Anonymous student post
Although it is stepping back a few weeks, I would like to look at the assimilation of ethnic Chinese in Thailand. I think it is an important case to consider as it generally accepted that Thailand has successfully overcome the difficulties of incorporating the Chinese into the Thai national identity. Balasegaram (2001) writes of how “integration … of the community has been the greatest in Thailand and Philippines”.
To begin, we have covered the theoretical approaches to assimilation and segmented assimilation, which have been generally centred around Milton Gordon‘s “Seven Stages of Assimilation” as a linear process, in one way or another. For example, Alba and Nee (1997)
presented highly influential work concerning the “causal mechanisms” that generate assimilation, but this all still lays on the foundations that Gordon laid out. Some have called for a fresh direction of assimilation, not by completely rejecting Gordon’s initial work, but argue that it is outdated in current circumstances, at least in the United States that is. Moon-Kie Jung (2010) offers that we should move away from “assimilation” and instead give greater attention to the “politics of national belonging”.
We have additionally looked at the effects of the assimilated or semi-assimilated, both first and second generation, such as their progression in the educational institutions, the workplace and society’s acceptance at large, including self-identity. From this, I became curious in how assimilation, or attempted assimilation, takes place at the policy-making level. Prof. Moorehead’s link regarding Amy Chua‘s most recent work, The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America (2014), reminded me of a particularly outstanding chapter in her 2003 book, World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability, which is titled “Mixing Blood: Assimilation, Globalization, and the Case of Thailand”.
Chua notes that Thailand’s population of ethnic Chinese stands at 10% of the Thai population, but the Chinese are practically invisible following years of assimilation. A closer look however reveals that the “ethnic Chinese” in Thailand account for a “wildly disproportionately wealthy, market dominant … minority” (Chua 2004:179). According to Chua, they dominate the largest banks and conglomerates and “all of Thailand’s billionaires are ethnic Chinese”. Yet, there is a distinct lack of resentment. Intermarriage is much higher compared to surrounding countries, such as Indonesia and Malaysia. So how did this come to be?
Chua answers this question quite simply; “through decades of coerced assimilation” (p. 180). Following immigration from China to Thailand in the 19th century, Thailand began to take a nationalist stance against the Chinese, and it was in fact King Rama VI of Thailand that coined the term “Jews of the East” due to their economic dominance. The Thai government‘s solution to this issue took the form of what we can call “Thai-isation”, through a “systematic and ruthless campaign” (p. 183). Chinese schools in Thailand initially faced severe restrictions, and then were closed down. Chinese books were banned, as were newspapers and social organisations. Thai dress was enforced, Chinese industries were nationalised, remittance of money to China was criminalised and harassment ensued for anyone still showing signs of “Chineseness”. Those with a Chinese surname began changing their names to be more “Thai”, but as one of Chua’s students notes: “You can tell who the Chinese are because they’re the ones with the longest last names. That’s because they felt that had to “out-Thai” the Thai and because the Chinese weren’t allowed to take on a Thai surnames that already existed” (p. 184).
These events clearly show a more extreme angle of assimilation from a state-level. The repression of the Chinese in attempt to erase a minority’s dominance has only really made the issue cloudy and obscures a great deal. I wonder now to what level other national governments have gone to in order to try and create a more “harmonious” society. Japan? Britain? Australia? Have they followed routes like Thailand in the past, and do they today present a more politics of belonging approach?
Alba, R. and Nee, V. (1997). Rethinking Assimilation Theory for a New Era of Immigration, International Migration Review, Vol. 31, No. 4, pp. 826-874.
Balasegaram, M. (2001). ‘Analysis: South-East Asia’s Chinese’, BBC News, 29 August 2001. Retrieved from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/1514916.stm on 22 June 2014.
Chua, A. (2004). World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability. London: Arrow Books.
Jung, M, K. (2009). The Racial Unconscious of Assimilation Theory, Du Bois Review, Vol. 6, No. 2, pp. 375-395.