The Hegemonic Crisis of the "City of Angels"
Home Page

I. The Fabric of History

II. The Hegemonic Crisis of the City of Angels

III. The Realignment of the Lao as their power disintegrates

IV. Many Provocations and Anou's response

V. The Opening phases of the 1827 campaign

VI. The Military phase of the 1827 campaign

VII. Maps of LanXang

Coming home series

Setting the record straight



The Hegemonic Crisis of the "City of Angels" 1


Although twentieth-century Thai writers claim that the Mekong basin was part of the Thai kingdom much earlier than the late eighteenth century, even Siam's King Mongkut (r. 1851-68) observed that during the Ayudhyan period (1350-1767) the Lao states 'were fully independent" and the Thai kings "honored the Lao (kings) as equal to themselves."2

Auguste Pavie essentially agrees with Mongkut when he describes the relationship between the Lao and the Thai in the eighteenth century:

Isn't it striking to see that, in their chronicles, the Lao people bow before the prestige of the Chinese, of the Annamese and of the Bunnese, and that they constantly place themselves toward the Siamese in the situation of superiority or of equality.3

This equal relationship between the two kingdoms was probably strongest and most balanced in the sixteenth century. Facing Burmese attacks, the Siamese king had to ask for help from his Lao counterpart three times, most notably at Phitsanulok and Saraburi.4 In another instance of alliance, the Lao king, Setthathirat (r. 1550- 1571), asked for and obtained a Thai princess to be his queen. The two monarchs struck a friendship treaty when they met at Dansai in 1560, and a stupa was founded to memorialize this honeymoon period. The stupa, called Si Song Hak,

1 The "city of Angels" here refers to Bangkok.

2 Breazeale (1975), p.4; an identical view can be found in Anuchit (1932) (T), p. 168. For the Peking court, cf. Imbault-Haurt(1878), p.136; Siam and Laos were treated on the same footing in Peking court, a favor to which the ruler of Chiang Mai aspired when he dispatched an embassy to China in 1731. China rejected his request.

3 Pavie writes this passage at the conclusion of his study on the Lao manuscripts saved from in Luang Prabang. Pavie (1911), vol. 6, p.42.

4 Ukahm (1958) (L), pp.48 ff.



represented the amity between the two kingdoms of Si Sattanakkhanahut (Laos) and Si Ayudhya (Siam).,5

Despite evidence that the Lao kingdom for many years wielded influence and power equal to the Thai, Thai historians tend to portray the Lao kingdom as a weak dependent of Siam. Pierre-Bernard Lafont comments on a representative book by Bunchuai Sisawat that handily absorbs Laos into Thailand:

In reading the chapter on the French implantation in Laos, the reader gets the impression that the Lao territory was an integral part of Siam. As a matter of fact, even if after the defeat of the Lao army in 1826 [actually 1827] and the capture of Chao Anou, the kingdom of Vientiane did become a Siamese province, still the kingdoms of Luang Prabang and Champassak, although vassals of Siam, continued to be acknowledged de jure, as independent kingdoms. However, the Siamese generals and kha luang (high conu-nissioners) behaved as masters in these two kingdoms. According to this aspect of a de facto annexation, which rapidly transformed into de jure annexation, as was the case in several kingdoms and principalities in the north of Thailand, the author interprets the results of the French intervention as an amputation of Siamese territory.6

This interpretative approach has received the official Thai stamp of approval on several occasions, particularly in 1946 when Thai representatives asked France to give Laos to Thailand as if it were Thai territory. The Franco-Siamese Commission of Conciliation of Washington, chaired by a former US Assistant Secretary of State and composed of two other neutral members from Britain and Peru, unanimously rejected such claims.7

Historians have settled on the year 1778 as the genesis of troubles in Thai-Lao relations. A new phase in bilateral relations characterized by antagonism began then. The threefold partition of Laos in 1707 had torn apart its political and social fabric, causing internal weakness and lack of control over its own territories even before Siam began to pressure Lao rulers. This phase resulted in the subjugation and extermination of the feebler protagonist, the Lao.

Ayudhya, the old Siamese capital, fell in 1767 to the Burmese. Fleeing Ayudhya's collapse, Taksin, then governor of the province of Tak, founded a new capital at Thonburi. Its population was only five percent of that of Ayudhya.8 The former ruling class was decimated in the defeat, opening the way for a new group to take up the reins of power. 'The law of revolutions is that they are inclined always to fortify

5 For more information regarding this stone inscription, see Sita (1957) (L), pp. 156-157; see also Dhawaj (1987) (T), pp. 434-440, and Manich (1967), pp. 156-157.

6 Lafont (1962), pp. 582-583. Manuel Sarkisyanz (University of Heidelberg) in his review of a book authored by a former Thai Minister of Foreign Affairs, Direk Jayanama, states 'He also left unmentioned the fact that the territories Thailand claimed 'from France' were historically part of (and after the war returned to) Cambodia and Laos. The unwary reader may be left with the impression that this development accepted by historians as an encroachment by Thailand's empire builders on Cambodian and Laotian territory was rather an encroachment by French imperialist on Thai territory." Sarkisyanz (1971), pp. 257-258.

7 Commission de Conciliation Franco-Siamoise (1947); Mayoury and Pheuiphanh (1994) (L). 8 Malinee (1985), P. 79.




their power through the renovation of its personnel and of its spirit."9 The subsequent enthronement of Taksin validated the consequences of the revolution. The spirit of post-1767 Siam is embodied by this Thai statesman, Taksin. David K. Wyatt has aptly described the psychology of this homo novo.

Something more innovative, however, may have been at work in the expansion of Taksin's empire to encompass regions never previously ruled by Ayudhya.... Taksin, to begin with, was a usurper, claiming no blood ties with his Ayudhyan predecessors or with neighboring Thai dynasties. Similarly, he need not necessarily have felt himself bound by any historic accommodations which his predecessors may have reached with neighboring kingdoms. More immediately, throughout his reign Taksin faced the necessity of waging warfare against a Burman monarchy much more aggressive than any antagonist the Siamese had ever met.... To break this encirclement, Taksin had to work to expel the Burmans and their allies from these regions, and narrow the zone in which subsequent campaigns would be fought. At the same time, Taksin stood to gain the additional resources and manpower that these conquests could bring him. It is noteworthy, however, that Taksin consistently went further along these lines than King Naresuan (r. 1590-1605) had done under similar circumstances two centuries earlier.10

Furthermore, Taksin seems to have been ideologically compelled to act as he did, as Kobkua Suwannathat-Pian has explained:

A ruler after 1767 had always to augment his store of merit and bun-barami [augustness] by being successful in his various undertakings. Frequent failures tended to be interpreted as signs of the diminishing merit and worthiness of the royal position. This pressure would naturally be stronger when the ruler was a usurper or a newcomer to the throne, as in the case of Taksin or Rama 1, or the one whose royal right encountered constant challenges, as in the case of Rama 111. Consequently, the Thonburi-Bangkok rulers appeared more conscious of achieving what was expected of the institution both in theory and practice than their Ayudyhan predecessors.... The Thonburi-Bangkok era was marked by the expansionist campaigns conducted by the self-declared dhamma-raja and cakravartin. 11

Kings of this era took more seriously their role as "World Conqueror" (cakravartin) 'Guardian of the Law" (dha?n?na-raia). For this reason, Thai kings of this period adored Napoleon; his portrait adorned royal temples. 12

Circumscribed by traditional conceptions of kingship and ignorant of the new with all the dangers that it portended, neighboring kings were content haughtily to despise the new Thai ruler, whom they charged with being "a son of

9 Jouvenel (1945), pp.351, 324-325

10 Wyatt (1987), p. 13.

11 Kobkua (1987), p. 99.

12 Pallegoix (1844), pp. 141-143; Burney Papers, vol. 5, part 1, p.8; Crawfurd (1830), pp. 194, 211.





Chinese and a usurper." 13 A proud Cambodian chronicler at the time dismissed the personal pedigree of Taksin and completely failed to take into account the fact that the region's old, dynastic, Indianized international order, with its stable sacred frontiers, had passed away.14 Taksin's conception of "borders" was much closer to the Chinese conception, which defined borders as constantly moving and essentially elastic.

Everywhere and always, it was by the sword and the gun that this strongman succeeded, first by reestablishing the unity and independence of Siam, and then by imposing Siamese law and order upon the Malay, Cambodian, and Lao states. His commander-in-chief, the Chaophraya Chakri, succeeded in working out a modus vivendi in 1776 with his Burmese counterpart, Asewunki; as a result, the Burmese evacuated most of Siam.

The international environment at the time was particularly favorable to his undertakings. Interactions between Peking and Taksin were particularly significant. In his efforts to realize the "Celestial empire in Southeast Asia,"15 the vision that the new Thai rulers more or less sketched as their goal, Taksin was aided not only by his Thai compatriots, but also by Chinese and Sino-Thai allies, such as the Chakri.16 Taksin was half-Chinese; his father had been bom in the Kwangtung region. When Taksin asked for assistance from the Emperor of China, he was rewarded with modest success in the form of sulfur and cannons.17 China entered the conflict between the Thai and Burmese by bringing pressure to bear on the Burmese. In fact, during this period the Lao received an invitation from China to cooperate against the Burmese.18 Taksin even coveted marriage with a princess of the "Son of the Sky."19 He encouraged the immigration of Chinese into his territories; these immigrants received such privileged treatment that the Thai called them Chin Luang (Royal Chinese).20 As it turned out, however, their situation was unenviable. These migrants suffered and sacrificed to create wealth that contributed to the fortunes of the ruling elite, while simultaneously their apparent privileges earned them popular antipathy that would otherwise have been directed against the elite.21

 During his stay in Bangkok in 1821, John Crawfurd took notice of them:

The Chinese whose numbers are at present so great, are scattered over every part of the country .... At Bangkok, the capital, it is supposed they are equally numerous with the native population. In the end of the seventeenth century I find their numbers nowhere rated at above four or five thousand. About thirty years ago there sat upon the throne of Siam a king of half Chinese race, and it was through the extraordinary encouragement which he

13 Cf. Chandler (1973), p. 99. On Taksin, see Thompson (1961), p. 28. See also Chroniques royales khmer (1974), p. 69, where the writer declares: 'We are of a very noble dynasty, it is not proper for us to submit to Cao Tak, a Chinese Hai Hun, and thus to dishonor ourselves."

14 Lafont (1989); Thongchai (1988).

15 Chandler (1973), p. 67.

16 Wenk (1968), pp. 1-2.

17 Fisti6 (1967), p. 52.

18 Brailey (1968), p. 19.

19 Narinthonthewi (1963) (T), p. 11; Tuan (1985) (T), p. 81.

20 Malinee (1985), p. 81.

21 See the analysis in Nithi (1988) (T), pp. 37-38.




gave to his countrymen that they were induced to resort to the country and settle it in such numbers. This extraordinary accession of Chinese population constitutes almost the only great and material change which has taken place in the state of the kingdom during many centuries.22

This demographic transformation fueled the productive power that resuscitated the Siamese economy and enabled Siarn to participate energetically in the early stages of developing capitalism. The process created a voracious demand for valuable natural resources available in the hinterlands. Political expansionism thus resulted directly from the rejuvenation of the economy after the sacking of Ayudhya.

To the east, in Vietnam, the Tay Son insurrection put to flight that country's royalists. This Vietnamese civil war, as well as a Chinese invasion of northern Vietnam, swept away the last impediment to Siam's hegemonic expansion over the whole of the Mekong River basin.23 Siam's aggressive expansion generated fierce tensions and misunderstandings that continue to haunt Laos and Thailand to this day. In their relations, internal as well as interstate, 'violence is a poison to the political constituency; this poison once introduced, diffuses and leads to convulsions. It must never begin."24


After eliminating his rivals and striking a deal with the Burmese, Taksin strove to constitute the 'Thonburi tributary network.,2,5 The first tributary mission recorded by Thai chroniclers originated from the small Lao principality of Lomsak, which offered one elephant and five horses.26 Not all provinces were so quick to offer tribute. To overcome the resistance of other states, Taksin resorted to coercion. In Cambodia, a country traditionally vulnerable to Thai incursions, the Thai advance forced the Cambodian king to take refuge in Vietnam. Taksin, however, circumvented the Cambodian king's bid for protection, and proposed to the Vietnamese court that Cambodia be divided between Siam and Vietnam.27

The Thonburi king was more fortunate when he applied the new policy to Lao states in the Mekong basin. Previously both large and small Lao states had only entered into tributary relationships with Ayudhya when they were advantageous to the Lao. The larger states were powerful enough to enjoy a "more or less equal" relationship except during rare occasions when they required military protection from Ayudhya. Small Lao states often paid tribute to Ayudhya, but they could "let it lapse" when it was no longer advantageous because the larger Lao states would protect them. With the rise of Thonburi, however, their freedom became circumscribed. The larger Lao states became "fragmented and much weaker" and therefore unable to protect either the small Lao principalities or themselves from

22 Crawfurd Papers, pp. 103-104.

23 Le Than Khoi (1955), p. 337; Woodside (1971), p. 248.

24 jouvenel (1963), p. 28.

25 Gesick (1976), p. 87.

26 Gesick (1976), pp. 87-88. The relentless progress of the Thai armies after the reconquest of Khorat appears to have precipitated Lomsak's move. Gesick (1976), p. 88.

27 Gesick (1976), pp. 88-89.





Siam's determined efforts to "bring these states into its tributary orbit." Within a few years, "Ayudhya's two major Lao rivals had been brought firmly under Siamese domination."28

While close ally to the Burmese since the 1769 alliance, Vientiane was the first of the Lao capitals to initiate intercourse with Taksin in order to acknowledge the new regional situation as well as to gain access to the sea for Lao international trade. Its king, Siribunyasan, sent Taksin a letter dated January 1, 1771. To underline the perfect parallelism and equality of rank between the two courts, the chief of the Lao ministers also forwarded a missive to his counterparts.

 These first dealings between the two capitals focused on the problem of Phra Voraphita, a Vientiane rebel dignitary.30 Vientiane's forces had been unable to conquer Phra Voraphita, who was entrenched in Nong Bua Lam Phu despite two years of a siege laid by Vientiane. The Lao elite requested help from Taksin, and with the assistance of Thai troops from Khorat, Vientiane forces finally succeeded in dislodging Phra Voraphita from his sanctuary. In a letter to Taksin, Siribunyasan expressed his gratitude for Siam's help in containing this 'rebellion" by Phra Voraphita. It appears that Taksin's assistance convinced the king of Vientiane that the new Thai dynasty was friendly and not threatening, for in this letter, Siribunyasan requested that Thai troops remain stationed in Vientiane, since there were signs that Luang Prabang would soon direct its armies against the capital.31 The governor of Khorat who commanded the Thai troops agreed to this proposition from Vientiane, in part because he also had to carry out Taksin's order to capture members of the former Siamese royal family hiding in Laos.32

Taksin responded cordially in a letter to Siribunyasan dated May 1, 1771. Alluding to the prestigious lineage of his counterpart, Taksin proposed a matrimonial union to strengthen the mutual alliance suggested by Siribunyasan. Taksin's chief minister noted in his letter to his Lao counterpart that Taksin had easily overcome all his opponents in Siam and his power was at its apogee. The Thai dignitary proposed to the Lao ministers that Siribunyasan's daughter be given as a chief queen to his king.

King Chulalongkorn, who published these letters, hypothesized that Taksin expected to receive neither the Lao princess in marriage nor the three hundred horses he wished to purchase from the Lao. Chulalongkorn 'suggested that Taksin's apparent willingness to deal with the Lao king as an equal was merely a ruse to pacify Vientiane until Thonburi became strong enough to subdue it militarily."33 Vientiane did not reply to the Siamese counter-proposal. Their silence may have been because the Lao princess categorically refused to become involved with Taksin even

28 Gesick (1976), P. 90.

29 This correspondence between Vientiane and Thonburi is annexed to the memoirs of Princess Narinthonthewi (1963) (T) by the learned king of Siam, Chulalongkom, who devoted a thorough comment to it. See also Sila (1957) (L), pp. 165-219. This intercourse is scrutinized precisely by Wyatt (1963), pp. 15-19; and, studied with finesse by Gesick (1976), pp. 90-102. See also Kobkua (1987).

30 Ironically, after Taksin sent troops to help Vientiane against the rebel Phra Voraphita, Taksin later espoused the rebel's cause as a pretext for invading Laos.

31 Sila (1957) (L), p. 167. 3

2 Gesick (1976), P. 92.

33 Cf. Narinthonthewi (1963) (T), p. 84.





for imperative political reasons.34 (The Thonburi marriage-makers had also been snubbed by the Cambodians and the Malays.)35 In addition, the Siamese court's political representation of the arrangement did not please the Lao because "the relations are seen as being quasi-tributary in nature, in which the king of Vientiane appears as a man imploring the Siamese king."36

In the meantime, Luang Prabang attacked Vientiane, which apparently turned to the Burmese for help.37 Taksin assailed Cambodia and compelled the southern Lao kingdom of Champassak to accept Siamese suzerainty. Then Taksin launched two campaigns to secure Chiang Mai, which he subdued by the end of 1774.38 As his expansion gathered momentum in the heart of Lan Na territories, consisting of Chiang Mai, Lamphun, and Lampang, Taksin had a letter delivered to the Vientiane king in January 1774. He emphasized that henceforth no one, not even the Burmese king, would be capable of hindering him. Taksin warned Siribunyasan to stop aiding the Burmese and to cease hiding Siamese subjects in Laos. Lorraine Gesick illuminates the diplomatic imbroglio of this period:

Vientiane's response, sent in March 1775, disclaimed all the Siamese charges. They pointed out that they had evaded carrying out Burmese orders to attack Siam, secretly communicating these orders to the Siamese, and had only cooperated with the Burmese at all because they were holding as hostages King Sribunyasan's son, grandchildren and some high officials. They also defended themselves against the charge of preventing Siamese subjects from returning to their homes, asserting that they had given all possible cooperation to Chaophraya Nakhon Ratchasima. In turn, they asked that any Lao people from Vientiane's territories who had fled Siam be returned home, and asked that Siam also, as a mark of friendship, aid Vientiane to recover those princes and ministers still held hostage by the Burmese. To reinforce Vientiane's protestations of friendship, King Sribunyasan had the Supreme Patriarch of the Buddhist Order in Vientiane send an accompanying letter to this counterpart in Thonburi. 39

These letters reached their addressees when Siam gained victory over the boosting Taksin's ambitions. Gesick continues:

They [the Siamese] demanded that King Siribunyasan present tribute and be as a tributary ruler by Siam. They also requested military aid and warned Vientiane that it would be wise for them to reconsider and again throw in their lot with the Burmese

34 Traduction de l'histoire de Vien-Chantha, p.14.

35 For the case of Cambodia, see Chroniques royales khmer (1974), p. 69; for the Malay case, cf. Phongsawadan muang songkla, quoted in Gesick (1976), p. 94, note 57.

36 Gesick (1976), p. 94.

37 Gesick (1976), p. 94, note 59.

38 Gesick (1976), p. 95.

39 Gesick (1976), p. 98-99.

40 Gesick (1976), p. 99. .




Taksin further pressured Vientiane by having his Supreme Patriarch communicate to the Supreme Patriarch of Vientiane the idea that King Taksin, more than any other king before him, fulfilled the ideal of the righteous monarch. The Supreme Patriarch of Vientiane was strongly urged to advise his king to remain steadfast in his friendship with the king of Siam.

On July 31, 1775, three weeks after they received Taksin's ultimatum, Vientiane replied. The ruling elite tried "desperately to convince the Thai of their good intentions while also attempting to avoid falling completely under Siamese domination."41 The Lao, informed by the Khorat governor that the Siamese armies single-handedly defeated the Burmese, refuted Taksin's claim that he required Lao n-dlitary assistance. Nevertheless, as proof of his friendship, the Lao king offered in marriage one of his daughters to the king of Siam and asked the Siamese to make all the necessary arrangements to escort her to Thonburi. Vientiane proposed also to send five-hundred ox-carts of rice and requested buffalo to convey the rice to Thonburi. In return, the Lao king asked the Siamese to bring two thousand guns with them when they came to escort the Lao princess.

David Wyatt acutely interprets this episode:

Evidently, the king of Vientiane had accepted the fact of Siamese power, but his response to Taksin's request indicates that he wished to keep their relations on an equal basis. While he must have felt constrained to accept some of Siam's demands in view of the disparity in their military power, he attempted to gain some status in his own right by marrying his daughter to Taksin and he also required that Siam make some efforts on his behalf.42

Taksin abruptly replied to the Lao that if they were sincere in their desire to fight against the Burmese, he would send them four to five thousand guns and instructors. Taksin declined the offer to escort the princess, under the pretext that he urgently needed all of his military men. He dismissed the Lao allegation that the Burmese had already submitted to Siam. He also refused to dispatch buffaloes to cart the offered rice and warned Vientiane against taking sides with the Burmese.

With this letter, the correspondence broke off. Taksin's tone in the final letter makes it safe to assume that the rupture was complete.43 Gesick has argued that this correspondence clearly demonstrated the "escalating expansionism" of the Thonburi kingdom. Initially, Thonburi was not sufficiently certain of its power and so was willing to maintain "friendly and, at least superficially, equal" relations with Vientiane. As Thonburi's power grew, its demands became more insistent, and letters to Vientiane claimed Taksin was cakravartin (world conquerer). Soon after the correspondence broke off, the Siamese conquered Vientiane "outright," an action "foreshadowed in the last letters." King Chulalongkom of Siam would later claim that the Siamese had envisioned conquest from the beginning; at minimum, by 1778, the Siamese desired and imagined conquest possible.44

Taksin's strategic thinking about the threats to his power lends support to Chulalongkorn's comparatively grim assessment. From the beginning, Thonburi

41 Gesick (1976), P. 100.

42 Wyatt (1963), P. 18.

43 For the same opinion, Gesick (1976), p. 103; for a dissenting opinion, see Wyatt (1963), p. 18. 44 Gesick (1976), pp. 101-102.

44 Gesick (1976), pp. 101-102. .




compared the Lao to Siam's worst enemy, the Burmese. The Royal Khmer Chronicles report that when Taksin founded the new capital at Thonburi, he thought aloud in front of his court:

Krun Sri Ayudya [Krung Sri Ayudhyal, the place where the court had been established in Krun Kau [Siam's previous capital], was too near Laos and Burma, that its geomantic emplacement was not very good, and that was why the Burmese could come to assail it so many times.45

From early on, then, Taksin had clear ideas about who his enemies were and contemplated how to meet and repel their threats. His stance was strengthened by an implacable ideologico-religious logic, as Gesick reminds us:

Since the "Dhamma" of a kingdom was inextricably bound up with the merit of its king, Taksin perhaps felt that only by being personally the possessor of vast stores of merit could he restore that morality ... Since the possession of tributaries was one of the most visible indications that a king possessed great merit, the tendency to expansionism which this idea built into the system was ever more enhanced in Thonburi's case. The youth and the capability of Taksin's generals, combined with their own desire to vindicate the Ayudhyan ideal, added further impetus to Thonburi's expansionistic drive.46

The logic is defensible only on its own terms. Why should Taksin, his generals, and successors feel themselves entitled to claim great rnerit and tributaries at the expense of, for example, the Lao king or the Cambodian king, who were also self-styled dhamma-raja? Whatever the case, certainly Taksin was himself seduced by an absolute power that frightened his peers. After compelling the Thai clergy to pray to him for more than two years, Taksin pretended that he could fly in the air and that he was the omniscient Buddha incarnate.47

Absolute monarchs who focus exclusively on the ends of political action and use naked force to gain those ends can be perceived as victims of a potent, seductive delusion. Is not Taksin perhaps a political animal led astray by his experiences and convictions, which designated violence as the exclusive means and goal of politics? It is not surprising that violence finally spilled over into Taksin's relations with the Lao.

Taksin had previously had pretexts for attacking Vientiane, but they had arisen at times when he was preoccupied with Burma. At this point, however, there was a lull in the West, and several pretexts upon which to base an invasion of Vientiane, including perhaps the accusation of Thao Kham that the Lao were in league with the Burmese, as well the murder of a vassal, Wo.48

45 Chroniques royales khmer (1974), p. 68.

46 Gesick (1976), pp. 103-104.

47 Krom Silpakom, Prachum phongsawadan (T), vol. 9, pt. 39, p. 488. 48 Wyatt (1963), p. 20.

48 Wyatt (1963), p. 20. .



However, it took two trips for the Thai armies to break the Lao resistance and take over the Lao capital. Then, as the Royal Khmer Chronicles reported:

the order was given to confiscate all precious objects, all weapons, guns and flints, and the population. Afterward, the Luang Prabang troops received orders to attack the territory of Than [called Su-ngi by the Vietnamese] and the territory of Moi. These two territories belonged to the Lao Songdarn and were located along the Vietnamese border . . . .The Songdam peoples received the king's order to settle in the proximity of Phetchaburi. The Lao from Vientiane, as well as other Lao taken in the areas east of the Mekong River, had to go to live in Saraburi, in Ratchaburi, in the towns situated along the Western frontier [of Siam], and in Chanthaburi.49

Only the survivors of these attacks went to live in the designated areas. However, fully two-thirds died during their journey to Siam.50 The Lao chronicles call this ordeal the suk Thai (Thai war).51



After the aggression of 1778-1779 and at the prompting of the Bangkok establishment, a new elite seized power in villages and towns on the Khorat Plateau and more generally in the Mekong basin.52 This counter-elite, opposed to Vientiane, was recruited especially from among the offspring of Phra Vorapita, the rebel dignitary whose resistance had prompted King Siribunyasan to invite Siamese forces into his territory.53 The yokkrabat54 of Khorat was directly responsible for this silent and merciless conquest. In the first stage, forces allied with Bangkok took or recaptured localities situated near Khorat. In the second stage, Bangkok's allies infiltrated other Lao centers and scattered their populations. This technique for conquest, which relied on successive destabilization, was incredibly efficient.

Chaiyaphum, located mid-way between Bangkok and Vientiane, is a typical case. "The population was formed primarily from the descendants of Krung Sisattanakkhanahut (Vientiane), the province of Lcei or the district of Phu Viang, and even from Khorat."5-5 During the reign of Chao Anou, the people of Vientiane established villages in this ancient Khmer site, and by 1819, the villages numbered eleven. Thao Lm, the pioneer of this enterprise, gathered one cubit of white cloth per person to present to Anou as a sign of allegiance, and in return, the Vientiane king ennobled him with the title of Khun Phakdichumphon. Three years later, Thao Lae,

49 Chroniques royales khmer (1974), p. 84. See also Thiphakorawong (1978), pp. 26-27.

50 Krom Silpakorn, Prachum phongsawadan (T), vol. 9, pt. 39, p. 489.

51 Phongsawadan yo ?niiang wiangchan (1969) (T), p. 141.

52 Pansa (1978) (T), pp. 42-60; Dhawaj (1980) (T), p. 14.

53 Breazeale (1975), pp. 78-79.

54 The exclusive position of yokkrabat was defined in the Arthasastra, the celebrated Indianized political science treatise, as slightly less powerful and esteemed than a governor.

55 Tcem (1970) (T), P. 24.





certainly influenced by the yokkrabat of Khorat, refused to pay tribute to Anou. To explain his change of heart, he declared that Anou himself was nothing more than a vassal of the Bangkok court. This same, bitter stratagem was also provocatively directed against Anou and Chao Yo, Anou's son, by the yokkrabat of Khorat.56 Thao Lee then signaled his allegiance to Bangkok by bringing the white cloth to Khorat; the yokkrabat of Khorat exulted when Thao Lae inflicted this insult on the yokkrabat's mortal enemy, Chao Anou.-57 Rama III then awarded his new ally with a title higher than that bestowed on him by Anou, and Thao Lae thereafter bore the rank of Phraya Phakdichumphon.58

Thao Lae's conversion was a success for Bangkok, which had encountered frequent failures in its attempt to exert influence over principalities such as Nakhon Phanom, Mahachai-Kongkeo, and Khamkeut. These three principalities remained intractably faithful to Vientiane from 1790 on.59

But other regions proved more receptive to Siam's blandishments. After 1815, Hemmarat (now Khemmarat) and Yasothon, formerly the establishment of descendants of the royal house of Lan Sang, chose to rely on Bangkok and received, as a reward, the spoils taken from the Champassak domains.60 Champassak was sacrificed to profit Khorat,61 which gobbled territory, piece by piece, as the silkworm consumes mulberry leaves.

The same process that devastated Champassak was used to divide, conquer, and ultimately destroy Suwannaphum, where a succession dispute that began in 1793- 1794 left the region vulnerable to incursions. Before its virtual disintegration, the political significance of Suwannaphum was equal to that of Vientiane or Champassak, for after 1778 its leaders had been invested with equivalent ceremonial status by Siam.62 But the Bangkok elite was determined to co-opt Suwannaphum. The governor of Roi-Et adopted a devious stratagem in 1793-1794. He invited a village leader, Thao Somphanit, to be received in audience by the king of Siam, Rama 1, who promptly elevated the status of Thao Somphanit's village, Ban Keng Sam Hong, to equal that of Milang Kalasin.63 Gradual implementation of this method resulted in the shrinkage of Suwannaphum, which lost territory one piece at a time. These pieces became independent centers governed by individuals who had received favors and advancement from Siam. Already, Muang Ubon had been created out of one part of Suwannaphum. Later, an official from Suwannaphum left the principality to create Chonnabot. After he settled there as leader, he asked to be dependent on Khorat.64 In 1798, the Khorat authorities laid the foundation of Khon Kaen, also at the expense of Suwannaphum's territorial integrity. In 1800, the establishment of

56 Dhawaj (1980) (T), p. 75.

57 On the antagonistic relations between the would-be governor of Khorat in 1824 and the royal dynasty of Vientiane, see Dhawaj (1980) (T), pp. 67-83; Dhawaj (1982) (T), pp. 28-29; and Gutzlaff (1834), p. 76. Confirmation by Vietnamese archival sources can be found in Nguyen Le Thi (1977) (V), p. 134.

58 Tcem (1970) (T), P. 25.

59 Tmm (1970) (T), pp. 255, 275, 323.

60 Tcem (1970) (T), P. 129.

61 Archairnbault (1961), pp. 560-567.

62 Pansa (1978) (T), pp. 44,46.

63 Prayun (1972) (T), p. 22.

64 Archaimbault (1961), pp. 560-567.




Phutthaisong further reduced Suwannaphum, so that afterwards it was just a fraction of its former size. In 1815, the governor of Khorat delivered the final stroke when he had the leader of Suwannaphum accused by his own wife of maladministration and had him sent to Bangkok. His life was terminated in Saraburi.65 In this way, Suwannaphurn (formerly Miiang Thong), a principality that once equaled Vientiane and Champassak in status, was dismantled and its population redistributed.66

Divide, parcel out and oppose-this policy was applied with great success to Champassak and Suwannaphum. Ironically, in 1827, the new centers concocted by Siam out of the spoils carved from Suwannaphum would form a bloc that allied with Chao Anou. One of Anou's best military commanders, Phagna Narin, was born in the town of Chonnabot. Similarly, Yasothon resisted the Bangkok armies led by the Thai general, Chaophraya Bodinthondecha (Bodin). And Suwannaphum, a territory cut up by Khorat, became the only stronghold opposing Anou.

Siam did not meet with universal success in its efforts to fragment and control the Lao principalities, and in certain instances its attempts were stymied and even opposed, because the many administrative changes and manipulations that took place during this period generated unexpected results. In Kalasin, a town founded under Rama I by an opponent to the Vientiane dynasty, a debate raged among its elite concerning its relationship with Bangkok at the beginning of the reign of Rama 111. Members of the elite argued over whether to accept or refuse direct administration by Bangkok, signified by the order to tattoo the population in this region.67 The debate, highly political and eminently disruptive, eventually spread throughout the Khorat Plateau.68 In the particular case of Kalasin, its Ratsavong protested the policy by proclaiming himself tributary of the kingdom of Vientiane and by bringing his partisans to found a new settlement called Ban Sieng Sum, later named Sakon Nakhon. After the Lao insurrection was crushed, these dissidents from Kalasin were transported to the province of Chonburi in the Gulf of Siam.69

Also, certain migrant movements stirred up by the activities of Siam reinforced rather than fragmented Lao unity by revitalizing the economy and increasing the prosperity of Vientiane, the Lao political center. For instance, the Gnoo, led by Thao Moo, a Burmese subject, settled in the region, creating Saysouthi Outamburi in 1808;

65 Amorawongwichit (1963) (T), pp. 216, 217, 220, 221, 227. Thinking about the coups initiated against the Lao by Rama II, King Chulalongkom lauds his ancestor in these terms: ' . . . the fame of his Majesty's happy rule spread far and wide, so that Lao and Burmese left their own countries to live in Siam.' See Bock (1884), p. 378. The predominant opinion seems to have been that Anou and Rama II were close friends. To a certain extent, such a notion is not incongruous, for in the field of politics as in the animal kingdom, members feed on one another. The Lao literary masterwork Sieo savat maintains that "When the tide rises, the fish eat the ants; when the tide recedes, the ants eat the fish.'

66 We should note in passing that the dates of 1793-1794 are crucial, for it was during this period that the second depopulation of the kingdom of Vientiane took place. The Vientiane population was transferred in waves to the west bank of the Mekong. According to the few extant sources, one part of the population must have settled at Ban Na Khi-Khwai, later known as Muang Lomsak. Others must have inhabited Muang Mahasarakham, which received four waves of refugees originating from Vientiane: in 1778-1779, 1793-1794, 1845, and 1865. Prayun (1972) (T), p. 15.

67 Theerachai (1984) (T), pp. 44 ff.

68 Theerachai (1984) (T), pp. 76-87.

69 Toem (1970) (T), pp. 251-252.




this town was later known as Outhenh.70 The Phuthai, who numbered ten thousand, came from Milang Na Ndi Cri Nu7l and asked Chao Anou if they could settle in the kingdom of Vientiane. Anou allowed them to inhabit Vang Viang and then offered a woman from the palace of Vientiane in marriage to the chief of the Phuthai. He even sent a monk from the Vientiane clergy to spread Buddhism among the new settlers.72

These factors worked against Bangkok's attempts to dominate Lao areas and precipitated a reaction by the new monarch of Siam, Rama III, who perceived that Bangkok's traditional "divide and rule" policy vis-a-vis Lao territories was being thwarted.73 The king initiated efforts to regain control. 'The new dynasty [in Bangkok] reorganized the kingdom and sought to establish its influence over all the groups of the Thai race. In 1827, the peril became imminent."74 Danger threatened both the Lao and the Thai, for tensions between the two powers had been growing. Bangkok's efforts to maintain its influence by compelling local elites in Mekong River basin areas to declare their ultimate allegiance to Bangkok or Vientiane fueled tensions. Rama III's decree to tattoo all able-bodied men in the Lao territories was a desperate measure fated to provoke an armed confrontation, the result of which would be a sharp, neat, genocidal military victory over the Lao. This victory would put an end to their prolonged skirmishes in the shadows.


Siam's fragmentation and absorption of Lao principalities was accompanied by ongoing slave raids against the Lao population, for Siam was sparsely populated and, as it moved into the nineteenth century, found itself in increasingly greater need of labor. The increase in the supply of slave labor that began in 1778-1779, when Siam was recovering from the devastation of the Burmese invasion, helped fuel the primitive accumulation of capital. This, in turn, contributed to a departure from petty production and stimulated Siam's economic takeoff during the reigns of Rama II and Rama III, a development that ultimately facilitated Siam's integration into the world capitalist system. Bangkok had for many years relied on the impressment of its citizenry to complete court projects. John Crawfurd, the British envoy to the court of Bangkok, reported in 1821:


70 Prayun (1972) (T), p. 44; Dhawaj (1987) (T).

71 Muang Na Noi Oi Nu means the land-of-tiny-ricefields-with- short-sugarcane-plants. It refers to Miiang Theng or Dien Bien Phu.

72 Sance (1978) (T), pp. 162-163. A local history of Sieng Soy, an inhabitant of SeSong Soy, (a branch of the Se Bang Hieng river), in South Laos, relates that Sieng Soy had gone to struggle against rebels at Muang Theng and, thanks to his muskets with two firing bullets, he was able to defeat the Phuthai rebels. Chao Anou had ennobled him as Chao Phanoid with a residence at Muang Phoong (now Muang Sieng Hom), on the bank of Se Song Soy. Chao Phanoid was son-in-law of the governor of Muang Phin. Thus, according to this oral tradition, one wonders if the migration of the Phuthai was voluntary. Interview of Khampheng Kettavong. Vientiane, April 15,1987.

73 Pansa (1978) (T).

74 Lajonquiere (1901), p. 99.




All the male population of Siam are by law considered the slaves or servants of the State, and compelled to give it their gratuitous labour in whatever form it may be exacted from the year of twenty-one upwards ... The system by which the population is organized and arranged for the purpose of rendering the forced services of the people available, forms the most important object of Siamese administration ... 75

He continued:

An extraordinary advance in latter times in the price of slaves would seem to imply an important change in the frame of the society. About fifty ticals was in former periods the price of a good slave, but at present the average is about three times this amount. This implies an increased demand for labor, which has no doubt been the result of that freedom from internal disorder and anarchy, and the augmentation of commerce and industry, which have now prevailed for forty years, since the final expulsion of the Burmans.76

It appears that there was work to be done in Siam, but not enough people to do it. Contemporaries recorded that in the early nineteenth century Siam had a declining population. Archbishop Bruguiere wrote from Bangkok:

Siam is a very fertile country, but poorly populated and badly cultivated; there are ten times fewer inhabitants than in France for an equal expanse of territory. If one is to judge the population by the number of persons born in ten years, compared to the persons dead in the same period, a comparison I carried out in one of our Christian parishes, it seems that the population diminishes by one-ninth every year; thus in less than one century, Siam would just become a desert ... 77

Other European visitors noted that cholera morbus, which in 1820 killed one-fifth of Bangkok's population, and the ruthless use of manpower both had contributed to the population decline. 78

 Siam also experienced a tremendous demand for labor as a result of the unprecedented increase in international trade provoked by the creation of a free port at Singapore. In 1824, among Asian nations, only China conducted more trade than Siam at this port.79 New cultivation technology applied to sugarcane in the 1810s made the Bangkok oligarchy a fortune until the 1860s, after which Java dominated the sugar trade and reaped the profits.80 New sugar cultivation methods introduced in Siam between 1810 and 1860 were highly labor-intensive, and sugar workers were often procured through duress.81 Rama III gave orders to send "the Chinese, the Lao

75 Crawfurd Papers, p. 122.

76 Crawfurd Papers, pp. 138-139.

77 Brugiere (1831), p. 69.

78 Craufurd Papers, pp. 138-139; Burney Papers, vol. 2, part 4, pp. 52, 133, 226.

79 Cady (1964), p. 332; FistiLs (1967), p. 52.

80 Hubbard (1977), P. 30.

81 Nithi (1988) (T), p. 40.




and the Khmers" as laborers to help develop supplies of this new monoculture export.82 For instance, after the fall of Anou, Phagna Ba-Inh, a high-ranking Lao official in the Vientiane kingdom was forced to work with his family in Lopburi sugar plantations owned by Vice King Bowon.83 The princely family of Siang Khuang was sent, after the Lao defeat, to cultivate rice in Chachoengsao.84

The first official slave draft operated by Bangkok in peacetime against the Lao occurred in 1791, only nine years after the foundation of Bangkok, although an earlier harvest of Lao slaves had occurred in 1778-1779 (that particular incursion dramatically boosted the total number of Lao slaves).85 The yokkrabat of Khorat at the time, a man known for his treachery against the Lao and for Bangkok, handled the traffic in humans. As the only high-level local official in Khorat directly appointed by and responsible to Bangkok, the yokkrabat found himself strategically placed as the "eyes and ears" of the Crown. In return for his service, the yokkrabat of Khorat would eventually be promoted by Rama III to the position of governor of Khorat.

In 1791, a millenarian movement among the Lao Theung people broke out in opposition to Siamese oppression.86 The offspring of Phra Vorapita, mercenaries hired for the maintenance of the Thai order, were dispatched by Bangkok to repress the rebel Sieng Ka-o and his followers, who had occupied Champassak. Bangkok also ordered the yokkrabat of Khorat to carry out the same mission, but he preferred to delegate this dangerous assignment to Phra Prathumsorarat of Huai Chaeramae (Ubon) and to Thao Fai Na of Ban Singtha (Yasothon). After the extermination of the Sieng Kaeo movement,. the yokkrabat of Khorat allied himself with two other local leaders in the service of Bangkok. Together they moved into the hinterland adjoining Champassak where they:

... apprehended members of the jarai, Rhade, and Kasseng ethnic groups and others who lived on the eastern bank of the Mekong. They [the pro-Thai leaders] caught and enslaved great numbers of these people, a condition that would continue indefinitely for them and their offspring. In this way, according to the chronicle, began the custom of catching and enslaving kha peoples.87

The tribal Lao Theung are commonly referred to by the derogatory name kha, which means slave, savage, or under-man in both Thai and Lao.88 This rush by Siam and its proteges to enslave the kha-the Lao ethnic minorities--continued over a long

82 Nithi (1988) (T), pp. 41-42.

83 Phagna Ba-Inh died in the harsh conditions of the sugarcane plantations. Chotmaihet nakhon ratchasima (1985) (T), p. 268. The coerced Lao work force had been used for digging canals and other infrastructures needed for the Siamese economic take-off. See Chotmaihet yo muang Vientiane, Wat Ho Phra Kaeo (Vientiane) (L); Theerachai (1984) (T); Sagnan Dongdeng (1988) (L); Sujit (1986) (T), pp. 42-44.

84 Snit and Breazeale (1988), p. 33; Naree (1985); for descriptions of the Lao settled at Prachinburi, see Thompson (1866); Mouhot (1863), p. 316.

85 Amorawongwichit (1963) (T), pp. 214-215.

86 "Histoire," Institut de Recherches en Sciences Sociales (1987) (L), pp. 252-256.

87 Chatthip (1984), p. 114; see also Amorawongwichit (1963) (T), pp. 214-215.

88 The derogatory word, kha, referred toaustroasiatic (like the Kasseng and the Katang) and Austronesian (such as the jarai and the Rhade) tribal groups inhabiting the mountainous regions of Vietnamese and southern Lao hinterlands.




period. In 1819 another millenarian movement took place in Champassak, this time led by a man named Sakietgong and opposed by Chao Anou himself, for Anou had received orders from Bangkok to help suppress the rebellion. This movement swept rapidly through southern Laos, threatening Bangkok's domination of the area. The king of Champassak was no help in quelling the rebel movement; he preferred to place himself securely on the west bank of the Mekong rather than offer resistance to the crowd of Sakietgong fanatics. Bangkok ordered Anou and the yokkrabat of Khorat to regain control of the area, inhabited by the Lao Theung. The yokkrabat of Khorat perceived that the unrest among the kha could profit him directly, and he manipulated this movement in an effort to extend his grasp over Champassak first and over the whole east bank of the Mekong later.89 If he had succeeded, his power would have encompassed the territory of the Vientiane kingdom.90

As in 1791, the yokkrabat of Khorat chose to let the new regional gendarme of Bangkok, Chao Anou, advance into action. The yokkrabat may have believed that giving Anou the opportunity to crack down on the movement would also give Anou extra rope with which to hang himself. Thus, Chao Anou's forces advanced without assistance against eight thousand partisans of Sakietgong, who claimed they were invulnerable to bullets.91 Guessing the yokkrabat's hidden strategy, Anou swiftly executed his own design and thwarted the hopes of this representative of Bangkok. Anou sent his son, Chao Yo, with forces to subdue Sakietgong, and the results for Chao Yo's own forces were dismal. Driven by the need to move quickly, Chao Yo won the nickname of khi noon or "worm excrement" during the expedition, for he required his men to paddle day and night without rest from Vientiane to Champassak. Their hands swelled and putrefied without their realizing it.92

However, Chao Yo did succeed in obtaining his goal: Sakietgong was taken prisoner. Accompanied by the yokkrabat of Khorat, Anou brought Sakietgong, along with the overthrown Champassak leader, to ask for justice in trade relations from Bangkok. His plea was in vain.93 Anou saw the denial of his request, as well as the utter silence maintained on the topic by the Bangkok establishment, as an official endorsement by the Siamese elite of the yokkrabat 's plan to extend his power across the Mekong. The sorrow and the resentment felt by Anou must have been exacerbated by the impertinent yokkrabat who preached, "We both are subjects of the king of Siam: you must not think yourself better placed than me."94 Even ritual honors and the elevation of Anou's son, Chao Yo, who became king of Champassak, could not now placate Chao Anou, whose distrust for Bangkok and Khorat was growing more profound.95 Under the pretext of installing a defense post against Vietnam, the yokkrabat of Khorat established his base of operations at Muang Khong to capture the ethnic Lao

89 On this point, see Dhawaj (1980) (T), p. 17 and note 4; Wuthichai (1982) (T), pp. 45-52; Chatthip (1984), p. 115; Pansa (1978) (T), p. 83.

90 Dhawai (1982) (T), p. 71; Dhawaj (1980) (T), pp. 28-29.

91 They believed that bullets would transform into frangipan flowers.

92 Khamphon (1936) (T), p. 36.

93 Dhawaj (1982) (T), pp. 71-77; Gutzlaff (1834), p. 76.

94 Dhawaj (1980) (T), p. 75.

95 The delicate court compromises leading to the assignment of Chao Yo as ruler of Champassak are discussed at greater length in a later chapter.




Theung.96 With the Sakietgong uprising defeated, he was now perfectly free to chase and capture "savage" slaves within the Lao Theung areas. All those who were not captured perished by the sword.

The Siamese reduced the minority peoples, who in those areas had once numbered some three hundred thousand, to only a few thousand in a terrible massacre. The people's legends still recall the rice fields running with blood, streams choked and valleys piled high with corpses.97

The yokkrabat dared to require the new king of Champassak, Chao Yo, to capture slaves for him, a request which Anou's son categorically refused to meet.98 His refusal exacerbated the antagonism between the Lao and the yokkrabat, who used every opportunity to damage the reputation of the Lao, especially the Vientiane royalty, in front of the Bangkok court and King Rama III.

In 1827, the decisive war against the Lao and the systematic displacement of population from the east bank of the Mekong that followed it furnished Bangkok with abundant manpower. In 1866, after the fall of the kingdom of Vientiane, Louis de Came still observed -great rafts [bearing] herds of slaves' floating down the Mekong River and bands of slaves trudging along the dusty trail.99

The traffic in slaves permanently depressed the Lao economy and the losses worsened with the passage of time. Its consequences were catastrophic and virtually irreparable for many generations. The perennial under-development of Laos and the physical appearance of the Lao population were the most visible results of the slave trade. 100 Jean Renaud observed that:

Since a long time previous [the Lao's] best elements had been killed or reduced to slavery, this explains the puny aspect of the indigenes observed by our first explorers. This dark past (invasions, enslavement, massive transfers of population . . . ) explains also the somewhat surprising distribution of this population: they had fled the best soil that was most accessible where raids were fatal to seek refuge in the high valleys, the forest, where they felt more secure. They had regressed as well from the cultivating stage to the stage of the gathering econorny.101

96 Dhawaj (1980) (T), p. 34.

97 Chatthip (1984), p. 115.

98 Dhawaj (1980) (T), pp. 29, 30. From 1791 on, slave hunting passions rose to a fever pitch. An emulator of the yokkrabat of Khorat braved sacrilege when he set out on a raid to kidnap slaves consecrated to That Phanom, the religious metropole of central Laos, and to abduct the Phuthai of central Laos who were direct subjects of the king of Vientiane.

99 Came (1869), P. 470; Harmand (1879-1880), pp. 6,16,28,305-306.

100 The massive deportation in the wake of 1827 resulted in a five-fold disparity between the population of Laos and Thailand's northeast (Isan). The estimated magnitude of this displacement ranges from one hundred thousand people, a figure given by contemporary sources (Gutzlaff, 1834, p. 78) and generally accepted by present-day historians (Chalong, 1986 [T], p. 149), to more than three hundred thousand, a tally found in the Chiang Mai Chronicles. Lao chronicles drafted during the early period of French colonization appear, in this context, to be fictitious when they refer to five thousand families.

101 Renaud (1930), p. 139. It seems that the Lao economy was already partially monetized in the seventeenth century, see Wilson (1987), p. 173, note 10.



Exactions, extortions, pillaging, and the widespread theft of men and resources: the dark scene calls to mind contemporary accusations the Third World directs against the industrialized countries, accusations which the academician Bertrand Poirot- Delpech confronts in a column entitled "On your knees, men' (A genoux les hommes):

Fernand Braudel had already said it: "Europe becomes incomprehensible without its slaves and its subject economies. " No, the exquisite is not a commodity that falls from the sky, neither is liberty. It took four centuries of overseas genocide, thirty years of a workforce imported, dozens of millions of migrants. Who will reckon the price of human rights in conquests and in confiscations? Who will ever know if his ideology has not resulted in, or been designed to insure, the maintenance of underdevelopment elsewhere? The culture called "free' deliberately ignores the exploitation which has permitted its birth and which provides for its survival.102

It suffices to substitute 'Siam" for 'Europe" to find mutatis mutandis the basis of the Lao-Thai problem.


In the years preceding the holocaust of 1827, as Siam's encroachments gained momentum, not only were Lao land and people progressively swallowed up by Bangkok and its proxies, but Lao trade was as well. The war of 1827 was the culmination of a prolonged commercial struggle that Bangkok and Khorat authorities, eager to monopolize Laotian goods and trade, had waged against Anou and the Lao since 1814. 103 D. G. E. Hall remarked:

In that year (1812) Rama II intervened in Cambodia in support of a rebel brother of the king, Ang Chan, who fled to Saigon. A strong Vietnamese force reinstated him in the following year, and the Siamese prudently retired with their candidate ... But the Bangkok government took the opportunity to regain control. It compensated itself by sending an army in 1814 to Khorat which proceeded to occupy all the territory between the frontier of the province of Prohm-Tep and the Dangrek mountains. In addition, they occupied the provinces of Mlou- Prey and Tonle-Repou, which were too far distant from Udong to be effectively under the control of the central government. There was no opposition, and the Siamese army proceeded to cross the Mekong and occupy Strung Treng. By this operation, Siam gained possession of a thick slice of territory in the north of Cambodia and drove a

102 Poirot-Delpech (1980).

103 Dhawaj (1980) (T), p. 82; Dhawaj (1982) (T), pp. 27-28. Paul Schweisguth laconically mentions the 'campaign against the Lao [centered in Khorat]; seizure of Strung Treng." Schweisguth (1944).




wedge between that kingdom and the kingdom of Vientiane, which a few years later it was to absorb.104

Before Siam asserted control over regional trade between Cambodia and Vientiane, Chao Anou had attempted to maintain a grip, symbolically as well as economically, over this crucial area. As a symbolic gesture in 1806, Chao Anou initiated work with leaders of the central Lao principalities to revive the past glory of the That Phanom stupa, located in this hotly contested border region that was the center of many vital trade routes. With this action, Anou renewed a political tradition established long before by former Lao kings whose efforts unified the country and added to its prosperity. Historian D. G. E. Hall affirmed:

Tradition credits King Phothisarath with raising the great reliquary of That Phanom to a central position in the religious life of the Mekong region south of Vientiane, and his bestowal of land and slave endowments to that shrine in 1539 reflects his power and interests in the region. Centered on Nakhon Phanom and That Phanom were trade routes directed eastward across the mountain chain to the coast of central Vietnam and southward to the new capital of a reviving Cambodian kingdom at Phnom Penh. 105

By 1806, when Chao Anou commenced work on the That Phanom stupa, the rebel Tay Son movement in Vietnam had been definitively crushed by Gia Long, reestablishing order in that country, so that Vietnam once again became a promising trade partner. Anou sought a way to salvage the Lao trade that had traditionally crossed Cambodia and Vietnam. This explains why Anou returned to That Phanom in 1807, 1812 and in 1813. But in 1814 Bangkok blocked the Mekong because it considered the river a threat to its commercial and political interests. At the same time, Bangkok instituted a customs barrier 1O6 on the land route between Laos and Cambodia through Khukhan, itself "a rich province,"107 in order to break down the travel patterns followed by the caravan trade, thus cutting an artery vital to Lao prosperity.

Siam had not always been able to impede Lao trade. In 1647, Jeremie Van Vliet recorded that to persuade the Lao to trade in Siam, where they had long been victimized by unfair trading practices, the Thai king had to send ambassadors to Vientiane with a promise that he would end such practices.108 But over a period of two centuries, the balance of power between the two countries had changed completely. In 1814, the Thai deliberately rechanneled the flow of trade toward the Khorat emporium and then to Bangkok, a stopping point for Singapore and China. Commenting on Article 5 of the treaty signed by Henry Burney on June 20, 1826 between the British and Siam, Burney stressed that "Their [Siamese leaders'] object is

104 Hall (1976), pp. 465466; Gamier (1870-71), p. 51. On the importance of Tonle-Repou for the tri-border trade between Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, see Doudard de Lagree's letters of 27 October, 18 December 1866, and 1 April 1867, in Julien (1886), pp. 210 ff.

105 Hall (1976), p. 85.

106 Dhawaj (1980) (T), p. 82; Dhawaj (1982) (T), pp. 27-28.

107 Courtet (1890), figure and pp. 43-45.

108 Van Vliet (1647), p. 202.



to make Bangkok an entrepot for the commerce of the country."109 This goal was largely achieved. In 1867, the older commercial route was diverted by a bottleneck installed in the extreme south of Laos which proved to be hermetic, for all trade relations ceased here below the [Mekong] river and all exchanges were directed toward Ban Kok through Khorat.110

This shift had fatal consequences for Laos, which had earlier profited from thriving trade relationships with its near and distant neighbors. Phonphisai was once celebrated for silk weaving. In the past "the best [silk was] exported to Siam, Toncquin, Quinam and Camboje"Ill from Phonphisai, but by the 1860s this trade had completely collapsed. Pavie noted a similar decline in the south as the result of Siam's new administration of trade in the region:

The first act of the invaders has been to close all communication with the [Vietnamese] coast. They have installed everywhere customs posts which confiscate merchandise at Kham-Lo ... Even at Lakhone, trade is almost entirely in the hands of the Chinese coming from Bangkok ... These Chinese are endorsed by the Siamese functionaries who strive to divert to their capital the products of the region which were sent in the past to Annam.112

Even the most active supporters of Bangkok in the 1827 conflict, such as the population of Mukdahan, became disgruntled with this situation.

It is not difficult to find observers who attest to the flourishing trade activity in Laos before the interventions of Siam in the nineteenth century. As early as the 1500s, Father Gaspar de Cruz (1510-1570) saw the Lao coming down the Mekong to trade at Lovek (Cambodia). Most notable among the goods they had to sell was the famous musk the Portuguese and Spanish wanted to purchase. Gold was also exported from Laos; jodo de Barros (1496-1570) noticed that gold sold in Ayudhya came from Laos.114 Engelbert Kaempfer described the rich products of Laos in 1690:

it produces Rice of the best kind in abundance, and furnishes Cambodia with the best Benzoin and Gumm Lacc, though both these commodities grow also in that Country. It likewise yields the most valuable Musk, some Gold, and some precious Stones, chiefly Rubies, besides Pearls, which the Siamites call

109 Burney Papers, vol. 2, part 5, p. 169.

110 Garnier (1870-71), p. 82.

111 Garnier (1870-71), p. 83.

112 Pavie (1902), vol. 9, pp. 87,282.

113 Pavie (1902), vol. 9, p. 290.

114 Lach (1968), pp. 526, 566, 570; Mayoury and Pheuiphanh (1989).



Muk, which is the more to be admired, since I could not hear that there was any Salt Sea in the country.115

Friar Domingo Fernandes Navarette, a Spanish Dominican clergyman who lived in the Philippines for a decade in the mid-1600s, wrote:

Above [Camboxal is the large kingdom of the Laos, a country abounding in Musk, Civit, Frankinsense, Benjamin and Storax, which Commodities they carry to Manila, and thence they are sent into New Spain. The country swarms with people.116

Until the mid-nineteenth century, international trade in Southeast Asia placed a high value on these Lao products, and the profits derived from them were fantastic. In a letter of December 12, 1685, Verret estimated the profit from trade with Laos at two hundred percent, while it was one hundred percent with Macao and China, seventy to eighty percent with Tonkin, and sixty percent with Timor and Bomeo.117 But the benefits and rich natural resources enjoyed by the Lao caused some difficulties with neighboring countries, particularly with Siam, which wanted to capture these trading opportunities for itself.118 For instance, in 1633 the Thai king's commercial agents treated the Lao so poorly that they subsequently refused to trade in Ayudhya. In November 1641, Van Wuysthoff, representative of the Dutch East Indies Company, reported on his meeting with the twenty-three-year-old Lao king, Suryavongsa, in these terms:

We [Dutch East Indies Company] seek to put all the spokes in the wheel of the peoples of Siam who strive to monopolize the commerce and to corner all the gold and all the resources. The [Lao] king is an active partisan of the freedom of trade, and is irritated that the Siamese are raising obstacles. "It is strange"-he often said-"that in Siam they want to hinder what is permitted in the whole world."

The merchants from Louwen [Laos], Van Wuysthoff continued:

... complained bitterly to us of all the vexations they have endured in Siam. They have been forced to stand with their carts in special houses filled with spies; in this way they could sell only to some grand privileged persons. These latter purchase all the beautiful stuff at a cheap price to sell at a high

115 Kaernpfer (1729), pp. 22-23. For an identical view, see San Antonio (1604), vol. 78. 1; Hamilton (1727), p. 204; Modern Part of an Universal History From the Earliest Account of Time (1759), vol. 8, pp. 153-154; Aynes (1816); Hamilton (1821), p. 78; Malte-Brun (1841), vol. 3, p. 365; Jancigny (1850), pp. 234, 242, 245, 405; Cortembert and Rosny (1862), pp. 1, 8, 26, 36, 188 and 272; Septans (1887), pp. 50, 74; Maybon (1913), p. 414; Groslier (1058), p. 162; Dor6 (1980b), p. 21. For an opposite view, see Osborne (1975), p. 87.

116 Quoted in Mayoury and Pheuiphanh (1989), p. 9.

117 Krom Silpakornm, Prachum phongsawadan, vol. 10, pt. 41, pp. 213-225.

118 Gutzlaff (1849), pp. 40-41.



price, and give, in exchange, at a very high price, the cloth asked for by the Louwen. 119

Two hundred years later, these same complaints were repeated almost verbatim by Anou, who used them to explain why he finally had to take action against the governor of Khorat. This action constituted the catalyst of the 1827 conflict, and was recalled in the Phiin viang and by K. F. A. Gutzlaff.120 As the organizer of this prolonged act of blackmail against the Lao, the governor of Khorat earned the confidence of Rama II and gained promotion when Rama III acceded to the throne. 121 After the fall of the Vientiane kingdom, he conscripted all the adults from Khemmarat, Suwannaphum, Yasothon, Roi-Et, Mukdahan, and Khon Kmn to hunt for ivory and cardamom, which were then stored at Khorat.122 His endeavors allowed him to inmitate the lavish lifestyle of the Bangkok aristocrats.123 Bangkok's wealth became tied to Khorat trade:

price, and give, in exchange, at a very high price, the cloth asked for by the Louwen.119 Bodin was closely tied to the ambitious ruling family of Nakhon Ratchasima (Khorat), the Thai outpost situated at the western juncture of the Lao and Khmer states. During the second quarter of the nineteenth century, this family came to dominate Lao and Khmer affairs from the lower limits of Luang Prabang down into the Great Lake basin . . . .Bodin had been personally involved in the interior trade from the Lao and Khmer states that had helped enrich the elite of Bangkok before mid-century.124

But of course it was not only the governor of Khorat who profited from the Lao losses. just three years before Chao Anou's revolt, Siam instituted radical measures to save its own economy by plundering the economy of Laos. Siam's foreign policy and the domestic price of rice were undeniably linked. In 1824, when King Rama II died in Bangkok, the state coffers were empty, triggering a rise in the price of rice.125 At this time, just three years before the Thai invasion of Laos in 1827, the price of one ox-cart (1,391 kg.) of paddy rose to a high of twelve tamlung, matching the price in the years preceding the fall of Ayudhya (1767).126 To avert economic and political catastrophe, Rama III had to take drastic measures, including the extension of direct administration over areas where Thai authorities had never before interfered. He accomplished this by tattooing on the wrist the entire population in these areas, extending the fiscal system, transforming the agricultural tax from "in kind" to

119 Gamier (1871), p. 271.

120 Dhawaj (1980) (T), pp. 75 ff.; Crawfurd Papers, pp. 65, 75; Gutzlaff (1834), p. 76; Gamier (1870-71), pp. 54 and 388; see also Dhawaj (1982) (T), pp. 21-22.

121 See Nguyen Le Thi (1977) (V), p. 134.

122 Ngo Cao Lang (1977) (V), p. 60.

123 Natthawut (1974) (T), p. 37.

124 Snit and Breazeale (1988), p. 59. Gutzlaff, a contemporary, held a similar view, '(Bodin) endeavoured to enrich himself with immense spoils." Gutzlaff (1834), p. 76. More generally, see Wilson (1987), p. 4.

125 Theerachai (1984) (T), pp. 80-81.

126 Chotmaihet Hon (1965) (T), pp. 92-104,108-110. It is also significant that before the invasion of Cambodia by Siam, the price of rice was eight tamlung and after the invasion it was seven tamlung.




payments in money, and multiplying tax rights leased to the Chinese.127 These measures allowed the Thai to brace the infernal machine against the Lao for the war of 1827. For 'war, probably the principal occupation of the state, served both to maintain and develop the resources of the state and to contribute to the reproduction of both the slave population and the political system."128


Siam's ongoing efforts to dominate Laos, beginning with Taksin's accession to power, were marked by a number of accomplishments, including the capture of Lao as slaves and the control of the region's flourishing trade routes. It would not seem that the loss of a statue could be as significant to the Lao as these other losses, yet the capture of the Emerald Buddha surely roused Chao Anou and his followers, spurring them on to resist Siam in 1827. In fact, the loss of this Buddha continues to rankle the Laos to this day. The statue has served as a focal point for all conflict between Bangkok and the Lao since the image was seized and brought, along with many other Lao sacred statues and texts, from Vientiane to Bangkok in 1779.129

The religious dimension of Bangkok's hegemony has been crucial in shaping its attitude toward the Lao. In addition to his monopoly over the possession of white elephants, a symbol of the universal monarchy's manifest destiny, Taksin, the king of Siam, also secured possession of the Emerald Buddha. Siam had recently recovered from its upheaval of 1767 and Taksin needed regalia. This Buddha, referred to as the Phra Kwo, is the supreme symbol of politico-religious legitimacy in this part of Southeast Asia. Probably of Chiangmai workmanship, the Phra Kaeo was valued by travelers in the early nineteenth century at approximately one million francs or the price of two hundred kilograms of gold. 130

It is symptomatic that Rama 1, Taksin's successor, inaugurated his new capital, Bangkok, with the 1782 construction of a pagoda consecrated to the Phra Kaeo. Lunet de Lajonquiere echoed Lao assertions that Lao prisoner-craftsmen brought from Vientiane in 1779 constructed the teMple.131 This pagoda remains an awesome place; over a century ago, it both impressed and dismayed one visitor, John Crawfurd:

127 Chai (1987) (T), pp. 63-64; Therrachai (1984) (T), pp. 60 ff.; Hong (1984), Chapter 4; Breazeale (1975), p. 90.

128 Turton (1980), p. 279.

129 Subhadradis (1982) (T). Sanguan (1983) (T), pp. 183 ff. The sacred texts were conveyed to Thonburi for the preparation of the Buddhist council. See Wenk (1968), p. 40.

130 The Phra Kaeo is not made of emerald but more likely of jasper. Crawfurd pictured it as a "deity, of a green-colored stone, and about eighteen inches high. This, our conductors assured us, was made of emerald; but the material had not the least appearance of being highly polished, but was dull and opaque. It was not within reach of examination, but it is not improbable that it was a light-colored malachite imported from China." See Crawfurd (1834), p. 153. According to one individual, the Phra Kmo measured forty-five cm. wide and seventy- five cm high; and the statue would have been carved five hundred years after the death of Buddha. Jacqueline De Fels (1976). For a study of the Chiang Mai origins of the statue basedon a study conducted by Dr. Piriya Krairoek, historian at Thammasat University in Bangkok, see Chamvit (1987) (T), p. 175. For estimates of its value, see Carn6 (1869), p. 491.

131 Lunet de Lajonqui6re (1901), pp. 118, 111; Archaimbault (1961), p. 567. Thompson states also 'They [Lao prisoners of the 1779 war] have constructed the palace for the king." Thompson (1866). See also de Carnd (1869), p. 491; Thompson (1961), p. 748. Francois Joyaux explained that in 1779 when Rama I brought the Emerald Buddha from Vientiane, "this originated to him a considerable prestige among the Siamese clergy." Joyaux (1967), p. 95. This is not accidental as Kobkua has demonstrated. Kobkua (1987), p. 99.




I ought, however, to observe that the first appearance of a Siamese temple made a forcible impression upon us. It was impossible to see the extent of the buildings, and the laboriousness and costliness of the workmanship and materials, without feeling that we were amongst a numerous people, who had made considerable advances in civilization, and who were ruled by a despotic government and a superstitious priesthood.132

The Phra Kaeo became the chief obsession of the Lao in the nineteenth century. 133 The psychic, physical, and political acts of dispossession initiated by Siam against the Lao failed to stifle the renaissance and force of religion in Laos. Paradoxically, the thefts actually helped legitimize and focus political power in Laos. When the Emerald Buddha, resident of Lan Sang for three hundred years, was spirited away, it provoked an awareness of the necessity for national recovery among the Lao. The loss of this prestigious and legendary medium, the Phra Kaeo, catalyzed the Lao people to mobilize politically. Political mobilization drew its strength from a simple metaphorical parallel: the Phra Kaeo, like Lao independence, was captive in Bangkok.134

Chao Anou, who appreciated its full significance, saw to it that the Phra Kaeo was "returned" to the Lao by ordering the creation of handsome substitutes and many new pagodas. Anou restored and raised the foundation of Vientiane's Wat Ho Phra Kaeo, which invaders had razed in 1779.135 To remind the Lao of their Emerald Buddha's power and to focus and magnify the political energy of this symbol, Anou ordered the carving of a new emerald Buddha, Phra Nak Savatsadi Huan Kaeo, which was housed in the new pagoda.136 The structure built to house the new Buddha rose elegantly and eerily over two stories of terraces. From its original inception in the sixteenth century, this pagoda had been the sacral place for the political and religious life of the country. For instance, in 1779, Anou's sister, Princess Khieo Khom, took refuge in Wat Ho Phra Kaeo when the defense of Vientiane collapsed before the Thai armies. 137 Fifty years later, in 1828, when he returned from exile in Vietnam, Anou came to spend his nights under the roof of this pagoda.138 Lunet de Lajonquiere described its beauty:

132 Crawfurd (1834), p. 153.

133 It is significant that on the 1820s 'Map of Siam, Camboja and Laos" drawn by James Low, the words "Wat Phra Keo " are substituted for the common name of the Lao capital. See also, T'hao lao kham in a translation by Archaimbault (1980), pp. 127, 128, 150, 151, 155, 173; Dhawaj (1980) (T), p. 30; Dhawaj (1979) (T), p. 287.

134 Somsy (1984) (L); Pramuanwichaphun (1937) (T), p. 43.

135 Parinentier (1954), p. 112; Archaimbault (1980), p. 159.

136 Subhadradis Diskul (1982) (T), p. 33.

137 Traduction de I'histoire de Vien-chantha, p. 14.

138 Phongsawadan muang phuan (1969) (L), p. 18; Pramuanwichaphun (1937) (T), p. 40.



. . .the gracious silhouette of the superimposed roofs, that are easy to reconstitute by thought, the elegance and the boldness of the colonnades, the lines simple and harmonious of the principal body, the spacing of the terraces make this monument a remarkable edifice ... It is likely to be the best expression of the architectural art in the capital of the Lan Sang kingdom.139

This may have been the most impressive and inspiring pagoda Anou constructed, but it was certainly not the only one. Recalling the Buddhist allegory of Savatti, in which the Buddha infinitely multiplied his image to confuse unbelievers, Chao Anou and the Lao expanded the construction of pagodas devoted to the Phra Kaeo throughout their territories. As in Vientiane, the various Wat Ho Phra Kaeo in the Lao metropoles sheltered great political meetings in which new high officials were installed or housed ceremonies for the oath-taking of officials. These temples also served as the center for the celebrations on festive days.

A Wat Phra Kaeo was founded by Anou at Srichiangmai, across the river from Vientiane.140 His ally, Chao Noi, Prince of Siang Khuang, also constructed a Wat Phra Kaeo in his capital, decorated like the one in Vientiane. 141 Chao Yo, Anou's son and the monarch of Champassak, erected a Wat Ho Phra Kaeo in his new capital.142 In their songs, children predicted that in the near future, "Ubon will come also to construct a Wat Ho Phra Kaeo."143 Ubon was the metropole of the descendants of Phra Vorapita.

The construction of these pagodas consecrated to the Emerald Buddha functioned as challenges launched by the Lao against Bangkok's domination, particularly when Anou succeeded in reviving faith and fervor in his country. Anou's effort to return the sacred Buddha to the Lao also indicates that he was summoning his resources and gathering his inspiration and strength in preparation for the supreme, ultimate confrontation with Bangkok.

The political consolidation of Lao identity and the restoration of Buddhist ideology were interwoven. Anou had begun these twin tasks early in his reign as vice king of Vientiane, and it is clear that he recognized the ways in which political allegiance and religious allegiance could reinforce one another. To consecrate the new capitals referred to as Muang Hua Muang (called Hua Pho or "capital father") and Muang Siang Kho (called Hua Mae or "capital mother"), Chao Anou built pagodas and stupas in the towns of the Hua Phan Ha Thang Hok (now Sam Nila).144


139 Lunet De Lajonquiere (1901), p. 109; e (1869), P. 488.

140 Dhawaj (1987) (T).

141 Archaimbault (1967), pp. 578 and 620, ascertains that Chao Noi in 1822, "erected a palace like the one in Wieng Chan [ ... I and raised fortifications on the edge of the town of S'ieng Khwang of ten km. length." About half a century later, James McCarthy depicted it similarly. "Chieng Kwang stands at an elevation 3770 feet above mean sea-level, on the hill called Pu Kio. At its best, within the memory of the oldest inhabitants, it was but a collection of wooden houses. Across the Nam Nia, along a spur overlooking the plain, were still the remains, almost perfect, of extensive earthworks, constructed at the time when Chao Anu was captured and taken to Bangkok.' James McCarthy (1900), p. 15.

142 Archaimbault (1961), p. 566.

143 Chaleun (1978) (L), vol. 3, p. 22.

144 Communication of Paul Macey, Commissaire at Miiang Sone, issued in the Bulletin de I'Ecole FranCaise d'Extreme Orient (1901), pp. 408-409.



At this time, the ruler of Siang Khuang, formerly the center of Buddhism in Laos, sent his Buddhist patriarch to Vientiane to study. In return, Vientiane sent the abbot of Wat Pa (the forest pagoda) to teach Buddhism at Siang Khuang. The year 1798 was a watershed in the religious history of this principality, for "during this year, monks and novices abandoned the red robe" and Burmese rituall45; their adoption of the yellow robes of Theravada Buddhism signaled their willingness to act in cooperation with Vientiane. Anou used a similar method to seal his new alliance with the migrant Phuthai-he sent them a monk from Vientiane. 146 These religious commitments and exchanges were all part of a greater plan to unite the Lao and their allies.

Buddhist councils have met to reconstitute the Buddhist scriptures, the Tripitaka or the Triple Gems, three times in Lao history. The first, under the king who first united Laos, Fa Ngum, was in 1359; the second under Phothisarath, was in 1523; and the third, under Chao Anou, took place in 1813. Chao Anou constructed a ho tai (pavilion to shelter the Tripitaka) near his pagoda, Wat Sisaket,147 to house a complete set of the Tripitaka identical to the one owned by the king of Luang Prabang.148 In the cosmological and political order, the reign of Anou seemed to have achieved its essential fullness and harmony.

This third Buddhist council was convened after the completion of Wat Ho Phra Kaeo at Srichiangmai and the bridge linking the two shores of the Mekong River in front of Vientiane. Begun in 1810, these two highly significant construction projects had been finished in 1812 and consecrated by a festival lasting seven days and seven nights.149 An even longer celebration, lasting fifteen days and nights, marked the restoration of Wat Ho Phra Kwo and the construction of the ho tai in Vientiane in 1816.150

The revival of pomp, the new surge in Lao confidence in themselves and in their destiny, and the mobilization of hearts and souls all were motivated by the same goal: to realize the unity of Laos and to recover their independence lost in 1779.151 Pilgrims, monks, and the devout flocked to Vientiane. The national stupa, That Luang, which was supposed to shelter the Buddha's hair, attracted its share of popular fervor. Chao Anou embellished the That Luang of Vientiane and added a cloister. The Thammahaysok kiosk also dates from this period. A big festival was held to celebrate the completion of this architectural work.159 In the seventeenth 14,5 Archaimbault (1967), p. 576; Phongsawadan muang phuan (1969) (L), p. 12. The red dress of the monks characterized Mahayana Buddhism, while the yellow one indicated Theravada Buddhism.

146 Sance (1978) (T), p. 163.

147 Royaume du Laos (1956) (L), pp. 4-5.

148 Royaume du Laos (1956) (L), p. 6.

149 Chotmaihet yo miiang Vientiane, Wat Ho Phra Kaeo; also Ruang sang wat ho phra kaio Srichiangmai (1969) (T), pp. 162-172; Dhawaj (1987) (T).

150 Chotmaihet yo muang Vientiane, Wat Ho Phra Kaeo.

151 For an identical view, see Sila (1974) (L), pp. 12-13; Kham (1974) (L), p. 5.

152 Groslier, an Indochina art expert, described That Luang. "The stupa rises from an enclosed platform, and bears on its summit an elegant finial supported on lotus petals, which is a last echo of the architecture of Sukhothai. A cloister forms the external wall. The unity of the composition, the very felicitous replicas of the main building which frame the base of the stupa and grow larger towards the outside, and the clear cut design of the finial, make an assured success of this building which is more interesting perhaps than the composite and inharmonious erections at Ayuthya." Groslier (1962), p. 223.



century, the Dutch merchant Van Wuysthoff estimated the gold covering the stupa to weigh about one thousand pounds. 153

The religious success of Laos coupled with the persistent rumor that Laos was "the holy land where all prodigies are accomplished and where the religious teaching originated,,154 contributed to Rama III's exasperation with the Lao. The Siamese king wanted his country to be the unique repository of the Buddhist faith in this part of Asia.155 Moreover, Rama III had strongly encouraged the reform movement of Buddhism in Siam, apparently driven by his determination to engineer "a strengthening of royal Buddhism to the prejudice of popular Buddhism."156 Rama III and Anou repeatedly set themselves in opposition to one another. In religious matters, Rama III attempted to hold a monopoly over the faith and the guardianship of sacred, Buddhist books.157 Was not Bangkok "the city of angels, sublime city, the most precious gem of Indra?"158 But the Lao Sangha [monkhood] maintained its independence of Thai control, an accomplishment which did not please Thai rulers. 159 A specialist on Lao-Thai history rightly emphasizes:

Thai kings were praised as cakravartin-world conquerors-an image which was still popular in the midddle of the nineteenth century. Proclamations sent to the outer towns referred to the divine lineage of the Thai ruler .... One

153 Carne (1869), p. 493.

154 Garnier (1870-71), p. 54. In the seventeenth century, Van Wuystoff related: "These idolizers make people believe that God is coming from the sky to the Louwen (Laos) ... ; what they glory in very much, and why they say that God blesses them over the inhabitants of Siam and Cambodia, [is because God gave them] temples of incomparable magnificence and many men who are saints and savants. They add that the priests of Siam and Cambodia have always studied in Louwen for ten to twelve years." Cited in Gamier (1871), pp. 277-278. Marini expounds at length on this topic and asserts that the monks "of Siam go to Laos as to a university." Marini (1663), p. 268. British linguist Dr. J. Leyden wrote in the time of Chao Anou that, "It is from this [Lao] nation that both Siamese and Barman [Burmese] allege they derive their religion, laws, and institutions, It is in the country of Lao that all the celebrated founders of the religion of Buddha are represented to have their most remarkable vestiges." Leyden (1808), p. 151. Low states "It has been noted by several writers on Siam [Kaempfer and Loubere] that the Siamese, equally with the Burmans, yield to Lao the honour of having been once a chief repository of their religion and laws, . . . that it was the first Indo-Chinese country in which these laws were promulgated, and the Buddhist religion flourished... " Low (1828), p. 16. The editor of the Siam Repository, Samuel J. Smith, recognized in 1869: "From Siam, as a standpoint, the Laos rank high in interest. Probably the Siamese should regard Laos as their mother country.' Samuel J. Smith, Siam Repository (1869), p. 141. However, there was some religious contention between the Thai and the Lao since Taksin's reign. See Reynolds (1976), p. 210.

155 Vella (1957), p. 107.

156 Ling (1979), p.. 54.

157 Lernire asserts that "The king of Siam, in 1827, took humbrage at the power of Vientiane, waged war against its king Anou, and defeated him. . . " 1894), p. 7. Renaud (1930), pp. 102-103. See also Chandler (1973), pp. 93, 111; Kobkua (1987), p. 101. Kobkua envisions the Bangkok-Vientiane relations in this way: "The seriousness with which the king (Rama III) performed his dharmaraja obligations and likewise his harsh treatment of Chao Anu and the Vientiane revolt brought home the message that Bangkok was not prepared to sustain a loss of her tributaries, particularly a Buddhist one, which could directly damage the moral position of the king." Kobkua (1988), p. 56.

158 On the noble name of Bangkok, see Wenk (1968), p. 19.

159 Breazeale (1975), p. 38.



doubts that the image of the king as a divine ruler penetrated to the Lao states, where [a king's] right to rule was founded instead upon moral authority according to the principles of the dharma. 160


But Anou's fervent efforts to reunite Laos and repel Siam were doomed to fail. Fifty years after Taksin conquered Laos, the Thai marched into Vientiane once more. This time the Lao capital was razed to the ground, "allowing only grass, water and the savage beasts"161 to remain. This genocide of an entire people remained a veritable nightmare for its few survivors; after Jules Harmand interviewed them in 1880, he called it, "la grande guerre."162 Generally, Chaophraya Bodinthondecha's name is associated with the brutality. The subdued peoples dared call him only by the simple title chao khun (chao is a princely rank granted to tributary rulers by Bangkok).163

Some Thai writers have justified the sack of Vientiane by citing the need to preempt a Vietnamese threat.164 However, the Siamese decided to raze Vientiane to the ground before they began the 1827 campaign and at a time when there had been no visible Vietnamese interference in areas sensitive to the Thai.165 After 1778-1779, not even a shadow of a Vietnamese threat to Siam's hegemonic domination over Laos remained.166 After Siam captured Vientiane, the Thai commanders believed themselves safe from Vietnamese intrusion and exhibited a rather smug attitude

160 Breazeale (1975), P. 39.

161 Thiphakorawong (1961) (T), p. 75.

162 Harmand (1880), pp. 880,302.

163 Bouillevaux (1874), P. 170. Carne gives the following explanation: 'The word Chao-Koun designated a high-ranking grade in the military hierarchy; but the terror felt by the Laotians has made of it a name of a person, and, when Chao-Koun is referred to without epithet, they (the Lao) evoked, trembling, the remembrance of their executioner [ ... ] I have had the opportunity to see at Oudon, in front of the former palace of Norodom, the glaring statue of this slaughterer of peoples. By an insolent decree of the Siamese to which the French have recently put to an end, the Cambodians humbly pay tribute to it [the statue] when passing by . . . " Camd (1872), p. 189. See also, Garnier (1870-71), P. 388; and Lemire (1894), p. 8. Snit and Breazeale who write: "Bodin had managed the policies towards Vietnam, and in the Lao and Khmer states, from the very start of hostilities. His successor possessed neither the ( ... ) experience that Bodin had gained during his expeditions to the Mekong in 1827 and in 1828, during his campaigns of the 1830s in Cambodia, and from his subsequent schemes for forced migration throughout the central Mekong basin. Bodin was the great social engineer of his day- perhaps the greatest ever in this part of the world. For a half century after his death, the very mention of his name struck a chord of terror in the hearts of the people whose lives were disrupted by his two decades of administration in the Mekong valley. The miseries of his era of war on the left bank were handed down from generation to generation in the traditional mo lam folk music." Snit and Breazeale (1988). See Bodin's portrait by his contemporaries in Schweisguth (1951) P. 264; Gutzlaff (1834), pp. 69,76-77; Moor (1837), p. 199. On his career, see Akin (1969), P. 202.

164 This was a common tactic in Southeast Asian warfare. See Burney Papers, vol. 2, part 6, pp. 287-288. More generally, Kraisri (1985), pp. 260-263; Moor (1837), p. 201. And also, FistiL6 (1967), p. 30; Newbold (1839), vol. 2, pp. 1-21.

165 Chotmaihet r"ng prap khabot wiangchan (1926) (T), P. 50.

166 It suffices to refer to Rama IU's writings or those of King Chulalongkom (1965) (T).




toward Vietnam. Siamese leaders anticipated that Anou would organize resistance at Muang Mahachai-Kongkaeo, flee to Chinese territory adjacent to Vietnam, or take refuge in Vietnam itself. In the event that Anou fled to Vietnam, Siam's military leaders had informed their armies to stop their pursuit at the Vietnamese frontier, not violate it at any cost, to inform Hue of Anou's presence, and to wait for orders from Bangkok. 167

In fact, the Bangkok establishment considered Anou's "revolt" to have caused the spill-over of Thai disgruntlement against the Lao. Rama III's chronicler denounced two Lao revolts against "the authority of Bangkok.,,168 The Thai generalissimo computed three.169 The exact number mattered little to those in conunand in Bangkok. As the British officer James Low observed in 1827:

... the ambition and restless jealousy of the Siamese have induced them successively within the last few years to attack and destroy the whole of these countries ... They sacked Weung Chan (or Lauchang) where a great slaughter of its inhabitants took place ... The Siamese do not seem ambitious of retaining conquests on the North East frontier; and to prevent annoyance from that quarter, have converted the subdued countries of South Laos into a desert.170

Some years later, Francis Garnier wrote:

To prevent forever all new attempts at rebellion, the population [of Vientiane] was dispersed, and then the country was repopulated with Lao chosen from the right bank of the Mekong, particularly from Sisuwannaphum.171

All the members of towns on the east bank were displaced to the west bank of the Mekong, including the population of Siang Khan, located on the route between Vientiane and Luang Prabang; residents of Siang Khan had sided with Anou in 1827.172 The Siamese forced this move because after 1827 they feared the Lao population in Principal towns would use the river as a barrier between the Siamese and the Lao. 173

In fact, this relocation affected all the towns between Siang Khan and the southernmost part of Laos. Geographer Elisee Reclus noted that towns "were


167 Ruam ruang muang nakhon ratchasima (1968) (T), p. 45.

168 Thiphakorawong (1961) (T), p. 75.

169 Kulab (1971) (T), p. 313.

170 Low (1839), pp. 248-249.

171 Gamier (1870-71), p. 390. See Halpern (1964), p. 9. See Renard on "The role of the Karens in Thai society," in Wilson (1980), p. 21. For a map that diagrams the depopulation of the left bank of the Mekong and the forced resettlernent on the right bank, see Breazeale (1975), charts 4, 5, and 6. According to Lemire, 'during the time of Chao Anou, before the depopulation, this region had twenty times more people than today [18941." Lemire (1894), p. 7. And according to Gosselin, seventy thousand people were sent to Siam from the region of Cammon alone. Gosselin (1900), p. 95. In contrast, during this time only six thousand people left the province of Samboc located below the Li phi falls. See Miche (1852), p.178.

172 Aymonier (1885), pp. 115-116.

173 Garnier (1870-71), p. 396.




reconstructed on the bank most accessible to the Bangkok armies."174 Thai historian Tem Wiphakphotchanakit, writing in the 1970s, agreed. 17,5 The relocation policy can be linked to other kinds of violence perpetrated by Siam. The ashes generated by Siam's destructive policy were scattered far and wide.


174 Reclus (1883), P. 890.

175 Toem (1970) (T), pp. 311, 339. Fistie (1967), p. 33. Keyes states that "The Siamese-Lao war of 1827 was a major watershed in the settlement of the Khorat Plateau, including the central Chi River Valley. Following the war, the Siamese court pursued the policies of encouraging (with force if necessary) Lao living east of the Mekong to migrate and resettle on the Khorat Plateau. Both policies were designed to prevent serious challenges to Siamese authority being mounted by peoples living in the inaccessible areas lying to the northeast.' Keyes, (1976), p. 48.