There are many Orientalist stereotypes about Thailand. Known as the “Land of Smiles” to foreign tourists, they often comment on the calm and pleasant demeanor of a people seemingly averse to conflict. However, these are superficial remarks coming from observers who fail to understand the country’s language, culture, and deep social, cultural, and political tensions. Since the bloodless end of the absolute monarchy in 1932, there have been a dozen successful coups, a few more unsuccessful efforts, and the spilling of blood in several massacres. From the Cold War to well into the 21st century, Thailand has wavered between democracy and military rule, with the Chakri Dynasty’s kings ruling over the political pendulum. Pavin Chachavalpongpun’s edited volume Coup King Crisis: A Critical Interregnum in Thailand out in 2021 with Yale University Southeast Asia Studies is a collection of essays on the 2014 coup. The authors explore the complex relationship between the monarchy, the military, and democracy. The volume does an excellent job of giving larger context to Thai politics.
Dr. Pavin Chachavalpongpun, a native of Bangkok, studied at Chulalongkorn University before earning his doctorate at SOAS. Before becoming an academic and an activist, he served as a diplomat in the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs for 13 years. He is currently an Associate Professor at Kyoto University’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies, where he edits the Kyoto Review of Southeast Asian Studies. Pavin Chachavalpongpun is arguably the most internationally prominent Thai dissident, penning critiques of the Thai junta for the world’s leading newspapers. He is the author or editor of a number of books on Thai politics.
Michael G. Vann is a professor of world history at California State University, Sacramento. A specialist in imperialism and the Cold War in Southeast Asia, he is the author of The Great Hanoi Rat Hunt: Empires, Disease, and Modernity in French Colonial Vietnam (Oxford University Press, 2018). When he’s not reading or talking about new books with smart people, Mike can be found surfing in Santa Cruz, California.
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