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Red Shirts in Bangkok: Signs of the Time

Red Shirts 2010

The signs of the Red Shirts…

Bangkok is dripping in red: Red shirts, red hats, red clappers, red headbands and more. All are slathered with slogans. Some are for an English audience – hello BBC! – but most are in Thai.

So… do you know what the Red Shirts are saying? In Thai?

If you intend on witnessing the Red Shirt march this weekend, how about brushing up? It would be good reading practice. Or, at the very least, a lark.

Bangkok Post: UDD reveals route for Saturday march: The convoy would move along Yommarat and Phetchaburi roads to the Asoke intersection and turn right to Ratchapisek road, he said. From the Fortune Town department store, the red-shirts would turn to the right and march along Lat Phrao road to Bang Kapi, Lam Sali intersection, Ramkhamhaeng road, Rama 9 road, Khlong Tan, Phra Khanong, Silom, Rama IV, Klongtoey, Odeon circle, Yommarat and back to Phan Fa bridge.

Additional rounds found via twitter @tulsathit: Pokklao Bridge, BanKaek intersec, Wongwien Yai, Taksin, Tha Pra, Jaran intersec, Pin Klao Bridge.

To make sure I understood the nuances of the slogans (translated below), I sat down with Khun Phairo (my long suffering Thai teacher). As we were under time constraints, Friday night I asked Rikker from Thai 101 to check for mistakes (mine).

Rikker’s input cleaned up typos, tidied up my too literal translations (although I did leave one in), and added the needed political background. A good thing too, as I did not cotton to the change when bouncing between Red and Yellow. I did notice references to the elite in the English language news, but… sigh… Sometimes Thai numbs me.

Red Shirt headbands…

There was no lack of headbands anywhere. At Phan Fa Bridge I watched Red Shirt’s marking out their territory for the duration, while others were just arriving. As I wandered around taking photographs, these fun-loving guys (below) waved me over.

Red Shirts 2010

ไม่ต้องจ้าง, กูมาเอง
mâi dtông jâang, goo maaayng
No need to hire me, I came by myself.

Kaewmala: Not hired, I fricking came on my own.

How fun! This headband is about Red Shirt supporters getting paid to show up in Bangkok. There are crazy rumours about payments, but the standard figure being batted around is 300 baht a day, which is a little over US$9. US$9 is pocket change for some, but in Thailand (especially in the rural north) it’s a decent day’s wage.

แดงทั้งแผ่นดิน
daeng táng pàendin
The whole land is red.

Apologies, but I couldn’t make out the Thai script located on the far right headband.

Red Shirts 2010

ยุติธรรมกลับคืนมา
yút-dtì tam glàp keunmaa
Bring back justice.

This photo was taken alongside Central Mall (Ladprao), on day four. Compared to previous days, day four had wealthier Red Shirt supporters amongst the rest. That’s what I noticed anyway (did anyone see the same?)

Red Shirts 2010

รวมพลคนเสื้อแดง
ruam pon kon sêua daeng
Red Shirts unite!

During my four days running around with the Red Shirts, the slogan “Red Shirts unite!” came up most often.

And isn’t she sweet? She wasn’t comfortable surrounded by strangers making noise – there was a LOT of noise at Phan Fa Bridge – but her daddy was visibly proud.

Red Shirts 2010

อำมาตย์ชั่ว
am-màat chûa
Wicked/evil elite.

What a great face he has :-) Btw – He’s not blowing me a kiss. He was finishing a snack, but wanting me to take photos anyway.

In my reckoning, there wasn’t enough street food available in the Phan Fa Bridge area to feed the thousands of people from the countryside. When I queried Khun Pissout, he replied that the supporters were fed elsewhere (and I believe, for free).

Red Shirts 2010

ความจริงวันนี้
kwaam jing wannée
Truth Today.

And here’s another great Thai smile. Her slogan comes from the political TV show of the same name.

The logo and/or slogan was around during last year’s Red Shirt rallies. During these four days I saw a number of shirts and banners from the 2009 Red Shirt event. Actually, anything red was a consideration (slogans didn’t seem to matter): Bowling shirts, pizza delivery hats, etc.

Red Shirts 2010

ยุติธรรมเป็นสากล
yút-dtì tam bpen săa-gon
Justice is universal.

Red Shirts 2010

รอวันทักษินกลับ
rorwan táksĭn glàp
Waiting for the day Thaksin comes back.

Red Shirt t-shirts…

T-shirts were also in abundance. When I decided to write this post, I came close to running out to buy a selection… but then I woke up (as I’ve already put Khun Pissout’s youngest through uni…)

Red Shirts 2010

เรารักทักษิณ
rao rák ták-sĭn
We love Thaksin.

I expected to see more of the “We love Thaksin” type of slogans. A smattering made an appearance, but not in the numbers predicted. And, ok, it might just be my wishful thinking… hmmm?

Red Shirts 2010

นักรบพระองค์ดำ
nákróp práong dam
Fighters of the Black King.

ศรีสะเกษ
sĕe-sà-gàyt
Srisakate (the province they come from)

The Black King is the Thai King Naresuan. He was trained by the Burmese in martial arts, which eventually became Muay Thai (I believe).

The History of Muay Thai: King Naresuan was the King of Siam from 1590 until his death in 1605. At a young age he was taken captive by the Burmese to ensure the fidelity of his father, Maha Tammaraja, who became King of the Ayutthaya Kingdom after it was occupied by the Burmese in 1569. Naresuan spent nine years of his youth at Pegu under the protection of the Burmese King Bayinnaung, who trained him in martial arts, literature and military strategies.

The Red Shirts donning black shirts are members of the Black Guard. The Black Guard were assembled to protect the Red Shirts from harm (and some say to stop the Thai government from creating false problems). You can see the Black Shirts amassing in a previous post (second video): The Red Shirts in Bangkok: The Faces of Day Three.

Red Shirt flags…

Red Shirts 2010

โค่นร้ฐบาลอำมาตย์ยุบสภา
kôhn rat-baalor am-màat yúp sà-paa
Topple the elite government, dissolve parliament.

This design was on banners, flags, t-shirts, the sides of cars… you name it, I found it.

Red Shirts 2010

ชมรมคนรักประชาฐิปไตย
chom-rom kon rák bprà-chaa-tep-dtai-yor
Democracy lovers club.

I have a zillion photos of this lovely man, but the flag was visible in only a few. None of the photos came out great, but… it’s being able to see the flag that counts.

Red Shirt signs…

As mentioned above, most signs include the different locations where the Red Shirt supporters hale from. Noticeable were streets in Bangkok, as well as countries outside of Thailand.

Red Shirts 2010

แดงทั้งแผ่นดิน
daeng táng pàendin
The whole land is red.

เคลื่อนพลล้มอำมาตย์
klêuan pon lóm am-màat
Marching to fell the elite.

หนองบัวลำภู
nŏng bua-lam-poo
Nongbualamphoo (a district in Ubonratchathanee).

Red Shirts 2010

14 มี. ค. 53 ปลดแอกทาสอำมาตย์มาเฟีย
14 mee kor 53 bplòt àek tâat am-màat maa-fia
14 March 53 (2010). Taking the yoke off the slaves of the mafia elite!

Mafia is (obviously) a foreign word: มาเฟีย /maa-fia/

Red Shirts 2010

จนเครียดเป็นหนี้คิดถึงนายกทักษิณ
jonkrîat bpennêe kíttĕung naa-yók ták-sĭn
Poor — Stressed — In debt. We miss PM Thaksin.

Red Shirts 2010

สันติวิธี
săn-dtì wí-tee
The peaceful way.

Red Shirts 2010

ร่วมใจร่วมแรง
rûamjai rûamraeng
Hearts united, strength united.

แดงลาดพร้าว
daeng lâat-práao
Reds from Ladprao.

รักความถูกต้องรักความเป็นธรรมรักประชาธิปไตย
rák kwaamtòokdtông rák kwaambpentam rák bprà-chaatí-bpà-dtai
(We) love truth, love justice, love democracy.

14 มีนาคม 2553
14 mee-naa-kom 2553
14 March 2553 (2010).

Red Shirts 2010

This banner mentions government projects that failed for one reason or the other (usually corruption).

โกงปลากระป๋อง
gohng bplaa grà-bpŏng
Corrupt! Canned fish.

Bangkok Post: The 2009 canned fish scandal: Party spokesman Prompong Nopparit yesterday said Wichen Sommat was responsible for arranging flood-relief bags which included Chao Doi brand rotten canned fish. About 100 flood victims became nauseous and vomited after eating the fish products which were donated through the Social Development and Human Security Ministry.

โครงการแพงเพียบ
krohnggaan paeng pîap
Lavish economy project.

A play on words (kaewmala: it’s the play on the term ‘sufficiency economy’). This is in reference to corruption uncovered last year in the Sufficiency Economy Community Projects handled by the Democrats: โครง การ พอ เพียง /krohng gaan por piang/.

ไทยอ่อนแอ
tai ònae
Weak Thai.

More word play, only this one is pointing to a strong Thai project (corruption was apparently discovered there too).

ต้นกล้ามหาโหด
dtônglâa má-hăahòht
The brutal seedlings.

This calls attention to the Tonkla Archeep Project (โครง การ ต้น กล้า อาชีพ /krohng gaan dtôn glâa aa-chêep/), a vocational training program. It’s an expensive Abbisit project that failed enormously (emphasis on the enormous).

Red Shirts 2010

4 เสาดอยแดก
4 săo doi dàek
4 Corruption hill.

This is another play on words. Similar to the west, rich people in Thailand give names to their homes. (บ้าน /bâan/) สี่ เสา เทเวศร์ /sèe săo tay-wâyt/ is the name of Prem’s house. So ดอย แดก /doi dàek/ might be a play on the name of his house. ดอย is a reference to Khao Soi Dao (below — khao also means mountain/hill).

เขาสอยดาว
kăo sŏi daao
Khao Soi Dao.

The land belongs to the forestry department, but a VIP built a resort on the property: Khao Soi Dao land encroachment complaint (no longer online).

Red Shirts 2010

ไอ้รัฐบาโจรหยุดโกหกตอแหล
âi rát-tà-baan john yùt goh-hòk dtor-lăe
Damn government of thieves, stop lying!

Red Shirts 2010

นักรบธุลีดิน
nákróp tú-leedin
Fighters for the common people.

There is a typo in the sign: ธุรี instead of ทุลี (seems that the Red Shirts spell as badly as I do ;-)

แดงพรเจริญ
daeng ponjà-rern
Red Pornchareun (where they are from).

ชมรมคนรักประชาธิปไตย
chom-rom kon rák bprà-chaa tí-bpà-dtai
Democracy lovers club >

อ. เซกา จ. หนองคาย
am-per say-gaa jang-wàt nŏngkaai
Seka District, Nongkhai Province (ditto on original location).

Red Shirts 2010

แดงนำ้ยืนโค่นอำมาตย์
daeng yeun kôhn am-màat
Reds from Nam Yeun come to cut down the elite.

Red Shirts 2010

รักทักษิณ
rák ták-sĭn
We love Thaksin.

Bye, bye Red Shirts…

Well, (knock on wood) that’s pretty much a rap for me and the Red Shirts. Below is the entire week of the Reds:

Larger photos will eventually go up on: Catherine Wentworth: Photography: Red Shirts

A special thanks goes to Gaccha for sharing his VOA files, Khun Phairo for being ever so patient while trying to stuff strong stem a lot cruel into my head, Kaewmala for answering an emergency question as well as adding fabulous insight to the march in the comments (below), and Rikker for being amazing. Again.

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My passion is promoting the Thai language. Fullstop. Oh, and traveling. I'm passionate about that as well. And photography too.

41 Comments

  1. Fantastic post! Thanks for taking the time to translate all that. It gives a more personal feeling to us who can’t read Thai.

  2. And thanks for your support :-) Politics is not a driving force for me, so wading through the slogans was not as thrilling as being behind a lens.

  3. Another excellent piece, Cat. Very competent translation overall. The nuances in the chosen express for many signs are heavily pregnant. I like especially ไม่ต้องจ้าง กูมาเอง which has a tone that is not quite captured I. The translation due to the use of the impolite first pronoun กู which is used subversively here. So, for this I would translate as: “Not hired, I fricking came on my own.”

    Your word of choice “elite” for อํามาตย์ is IMO not strictly incorrect but too generic and misses the key dimension of the real and, I believe, intended meaning, which means “courtiers” or “royal advisors”. (The word for “elite” in Thai is คนชั้นสูง or “the upper class”.)

    The word ทุลีดิน should be ธุลีดิน.

    Last, just personal preference, I would translate โครงการแพงเพียบ as “lavish economy project” considering it’s the play on the term “sufficiency economy”.

    Again, great work!
    .-= kaewmala´s last blog ..From “Wet Bottom” to Masculine Guile =-.

  4. Kaewmala,

    “Not hired, I fricking came on my own”

    I absolutely LOVE your version! And it so fits with his personality (pity I didn’t ask for his tor as his opinions on the subject are sure to be great fun).

    Elite was a stumbling point for me. Um…

    As it’s late, I will look into your wonderful corrections in the morning (after I’ve had at least two strong coffees :-)

    Thank you so much for sharing (I sooooooooo need help)

  5. Cat,This post and all the photos are absolutely amazing. As good as being there………almost. It’s 30 degrees F. where I live but I can feel the heat. Thanks again!

  6. Fantastic post Catherine. I bet NONE of the major news outlets would have had the sense to translate these banners and headbands. They provide a poignant insight into the demonstrations. With the interwebs flooded by pictures of US demonstrations and their stupid typos on their banners, it’s nice to see that you found a typo on one of these. I’m with you…VOTE ORANGE!

  7. Sophie, thanks! Taking the photos was such a grand experience. I’ve never attended anything quite like it before, and others who went said the same.

    Actually, there were very few expats at the rally. I saw one brunet with a Thai husband and child on day three (or was it two?), two blond girls walking around taking photos on day four, also on day four there were two western males in pickup trucks (different trucks), and a few male photographers each day. That was it.

    Lx, VOTE ORANGE! Oh, yes! :-D I agree that if you don’t know what the slogans mean, you are missing the essence of the Red Shirt rally.

    And if I go out again, I’ll concentrate on the signs more because they do tell a story.

    Again, a special thanks goes to Rikker for the explanations and links to the stories, and Kaewmala for rounding them out.

    Note to Cat: Start reading the Bangkok Post and the Nation… and… finish Pasuk Phongpaichit and Chris Baker’s book: Thaksin.

  8. Note to Cat: Don’t forget to read the dailies and forums at 2bangkok.com as well…

  9. Very well done and fun to read. I know this took a lot of time to put together. Thanks for doing this. Definitely the most interesting thing I’ve read about this conflict. It also depicts the heart of the people in a way that’s not patronizing or misleading like so much of what’s being said about the redshirts on the net.

  10. Kaewmala, admittedly อำมาตย์ is a bit tricky to translate. The problem with ‘courtier’ or ‘royal adviser’ is that they pack no punch in English.

    After thinking about it, I think perhaps a better term would be not ‘elitist’. Of course ‘elite’ can be both positive or negative in English, but ‘elitist’, while not specifically tied to monarchy, packs a much bigger punch for English speakers. For this American, at least.

    For example, I think a translation like “Down with the elitist government!” captures the emotion of the Thai slogans fairly accurately for the lay-reader, without intimate knowledge of the particulars of Thailand politics and history.

    Just an idea. Translation is never easy, and usually impossible without context.

  11. Dwight, Thanks! And welcome to WLT. Btw – I always look forward to reading your twitters.

    It did take awhile to finish this post. And I could not have done it on my own (I owe… I owe… :-)

    I had a wonderful time taking photos of the Red Shirts. There were times when I became quite carried away with their disarming enthusium, and their kindness to me was appreciated as well. It was blistering hot taking photos. They noticed, and cooled me off with ice cold cloths (real, not paper) and water along the route. I even had an offer of sticky rice with papaya salad.
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..Red Shirts in Bangkok: Signs of the Time =-.

  12. This is a great post, again, Cat.

    Love how creative you are.

    I saw and spoke to a lot of protest making their way into Bangkok last weekend and spent a lot of time trying to decipher the slogans, this certainly fills in a lot of blanks!

  13. what a wonderful post cat. i must chime in and say this one is for the awards (if i had one to give ~ ah, yes, well, why don’t i create one? an award for you!!!)

  14. dang it i wasn’t done! anyway we left thailand last weekend which is when this was starting to go down. . .so i’m glad i know you so i can go here for the real news. beautiful photos and thank you so much for interpreting, big hug, lc

  15. Amy Praphantanathorn

    March 21, 2010 at 7:22 am

    Everyone has already said it well, Cat. What an INTERESTING post. I’ve always wondered what all the headbands, shirts, banners and signs say. You’ve been so busy with this! Great shots, quality content. This should go down as a classic in Thai language. :)

  16. Thanks for this, Catherine. As a journalist, I’ve been recording and translating leaders’ stage rhetoric (always running it by a native speaker before publishing) but haven’t written much about the signage.

    This adds some clarity to what I’ve been seeing. Particularly fascinated by the subtlety of อำมาตย์.

    A lot of the rhetoric goes over my head, especially when they go all poetic. You could write another post on the semantic argument that broke out in the red camp over the word ไพร่ (prai)

  17. And, hey, Thai101 or Kaewmala or anyone else, what’s the deal with Thaksin saying Abhisit is surrounded by คนม่วง. This is code for homosexuals?

    I’m hearing about lots of trashy anti-gay digs on stage.

  18. Another excellent post Cat. Knowing what the signs say with the wonderful photos really brings it all home.

  19. Good morning all! What a great way to wake up – happy Sunday everyone :-)

    John, My bad that I didn’t stop by the t-shirt sellers and grab a few headbands at least. I was just worried about I’d do with them after it was all over. My condo is at saturation point… no more room for more stuff.

    Hi Lani! Thank you for the award :-) I knew that you were leaving, but during the Red Shirts I lost sight of it all. Everything has been whooooh! around here. I hope you are settling into your new location? Please stop by often as Thailand always has something going on (understatement) HUGS!

    Amy, Thanks! Did Golf get a chance to look at the slogans on TV?

    Talen, Next time I will concentrate on signs during the first days and not the last. Knowing what the signs said clarified their grievances – and reminded me that I really must finish Chris’ book on Thaksin, as well as Red vs Yellow by Nick Nostitz.

  20. Hi Patrick, Apologies, I didn’t see your comment waiting to be approved (I have WLT set for first time approval – after, they come in naturally…).

    The Thai on WLT also gets run via Thais and expats in the know.

    I’ve been reading about the anti-gay comments too – Reds in reference to those around Abhisit, and bloggers pointing back to someone close to Thaksin.

  21. Rikker, I can understand why you’d prefer the term ‘elite’ for อำมาตย์. Yet, there are two reasons, one more pivotal than the other, why I think “elite” does not do justice to the term อำมาตย์ in this particular context.

    First, the less pivotal, to me personally the term ‘elite’ is not tainted the way it is with many Americans (who deride Obama for his accomplishments, as if there was something wrong with having obtained an elite status through hard work – Tiger Woods is still the elite golf player, in the same way that the American is an elite army among the world’s defense forces). I see nothing wrong with “excellence” at least one that’s earned or based on real talent. That said, I do see that literal translation often doesn’t work, and you have to package the message for the target audience. (If “Down with the elitist government!” will resonate better with Americans or other westerners, then perhaps that’s the best one can do in this translation, even though one has to leave out a significant dimension of the intended meaning.)

    Now, the pivotal second reason concerns the intended meaning. The signs written in Thai obviously were intended for the Thais. True, the word อำมาตย์ is archaic; “courtiers” and “royal advisers” are out of place, out of time for most people. But it seems to me that the Reds _purposefully_ chose this archaic term (along with ไพร่ = commoners, peasants, serfs) as a driving force of their rhetoric. The apoplectic reaction from the Bangkok elites should tell you that the terms have rubbed on some very tender spot. The elites and the middle class have tried to dismiss these terms are anachronistic but that _is_ the point: they _are_ or should be anachronistic and that is why the Reds want change (though they haven’t articulated precisely that way).

    In the Thai context there are several groups of elites – monied elite, military elite, bureaucratic elite, political elite, and old aristocratic elite. And all of these elites always vie for power and influence, form alliances that shift and shape as necessary. They make friends and stab in one another’s back (while still often smiling and patting the other’s back): it’s what they do. The term in question, อำมาตย์ refers specifically to the elite of the old aristocratic elite. อำมาตย์ were government ministers from the old days, and the fact that they have no place in a modern democracy is a given.

    To this English-speaking Thai ear (admittedly a professional elite), “Down with elite/elitist government” doesn’t quite convey the meaning intended or pack quite the same punch as, say, “Down with the aristocrat government!” or “Down with the ammat government!”

    Patrick, yes, คนม่วง is a code for homosexuals.

  22. Catherine I wasn’t sure if there was any room left on the comments page but I’m happy to see there is. This post has been heavily replied to and no wonder.

    You’ve killed two birds with one stone with your excellent photos of the red shirts and your Thai language angle. Only you could have thought of that. Put on a ‘Top Girl’ headband after putting together this one.

  23. Kaewmala, Thank you for that fabulous explanation! Using courtiers and serfs does put a different twist on the march (and as intended, takes us backwards in time).

    True, the word อำมาตย์ is archaic; “courtiers” and “royal advisers” are out of place, out of time for most people. But it seems to me that the Reds _purposefully_ chose this archaic term (along with ไพร่ = commoners, peasants, serfs) as a driving force of their rhetoric.

    Martyn, Ta:-) I’ve learned a lot from creating this post.
    .-= Catherine Wentworth´s last blog ..Red Shirts in Bangkok: Signs of the Time =-.

  24. Cat, my pleasure. I am myself quite fascinated by the rhetoric and can’t wait to write about all these words when I’m freed by this sticky report. And I’m also learning – only realized myself that my ear speaks English! (and that commenting on blogs on iPhone really is a pain in the arse)
    .-= kaewmala´s last blog ..From “Wet Bottom” to Masculine Guile =-.

  25. Great post Cat. As usual I made an enormous faux pas the other day. A friend of mine was going to Bangkok and I told her not to wear Red or Yellow and to stay out of trouble I said she should wear ม่วง or purple. She then told me the derogatory things Taksin said about คนม่วง (purple people) and she said she couldn’t wear that color either. It would not have been too much of a faux pas except for the fact that my friend is GAY.

    Thanks for so much good stuff.

  26. Kaewmala, I’m looking forward to you finishing your report too as I’d love to know more about the background. Will my ear speak Thai one day? I can but dream :-)

    Hugh, Hah! So funny. Purple is a colour I wear, so I’ll have to see if I get any raised eyebrows when I joke around with Thai friends this week.

  27. Wow! I forgot to sign up to be notified of followup comments. Congrats on the interest this has generated, Catherine. :)

    Kaewmala, you make excellent points. I actually like the word “aristocrat” as an alternate translation. Though it’s still not exactly right, it’s closer. Like, “อำมาตย์โจร” — “thieving aristocrats” works pretty well. It carries some punch in English, and it’s more explicitly a class distinction.

    Now how about the word ไพร่? I think “peasant” is currently the most common translation, from what I’ve seen. Those who translate it as “slave” I think are going too far. An alternative translation would be “commoner”, but that might not be inflammatory enough. The reds have really built up this อำมาตย์/ไพร่ dichotomy.

    Interesting that ไพร่ goes all the way back to the (traditionally accepted) oldest work of Thai writing: the Ramkhamhaeng inscription (no longer online). It uses the word ไพร่ to refer to subjects/commoners, as in th phrase, เจ้าเมืองบ่เอาจกอบในไพร่, “the lord did not tax the commoners” (which follows immediately after the most immortal line from that stone — ในน้ำมีปลาในนามีข้าว).

    Patrick, I’m curious to know more about this argument over the semantics of ไพร่. Can you elaborate at all?

  28. Rikker – As for prai…

    This from BKK Post on 03/20:

    <blockquote cite ="Meanwhile, Thaksin said to his supporters via video-link last night that he did not want to use the prai word for the red shirts' campaign anymore.

    "I would like to tell the red shirt leaders that Bangkok people don't like the word prai so we should change our word to rasadon temkan [wholly-righteous citizen]," he said."

    And from The Nation on 03/19:

    <blockquote cite ="PM's Office Minister Satit Wongnongtaey said the authorities would launch a publicity campaign to clarify two Thai terms – equating to "class war" and "common man" in English – that Thaksin has been using with negative connotations in a bid to sway sentiment.

    "Class war" is a propaganda lexicon used by the communists during the Cold War, and Thai society has never had a class struggle, he said.

    As for the word prai (common man) used in a degrading manner, which he said Thaksin and the red-shirt leaders had been doing, this does not reflect its true meaning, because society in feudal times did not treat the common man as an outcast.

    In the feudal context, the word prai is equivalent to the word "citizen" in modern times, he added.

  29. It is true that ไพร่ /phrai/ in the old feudal days meant “citizens” but surely not in the modern sense. “Citizens” in those days were “commoners” who were “subjects” of the king. ไพร่ were allowed to own a specific size of land, normally worked under a local lord to whom they paid rent (i.e. “serfs”), and were under legal obligations to pay tribute and labor to the crown. Ever heard of the phrase ไพร่ฟ้าข้าแผ่นดิน? “subjects of heaven, slave of the land.”

    So, dress it up all you want, ไพร่ were commoners, subjects, citizens, and serfs – all of those, and “peasants” too. I’ve seen someone translate the word ไพร่ as “slave”, but that’s not strictly correct because there is a specific word for “slave” in Thai, which is ทาส, and slaves, until 1905, were considered property and had no right to own anything; they were bought and sold and inherited. The word ข้า is sometimes used together with ทาส = ข้าทาส meaning “slave”, but ขี้ข้า = servant, person in servitude.

    Oh, ไพร่ as an adjective also means เลว (as in “base”) – e.g. commoners are base (not refined) – no different from peasants and serfs in old feudal England who were looked down upon by the landed gentry. If you scold someone as having เลือดไพร่ then it means you’ve got some really bad, base, commoners’ blood in you – no gentility to speak of. A kind of insult one can still hear I believe on Thai TV soaps – Rikker? ;-).

    I have noticed that there are individuals in power as well as influential media who are still scared or scarred by the “class war” from the cold war times (late 60’s and 70’s in Thailand), who seem either unable or unwilling to see the current class struggle (red vs. yellow) as legitimate. Or if they do, they try to steer away from the class rhetoric as if in fear to relive nightmares from the old days. Perhaps they have a good reason, perhaps not. Perhaps it’s just an ideological blinder, an intellectual or emotional inability to move beyond the cold war mentality that any class struggle or talk of social injustice must mean communists are in town. This is, IMO, a major hurdle in the current political dialogue. How do you move forward if you can’t talk about stark social inequities and still lop-sided policies that favor the urban elites and still treat the rural poor little better than ไพร่ from the old days?

    It’ll be interesting to see how this ไพร่/อำมาตย์ rhetoric unfolds further.

  30. One more thing, the statement “Thailand has never had a class struggle” is curious and telling. In my view, the Reds have obviously used the term ไพร่ subversively, and the government is smart enough to know it. Come on, _every Thai_ knows what it means in all its connotations. The Reds obviously have tried to define their own, for lack of a better word, “struggle”. They try to use this term to their advantage – to provoke reaction from the current “aristocratic” power holders – and did they succeed!

    The government and (yellow) party liners aren’t having any of it, and are fighting back by attempting to redefine ไพร่ as merely “citizens”. They’re not letting the Reds to define their own identity and status – they don’t like the choice of word because of its subversiveness, hence this fight to control the meaning of just one word ไพร่. Foucault would be proud.

  31. Foucault would be proud ? The fight to control the meaning of one word reminds you of “Les mots et les choses” ? Or does the fact that, as you say, every thai knows what it means in all its connotations but … shush !! rings a bell about the book “surveiller et punir” ?

  32. Perhaps I was being glib :-) – but proud or not, this riveting new battle of meaning (centering around ไพร่ /phrai/ and อำมาตย์ /am-maat/) does remind me of Foucault, specifically his explanations of discourse, knowledge and power, and subjectivity. Right here, being unfolded in front of our eyes, are the competing discursive formations. In the end, whose “regime of truth” will prevail?

    Thai ruling classes have enjoyed the hegemony of meaning without any serious challenge until now. The usual (aristocratic) line has always been that “we treated our /phrai/ well, even our slaves were treated well. See?” (But of course, nobody ever bothered to ask the peasants and serfs and slaves how well they were treated.) And on this basis, it is claimed, there couldn’t have been any class problem then and especially not now because we no longer have serfs and slaves – just “full citizens” ราษฎรเต็มขั้น” (Just that some are fuller than others, but that’s in the fine print.)

    Now, the “full citizens” formerly known as ไพร่ are jumping on the stage (previously reserved for only those with status and rank) to noisily claim “here we are, your good old phrai, and we ain’t wanna be phrai no more; there ain’t no more serfdom; give us full citizenship”. The govt says, “Oi, stupid peasants, you are already ‘full citizens’, what are you jabbering on about? Go back and leave us in peace and quiet with our champagne and be content with your lot.” Problem is the good old /phrai/ has got a taste of a different lot and like it! They have awakened to see that there is no longer serfdom but the ‘lords’ bloody forgot to tell them about the regime change! The source of this new awakening may have been a false prophet, but he was _their_ prophet and they’re p*ssed off all the same, feeling cheated, short-changed. Until they get their due treatment to which, they have learned, they are entitled in the new regime, they ain’t gonna get off the stage. So, now what!

    The real and aspiring aristocrats in the capital shriek: “No, no, no, no and no! This can’t be happening, the stupid peasants are too stupid to understand what’s at stake. They are too backward to live in the new regime, which requires sophisticated learning and profound comprehension of principles and ideas that only _we_ educated genteels can understand. When they are less stupid, we’ll tell them what this all means. Now, go back already; our Mercedes and SUVs have been stuck in traffic for too long, and I’m late for meetings, and it’s getting bloody hot in here! Crank up the aircon, will ya, stupid peasant driver!”

    The drama continues… (and next, I project, we’ll move on to a discursive drama about the word “citizen”)

  33. ‘The drama continues…’ and I’m loving your explanation :-)

  34. I’m really enjoying this discussion.

    I had a lengthy reply about ไพร่ that cited the earliest mentions in Thai writing, including mentioning ไพร่ on lists of things donated to monasteries (arguably treating them like property, not ‘citizens’). I was on the fence about posting it, then later closed the browser without thinking.

    If I find the time maybe I will reconstruct the post. :)
    .-= rikker´s last blog ..Red shirt seeing red? =-.

  35. I have also. Due to those helping, this post has been enlightening (I’d like more of the same).

    People donated to Wats? So, can I nudge you to find the time?
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..Thai Language Thai Culture: Telling Tails – Thai Ending Particles =-.

  36. People donated to monasteries? yes, please, could you find the time?

    In the wonderful lao-french dictionnary by Marc Reinhorn (first edition 1970) he translates ไพ่ by :
    1) peuple, population
    2) sujet (with the example ไพ่ฟ้าข้าแผ่นดิน, not exactly democracy in a modern way…)
    3) roturier (which means of common birth, plebeian) : exactly what the red shirts mean I think.

  37. Mandala now has a post on the English side of things: “Thailand want ยุบสภา”: Red signs in English

  38. It is just horrible what happens in Thailand I was there two years ago and it was great. So I think this demonstrations have a really bad influence on the economie and especially the tourism.

  39. Yes, there will indeed be repercussions. Sad.

  40. Excellent reading! Thanks, Catherine, and others who contributed.

    Is the discussion continuing in Thailand??

  41. Welcome Jan. Yes, the political discussion is ongoing and I don’t see an end to it anytime soon. Both sides have muddied the waters. Both are pointing fingers at each other. They are all Thai, so how about communicating instead?

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