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King Mongkut Rama IV

  • King Mongkut was a different generation of King compared to the first Chakri Kings who were, by necessity, men of war. He was born in October 1804 as the son of Rama II. Notwithstanding he was the first in line to the succession upon the death of his father, the nobility supported his brother Nangklao to be the next King, so Mongkut entered the Buddhist priest hood for the next 27 years. During this time he studied Latin and English and western sciences such as astronomy.
  • In 1851 Mongkut succeeded to the throne as Phra Chom Klao. During these times the dangers to the Kingdom of Siam were coming from French and English colonialists. Mongkut learnt the ways of the west and had his children similarly educated in English. One teacher he commissioned to come and teach was Anna Leonowens who subsequently wrote novels about her experiences which later formed an historical excuse for the content of film and stage entertainment in the west, entitled, '' The King and I ''.
  • Anna Leonowens arrived with her son Louis who subsequently became the founder of Louis T. Leonowens (Thailand) Ltd now a public company in Thailand. Much of the content of the American play and film is nonsense and is an offensive and incorrect portrayal of Buddhism and the people and events of the time.
  • In reaching out to the west Mongkut at the same time revealed aspects of life in Asia which were not understood. The idea of an older man having some 600 women and over 82 children tantilized Victorian ideas as did the preconceived concepts and confusion about slavery in Thailand which were incorrectly mentally compared to the English slave trade between Africa and the West Indies, and elsewhere in the then '' British Empire ''.

  • Apart from the issue of sovereignty and loss of territory and with it wealth, the big on going issue was for the battle of control of peoples' minds and the western attempts to introduce Christianity. King Mongkut is reported to have said to one westerner, "What you teach us to do is admirable, but what you teach us to believe is foolish".  His selection of Anna as his childrens' teacher and her conditions for employment were conditioned by this attitude.
  • This push for conversion of peoples' minds was taking place for hundreds of years in Southeast Asia before. The Muslims were pushing South in Malaya, Indonesia and  Southern Philippines and the French Catholics in the rest of South East Asia. Japan had previously closed its doors to Europeans to keep the Catholic Christians out and in Siam in 1688 following the death of King Narai the Catholic Greek adventurer Paulkin was forced to eat his own cooked flesh for trying to convert the King of Ayutthaya (Narai) to Catholicism.
  • Thai freedom from colonialism is not just about freedom from military, economic and administrative control, but freedom of the mind. Buddhists do not believe there is a god, or that people should subjugate their thinking to religious minders of socially controlled churches, but rather they should accept the consequences of their own conduct, not seek forgiveness for compliance and learn to understand for themselves the causes and effects of their conduct and learn to live with the social, emotional and moral consequences of their conduct.
  • Thus Mongkut rejected as foolish the concept of ceasing to think for one's self and subjugate one's mind to new European minders. Thus the established Christian Churches failed in Siam, however in the 20 C a proliferation of American new religions were active in remote ares such as with the Karen in Burma. So in this period of Siam's history we see Mongklut and others engaging with the west to learn how to contain them without letting them infiltrate into the community.