Thai Laws and Proclamations on the Abolition of Slavery (1874-1911) Ref N° 2006-45 PART A – ESSENTIAL INFORMATION 1 SUMMARY The abolition of slavery in Thailand was carried out primarily during the reign of King Chulalongkorn (1874-1910) over a period of 37 years through a series of laws and decrees. This gradual undertaking successfully prevented any social and political upheaval and was part of the modernization policy that made the country, known then as Siam, a member of the community of civilized nations ruled by enlightened governments that adhered to humanistic principles, rights of the citizens and the rule of law.
King Chulalongkorn enacted laws with the advice and consensus of a large group of experienced administrators and then made them public through a government publication in the Thai language known as Ratchakitchanubeksa or the Royal Gazette (RG). This is a good example of how Thailand was one of the first countries to make use ofthe printing press for administrative and governmental purposes. The Royal Gazette was widely read among the official and business circles in Bangkok and distributed throughout the country. It became the main source of communication between the rulers and the citizens as well as the source of reference for the country’s corps of officials who were entrusted with the task of carrying out reform policies that were to lay the foundation for modern Thai society and government.
The 11 Laws and Proclamations nominated for the Memory of the World Register are legal milestones for Thailand as well as for the world as they are testimonies to the policy of the abolition of slavery by peaceful means, through public education and administrative implementation by communicating through the printing press in the vernacular language.
2DETAILS OF THE NOMINATOR
The Thai National Committee on Memory of the World Programme of UNESCO
Relationship to the documentary heritage nominated
The Thai National Committee on Memory of the World has the authority to consider Thailand’s documentary heritage and make nominations to the Memory of the World Register. The Committee reviews historical documents and archival records of national importance in official libraries and archives as well as in private collections. It also organizes activities to raise people's awareness of the value of documents, the necessity of conservation and the right to access the heritage widely. The Slavery Abolition Laws and Proclamations are found in the Royal Gazette, the main official publication first published in 1858. The relevant issues are kept at the Secretariat of the Cabinet in Bangkok, Thailand, which is represented in the MOW Committee.
The Contact person (s)
The RG was a set of printed sheets of paper of quarto size, 23 X 31 cm. They were type-set in the Thai language in modern Thai scripts. They were published weekly as official publications for the general public. It became a practice at the beginning of King Chulalongkorn’s reign in 1874 that all laws and decrees would no longer be kept in “black books” made from natural fibres, but that they would be published straightaway in the RG and enforceable The Abolition Laws in the RG must therefore be considered as the only original legal documents with no other types of legal document in existence.
220.127.116.11 Background to the Royal Gazette
The “Royal Gazette”, first published in Roman typescript, was originally issued on 15 March 1858 by the command of King Rama IV with the intention of informing government officials and the general public of news about the country. Prior to that, the printing press was first introduced in Thailand by American missionaries and King Ram III made first use of it for administrative purposes by printing 9,000 copies of a Decree Forbidding Opium Smoking and Sale in 1839. In the early part of King Rama IV’s reign (1851-1868) royal scribes would compile the King’s decrees for announcement and copies would be made by hand for distribution to other departments in Bangkok and the provinces. This not only caused information to disseminate rather slowly but also meant it could not reach many people. Any errors in the copying could also cause misunderstanding and confusion. King Rama IV therefore set up a printing press inside the Grand Palace to publish the RG containing government proclamations and regulations for officials and the public. It is likely that most of the announcements that appeared in the RG at the time were the writings of King Rama IV himself. The publication however ceased 18 months later as the King had no time to edit it. The announcements were printed and distributed separately However, in May 1874, King Rama V recommenced the Royal Gazette publication as a weekly and giving it the serial number One. It was discontinued again in 1879 before reappearing on the occasion of the Bangkok Centennial celebrations in 1882 as Royal Gazette Special. In 1884 the RG restarted and has been continuously been in print till today.
In 1889 the RG contents were modified somewhat and the type of government news was broader to bring it closer to western standards, such as the London Gazette. They included general announcements by the government, royal commands, acts of legislation, ministerial regulations, news of royal visits, royal ceremonies, religious items, announcements of royal decorations and ranks, royal obituaries and the price of unhusked rice. This allowed Thais and foreigners in contact with Thailand to follow the tide of events of the country and in Thai society.The RG was also praised by foreigners as being printed more cleanly and beautifully than any other magazine. Distribution was made to subscribers only for the price of eight baht per year. Copies were picked up by the subscribers from the printing house itself, or for an extra two baht the copy was delivered to the subscriber’s home.
King Chulalongkorn used the RG as an important medium for notifying the people of his objectives in developing and reforming the country. It was also used to report on the work being undertaken by the government. During that period, subscription to the Royal Gazette was very popular among royalty, the nobility, Thai and foreign government officials. This led to the spread of accurate information on Thailand and more understanding of the monarch’s modernization policies..
The RG used the Chulasakarat Era Calendar until the fifth issue (1888). From the sixth issue the Rattanakosin or Bangkok Era Calendar was used until the reign of King Rama VI when it was changed permanently to the Buddhist Calendar as it is now. Generally, during the time of King Rama IV issues came out whenever it was convenient and the publication date was not certain. Only 19 issues were ever published at the time. Throughout the reign of King Rama V, issues were printed every Sunday, that is once per week, four times per month so that in one year there would have been 48 issues. From the second and third issues printed in the reign, the designation volume one was given, ignoring the issues printed in the previous reign. At present, the four sections of the Royal Gazettes have different publication dates, depending on the urgency.
The RG of King Rama IV was a sheet of 23 X 24 cm while that of King Chulalongkorn (King Rama V) was quarto size, 24 X 30 cm. The weight increased each year until the reign of King Rama VI when it was octavo, 14.5 X 21.5 cm. At present, the Royal Gazette is A4 size for the section issued for Royal Decrees and A5 for the other sections.
18.104.22.168 List of Thai Laws and Proclamations on the Abolition of Slavery published in the Royal Gazette (1874-1911) nominated for the World Register 1874
1. Law Fixing the Value Rates of Slaves and the Scale for Gradual Retirement of Children of Slaves and Freemen.
2. Proclamation on the Retirement of Children of Slaves and Freemen.
3. Proclamation on Slaves and Retirement of Slaves.
4. Law of Rattanakosin Era 119 on Slavery in the Northwestern Monthon.
5. Proclamation on the Postponement of the Making of Bondage Documents of Slaves in the Northwestern Monthon (24 November 1900).
6. Proclamation on the Second Postponement of the Making of Bondage Documents of Slaves in Monthon Phayap (2 January 1901).
7. Proclamation of the Ministry of Interior on slavery documents (30 May 1902).
8. Proclamation on the Third Postponement of the Making of Bondage Documents of Slaves in Monthon Phayap (4 October 1902).
9. Proclamation on the Reduction of the Price of Slaves in Monthon Burapha (9 January 1904).
10. Law of Rattanakosin Era 124 on Slavery.
11. Proclamation on the Application of the Law of Rattanakosin Era 124 on Slavery in Monthon Phayap (16 January 1911).
Summary of its provenance
The RG was orginally kept in the Royal Grand Palace. At present it is being administered by the Secretariat of the Cabinet.
Assessment of physical state and condition
There are as far as is known 6 holdings of RG publications in different libraries in Bangkok:
1. The Secretariat of the Cabinet of the Prime Minister’s Office
The National Library
The Royal Secretariat Office
The Museum of the Public Prosecutor’s Office
The Thai State Attorney Museum
Chulalongkorn University Library
The holdings are all incomplete except in the Secretariat of the Cabinet of the Prime Minister’s Office and those that contain the Abolition laws can be found only in the The Secretariat of the Cabinet of the Prime Minister’s Office, National Library and the Royal Secretariat in varying but readable conditions.
Ratchakitchanubeksa, 1874-1879 (Reprint in Thai Language).Bangkok:Samnak Phim Tonchabap, 1997.
2. Wichai Sewamat. The Abolition of Slavery in the Reign of King Chulalongkorn. (in
Thai). Bangkok: NIDA Research Institute: 1966.
Terwiel, B. “Bondage and Slavery in Early Nineteenth Century Siam.” In Slavery,
Bondage and Dependency in Southeast Asia, ed. Anthony Reid,118-137. Melbourne: University of Queensland Press. 1983.
4 JUSTIFICATION FOR INCLUSION/ ASSESSMENT AGAINST CRITERIA 4.1 Authenticity
The RG’s authenticity is not in doubt as the original documents were printed in the Grand Palace which also housed the original National Library.
World significance, uniqueness and irreplaceability
The tradition of publishing laws may not be unique, but the RG was a carrier of unique laws and vehicle for an enlightened policy of the abolition of slavery through peaceful and legal means, which is unique in the world.
These Laws and Proclamations all aimed at the gradual elimination of slavery in Thai society over the period 1874-1911. As most Thai slaves were debt slaves, the strategy was for the prevention of the new generation of youths to become slaves and for those that were already slaves to be encouraged to redeem themselves as the laws reduced their monetary values to make it feasible for slaves to pay their debts. The first steps were taken to discourage those born in the coronation year 1868 to continue into slavery and discourage new slavery. The moves were designed to prevent social upheavals and discontent of the slave owners by letting them know the eventual outcome that they would have to accept. King Chulalongkorn also made sure that parts of the country likely to find it difficult would be eased into the change. Islamic practices were also taken into consideration. These diplomatic and yet firm measures ensured that the main intention of abolition was always kept in sight. By the end of his reign in 1910 slavery was recognized by most people in Siam as an evil that was no longer acceptable.
a) These Thai laws and proclamations reflect several political, economic and cultural values that modern civilized states in the world today subscribe to or are familiar, with namely:
The Rule of Law
The abolition measures were rationally worked out step-by-step and carried out through legal and not arbitrary means .
The right of everyone, male or female, to personal freedom, especially to work and work out their own destinies.
The state has the responsibility to ensure the rights of its citizens and prevent their subjugation through unlawful economic means and abuse of power
Legality of public policy
Policies must be seen publicly how they are implemented and carried out justly and efficiently by the officials who should have a proper understanding of those policies.
b) The Thai Royal Gazette is one the few government publications in the world that has a long tradition of nearly 150 years, although with some interruptions. As an independent state, the Thai Government made good use of the printing press in communicating its modern ideas for drastic change to the educated public and its commands to the administrative officials thoughout the nation. To abolish slavery was a major undertaking that was successfully accomplished with the help of the printing press and the Royal Gazette, which is unique for an Asian country in world history.
4.3 Criteria of (a) time (b) place (c) people (d) subject and theme (e) form and style
1. Thai laws were originally based on Indic laws and Thai customs. They were compiled in collections known in the 18th century as “The Laws of the Three Seals”. In the late 19th century King Chulalongkorn embarked on a modernization plan that included revising the old laws and introducing new legal principles such as rights of the inviduals and freedom from slavery.
2. The usefulness and power of the printing press was quickly recognized in the early 19th century in Thailand. To reach a wider audience, new laws and policies were published in the Royal Gazette instead of copied by hand or announced in the streets of Bangkok by public announcers with the aid of a gong. The RG was an appropriate means at the time to reach the provinces which were being drawn together to form an integrated state
Siam was the only country in Southeast Asia that did not fall under colonial rule. Therefore it had the right to promulgate laws and carry out whatever policy it saw fit. The abolition of slavery was considered a good policy but there were careful considerations as to how to implement it appropriately in the social context of the place. The documents reflect another method of eliminating slavery in the world that was suitable for the place.
King Chulalongkorn who promulgated these laws is regarded as an important figure in the history of the world and recognized as such by UNESCO in 2003. He is revered in Thailand as a great king who laid the foundation for the country, especially in national administration, the military, education and legal institutions. The abolition of slavery through legal and peaceful means is a unique undertaking that should be widely remembered as an act of a humanistic world leader. His use of the press to communicate with the public is also an innovative step that is now taken for granted in this information age.
4.3.d, subject and theme:
a) The abolition of slavery is an episode in world history that has been recognized by the MOW Programme as worthy of remembrance. The Thai experience with its success through non-violent means should be added.
b) The power of the printing press in education is well-known, but its use by pre-modern governments for reforms is rare, especially in the implementation of a major and controversial policy such as the abolition of slavery.
4.3.e, form and style:
The Abolition Laws were written in simple style but containing all the necessary terminologies taken from the Indian laws on slavery. For this reason the earlier Laws are complicated while the early 20th ones are more easily understood. The RG helped to build a standard for Thai prose that largely continued.
4.4 Issues of rarity, integrity, threat and management
Laws aiming at national abolition of slavery step by step are as rare as the policy of peaceful abolition that was implemented by King Chulalongkorn thoughout is reign.
The RG contains the original laws and must be counted as original documents although there are several copies in existence.
All the texts of Abolition laws in the RG are complete and readable thoughout although in some cases the papers are brittle.
At present the RG is kept in a temperature controlled room at the Secretariat of the Cabinet in Bangkok and there is no immediate threat to the collection.
The Secretariat of the Cabinet is a state agency under the Office of the Prime Minister managed under Thai law with international standard. There are standing plans to respond to different types of emergencies or disasters, such as theft and robbery, fire, riots, natural disasters, vandalism, accidents and terrorism. There are also post-emergency recovery plans.
5 LEGAL INFORMATION 5.1 Owner of the documentary heritage (name and contact details)
Mr. Borwornsak Uwanno
The Secretariat-General to the Cabinet
Office of the Prime Minister
Nakhon Pathom Road
Bangkok 10300, Thailand
Tel: 662-281 0030, 662-281-0420, 662-281-6213
Custodian of the documentary heritage (name and contact details, if different to owner)
Same as above
5.3 Legal status:
(a) Category of ownership
The Royal Gazettes are public documents. At present they are published by the Prime Minister’s Office.
In the the Secretariat of the Cabinet the original RG documents are available on
special request. They are being gradually microfilmed and there is a plan to digitize
them for better accessibility. The Secretariat of the Cabinet is open to the public free
of charge everyday except on national holidays. The texts have been photographed and
transcribed many times.
(c) Copyright status
The texts are in public domain and not subject to copyright.
(d) Responsible administration
The Secretariat of the Cabinet, Office of the Prime Minister
(e) Other factors
6 MANAGEMENT PLAN
6.1 There is no special management plan for the RG. It comes under the management plan for the Secretariat of the Cabinet as a whole, but there are conservation plans that include microfilming and digitization.
The RG is kept in the Secretariat of the Cabinet which operates in accordance with the international standard for library management and the relevant Thai laws on libraries and archives, and the conservation and preservation of cultural heritage.
7 CONSULTATION 7.1 Provide details of consultation about this nomination with (a) the owner of the heritage (b) the custodian (c) your national or regional Memory of the World committee
Same as (a) above. The Secretariat of the Cabinet supports this nomination.
Relevant Regional or National Memory of the World Committee
The Thai Memory of the World Committee comprises experts, scholars and officials from the state agencies concerned with the safeguarding of national documentary heritage. The present Committee was appointed in 2005 and has held monthly meetings to consider possible candidates for nomination to the Memory of the World Register.
PART B – SUBSIDIARY INFORMATION 8 ASSESSMENT OF RISK 8.1 The RG is not under any external threats apart from the decaying of the original 19th century papers imported from Europe. For this reason they are being reformatted by microfilming and digitizing.
9 ASSESSMENT OF PRESERVATION 9.1 The early RG has been microfilmed and digitized. Plans are being made to review the needs for preservation measures for rare publications in the Secretariat of the Cabinet collections.
PART C - LODGEMENT