Puey Ungphakorn

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Puey Ungphakorn

Puey Ungphakorn, MBE (Thai: ป๋วย อึ๊งภากรณ์, rtgsPuai Uengphakon; IPA[pǔaj ʔɯ́ŋ.pʰāː.kɔ̄ːn]; Chinese: 黃培謙; pinyin: Huáng Péiqiān;[1] March 9, 1916 – July 28, 1999) was a Thai bureaucrat who played a central role in the shaping of Thailand's economic development and in the strengthening of its system of higher education. Puey was the Governor of the (Central) Bank of Thailand for 12 years, a Dean of the Faculty of Economics, and also a rector of Thammasat University in Bangkok. Puey was a member of the Free Thai Movement during World War II. He was a Magsaysay Award winner in the field of government service in 1965.

Puey is the author of The Quality of Life of a South-East Asian: A Chronicle of Hope from Womb to Tomb or later known as From Womb to Tomb, which is still one of the most influential writings about social security in Thailand.

Early years[edit]

Puey was born the fourth child of an immigrant Chinese fishmonger and a second generation Thai-Chinese mother, with ancestry from Raoping.[2] In 1934 he was among the first group of students to enrol at the newly opened Thammasat University, which he graduated from in 1937. After having briefly worked as a translator Puey earned a government scholarship to study economics at the London School of Economics in 1938.

Following the outbreak of the Pacific War in December 1941, Puey joined the Free Thai Movement in Britain, and having undergone vigorous training with the Special Operations Executive, parachuted into northern Thailand in late 1944. He was captured almost immediately, and remained technically a prisoner of war until the Japanese surrender in September 1945, though he in fact made contact with Free Thai members of the Thai police and was able to work with them from his jail cell.

After the war, Puey was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel in the British forces and was awarded an MBE. He resumed his studies, and in 1949 received one of Thailand's first Ph.D.'s in Economics from the London School of Economics.

BOT governor[edit]

When he became Governor of the Bank of Thailand, Puey quickly attracted the attention of international agencies, foreign governments, and the international financial community for the integrity of his financial planning and management. His international stature was recognised ceremoniously in 1964 when he became the first Thai to receive the Magsaysay Award for public service. Equally important, this international recognition gave him an influence with Field Marshals Sarit Thanarat, Thanom Kittikachorn, and their cohorts which far exceeded his bureaucratic position. They sought his aid and advice as a troubleshooter for Thailand's monetary interests, particularly in matters they had botched or in which they were suspected to have their own private interests, such as remedying Sarit's mishandling of Thailand's participation in an International Tin Council and preventing a kickback scandal over the foreign printing of Thailand's currency.

Academic career[edit]

In 1966 Puey became the dean of the Faculty of Economics at his alma mater, Thammasat University, where his work with the Rockefeller Foundation and with foreign scholars dramatically upgraded the training of Thailand's future technocrats. He also instituted a long-term research project on raising the productivity and economic level of Thai villagers. It was during this period that he was invited to serve as a visiting professor at both Cambridge and Princeton universities and was appointed to the governing boards of such organisations as the International Council for Educational Development, the East-West Centre, the Asian Institute of Management, and the International Food Policy Research Institute.

On international higher education arena, Puey played instrumental role in the establishment of the Bangkok-based Asian Institute of Technology (AIT)[3] from previously Graduate School of Engineering of the South East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO)[4] in 1967. Dr. Puey became the first Chairperson of the AIT Board of Trustees from 1968 to 1973.

After the ousting of Thanom's regime in October 1973, Puey was catapulted into political prominence and, along with M.R. Kukrit Pramoj, was broadly promoted as one of the two major candidates for the post of prime minister in the elected government that would follow the palace-picked interim administration of Sanya Thammasak. However, after a great deal of self-examination, Puey disavowed all interest in such a candidacy and returned to Thammasat, where he was appointed rector. Puey's explanation was that when he had joined the Free Thai Movement he had taken an oath never to seek or accept political appointment until after reaching the age of retirement. Some have argued, however, that Puey's withdrawal was based upon his mature understanding of the nature of society and that he had accurately foreseen that the upcoming democratic period would be inherently unstable, dangerous and short-lived.


Puey Ungphakorn's relief in the 6 October 1976 Massacre Memorial, Thammasat University, Bangkok

Despite his service, honesty and international reputation, Puey was branded a communist and "destroyer of unity" by the political right of Thailand. Although he spoke out against the unending student demonstrations of 1975-76 as being both ineffective and self-destructive, and even denied his students any use of the Thammasat campus as a base for mounting public demonstrations, he was nevertheless assigned blame for their occurrence.

On the evening of the bloody 6 October 1976 Massacre, Puey resigned from his position as rector of Thammasat in protest against the bloodbath that had occurred that day on the university campus. Realising he was a marked man, Puey went to Don Muang airport where he was met by a lynch mob. Only with the help of the Royal Thai Air Force police, who had been instructed by King Bhumibol's privy council office to help him leave, did he evade death and get on a plane bound for London.[5]

While living abroad, Puey met with Thais and influential figures in several countries, including those in the United Kingdom, the United States, France, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Japan, and Australia to give facts on the incident and to call for a peaceful transition to democracy in Thailand. In 1977, Puey gave testimonials before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs investigating human rights in Thailand following the incident of 6 October 1976 Massacre.

In September 1977, Puey suffered a haemorrhagic stroke and had to stay in the hospital for three months. The illness left Puey with speech difficulties in which he could mumble only minimally. Puey lived a simple life in England to the end of his life. He could walk by himself. While he spoke only little, he could get his will communicated to the surrounding people. As a result of the stroke, he was not able to control his right hand.


Puey's status as a hero derives from several obvious, but special, features of his career and character. His most significant, if paradoxical, attribute was his willingness to work for the Thai bureaucratic establishment and yet maintain his moral independence, intellectual creativity, and sense of social responsibility. His capacity to strike a compromise between what was objectively possible and morally desirable was an extraordinary accomplishment. It had a particular impact on younger people, almost all of whose models have traditionally been either successful rogues who manipulate their social environment for their own advantage or martyrs who succumb to it.

Even more commendable was his deep sense of incorruptibility. Over the years, he held a variety of jobs and served on a number of commissions that, in terms of standard Thai corrupt practices, could have made him a very wealthy man. Further, Puey's incorruptibility was more than merely passive. As an economist he was keenly aware that official corruption was depriving the Thai treasury of inordinately large sums, and in public addresses and statements he would often include selections of thinly veiled, but cutting, poetic attacks against the specific acts of the very highest government officials.

Puey's career is also powerful evidence of how education - contrasted to wealth, political power and connections - could be used to climb the Thai status system. In 2015 he was recognized by UNESCO for his high ethical standards.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ [泰国] 洪林, 黎道纲主编 (April 2006). 泰国华侨华人研究. 香港社会科学出版社有限公司. p. 18. ISBN 962-620-127-4. 
  2. ^ [泰国] 洪林, 黎道纲主编 (April 2006). 泰国华侨华人研究. 香港社会科学出版社有限公司. p. 18. ISBN 962-620-127-4. 
  3. ^ http://www.ait.ac.th
  4. ^ Southeast Asia Treaty Organization
  5. ^ David van Praagh. Thailand's Struggle for Democracy. Holmes & Meier (1996). 
  6. ^ "Unesco lauds Puey for 'ethics'". November 20, 2015. Retrieved November 20, 2015. 
  7. ^ (Thai) รายชื่อคณะกรรมาธิการ

External links[edit]