Peasant Perspectives on the Political Economy of the Northern Thai Kingdom of Chiang Mai in the Nineteenth Century: Implications for the Understanding of Peasant Political Expression

Author: 
Bowie, Katherine Ann
Year: 
1988

     This thesis is an attempt to reconstruct the political economy of the Chiang Mai kingdom of northern Thailand in the nineteenth century from a peasant perspective, using both oral histories and archival records as sources. I . . . show how an understanding of the political economy provides important insights into the form of peasant political expression. . . . In this dissertation, I . . . argue that peasants were not content with lordly extraction, nor did the ruling lords have much legitimacy in their eyes; peasant attitudes are clearly revealed in a wide range of anecdotes about the ruling lords. Instead I . . . argue that peasant political expression was inhibited by the manner of peasant integration into the economy of the kingdom. In addition to economic factors, the peasantry were further suppressed by the military power of the ruling lords.
     I believe the basic underpinnings fundamental to an understanding of peasant-court relations, namely an understanding of the economy, have been overlooked. As a result false conclusions have been drawn about the character of peasant-court relations and the nature of peasant political expression. This thesis is divided into eight chapters. Following . . . [an] introductory chapter, I describe peasant resentment towards the ruling lords, indicating the lack of cultural legitimacy which these lords had. In the third chapter, I indicate that the northern Thai economy was not a self-sufficient economy, but rather an economy in which most participants were rice-deficient. In the fourth chapter, I outline the wide range of activities in which the villagers engaged in order to meet subsistence needs, examining both the production and distribution of goods.
     In the fifth chapter, the emphasis changes from the rural economy to the court economy, beginning with demonstrating the significant difference in wealth between the peasantry and the lords. The seventh chapter suggests how the understanding of the Lannathai economy provides insights into the form of peasant political expression. In the epilogue, I present an account of an uprising which never materialized, but which epitomizes the conflicting economic and political forces which were the currents which lay continually beneath the surface of the manifest historical record.

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