A Day to Remember Chulalongkorn, King of Siam
Today on The Atlantic's World Calendar ...
October 23 is a public holiday in Thailand. It is the anniversary of the death of King Chulalongkorn of Siam, otherwise known as Rama V, in 1910. Westerners who think they haven't heard of this king may actually recall him from a fictional portrayal: In Rogers and Hammerstein's The King and I, he appears as a boy taught by English educator Anna Leonowens. As his father lies dying, Chulalongkorn gives his first order: that there will be no more kotowing to the king.
In Thailand, The King and I doesn't have the best of reputations, due to its paternalistic portrayal of Siamese culture. It's also not clear that the real Anna Leonowens had as much influence over the young Chulalongkorn as she claimed to have had. (For more on Leonowens, see her account of her experiences in Siam, published in The Atlantic in 1870.)
What is true, though, is that Rama V presided over a remarkable period of social reform. Ascending to the throne in 1868, he sought to bring Western values and forms of organization to his country while combatting Western attempts to colonize Siam. He is known for abolishing slavery, establishing a Royal Military Academy, and working to curtail the power of the nobles. He also sent his sons to be educated in England. In 1916, Thailand's first university was named in his honor. Below are a few photos of Chulalongkorn during his life (as a both metaphorical and literal wearer of many hats), as well as of October 23 commemorations of his legacy.