University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > The Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure - seminar series > Populating 19th century Siam: war/capture/resettlement versus the recruitment of free labour in a southeast Asian demographic system

Populating 19th century Siam: war/capture/resettlement versus the recruitment of free labour in a southeast Asian demographic system

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Sandwiches and fruit will be available from 12.30

The Kingdom of Siam is one of several important Southeast Asian states that formed around the 12th century and continued in various forms to the present. Population numbers in the Siamese Kingdom are mostly a matter of conjecture since virtually all records were destroyed in the sacking of Ayudhya in 1767 by Burmese armies. Even for the time since the kingdom was reestablished and the Chakri Dynasty formed in 1782, the record is fragmented and incomplete throughout the 19th century and until about 1920 (a census was conducted in 1909-1910, and vital registration began in 1920). Nineteenth century demography is known largely by two means: population estimates (the whole kingdom, and sometimes for certain geographic areas, or for language groups) reported by contemporary foreign “travelers” (ambassadors, businessmen, preachers and the like) based on what they could glean from the royal records without actually seeing them. The resulting population estimates are so inconsistent that some investigators have posited their own series of population totals based on extrapolations backward from the time series that began in 1920.

This work of extrapolation, if it is to be more than merely mechanical curve fitting of some sort, requires substantive assumptions about fertility and mortality patterns and levels, and these have always been founded upon prevailing views of typical “developing country” situations. That is, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, fertility has always been assumed to have been rather high (TFR at 6 or greater) and mortality at levels high enough to be consistent with that and population growth rates.

However, in the case of Siam a new reading of the existing literature and a new look at the archival evidence spanning the long 19th century suggests an alternative and quite different scenario. The speaker has carried out extensive research in the Kingdom’s archives, and offers a view of population changes based upon indirect methods of analysis (demographic models) linked with political, socioeconomic, and cultural evidence. Two contrasting scenarios regarding population and the components of population changes were first established based on the historical evidence. Then these scenarios were modeled using ‘POPULATE’, a software program that expresses the mathematics of the population renewal equation and the method of Generalized Inverse Projection. The results were then judged on their internal consistency and compared with other evidence.

These scenarios—a Migration-Based Demographic System (MDS) scenario and a Classic Demographic Transition (CDT) scenario–suggest alternate paths of fertility, mortality, and migration between 1782 and 1960. In the migration-based scenario fertility is at a moderate level (held down by the disturbances of frequent warfare), mortality is high, and migration maintains the population balance. This scenario matches very well with historical events in the Bangkok Period including dramatic political, socioeconomic and cultural changes. Among these was the termination around 1850 of a warfare based system of forced population resettlement, and the rapid rise thereafter of spontaneous in-migration from neighboring territories and from Southern China, in response to the dramatic expansion of commercial wet-rice agriculture.

The issues discussed and the alternative models presented highlight the importance of any empirical, archival evidence for the 19th century that can be uncovered. The speaker will describe her work with a set of household-based corvee registers, the Tabien Hangwow, covering selected areas and years. These have not been examined previously for demographic purposes.

This talk is part of the The Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure - seminar series series.

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