Thai people at cremation ceremony
|Regions with significant populations|
|Thailand approx. 50,600,000|
|United States||237,583 (2010)|
|United Kingdom||35,010 (2010)|
|South Korea||30,760 (2009)|
|Denmark||8 580 (2012)|
|Central Thai (Southern Thai), Lanna, Isan|
|Predominantly Theravada Buddhism|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Lao, Shan, Zhuang people, Ahom, other Tai peoples, Thai Chinese|
The Thai people, formerly known as Siamese, or the Tai Siam people (Thai: ไทยสยาม) are the main ethnic group of Thailand and are part of the larger Tai ethnolinguistic peoples found in Thailand and adjacent countries in Southeast Asia as well as southern China. Their language is the Thai language, which is known as "Central Thai", which is classified as part of the Tai–Kadai family of languages, and the majority of Thai are followers of Theravada Buddhism.
The term Thai people has a loose meaning and sometimes also refers to the population of Thailand in general, and not only to ethnic Thais.
There have been many theories proposing the origin of the Tai people, of which the Thai are a subgroup. Especially the association of the Tai people with the Kingdom of Nanzhao that has been proved to be invalid. Linguistic studies suggested that the origin of the Tai people lies around the Chinese Province of Guangxi, where the Zhuang people are still a majority. The ancient Tai people should be the part of Chinese Nanyue, referred to by Han leaders as "foreign servant" (Chinese: 外臣), synecdoche for a vassal state. The Qin dynasty founded Guangdong in 214 BC, initiating the successive waves of Chinese migrations from the north for hundred years to come.
With the political and cultural pressures from the north, some Tai people migrated south where they met the classical Indianized civilizations of Southeast Asia.
The Tais from the north gradually settled in the Chao Phraya valley from the tenth century onwards, in lands of the Dvaravati culture, assimilating the earlier Austroasiatic Mon and Khmer people, as well as coming into contact with the Khmer Empire. The Tais who came to the area of present-day Thailand were engulfed into the Theravada Buddhism of the Mon and the Hindu-Khmer culture and statecraft. Therefore, the Thai culture is a mixture of Tai traditions with Indic, Mon and Khmer influcences. Thai ethnicity is therefore rather a question Early Thai chiefdoms included the Sukhothai Kingdom and Suphanburi. The Lavo Kingdom, which was the center of Khmer culture in Chao Phraya valley, was also the rallying point for the Thais. The Thai were called “Siam” by the Angkorians and they appeared on the bas relief at Angkor Wat as a part of the army of Lavo kingdom. Sometimes the Thai chiefdoms in the Chao Phraya valley were put under the Angkorian control under strong monarchs (including Suryavarman II and Jayavarman VII) but they were mostly independent.
A new city-state known as Ayutthaya, named after the Indian city of Ayodhya, was founded by Ramathibodi (a descendant of Chiang Mai) and emerged as the center of the growing Thai Empire starting in 1350. Inspired by the then Hindu-based Khmer Empire (Cambodia), the Ayutthaya Empire's continued conquests led to more Thai settlements as the Khmer Empire weakened after their defeat at Angkor in 1431. During this period, the Thai developed a feudal system as various vassal states paid homage to the Thai kings. Even as Thai power expanded at the expense of the Mon and Khmer, the Thai Ayutthaya faced setbacks at the hands of the Malays at Malacca and were checked by the Toungoo of Burma.
Other peoples living under Thai rule, mainly Mon, Khmer and Lao, as well as Chinese, Indian or Muslim immigrants continued to be assimilated by Thais, but at the same time they influenced Thai culture, philosophy, economy and politics. Most of today's Thais are of mixed descent. Therefore, Thai ethnicity is rather a question of cultural identity than of genetic origin. The biggest and most influential group are Thais of Chinese origin. The share of Thais who are of full or partly Chinese descent is at about 40 percent.
Though sporadic wars continued with the Burmese and other neighbors, Chinese wars with Burma and European intervention elsewhere in Southeast Asia allowed the Thai to develop an independent course by trading with the Europeans as well as playing the major powers against each other in order to remain independent. The Chakkri dynasty under Rama I held the Burmese at bay, while Rama II and Rama III helped to shape much of Thai society, but also led to Thai setbacks as the Europeans moved into areas surrounding modern Thailand and curtailed any claims the Thai had over Cambodia, in dispute with Burma and Vietnam. The Thai learned from European traders and diplomats, while maintaining an independent course. Chinese, Malay, and British influences helped to further shape the Thai people who often assimilated foreign ideas, but managed to preserve much of their culture and resisted the European colonization that engulfed their neighbors. Thailand is also the only country in Southeast Asia that was not colonized by European powers in modern history.
The concept of a Thai nation was not developed until the beginning 20th century under King Rama VI (Vajiravudh). Before this era, Thai did not even have a word for 'nation'. He also imposed the idea of "Thai-ness" (khwam-pen-thai) on his subjects and strictly defined what was "Thai" and "un-Thai". Authors of this period re-wrote the Thai history from an ethno-nationalist viewpoint, disregarding the fact that the concept of ethnicity had not played an important role in South East Asia until the 19th century. This newly developed nationalism was the base of the policy of "Thaification" of Thailand which was intensified after the end of absolute monarchy in 1932 and especially under the rule of Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram (1938–1944). Minorities were forced to assimilate and regional peculiarities of Northern, Northeastern and Southern Thailand were repressed in favour of one homogenous "Thai" culture.
Geography and demographics
The vast majority of the Thai people live in Thailand, although some Thais can also be found in other parts of Southeast Asia. About 60 million live in Thailand alone, while thousands can also be found in the United States, Laos, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia, Burma, the United Kingdom, Australia, Sweden, Norway, Libya and the United Arab Emirates.
Culture and society
The Thais can be broken down into various regional groups with their own regional varieties of Thai. These groups include Central Thai (also the standard variety of the language), the Isan (more closely related to the Standard Lao of Laos than to Standard Thai), Lanna Thai and Southern Thai. Modern Central Thai has become more dominant due to official government policy, which was designed to assimilate and unify the disparate Thai in spite of ethnolinguistic and cultural ties between the northeastern Thai people and the people from Laos for example.
The modern Thai are predominantly Theravada Buddhist and strongly identify their ethnic identity with their religious practices that include aspects of ancestor worship, among other beliefs of the ancient folklore of Thailand. Indigenous arts include muay Thai (kick boxing), Thai dance, makruk (Thai Chess), and nang yai (shadow play).
- Thai American
- Thai British
- Thai culture
- Thai folklore
- Thais in Hong Kong
- Thai marriage
- List of Thai actresses
- List of Thai actors
- List of Thai people
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