The 5th Session of “Area Studies Across the Boundaries: Southeast Asian Studies”: The Politics of Memory: Saint Srivichai and the Formation of Modern Thailand

The morning of November 6th, 2020 witnessed the 5th session of the “Area Studies Across the Boundaries: Southeast Asian Studies” conveyed by Prof. Katherine Bowie from the Department of Anthropology of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, on the theme of “The Politics of Memory Saint Srivichai and the Formation of Modern Thailand”. Faculty and students of Institute of International and Area Studies, Tsinghua University (IIAS-THU) participated in the event, along with more than 60 online listeners inside and beyond IIAS.

Prof. Katherine Bowie discussed the politics of memory shown in the formation of the modern Thailand around the story of Saint Khruba Srivichai (1878-1939), a famous holy monk in northern Thailand. She opened with a wealth of photos to show the audience Srivichai’s strong influence in Buddhism in northern Thailand and his important position in the hearts of Thai people. Next, she reviewed the life and deeds of Srivichai, focusing on the important historical event that Srivichai was arrested and investigated twice by the central government of Bangkok as the leader of the resistance in northern Thailand in 1920 and between 1935 and 1936. Prof. Bowie commented that the root cause of the event was that the recruitment and tax laws at that time and the shortage of labor force aggravated the contradiction between the population and resources between the central government and the local monks. This in turn reflects the various tensions between Sinhalese and state power, between the central and local governments, and in the formation of modern Thailand. She further explained that many events represent that the northern region did not really integrate into modern Thailand centered on the Bangkok regime by 1936. Finally, she also discussed the massive secularization of monks in that context, pointing out that this history, together with Khruba Srivicha’s imprisonment, has now been forgotten by many people and replaced by the narration and memory of other deeds of the holy monk.

With PhD in Anthropology from the University of Chicago, Prof. Katherine Bowie is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She served as Director of the Center for Southeast Asian Studies from 2011 to 2014 and as Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the Association for Asian Studies from 2016 to 2020. Her research interest covers political anthropology, historical anthropology and gender and Buddhism. She is also the author of Of Beggars and Buddhas: The Politics of Humor in the Vessantara Jataka in Thailand and Rituals of National Loyalty: An Anthropology of the State and the Village Scout Movement in Thailand.

By: Guo Xunyu & Qin Yi