No.25 Thai-Yunnan Project Newsletter June 1994 This NEWSLETTER is edited by Gehan Wijeyewardene and published in the Department of Anthropology, Research School of Pacific Studies; printed at Central Printery; the masthead is by Susan Wigham of Graphic Design (all of The Australian National University). The logo is from a water colour, 'Tai women fishing' by Kang Huo.

Material in this NEWSLETTER may be freely reproduced with due acknowledgement. Correspondence is welcome and contributions will be given sympathetic consideration. (All correspondence to The Editor, Department of Anthropology, RSPAS, ANU, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia.)



Charles Keyes

Professor of Anthropology at the University of Washington and Director of the Northwest Regional Consortium for Southeast Asian Studies.

On the last day of 1993 the field of Thai studies in the United States lost its founding father. Lauriston Sharp, who had devoted so much of his life to promoting the study of Thailand, died December 31, 1993 in the fullness of years at age 86 in Ithaca, New York where he and his wife Ruth, who survives him, had lived for over fifty years.1

Siam was hardly a household word when Lauri first entered the University of Wisconsin as an undergraduate student in the late 1920s. His attention as a student of the fledgling field of anthropology was drawn first to the American Southwest and then to Algeria, where he had taken part in the summer of 1930 in a combined archaeologic/ethnographic field trip organized by the Logan Museum in Beloit, Wisconsin. The next step in his career, however, oriented him toward Southeast Asia. In 1930-31 he became a graduate student at the University of Vienna where his mentor was Robert Heine-Geldern whose work on Southeast Asian cultural history was beginning to define the field.

Heine-Geldern not only excited Lauri's interest in a world that was all but unknown to Americans of the period, but also imbued in Lauri a deep appreciation for the historical process. Although Lauri's historical approach was very different from the diffusionist approach of Heine-Geldern, he maintained an interest in the longue dur of Southeast Asian culture history throughout his life. This interest is most evident in his presidential address to the Association for Asian Studies, 'Cultural Continuities and Discontinuities in Southeast Asia,' (Sharp 1962).

Lauri intended to continue his interests in the anthropological study of Southeast Asia when he entered the PhD program at Harvard in 1931. Shortly after his arrival, Harvard was asked by the Siamese government to designate someone to carry out a rural economic survey of the country. Lauri expressed strong interest in the project, but another anthropology graduate student, James M. Andrews, was actually selected to carry it out (see Andrews 1935). Nonetheless, Lauri had now become very much aware of Siam, although he would not actually carry out work in the country until after it had become Thailand.

Instead of in Siam, Laurie undertook his dissertation research in Australia among the Yir-Yoront living in the Cape York Peninsula of northern Queensland. Although Lauri's dissertation and his first publications based on two years of field research among the Yir-Yoront centered on the 'structural' issues of totemism and kinship (see Sharp 1934a, 1934b, 1935, 1938, and 1943), he is today remembered much more for his insistence in his classic paper, 'Steel Axes for Stone Age Australians' (1952) that even 'primitive' peoples are situated in history.2 He was to draw on his reflections on the social and cultural consequences of technological innovation among the Yir-Yoront in shaping a distinctive approach that he would next employ in research in Thailand.

Lauri remained fascinated with the world of Australian Aboriginals until his death; his last years were devoted, in part, to organizing the materials he had collected in his research on the Cape York Peninsula.

On his way back to the United States from his first fieldwork in Australia, Lauri spent three months travelling in Southeast Asia and China. Although this trip re-ignited his fascination with Southeast Asia, it was not until World War II that conditions created a rationale for the pursuit of Southeast Asian studies in the United States.

Lauri was hired at Cornell in 1936 and remained affiliated with Cornell until his death. After the United States entered the War Lauri was drawn to a small group of scholars outside of Cornell such as Rupert Emerson, Cora DuBois, Raymond Kennedy (see Skinner and Kirsch 1975:14) who had begun to envision a new post-colonial order in Asia. In 1945 Lauri took leave from Cornell to contribute to translating this vision into reality by joining the State Department as Assistant Chief of the Division of Southeast Asian Affairs. Lauri's first published essays concerning Southeast Asia 'Colonial Regimes in Southeast Asia' and 'French Plans for Indochina' (1946a and 1946b) reflect the effort he and others undertook to shape American policy in support of emerging nationalist movements in Asia.

Lauri quickly realized that the implementation of such a policy was severely hampered by the lack of specialists who knew anything about Southeast Asia. Stanley J. O'Connor reports that Lauri was 'appalled, distressed, and really frightened' at the ignorance Americans had of a region of a vast population and rich natural resources.' (O'Connor 1981:3). Lauri returned to Cornell in 1946 determined to create new institutions designed to address this problem.

It is difficult to overstate the radical innovation that Lauri instituted in anthropology at Cornell in the 1940s and 1950s. While most major anthropology departments in the United States continued to operate with a model of 'culture-as-a-whole' and continued to direct students toward research among 'primitive' peoples, Lauri set out with a number of colleagues he helped recruit to study peoples caught up in global processes of modernization. With major support from the Carnegie Corporation, Lauri joined Morris Opler, Allan Holmberg, and John Adair to undertake comparative studies of the impact of modernization on local peoples in Thailand, India, Peru, and the Navajo reservation.

The centrepiece of the 'Cornell-Thailand Project' Lauri initiated and led in 1947 was a multi-disciplinary study of a rural community located near Bangkok. Research began in Bang Chan in 1948 and for the next decade more than a dozen scholars Thai and American, social and natural scientists spent varying lengths of time working in the village.3 More sporadic work continued into the 1970s by which time Bang Chan had become all but absorbed into an ever expanding Bangkok. The Bang Chan project was midwife to a long-term collaborative relationship between Lauri and Lucien Hanks, a collaboration that often also involved Jane Hanks and Ruth Sharp as well.

Bang Chan was chosen somewhat arbitrarily as a local place in which a fragmenting local world could be studied in relationship to surrounding ecological and social conditions and to political and economic influences that emanated from the national capital (cf. Sharp and Hanks 1978:26-27). Bang Chan: Social History of a Rural Community in Thailand, by Lauri and Lucien Hanks (Sharp and Hanks 1975), the work that provides the most comprehensive analysis of the Bang Chan materials, is not an ethnography that reaches closure by relating all behaviour observed and interviews recorded to some underlying structural principles (or even principles of 'loose structure'), but rather an open-ended social history. 'Were there a central character or even a central theme, continuity might suffice to dub this a biography of Bang Chan, but the implication of a structured maturation misrepresents this amorphous community. History presumes a less artful approach and the freedom to be discontinuous' (Sharp and Hanks 1975:30).

The Cornell-Thailand project was but part of a larger endeavour on which Lauri embarked to build a new institutional base for Southeast Asian studies. He also sought to make anthropology central to Southeast Asian studies and to area studies more generally. In 1950, with support from the Rockefeller Foundation, he launched the Southeast Asian Program at Cornell which he directed until 1960. He was for much of this period (1949-1956) also chair of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology. The administrative burdens Lauri shouldered meant that he could not devote as much time to his research as he wanted. His decade of work, however, brought into existence the new field of Southeast Asian studies and the consequences of this work are still being felt not only at Cornell but in all of the universities in North America where Southeast Asian studies has been institutionalized.

Lauri was also a dedicated and generous teacher. As one who today often finds himself caught between competing demands of administration, scholarship, and teaching, I can now better appreciate Lauri's accessibility to students. He always seemed able to find time to help a bewildered student rework a draft paper or a proposal or to offer insightful guidance for class assignments or research.

In the early 1960s Lauri was at the peak of his career. In 1960 he was selected president of the Association for Asian Studies and served in that capacity in 1961-62. In 1963 he, Ruth, and Lucien and Jane Hanks launched a new project in Thailand, one that took them far from Bang Chan to the hills of northern Thailand. The Bennington-Cornell Project entailed 'ethnoecological surveys ... designed not only to investigate and report on unknown areas in the north of Thailand, but also in the process to provide experience in field observation, interviewing and reporting for Thai and American students of culture who were still in the training stage' (Hanks, Hanks, and Sharp 1965: vii). The project was designed to generate data 'on the ethnic 'history' of some 150 hill settlements ... [located mainly] within the 6000 square mile Maekok Region along the Burma borders of Chiengrai province' (Sharp 1965:84; also see Hanks, Hanks, and Sharp 1964).

In the mid-1960s, Lauri was enthusiastic about the project because it seemed to unite all his interests. It made possible the extension of the historical and regional approach that he had developed for the study of a lowland rural community into highland areas where previous studies had typically emphasized the social and cultural separateness of 'tribal' communities. The project also provided a means to assist in training a new group of Thai in the social sciences just as the Bang Chan project had made it possible to train a previous group. The project was also conceived of as assisting policy makers in understanding the dynamics of ethnic groups in upland areas of northern Thailand.

This latter objective reflected Lauri's commitment to an applied anthropology that had its roots in a belief shared by many of his colleagues who had worked together for the U.S. government during and just after World War II that American knowledge and support could be used to promote better lives of those living in a postcolonial Asia. Unfortunately, the reality of American involvement in Southeast Asia by the mid-1960s undermined the good intentions of Lauri and others who shared Lauri's vision.

In 1970 the work of many anthropologists and other non-Thai scholars who had carried out research in Thailand came under intense criticism from other anthropologists and anti-war activists. A special commission of the American Anthropological Association headed by Margaret Mead to investigate what became known as the 'Thailand Controversy' noted that some who engaged in applied anthropology were impelled by an 'optimistic belief that their professional advice and criticism of U.S. programs would, in the long run, secure the beneficial results that the Thai themselves desired' (quoted in Wakin 1992:287). Lauri's own optimism was not only quenched, but he was deeply pained by being named in a 'public dispute' that was mounted, in the words of the Mead Commission report, 'without due and careful consideration of the repercussions upon our colleagues, both members of the American Anthropological Association and others, ... contrary to the spirit of scholarly and scientific work and inimical to international cooperation' (quoted in Wakin 1992:292).

As painful as the 'Thailand controversy' was for Lauri, it did not significantly alter his great scholarly legacy manifest in his numerous students and students of students who now carry on the study of Thailand in Thailand, the United States, Australia, and Canada, in the research collections on Thailand housed at Cornell, and in his own substantial body of scholarly writings. It is also especially evident in the leadership roles that both the Department of Anthropology and the Southeast Asia Studies Program at Cornell that Lauri founded and led in their early years continue to play.

Lauri's influential role in the development of Thai studies was marked by the second of a two volume festschrift presented to him in 1975.4 The essays in Change and Persistence in Thai Society (Skinner and Kirsch 1975a) demonstrate that a field that had not even been imagined when Lauri began his career had, through his influence, achieved a highly respected place within the scholarly world.

I would like to conclude by quoting Lauri's tribute to Heine-Geldern, written in a foreword to Heine-Geldern's Conceptions of State and Kingship in Southeast Asia (1956): 'To a fine scholar and teacher who has done so much for Southeast Asia studies in America as elsewhere, sincere personal and professional thanks are offered' (Sharp 1956:i). I know I speak for Lauri's lO(u,)ksit and colleagues in offering the same tribute to him.


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Editor's note

The two papers that follow were the Australian contribution to the seminar on 'The state of the study of the culture of the Tai people' held by the Office of the National Culture Commission in September last year, in Bangkok. See No. 23 for a report of the seminar. The full proceedings will soon be published in English and Thai by the Commission.


Australian Studies on Tai Peoples

Gehan Wijeyewardene

The study of Thailand and Tai speakers in Australia must be seen as part of two larger projects. In the first instance it is part of a regional project, and this is particularly true of the Research School of Pacific Studies in The Australian National University. Set up as one of four research schools shortly after WWII it was part of the wholly research university. The charter of the school was to research the societies, languages and cultures of the region, the island societies of the Pacific itself and the nations of east and southeast Asia which lay adjacent to the Pacific Ocean, now known as the region of the Pacific Rim. This enterprise was from the first a cooperative one between the various disciplines. Anthropology, then including prehistory and linguistics, was the leading discipline, but from the very start economics, history, geography and later political science were full participants in the enterprise.

In the early years mainland Southeast Asia was under-represented, but with Professor Thomas Silcock's work in the early 1960s, there began a continuing effort, largely centred on Thailand. In the 1950s Professor Bill Geddes took over the Chair of Anthropology at the University of Sydney and this began a whole series of research studies in Southeast Asia, mainly concentrating on the hill tribes of Thailand.

And this leads to the second series of projects within which Australian studies of Thailand and Tai must be seen - as part of a series of disciplinary studies. I feel most competent to talk about the discipline of anthropology. To summarize, I may say that to understand Australian studies of Thailand and the Tai, it should be viewed as Australia's attempt to understand, at the highest intellectual level, the societies of our neighbours to the north and of individual scholars to pursue the interests inherent in their own discipline as represented by the societies and cultures of Southeast Asia. I should also mention another interest which is of great importance, has always been present and has particularly assumed importance in recent years. This is development - the creation of development and the study of development. I shall not, however, discuss this in any detail.

I begin with these brief comments because if one is to appreciate the anthropological and sociological studies of Thailand and the Tai these must be seen in the Australian academic context. Let me take as an example the paper presented by Dr Ananda Rajah at the International Conference on Thai Studies just concluded in London. Dr Rajah is a Singaporean now teaching at the National University of Singapore, but he did his field research and was awarded his PhD from the Australian National University. His fieldwork was with Sgaw Karen in Amphur Mae Taeng, Chiangmai, but he has recently written on the relations between Karen and the 19th century states which now comprise the Kingdom of Thailand. This work is of importance because it raises questions as to how the Thai saw their non-Thai-speaking neighbours and how those neighbours saw the Thai and the Tai. These matters are of consequence because their study helps understand, as Ananda Rajah points out, relations between the Thai of the central plain and the Khon Mang of Chiangmai and the relations of the Khon Mang to the Tai Jai and Shan (and here these two terms are not inter-changeable) and we may extend this further - the Tai Jai to the Khoen, the Khoen to the L and so on. These relations are not transparent and each requires investigation. It may be recalled that until the Khon Mang were fully incorporated into the Thai state, the Thai of Bangkok consistently called the Khon Mang 'Lao', a term not used by them as self-reference. Perhaps I may also add the fact that until quite recently it was not unusual for Thai newspapers to refer to the Shan as a 'hill tribe'.

I may also, in passing, refer to the part the Australian National University has played in fostering Southeast Asian's studying other Southeast Asian societies - though I should hasten to add that it is not this university alone. Dr Ananda Rajah is one, but the ANU has also had Anrini Sofian from Indonesia who worked with a Thai-Islam community in South Thailand. I should also mention Dr Cholthira Satyawadhna who has put forward very controversial ideas about the relationship of Tai (Khon Mang) and Lua in northern Thailand.

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For the record let me briefly note the research being done on Tai peoples outside Thailand, in Australia. I do not mention the extensive linguistic work as this will be dealt with by Dr Diller. Professor Terwiel is reporting on European research at this conference, but on behalf of Australia let me start by claiming him as an Australian pioneer of Tai research. We are all aware of his extensive studies on the Ahom and Tai in Assam. This work was done in Australia. However it is only polite to let him discuss his own work. I may add, however, that he was also one of the first, with Tony Diller, to work with the Black and White Tai from outside Vietnam.

The Thai-Yunnan project has had much coverage in connection with Yunnan Tai, but I should acknowledge that this is largely because of the circulation of the Newsletter. In fact our actual field research has been confined to my own two brief trips to Sipsongpanna and Dehong and Scott Bamber's much more extensive work with Tai L both in Sipsongpanna and Chiang Kham. He also has experience with Lao speakers both in Isarn and Laos. His major interest is medical anthropology. He is no longer with the Thai-Yunnan Project though he continues to edit our Newsletter. I may add here that the Newsletter has also contributed to studies of the Tai by publishing translations of Chinese papers on the Tai.

Paul Cohen of Macquarie University has also worked with the Lu on medical anthropology and specifically on the delivery of primary health care. Philip Hirsch, who is a geographer, has recently worked with Tai in Vietnam.

Grant Evans, who is now at the University of Hong Kong, may perhaps be claimed by Asia. In fact he has worked for many years through the University of New South Wales and La Trobe University in Melbourne. He has written extensively on Laos on a wide variety of topics. His most recent work on Tai-ization presented to the ICTS in London is in my opinion most important in considering the nature of the Australian contribution to the study of the Tai people, and it picks up a theme which is becoming increasingly crucial to the international study of ethnicity. Finally, related to the question of ethnicity, Niti Pawakapan, a student in our department is looking, among other things, at the relation between Tai Jai speakers and Kham Mang speakers in the town of Khun Yuam in Maehongsorn, and at the sociolinguistic relations of the three versions of Tai (Thai) spoken there - Thai, Tai Jai and Kham Mang..


I shall use the work of Grant Evans to represent what I consider to be an important thrust in Australian work in Tai studies. Let me try very briefly to summmarize his argument. He starts with the most important work by George Condominas 'Essay on the evolution of Thai political systems', the English translation of which was published by the Thai-Yunnan Project. Essentially Condominas argued that the spread of Tai societies and political systems was by small armed groups of nobles who occupied and dominated autochthonous groups of Mon-Khmer and other language speakers. Through intermarriage and political domination they created the typical mang structure. This view was attacked by Michael Vickery in his review of the translation and I cite Evans' summary of the criticism.

The drift of Condominas's argument relates to the so-called rapidity of Tai conquest of mainland Southeast Asia, but Vickery shows that the consensus emerging now is that the penetration of this area by Tai originating in contemporary Guangdong and Guangsi began 2000 years ago 'which is after all not so rapid'.

The counter proposal, with which Evans appears to agree, is that Tai domination of the plains and more rapid population growth were the main mechanisms of domination. But of course, Evans is not one who insists on either/or theories. Essentially he appears to take the view that the Tai-ization hypothesis is insufficient, that Tai-ization itself is a much more complex process, is not a total explanation and needs much more careful analysis.

One of the cases which keeps being referred to is that of the Laha, mentioned briefly in Condominas. The Laha are one of the peoples used by Benedict in the construction of his Kadai hypothesis - the link between the Tai languages and Austronesian. In fact it appears that the Laha are actually an Austronesian-speaking people who have been heavily Tai-ized, but whose domestic language remains identifiably Austronesian.

Evans shows that the Sing Moon, a group undergoing Tai-ization both through contact with Black Tai and the policies of the government, still maintain essential symbols of ethnic identity. Tai-ization does take place, but the conclusion must be that it is not specifically a Tai process - after all the Tai in Vietnam become Vietnamized. Many of the features of the process such as marriage alliance with native chiefs are strategies used by all elites of the region, not just Tai; and perhaps more important there is a confusion of modern notions of 'nation' being identified with 'ethnicity' being transferred to traditional systems in which such identification was not made. I would however add a caveat here. Because notions of a congruence of ethnic group and national territory are 'modern', this is not to say that the notion of territory was absent from the thinking on traditional political units. The ideology of the mang had clear ideas of demarcated territory.

The message one has from Evans's work is that detailed study advises caution. There are no simple answers. Nevertheless, it is quite clear that demands of political interest play a large part in the creation and definition of ethnicity. The work of the Thai-Yunnan Project, Scott Bamber, Niti Pawakapan and myself demonstrate this is different ways. Niti's work, which is still incomplete, appears to show how in a community like Khun Yuam, the demands of a Central Thai-speaking policy are balanced by community interests where Tai Jai and Kham Mang-speaking groups interact at official and some other levels, but maintain their own organizations, particularly wat. This is in miniature a picture of what we traditionally had for Chiangmai where at the turn of the century Luang Anusarn created a Thai-speaking wat - Uppakut Thai, and such groups as Burmese, Tai Jai, and Pa-o had their own wat which used their own languages - a situation which continues today.

The centralizing policies of governments is clearly a major factor in the study of Tai communities today. One must see this very conference as a cultural manifestation of a strong government trying to incorporate, by understanding, groups with which it has cultural and national identity. In Dehong, and Sipsongpanna, in Kengtung as well as elsewhere we see this process in action. In northern Thailand I may mention the attempts early this century to curtail the activities of Khru Ba Sri Wichai as part of standardizing the Buddhist religion. In Kengtung the vandalism of destroying the palace of the Caw Fa is a stark symbol of this process. Chinese government policy towards all minority ethnic groups is quite clearly to transform them into harmless tourist attractions. They would like to make water-splashing at Songkran the symbol of Tai both in Dehong and Sipsongpanna. This process is largely helped by taking the best students from minority primary schools and streaming them into the Han education system.

Scott Bamber's work demonstrates similar processes in the field of traditional medicine. Strong government control - and destruction during the cultural revolution - has now defined those fields in which Sipsongpanna Tai have access to their own medical tradition. On the one hand there is control of herbal medicine with prospects of future profit and the ideologically-based suppression of spirit-based curing practices. I am not advocating spirit healing, I rather point to this as a gross interference with a peoples' liberty.

On the other hand there is the ineptitude of trying to promote local training within a language policy which destroys whatever good intentions may have motivated the policy in the first place. Training is in Pu Tong Hua rather than in Tai. This language policy even pervades academia where scholarship on Tai, and presumably on other cultures is done only through Chinese language and Chinese sources. I hope things have changed, but in 1990 the International Conference on Thai Studies gave the clear impression that scholars of the Tai in China did not seem to think knowledge of the language was a necessary tool of scholarship.

24 August 1993.

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Tai languages: varieties and subgroup terms

Anthony Diller

Faculty of Asian Studies, ANU

The following list of terms is in no sense intended as a definitive taxonomic treatment of Tai varieties but rather as an ongoing 'work-in-progress of convenience'. Contributions will be gratefully received from those who can provide updated information, corrections, additions or speculations. Such assistance will be acknowledged in future recensions.


Note that many Southwestern Tai languages are referred to in compound expressions with 'Tai-' (or Dai-, variously spelled [x [xy and [t) followed by a specifier, e.g. 'Tai-Dam' -- 'Black Tai'; these are listed above under the Thai-language specifiers (e.g. Dam). Varieties associated with a single locale or toponym, like 'Suphanburi Thai', are only occasionally indicated. Similarly, in Northern- and Central-branch varieties, analogous use is made of the prefixal form Bu- (or PU. - ) as though 'people of such-and-such a place'). Note that variant spellings in D/T, B/P, etc., for languages in China may be merely a matter of Pinyin vs previous romanization systems.

In preparing this list, the compiler is especially indebted to Professors Wang Jun, Xie Yuanzhong, and B.J. Terwiel; to Luo Yongxian and Li Xiangyang; to Drs. David Bradley (p.c. and forthcoming) and Gehan Wijeyewardene. Most population estimates have been taken from work of these authorities. (Estimates are for the late 1980's; a degree of uncertainty approaching 10% should be assumed for many -- perhaps most -- figures.) Other sources: R.B. Jones (1965); F.K. Li (1977); Gainey and Thongkum (1977); Wilaiwan Khanittnanan (2526/1983); James R. Chamberlain (1984); Therephan L. Thongkum1985); Pranee Kullavanijaya (1985); Sun Ekasan lae Wichai Watthanatham Echia Akhane (1985); Ruegdet Pankhuenkhat (2531/1988); Suriya Ratanakul (1990); Dang Nghiem Van et al., (1986); Program for Thai Studies in Vietnam, University of Hanoi, p.c. (1990) Keyes (1993 and sources therein).

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The Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, Thailand

Andrew Brown5

The Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare was inaugurated on 25 November 1993. The event represented one of the few bright moments in what had been a tough first year for the Chuan government's relationship with labour. Emerging battered, bruised and disorganised from the NPKC period, labour presented the new administration with a broad range of demands. Apart from seeking a restoration of basic rights, workers also appealed to government to improve social security legislation, pursue a minimum wages policy which linked wages to cost of living and levels of economic growth, promote the development of skills and promulgate improved laws relating to children, youth, the aged and the invalid (raenggnan porithat, 1992:15-17).

Despite making some strides toward the protection of child sex workers and legislating for paid maternity leave, the government soon found itself being criticized for being too slow in tackling labour problems. This view became further entrenched throughout 1993, a year described as one of 'tragedy' and 'crisis' (Banthit, 1993b). In May the worst industrial fire in Thailand's history claimed the lives of almost two hundred young men and women and left hundreds more injured. For many the fire appeared as a symbol of all that is wrong with a national development strategy which has emphasized economic growth regardless of the human costs involved. The greed of employers who hired workers to labour under sub-standard and dangerous conditions and the corruption and inefficiency of government officials who failed to enforce industrial safety laws attracted both national and international attention and condemnation.

Before the smoke had cleared, labour problems were once again in the national spotlight following sackings at one of Thailand's largest textile companies. Faced with increasing international competition, employers argued that workers had to make way for the introduction of new technology. Labour, however, saw the move as yet another attempt at union busting. The view appeared to be justified as among the first to be sacked were leaders of the company union including Arunee Srito, long-time labour activist and president of the influential Textile Garment and Leather Worker's Federation. With strikes, sit-ins, rallies outside Government House and police called in to protect company property, the government faced a major crisis which added to its instability (Bangkok Post 15/7/1993). Although eventually defused through a ministerial order instructing employers to reinstate workers, the episode fuelled further public debate over questions of employer greed, labour rights, economic equity, social justice and government management of a modern industrial workforce.

The establishment of the Ministry could not have come at a better time for Chuan and his coalition government. With 13,000 staff and an initial budget of 271 million baht, the Ministry has been portrayed as a concrete demonstration of the importance which the administration attaches to labour and social welfare issues (Chuan, 1993:98-99). However, the opening of the Ministry was not only important in generating support for a besieged administration but it also possesses significant implications for the development of working class struggles being simultaneously a product, determinant and object of those struggles.

As a product of struggle, the establishment of the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare represents a 'dream come true' (Banthit 1993a). Since the late 1920s the Thai state has established a maze of committees, divisions, offices, sections and departments all of which have had some role to play in the administration of labour affairs. In 1965 many of these agencies became concentrated in the Department of Labour within the Ministry of Interior. By the 1990s, however, the squat concrete building that was the Department's head office was bursting its seams, full of papers and files, staff crammed into every nook and cranny, and badly in need of maintenance. Two decades of rapid economic expansion and the emergence of a modern industrial proletariat had created problems and demands with which the under-resourced Department could not possibly cope. For labour, the fact that Thailand alone among its Southeast Asian neigbhours lacked a labour ministry suggested an absence of government committment to find solutions to its problems and grievances.

The new Ministry is composed of seven agencies; two secretariats (Office of Secretary and Office of Permanent Secretary), four departments (Employment, Public Welfare, Skill Development and Labour Welfare and Protection) and an Office of Social Insurance. Certainly many workers see these newly formed institutions as a victory of sorts, as a recognition of the legitimacy of their grievances and struggles. Of course, the establishment of the new Ministry must also be seen to be a partial victory for its officials who will enjoy both an expanded number of positions, improved career paths, increased prestige and enhanced influence in the policy making process. It is also a gain for some sections of the capitalist class whose capital-accumulation needs are requiring a greater commitment and deployment of state resources devoted to the education, training and skilling of the labour force.

The new ministry now represents the central apparatus through which state power, in the form of policies, laws and regulations, will be imposed, exercised and administered. It is significant that the official seal of the Ministry depicts three thewada, the middle angel representing a neutral government flanked to the right by capital and to the left by labour. The seal symbolizes a deepening commitment on the part of the state to the ideology and practice of tripartism (Chuan, 1993).

First introduced in the 1950s and entrenched further in the 1975 Labour Relations Act, tripartism operates as both an enabling and constraining influence on the development of working class struggles. While it formally recognizes basic rights to associate, bargain collectively and strike, it constrains struggles by seeking to channel and divert them into safe harbours, ensnaring protests in a complex web of structures and processes so that industrial peace is not threatened. Official statistics suggest that as a form of industrial control, the institutionalization of the class struggle through tripartism has been a success with relatively low levels of industrial conflict being reported for most of the 1980s and early 1990s. However, while the official symbolism of the new ministry suggests a deepening commitment to tripartism the repressive aspect of labour control remains. Labour activists still face harrassment, intimidation and sometimes death in their efforts to organize workers and improve wages and conditions (cf.raengngan porithat, 1993:22-23).

As an object of struggle, the Ministry now forms a focal point for classes and groups battling to achieve, enforce and impose their social and political interests and objectives. Already the ministry has been presented with a huge range of demands from labour (Banthit, 1993b: 87-97). Technocrats and politicians have also been quick to place pressure on the Ministry. Chira Hongladarom (1993), for example, head of the influential Human Resources Institute at Thammasat University, has argued that a major test of the Ministry will be its ability to effect an improvement in labour productivity. For Chira, the days when Thailand's industrial growth depended on cheap, unskilled and disorganized labour are over. As capital moves to exploit cheaper labour in China, Vietnam and Indonesia, Thailand's international competitiveness will, it is argued, lie in the greater development of its human resources. In textiles, electronics, footwear, iron and steel and in agro-processing, the introduction of new technology will require better skilled and trained workers. For others, the Ministry's most pressing problem is related to the spread of AIDS with a reported 500,000 workers now HIV positive (The Nation, 1/10/1993). Thus, with its wide ranging area of responsibilities the Ministry and its officials now occupy the hot seat, their duties requiring them to attempt to deal with pressures imposed by classes and groups with antagonistic interests and objectives.

Apart from its implications for the class struggle, the establishment of the Ministry also holds some significance for the transition from an authoritarian to a more democratically based regime. A defining feature of democratic regimes is the division made between economic and political class struggle (Jessop, 1978:29). In Thailand, this separation and its institutionalization has posed problems. Under authoritarian regimes, labour struggles have quickly become politicized, with even basic claims being seen as threats to political stability and national security, justifying the repression of workers and their organisations. The most recent example was during the NPKC period. However, the removal of labour administration from the control of the Ministry of Interior can be seen as part of a shift in which labour is seen less as a political and security issue to one more amenable to 'scientific' economic planning, 'rational' systems of industrial relations and 'modern' human resource management. The concerted appeals for officials to alter their superior, paternalistic and aristocratic attitudes toward labour underscores the importance which many attach to fundamentally changing the way in which labour problems are both perceived and administered (Bangkok Post 28/7/93; The Nation 10/10/1993).

The tripartite foundations of the Ministry also suggest a further commitment to and institutionalization of the separation of politics and economics as trade unions struggles are restricted to issues of wages and conditions while broader social and political reform are to be effected through political parties. However, as noted above, tripartism carries both pluses and minuses for labour. While it recognizes basic rights to organize, bargain collectively and strike, these rights can only be exercized with respect to a closely circumscribed range of issues. These structural constraints and limits, however, conflict with labour's own view of itself as a broader social movement which necessarily must become involved in politics (Somsak, 1993:130-133). As Somsak Kosaisuk, head of the powerful State Enterprise Labour Relations Group stated recently '...we are stymied; if we pursue our particular interests (i.e. wages and conditions) society accuses us of being self-interested and if we pursue a broader social interest, we are accused of being in breach of the law' (Banthit, 1993b:14-15).

Since the 1920s labour has constantly pressured capital and the state for recognition of its basic rights. These struggles have often formed a rallying point for wider social strivings to achieve the 'objectives' and 'guarantees' characteristic of democratic state forms (Hewison, Rodan and Robison, 1993:6). It would appear that these rights, the NPKC period notwithstanding, are becoming increasingly difficult to deny as both business and government are being encouraged to allow workers to organize, and to see that ' is in their interests to work with labour more actively, rather than writing unions off as 'mobs' that are hired by politicians for personal gain' (Callahan, 1993). For the moment at least, many are becoming persuaded by such appeals and those elements of the state and capital who favour more repressive measures appear now to face a tougher job in securing acceptance for their views.

Whether seen as part of the Chuan government's response to increasingly complex and seemingly intractable labour problems, or as a product, determinant and object of class struggle, or as marking a point on the path toward the development of a more democratic political form, the establishment of Thailand's fifteenth ministry is certainly a significant occasion. The activities of the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare and its officials will merit close scrutiny during 1994 and beyond.


Banthit Thonchaisetawut (1993a), 'krasuan raengngan: khwam fan thi klai cha pen ching? (The Labour Ministry: A Dream About to Become True?)' paper delivered at the seminar on The Labour Ministry: What Should and Shouldn't It Do, Thammasat University, May 1993.

Banthit Thonchaisetawut (ed.) (1993b), raengngan thai 2536: soknatakam lae wikritakan (Thai Labour 1993: Tragedy and Crisis), Arom Phongphagnan Foundation and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Bangkok.

Brown, A. and S. Frenkel, (1993), 'Union Unevenness and Insecurity in Thailand' in S. Frenkel, (ed.) Organized Labor in the Asia-Pacific Region: A Comparative Study of Trade Unionism in Nine Countries, ILR Press, Ithaca, New York.

Callahan, W. (1993), 'Decentralisation and the Labour Ministry' in The Nation, 23 September.

Chira Hongladarom (1993), Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, Bangkok Post 28 November.

Chuan Leekphai (1993), 'Speech of the Prime Minister on the opening of the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare' in Banthit Thonchaisetawut (ed.) (1993b), raengngan thai 2536: soknatakam lae wikritakan (Thai Labour 1993: Tragedy and Crisis), Arom Phongphagnan Foundation and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Bangkok.

Hewison, K. and A. Brown, (1993), 'Labour and Unions in an Industrialising Thailand: A Brief History' Working Paper No.22 Asia Research Centre, Murdoch University, Western Australia.

Hewison, K., G. Rodan, and R. Robison, (1993), 'Changing Forms of State Power in Southeast Asia' in K. Hewison, R. Robison, and G. Rodan, (1993) Southeast Asia in the 1990s, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, pp.2-8.

Jessop, B. (1978), 'Capitalism and Democracy: The Best Possible Shell?' in G. Littlejohn, (et al. eds), Power and the State, Croom Helm, London.

raengngan porithat (Labour Review) (1992) Vol.6 No.11 November.

raengngan porithat (Labour Review) (1993) Vol.7 No.7 July.

Somsak Kosaisuk (1993), khabuankan raengngan kap phrutsapha mahahot (The Labour Movement and the Bloody May Events published as Labour Against Dictatorship), edited and translated by Andrew Brown, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Bangkok.

Turton, A. (1984), 'Limits of Ideological Domination and the Formation of Social Consciousness' in A. Turton, and S. Tanabe, (eds), History and Peasant Consciousness in Southeast Asia, National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka.

* * *

Water resources development in rural Thailand: ideologies and opportunities

Roger Attwater6


There are two seemingly conflicting ideologies applied to rural water resource development throughout the world. The first is based upon the notion of water primarily as a resource for national economic growth, with allocation through market mechanisms considered ideal. The second notion is that of water as a source of diverse community values which should be allocated through public processes to consider the tradeoffs between environmental and local economic uses (Gregg et al. 1991).

This paper explores these two ideologies in the Thai context. Rural development in Thailand has been described as a '...shifting dialectic between local and central authorities (which) has a number of ambiguities' (Hirsch 1990). The current Thai government has strong support from the Thai business community and its policies tend towards economic rationalism. Rural Thai society is a complex mix of traditional social institutions, State institutions, and market structures and incentives. The management of water resources is a crucial case in which conflicting ideologies occur.

It is proposed that considerations based around catchment management can assist in considering some form of meeting point for these ideologies, particularly if considered in terms of the issues of scale, decision-making power, and economic viability. An example is given of a small co-operative catchment management project in Phetchabun Province.

Thai water resource development

Thailand has a long history of water resource development; well developed irrigation channels are known to have been built in the north more than 700 years ago by King Mangrai of the Lanna Kingdom. More recently, irrigation development in the central region was encouraged by King Rama V, at the turn of the century, responding to foreign demand for rice. After the Second World War the World Bank and the IMF assisted with the development of the first National Economic and Social Development Plan. From 1952 onwards a number of dam developments were financed by the World Bank. Thailand has now developed at least 872 large and medium scale projects for irrigating more than 3 million hectares of farmland, and 39 large-scale hydro electric dams (Boonkrob et al. 1991).

The following brief overview of current and forecast supply schedules and levels of water use are derived from a recent ESCAP (1991) assessment. This report analysed use and demand data from 1980 until 1989, with predictions for 1990 until 2000. A summary of forecast water use needs through the 90s is given below.

Table 1. Forecast water use demand by sector, 1990-2000


       Forecast water use needs (million m3/yr)

      Sector            1990     1995      2000

      irrigation       30,000   34,000    38,000
      rural domestic       62      383       938
      urban domestic    1,468    2,180     2,967
      industry          1,547    1,869     2,339
      electricity      37,847   61,332    83,580

      (ESCAP 1991)
Large scale irrigation projects have been developed in the central region, including the greater Chao Phraya irrigation scheme which covers 1.2 million hectares. The water use for irrigation water is projected to increase by 28% by the year 2000. Rapid urbanization in the north is expected to reduce stream flow exports causing decreasing trends in available surface water in the central region.

Rural domestic water supply includes shallow wells, deep wells, piped water supply, surface water and ponds, and rainwater jars. Piped water is preferred, but maintenance, wastage and inefficient collection of water charges have plagued previous government projects. While by the end of 1983, only 15% of the rural population were serviced with sanitised water sources, the government project supplying 2000 litre rainwater jars has been very successful in assisting the provision of adequate supplies. The rural demand was projected to increase by 1500% by the year 2000 !

Industry is only a small user by volume, but already there are a number of problems, and water use is expected to increase at about 10% per year. For surface water, problems of waste mismanagement and thermal pollution can reduce available water to other sectors. Most industrial water is pumped from deep wells. Near Bangkok extraction rates in the late 80s were twice that of safe yields, resulting in land subsistence with resultant structural damage and increased flood risk, and saline intrusion from the coast (ESCAP 1991).

A rational re-allocation

From the figures above it can be seen that industry is a relatively small user of water as compared to irrigated agriculture, which uses 30 times more water than industry to generate a unit of GDP (ESCAP 1991). Similarly, while Thailand has traditionally been a regional leader in the export of rice, the original rationale for the large irrigation projects, it is currently finding Vietnam a major competitor. These reasons were presented by the Thai Minister for Water Resources as showing the sense of re-allocating water resources away from agriculture to industrial estates, in his speech to the International Conference on Environmentally Sound Water Resource Utilisation, in Bangkok last November.

An NGO response

At the 1991 People's Forum in Bangkok, Boonkrob et al. (1991) presented a discussion of how State-controlled water resource development, in response to a growth-oriented development strategy, has failed to solve the problems of the majority of people and has contributed to Thailand's ecological problems. The large-scale developments were characterised as benefiting economically powerful industry, agro-industry, or urban groups. Projections of services such as irrigated area and electricity generated were considered unrealistically optimistic, with concomitant impacts on forested land in the catchments above dam developments, reinforcing local water shortages.

Boonkrob et al. (1991) presented cases of locally-controlled and adapted water resource systems including the traditional channel-based muang faai systems in the north, the volunteer irrigation systems in the north-east, and water management on individual farms. These were presented as viable alternatives which incorporated local decision-making, regulation, and utilization according to needs. Local water users groups were considered to be a 'foundation for community self-reliance', with these groups in the best position to take active lead roles in managing catchment forests, and regulating local use.

Catchment management

Catchment management is as much about people and perceptions as it is about water and biophysical resource management. In considering the ideologies presented above, the interconnected issues of scale, decision-making power and economic viability are considered crucial. These are potential leverage points for which catchment management may have an advantage.

Firstly, catchments are nested in scale, from the smallest tributary to river basins. Depending upon resources and whether the focus is on village-scale systems, aggregate stream flow, or water resource policy an appropriate scale of catchment can be chosen. Opportunities are also additive throughout this scale, for example the strategic location of particular organizational or engineering structures on a small scale can effectively add to management at the downstream, larger scale. Water management at the local scale can assist with the most crucial re-allocation, storing wet season flow to support consumptive and productive uses during the cool and dry seasons.

Secondly, within this scale there is the opportunity to increase decision-making power of different organizations throughout the scale. It is not the case that local decision-making power is only achieved at the loss of centralized power, but a 'generative dimension' (Korten 1986) whereby real gains can be made by all stakeholders. Rather than attempting the impossibility of the integration of departmental objectives at a higher scale, these agencies can contribute what they feel is appropriate in each particular catchment case. For example, the Royal Forestry Department has the lead role in the Sam Mun Highland Development Project in the north, which seeks to involve communities in forest catchment protection (Samer Limchoowong n.d.). Once a lead is taken, other bodies including universities and NGOs can participate.

At the national level, while the policy debate continues as if water was an economic resource the situation occurs whereby, '...Thailand is among few countries that provide irrigation water to the people free of charge. Thai farmers have been accustomed to this subsidy for so long that they now think that they are entitled to free water and they use it wastefully' (ESCAP 1991). Paradoxically, water may be best 'priced' in rural cases through management with local user groups, whose organizations can draw upon both contemporary and cultural institutions to legitimize their roles in monitoring and regulation of water use. This has been found the case in many well established irrigation user groups throughout the world.

Klong Nam Thin Catchment, Phetchabun

An example of this form of catchment management is currently beginning in a small rural catchment, Klong Nam Thin Catchment, Phetchabun Province. An open ended inquiry with local village leaders identified that local water resource management was the initial leverage point required before they could begin to develop integrated agricultural systems and alternative economic opportunities. With funding support from the Australian Small Activities Scheme, a village council and local teachers have initiated a planning and management group to implement a small stepped weir to supply water to a settlement area. They have planned to supply only a key water supply line; households who wish to use the water must pay for a lateral pipe and meter. Similar plans are developing in the next village downstream. The local and provincial governments are very supportive, and agencies such as the Department of Land Development, and a forestry company are keen to offer inputs for soil conservation and agro forestry trials as part of the broader catchment planning process as it develops.


While the 'rational economic' and 'community-level' ideologies are seemingly opposed when considering appropriate forms of rural water resource development, catchment management may provide a point of contact for the different stakeholders and ideologies involved. This is considered particularly the case when key issues of scale, decision-making power, and economic viability are considered.

Competing demands for available water resources will continue to increase. Through the integration of local user groups, catalytic assistance from outside groups, and ongoing technical support from government agencies, catchment management has the potential to develop wider political support in Thailand.


ESCAP (1991) 'Assessment of water resources and demand by user sectors in Thailand', Report ST/ESCAP/1068, Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok, Thailand.

Gregg, F., Born, S.M., W.B. Lord, and M. Waterstone (1991) 'Institutional responses to a changing water policy environment', Final report to the Department of the Interior, Water Resources Research Center, University of Arizona, Tucson.

Hirsch, P. (1991) Development dilemmas in rural Thailand, Oxford University Press.

Korten, D.C. (1986) 'Community-based resource management' In D.C. Korten (ed.) Community management: asian experiences and perspectives , Kumarian Press.

Porntip Boonkrob, Chatchawan Thongdeelert, Prateung Narintrangkoor Na Ayuthdhaya (1991) 'Local water resource management, Thailand, International case studies: Water, 1991 People's Forum, Bangkok, Thailand, October 8-17, 1991.

Samer Limchoowong n.d. 'Developmental local organisation for watershed management in Sam Mun Highland Development Project' SM-HDP document.

* * *

'Deconstructing Tai (Thai) Ethnicity'

The project is taking the opportunity of a visit by Charles Keyes to hold a one-day seminar on the above topic. Other participants will include Grant Evans, Craig Reynolds, Anthony Diller, Peter Ross and Luo Yongxian.

Tuesday, 30 August, Coombs Building, ANU

Enquiries to convenor.

Gehan Wijeyewardene

* * *


Mayoury and Pheuiphanh Ngaosyvathn Kith and kin politics: the relationship between Laos and Thailand Journal of Contemporary Asia Publishers: Manila and Wollongong 1994. viii (unpaginated), 137 pp. Bibliography.

Reviewed by Gehan Wijeyewardene

It is fortuitous, but fitting, that this book should appear in the year of the formal opening of the Friendship Bridge linking Thailand and Laos. The opening of the bridge echoed an event in 1972 when 'King Phumiphol Adulyadej [officially spelled 'Bhumibol'] sailed to the Tha-Lao boundary in the middle of the Mekong River in Nong Khai province to attend a ceremony celebrating the beginning of Thailand's purchase of electricity from Laos' Nam Ngum dam' (124).

This wife and husband team are formidable Lao historians who have made a massive contribution to their field over many years. The bibliography of this book, in five languages, alone makes it worth having. That is not to say that one cannot have important disageements with many aspects of it.

The book moves from The legend of Khun Borom to contemporary prospects of some kind of industrial boom across the Thai-Lao border. For example:

Laos also possesses important mineral deposits such as 1 billion tons of high grade iron. The exploitation of this mineral would make Laos the major iron producer in Southeast Asia (120-1).

However, this contemporary financial-industrial love affair occupies only the final pages of the book. The major chapter (4) of the book (The geo-political knot: "land-based threats" and strategic thinking revisited [66 pages, incl. notes]) is a chronological account of a mostly painful relationship between the two countries since the colonial intrusion into Southeast Asia. With reservations, which I shall set out in a moment, this chapter is now a necessary reading for anyone trying to understand the recent history of this region.

The first forty-odd pages take up a number of background issues of which I will draw attention to one, the key argument, however, appearing in Chapter 4, referred to above.

Mayoury and Pheuipanh take it for granted that the separate national categories are transparent and go back into ancient history - despite the recognition of close language and cultural connections between the two. I think the issue may be appreciated with a single brief citation.

Historically, the first ever recorded Lao-Thai border ran though the watershed line between the Menam Chao Phraya basin and the Mekong river basin as chronicled in the Nithan leuang khun bolomrasa (Chronicles of King Boromraja)

It is claimed this document records events of the 14th century.

I have argued that some modern views about the non-existence of boundaries in Southeast Asian politics before colonial times is contradicted by the evidence and the views expressed here seem to support that view. Nevertheless, the Mayoury-Pheuipanh view goes much further. It specifically denies the 'galactic' nature of the Lao kingdom, thereby rejecting the notion that kingdoms such as Lan Xang were composites of mang which may not have been of similar ethnicity. In fact they specifically claim,

the Lao are fond of keeping record of territorial delimitation. It seems they are the only people in Southeast Asia to give attention to such issues since long before colonial times (56).

This view allows the authors to claim a historical depth to the notion of a Lao nation and fosters a partisan view which clearly gives this book the character of a polemic arguing the Lao case against the Thai.

These are the reservations I expressed, above, in the more detailed argument about recent events. The view, which should be criticized, however understandable, is that Laos is badly done by, by the fact that many Lao-speakers are within Thailand and at the same time the Lao leadership takes the view that the colonial-imposed treaties and borders should not be questioned however unfair and ridiculous they are.

I would like to raise another minor point. On page 60 the oft-repeated view of the irredentist policies of Pibul Sonkhram and Luang Vichit Vadhakarn enters the argument. That there is another side to the story is indicated by a brief comment on page 86,

in 1989 the Lao chairman of the Lao-Thai Friendship Association, Sisana Sisane, the most outspoken spokesman of the Pathet Lao visited Luang Vichit Vadhakarn's family to show gratitude for the occasion during his exile in Siam in the 1940s, when he had been lodged at the home of Luang Vichit

I hope this book will be widely read by those concerned with the region and I am sure it will raise much controversy.

* * *

Scott Bamber is away on fieldwork and this issue of the Newsletter is edited by Gehan Wijeyewardene in the Department of Anthropology, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, The Australian National University.


The electronic mail address for correspondence is:

This issue of the Newsletter is published with the aid of a grant from the National Thai Studies Centre.

We have had to hold over other book reviews, book news and other news for the next issue.



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