Thailand (Siam) and Burma


Thailand (Siam) and Burma
   By the 16th century, two powerful states flourished in the valleys of the the Chao Phraya and Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwady) Rivers, the Siamese Tai state of Ayuthaya and the Toungoo Dynasty of the Burmans (Bamars), whose king, Tabinshwehti (r. 1531-1550), established his capital at Hanthawaddy (modern Pegu [Bago]) and unsuccessfully attempted to conquer Siam in 1548. His successor, Bayinnaung (r. 1551-1581), subjugated Chiang Mai (now in northern Thailand) and accepted the surrender of Ayuthaya in 1564; he began his campaign in 1563 after the king of Siam refused to give him two sacred white elephants. Because of an uprising by the former Siamese king, Bayinnaung was obliged to recapture it in 1569, sacking the Siamese capital and placing the country under the rule of a puppet king, Thammaraja. Thammaraja's son, Phra Naret (Naresuan, who became king of Siam in 1590), successfully threw off the Burmese yoke in 1584 and fought a series of defensive and offensive wars against Bayinnaung's successor, Nanda Bayin (r. 1581-1599). In 1592, Phra Naret killed the Burmese crown prince, Nanda Bayin's son, in single combat on the backs of elephants, an episode that made him one of Thailand's most revered national heroes. The Siamese asserted control over Tavoy (Dawei) in what is now Tenasserim (Tanintharyi) Division in 1593. Hostilities between the two states continued intermittently throughout the 17th and early 18th centuries. In 1759-1760, Alaungpaya (r. 1752-1760), founder of the Konbaung Dynasty, laid siege to Ayuthaya, but he died during the campaign, and his son Hsinbyushin (1763-1776) launched a new invasion in 1765. Three Burmese columns entered Siam by way of Chiang Mai, Three Pagodas Pass, and Tenasserim, capturing and pillaging the Siamese capital in April 1767. The Siamese king was killed, and Hsinbyushin's victorious armies brought thousands of prisoners of war back to Upper Burma.
   The fall of Ayuthaya (it was never rebuilt) is considered one of Thailand's greatest national calamities. But a half-Chinese Siamese general, Pya Taksin, led a successful resistance and established a new dynasty at Thonburi, near modern Bangkok. He was overthrown in 1782 by another general, Maha Chakri, who moved the capital to Bangkok and established the dynasty that reigns in Thailand today. Maha Chakri (known as King Ramathibodi, or Rama I) defeated several attempts by King Bodawpaya (r. 1781-1819) to conquer Siam, though he was not able to recover Tenasserim, which remains part of Burma today. Burma ceased to be a threat after the First AngloBurmese War, and relations between Siam and British Burma were peaceful. However, Japanese armies based in Thailand, formally Japan's ally, invaded Burma at the beginning of World War II. A key element in Burma-Siam conflicts were the Mons, who previously ruled states in Lower Burma and sought Siamese help to prevent their domination by Burman kings. When Alaungpaya extinguished Mon independence in the mid-18th century, many Mons fled to Siam, where they attained high civil and military office under Rama I and his successors.
   In 1917, Siamese prince Damrong Rajanubhab published a history of the centuries-long hostility between the two countries, Our Wars with the Burmese (Thai Rop Phama), which had a major influence on the development of Thailand's view of its national history, as found in school textbooks and popular culture. In his view, not only were the Burmese a savage and aggressive people, but Siam was defeated in war only when it was unprepared and divided against itself. Kings who rallied the people, such as Phra Naret and Rama I, waged successful wars of national liberation against an imperialist enemy. More recent scholarship has cautioned against casting the history of the 16th to 18th centuries in a 20th-century conceptual framework. The 24 Thai-Burmese wars described by Damrong between 1539 and 1767 were wars between monarchs rather than nations, and many prominent Siamese (including Phra Naret's father) were willing to accept Burmese overlordship. Premodern Burma and Siam shared similar ideological preconceptions, derived from their common IndoBuddhist civilization. One of these was that the ruler was not the leader of a national community, but a man endowed with abundant hpoun (power/authority) that legitimized his wartime victories over peoples near and far.
   Images of Burma as the "enemy nation" are still strong in Thailand. Popular Thai motion pictures such as Suryothai and Ban Rajaan have revived them. But relations between the Thai government and the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) are generally cordial, strengthened by complementary economic interests. In Burma, images of the Thais have not, until recently, been especially negative. After King Hsinbyushin's armies brought back Siamese musicians and dancers from the sack of Ayuthaya, the Burmese gained an appreciation for their refined Yodaya (Ayuthaya) styles, which deeply influenced their own theater, music, and the arts. Yodaya became synonymous with elite or courtly art forms. However, the post-1988 military regime has encouraged anti-Thai sentiment from time to time, symbolized by its construction of a statue of Bayinnaung at Tachilek in Shan State, a town overlooking the Thai border, and its periodic campaigns against the "perfidious Siamese" in the state-run mass media.
   See also Thailand, Relations with.

Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). . 2014.

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