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Lords of Things

Lords of Things: The Fashioning of the Siamese Monarchy's Modern Image

Maurizio Peleggi
Copyright Date: 2002
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  • Book Info
    Lords of Things
    Book Description:

    Lords of Things offers a fascinating interpretation of modernity in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Siam by focusing on the novel material possessions and social practices adopted by the royal elite to refashion its self and public image in the early stages of globalization. It examines the westernized modes of consumption and self-presentation, the residential and representational architecture, and the public spectacles appropriated by the Bangkok court not as byproducts of institutional reformation initiated by modernizing sovereigns, but as practices and objects constitutive of the very identity of the royalty as a civilized and civilizing class. Bringing a wealth of new source material into a theoretically informed discussion, Lords of Things will be required reading for historians of Thailand and Southeast Asia scholars generally. It represents a welcome change from previous studies of Siamese modernization that are almost exclusively concerned with the institutional and economic dimensions of the process or with foreign relations, and will appeal greatly to those interested in transnational cultural flows, the culture of colonialism, the invention of tradition, and the relationship between consumption and identity formation in the modern era.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6338-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  5. A Note on Romanization
    (pp. ix-x)
  6. Introduction: Monarchy and Modernity
    (pp. 1-16)

    In 1996 the people of Thailand rejoiced in an unprecedented celebration: the Golden Jubilee of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, ninth monarch of the Chakri dynasty and the longest-reigning in the world today. Among the events that punctuated Bhumibol’s jubilee was the October visit of Elizabeth II, herself a long-serving monarch, on the throne since 1953. This exchange of royal courtesy had a notable precedent in the visit that Bhumibol’s grandfather, King Chulalongkorn (Rama V), had paid to Queen Victoria, Elizabeth’s great-great-grandmother, on the occasion of her Diamond Jubilee (sixtieth anniversary of reign) in 1897. Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887 had initiated...


    • Chapter 1 Consumption Modes, Tastes, and Identity of Siam’s Modernizing Elite
      (pp. 19-43)

      In February 1889, while cruising the South China Sea, the Duke of Sutherland’s yacht moored in Bangkok, where the duke and his party were the guests of King Chulalongkorn. Florence Caddy, a lady of the party with a Victorian bent for matters of fashion and décor, later published a travelogue that contains a vivid description of the banquet held at the Siamese court: “Dinner was served in European style, the glass and porcelain, all from Europe, were engraved and painted with the royal arms and King Chulalongkorn’s long name.… The king and princes all drank European wines. The dessert was...

    • Chapter 2 Presentation and Representation of the Royal Self
      (pp. 44-72)

      The conviction that a modern self could not be disjointed from a perceivably civilized body made bodily and clothing practices central to the refashioning of the Siamese monarchy’s image. The relations entertained with Southeast Asia’s colonial elites since the early 1870s awakened the Siamese royalty to the importance of a presentation of the self adequate to the status and authority they were claiming within the Victorian ecumene; hose and shoes came thus into use despite their dubious convenience in Bangkok’s tropical climate, while the time-honored shaved haircut was abandoned. Reformation of the body natural of the king and the royalty...

  8. Part II SPACES

    • Chapter 3 Suburban Playgrounds
      (pp. 75-93)

      The refashioning of the Siamese monarchy’s image could not leave out the private space in which the court’s daily life unfolded and the urban landscape in which royal authority was manifested by means of layout and architecture as well as pageantry. During most of the Fifth Reign, however, new buildings representative of the court’s Westernized taste were accommodated within the walled compound of the Grand Palace, built by the founder of the dynasty and added to by the following four sovereigns. It was only in the last decade of the nineteenth century, when the political survival of the dynasty had...

    • Chapter 4 Field of Glory
      (pp. 94-110)

      With Dusit Park and the princely mansions built nearby, the Siamese royal elite acquired a private space at once more comfortable and more suited to their self-image as civilized individuals than the cramped Grand Palace. The palace, however, retained during the early years of the twentieth century its symbolic preeminence as the realm’s “exemplary center,” and Bangkok continued to be lacking in what David Cannadine calls “sites of consensual pageantry.”¹ Traditional Siamese state ceremonies were performed in or around the sacral spaces of the royal palace and the temples and, most characteristically, along the river; this was the case of...


    • Chapter 5 Refashioning the Theater of Power
      (pp. 113-142)

      The splendor of traditional Siamese state ceremonies had been a cause of amazement to foreign observers since the seventeenth century. Yet the final years of the Fifth Reign witnessed a series of public spectacles unprecedented in scale. In November 1907, a majestic pageant was staged for King Chulalongkorn’s return from Europe. The following month, a three-day fête took place among the ruins of Ayutthaya. This celebratory crescendo reached its climax in November 1908 with the week-long festivities for Rama V’s “record reign.” His cremation, in March 1911, sounded on a mournful note the Fifth Reign’s commemorative coda.

      These carefully orchestrated...

    • Chapter 6 On the World Stage
      (pp. 143-163)

      At the same time that the Siamese modernizing elite appropriated Western objects to refashion their self- and public images, they were also engaged in representing Siam by means of its material culture for the European and American audiences of international exhibitions—one of the prominent invented traditions of the second half of the nineteenth century.¹ What the promoters of these events concocted by blending the profit-making rationale of trade fairs, the classificatory approach of museums, and the entertainment of itinerant shows was an eminently modern kind of spectacle centered on the display of commodities. A crucial ingredient of their success...

  10. Epilogue: Monarchy and Memory
    (pp. 164-170)

    This book has shown how and why things Western became, along with cultural and social practices, crucial to the self-representation of the Siamese royal elite in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Before that time, the elite’s social identity was grounded in a cosmological, cultural, and trading space in which an Indic civilizational sphere, informing religion, state theatrics, and the arts, overlapped with a Sinic civilizational sphere, whereby imperial recognition and material wealth were bestowed upon the Siamese court. Western material culture, although familiar, was deemed lacking social and symbolic meaning in the local context. But as a result...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 171-206)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 207-224)
  13. Index
    (pp. 225-232)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 233-233)