Saturday, September 13, 2014

National Geographic Magazine - Divided Kingdom: Thailand

Divided Kingdom: Thailand

By Seth Mydans
Photographs by James Nachtwey

Years of political turmoil led to a takeover by the army. What are the roots of the unrest?

The allure of money can loosen the grip of tradition, and it was this force that began shaking Thailand's old social order some three decades ago. During the economic boom that began in the 1980s, wealth poured into the country at such a pace that per capita income tripled within one generation. Bangkok, the nation's capital, was transformed into a high-rise metropolis where shopping malls competed for space with Buddhist temples. Country people flocked to the big city for jobs, pulling apart traditional family structures and discovering new ways of seeing the world.

About 10 percent of Thailand's population of 67 million now lives in Bangkok, a figure that rises when the several million migrant workers from rural areas are counted. With paved roads, electricity, motorbikes, and television sets, Thailand's villagers have become some of the most affluent poor people in the world, acquiring the academic label "middle-income peasants."

This rise in well-being has also brought dissatisfaction with the glaring gulfs between rich and poor. As a result Thai society has been undergoing a historic realignment in which the poorer classes, encouraged by ambitious politicians, have been seeking their share of the prosperity and clout that have always been beyond their reach. An alliance of Thailand's old political institutions--with the palace, the bureaucracy, the judiciary, and the military at their core--has been pushing back, defending the privileges of a hierarchical system that governs both public and private life.

Read the full story online.

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