Courtesy Reuters

Siam, the Incredible Kingdom

SIAM, about the size of France, is a country of rice, rubber, fourteen million good-natured peasants and a boy king. On the map it looks rather like an octopus with one tentacle dangling into Malaya toward Singapore. It is the country where no one needs to work more than three or four months a year because the climate is so propitious and rice so abundant, where the pronunciation of names is fantastically at variance with their spelling, where there are 17,408 Buddhist temples and 150,000 priests, and where white elephants are sacred. It is also a country where Japanese influence is increasingly active.

Aside from what is left of China, Siam is the only independent country in Asia between Japan and Iran, the only eastern territory that did not become the booty of the Great Powers during the imperialist expansion of the nineteenth century. The Siamese call their country "Muang-Thai," which means land of the free. They have been an independent state since about 1350, and originally their kingdom extended to the Yangtze. The Siamese form a distinct racial and linguistic group; but they also show very marked affiliations with China, as well as Malay admixtures. They performed the miracle of surviving as an independent kingdom partly because their territory, half of which is even today unexplored jungle, was hard to penetrate and conquer, partly because it was convenient for both Britain and France to have a buffer state between Burma, Malaya and Indo-China.

But Siam may not remain an independent state forever -- if the acknowledged Japanese dream of domination over "East Asia" becomes a reality.

Siam was -- and is -- not only an independent country; until 1932 it was one of the last absolute monarchies remaining in the world. Since 1782 it has been ruled by members of the staggeringly prolific Chakri dynasty. Until 1932 it was a backwater, a stagnant and not unhappy land where the monarch, although with absolute powers, chose as a rule to govern mildly. There was no constitution, no

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