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How the Lands of Siam Were Ceded

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: History
Wordcount: 2362 words Published: 12th Oct 2021

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When historians study the modern history of Siam between the reign of King Mongkut through the end of the absolute monarchy of Siam, they are contested on the question of whether Siam was ever colonized. Indeed, during the Europe colonization period Siam was the only country that retained its sovereignty in the South East Asia area. As all its neighboring countries were all colonized by European countries, it seems even harder for a country that small to avoid been colonized, which makes this question even more interested to historian. It is also a confused and varied one: for historian whom hold the opinion that Siam was never colonized in its history, it's certainly that Siam wasn't lose its sovereignty to most of its lands; for historian whom believe that Siam was been colonized because it's the truth that Siam did ceded some of its land to those colonizers to keep its sovereignty. Neither side is wrong on this question, instead of spend time to answer an ambiguous question like this, it's more valuable to investigate on how the lands of Siam were ceded to the colonizers? and What had Siam's government tried to protect the country's sovereignty?

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In order to answer the question of how the lands of Siam were ceded, a remarkable treaty needs to be mentioned as a background, the "Bowring Treaty", a treaty between the Great Britain and the Kingdom of Siam under the reign of the King Rama 4th was the key of British to open the door of the Siam Kingdom. After the "Bowring Treaty", a series of chain reactions had happened in Siam. There are variety of sources that recorded this important historical event, one of these sources is the book "The Kingdom and People of Siam" by Sir John Bowring, who was also the plenipotentiary of the Great Britain and the name of the treaty was named after him. He wrote this relatively straightforward book that explores many perspectives of Siam before and while he was been invited to visiting Siam by the King Mongkut, but what's really valuable about this book is that its appendixes contain many letters between the author himself and the King Mongkut. One of the letters recorded that five plenipotentiaries were consult with John Bowring to discuss and agree for changing certain articles of former treaty and adding some new articles thereto according to Britain's plenipotentiary's desires [1], which reflected that the dominance of this agreement is in the Great Britain. Although this agreement wasn't directly caused Siam cede lands. However, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica after the "Bowring Treaty", Britain received right to establish a British consulate in Bangkok and the right to set up separate law courts for cases involving British subjects.[2] This treaty reduced Siam's sovereignty and independence also laid a foreshadowing for the future signing of the "unequal" agreements, which includes ceding lands to the colonizers.

How the lands of Siam were ceded to the colonizers

Maintain sovereignty is particularly difficult during the reign of king Chulalongkorn. When King Chulalongkorn inherited the throne from King Mongkut, it was the serious historical period in which Siam was in internal issues and external troubles. Internally, the land of the country and the vast numbers of civilians and slaves attached to these lands are occupied by feudal lords, nobles and bureaucrats. This resisted the productivity of Siam society, class contradictions in the country became very sharp, a large number of civilians continue to flee into the deep forests to resist the oppression and rule of the feudalism. [3] Externally, in the west of Siam, Britain colonized India and Myanmar. In the south of Siam, Britain established the Straits Settlements in Malay Peninsula. In the east, Vietnam became the protectorate state of France.

Siam became an isolated territory under the benefit conflict between Britain and France. King Chulalongkorn once said: "The biggest difficult to us is to protect our land" [4]. It's hard to say, it's harder to do. He struggled to circumnavigate between Britain, France, Germany and other countries. Both Britain and France wanted to annex Siam, but they all worried about the situation of the other side, making Siam a "buffer zone" for the sphere of influence of Britain and France, which made Siam temporarily safe from been invaded by both Britain and France. [5] However, happy time didn't last long, it will come after all. In 1893, France sought an excuse to provoke a dispute between the two sides, French drove the warships into the Mekong river, then force Siam government to sign the "unequal" treaty. The Laos affiliated to Siam was ceded to French Indochina, and all the islands on the east bank of the Mekong River were ceded to France. The Siamese army was withdrawn from Chanthaburi, on the west bank of the river. Siam was not allowed to build military facilities within 25 kilometers of the west bank of the Mekong River and payed three million francs to France. France also seized the Chanthaburi as a guarantee of Siam's fulfillment of the treaty. [6] Although Siam lost its sovereignty to those ceded lands, it's better than lose the sovereignty of this country completely.

What had Siam's government tried to protect the country's sovereignty?


King Mongkut was the first king of Siam that implemented modernization reformation in the country, although the "Bowring Treaty" was signed during his reign, no one can blame him on that. He deeply understands the differences between Siam and the West, hence decided to let the country learn western ideas and technologies. In a letter that he wrote to John Bowring, he mentioned a newly improved shells for cannon and he said: "I wish to observe and consider and refer to our workmen whether would they be able to imitate or follow such or similar mode thereof for our use here"[7]. The years after the Bowring Treaty, Siam became more opening to the West. More foreigners and missionaries came to Bangkok, new ideas from the West were began to hit this country. King Mongkut had a strong interest in Western culture and thoughts, the king himself is very good in English, he knew that English helped him in study and diplomatic, thus he hired several English teachers to taught English to his children. Although Mongkut was an absolute monarch, he committed to integrate the old Siamese monarch with modern politics, which paved the way for the more-profound social and political changes that were to take place in Siam under his successor. [8] Although open gate to the West provided Britain and France the soil to challenge Siam's sovereignty, it also brought new blood into the veins of Siam's society and economy. If Siam wasn't seeking for development during the reign of King Mongkut, it wouldn't change the fact that Britain and France can still challenge Siam's sovereignty and it's even harder for Siam to maintain its sovereignty in the next couples of decades.

During the reign of King Chulalongkorn, the reformation in Siam became even deeper. He realized that if not implementing reformation in the country, Siam will "lose its dependency and freedom" [9] The reformation took in place in many different fields, the reformation was not only limited to politics, education and military, there were many other aspects as well. From the politics aspect, due to rapid development of commodity economy in Siam after the "Bowring Treaty", there was a large labor force demand in both cities and farms in Siam. However, slavery hinders the formation of the labor market. Under this circumstance, the king decided to abolish slavery and liberate labor force. On the aspect of education reformation, as the society rapidly changes, traditional Siamese education wasn't suitable any more for the society. The king once said: "The most important thing he is trying to promote in the country is education".[10] Hence the education reformation had took in place in Siam. From military aspect, due to the armed invasion of France, he decided to strengthen the armed forces to defending the country. He adapted and expanded the army, equipped with new weapons. Military schools and Siam Navy were also established. Although there are some reformations weren't complete, such as the education reformation was still based on traditional Siamese education [11], the reformations did promoted the economic and social development, which made Siam took off the "barbaric" hat, became more modernized and gained more attention and respect from the world, hence gave the king more confidence in international diplomatic.


Talking about diplomacy, King Chulalongkorn was the first King from the east world that visited more than eight countries in Europe at once. Blessed by misfortune, after the conflict with France, Britain and France have conducted many negotiations on the division of spheres of influence between the two sides in the Indo-China Peninsula. In 1896, Britain and France had an agreement on maintain the border of Siam and prohibit any third country to stir up trouble in Siam. [12] Siam caught this chance and increased their diplomatic activities; they wish to receive the assistance from Russia so that they can negotiate with Britain and France to give its lands and sovereignty. In an effort to abolish the unequal treaties and take back the government. In 1897, King Chulalongkorn went to Europe to negotiate with France and visited Petersburg. However, the Russian government rejected Siam's request and decided to place Siam under its informal "protection".[13] As a result, Siam was forced to once again meet France's greedy colonial desires, and in two rounds in 1902 and 1904, ceded part of the land on the right bank of the Mekong River in exchange for France's withdrawal from Chitahuri. However, after the French army withdrew from Chitahuri, it went to occupy another place in Siam. [14] Although the Siam's government had failed to fight back the country's right, at least they tried.

During WWII, due to the reason that Siam had many conflicts with Britain and France and Siam has no chance to win a war against Japan, thus Siam decided to collaborate with Japanese at the same time collaborating with the American and Chinese for the Allies. If the Japanese win, Siam can get its lands and sovereignty back from Britain and France. If Japanese lose the war, Siam will not get punished due to it was collaborated with the Allies as well. Such smart diplomacy made Siam unharmed during and after WWII.


The answers to historical questions come to the historian from a number of sources: in literatures, in journals, in government documents. John Bowring's book proves that the sovereignty of Siam became incomplete after the sign of "Bowring Treaty". From the book "English and France in Siam", it provides the evidence that Siam was forced to cede its land to France. If the historian only draws their conclusion on this question based on those to proves without any of their owe analyze, then the answer to this question should be Siam has been colonized. However, a historical question should not be analyzed in this way. Any historical question should be looked in multiple aspects, hence the answer to this question is not Siam was colonized nor Siam wasn't colonized but both. Siamese had made great efforts to maintain their sovereignty should be the best answer to the question.


1. Bowring, John. 1857. The Kingdom And People Of Siam. P441 J.W.Parker: Harvard University Press.

2. Encyclopedia Britannica. 2019. Thailand - The Thon Buri and Early Bangkok periods. [online] Available at: https://www.britannica.com/place/Thailand/The-ThonBuri-and-Early-Bangkok-periods#ref274237 [Accessed 3 Nov. 2019].

3. Hall, Daniel George Edward. 1981. A History Of South-East Asia. 4th ed. Basingstoke: MacMillan.

4. Lysa, Hong. "Extraterritoriality in Bangkok in the Reign of King Chulalongkorn, 1868–1910: The Cacophonies of Semi-Colonial Cosmopolitanism." Itinerario 27, no. 2 (2003): 125–46. doi:10.1017/S0165115300020568.

5. Curzon, George N., and Juliette Adam. 1893. "England and France in Siam." The North American Review 157, no. 442 : 268-86. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25103195.

6. Winston, George. 2019. "French Expansion In Asia - Franco-Siamese War Of 1893". WAR HISTORY ONLINE. https://www.warhistoryonline.com/wararticles/french-expansion-franco-siamese-war.html.

7. Bowring, John. 1857. The Kingdom And People Of Siam. P437 J.W.Parker: Harvard University Press.

8. Encyclopedia Britannica. 2019. Thailand - The Thon Buri and Early Bangkok periods. [online] Available at: https://www.britannica.com/place/Thailand/The-ThonBuri-and-Early-Bangkok-periods#ref274237 [Accessed 3 Nov. 2019].

9. Michael Vickery. 1970. "Thai Regional Elites and the Reforms of King Chulalongkorn." The Journal of Asian Studies 29, no. 4 : 863-81.


10. Frankfurter, O. 1911. The late King Chulalongkorn. Bangkok.

11. Wyatt, David K. 1969. The Politics Of Reform In Thailand. New Haven: Yale University Press.

12. Goldman, Minton F. "Franco-British Rivalry over Siam, 1896-1904." Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 3, no. 2 (1972): P215. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20069986.

13. Charit Tingsabadh, and Čhulālongkō̜ nmahāwitthayālai. Centre for European Studies. King Chulalongkorn's Visit to Europe: Reflections On Significance And Impacts. Bangkok: Centre for European Studies, Chulalongkorn University, 2000.

14. Goldman, Minton F. "Franco-British Rivalry over Siam, 1896-1904." Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 3, no. 2 (1972): P218. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20069986.


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