“FOUR REIGNS”: KUKRIT PRAMOJ NOVEL FROM 1953 ON THAI HISTORY

July 30, 2010 at 8:22 pm | Posted in Art, Asia, Books, Globalization, History, Philosophy, Third World | Leave a comment

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Four Reigns

Kukrit Pramoj (Author) Tulachandra (Translator)

Product Details:

· Paperback: 663 pages

· Publisher: University of Washington Press

· March 1999

· Language: English

· ISBN-10: 9747100665

· ISBN-13: 978-9747100662

The Four Reigns (Thai Si Phaendin), a novel by Kukrit Pramoj, shows how individuals in Thai society adjust to change in the face of historic events. The story first develops under the palace life of minor courtiers during a time of absolute monarchy and explicit observance of traditional Buddhist mores. The traditional values of the times are experienced by the main character and are enhanced by her surroundings. Throughout the evolving years the country experiences disturbances of World War I; the Palace Revolution of 1932 and World War II respectively. The book focuses primarily on the lives of the minor nobility and the necessary modes of adapting to unpreventable events that come by way of foreign and domestic conflicts.

The author of the Four Reigns, Kukrit Pramoj, explains that he was able to delve so deeply into the lives of the nobility because it was a life he observed from a personal standpoint. Similar to a character in the book, Pramoj received his education abroad and like another character, he had his days in the political arena. Although the 663 page book is portrayed in a fictional concept, the reader gets a chance to experience how the author wanted to capture the feelings of a traditional era and a bygone age in order to bring it to life for a modern society.

Plot summary

The Four Reigns starts out with a young girl named Phloi whose mother leaves her husband of the lower aristocratic status to be free from the restraints of being one of his minor wives. Although being one of a few minor wives to a man was the norm, Phloi’s mother was not content in that domestic order. Consequently, this provoked Phloi’s mother, Mae Chaem, along with Phloi to move out and make a change which involved a trip to the royal palace to offer Phloi up to a better life as a minor courtier. Mae Chaem is there to assist Phloi on her trip to the palace and often visits her there to be sure of her well-being. Mae Chaem suddenly dies and Phloi is deeply saddened by her loss and spends the rest of her time coping and adapting to the palace life.

Phloi’s life, however, truly begins in the palace, where she humbly serves and befriends the royalty and their servants. Phloi lives through time periods of four reigns as the title suggests, involving four different kings. The king well-renowned in history, King Chulalongkorn, was the monarch at Phloi’s birth and King Ananda Mahidol is the ruler reigning at Phloi’s death. During her time at the palace Phloi lives the life of a minor courtier engaging in youthful diversions with her friend Choi and occasionally doing menial tasks as a court attendant. She really doesn’t have a worry, except for selecting the correct outfit for the next leisurely excursion. On these trips everyone from the Grand Palace would attend religious ceremonies such as the Kathin festival at the end of the Buddhist Lent.

As time goes by, Phloi’s life is altered, when she is compelled to marry Khun Prem, a man on a personal level, she knows very little about. This engagement is influenced by her elders’ and their traditional values. They believed that it was safest to marry someone of good financial grade rather than solely for love. Although Phloi did not quite know Prem at first, they eventually did grow to love one another. He is of the minor nobility but still all the same could be ranked among the aristocratic people in Thai society with good financial standing. Khun Prem is also of military standing and well respected by his peers. This is evident as he receives promotions and is involved with the highly regarded Wild Tiger Calvory Corps. Khun Prem starts out as a tradionalist but as society changes, Khun Prem inherits military discipline and Western idealism. This is shown forth as he begins to smoke Western cigarettes and drink Western wine. His first son enters military school while his and Phloi’s other two sons are sent to study abroad. Their only daughter, Praphai, stays with Phloi and is her mother’s companion until she branches out on her own.

One of Phloi’s sons Ot, who went to Europe to study abroad, comes back with new intellectual ideas and continually ponders with his uncle, Phloi’s brother, the new fascination of politics. In the novel he states: “What else have we to talk about? The air is thick with political news. So-and-so is going to be arrested, so-and-so may have to be got out of the way, and there’ll be an armed clash between such-and-such factions, and so on.” (P. 483 of Four Reigns) Politics became something of more interest in Thai culture as it existed before but was more available to the general public when ideas about how the government should be run was appropriated among the people. This became the new way of life in Thailand that was capturing the minds of the evolving individual.

When Ot’s brother An returns from France he breaks with tradition by bringing back a French wife. This is much to the dismay of his father and a shock to his mother. An introduces his French wife to the family circle and she displays as expected, her Western influences. These include French clothing styles; make up and personal mannerisms. An’s French wife, Lucille, in her short stay, influenced Phloi’s youngest daughter, Praphai with her ways as well. This is evident as Praphai unlike her mother decided to marry a man of her choosing. Praphai and her husband Khun Sewi even changed their wedding to follow a more modern format. They didn’t have the chanting monks and Khun Sewi even carried Praphai inside the house the way the “farangs” (Westerners) do. “They haven’t abandoned the old custom but have adopted it to suit the prevailing conditions, you see”

(P. 534 of Four Reigns).

An for his part became an intellectual with Westernized influences from France. Once he became stable in the political circuit of Thailand he aligned himself with the rebel group called the People’s Party who staged the Palace Revolution of 1932.

Phloi experiences World War I, and its economic impact on Thailand. Prices for imported goods begin to make a noticeable rise. This is also the time that Phloi’s husband,Prem, dies in a horse riding accident. Phloi is left to fend for herself but her children by then are home and all grown up and able to offer her much needed emotional support. Sometime later, Thailand suffers an economic depression and a rebel group called the People’s Party in which An allies himself with, begins to form. They eventually organize a coup that forces the king to agree to relinquish absolute authority and cede full power to a Constitutional Monarchy. World War II succeeds the first and has a stronger impact Thailand. The Japanese invade, and then occupy Bangkok until the Allied bombings force them to give in. All of Phloi’s children survive the war except for one of her sons who died of malaria while in southern Thailand on a work assignment. When the war ends Phloi’s house is destroyed and she returns to her ancestral home at Khlong Bang Luang where she spends the last of her days.

Maj. Gen. Mom Rajawongse (M.R.) Kukrit Pramoj (Thai Khuek-rit Pramot) (April 20, 1911 – October 9, 1995) was a Thai politician and scholar. He was Speaker of the House of Representatives of Thailand 1973-1974 and was the thirteenth Prime Minister of Thailand, serving in office from 1975-1976.

Early years

Of royal descent, M.R. Kukrit Pramoj was born into an aristocratic family. Like all upper class Thais of his generation, his parents sent him and his siblings to boarding schools in England. He finished his Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE) from Queen’s College, University of Oxford. Upon arriving back to Thailand, his very first job was in banking. However, his true reputation lies in his mastery in many forms of arts, including politics and journalism.

He was a leading authority on traditional Thai culture and had a polymathic range of interests from Thailand‘s classical dance to literature. Most famous for his literary works, he was named a “National Artist” for literature in 1985, the inaugural year for the honor. And he received The Special Commemorative Prize of The Fukuoka Asian Culture Prizes in 1990, the inaugural year for the prizes again. His works encompass many subjects from humour to drama. He wrote passionately for Siam Rath (สยาม รัฐ), the newspaper that he founded. He also wrote the famous historical novel Four Reigns , and many more. His unique sense of humour offered a satirical view of his age and he was often arrested for offending the powerful.

As a scholar, he also wrote many non-fiction works ranging from history, astrology and religion. Most notable, however, are his epics and many short stories portraying various aspects of life and documenting contemporary history. Two of his works that have been translated into English are Four Reigns (ISBN 974-7100-66-5) and Many Lives (ISBN 974-7100-19-3).

He was also known as a staunch loyalist and served the monarchy for his whole life. He is considered by many to be one of the great statesmen of Thailand. But most of all, he is known as a veritable ‘Thai public intellectual’ and ‘a great Thai writer’.

His former home is now a heritage museum which is preserved paying homage to his life and Thai traditions.

Biography

· Born on April 20, 1911 at Sing Buri Province

· Great-grandmother Ampha, was of Chinese descent and was a consort of Rama II[1]

· Son of Brigadier General HH Prince Khamrob and Mom Daeng (Bunnag) and younger brother of M.R. Seni Pramoj[2]

· Served as a corporal during the Indo-China War with France in 1940.

· Married to M.R. Pakpring Thongyai

· Two Children, a son and daughter

· Died October 9, 1995

· Established the conservative Social Action Party

Education

· Suankularb Wittayalai School

· Trent College, Nottinghamshire

· Studied at The Queen’s College, Oxford University with B.A(Hons) in Philosophy, Politics and Economics in 1933 and M.A.(Oxon) in 1982.

Achievements

· M.R. Kukrit founded the Progress Party, the first political party in Thailand in 1945-1946.

· Appeared on screen with Marlon Brando in the movie The Ugly American (1963), in which he played Prime Minister Kwen Sai and spoke both Thai and English.

· Established diplomatic ties with China in 1975.

· Named National Artist in Literature 1985.

· Received the Fukuoka Asian Culture Prize in 1990.

· Founded the Khon Thammasat Troupe at Thammasat University, Khon being the highest form of dance drama in Thai classical dramatic arts.

Acting career

When George Englund decided to use Thailand as the location for the fictional country portrayed in his film The Ugly American, Pramoj was appointed as cultural advisor to make sure the film accurately portrayed monarchy in a Buddhist country. Englund had difficulty casting the part of the fictional Prime Minister, but he was so impressed by Pramoj’s cultural refinement and mastery of English that he offered him the part, saying, “I can’t think of anyone who could play it better.” Pramoj accepted, saying, according to Englund, “We are all actors anyway, and I think you’re right that I could play it better than anyone.”

M.R. Kukrit Heritage Home

The home that M.R. Kukrit built for himself in Bangkok has been registered by the Department of Fine Arts as ‘Home of an Important Person’. It is open to the public on Saturdays, Sundays and official Thai holidays between 10am and 5pm.

Standing in 2 acres (8,100 m2) of land, surrounded by landscaped gardens, the house is a similar concept to the Jim Thompson House in Bangkok. Five small traditional Thai houses were dismantled and reassembled at the present site to make one house. The house is filled with artefacts and books collected by the owner.

Additions to the original house include air conditioning, a modern bathroom, and a lift was installed when the owner became too frail to climb up and down stairs.

The M.R. Kukrit Heritage Home is situated at 19 Soi Phra Pinit, South Sathorn Road, Sathon District, Bangkok 10120. Tel. +66 (0)2 286 8185. The nearest BTS Skytrain station is Chong Nonsi. English speaking guides are available to show visitors around. Photography is not allowed inside the house. The entrance fee is Bt50 for adults and Bt20 for children and students.

Works

Novels

· Sam Kok Chabap Nai Thun (1951) ISBN 9749906160

· Phai Daeng (1954) ISBN 9749906187

o Based on Giovanni Guareschi‘s 1950 novel The Little World of Don Camillo. Translated into English as Red Bamboo in 1961

· Su Si Thai Hao (1957) ISBN 9749906152

· Jew (1967) ISBN 9749906225

· Si Phaendin ISBN 9749906209

o Translated into English as Four Reigns in 1981 by Tulachandra; ISBN 9747100665

· Kawao Thi Bang Phleng (1989) ISBN 9749906195

o Based on John Wyndham‘s 1957 science fiction novel The Midwich Cuckoos. Adapted into a film of the same name in 1994.

· Lai Chiwit ISBN 9746901192

o Translated in English as Many Lives in 1996; ISBN 9747100673

· Khun Chang Khun Phaen (1989) ISBN 9746901664

· Farang Sakdina ISBN 9749906233

Plays

· Rashomon ISBN 9749906330

o Based on Akira Kurosawa‘s 1950 crime mystery film of the same name.

Collected short stories and essays

· Phuean Non (short stories, 1952) ISBN 9749906314

· Sapphere Khadi ISBN 974923216X

Non-fiction

· Phama Sia Mueang (1967) ISBN 9749906276, 9746900307

· Huang Mahannop (1959) ISBN 9746900609

· Chak Yipun (1962) ISBN 9749906284

· Mueang Maya (1965) ISBN 9746903527

· Khon Rak Ma (1967) ISBN 9746901028

· Wai Run (1980) ISBN 9749906322

· Thamma Khadi (1983) ISBN 9749906306

· Khrong Kraduk Nai Tu ISBN 9746901311

· Chao Lok ISBN 9749906268

· Kritsadaphinihan An Bot Bang Mi Dai ISBN 9746901893, 9749906357

· Chang Nai Chiwit Khong Phom ISBN 9746905147

· Phra Phutthasatsana Kap Khuekrit ISBN 9749336410

· Kho Khit Rueang Koet Kae Chep Tai ISBN 9746903829

· Songkhram Phio ISBN 974990625X

· Thok Khamen ISBN 9746901052

· Banthoeng Roeng Rom ISBN 9749906292

· Rueang Kham Khan ISBN 9746905074

· Kep Lek Phasom Noi ISBN 9746904892

· Klai Rok ISBN 9746904795

· Khon Khong Lok ISBN 9749906241

· Chom Suan ISBN 9749906349

· Talat Nad ISBN 9746904825

· Tham Haeng Ariya ISBN 9746904736

· Nam Phrik (น้ำพริก) ISBN 9746904833

· Beng Hek Phuu Thuk Kluen Thang Pen (2001 [Revised]) ISBN 9749906179

· Arokya ISBN 9746903357

· Sapphasat ISBN 9746904442

· Khon Khong Lok (1967) ISBN 9749906241

· The King of Siam speaks, by Seni Pramoj and Kukrit Pramoj ISBN 9748298124

Most Thai were shocked by the portrayal of their revered nineteenth-century king, Mongkut, in the musical The King and I. The stage and screen versions were based on Margaret Landon’s 1944 book entitled Anna and the King of Siam. To correct the record, well-known Thai intellectuals Seni and Kukrit Pramoj wrote this account in 1948. The Pramoj brothers sent their manuscript to the American politician and diplomat Abbot Low Moffat 1901-1996), who drew on it for his biography entitled Mongkut the King of Siam (1961) ISBN 9748298124. Moffat donated the Pramoj manuscript to the Library in 1961. (Southeast Asian Collection, Asian Division, Library of Congress)

Translations

· Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach, translated as Jonathan Livingston Nang Nuan 1973)

References

1. Elliott Kulick, Dick Wilson. Thailand‘s Turn: Profile of a New Dragon (Thailand‘s Turn) (Paperback). Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 84. ISBN 0312121881.

2. An Impressive Day at M.R. Kukrit’s Home; Thailand Bibliography

This is an English translation of the “Four Reigns”. It is a very good translation and very loyal to the Thai.

It is a good way to access and understand better the history of Thailand/Siam.

The novel Si phaen din (Four Reigns), first published in serial form in the newspaper Siam Rath in 1953, is probably the best-selling Thai novel of all time. The author, Kukrit Pramoj…

Four Reigns

Kukrit Pramoj (Author) Tulachandra (Translator)

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