Friday, November 14, 2014

Taksin: The King of Thonburi

Thonburi Kingdom
Thailand had a lot of Kings that became retrievers of independence and glory. From Ramathibodi, to King Naresuan, many Kings brought back the prestige of the Siamese Kingdoms and became respected and considered great rulers. In the 18th century, the Siamese Kingdom of Ayutthaya (Ayudhya) faced invasion and division once again. But a man born from an intermarriage rose to power and prominence to revive the unity of the Siamese people for another time and became a player to the foundation of modern Thailand.

King Taksin was considered one of the greatest Kings of Thailand, ruling from 1768 to 1782. Born from a marriage of a Chinese and a Siamese, he rose to prominence and position. When Ayudhya met its end, he rode with his army towards creating a new kingdom – Thonburi. He was a creator of a kingdom, but his end years did not reflect his glorious years. Struck by either insanity or extreme fanaticism, he lose control of his kingdom and paved the way for the rise of a new dynasty. A dynasty that rule Siam or Thailand to this day.

Taksin came from a descent background. Born as Sin in 1734, he was a result of an intermarriage of a Chinese and a Siamese. His father was a Chinese merchant named Haihong. On the other hand, his mother was Siamese named Nok Lang. He was educated. And later on, his education landed him a position in the government. He became the governor of Tak, and thus he became known as Taksin.

As governor he proved his military skills during the Burmese invasions. During his time as governor and before the fall of Ayudhya in 1767, he managed to repel a Burmese invasion through the north with only 500 troops. Because of his success in repelling the Burmese, he won respect, loyalty, and admiration of his troops.

In 1767, King Hsinbyushin of the Burmese Kingdom of Ava besieged the capital Ayudhya. Later on, Ayudhya fell and the Kingdom of Ayudhya saw its final end. After the fall of Ayudhya, the once Siamese Kingdom fell to division. Different warlords arose with their own states. In the northeast, Prince Thep Phiphit establish himself as the ruler of Phimai. At the center, the governor of the province of Phitsanulok called himself King Ruang. Near Phitsanulok was another powerful chief, the Priest-Prince Chao Phaya Fang. And lastly, in the south, Chao Nakorn became the apparent ruler of Nakhon Si Thammarat.

Along with this four powerful figure, Taksin would rise above them. During the final collapse of the capital of Ayudhya, Taksin escape to the eastern shores of the Gulf of Thailand with his 500 loyal supporters. There, they took advantage of the support of the Chinese merchant community, which made easier by Taksin’s Chinese heritage. In June 1767, they capture the coastal town of Chanthaburi. For a little while, Chanthaburi became the center of Taksin’s operation. He amassed a 5,000 strong army accompanied by a navy. In 1768, Taksin marched with his army and fought to capture the suitable port of Thonburi. He defeated the Burmese commanders, Nai Thing-in and Suki, who occupied Thonburi. After the fall of Thonburi to his hands, Taksin made it the capital of his new Kingdom which bear the city’s name – Thonburi. And Taksin started to be called Phaya Chao Taksi or King Taksin.

For the following years, Taksin defeated his rivals for domination of Siamese lands. He first defeated Prince Thep Phiphit in Phimai. It was followed by the fall of Nakhon Si Thammarat and Chao Nakorn to Taksin. Next, Chao Phaya Fang fell to the might of Taksin. Lastly, King Ruang followed in the line of the names of vanquish.

Alongside the conquest for the domination of Siam, Taksin also embroiled himself with the issues of its ailing neighbor Cambodia. In 1769, Ang Non was deposed by Ang Tong. Taksin supported the exiled Cambodian King Ang Non, who promised loyalty and tribute. Taksin marched against Ang Tong after the Cambodian ruler refused to pay tribute and homage to the Siamese ruler. The invasion of Cambodia was successful. Ang Non was installed as the ruler once again. But in 1772, Ang Tong refused defeat and fought against Taksin’s forces successfully. On the following yea, in 1773, Taksin returned to Cambodia and took the Kingdom under his control once again, installing Ang Non as ruler.

Meanwhile in the northwest border, tensions erupted to wars again. The Burmese launched another major invasion of Siamese lands from 1774 to 1775. The trust of the Burmese invasion went to Chiengmai and Chiensen. Luckily for Taksin, he had a lot of accountable men and allies. His generals, the brothers Chakri and Surasi, lend their strength in defeating the Burmese. Also, he received support from the ruler of Luang Prabang, Inta Som. Following the invasion, by the late 1770’s, Taksin saw it important to make Lan Na and Chiang Mai as vassal states of Thonburi for defensive purposes against Burmese invasions.

Another great chapter in his military campaign was in 1778. With General Chakri in command, Vientiane, in modern day Laos, fell in the hands of the Thonburi Kingdom. The most prized spoil from the conquest was the return of the sacred Emerald Buddha to Thonburi and later Bangkok.

Besides military campaign, Taksin continued engaging in foreign relations. Upon his rise as the King of Thonburi he sent envoys to Beijing for his recognition. Because of his Chinese ancestry, Taksin was quickly recognize. On the other, he also continued to have relations with the Dutch. The Dutch became a close trading partner of Thonburi with the help of Chinese merchants. The Dutch, along with Chinese middlemen, supplied weapons. And in times of famine, the Chinese and the Dutch provided the needed food stuff for the Thonburi Kingdom.

Taksin’s great military glories, however, would not reflect his downfall from power. During the late 1770’s, he succumb to religious fanaticism. His devotion to Buddhism led to dangerous heights when he began to assert himself as another Buddha. This act of Taksin led to fall out with the Buddhist hierarchy as well as devout Siamese aristocrats. Taksin asserted his claim brutally. He imprisoned, tortured, or killed monks who refused to recognize him as the Buddha. This led to further deterioration of Taksin’s popularity. His obsession of being a Buddha led to extreme paranoia and brutality. So severe his character, he was deemed insane by many. In 1782, a coup was launched against Taksin. His trusted General, Chakri, saved him from a total collapse. Only later, General Chakri deposed Taksin and finally executed the deposed king in 1782. However, some cited that Taksin was not executed, but rather he went to the southernmost part of Siam and lived as a Buddhist monk. The 1782 coup of General Chakri led to the foundation of the Chakri dynasty with the General became known as King Rama I. The Chakri Dynasty ruled Siam and later Thailand up to this day.

Taksin was another tragic figure. He revived the glory of the Siamese people and Kingdom from the ashes of the invasion of its foes. He elevated the position of the Chinese minority into prominence. But in his late years, he proved to be weak, succumbing to religious delusions leading to brutality. His actions became the reason for the founding of the Chakri Dynasty. Perhaps it was his ironic legacy, he set the stage for the rise of the Chakris who would rule Siam through ages of great challenges and difficulty. Without Taksin, Siam would have continued to be divided and under Burmese influence.

Cotterell, Arthur. Asia: A Concise History. Singapore: John Wiley & Sons Pte. Ltd., 2011.

Fry, Gerarld et. al. Historical Dictionary of Thailand. Maryland: Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2013.

Mishra, Patit Paban. History of Thailand. California: ABC-CLIO LLC, 2010.

Ooi, Keat Gin (ed.). Southeast Asia: A Historical Encyclopedia, from Angkor Wat to East Timor. California: ABC-CLIO LLC, 2004.

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