Siam Becomes Thailand: A Story of Intrigueby Judith A. Stowe

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  • Siam Becomes Thailand: A Story of Intrigue by Judith A. StoweReview by: Constance M. WilsonThe American Historical Review, Vol. 98, No. 1 (Feb., 1993), pp. 221-222Published by: Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Historical AssociationStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2166506 .Accessed: 24/06/2014 23:02

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  • Asia 221

    HUE-TAM Ho TAI. Radicalism and the Origins of the Vietnamese Revolution. Cambridge: Harvard Univer- sity Press. 1992. Pp. x, 325. $34.95.

    Vietnamese revolutionary history is often equated with Ho Chi Minh and the Indochinese Communist Party (ICP). Hue-Tam Ho Tai goes beyond this view in her book to explore the broad political-cultural environment of Vietnam under French colonialism. She traces the impulse of radicalism as it emerged from a traditional Confucian society, and she argues that the generation of radicals in the 1920s, seeing an increasing need to struggle against French colonial- ism, concentrated on issues of individual freedom, especially within the family. According to Tai, how- ever, the generation of the 1930s saw the focus of struggle change from the family to society, as epito- mized by Marxist theory. The cultural tension be- tween the individual and the family was replaced by demands for social justice and tensions between the classes. By the end of the 1920s, most radical groups and emerging Marxist organizations had been heavily repressed; Tai maintains that Marxism allowed for a spirit of hope by its deterministic view of victory. Although the Leninist pattern of organization al- lowed for structure and discipline, Tai stresses that the key point for Vietnamese history was not class struggle, but reclaiming the sense of piety toward the past that allowed the Viet Minh (controlled by the ICP) to effectively mobilize the masses.

    Tai's work is a mixture of riveting evidence and succinctly drawn inferences about the very complex radical milieu in Vietnam during the 1920s and 1930s. The sources are diverse, ranging from archival evidence to personal histories. Tai surveys a wide range of radical contenders and themes, including journalism as a transitional mode of activism, femi- nism and politics, the accomodationists, the expatri- ate experience, the growing generational alienation that led to increasing student rebellion and political activism, and the difference between the elite-ori- ented mode of traditional leadership contrasted with the growth of Marxist discourse and Leninist organi- zation. At the heart of the book is the character of Nguyen An Ninh, who, as journalist, activist, expatri- ate, political organizer, even secret-society figure, epitomized the search for moral culture under French rule.

    Tai not only draws the outline, but she fills in the picture with vivid detail and insightful portraiture. There are two difficulties of which the general reader might be aware. The first is the lack of a bibliography. Second, due to the large number of different person- alities and groups covered, a short appendix would have been a convenience. These are not overwhelm- ing shortcomings, however. The book will be a valu- able companion to previous historical studies by Tai, David Marr, and William Duiker, and will particularly complement the work of Huynh Kim Khanh. Be- cause of its breadth and richly textured material,

    Tai's book is a worthwhile resource for the nonspe- cialist as well as the specialist.

    MARILYN LEVINE

    Lewis-Clark State College Lewiston, Idaho

    JUDITH A. STOWE. Siam Becomes Thailand: A Story of Intrigue. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press. 1991. Pp. xii, 394. Cloth $39.00, paper $16.95.

    Judith A. Stowe begins her book with a discussion of the events leading to the coup of 1932 that termi- nated the power of the monarchy and ends it with the conclusion of World War II in 1945. During this period, civilian and military leaders struggled for control over a new semi-constitutional form of gov- ernment against a backdrop of Japanese infiltration and occupation. The author hopes to clarify the events of the period by narrating the activities of the leading political and military figures in chronological order: a story of intrigue. Substance is defined by action, what people were doing and when. Little background is given. Discussion of character and personality are limited. Economic, social, and cultural factors receive minimal attention. The book reads like a transcript of continuous radio or television news reports: meetings were held; proclamations were issued; military actions occurred.

    This concept of chronology as history raises ques- tions. Chronology is not necessarily objective. There are always the issues raised by the selection of events mentioned (in this case, the emphasis on military leaders and their activities) and by the attributions and adjectives used to spice up the text. Characters, not always identified, appear and disappear. Identi- fications, when given, cover only family background, education, and position in government-the same minimal information that appears in official directo- ries. No distinctions are made between major events and minor ones. And there are far too many refer- ences to rumors without any effort to find out if they had any basis in reality or if they made any contribu- tion to the sequence of events.

    This is a book that confuses more than it enlight- ens. Much of the intrigue adds up to very little. The Allies won World War II, Japan lost. Neither pro- Japanese nor pro-Allied intrigues in Bangkok had much impact on the final outcome. Even the terms of the peace settlement had more to do with the rivalry between the United States and Great Britain than with the wartime activities of the various Thai fac- tions.

    All we end up with here is a paradox. Pibul, the military strongman, appears as a timid, indecisive figure, frequently absent when a crisis occurs; Pridi, the civilian political theorist, comes across as a strong administrator and a capable minister, first in the Department of the Interior, then in the Department of Finance. Pridi's service as regent representing the

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  • 222 Reviews of Books

    royal family and his activities in the Free Thai Move- ment should have strengthened his political position. Yet after the country returns to normal, Pibul comes out on top, and Pridi loses (again). Why? Chronology alone cannot explain or even clarify the issues that make the 1930s and 1940s such a critical turning point in modern Thai history.

    CONSTANCE M. WILSON

    Northern Illinois University

    SYED NESAR AHMAD. Oigins of Muslim Consciousness In India: A World System Perspective. Foreword by IMMAN- UEL WALLERSTEIN. (Contributions to the Study of World History, number 29.) New York: Greenwood. 1991. Pp. xv, 311. $47.95.

    Syed Nesar Ahmad's work is one of synthesis and analysis, reviewing a wide range of secondary works to explain "Muslim consciousness," conceptualized as a separate Muslim political consciousness. The book proceeds chronologically, with chapters on nine- teenth-century Islamic revival movements in re- sponse to British rule; the rise of modernism in the context of the "great depression" of the late nine- teenth century; the rise and decline of Hindu-Muslim unity through the course of World War I and into the 1920s; and, in a long final chapter, Muslim separat- ism during the Depression of the 1930s and World War II. Ahmad's approach has two valuable charac- teristics: first, to show identities as historically consti- tuted in interaction with social, economic, and politi- cal contexts; and second, to show the critical importance of placing those contexts in a larger geographical setting than the boundaries of the na- tion-states that so often define our histories.

    The motor to political action and indeed Muslim consciousness in Ahmad's analysis is elite material interests. Recalling studies by scholars like Paul Brass (for example, his Language, Religion and Politics in North India [1974]), Ahmad emphasizes competition among elites who then, as political grids change, deploy cultural symbols in order to mobilize the popular support needed to participate in those grids. Ahmad links class developments to broad patterns of economic change to show that, far from any single communal interest, it is the interests of powerful groups, interests potentially at odds with those of co-religionists, that are at stake. Thus, the jotedars of Bengal emerge as a powerful class of small landlords whose interests diverge from the powerful, largely Hindu, big landowners as well as from the Muslim lower peasantry who are, ultimately, persuaded to support them nonetheless on grounds of shared religion.

    While suggestive of significant developments, Ah- mad's analysis will seem to many readers too singular, particularly because of his neglect of the wholly new context of a public culture, created by new modalities

    of communication, that transforms identities and public action. As Immanuel Wallerstein notes in his foreword (p. ix), "If one composed two lists of world- wide names of . . . 'groups,' one list say as of 1500 and one say as of 1950, some on the two lists ... would be the same nominally. But would they be the same existentially, or sociologically?" Ahmad offers an im- plicit description of the contrast signaled in Waller- stein's statement, but one would wish for a richer sense of the transition. For that, the approaches of social and cultural history would come into play as they do not here and would be seen as integral to, not separate from, the economic and political structures emphasized throughout. "Hindu" and "Muslim" sol- idarities-let alone those denoted "fundamentalist," "orthodox," and "heterodox"-are often treated here as historically continuous categories and not as groupings that are in the process of construction.

    The topic of this book, the creation of politicized ethnicity and community in the twentieth century, could not be more timely given today's world events. Ahmad was a young scholar tragically killed in an airplane hijacking in 1986. In this posthumously published work, he has raised important questions, and, in his emphasis on economic differentiation and competition, he has left us a significant legacy for further research.

    BARBARA D. METCALF University of California, Davis

    DOUGLAS E. HAYNES. Rhetoric and Ritual in Colonial India: The Shaping of a Public Culture in Surat City, 1852-1928. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. 1991. Pp. xi, 363. $49.95.

    Douglas E. Haynes has written a thoughtful book about ideology and nationalism in colonial India. He starts with the founding of Surat municipality in western India in 1852. His interest initially was polit- ical history; that this history was written in language familiar to him struck him as strange. He conceptu- alizes his task as explaining the development of political ideology along liberal democratic lines, look- ing at symbolic behavior-rhetoric and ritual-to show that Surat's public culture, while constrained by its development under colonial rule, was formulated by the elite through struggle and interaction with colonial officials and institutions.

    Haynes sees himself as an ethnohistorian, inter- ested in the construction of cultural meaning, and he puzzles over why the leaders of India's independence movement used the language of liberal, representa- tive democracy when that language ill-served the interests of the "underclasses." In his conclusion, his concern with contemporary India is clear. He sug- gests that "the most important test of democracies that have grown out of colonial contexts rather than out of demands from deeper within society is whether

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    Article Contentsp. 221p. 222

    Issue Table of ContentsThe American Historical Review, Vol. 98, No. 1 (Feb., 1993), pp. i-xiv+1-316+1a-46aFront Matter [pp. i - xiv]Voyages [pp. 1 - 17]E. P. Thompson: The Historian as Activist [pp. 18 - 38]The German and Catalan Peasant Revolts [pp. 39 - 54]The Peasant Woman in Stalinist Political Art of the 1930s [pp. 55 - 82]Review ArticleMaritime Asia, 1500-1800: The Interactive Emergence of European Domination [pp. 83 - 105]The Frontier Trail: Rethinking Turner and Reimagining the American West [pp. 106 - 117]

    Featured Reviewsuntitled [pp. 118 - 119]untitled [pp. 119 - 121]untitled [pp. 121 - 123]untitled [pp. 123 - 125]untitled [pp. 125 - 127]untitled [pp. 127 - 129]

    Reviews of BooksGeneraluntitled [pp. 130 - 131]untitled [pp. 131 - 132]untitled [pp. 132 - 133]untitled [p. 133]untitled [pp. 133 - 134]untitled [pp. 134 - 135]untitled [p. 136]untitled [p. 137]untitled [pp. 137 - 138]untitled [pp. 138 - 139]untitled [pp. 139 - 140]untitled [pp. 140 - 142]untitled [p. 142]

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    Africauntitled [p. 210]untitled [pp. 210 - 211]untitled [pp. 211 - 212]untitled [pp. 212 - 213]untitled [p. 213]untitled [pp. 213 - 214]

    Asiauntitled [p. 214]untitled [pp. 214 - 215]untitled [pp. 215 - 216]untitled [p. 216]untitled [pp. 216 - 217]untitled [pp. 217 - 218]untitled [pp. 218 - 219]untitled [pp. 219 - 220]untitled [p. 220]untitled [p. 221]untitled [pp. 221 - 222]untitled [p. 222]untitled [pp. 222 - 223]untitled [p. 224]untitled [pp. 224 - 225]

    United Statesuntitled [pp. 225 - 226]untitled [p. 226]untitled [pp. 226 - 227]untitled [pp. 227 - 228]untitled [pp. 228 - 229]untitled [p. 229]untitled [pp. 229 - 230]untitled [pp. 230 - 231]untitled [p. 231]untitled [pp. 231 - 232]untitled [pp. 232 - 233]untitled [p. 233]untitled [pp. 233 - 234]untitled [pp. 234 - 235]untitled [pp. 235 - 236]untitled [p. 236]untitled [pp. 236 - 237]untitled [pp. 237 - 238]untitled [pp. 238 - 239]untitled [p. 239]untitled [pp. 239 - 241]untitled [p. 241]untitled [pp. 241 - 242]untitled [pp. 242 - 243]untitled [pp. 243 - 244]untitled [pp. 244 - 245]untitled [pp. 245 - 246]untitled [p. 246]untitled [pp. 246 - 247]untitled [pp. 247 - 248]untitled [p. 248]untitled [p. 249]untitled [pp. 249 - 250]untitled [pp. 250 - 251]untitled [pp. 251 - 252]untitled [p. 252]untitled [pp. 252 - 253]untitled [pp. 253 - 254]untitled [pp. 254 - 255]untitled [pp. 255 - 256]untitled [p. 256]untitled [pp. 256 - 257]untitled [pp. 257 - 258]untitled [p. 258]untitled [pp. 258 - 259]untitled [pp. 259 - 260]untitled [p. 260]untitled [pp. 260 - 261]untitled [pp. 261 - 262]untitled [p. 262]untitled [pp. 262 - 263]untitled [pp. 263 - 264]untitled [pp. 264 - 265]untitled [p. 265]untitled [pp. 265 - 266]untitled [pp. 266 - 267]untitled [p. 267]untitled [pp. 267 - 268]untitled [pp. 268 - 269]untitled [p. 269]untitled [pp. 269 - 270]untitled [pp. 270 - 271]untitled [pp. 271 - 272]untitled [p. 272]untitled [pp. 272 - 273]untitled [pp. 273 - 274]untitled [p. 274]untitled [pp. 274 - 275]untitled [pp. 275 - 276]

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    Collected Essays [pp. 284 - 302]Documents and Bibliographies [pp. 303 - 305]Other Books Received [pp. 306 - 313]Communications [pp. 314 - 315]Back Matter [pp. 316 - 46(a)]

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