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absolute monarchy, constitutional monarchy, Thai people, Malay Peninsula, Gulf of Thailand

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Thailand, officially the Kingdom of Thailand (Prathet Thai, or “Land of the Free”), country in Southeast Asia. Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country never to have been occupied by any European or other foreign power, except in war. The country was an absolute monarchy from 1782 until 1932, when rebels seized power in a coup and established a constitutional monarchy. Since then, Thailand has come under the rule of many governments, both civil and military. The country was known as Siam until 1939 (when it was renamed Thailand), and again for a few years in the late 1940s. In 1949 the name Thailand was adopted a second time.

Central Thailand is dominated by a large fertile plain, formed by the country’s chief river, the Chao Phraya, and its tributaries. Much of the country’s rice and other crops are grown in this region. Mountains and plateaus surround the central plain on the west, north, and east. The western mountain ranges extend south onto the Malay Peninsula (Malaya). Bangkok, located on the Chao Phraya near the Gulf of Thailand, is Thailand’s capital and largest city.

Thai people form the large majority of Thailand’s population, and most of them practice Theravada Buddhism. Other ethnic groups within the population include Chinese, Malays, and indigenous hill peoples, such as the Hmong and Karen. Thailand is known for its highly refined classical music and dance and for a wide range of folk arts. Traditionally based on agriculture, Thailand’s economy began developing rapidly in the 1980s.


For younger readers

Goodman, Jim. Thailand. Marshall Cavendish, 1991. For readers in grades 4 to 6.

McNair, Sylvia. Thailand. Grolier, 1998. For readers in grades 6 and up.

Art and architecture of Southeast Asia

Dumarcay, Jacques.Trans. Michael Smithies. The Palaces of South-East Asia: Architecture and Customs. Oxford University Press, 1991. Extensive history of the royal architecture of Southeast Asia.

Girard-Geslan, Maud, ed.Trans. J. A. Underwood. Art of Southeast Asia. Abrams, 1998. Scholarly essays cover all regions; copiously illustrated.

Jessup, Helen Ibbitson, and Thierry Zephir, eds. Millennium of Glory: Sculpture of Angkor and Ancient Cambodia. Thames & Hudson, 1997. Lavishly illustrated catalog of major exhibition of ancient sculpture.

Lee, Sherman E. A History of Far Eastern Art. 5th ed. Abrams, 1994. Standard survey of Asian art.

Rawson, Philip. The Art of Southeast Asia: Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Burma, Java, Bali. Praeger, 1967. Thames & Hudson, 1990. Useful one-volume overview.

Strachan, Paul. Imperial Pagan: Art and Architecture of Burma. University of Hawaii, 1990. Scholarly study of Burmese Buddhist art forms.

Van Beek, Steve. The Arts of Thailand. Rev. ed. Thames & Hudson, 1991. Tuttle, 1999. Broad examination of Thai art and architecture.


Beurdeley, Jean-Michel, and Hans Hinz. Thai Forms. Weatherhill, 1980. Stunning photographs.

Goodman, Jim. Thailand. Cavendish, 1991. Comprehensive introduction, for younger readers.

Hewison, Kevin, ed. Political Change in Thailand: Democracy and Participation. Routledge, 1997. A survey of Thai institutions and their influence on Thai politics.

O'Reilly, James, and Larry Habegger, eds. Travelers' Tales: Thailand. O'Reilly, 1994. The country and its people revealed through dozens of nonfiction stories.

Van Beek, Steve. The Arts of Thailand. Tuttle, 1999. A definitive introduction to Thai art.

Wood, William A. A History of Siam from the Earliest Times to the Year AD 1781. Siam Barnakich, 1933. Reprint, AMS, 1993. Classic, first published in 1933.

Wyatt, D. K. Thailand: A Short History. Yale University Press, 1984, 1986. Good overview of Thai history and culture.


Wyatt, David K., A.B., Ph.D. The John Stambaugh Professor of History, Cornell University. Author of Thailand: A Short History, Studies in Thai History, and other books.

Stott, Philip A., B.A. Professor of Biogeography, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Editor of Journal of Biogeography. Author of Tropical Rain Forest: A Political Ecology of Hegemom‘c Mythmaking.

Rooney, Dawn F., Ph.D. Independent Researcher. Author of Angkor: An Introduction to the Temp!es,Betel Chewing Traditions in South-East Asia, and Khmer Ceramics.

Coxhead, Ian, B.A., M. Agr. Dev. Econ., Ph.D. Associate Professor of Agriculture and Applied Economics, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2009. © 1993-2008 Microsoft Corporation.

Article key phrases:

absolute monarchy, constitutional monarchy, Thai people, Malay Peninsula, Gulf of Thailand, Chao Phraya, Southeast Asian country, Kingdom of Thailand, Malaya, Malays, Central Thailand, tributaries, Siam, Hmong, ethnic groups, coup, largest city, Bangkok, rebels, crops, capital, dance, agriculture, time, rice, war, population, Mountains, Karen, economy, military, region, east, country, rule, governments, years

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