be a great challenge for farmers in the study area. Chikoye et al. (2000) estimated crop yield reduction attributable to competition from Imperata grass to be 76–80% in cassava, 78% in yam, and 50% in maize. International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) (1997) reported that weed control operations in Imperata-infested fields could be required as often as three to six times per season depending on the type of crop and the level of infestation. Reduced farm size or cultivable land was considered a less significant problem, although farm sizes had reportedly been reduced by 12.7% due to pure Imperata infestation. Reduced soil fertility was also considered less important in the study area, although some studies in other areas of northern Laos reported that farmers cited the presence of Imperata as a key indicator of poor soil and land degradation (Saito et al. 2006; Lestrelin et al. 2010).

Table 6 Main Problems Related to Crop Production Caused by Imperata Infestation


To cope with the problem of Imperata infestation, farmers use a wide range of management strategies. Some measures, such as weeding, fallowing the land, applying chemicals and fertilizers, and pest control, are technological/technical; while exchange labor, changes to new crops or enterprises, and the hiring of laborers are more economic and/or social. Weeding, fallowing the land, applying chemicals, and exchange labor are the chief strategies adopted by farmers both with and without paddy fields to tackle most of the issues that they face (Table 7). The planting of new crops and the setting up of new enterprises such as raising livestock or off-farm activities are important strategies adopted by farmers when the regular crop produces very low yield. Many farmers in the study area have switched from the cultivation of upland rice to the cultivation of Job’s tears or maize because the latter crops can compete with Imperata and grow better on their farms.

Table 7 Farmers’ Strategies to Overcome Imperata Infestation


However, there are many constraints to the effective implementation of such strategies. Most of the constraints cited by the interviewees are social and economic rather than technological/technical. Lack of labor and capital, a shortage of rice, and limited cultivable land are considered the chief constraints by farmers (Table 8). The lack of technology and knowledge in dealing with the problems caused by Imperata is considered a less important constraint; this indicates that the farmers are satisfied with their current level of knowledge and prevailing technologies. This is probably because the farmers have no idea, nor information, of the improved technologies available for dealing with Imperata infestation. With the limited technological options within their command, they continue to pursue their traditional SBC practice although the government strives to discourage it.

Table 8 Main Constraints to Imperata Control


IV Conclusion

The study found that Imperata infestation, which was established about one and a half decades ago, is gradually spreading in the study area and affecting the livelihoods of nearly 38% of households living in the five target villages. Slash-and-burn cultivation (SBC) remains the main agricultural land use system and provides an important source of food and cash income for farmers. Most of the farmers are concerned about the negative impacts of Imperata, although it does yield income in small measure to some farmers. The positive cause-and-effect relationship between the accelerated clearing of the same piece of land, short fallow periods, declining soil productivity, and land shortage is believed to be the primary cause of Imperata infestation in the study area.

The study has shown that about 37% of farmland is infested with Imperata: 12% is rendered unproductive for cropping due to the pure form of the infestation, while 25% of the land has become less productive, with a high risk of crop failure, due to the mixed form of the infestation. The remaining 63% of farmland, so far free of infestation, is also considered to be at risk unless appropriate preventive management practices are employed.

It is the considered view of most of the farmers interviewed that reduced crop yield, increased weeding, and reduced crop growth are the chief problems caused by Imperata infestation. To cope with these issues more effectively, the farmers often implement a combination of strategies and practices, the most common of which are weeding, fallowing the land, applying chemicals, and exchange labor. However, such measures encounter many constraints due to lack of labor and capital, land shortages, rice shortage, and limited land. Given the constraints faced and the prevailing technologies used, increased Imperata infestation in fallow lands will make it very difficult for farmers to intensify the SBC system into a more permanent, diversified, and productive agricultural system, which is a high priority of the government development policy in the uplands. To meet this challenge, knowledge about the causes, problems, and management strategies and acknowledgement of the constraints perceived by farmers vis-à-vis Imperata infestation must be collated, correlated, and addressed by the research and development communities working in the uplands. This will enable systematic and integrated interventions combining technological, social, economic, and political resolutions.

Accepted: February 7, 2013


We thank the Agriculture and Forestry Office of Nambak District for providing staff to work with us and the communities; local community leaders for their help organizing villagers; and the farmers for valuable information. This study was financially supported by the Thailand Research Fund under the CLMV-T DSS Graduate Degree Program Research Initiative: 1st Phase (Contract No. RDG52O0003-LV01).


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Vol. 2, No. 3, Sawitree Wisetchat

Contents>> Vol. 2, No. 3

Visualizing the Evolution of the Sukhothai Buddha

Sawitree Wisetchat*

* สาวิตรี วิเศษชาติ, The Glasgow School of Art: Digital Design Studio, 167 Renfrew St, Glasgow G3 6RQ, UK

e-mail: sawitreedesigns[at]gmail.com

As Buddhism spread from India to cover much of Asia, sculptures depicting the Buddha varied regionally, reflecting both the original Indian iconography and local ethnic and cultural influences. This study considers how statues of the Buddha evolved in Thailand, focusing on the Sukhothai period (1238–1438 CE), during which a distinctly Thai style developed; this style is still characteristic of Thailand today. The Sukhothai style primarily reflects features of the Pala, Sri Lankan, Pagan, and Lan Na styles, yet contains new stylistic innovations and a refinement over the four successive schools that were subsequently lost in later Thai Buddhist styles. To analyze this evolution, first a conventional “visual vocabulary” approach is used, wherein 12 styles (precursors, contemporaries, and successors of the Sukhothai style) are described and summarized in a style matrix that highlights commonalities and differences. Then a novel application of digital “blend-shape animation” is adopted to assist in the visualization of differing styles and to better illustrate style evolution. Rather than comparing styles by shifting attention between sample images, the viewer can now appreciate style differences by watching one style metamorphose into another. Common stylistic features remain relatively unchanged and visually ignored, while differing features draw attention. While applied here to the study of Buddhist sculptures, this technique has other potential applications to art history, architecture, and graphic design generally.

Keywords: Southeast Asia, Southeast Asian art, Sukhothai Buddha, sculptural style, visual vocabulary, style analysis, digital animation, blend shapes


As Buddhism spread outward from India to cover much of Asia, both the teachings of Buddhism and the religious art evolved. The central artistic focus in traditional Buddhist practice is a statue that represents the Buddha, the historical figure of Siddhartha ­Gautama of the sixth to fifth century BCE. While Buddha sculptures follow common iconographic conventions (Rowland 1963, 12–14), the artistic style varies across regions and cultures, reflecting the local artistic interpretation of this iconography (Leidy 2008). This paper focuses on the evolution of the Buddha statue in the Sukhothai period (1238–1438 CE), during which a distinct style developed; this style is still characteristic of Thailand today (see Fig. 1). This style was not the first, nor the last, distinctly Thai artistic style, but it remains the most important: “A remarkable image, which combines Thai ethnic features with yogic tranquility and inner power . . . in a unified blend of grace and abstraction” (Fisher 1993, 178).


Fig. 1 Sukhothai-Style Buddha Statue, Fourteenth–Fifteenth Century, at National Museum, Bangkok

Like organic forms that evolve over time, an artistic style can be viewed as undergoing an evolution from its precursors, with moments of innovation and periods of stability. Unlike living organisms that evolve from a single precursor organism, artistic style often evolves by blending multiple precursor styles. In a sense, the successor style has the opportunity to borrow features or traits selectively from multiple parents, along with incorporating new features.

Conventionally, artistic style is analyzed through a written discourse with reference to illustrations of representative examples (e.g., photographs or drawings of museum artifacts). Differing styles are then compared by a differential analysis. However, an appreciation for these differences requires the reader’s visual imagination, and this is particularly challenging when analyzing style changes over time, wherein the reader must construct, from the chronological sequence of images, a sense for both the style and how it evolved.

In analyzing Buddha statues, it is conventional to start with the Buddhist iconography that is conveyed by, for example, the pose of the hands; the direction of gaze; and traditional elements of the head and face, including the presence of an ushnisha, the design of the finial (e.g., a lotus blossom or flame), the shape of the nose (e.g., a “hooked or hero’s nose”), the hair (“small snail-like coils of hair”), and the shape and expression of the mouth (e.g., “warm and serene”). Such a “visual vocabulary” has been used to broadly distinguish Buddha styles across cultures, such as Subhadradis’s (1991, 19) use of these phrases when comparing the Indian Pala style with the later Sukhothai style, or to make finer distinctions in the development of the Buddha style across periods within a given culture (see Galloway 2006, 198–204 regarding the Burmese).

When comparing two styles, it is common to supplement the written description with images, such as a photograph of a representative example of each style. The reader can then refer to these images, shifting gaze from one to the other to observe the prominent differences between the two. This task is not always easy, as the viewer must attend only to the differences in style and ignore differences in lighting, material composition, physical condition, size, camera perspective, and so forth. It would be preferable if all those irrelevant factors were removed and one could focus only on how the Buddha’s form and style changed. The central objective of this research is to explore a technique that allows one to visualize shape change without such distractions. Rather than static illustrations of reference material, digital animation is used to convey style differences. With this method, a viewer can appreciate style differences between two objects, A and B, not by shifting gaze from A to B but by watching A become B.

As is traditional, this study begins with a written analysis using a conventional visual vocabulary. A determination of the stylistic features that were potentially contributed by each precursor style is assisted by organizing the descriptors in the form of a matrix of features versus styles. In combination with historical sources, some style features associated with the Sukhothai can be traced back to their origins in precursor styles. Other features can be presumed to be inventions of Sukhothai artists. The complex nature of art history, and the patchwork of borrowing versus invention, however, cannot be easily resolved. What becomes important, then, is visualizing the changes, as much of the stylistic difference is better appreciated visually than by words or tabulations.

Overview of Cultures and Artistic Influences on the Sukhothai Style

Ancient kingdoms and empires each had a region of influence or power centered in a city (Kulke 1990; Thongchai 1994). The geographical arrangement of these city-states is an important starting point to understanding the Sukhothai Kingdom and the neighbors that influenced it. In addition to political power, there were foreign influences from trade from about the first century CE onward, which brought religions, culture, and artifacts to the indigenous people of the region (Van Beek and Tettoni 1991, 51; Gutman 2002, 38). The trade was either across sea and land from west to east, primarily from India through Burma to Thailand (Gosling 2004, 48), or along the coastlines and up the rivers. Indigenous peoples included the western-central Mon, who spread south down the Malay Peninsula and up the Chao Phraya River valley; the northern Tai, who derived from Chinese migrations from Yunnan Province; and the eastern Khmer (Wyatt 2003). In terms of political and religious influences in the region of Sukhothai prior to the beginning of the kingdom, the first foreign influences were extremely early, such as the influence of the Mahayana culture of the Indian Gupta Empire (320–550 CE) on the Dvaravati (Nandana 1999, 19; Gosling 2004, 68). While Hinduism and Islam largely replaced Buddhism in India, Buddhism spread rapidly outside of India, and Gupta-style Buddha statues with highly abstract and simplified forms were important in conveying the spiritual message (Fisher 1993, 55–56). Theravada Buddhism spread primarily from the north and west, while Mahayana Buddhism and Hinduism spread from the south and east (Van Beek and Tettoni 1991, 51; Nandana 1999, 19–24). Along with the Buddhist religion and iconography, Sanskrit writing was also incorporated in subsequent centuries by the art and religion of the various Dvaravati city-states and Khmer kingdoms (Brown 1996, 37). Buddhism also spread from Sri Lanka from as early as the fourth century CE across Southeast Asia, especially to present-day Burma (Gutman 2002, 36). It is particularly difficult to separate the Sri Lankan contribution, because the monks who spread ­Theravada Buddhism traveled broadly for centuries and influenced not only the people across much of Thailand (except the far eastern regions that were under the influence of the Khmer and Mahayana Buddhism) but also inhabitants of Burma before the Pagan Empire (1050–1287 CE) (ibid.). Buddhist monks from lower Burma were also in contact with Haripunchai (ibid., 38), a Mon center in present-day Lamphun, Thailand.

The Sukhothai Kingdom was centered in the city of Sukhothai, in north central Thailand. To the northwest was the Lan Na Kingdom (1281–1774), centered initially in Chiang Saen and subsequently in Chiang Mai, a separate city-state established by King Mangrai the Great (1239–1311 CE) with the conquering of the Haripunchai (Lamphun). The Lan Na Kingdom was bordered on the west by the Pagan Kingdom (Burma). South of the Sukhothai Kingdom were the Dvaravati principalities centered in U-Thong, ­Lopburi, and Nakhon Pathom. The Dvaravati, who were primarily Mon, practiced ­Theravada Buddhism. Artistically they displayed early Gupta influences (Gosling 2004, 56, 68) and then adopted the Khmer style as they increasingly came under the influence of the Khmer Empire by the tenth century and were finally conquered in the late twelfth century (Van Beek and Tettoni 1991, 64; Woodward 1997, 76). The Khmer style continued to persist in Lopburi and surrounding regions well into the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries as the U-Thong style (Woodward 1997, 124).

The city of Sukhothai was originally under Khmer influence, but it became inde­pendent in 1238 to form the Sukhothai Kingdom. When the Sukhothai Kingdom became independent, it was at the boundary between two very distinct cultures, the Khmer to the east and south, and the Dvaravati and Tai to the west and north. The Sukhothai Kingdom became allied with its neighbors to the northwest (particular the Lan Na ­Kingdom) and fought with its Khmer-influenced neighbors to the southeast (Wyatt 2003; Stratton and Scott 2004, 138–140). It grew into a broad band extending from the far northeast (near Laos) down to the Malay Peninsula. While they fought with the Pagan Empire to the north, the Sukhothai were followers of Theravada Buddhism and were closer culturally to the Pagan Empire than to the Khmer cultures of Hinduism and ­Mahayana Buddhism.

The time line in Fig. 2 shows that, at least chronologically, the potential cultural influences on Sukhothai art include Pala, Sri Lankan, Dvaravati, Lopburi, Pagan, and the neighboring Lan Na. Since the capital of the Sukhothai Kingdom was a city that had a long history of Khmer influence, one might expect Sukhothai art to reflect its Dvaravati or Khmer background. In fact, however, when the kingdom became independent, it shifted away from the Khmer style and adopted cultural influences from Sri Lanka ­(Woodward 1997, 146–149) as well as the early Lan Na Kingdom (ibid., 207–210) and, indirectly, the Pagan Empire. A later, more direct, Burmese influence has also been traced to fourteenth-century visits by Sukhothai monks (Gutman 2002, 40). The Lan Na influence continued throughout the Sukhothai period: “During the 13th and 14th centuries AD, there occurred significant artistic interaction between Lan Na and Sukhothai, although the exact nature of this interaction has yet to be studied” (Van Beek and Tettoni 1991, 133). The Sukhothai style reached the apex of its glory during the second quarter of the fourteenth century through to the end of the kingdom in 1438, when Sukhothai was incorporated into the kingdom of Ayutthaya (Woodward 1997, 145).


Fig. 2 Culture Time Line

Note: The Sukhothai Kingdom (1238–1438 CE) received Buddhist influences from Sri Lanka, India, Burma, and the contemporary Lan Na Kingdom. The Khmer-dominated Dvaravati cultures were geographically near the Sukhothai but less influential. The Sukhothai influenced the Lan Na and ­Ayutthaya cultures.

Primary Buddhist Sculptural Styles

The cultures that predate and were potentially influential on the Sukhothai style were the Indian Pala, Sri Lankan, Burmese Pagan, and Lan Na. Figs. 3a–d show that while they share some common style aspects, their distinctive features may have contributed to the Sukhothai style, while the features presented by the Dvaravati style (Fig. 3e) had less in common with the Sukhothai (Fig. 1). It is important to note, however, that rather than a single school of style, there were four schools (General Group, Wat Trakuan, Kamphaengpet, and the Phra Phutta Chinnarat Group), each with its own distinct characteristics, during the Sukhothai period (Fig. 10). Subsequent to the Sukhothai era, the highly refined Sukhothai style was largely replaced by the U-Thong and Ayutthaya styles, which suggest a return to the Khmer style more than a continuation of the Sukhothai style. Artists who followed any one school of style created variations within it; hence, it is not possible to make absolute distinctions between any two styles. Nonetheless, it will become clear that a systematic visual vocabulary can help distinguish the features that comprise a given style, given a few representative examples of each.


Fig. 3 Examples of Precursor Styles
a: Pala, b: Sri Lankan, c: Pagan, and d: Lan Na. The Dvaravati style in (e), with strong Khmer influences, however, was not incorporated into the Sukhothai style. (a–c) at Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, (d) at Ramkhamhaeng National Museum, and (e) at National Museum, Bangkok.

Description of Buddhist Sculptures

The Buddha is believed to have exhibited the physical characteristics of a great man. A listing of characteristics is described in the ancient writings of the Digha Nikaya, or ­“Collection of Long Discourses,” part of the Pali Canon or Tipitaka scriptures of ­Theravada Buddhism (Shaw 2006, 114). The texts were known to Sri Lankan as well as Burmese monks and influenced Buddhist imagery and the early Thai aesthetic, especially the features of the Sukhothai style (Woodward 1997, 24, 25, 148) as early as the fifth century CE (Galloway 2002, 46). Among the many physical characteristics attributed to the Buddha, a few are relevant to the face: curled, untangled hair; a topknot or ushnisha (Krishan 1996, 111), as if crowned with a flower garland; a rounded forehead; large eyebrows arched like a bow; long earlobes; a nose like a parrot’s beak; a chin like a mango stone; and a beautiful smile (Rowland 1963, 12–14; Subhadradis 1991, 19; Van Beek and Tettoni 1991, 26–27; Fisher 1993, 178; Stratton and Scott 2004, 47).

These and other descriptions of ideal form have been influential in Buddhist art since the Gupta period in India, but many variations can be found in specific styles. The iconographic features are present in some, but not all, subsequent Buddhist sculptural styles. For instance, the “nose like a parrot’s beak” applies to the Sukhothai style but not to the U-Thong and Dvaravati styles. With the founding of Sukhothai in the mid-thirteenth century, a style emerges that is uniquely Thai (Stratton and Scott 1981, 67; Van Beek and Tettoni 1991, 7). Arthur Griswold (1953) regards the Sukhothai as “re-shaped in accordance with their recollection of other things,” including the descriptions from the Pali texts. Some sculptures show the eyes as downcast, and in others the eyes are opened and directed forward. The lips might form a smile or just assume a serene expression. Details of how the features were sculpted also vary. In some cases the eyebrows, lips, nose, and other facial features are depicted with natural amounts of curvature and relief, while in other cases the sculpting uses sharp creases and simplified, stylized curves. Many features of the statues in combination create a subtle impression of the gender of the statue. Buddha statues vary in the extent to which they appear masculine. Khmer and Dvaravati styles, for instance, have clearly powerful, masculine features, while the Sukhothai style is androgynous. An androgynous depiction of the Buddha de-emphasizes the male gender of the historic Buddha (Stratton and Scott 2004, 51, 138, 167, 337).

Analysis of Buddha Styles

This section provides an analysis of the Buddha styles considered in this study, using a visual vocabulary derived primarily from classical texts and modern descriptions (Sawitree 2011).

Pala Style

Fig. 4 shows four examples of the Pala style of Mahayana Buddhist statues. The eyebrows are a very important characteristic, with strongly sculpted double contours merged across the bridge of the nose. The crisp lines of the eyebrows are etched into the other­wise flat forehead. The overall facial proportions are broad, with moderately to distinctly masculine square jaws. The nose and chin are generally realistically depicted. A suggestion of a well-fed double chin is provided by lines around the neck. The lips are fleshy and vary from realistic to moderately sculpted, with outlined contours. The hair is depicted in neat rows of moderate to large coils. The hairline shows little evidence of a widow’s peak. The eyes are generally cast downward, not directed forward.


Fig. 4 Pala Style
a–c: from Bodhgaya, India, ninth century, at National Museum, Bangkok. d: from Bihar, India, eleventh century, at Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Sri Lankan Style

Two examples of the Sri Lankan style from the eighth to the tenth centuries are shown in Fig. 5. The Sri Lankan sculptures differ significantly from the Pala style in many respects. The topknot or ushnisha is often less prominent, but elaborate finials of various designs are added. The coils of hair vary from moderate to large, with generally more distinct details. The Sri Lankan statues usually have a rounder face, and a longer and narrower nose with a sharp ridge. Like in the Pala style, the Sri Lankan forehead is ­narrow to moderately wide with only a suggestion of a widow’s peak. Unlike the prominent double curve of the Pala eyebrow, the Sri Lankan eyebrows vary from only faintly outlined to sharply creased, and rather than terminate at the bridge of the nose, the curves sometimes merge smoothly with, and continue down, the long central ridge of the nose. The gaze of the eyes is frequently directed outward, not downward. The mouths vary from small to broad, with realistically sculpted lips. These Sri Lankan sculptures suggest a stylistic innovation that would appear in the later Sukhothai style, particularly in the contouring of the eyebrows and nose.


Fig. 5 Sri Lankan Style
a: late Anuradhapura period, 750–850 CE. b: Buddha offering protection, Sri Lanka, central plateau, late Anuradhapura-Polonnaruva period, tenth century. Both at Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Pagan Style

While Pala, India, is regarded as the “principal stylistic source” for the Pagan style of Buddha statues (Stadtner 1999, 54), by the eleventh century the Pagan Kingdom had developed its own distinct style; and by the end of the thirteenth century the Indian influence was “all but lost” (ibid., 58), with heads becoming more massive and disappearing into the torso. The depiction of the hair, in terms of the coils and the relative absence of a widow’s peak, remained similar to the Pala style. However, the deeply etched double contour of the eyebrows was gradually lost and the shape of the face changed from “sub-rectangular” to more triangular (Blurton 2002, 56), with a less masculine jaw line, a softer chin, and a diminished mouth, all realistically sculpted rather than sharply stylized (Bautze-Picron 2006, 37–39). More generally, the earlier Mahayana influence was largely ignored; the art evolved from Theravada iconography (Stadtner 1999, 58; Galloway 2006, 1–3, 198–200). Compared to the Sri Lankan faces, while both are rounded overall, the foreheads of the Pagan statues are broader and more prominent due to the reduced mouth and chin. The eyes of Pagan-style sculptures have a more obviously downward gaze (Galloway 2006, 200); and with small, pursed lips and an overall modest demeanor, the Pagan style evolved toward a warm and serene smiling face.


Fig. 6 Pagan Style
a: twelfth century, from New World Encyclopedia (2011). b: twelfth–thirteenth century, from Metropolitan Museum of Art (2011).

Dvaravati Style

Fig. 7 shows four examples of the distinctive Dvaravati style, which, of all Thai sculptures, most directly exhibits the early Indian influence (Gosling 2004, 66). While it displays some commonality with the Pala, it is regarded as deriving from the earlier fifth-century Gupta style. The faces of the Dvaravati images are less stylized, gentler, more approachable, and realistic (ibid., 68). A finial, if present, is small and cap-like, and the coils of hair are prominent and large. The Dvaravati Buddha’s face is overall broad, rather than elongated, with a masculine square jaw (more similar to Pala than Sri Lankan and Pagan), and more muscular than plump. The forehead is short (measured from eyebrows to hairline) and wide (measured from left to right), and dominated by perhaps the most distinctive feature of the Dvaravati style: strongly sculpted and delineated eyebrows that meet at the bridge of the nose and often define a continuous curve across the forehead. The ears have very heavy earlobes. The upper eyelids are heavy and blend smoothly and realistically into the eyebrows without a sculpted crease. The eyes are usually downcast. The nose is generally broad with a straight profile. In some statues the sharp ridge of the nose and broad continuous eyebrows form a “T” shape. The lips are large and full, and the mouth is expressive and sometimes gently smiling, all consistent with the Khmer cultural influence in this region. The chin is featureless, without the suggestion of a double chin.


Fig. 7 Dvaravati Style
a–c: Nakhon Pathom, Thailand, seventh–ninth century, at National Museum, Bangkok. d: eighth century, at Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Lopburi Style
The Khmer-influenced Lopburi style, also from current-day Thailand, shares some features of the Dvaravati style. While the overall facial proportions are somewhat more elongated, the depiction represents a similarly trim Buddha. It also shares the broad, full lips of the Dvaravati style, including the use of an inscribed outline for emphasis, but overall it has the more naturalistic and softly rounded sculpting of the Pagan style. The eyebrows, nose, eyes, and chin are generally very realistically depicted with only slight sculptural details. The Lopburi faces often show individual and expressive character (Woodward 1997, 114–115).

Significantly, the eyebrows have low arches and do not create a strong sculpted contour above the eyes. The eyebrows do not cross the bridge of the nose (as in some Pala and Dvaravati artifacts, Figs. 4 and 7), nor do they follow down the ridge of the nose (as in some Sri Lankan examples, Fig. 5). Instead, they are quite natural and not stylized. The eye shapes resemble some Sri Lankan examples. Except for the simplification of the eyelids and the double contour that outlines the lips, the proportions and curves of the Lopburi style are realistic. The depiction of the hair is also quite different, with a cap often replacing the coils of hair (ibid., 86).


Fig. 8 Lopburi Style
a–c: Lopburi, Thailand, thirteenth century. d: Khmer art, twelfth century. All at National Museum, Bangkok.

Lan Na Style
The Mon Hariphunchai (Lamphun), conquered by the Lan Na Kingdom in 1282, was the primary source for the earliest Lan Na sculpture, embodying a mix of Pala, Pagan, Mon, and even Khmer influences (Stratton and Scott 2004, 134). During the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, the Lan Na style developed in close association with the Sukhothai, and both styles evolved away from the Mon aesthetic (Van Beek and Tettoni 1991, 133; Stratton and Scott 2004, 138). In the Lan Na style, a variety of finial shapes are added on top of a prominent ushnisha. The hair coils vary in size, and some hairlines in fifteenth-century statues suggest a widow’s peak (Listopad 1999, 57). The fourteenth- to fifteenth-century examples (see Fig. 9) are generally rounder and depict a heavier Buddha, with a creased and dimpled double chin (like a “mango stone”), and not the trim, strongly masculine square jaw of many Pala and Lopburi sculptures. While some features are quite variable, such as the depiction of the hair and nose, other features such as the eyebrows and eyelids are more consistent and exhibit the Sri Lankan style of sharply contoured eyebrows, eyebrows that merge with the bridge of the nose, and creases between the eyelid and eyebrow that follow the arch of the eyebrow (see especially Fig. 9b). The eyes are usually downcast. Curiously, the ears are often pointed, perhaps an influence from Laos (Stratton and Scott 2004, 51). The most distinctive aspects of the Lan Na style, including the highly arched eyebrows, eyelids with arched creases, and sharp, narrow noses, resemble some Sri Lankan examples and are also found in the Sukhothai style, which is elaborated upon next.


Fig. 9 Lan Na Style
a: fourteenth–fifteenth century, at Wat Chedi Chet Thaeo, Sukhothai, Thailand. b: fifteenth century, at Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. c–d: fifteenth century, at Wat Chet Yod, Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Sukhothai Style
Four styles or schools are associated with the Sukhothai. These are the General Group, the Wat Trakuan, the Kamphaengpet, and the Phra Phutta Chinnarat (see Fig. 10). As a whole, the four schools share many common style features.


Fig. 10 Sukhothai Style
a: General Group, late thirteenth–fourteenth century, at Ramkhamhaeng National Museum, Sukhothai. b: Wat Trakuan, late thirteenth century, at Ramkhamhaeng National Museum, Sukhothai. c: Kamphaengpet, fourteenth–fifteenth century, at National Museum, Bangkok. d: Phra Phutta Chinnarat, fourteenth–fifteenth century, at Wat Phra Si Ratana Mahathat.

The General Group can be used as the basis for comparison with the other schools. The statues in the General Group and Kamphaengpet schools share the softly rounded, elongated faces of some examples from Sri Lanka, but many are more slender and graceful. There is variability in details such as the type of the finial, if present, but otherwise they share an immediately recognizable style. The Wat Trakuan Group shows vari­ability within the group, while the subsequent Phra Phutta Chinnarat school is again quite consistent internally. The eyebrows in all four schools are highly arched with a sharply creased, sculpted curve that continues down the ridge of the nose (much as in the Sri Lankan examples in Fig. 5). The nose is generally hooked, or a “hero’s” nose, which is particularly parrot-like in some cases where the ridge is very sharp and narrow. The eyes are delicately curved and stylized, with re-curved upper eyelids and a sharp crease between the eyelid and the eyebrow. The eyes are downcast and slightly open. The lips, cheeks, and chin are generally lean and slender. Some Wat Trakuan school statues are less slender and have finial, hair coil, and hairline details in common with the earlier Pala and Dvaravati styles. This school shows some variability in the size of the hair coils, the type of finial, and the sharpness of the nose ridge; and while some statues are slender, others have a double chin, chubby cheeks, and a less elongated face overall.

The Sukhothai style is perhaps most distinctive in those examples where the face is lean and elongated and suggests effeminate form due to the delicate and graceful curves (Van Beek and Tettoni 1991, 114). These features are present in most statues of the General Group, and perhaps the style is most refined in the Kamphaengpet school, with detailed hair coils and finials. In contrast, statues from the last Sukhothai school, the Phra Phutta Chinnarat school, appear plump and well fed and more masculine. The facial proportions are less elongated, and the cheeks and chin are fleshier, with a rounded double chin, a cleft chin, and folds on the neck. The hairline is often lower and has a more prominent widow’s peak. Despite these differences, the Phra Phutta Chinnarat school shows the distinctive Sukhothai style of elaborate finials, sharply creased contours in the eyes and eyelids, and the way the eyebrows continue down the ridge of the nose.

U-Thong Style
Two successor styles, U-Thong and early Ayutthaya, are examined to see the influence that the Sukhothai style might have had on them. The U-Thong statues in Fig. 11 are distinctly different from the Sukhothai style in many ways. While there is considerable variation within the style, a few features are consistently different. The finial varies from an elaborate flame to being apparently absent altogether. The hair coils are much smaller than most of the Sukhothai examples (similar to the Kamphaengpet, but sometimes even finer). There is also a band that follows the hairline, which is a new addition. The robust facial proportions, broad full lips and jaws, and general feeling of masculinity and strength are similar to the Khmer-influenced Dvaravati and Lopburi styles. Within the style, there is variability in the sculpting of the eyebrows, from being defined by curved lines to appearing to have realistic thickness and shape. The eyebrows vary from a high arch to nearly straight; they do not continue in a sculpted manner down the sides of the nose. Similarly, the eyelids vary from having a crease to smoothly blending up to the eyebrows. The nose is generally realistic and not sculpted with exaggerated contours.


Fig. 11 U-Thong Style, Thirteenth–Fourteenth Century, at National Museum, Bangkok

Ayutthaya Style
The Ayutthaya style (Fig. 12) is also more variable than the Sukhothai style. Nonetheless, it was clearly influenced by the Sukhothai sculptures. While the traditional finial above a topknot of hair resembles the Sukhothai style, sometimes it is replaced with an elaborate headdress or crown also seen in some earlier Mahayana-style Buddhas from Pala, Pagan, Hariphunchai, and Lan Na (Stratton and Scott 2004, 57). Likewise, the sculpting of the eyes, eyebrows, nose, and mouth often shows a Sukhothai influence. However, Pagan and Khmer influences are also clearly present. The Ayutthaya sculptures do not represent a single clear school. Instead, they show contributions from many cultures beyond that of the Sukhothai and, like the U-Thong style, might appear to step back to earlier traditional style features while simultaneously introducing new ones.


Fig. 12 Ayutthaya Style
a: thirteenth–fourteenth century, b: sixteenth–eighteenth century, both at National Museum, Bangkok. c–d: fifteenth–eighteenth century, both at Ramkhamhaeng National Museum, Sukhothai.

Style Summary

The Pala, Sri Lankan, Pagan, and Lan Na styles of Buddha sculptures were important precursors to the Sukhothai style. In contrast, the Khmer-influenced Dvaravati and Lopburi styles show little in common with the various schools of the Sukhothai. Upon closer inspection, some contributions of the precursor styles seem apparent. For example, the Sri Lankan style likely contributed largely to the eyes, eyebrows, and nose. Perhaps the Pagan influence contributed to the facial proportions, which were more elongated and slender than the Sri Lankan, Pala, or most of the Lan Na. It would be difficult to specify the origins of any single feature of the Sukhothai style with any degree of certainty, for not only were there centuries of trade and amalgamation of cultures prior to the formation of the Sukhothai Kingdom, but each neighboring culture was also assimilating the cultures of its neighbors. The practice of creating a sharp contour to the lips and eyelids shows up in several precursor styles, for instance. The origin of the Sukhothai style is certainly complex, and it will likely never be fully understood because of the lack of written records made at the time. Nonetheless, it is possible to compile a new picture of the manner in which some of the visual vocabulary of precursor styles may have added to what became the Sukhothai.

Most specialists concentrate on a particular style, such as Lan Na, or describe the various styles in shallower terms, across many centuries, cultures, and regions. It is beyond the scope of this work to address multiple styles in depth as well as breadth. The use of a style matrix, however, illustrates how an exhaustive study could proceed and the results be compiled.

Table 1 shows this compilation as a matrix, with four levels associated with a given cell based on samples of the different Buddha styles. According to the color code (see the key in Table 1), the darker the cell, the more important the feature to a given style. For this study only four distinctions are made, either “rarely, seldom, frequently, and usually” for a feature that is present or absent in a given statue, or “low, slight, medium, and high” for a property that varies more continuously, such as lip fullness, or a square versus rounded jaw. For features such as the arch to the eyebrows, the cell color signifies the feature’s prominence or magnitude (from slight to high) over four steps. The features are in rows, and the styles across columns. The pattern values for different styles then show up as an arrangement of white, light gray, dark gray, and black cells in a column. With few exceptions, each Buddha style or school has so much variability within it (such as in Fig. 5 for the Sri Lankan style) that statistical methods would likely not be applicable, even if an exhaustive collection of sample statues were compiled from all available resources internationally, and a more quantitative scale created for each feature. The purpose of the matrix is not to measure differences across styles, but to help draw attention to where the differences lie. In Table 1, the eye is drawn to the large cluster of features that are held in common across the Sukhothai styles and shared, interestingly, with the Lan Na style but not with the earlier Khmer-influenced styles.

Table 1 A Matrix of Style Features versus Buddha Styles, with Color Key


A table shows variations in features across styles in a way that is more illuminating and compact than reading a set of separate conventional written descriptions of each style, which typically rely on illustrations of examples. By visualizing a cluster of features that are present in one style and either shared with another or not, a tabulation is likely more efficient than a discourse.

While a matrix is a compact means to compare styles, it is not an effective means for visualizing the evolution of a style, nor is the conventional approach of describing change by textual descriptions. It is usually the responsibility of the reader to then consult images representative of the different styles and to visualize their differences by comparison. With a pair of images, one for each of two styles, this comparison requires detecting what is different and ignoring what is the same across the two examples. This study explores a far more effective means for directing visual attention to what is different between styles, and away from what the styles have in common.

The Sukhothai style is refined and elegant in ways that are not easily captured by written descriptions. Table 1 shows which features are predominantly found in the Sukhothai style and less so in the other styles, but does not hint at why the Sukhothai style is so striking. That is best shown, rather than described, and the method introduced in this study allows the qualities of the Sukhothai style to emerge by watching the other styles blend into the Sukhothai style.

Modeling and Visualization

This study presents a technique for visualizing a sculptural style, and changes in that style, by having a model “morph” or blend between two or more such styles. This method illustrates style through animation. It uses the human ability to notice visible change in order to draw attention to where two styles differ, and away from where they are similar. The viewer observes one model that blends continuously from one style to another, while the material, lighting, viewpoint, and other factors that do not relate to style are kept constant. In this way, many of the irrelevant differences between two separate artifacts do not distract from attending to their differences in style.

The digital technique of “blend animation” has been widely adopted for use in character animation (Deng and Noh 2008). The method produces a smooth surface from a relatively simple “cage” of vertices. An initial or “base” cage is constructed that will be used as the basis for variations on that shape (see Fig. 13). Multiple copies of that base cage are constructed that will be made to resemble the other shapes. Each variation becomes a “target,” i.e., another shape that the base shape can be deformed into without adding or removing detail, but just moving and reshaping the details that are originally present in the base shape. The target shapes can be made to appear different from the base shape only by having their vertices shifted or displaced in 3D space relative to counterparts in the original base shape. With a base shape and target shape, a “blend shape” can then interpolate between the two shapes to form a continuous and smooth transition from the base to the target (see Fig. 14).


Fig. 13 Example of a Low-High Polygon Model in Maya


Fig. 14 Examples of Sequences of Animation
a: from Pagan to Sukhothai. b: from Sri Lankan to Sukhothai. c: from Pala to Sri Lankan to Pagan to Sukhothai.

The modeling of a given target shape is based on reference material. This reference can be photographs of museum artifacts that are placed in the 3D scene as “image planes.” The 3D model is then sculpted to resemble the reference object from that photographed viewpoint. The use of image planes is only approximate, however, and many photographs would be needed to ensure that the object has been modeled well from all viewpoints.

The result is best thought of as a three-dimensional illustration and not a precise replica of any specific artifact, with care taken to not exaggerate the style nor omit essential features. By working from digital models that can morph or blend between styles, we avoid the irrelevant issues in viewing actual artifacts either directly or in photographs, as mentioned earlier.

During the shape blends, the differences between the two styles draw one’s attention. For instance, if the nose changes from realistically rounded to highly sculpted and contoured, that instantly reveals an aspect in which the two styles differ significantly. Equally important, shared aspects of the two styles remain essentially unchanged and unnoticed. Blend animation reveals differences by change, and similarity by constancy. An effort is made to keep the essential proportions of the different sculptures similar, to minimize distraction by changes in overall size and shape, so that while the blending animation proceeds the viewer may focus on the style differences. The animations are encoded as movies and sampled as still frames. This study demonstrates that blend shapes can indeed effectively demonstrate style differences and evolution, but the ­modeling process is open-ended. It is impractical to create too close a replica, and like technical illustration in 2D, there is an art to efficiently conveying the essence. Unlike 2D illustration, however, this technique adds not only a third dimension (depth) but also a fourth (time) to show differences and evolution of style.


The Sukhothai style of Buddha sculptures may be regarded as a refinement and idealization of Buddhist form that emphasizes graceful contours and a face that is androgynous and abstract, with highly sculpted features and an expression of peace and serenity.

When a visual vocabulary is used to compile descriptions of the various aspects of the Sukhothai style, in comparison to its precursor and successor styles, a matrix such as Table 1 reveals a pattern that is nearly unique to the Sukhothai and similar to only some Lan Na and Sri Lankan examples. It is possible to go beyond using words and tables, to actually see the Sukhothai style as it differs from these other styles. Conventionally, photographs or diagrams are presented to illustrate different styles, where the viewer attempts to abstract away the essence of the style by comparing alternatives. That is a difficult task, especially when the statues differ in composition and condition, the photographs show them from different viewpoints and lighting conditions, and so forth. It is important to remember that much is lost when viewing a simplified model compared to the original, but something new and valuable is also gained when that model can transform dynamically from one style into another. Without the distractions that come with viewing real artifacts, the abstract model captures the essence of the style itself. Changes in the model, as it blends, capture differences in styles. One can then return to observe the original artifacts with new appreciation.

Having one style blend into another also allows the viewer to appreciate subtle overall differences, such as the feeling that is evoked by a style. For instance, by blending from a very masculine and physically powerful face of the Pala style to the Sukhothai style, the Buddha is seen to transform into a delicate and more abstract form that has lost some of its individuality to be replaced with calm serenity and ideal form. The visual and emotional impact of the change is more apparent, it seems, when this comparison is watched as a blend animation than when it simply is presented with adjacent examples of the two. Thus, blend animation between styles can be used not only to compare style features, but also to feel the emotional impact as the sculpture changes its character in front of your eyes. This might in turn provide insights into the ideals and motivations of the artists and their cultures.

Accepted: August 20, 2012


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Vol. 2, No. 3, Thanyathip Sripana

Contents>> Vol. 2, No. 3

Tracing Hồ Chí Minh’s Sojourn in Siam

Thanyathip Sripana*

* ธัญญาทิพย์ ศรีพนา, Institute of Asian Studies, Chulalongkorn University, Phyathai Road, Pathumwan, Bangkok 10800, Thailand

e-mail: sthanyat[at]hotmail.com

Hồ Chí Minh, the Vietnamese revolutionary leader who sacrificed his life for his country’s independence, was in Siam from 1928–29 and briefly from March–April 1930. Siam was well placed to serve as an anti-colonial base for the Vietnamese fighting for independence in the west of central Vietnam, especially after the repression of the Chinese communists in Guangdong by Chiang Kai Shek in 1927. Northern Siam is connected to central Vietnam by land via Laos, while southern China is also accessible from Bangkok by sea routes.

Hồ Chí Minh arrived in Bangkok in 1928. He went to Ban Dong in Phichit and then to Udon Thani, Nong Khai, Sakon Nakhon, and Nakhon Phanom in the northeast of Siam. The paper studies when and how Hồ Chí Minh arrived in Siam; his mission there; the places he visited; and his activities during his sojourn. We also enquire how Hồ Chí Minh carried out his mission: who accompanied him in Siam; what pseudonyms he and his collaborators used; and what strategies he used to elude arrest by local authorities.

It cannot be denied that the instruction Hồ Chí Minh imparted to his compatriots during his stay contributed tremendously to the struggle for Vietnamese independence. By the end of the 1920s and the beginning of the 1930s, he had accomplished his task of reorganizing and strengthening the network, and educating the Vietnamese anti-colonial and revolutionary movement in Siam. In addition, he contributed to the founding of the communist party in the region, which was the task assigned to him by the Comintern.

Nonetheless, we should recognize that his mission in Siam was facilitated and supported by Đặng Thúc Hứa, who, prior to Hồ’s arrival, had gathered the Vietnamese into communities and set up several bases for long-term anti-colonial movements with the help of his compatriots.

Hồ Chí Minh’s presence in Siam has been commemorated by the Thai and Vietnamese through the Thai-Vietnamese Friendship Village and the memorial houses built after 2000 in Nakhon Phanom and Udon Thani in northeastern Thailand. These memorials have become a symbol of the good relationship between Thailand and Vietnam.

Keywords: Hồ Chí Minh in Siam, Hồ Chí Minh’s sojourn in Siam, Hồ Chí Minh in Nakhon Phanom, Hồ Chí Minh’s pseudonym in Siam, Đặng Thúc Hứa, Đặng Quỳnh Anh, Việt Kiều in Thailand, Hồ Chí Minh’s memorial houses in Thailand, Vietnamese anti-colonial movement in Siam

Hồ Chí Minh1) was a Vietnamese revolutionary leader who sacrificed his life for Vietnam’s independence. He left Vietnam for the first time in 1911 on a French steamer Amiral Latouche-Tréville in order to canvas support for the fight. He visited and stayed in many countries before arriving in Siam. Hồ Chí Minh was in Siam from 1928–29 and briefly in March and April 1930. Hồ Chí Minh did not just stay in Siam but also crossed the Mekong river to briefly meet the Vietnamese in Laos in order to learn about the resistance against the French and assist in the setting up of the Vietnamese Revolutionary Youth League in Laos.

As Hồ Chí Minh’s mission in Siam was confidential, there is very little information regarding his activities. However, multiple sources exist that shed light on his sojourn. These include the memoirs of his revolutionary compatriots who worked closely with him during his mission; interviews given by people whose family member worked or travelled with him or who lived in the same house in Siam; discussions with the Vietnamese scholars at the Museum of Hồ Chí Minh in Hanoi; documentary films produced by the museum; as well as discussions with elderly Vietnamese who used to live in Thailand2) and with Việt Kiều3) who are still living in Thailand.

The memoirs, considered primary sources, contain much precious informative and have been used by many writers, Vietnamese and foreigners. They include Giọt Nước trong Biển Cả (Hồi Ký Cách Mạng) [A drop in the Ocean: Hoàng Văn Hoan’s revolutionary reminiscences] by Hoàng Văn Hoan; Cuộc Vận Động Cứu Quốc Của Việt kiều ở Thái Lan [The patriotic mobilization of the overseas Vietnamese in Thailand] by Lê Mạnh Trinh, etc. These two memoirs may be slightly contradictory on the dates of some events as they were written years after the end of the 1920s, but this is easily clarified by cross-checking various documents. Some other Vietnamese books that made use of these memoirs also reproduced minor mistakes regarding the name of places in Thailand. Another notable source is Con Người và Con Đường [People and pathways] by Sơn Tùng, based on his interview of the revolutionary Đặng Quỳnh Anh, who resided and participated in the anti-colonial and revolutionary movement in Siam or Thailand from 1913–53. The book provides invaluable details about the role of the Vietnamese émigrés in the salvation of their homeland from the French, as well as Hồ Chí Minh’s activities at Ban Dong (บ้านดง), in Phichit (พิจิตร). As Hồ Chí Minh stayed in her house in Ban Dong for a while before leaving for Udon Thani (อุดรธานี), briefly called Udon (อุดรฯ), and Võ Tùng, her husband worked closely with Hồ Chí Minh, she came to know about Hồ Chí Minh’s whereabouts and activities while he was in Ban Dong and when he left Ban Dong for Udon. She did not know his true identity at that time but was very suspicious about his activities.

Hồ Chí Minh Toàn Tập, an official 12-volume set of documents of the Vietnamese Communist Party is another useful document. It compiles information from various sources, including Hồ Chí Minh’s reports submitted to the Comintern (the Communist International) and translated into Vietnamese. It includes his report dated February 18, 1930, containing information on Siam and the period when he arrived in Siam for the first time.

Books by foreign scholars have also been very informative and useful. They are, among others: Thailand and the Southeast Asian Networks of the Vietnamese Revolution (1885–1954) by Christopher E. Goscha; Ho Chi Minh: A Life by William J. Duiker; Ho Chi Minh: Du révolutionnaire à l’icône by Pierre Brocheux; Ho Chi Minh notre camarade: Souvenirs de militants Français edited by Léo Figuères; and Ho Chi Minh: The Missing Years by Sophie Quinn-Judge. However, most of these authors, apart from Goscha and Sophie Quinn-Judge, provided little detail about Hồ Chí Minh’s whereabouts and activities in Siam, with whom he resided, and his companions when moving from one place to another place.

Besides documentary research, I had the opportunity to visit the places where Hồ Chí Minh resided or where Vietnamese patriots conducted their activities such as: Ban Nong On (บ้านหนองโอน) in Udon; Ban May (บ้านใหม่) or Ban Na Chok (บ้านนาจอก) in Muang district in Nakhon Phanom (นครพนม); as well as That Phanom (ธาตุพนม) and Tha Uthen (ท่าอุเทน) districts in Nakhon Phanom. I was also able to meet and discuss with some elderly Việt Kiều. Likewise, in Vietnam, I met Sơn Tùng, who had interviewed Đặng Quỳnh Anh, and Trần Đình Lưu, a Việt Kiều Hồi Hương from Nakhon Phanom who had direct contact with the families of the revolutionaries and who had written a book entitled Việt Kiều Lào-Thái với Quê Hương [Lao-Thai overseas Vietnamese and their homeland]. He was also involved in revolutionary activities in the 1970s and 1980s. Back in Thailand, I also met and shared information with the Việt Kiều interested in the subject of Hồ Chí Minh in Siam. These meetings allowed me to crosscheck information. Nonetheless, the number of elderly people I could interview was limited, and the number diminishes with each passing year.4)

This article is an overview of Hồ Chí Minh’s sojourn in Siam. I have tried to compile scattered information from various sources and crosscheck as much as possible. There are, however, limits to the article. For now, I have focused on Hồ Chí Minh’s sojourn in Siam without considering the wider context of his activities in other countries. Secondly, I could not use information in Russian and, more importantly, Chinese, which would have shed more light on Hồ Chí Minh’s activities in Siam. I was also unable to access the Centre des Archives d’Outre-Mer (CAOM) in Aix-en-Provence, France, where valuable material, including that left by French security agents, is stored. Finally, while I have tried to draw upon previous studies on Hồ Chí Minh in Siam as much as possible, there are still a number of works I have yet to explore. It is expected that further research will make this study more complete.

In my paper, I explore the reasons for which Siam served as an anti-colonial base by the Vietnamese. Why was Hồ Chí Minh in Siam? By what means did he arrive in this country and where from? Where did he stay and what were his activities? Who worked with him and what pseudonyms did Hồ Chí Minh use during his mission in Siam?

The Migration of the Vietnamese to Siam

The migration of Vietnamese to Thailand (or Siam before 1939)5) took place over many periods: the Ayutthaya period in the mid-seventeenth century, the early Rattanakosin period during the reigns of King Rama I and II in the late eighteenth–early nineteenth centuries, the reign of King Rama IV in the mid-nineteenth century, the reign of King Rama V from the late nineteenth–early twentieth centuries, and the period during and after World War II.

Migration to Siam was motivated by various factors: religious persecution by the Nguyễn Court, French suppression, as well as hardship and suffering from poverty. During the reign of King Rama III, the Vietnamese were also forcibly moved from Cambodia as prisoners-of-war following the war between Vietnam and Siam on Cambodia in 1833–47. From the late nineteenth to mid-twentieth century, Vietnamese nationalists moved to present-day northeastern Thailand and used it as a base for their resistance to the French in Laos and Vietnam. During the Japanese Occupation at the time of World War II, famine and poverty also forced a number of Vietnamese to leave their country.

During the reign of King Rama I in the early Rattanakosin period, Siam was a refuge for Nguyễn Phúc Ánh or Nguyễn Ánh, a nephew of the last Nguyễn lord who ruled over southern Vietnam during the 1780s (Chao Phraya Thipakornwongse 1983, 29–30). Nguyễn Phúc Ánh or Nguyễn Ánh, later called Gia Long, fled from the Tây Sơn brothers to Siam with 1,000 followers in the 1780s. He was sheltered in Bangkok by King Rama I, who also provided him with troops and arms, enabling him to rebuild part of his forces to fight against the Tây Sơn. In return, he lent his forces to the Siamese army fighting against Burma in Dawei (ทวาย) and the Melayu rebellion in the Gulf of Siam (Thanyathip and Trịnh 2005, 16).

Nguyễn Phúc Ánh and his followers were allowed by Rama I to stay at Ban Ton ­Samrong (บ้านต้นสำโรง) Tambon Khok Krabuu (ตำบลคอกกระบือ) (Chao Phraya Thipakornwongse 1983, 29). Later they were moved to Samsen (สามเสน) and Bangpho (บางโพ) in Bangkok. Samsen, called Ban Yuan Samsen (บ้านญวนสามเสน), is well known as a Vietnamese village. Another area where a number of the Vietnamese used to live is Bangpho, where Wat ­Annamnikayaram (วัดอนัมนิกายาราม) is presently located.6) These two places were 3–3.5 km apart and located in Bangkok on the left side of the Chao Phraya river. While in Bangkok, he was sometimes joined by his partisans from Vietnam. He left Siam after spending no less than four years there. He continued to receive help from Rama I who sent him ammunition and ships (ibid., 98–99, 106–108). With the help of the French, the Portuguese, Chinese merchants, and King Rama I, Nguyễn Phúc Ánh defeated the Tây Sơn in present-day southern Vietnam in 1802, unified the country, and proclaimed himself Emperor Gia Long. This is one of the instances when Siam served as a refuge and base of resistance by Vietnamese exiles who had fled the country because of internal politics.

Phan Đình Phùng and Phan Bội Châu were part of the first generation of Vietnamese anti-colonialists from the turn of the twentieth century. They spent time in Siam to canvas support for their anti-colonial movement. Phan Đình Phùng (1847–96) was the leader of the patriotic and anti-colonial Cần Vương movement in the 1880s and 1890s. For him, the Siamese were useful as a supplier of arms (Lê Mạnh Trinh 1961, 9). Since it was also opposed to French expansion from central Vietnam to northeastern Siam, the Siamese army provided arms to Cần Vương in the late 1880s (Goscha 1999, 25). Phan Bội Châu was a patriotic who founded the Đông Du movement in 1905. He admired Japan’s growing military and economic potential and brought some Vietnamese students with him to Japan. But in 1909, they were forced to leave as Japan’s good relationship with the French took precedence over Châu’s call for Asian unity against Western colonization. With the help of a prince and officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Siam, Phan Bội Châu, who visited Siam at least three times between 1908 and 1911, was allowed to transfer his students, who had been deported from Japan, to Siam. These students were allowed to reside at and use the land at Ban Tham (บ้านถ้ำ) in Paknampho (ปากน้ำโพ),7) taken care of by Đặng Thúc Hứa. At the same time, Phan Bội Châu also asked the Siamese government to allow him to transfer weapons from Hong Kong to Vietnam by way of Siam (ibid., 31). His request was not granted as the Siamese government feared disrupting the Franco-Siamese relationship.

The loss of territories on the left and right sides of the Mekong river as a result of the French-Siamese treaties signed in 1893 and 1904, coupled with the fact that the Siamese court was forced to renounce its claims on Cambodian territory following the treaties signed in 1907, led to increasing Siamese hostility, distrust and fear vis-à-vis the French. This forged a unity between the Siamese court and the Vietnamese; the Siamese hoped that the Viet­namese anti-colonialists would be a force against French colonization. The Siam authorities resisted pressure from the French authorities to arrest and hand over the Vietnamese to the French, but they were sometimes obliged to take action and close the Vietnamese communities, for example, Ban Tham in 1914 and Ban Dong in 1917, or when the revolutionary bases in Ban Dong were destroyed in 1930.

After the meeting in Hong Kong that saw the Vietnamese communist groups unify to form one party at the end of 1929 and the start of 1930, and after the Xô Việt Nghệ Tĩnh revolts in Vietnam from April 1930 to the summer of 1931, the Siamese authorities, pressurized by the French, became stricter with the Vietnamese than during Hồ Chí Minh’s stay. Some Vietnamese were arrested in Bangkok after Hồ’s voyage to Hong Kong, for example, Võ Tùng and Đặng Thái Thuyến on June 4, 1930 (ibid., 11). Siam served once again as a refuge and as a base for Vietnamese resistance against the French. Đặng Thúc Hứa, one of the Vietnamese exiles who joined Phan Bội Châu in Japan in 1908, was in Siam with the latter in 1909 and later on set up bases in this land.

Siam as a Vietnamese Anti-colonial Base

Geographically, Siam was well placed to serve as a base for anti-colonial operations in the west of central Vietnam. Siam can be connected to Vietnam by land and sea routes. Most of the Vietnamese arrived in Siam by land via Laos then crossed the Mekong river to northeastern Siam, present-day Isan (อีสาน). The distance is approximately 310 km from Vinh in Nghệ An province of Vietnam to Nakhon Phanom in northeastern Siam if travelers took the road currently called Road No. 8. But from the Vietnam-Laos border in Hà Tĩnh province to Tha Khek town (เมืองท่าแขก) in Khammuon province (แขวงคำม่วน) by Road No. 12, and then Nakhon Phanom, the distance is only approximately 145 km.

According to Đặng Quỳnh Anh in Con Người và Con Đường8) (Sơn Tùng 1993, 54), she took two months to travel by foot from Kim Liên village, Thanh Chương district in Nghệ An province to Ban Pak Hinboun in Khammuon province of Laos. Ban Pak Hinboun is located 3 km from the Mekong bank and opposite to Tha Uthen district in Nakhon Phanom. However, those in good physical condition may take less than two months. The route passes through jungle full of wild animals and diseases. It was believed that Đặng Quỳnh Anh and most of the Vietnamese leaving from Nghệ An and Hà Tĩnh would have travelled on the Road No. 8, or a part of the road, one that passed through the high mountain range called Trường Sơn, separating Vietnam and Laos. This mountain range and the Động Trìm and Động Trẹo caves were mentioned in her interview in Con Người và Con Đường (ibid., 10). Road No. 12 is another route connecting Hà Tĩnh to Tha Khek and Nakhon Phanom. Central Vietnam, starting from Quảng Trị, is also connected to northeastern Siam by Road No. 9, which was built by the French in the beginning of 1920s.9)


Map 1 Road No.s 8, 9 and 12 Presently Connecting Northeastern Thailand and Vietnam
Source: Former Thai Ambassador to Hanoi, Krit Kraichitti.

The Vietnamese scattered in Siam represented a good source of recruitment for the anti-colonial movement. They had been driven out by poverty and exploitation, and hated the French. This is one of the reasons why Đặng Thúc Hứa focused on setting up bases in Siam.10) Using Siamese territory as an anti-colonial base was safer than using Laos and Vietnam. Although the Siamese government was sometimes under French pressure to stop the Vietnamese activities, Siam was not a French colony or protectorate. Consequently, French intelligence agents could not operate freely in Siam. Moreover, Siam had sympathy for the Vietnamese fighting French colonization as it was also encountering the same thing at that time. Siamese authorities did not pay much attention to what the Vietnamese were doing. In the beginning of the 1910s, a Siamese prince even arranged for Phan Bội Châu and his followers to stay in a village in Ban Tham in Paknampho, Nakhon Sawan (Goscha 1999, 33).11) Paknampho, which is approximately 240 km away from Bangkok, was the first community set up by Đặng Thúc Hứa. It remains a very fertile area even today. Siam served as the liaison point between China, Hong Kong and Vietnam.

Hồ Chí Minh’s Choice of Siam

When the French Communist Party did not step in to help save his country from French colonization, Hồ Chí Minh realized that the Vietnamese should rely on themselves and that he should conduct his mission in Asia, not in Europe or the Soviet Union. He thus left for Guangdong in 1924. However, three years later, Chiang Kai Shek started cracking down on the Chinese communists. This was a severe setback for the Vietnam Revolutionary Youth League (Việt Nam Thanh Niên Cách Mạng Đồng Chí Hội), which had been established in 1925. It became difficult for them to operate and their headquarters had to be moved from Guangdong to Hong Kong (Figuères 1970, 43). Consequently, there was a need to set up a new base. When it became impossible to operate in Guangdong, Hồ Chí Minh or Lý Thụy12) had two choices: remain in China and risk being arrested, or leave for Siam to restore contact with the Vietnamese movement there, as well as to strengthen the movement in Indochina, especially Laos. He decided on Siam.

Hồ Chí Minh was advised by Jacques Doriot, a member of the French Communist Party, to return to Europe before proceeding to Siam. He agreed and proposed to the Comintern (the Communist International) that he should go to Siam where he would be able to work closely with the Overseas Chinese Communists in Bangkok. Moreover, he would be able to mobilize the Vietnamese and strengthen the anti-colonial movement in Siam, especially the training of the young members.

He thus left Guangdong for Hong Kong by train on May 5, 1927 (Duiker 2000, 145), then on to Shanghai and Vladivostok, which was the headquarters for the Soviet revolutionary operation in the Far East. From Vladivostok, he arrived in Moscow in early June 1927 (Brocheux 2003, 74–75; Duiker 2000, 88), where he sent a travel request to the Far Eastern Bureau (Duiker 2000, 88), proposing to go to Siam rather than return to Shanghai, as was suggested by the Comintern agent Grigory Voitinsky. The Comintern wanted Hồ Chí Minh to work in southern China because he had a very good relationship with the Chinese Communist Party.

In November 1927, Hồ Chí Minh received word from the Comintern. Instead of Siam, he was instructed to work with the French Communist Party in Paris. He thus left for Paris, stopping briefly in Berlin in early December 1927 to help a German friend set up a branch of the new Anti-Imperialist League. The French tried to locate him when he arrived in Paris so he left for Brussels to attend a meeting of the executive council of the Anti-Imperialist League, where he met the Indian nationalist Motilal Nehru, the Indonesian nationalist Sukarno, and Song Qingling, Sun Yat Sen’s widow (ibid., 48–49). In mid-December, he returned briefly to France, then left for Berlin by train. He stayed in Berlin for several months.

He realized that although the French Communist Party paid attention to colonial problems, there was no concrete action. After travelling without purpose from country to country and waiting impatiently for approval for his journey to Siam, he wrote to the Far Eastern Bureau again from Berlin in April 1928 (ibid., 149–150). Within the same month, he finally received a reply from Moscow, giving him permission and funds to travel to Indochina, and three months’ rent for a room (ibid., 150). The Comintern’s decision was conveyed by V. P. Kolarov, a Bulgarian economist and communist leader and member of the Comintern presidium until its dissolution in 1943 (Brocheux 2003, 77). The Comintern gave permission to Hồ Chí Minh to set up a revolutionary movement in Siam (Goscha 1999, 76). His mission was to strengthen the revolutionary movement in Indochina against French colonization, using Siam as a base.

By the end of the 1920s, a number of the Vietnamese in Siam were already mobilized and trained, thanks to Đặng Thúc Hứa and his compatriots who had arrived in Siam earlier. Siam had already become an anti-colonial base in the west of Vietnam before Hồ Chí Minh arrived in 1928. After the repression by Chiang Kai Shek in 1927, more Vietnamese moved to Siam from southern China. Furthermore, the Xô Viết Nghệ Tĩnh movement, which faced difficulties in 1930–31, pushed more Vietnamese to northeastern Siam.

Hồ Chí Minh’s Voyage to Siam

In early June 1928, Hồ Chí Minh left Berlin and travelled by train from Switzerland to Italy, passing through Milan and Rome. He arrived in Naples where he embarked on a Japanese ship for Siam at the end of June (Duiker 2000, 150; Brocheux 2003, 77–78; Bảo Tàng Hồ Chí Minh 2011, 112). Goscha mentioned that according to the French Sûreté report written in January 1931, Hồ Chí Minh left Russia before the Comintern Congress of July 1928 and travelled clandestinely to Siam by way of Berlin. The ship passed by the Suez canal, Port Saïd, the Red Sea, Colombo (Sri Lanka), Singapore, and Bangkok (Sukpreeda 2006, 54).

When he arrived in Singapore, he was received by the Nanyang Organization. He had to embark on a smaller ship named Gola to continue his journey to Siam because of the sand bar at the mouth of Chao Praya river (ibid., 54). Sukpreeda mentioned that Hồ Chí Minh disembarked at BI port near Bangkok13) as an overseas Chinese trader under the name “Mr. Lai” (ibid., 54–55) or Nguyễn Lai (Trần Dương 2009, 42; Bảo Tàng Hồ Chí Minh 2011, 39). He spoke fluent Cantonese.

Hồ Chí Minh’s Activities in Siam

Hồ Chí Minh went twice to Siam: first in mid-1928 and subsequently at the beginning of 1930. Different documents and books give different dates for his first arrival in Siam, with many Western works following Hoàng Văn Hoan’s (1988) and Lê Mạnh Trinh’s (1975) memoirs.

Lê Mạnh Trinh did not specify when Hồ Chí Minh arrived in Siam but mentioned that he arrived in Ban Dong, Phichit in the autumn of 1928 (Lê Mạnh Trinh 1975, 31). Hoàng Văn Hoan,14) in his memoir entitled A Drop in the Ocean: Hoang Van Hoan’s Revolutionary Reminiscences, stated that Hồ Chí Minh first arrived in Siam in August 1928 and stayed between August 1928 and September 1929, then left for Hong Kong (Hoàng Văn Hoan 1988, 47, 51–52). He came back again and stayed briefly from March–April 1930.


Map 2 Map Showing the Locations of Districts and Provinces
Source: http://www.google.com, accessed on December 5, 2012.
Note: Boundary representation is not necessarily authoritative. Names in Vietnam are shown without diacritical marks.

Goscha (1999, 75–76, 102, footnote 68), however, asserts that Hồ Chí Minh arrived in Siam sometime in mid-1928, left Siam at the end of 1929,15) and returned to Siam again in March 1930. According to William Duiker (2000, 150), he arrived in Siam in July 1928, left at the end of 1929, and came back in April 1930. He stayed briefly in Bangkok and Udon Thani, before leaving the country. Sophie Quinn-Judge (2002, 126) claims that Hồ Chí Minh spent time in Siam from July 1928–November 1929.

According to Hồ Chí Minh Toàn Tập (2000, Vol. 3, 13) and Trần Dương, Hồ Chí Minh arrived in Siam in July 1928 and stayed until November 1929, before leaving for China. This information is based on his report to the Comintern written on February 18, 1930. According to Trần Dương (2009, 29), he came back to Siam in March 1930 and left Siam at the end of March or the beginning of April 1930.

In Siam, after disembarking at a port near Bangkok and staying there briefly, he went to Ban Dong in the district of Phichit and then to Udon Thani. From Udon Thani, he continued to Sakon Nakhon (สกลนคร), Nakhon Phanom, as well as Nong Khai (หนองคาย). He left Siam for China and stayed in Hong Kong and Shanghai during the winter of 1929–30 (Figuères 1970, 43). He then returned to Siam in March and April 1930, staying briefly in Bangkok and Udon Thani, before leaving Siam for good.

According to Sukpreeda, during his first trip to Siam, Hồ Chí Minh visited an Annamese temple called Wat Lokanukhlor (วัดโลกานุเคราะห์) in Thai, or Chùa Từ Tế in Vietnamese. This temple is located within the Chinese community on Rajawong Road (ราชวงศ์) in Bangkok (Sukpreeda 2006, 55). Sukpreeda notes that there were many overseas Chinese residents as well as Nanyang Chinese in this area. Less than 100 m from the temple was a crossroad where Sun Yat Sen had given a speech to the overseas Chinese two or three years before October 1911 (ibid.). Wat Lokanukhlor or Chùa Từ Tế was a meeting-point for the Vietnamese cadres at that time. Hồ Chí Minh went to this temple to see the abbot Sư Cụ Ba or Bình Luơng Ba, who was a Vietnamese patriot with links to the Vietnamese in Siam. He was part of the Mouvement des Lettres patriotes that had sought refuge in Siam and he had also founded the temple. Later when he was seriously sick in 1964, Ho Chi Minh sent a plane to repatriate him to Hanoi to be hospitalized in Bệnh viện Hữu Nghị Việt-Xô (Việt-Xô Friendship Hospital) (Trần Dương 2009, 115). Hồ Chí Minh also visited him at the hospital. He stayed briefly in the temple before leaving for Ban Dong in Phichit.

From Bangkok to Ban Dong

According to Duiker (2000, 151), Hồ Chí Minh arrived in Ban Dong in August 1928; Lê Mạnh Trinh in Cuộc Vận Động Cứu Quốc Của Việt kiều ở Thái Lan (1961, 116) dates his arrival to the autumn of 1928.16)

Ban Dong is located near Nan river (แม่น้ำน่าน), which is a tributary of Chao Phraya river (แม่น้ำเจ้าพระยา). Ban Dong was part of Phichit district in Nakhon Sawan province, but today Phichit district has become a province on its own and Ban Dong is now called Ban Noeun Sa Mo (บ้านเนินสมอ), under Pa Ma Khab (ป่ามะคาบ) district in Phichit province.17) Phichit is approximately 340 km from Bangkok and is accessible by train and boat.

After Ban Tham in Paknampho, site of the first Vietnamese community and center of the movement set up by Đặng Thúc Hứa, was closed in 1914 by local authorities under French pressure, the Vietnamese moved to Ban Dong, 100 km away. The Vietnamese had been allowed by a Siamese prince, who sympathized with the Vietnamese resistance against the French, to settle down and start plantations in Ban Tham in 1910, when Phan Bội Châu was in Bangkok (Goscha 1999, 33).

According to Ngô Vĩnh Bao in Cuộc Hành Trình Của Bác Hồ Trên Đất Thái Lan, Hồ Chí Minh went to Phichit by train and stayed in a hotel (Trần Dương 2009, 42). The next day he went to a shop named Quyên Truyền Thịnh, owned by an overseas Chinese sympathetic to the Việt Kiều’s cause. This shop was in fact a clandestine contact point between Ban Dong, Guangzhou, and Hong Kong, ideal to hide from the eyes of the Siamese authorities and French spies. At the shop, Hồ Chí Minh gave a sheet of paper to the shop’s owner containing a message for Võ Tùng (Lữ Thế Hành or Lưu Khải Hồng) (ibid.).18) According to Trần Dương, the message was received by Võ Tùng’s compatriot named Hy. As Võ Tùng was busy in the rice field, Hy came to pick Hồ Chí Minh by boat, but he refused to go with him. He wanted to see Võ Tùng in person. Hy had to return and Võ Tùng came personally to receive Hồ Chí Minh (ibid., 43). This shows that Hồ Chí Minh was very cautious. In Con Người và Con Đường, Đặng Quỳnh Anh mentioned that one night Võ Tùng returned home with a man, later identified as Nguyễn Ái Quốc or Hồ Chí Minh (Sơn Tùng 1993, 158). This confirms that Hồ Chí Minh arrived in Ban Dong with Võ Tùng. According to Trần Đình Lưu (2004, 60–61), Võ Tùng introduced his guest as a close friend from Guangzhou and a medicine trader named Thầu Chín19) (ibid., 61) and that he was here to stay for a while. In Ban Dong, Hồ Chí Minh stayed in Võ Tùng and Đặng Quỳnh Anh’s house.

According to Lê Mạnh Trinh (1961, 32) and Trần Đình Lưu (2004, 61–62), Hồ Chí Minh stayed in Phichit for around 10 days; according to Duiker (2000, 151), he stayed for two weeks before leaving for Udon Thani in northeastern Siam. Đặng Quỳnh Anh in her interview by Sơn Tùng in Con Người và Con Đường states that during his stay in Ban Dong, he also made trips to nearby areas with his compatriots such as Đặng Thúc Hứa, Võ Tùng, Đặng Thái Thuyến, and Ngọc Ân (Trần Đình Lưu 2004, 64). All of them arrived in Ban Dong in the 1910s, that is, before Hồ Chí Minh.

Hồ Chí Minh used his time in Ban Dong to educate the Việt Kiều. He informed them about the political situation in Vietnam and around the world, and taught them how to hold discussions, elevating the political level and revolutionary understanding of the Vietnamese people in Ban Dong. He usually exchanged views with Đặng Thúc Hứa, Võ Tùng, Đặng Thái Thuyến, and other colleagues. In the daytime he engaged in physical work in the fields with his compatriots and cleaned the house; at night he gathered the people to instruct them about politics. His lectures were simple and brief but meaningful and persuasive. They usually consisted of three parts. The first part was about the situation in Vietnam and in the world, as well as the cooperation of Vietnamese in other places. The second part concerned revolutionary theory and the last part was dedicated to answering questions or explaining unclear points. His teaching on politics always combined Marxist-Leninist theory with the main strategies of the Vietnamese revolution, explaining the way to gain independence and freedom.

Words such as “comrade,” “imperialism,” “socialism,” “Marxism,” “Lenin,” and ­“Stalin” were heard for the first time among the Vietnamese in Siam during the meeting in Ban Dong (ibid., 63). He explained that “comrades” or “đồng chí” in Vietnamese meant people sharing the same will and fighting for the same purpose (ibid., 62). While in Ban Dong, he moved from one community to another and spent time meeting with the Vietnamese and teaching them to behave well, to follow Thai law, to preserve Vietnamese culture, to help each other, to be honest, and to take good care of their children.

Vietnamese Revolutionary Organizations in Siam in the Mid-1920s

Even prior to Hồ Chí Minh’s arrival in Siam, Vietnamese revolutionary organizations had already been established in the country, starting with Ban Dong (Phichit).

As mentioned earlier, when Phan Bội Châu arrived in Siam for the third time in 1910, the Siamese government made arrangements for him and his student to reside in Ban Tham, Paknampho and use the land for plantations. Đặng Thúc Hứa was in charge of this place. Later, Đặng Quỳnh Anh was sent to Ban Tham to take responsibility of this Ban and the Vietnamese children. In 1914, Ban Tham was closed due to the pressure the French exerted on the Siamese government. Consequently, Đặng Thúc Hứa and Đặng Quỳnh Anh had to move to Ban Dong, Phichit, which was also closed in 1917. Đặng Thúc Hứa had to sell the farm and he left for southern China with his student (Goscha 1999, 64), while Đặng Quỳnh Anh left for Lampang (ลำปาง) (Sơn Tùng 1993, 79).

Đặng Thúc Hứa returned to Ban Dong in 1919 and rebuilt it with the help of Đặng Quỳnh Anh. We can see that the setting up of communities turned bases during the 1910s was not very stable. In the beginning of the 1920s, Đặng Thúc Hứa had increasingly gathered the Vietnamese, particularly those along the Mekong river, which was used as a contact point for the Vietnamese base in central Vietnam and to receive the Vietnamese coming from Nghệ Tĩnh. Ban Dong became the center of the Vietnamese resistance in Siam and the main political training center for the revolutionary youth (ibid., 81, 89–91; Goscha 1999, 45–46).

In 1926 a branch of the Vietnamese Revolutionary Youth League (Việt Nam Thanh Niên Cách Mạng Đồng Chí Hội) was established (Lê Mạnh Trinh 1961, 3, 33) by Hồ Tùng Mậu who arrived in Siam in 1925.20) It came under the direction of the Vietnamese Revolutionary Youth League in Guangzhou (later moved to Hong Kong) that was set up in 1925. Võ Tùng was nominated Secretary (Trần Đình Lưu 2004, 49–50). In 1927, the second branch of the Vietnamese Revolutionary Youth League (the Youth League) was established in Udon Thani (Lê Mạnh Trinh 1961, 33).

The main task of the Youth League was to teach the Việt Kiều and awaken their consciousness of nationalism; establish communications between Vietnam and the Youth League in Guangzhou; and receive and train patriots from Vietnam. Two organizations were set up in 1926: Cooperatives (Hội Hợp Tác) and the Việt Kiều Friendship Organization (Hội Việt Kiều Thân Ái) (Hoàng Văn Hoan 1988, 36; Lê Mạnh Trinh 1961, 24–26). The first Cooperatives and the Việt Kiều Friendship Organization appeared in Ban Dong in 1926, followed by Udon, Sakon Nakhon, and Nakhon Phanom in 1927 and 1928.

The Cooperatives was an organization of patriotic youth who were involved in the revolutionary movement. This included both Việt Kiều in Siam and Vietnamese from Vietnam (Trần Đình Lưu 2004, 49; Duiker 2000, 151). The youth from Vietnam were mostly intellectuals from the lower middle class or students. The Cooperatives trained reserve forces for the Youth League and gave them an understanding of politics and patriotism. It selected the best members to the Youth League and sent them to Guangzhou or back to Vietnam to work clandestinely.

The youth lived in collectives. Some worked on the farm in groups of five or six, while other specialized in sawing, bricklaying, carpentry, and trade. They made their own work plan and shared the tasks. They put aside part of the harvest for the community’s consumption and sold the rest of it. The income was spent on living expenses for each group and the rest went into common funds for the Cooperatives, which would be used for sending people to Vietnam or China, building schools, subsidizing student expenses, and paying the printing costs of propaganda and publication. The Cooperatives also recruited Việt Kiều who resided permanently in Siam. These Việt Kiều were independently engaged in small businesses and were in a good financial situation, so they could contribute funds in accordance to their ­ability. They also helped exiled patriots or orphans, and leveraged their status to deal with the local authorities. The Cooperatives from the early 1920s were well organized and well managed, especially in terms of their budget. This gave the Vietnamese confidence in their cause. With the hard work of members, after five or six years, the Cooperatives had gathered enough funds to carry out revolutionary missions.

The Việt Kiều Friendship Organization was a broad organization that could be found almost everywhere the Việt Kiều resided, particularly in the northeastern provinces of Siam. There were two kinds of members: full members and associate members. Full members registered with the organization, paid fees, and attended meetings regularly. Associate members were scattered in various remote areas and could not meet regularly. They provided moral support and material assistance to the organization to the best of their abilities. Though some of the Việt Kiều had lived in Siam for a long time and had obtained Thai nationality, they were still attached to Vietnam. Organizations affiliated with the Việt Kiều Friendship Organization were the Women’s Group and the Youth and Children Group (Lê Mạnh Trinh 1961, 26).

From Ban Dong (Phichit) to Udon Thani

According to Duiker (2000, 151), Hồ Chí Minh left Ban Dong for Udon Thani in September 1928. Hoàng Văn Hoan21) stated that Hồ Chí Minh took 15 days to travel by foot from Ban Dong to Udon, arriving in August 1928 (Goscha 1999, 47). According to Lê Mạnh Trinh, his trip took 40 days, but for Đặng Quỳnh Anh, it was only slightly more than 10 days (Sơn Tùng 1993, 153). He was accompanied by Đặng Thái Thuyến, Võ Tùng, Ngọc Ân, and probably also Đặng Thúc Hứa. The distance between Ban Dong and Udon is approximately 500 km. Forty days seems too long; if the trip really took so long, Hồ Chí Minh and his colleagues might have stopped in a few places along the way to observe the condition of the Vietnamese and the topography along the route.

Udon Thani is a big town and the center of northeastern Siam. It is easily accessible from Khon Kaen (ขอนแก่น), Nong Khai, Sakon Nakhon, Nakhon Phanom, and Mukdahan (มุกดาหาร). Udon Thani was packed with Việt Kiều. The number of Việt Kiều there was bigger than in Phichit because Udon was located not far from the Mekong and was one of the receiving points of the Vietnamese from central Vietnam. As such, Hồ Chí Minh stayed for quite a while in order to meet, educate, and encourage the Việt Kiều to participate in anti-colonial and revolutionary activities.

Even before Hồ Chí Minh’s arrival in Udon, Đặng Thúc Hứa, Võ Tùng, and other cadres had already started in 1924 to establish a new base in Ban Nong Bua (บ้านหนองบัว), 3 km from the center of Udon. This base served as a connecting point between Phichit and Nakhon Phanom because the base in Phichit was too far from the base in Nakhon Phanom, which served as the reception base of the Vietnamese from central Vietnam.

A branch of the Youth League in Udon was set up in 1927, as well as the Cooperatives and the Việt Kiều Friendship Organization. At the first meeting of the Youth League in Udon, Hồ Chí Minh gave a report of the global situation and the struggle of the socialist revolution in general and in Vietnam in particular. He suggested an expansion of the organ­ization, a reorganization of the bases, and the building of a close and harmonious relationship with the Thai people, giving due respect to Thai customs, traditions, and laws (Lê Mạnh Trinh 1961, 34). As for the Cooperatives, initially only the Vietnamese who had come to Siam from Vietnam were accepted as members, but Hồ Chí Minh suggested opening it up to any Việt Kiều who volunteered (ibid.).

While in Ban Nong Bua, Hồ Chí Minh spent much time translating books, for example, Historical Materialism (translated to History of Human Evolution) and ABC of Communism by Bhukarin and Preobrazhensky, to be used for the mobilization and training of young cadres of the League (Brocheux 2003, 80; 2007, 46). He worked with Hoàng Văn Hoan on the translations, with him reading, particularly the texts in Chinese, and translating, and Hoàng Văn Hoan transcribing. Hồ Chí Minh also conducted political classes for the cadres of the Youth League, reorganized the activities and lifestyles of members, raised their consciousness of patriotism, and encouraged them to work in the farms with the Việt Kiều. He encouraged the Việt Kiều to learn Thai and to send their children to schools to learn Thai and Vietnamese, urging them to ask permission from the local authorities to open schools for children. When permission had been granted, he also took part in the building of the school.

Initially, most of the Việt Kiều considered Thailand as a temporary homeland. They were eager to return to Vietnam to join the resistance movement and waited for the declaration of independence to return. As such, they did not focus on life in Siam. They did not learn Thai and did not allow their children to do so either (Trần Đình Lưu 2004, 86). But Hồ Chí Minh realized that the colonial resistance in Siam would be a long-running matter and that it was necessary for the Việt Kiều to learn the Siamese language and familiarize themselves with the people, culture, and authorities. In this way, the Việt Kiều would gain the friendship and sympathy of the Siamese people, and local authorities would not object toViệt Kiều activities and movements.

After Đặng Thúc Hứa received permission from the Siamese local authorities to use land to build a farm and plant rice in Ban Nong Bua, the Vietnamese moved in rapidly. The number of Vietnamese families in the Ban Nong Bua community increased from 40 in 1925 to 100 in 1929, and continued to grow (Goscha 1999, 48). After Ban Nong Bua, Đặng Thúc Hứa and his colleagues expanded their activities by setting up another community and base at Ban Nong On (บ้านหนองโอน), 13 km from the center of Udon where currently stands Hồ Chí Minh’s house.

Beside these bases, Đặng Thúc Hứa, Võ Tùng, and their comrades also went to other provinces to reach out to more Việt Kiều, such as Sakon Nakhon, Nong Khai, Nakhon ­Phanom (in Tha Uthen and That Phanom districts), and Ubon Rachathani (Trần Đình Lưu 2004, 46). At Ban Nong Bua and Ban Nong On in Udon, Hồ Chí Minh drew up a clear plan of activities for the community, such as farming in the day and attending political classes and listening to the news at night. These two villages became populous and strong revolutionary bases receiving young people from Vietnam who were first received in Ban May in Nakhon Phanom. After a short stay in Ban May, if they proved to be reliable patriots, they would be sent for preliminary instruction and language training in Ban Nong Bua and Ban Nong On. If they then showed promise, they would be transferred from Udon to Ban Dong for advanced studies on politics. From there some of them would be sent to China on missions (Goscha 1999, 48). The bases in Udon thus became an important midpoint base connecting Ban Dong in Phichit and Nakhon Phanom.

From Udon, Hồ Chí Minh also made some visits to Nong Khai.22) He stayed near a temple called Wat Srichomcheun (วัดศรีชมชื่น). According to Nguyễn Tài, he accompanied Hồ Chí Minh to Nong Khai in November 1928 in order to meet with Mau and Chu coming from Vientiane, who came to report to Hồ Chí Minh about the situation in Laos and the activities of the Vietnamese there. According to Nguyễn Tài, the contact point in Nong Khai was a tailor’s shop owned by Lục (Trần Dương 2009, 106). Hồ Chí Minh stayed in Nong Khai for six days in November 1928 (ibid.). From Udon, Hồ Chí Minh continued on his journey to Sakon Nakhon and Nakhon Phanom.

From Udon Thani to Sakon Nakhon and Nakhon Phanom

Sakon Nakhon and Nakhon Phanom, in particular, are two other provinces with a large number of Việt Kiều. To reach Nakhon Phanom from Udon, it was necessary to pass by the Sawang Daendin (สว่างแดนดิน) and Muong districts of Sakon Nakhon. Nakhon Phanom and central Vietnam are connected to Laos, which is why Nakhon Phanom was strategically well placed as the receiving point of patriots and revolutionaries from Vietnam. Nakhon Phanom served as the main liaison point between the cadres in Vietnam and the Vietnamese Revolution Youth League in Ban Dong, who were in contact with the Vietnamese Revolution Youth League in Guangzhou via Bangkok.

From Udon, Hồ Chí Minh, accompanied by Nguyễn Tài, went to Sawang Daendin district and then to Muang district of Sakon Nakhon where he stayed in Đặng Văn Cáp’s traditional medicine shop. In Sakon Nakhon, the Việt Kiều Friendship Organization, the Cooperatives, and classes for Việt Kiều children were already in place (Trần Đình Lưu 2004, 69). As in Udon, he organized political classes, updated the teaching of theories of Marxist-Leninist theory and nationalism, and taught new patriotic poems and songs. From Sakon Nakhon, he proceeded to Nakhon Phanom with its three strong revolutionary bases: Ban May (บ้านใหม่), presently called Ban Na Chok; Ban Ton Phung (บ้านต้นผึ้ง); and Ban Wat Pa (บ้านวัดป่า). It was in Ban May that he stayed the longest.

In Ban May, 5 km from the Mekong, hundreds of cadres had already been trained (ibid., 70). Hồ Chí Minh’s purpose in going to Nakhon Phanom was not only to instruct the movement or organize political classes for the cadres; he also wanted to establish a liaison point between central Vietnam and Laos so as to investigate revolutionary potential in Laos and set up a branch of the Vietnamese Youth League in Laos, to make the transition to communism (Goscha 1999, 79). For this purpose, according to Hoàng Văn Hoan (1988, 51), Hồ Chí Minh took a boat from Nakhon Phanom with Nguyễn Tài, crossing the Mekong to inspect the Youth League’s activities among the Việt Kiều in Laos.

I had the opportunity to cross the Mekong from Nakhon Phanom to Ban Xieng Vang (บ้านเซียงวาง or บ้านเซียงหวาง) in Khammuon province in Laos,23) to meet an old revolutionary Việt Kiều whose family lived there when Hồ Chí Minh was in the village. I was aware that Hồ Chí Minh had met up with some Vietnamese to discuss their revolutionary activities there. It is believed that he did not stay there for long because there was a high risk of being followed and arrested by the French who were everywhere in Laos. His visit, though short, deserves more attention.

Ban Xieng Vang is now located in Nong Bok district (บ้านหนองบก), 27 km from Tha Khek town in Khammuon province in Laos and across from Nakhon Phanom province. At present, it takes 30–40 minutes to drive from Tha Khek town to Ban Xieng Vang. During the anti-French and anti-American periods, Vietnamese revolutionaries from Vietnam would pass through Ban Xieng Vang before crossing the Mekong to Nakhon Phanom. A number of Việt Kiều fleeing from the French in Vietnam, from Nghệ Tĩnh in particular, resided there. According to Đặng Văn Hồng,24) there were 5,000 Vietnamese in Ban Xieng Vang in the anti-French period. In 1946, the French learned that Ban Xieng Vang was a strategic point for the Vietnamese resistance operation.

Đặng Văn Hồng was informed by Ông Khu, a Vietnamese in Ban Xieng Vang, that Hồ Chí Minh was accompanied by two persons to Ban Xieng Vang in 1928, but returned to Siam with only one person, probably Nguyễn Tài. I believe that it was Ông Khu who remained in Ban Xieng Vang. Đặng Văn Hồng did not have any idea how many days Hồ Chí Minh stayed in Ban Xieng Vang but was told that Hồ Chí Minh stayed at the residence of Đặng Văn Yến, who had relatives in Ban Na Chok. Some Việt Kiều in Nakhon Phanom speculated that Hồ Chí Minh might have crossed the Mekong from Ban Nard (บ้านหนาด) in Nakhon Phanom, where a number of Vietnamese resided, to Ban Tha (บ้านท่า) in Laos, and continued approximately 2 km to Ban Xieng Vang.

I did not find any memoirs mentioning Hồ Chí Minh’s stay in Ban Xieng Vang. At present, it is recognized by the Vietnamese Museum of Hồ Chí Minh in Hanoi as a place visited by Hồ Chí Minh. Vietnam and Laos have jointly built Hồ Chí Minh’s memorial site consisting of the museum and his altar, built on land donated by the Việt Kiều in Laos and Thailand. This memorial site has been officially inaugurated in December 2012. I had opportunity to visit the site for the second time on September 11, 2013.

During the journey from Udon to Nakhon Phanom and during his stay in Ban May, Hồ Chí Minh was believed to have been accompanied by Hoàng Văn Hoan and sometimes by Nguyễn Tài (Hoàng Văn Hoan 1988, 59; Goscha 1999, 79). It is believed that no-one in Ban May knew his identity, apart from Ngoéc Đại25) (Trần Đình Lưu 2004, 76). He was known instead as Thầu Chín, a member of the Youth League. When he arrived in Ban May, the Cooperatives house was being built. He worked with the Vietnamese and stayed in the house for a time. As he did in Udon and elsewhere, during the day he joined the Cooperatives’ activities in farming, gardening, and fishing (ibid., 75), and organized political classes for cadres at night. He also taught the cadres about underground work and the tricks of French detectives in Indochina, and worked for the education of children and the mobilization of women.

While he was in Nakhon Phanom, other than in Ban May, Hồ Chí Minh stayed with the family of Nguyễn Bằng Cát or Hoe Lợi, an active member of the Youth League in Nakhon Phanom. The family did not know his true identity; they only knew that he was an active member of the League. In order not to be detected by authorities during his stay, he arranged to work in Nguyễn Bằng Cát’s traditional medicine shop as an apprentice with the name Tín or Chú lang Tín (ibid.).

According to Ngô Vĩnh Bao in Cuộc Hành Trình Của Bác Hồ Trên Đất Thái Lan, apart from Muang district of Nakhon Phanom, Hồ Chí Minh also visited Tha Uthen and That Phanom districts, and stayed with six or seven Việt Kiều families in Na-ke (นาแก) district, 27 km from Muang (Trần Dương 2009, 91). He was accompanied by Nguyễn Tài (ibid., 94).

He operated in Siam until November 1929 according to Hồ Chí Minh Toàn Tập (2000, Vol. 3, 11). Goscha (1999, 77) mentioned that he left Siam for Hong Kong in late November or early December 1929. In Ho Chi Minh: Du révolutionnaire à l’icône (2003, 81), Brocheux states that Hồ Chí Minh arrived in Hong Kong on December 23, 1929 under the name of Song Man Cho to lay the foundation of a communist party. Whether it was in November or December, we know that he arrived at the end of 1929. At the same time, there was political chaos in Vietnam and conflicts broke out among Vietnamese communist organizations. He thus had to leave Siam for Hong Kong and Shanghai to resolve problems. It was impossible, however, to pass through the Vietnam-Laos border as it was under tight French control, so he went to Bangkok and took a boat to China. Assigned by the Far East Bureau of the Comintern, he convened a meeting of representatives in Hong Kong and succeeded in merging various organizations into the Communist Party of Vietnam, which was founded on February 3, 1930 (Hoàng Văn Hoan 1988, 51–52).

He came back to Bangkok by boat for the second time in March 1930 (Goscha 1999, 78).26) He met with Chinese communists in Bangkok before moving to Udon Thani to inform the members of the Udon Provincial Committee of the Youth League regarding the merger of the various Vietnamese communist groups, and to transmit the views of the Communist International regarding the foundation of the Siamese Communist Party (Hoàng Văn Hoan 1988, 52). He told them that according to the guidelines of the resolution adopted by the Comintern, communists should participate in the proletarian revolutionary activities of the country in which they reside. Therefore, Vietnamese communists living in Siam had the duty of assisting the oppressed and exploited people in Siam to engage in revolutionary activities (ibid., 53).

On April 20, 1930, Hồ Chí Minh, in his capacity as representative of the Comintern, convened a meeting at Tun Ky Hotel in front of the Hua Lamphong (หัวลำโพง) central railway station in Bangkok27) where he announced the founding of the Siamese Communist Party (ibid., 55). After that, he went to Malaya to help his comrades establish the Malayan Communist Party. According to Hoàng Văn Hoan, Hồ Chí Minh never returned to Siam again (ibid.). During his two visits in Siam, he had trained revolutionary cadres, fostered pro­letarian internationalism among the Vietnamese revolutionaries residing in Siam, and formed the Siamese Communist Party. The party was formed mainly by the Chinese and Vietnamese in Siam, with the help of the Comintern (ibid., 55–57, 76, 78). A number of members of the Youth League in Siam also joined under Hồ Chí Minh’s persuasion.

Ngô Chính Quốc or Lý, a Vietnamese born in Siam, and Trần Văn Chân or Tăng, were elected to the central executive committee of the party, later called Siam Committee (ibid., 55). Ngô Chính Quốc was also elected the first secretary-general of the party.28) In 1930, Hoàng Văn Hoan became a member of the Siam Committee (ibid., 63), and in 1933 he was in charge of propaganda (ibid., 76) after Ngô Chính Quốc was arrested in Bangkok and handed over by the Siamese authorities to the French (ibid., 63).

Hồ Chí Minh’s Strategies in Siam

We can see that Hồ Chí Minh used various strategies during his mission in Siam in order to minimize the risk of being arrested by Siam authorities and to hide from the French intelligence agents.29) He used pseudonyms and was always escorted by his compatriots wherever he went. He led a simple life and disguised himself, for example, as a traditional medicine apprentice. He also used liaison persons to contact Siamese local authorities and set liaison points—a small shop in Ban Dong, traditional medicine halls in Udon, Sakon Nakhon, and Nakhon Phanom, temples including Wat Lokanukhlor in Bangkok or in the vicinity of ­temples such as Wat Sichomchuen (วัดศรีชมชื่น) in Thabo (ท่าบ่อ), Nong Khai.

In general, the Siamese authorities did not pay much attention to the activities of the Vietnamese in Siam, but when events in Vietnam provoked the fleeing of Vietnamese to Siam, the French would ask the Siamese authorities to watch the Vietnamese communities and their activities. Hồ Chí Minh’s mission in Siam was confidential and required secrecy. Disclosure of his identity could lead to his arrest and the destruction of the network. It is interesting to see how Hồ Chí Minh hid his identity, with whom he travelled in Siam, and how he escaped detection by local authorities in Siam.

Firstly he used pseudonyms when abroad. One of the pseudonyms he used in China was Lý Thụy. In Siam, he used the names Nguyễn Lai, Thầu Chín, Thọ, Tín or Chú lang Tín, and Nam Sơn as his pen name. He even changed names when moving from one place to another. When he arrived in Bangkok for the first time, his passport carried the name Lai or Nguyễn Lai. When he was in Ban Dong, he was known as Thầu Chín. When he was at Nguyên Bằng Cát’s traditional medicine shop in Nakhon Phanom, his name was Tín or Chú lang Tín. Only a select few knew his true identity—those he had met before or had been his students in Guangdong. Among them were Đặng Thúc Hứa, Võ Tùng, Hoàng Văn Hoan, Lê Mạnh Trinh, Đặng Thái Thuyến, Nguyễn Tài, and Đặng Quỳnh Anh, who was Võ Tùng’s wife and Nguyễn Thị Thanh’s friend.30) All these people kept Hồ Chí Minh’s identity a secret.

Other revolutionary leaders also used pseudonyms when they were in Siam. Võ Tùng used Sáu or Sáu Tùng, and in China, Lữ Thế Hanh or Lưu Khải Hồng. Hoàng Văn Hoan used Nghĩa and Dương. Lê Mạnh Trinh used Tiến, Nhuận, and Tú Trinh. Hồ Tùng Mậu used Ích. Nguyễn Tài used Lê Ngôn, also Tài Ngôn. Đặng Thái Thuyến used Đặng Canh Tân, while Ngọc Ân used Nghĩa. Đặng Thúc Hứa or Cụ Ngọ Sinh was called Cố Đi or Tú Đi. “Cố” means senior person and “Đi” means walking, so Cố Đi means a senior person who has travelled much by foot.

Hồ Chí Minh blended in by leading a simple life. He also participated in physical work such working on farms, gardening, and laying bricks for the school building in Ban Nong Bua. During his voyage from province to province, he also carried belongings like his companions. In this way, he was not perceived differently from others. He also learned some Siamese words every day.

Another strategy he adopted was to always be on the move. His longest stay was in Nakhon Phanom and Udon. In Nakhon Phanom, he stayed in Ban May and a traditional medicine shop owned by Nguyễn Bằng Cát or Hoe Lợi, under the name of Chú lang Tín. In Udon, he stayed in Ban Nong Bua and Ban Nong On, and in another traditional medicine shop owned by Đặng Văn Cáp,31) taking on the identity of an apprentice. In Sakon Nakhon, he stayed at yet another medicine shop owned by Đặng Văn Cáp. I believe that Hồ Chí Minh chose to stay in these traditional medicine shops for two reasons: he wanted to use these shops as liaison points for the Vietnamese revolutionaries and he wanted to learn about traditional medicine (Trần Dương 2009, 72). Sophie Quinn-Judge (2002, 129) mentioned that according to Đặng Văn Cáp’s memoirs, Hồ Chí Minh wished to learn how to use traditional medicine to treat sick villagers and possibly to cure his own tuberculosis. Hồ Chí Minh had revealed to his Vietnamese colleague in Hong Kong that he had been sick for more than a year in Siam.

During his stay in Siam, it did not seem that Hồ Chí Minh had direct contact with local authorities. This was to avoid being suspected or followed by Thai police and the French intelligence agents. Consequently, in order to get permission from local authorities to build a school in Ban Nong Bua, he suggested that his compatriots, the Việt Kiều Cũ or Việt Cũ, the Việt Kiều of the older generation who had lived in Siam for a long time and were familiar with the Siamese local authorities, do so. Hoàng Sâm, pseudonym Kỳ (Hoàng Văn Hoan 1988, 75), was one of Hồ Chí Minh’s intermediaries for two years.32) He had studied and resided for a long time in Udon Thani so he was on good terms with local authorities. He later became a Vietnamese general in the army of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (Trần Đình Lưu 2004, 86–87), or colonel according to Goscha (1999, 102, footnote 66).

There were occasions, however, where Hồ Chí Minh came under suspicion and was followed by local authorities who were under French pressure. Once in Udon Thani, he was followed by the police and took refuge in a Buddhist temple named Phothi Somporn or Wat Phothi Somporn (วัดโพธิสมภรณ์), whose construction he had taken part in as a bricklayer. He was protected by the abbot Phra Kru Thammajedi (พระครูธรรมะเจดีย์), who forbade the police from entering the temple, assuring them that there were no “bad people” in the temple. It was believed that the abbot did not know Hồ Chí Minh’s true identity at that time. This story was later told by the abbot himself to Phan Văn Tượng, a Việt Kiều representative in Udon.33) On another occasion, Hồ Chí Minh found himself tailed while in Thabo, Nong Khai. He was saved by a seven-year-old girl who saw him trying to dodge the police. She put a rope ­tethered to her buffalo in Hồ Chí Minh’s hand and handed him a hat, allowing him to pass off as a farmer bringing his buffalo to the rice field. It appears that the French intelligent agents had learned of his presence in Siam at that time. This could have been due to the changing of the name of a newspaper Đồng Thanh to Thân Ái, and by the articles he wrote in it. The Việt Kiều had also become more active at that moment.


Photo 1 Đặng Thúc Hứa’s Cemetery in Wat Ban Chik or Wat Thipayaratnimitre, Udon Thani (Photo by Thanyathip Sripana, February 2011)

Though Hồ Chí Minh could move freely from one place to another, he had to be cautious. From 1930 onwards, the Siamese authorities became stricter with the Vietnamese, but Hồ Chí Minh had already left Siam by then. As mentioned earlier, Hồ Chí Minh and Đặng Thúc Hứa taught the Việt Kiều to respect Thai laws and culture. This was a sound strategy because wherever they were (Ban Tham, Ban Dong, Udon Thani, Nakhon Phanom, Nong Khai, or elsewhere), they gained sympathy, friendship, and help from the Siamese people and authorities.

Hồ Chí Minh’s instruction and mission in Siam greatly contributed to the Vietnamese revolutionary movement and independence. However, it is worth noting that Hồ Chí Minh’s operation was facilitated by Đặng Thúc Hứa’s efforts in gathering the Vietnamese into communities beforehand. Thanks to Đặng Thúc Hứa, many bases for long-term patriotic movements were established with the help of his compatriots—not only at Ban Tham in Paknampho, Ban Dong in Phichit, but also in northeastern Siam such as Ban Nong Bua, Ban Nong On in Udon Thani, Sakon Nakhon, Ban May in Nakhon Phanom, etc. It cannot be denied that Đặng Thúc Hứa was the center of the Việt Kiều movement in Siam, although his name has not been mentioned in Vietnam. He spent no less than 20 years in Siam from 1909 and passed away in Udon Thani in 1932. His cemetery is still in Wat Ban Chik (วัดบ้านจิก) or Wat Thipayaratnimitre (วัดทิพยรัตน์นิมิตร) in Muang district, Udon Thani.

Hồ Chí Minh Memorial Houses and the Thai-Vietnamese Friendship Village

Hồ Chí Minh’s presence in Siam has attracted attention from both the Thai and Vietnamese general public, and in particular, scholars. The researchers from the Museum of Hồ Chí Minh in Hanoi came to Thailand to conduct research in collaboration with the Việt Kiều. It has even evolved into cultural diplomacy, strengthening the relationship between the two countries. During the ceremony held at Hồ Chí Minh’s memorial house in Nakhon Phanom, Udon and that of the Thai-Vietnamese Friendship Village in Ban May, presently called Ban Na Chok, the Vietnamese ambassador evoked Hồ Chí Minh’s name on more than one ­occasion.

Hồ Chí Minh’s memorial house in Ban May or Ban Na Chok, Nakhon Phanom was built in the end of 2001 with the support of the Việt Kiều in Nakhon Phanom on Võ Trọng Tiêu’s land.34) It was reconstructed from his memory of the house when he was six years old. It is doubtful that a child can remember accurately the form of the house, but I was told that other elderly Việt Kiều also contributed their memories. This place, according to Võ Trọng Tiêu, was where Hồ Chí Minh stayed for a period of time in Nakhon Phanom. It was also one of the revolutionary bases in Siam. The memorial house was built to recall the presence of Hồ Chí Minh in Ban Na Chok and to strengthen Thai-Vietnamese relationship. The house at Ban Nong On in Udon was built with the same objective.


Photo 2 Hồ Chí Minh Memorial House in Ban May (Now Called Ban Na Chok), Nakhon Phanom (Photo by Thanyathip Sripana, February 2011)


Photo 3 Thai-Vietnamese Friendship Village, Ban Na Chok (Ban May), Nakhon Phanom (Photo by Thanyathip Sripana, February 21, 2004)

The Thai-Vietnamese Friendship Village in Ban Na Chok was built after the Hồ Chí Minh memorial house. It includes a small museum recounting Hồ Chí Minh’s brief stay in Siam and the itinerary of his journey to other countries after he left Vietnam in 1911. The Friendship Village does not actually have a direct connection to Hồ Chí Minh’s sojourn in Siam—it was not where he resided, neither was it used as a revolutionary base. Nonetheless, it was inaugurated by the Thai and Vietnamese prime ministers in February 2004, after the first Thai-Vietnamese joint cabinet in Đà Nẵng. The Friendship Village was built to symbolize the understanding, mutual trust, and development of relations and cultural cooperation between the two countries after the Cold War. It also signifies the recognition of the Việt Kiều by the Thai government and their integration into Thai society.

Every year, Hồ Chí Minh’s birth anniversary on May 19 is celebrated in a ceremony that is attended by the Việt Kiều from Nakhon Phanom and other provinces in Thailand, as well as by the Vietnamese from Vietnam, including those who used to live in northeastern Thailand. It is presided by the Vietnamese ambassador or consul general, and the governor of Nakhon Phanom province or other high-ranking authorities.

Another memorial house, located in the Hồ Chí Minh historical site in Ban Nong On, Udon Thani, was inaugurated by the deputy governor of Udon Thani province and the Vietnamese ambassador in Bangkok on September 2, 2006. On August 31, 2011, an educational center at the same site was inaugurated by the Vietnamese consul general and the governor of Udon Thani province. The center and the memorial house are the site of popular celebrations and an exhibition every year on May 19.

The Friendship Village and the memorial houses are visited all year round by Thai, Vietnamese, foreigners, and the Việt Kiều in Thailand, as well as by Vietnamese who used to reside in Thailand but who were repatriated to Vietnam in the beginning of the 1960s. They are called “Việt Kiều Hồi Hương,” which means the Việt Kiều who returned to their homeland.


Photo 4 Hồ Chí Minh Memorial House in Ban Nong On, Udon Thani (Photo by Thanyathip Sripana, February 2011)


Photo 5 Việt Kiều in Thailand, Vietnamese, and Thai on the Occasion of the Opening Ceremony of the Thai-Vietnamese Friendship Village, Ban Na Chok, Nakhon Phanom (Photo by a Việt Kiều, February 21, 2004)

The building of the Friendship Village and Hồ Chí Minh memorial houses in the two provinces was accomplished due to the participation and support of Việt Kiều. As a result, the Friendship Village, Hồ Chí Minh’s memorial houses, and the Việt Kiều are considered as a cultural bridge linking the people of the two countries and a strong base of the Thai-Vietnamese relationship (Thanyathip 2004a).


Siam was well placed to serve as an anti-colonial base in the west of central Vietnam, especially after Chiang Kai Shek’s repression of the Chinese communists in Guangdong and its repercussions on the Vietnamese anti-colonial movement. Geographically, Siam is accessible from Vietnam by land via Laos, and from southern China by sea routes.

Long before Hồ Chí Minh’s arrival in Siam, a number of patriotic Vietnamese had already settled there to carry out their mission, and a number stayed on after his departure to fulfill their task. Some of them returned to Vietnam only in the beginning of the 1960s as Việt Kiều Hồi Hương, while others died in Thailand with no chance to go back to their homeland.

It is without a doubt that Hồ Chí Minh’s instruction of his compatriots during his sojourn in Siam contributed tremendously to the struggle for Vietnamese independence. By the end of the 1920s, he had accomplished his objectives of reorganizing and strengthening the network, dispensing instruction to the Vietnamese patriotic and revolutionary movement in Siam, and participating in the founding of the communist party in the region, which was the task assigned to him by the Comintern.

Hồ Chí Minh’s presence in Siam has been recalled through the Thai-Vietnamese Friendship Village and the memorial houses in northeastern Thailand. It is a reminder to the young Vietnamese generation of the sacrifice and contribution of Hồ Chí Minh and his compatriots to their country’s independence. It also reminds Thai people that only unity and solidarity, a strong will, and a sense of sacrifice can build a strong nation.

It is hoped that this paper will contribute to studies of Hồ Chí Minh’s revolutionary activities abroad, which is part of Vietnamese revolutionary history. Though information regarding his activities in Siam is lacking, what I have gathered in this paper enables us, to some degree, to trace his whereabouts and activities in Siam. It is expected that deeper research will yield more information on this subject.

Accepted: September 7, 2012


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1) Hồ Chí Minh (May 19, 1890–September 2, 1969), was named Nguyễn Sinh Cung by his family, then Nguyễn Tất Thành. Later he was known as Nguyễn Ái Quốc. He was Prime Minister (1945–55) and President (1945–69) of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam). He was a key figure in the formation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1945, as well as the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) and the Việt Cộng during the Vietnam War until his death in 1969. He led the Việt Minh independence movement from 1941 onward.

2) These people were repatriated from Thailand to Vietnam between 1960 and 1964 under the Agreement between the Thai Red Cross Society and the Red Cross Society of Democratic Republic of Vietnam concerning the Repatriation of Vietnamese in Thailand to the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. See Chan (1960); see also Thanyathip and Trịnh (2005).

3) Việt Kiều means “Overseas Vietnamese.” Việt Kiều Hồi Hương means “Overseas Vietnamese who returned to their homeland.”

4) For example, Sơn Tùng’s health condition has been fragile for some years now. On November 8, 2011, I paid Trần Đình Lưu or Trần Đình Riên (whom I call Chú Riên, meaning Uncle Riên) a visit. I waited for ages in front of his house but found out later that he had passed away in August 2011. As a former member of the Bureau of External Relations which was under the Central Committee of the Vietnamese Communist Party, and as a Việt Kiều who returned from Nakhon Phanom and lived for a long time in Vietnam, Uncle Riên was very informative and had many contacts with the Việt Kiều Hồi Hương in Vietnam. He had worked at the Embassy of Vietnam in Bangkok for at least four years. Perfectly fluent in the Thai language, he served as translator for Vietnamese Prime Minister Phạm Văn Đồng and Thai Prime Minister Kriengsak Chamanand during the former’s visit to Bangkok in 1978. I am tremendously grateful to him for his contribution to my research over a period of 10 years. He was an invaluable fount of information for whom I have the greatest respect. Hoàng Nhật Tân, Hoàng Văn Hoan’s son, has also been very helpful regarding his father’s and Hồ Chí Minh’s activities in Siam. He has been inactive due to his weak health condition and as of November 2011 is staying in a medical care center for the elderly in Hanoi.

5) The name of the country was changed from Siam to Thailand in 1939.

6) Wat Annamnikaya is located not far from the Bangpho intersection.

7) Paknampho (ปากน้ำโพ) is presently in Nakhon Sawan (นครสวรรค์).

8) Đặng Quỳnh Anh, also known as Bà Nho or Bà O, was Đặng Thúc Hứa’s cousin. She is not Đặng Thúc Hứa’s daughter as mentioned in some books. She arrived in Siam in 1913 to help Hứa form a base and take care of children in Ban Tham, Paknampho in Nakhon Sawan (Sơn Tùng 1993). I had the opportunity to talk to Đặng Quỳnh Anh’s niece, Đặng Thanh Lê, in November 2011 and July 2012 at her house in Hanoi. She confirmed that Đặng Quỳnh Anh was Đặng Thúc Hứa’s cousin. A brave woman, she sacrificed her life for the salvation of her homeland for 40 years in Siam. She took care of the youth who arrived from Vietnam and taught Vietnamese children in Ban Tham, Nakhon Sawan and Ban Dong, Phichit. Con Người và Con Đường describes her life very well—the activities she conducted and the difficulties she faced in Siam. She was sentenced to 20 years of imprisonment on communist charges (according to the 1933 Act Concerning Communism). She was imprisoned for 10 years in Thailand. Upon her release, she was invited by the Communist Party of Vietnam to return home in 1953. She spent the rest of her life until 1976 or 1977 in Vietnam. She is survived by three children. Đặng Quỳnh Anh was admitted as a member of the Communist Party of Indochina when she was in Khon Kaen in April 1934. She became a member of Duy Tân Hội in 1908, as well as of Quang Phục Hội. In 1926, she joined the Vietnamese Revolutionary Youth League (Việt Nam Thanh Niên Cách Mạng Đồng Chí Hội) at its Ban Dong branch (ibid., 188; interviews with her first son, Võ Thung, between 2002 and 2011).

9) Road No. 9 was used by most of the Vietnamese, including patriots who fled the French after the Nghệ-Tĩnh incident in the beginning of the 1930s. Road No. 9 connects Đông Hà town in Quảng Trị in central Vietnam to Kaison Phomvihan town in Savannakhet, and then to Mukdahan in northeastern Siam or Thailand. The distance from Đông Hà town to the Lao Bảo border gate at the Vietnam–Laos border is 84 km, while the distance from this border to Kaison Phomvihan town in Sawannakhet province is 240 km.

10) Đặng Thúc Hứa was born in 1870 in Lương Điền village, Thanh Chương district, Nghệ An province. He realized that in order to fight against the French, the Vietnamese should rely on themselves, not on other countries, and that Siam was a good place to develop Vietnamese revolutionary bases. He went to the places in Siam where the Vietnamese resided and gathered them into a community. With his friends, he established bases for long-term patriotic movements. The first community was in Ban Tham, Paknampho, which was used as the center of the movement in the beginning of 1910s. There, they built farms and trained youths. He realized that the revolution was a long-term struggle and that it was necessary to create a future generation of comrades and nationalists. As he was concerned about illiteracy among the Việt Kiều children, he and others built schools, mobilized Việt Kiều to send their children to school, and also welcomed children from Vietnam. Đặng Thúc Hứa and his compatriots organized classes for children in language, morality, and patriotic consciousness.

11) The delta in Paknampho is formed by four rivers: Ping (ปิง), Wang (วัง), Yom (ยม), and Nan (น่าน). These four rivers combine to form the Chao Phraya river (แม่น้ำเจ้าพระยา). Paknampho is connected to Bangkok by river and land routes.

12) Lý Thụy was his name when he was in Guangdong.

13) In 1928, Klong Toey port did not exist. BI port was the first port of Siam. It was used by big maritime companies in Europe such as East Asiatic of Denmark, Bombay-Burmah Trading Company, and the British company Louis T. Leonowens, to export teakwood from northern Siam and rice from central Siam and to import goods from Europe (Sukpreeda 2006, 55).

14) Hoàng Văn Hoan (1905–91) was Hồ Chí Minh’s student in Guangdong in 1926. He arrived in Siam via Laos in May 1928 and worked closely with Hồ Chí Minh. He was a founding member of the Indochinese Communist Party and a Politburo member of the Lao Động Party (Vietnam Workers’ Party or VWP) from 1960 to 1976. Hoàng Văn Hoan was a crucial link between the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and China, ambassador to Beijing from 1950–57, and leader of many delegations to China as vice-chairman of the DRV National Assembly Standing Committee in the 1960s. He lost much of his influence after Hồ Chí Minh’s death in 1969, particularly after the Fourth National Party Congress in 1977, when the Vietnamese Communists shifted to a pro-Soviet position. Hoàng defected to Beijing in July 1979, after shaking off political persecution by the Vietnamese communist authorities.

15) Goscha believed that Hồ Chí Minh left Siam in December 1929 for Shanghai.

16) Lê Mạnh Trinh was Hồ Chí Minh’s student in Guangdong in 1926 and Hoàng Văn Hoan’s classmate in Guangdong. He worked closely with Đặng Thúc Hứa and Hồ Chí Minh.

17) Ngô Vĩnh Bao in Trần Dương, Cuộc Hành Trình Của Bác Hồ Trên Đất Thái Lan (2009, 105) mentioned Pa Ma Kham (ป่ามะขาม) instead of Pa Ma Khab (ป่ามะคาบ). This was confirmed by Sukpreeda, and an elderly Việt Kiều in Sakon Nakhon who had moved from Phichit.

18) Võ Tùng arrived in Siam twice—in 1914 and in mid-1919. Võ Tùng was from central Vietnam and he came to know Đặng Thúc Hứa in China. In 1919 he went to Ban Dong to join Đặng Thúc Hứa in rebuilding bases among the Vietnamese there. He had served in Phan Bội Châu’s forces and as an officer in the Kuomintang army before World War I. Võ Tùng shared his life with Đặng Quỳnh Anh after arriving in Siam.

19) Thầu (เฒ่า) in Thai means senior or old person.

20) Hồ Tùng Mậu (1896–1951) was born in Nghệ An province. He was first trained in Siam in the early 1920s by Đặng Thúc Hứa before travelling to Guangdong, where he joined the Youth League. He was seen as reliable and sent by Hồ Chí Minh to Siam in 1925 to set up the Vietnamese Revolutionary Youth League in Ban Dong in 1926.

21) Hoàng Văn Hoan was with Hồ Chí Minh at Ban Nong Bua (Udon).

22) The distance between Udon and Nong Khai is approximately 65 km.

23) Ban Xieng Vang is located on the banks of the Mekong, 10 km from Tha Khek town and across from Nakhon Phanom province. After the paper was written and accepted in September 2012, I had an opportunity to conduct field research again in Laos. This allowed me to update some information.

24) Interview with Đặng Văn Hồng on December 8, 2010 at Xieng Vang, Khammuon province in Laos. Đặng Văn Hồng is a Việt Kiều born in 1933 and still living in Ban Xieng Vang.

25) Ngoéc Đại was a patriot who fled to Siam in the early twentieth century. He worked closely with Đặng Thúc Hứa and Đặng Quỳnh Anh and was among those who set up the base in Ban Dong.

26) According to Hoàng Văn Hoan, he came back to Bangkok in April 1930.

27) Following many discussions with Thong Chaemsri (ธง แจ่มศรี), the former secretary of the Communist Party of Thailand from 2003–8, in February 2011, and in March and July 2013. Also from numerous discussions with Sukpreeda Bhanomyong from 2003–8.

28) Following discussions with Thong Chaemsri in July 2004, in February 2011, and in March 2013.

29) Regarding strategies and techniques employed by communist agents in their revolutionary operations, see Onimaru (2011).

30) Nguyễn Thị Thanh was Hồ Chí Minh’s sister who was supposed to travel to Siam with Đặng Quỳnh Anh but fell ill on the day of the departure.

31) Đặng Văn Cáp later became President of the Oriental Medicine Association in Vietnam (Chủ tịch Hội Đông Y Việt Nam) (Trần Dương 2009, 71).

32) Hoàng Sâm was born in Udon Thani (Goscha 1999, 102, footnote 60).

33) This story was recounted to me by Anh Hùng, a Việt Kiều in Udon Thani.

34) Võ Trọng Tiêu or Uncle Tiêu passed away in September 2011.