In the late nineteenth century, political and social changes were occurring rapidly in Siam (now Thailand). The old ruling families were being displaced by an evolving centralized government. These families were pensioned off (given a sum of money to live on) or simply had their revenues taken away or restricted; their sons were enticed away to schools for district officers, later to be posted in some faraway province; and the old patron-client relations that had bound together local societies simply disintegrated. Local rulers could no longer protect their relatives and attendants in legal cases, and with the ending in 1905 of the practice of forcing peasant farmers to work part-time for local rulers, the rulers no longer had a regular base for relations with rural populations. The old local ruling families, then, were severed from their traditional social context.
The same situation viewed from the perspective of the rural population is even more complex. According to the government’s first census of the rural population, taken in 1905, there were about thirty thousand villages in Siam. This was probably a large increase over the figure even two or three decades earlier, during the late 1800s. It is difficult to imagine it now, but Siam’s Central Plain in the late 1800s was nowhere near as densely settled as it is today. There were still forests closely surrounding Bangkok into the last half of the nineteenth century, and even at century’s end there were wild elephants and tigers roaming the countryside only twenty or thirty miles away.
Much population movement involved the opening up of new lands for rice cultivation. Two things made this possible and encouraged it to happen. First, the opening of the kingdom to the full force of international trade by the Bowring Treaty (1855) rapidly encouraged economic specialization in the growing of rice, mainly to feed the rice-deficient portions of Asia (India and China in particular). The average annual volume of rice exported from Siam grew from under 60 million kilograms per year in the late 1850s to more than 660 million kilograms per year at the turn of the century; and over the same period the average price per kilogram doubled. During the same period, the area planted in rice increased from about 230,000 acres to more than350,000 acres. This growth was achieve as the result of the collective decisions of thousands of peasants families to expand the amount of land they cultivated, clear and plant new land, or adopt more intensive methods of agriculture.
They were able to do so because of our second consideration. They were relatively freer than they had been half a century earlier. Over the course of the Fifth Reign (1868 – 1910), the ties that bound rural people to the aristocracy and local ruling elites were greatly reduced. Peasants now paid a tax on individuals instead of being required to render labor service to the government. Under these conditions, it made good sense to thousands of peasant families to in effect work full-time at what they had been able to do only part-time previously because of the requirement to work for the government: grow rice for the marketplace.
Numerous changes accompanied these developments. The rural population both dispersed and grew, and was probably less homogeneous and more mobile than it had been a generation earlier. The villages became more vulnerable to arbitrary treatment by government bureaucrats as local elites now had less control over them.By the early twentieth century, as government modernization in a sense caught up with what had been happening in the countryside since the 1870s, the government bureaucracy intruded more and more into village life. Provincial police began to appear, along with district officers and cattle registration and land deeds and registration for compulsory military service. Village handicrafts diminished or died out completely as people bought imported consumer goods, like cloth and tools, instead of making them themselves. More economic variation took shape in rural villages, as some grew prosperous from farming while others did not. As well as can be measured, rural standards of living improved in the Fifth Reign. But the statistical averages mean little when measured against the harsh realities of peasant life.
十九世纪晚期，暹罗（现在的泰国）发生了政治和社会剧变。旧的统治家族被逐渐演变的中央政府所取代。这些家族被发抚恤金（给一笔钱维持生活），或简单地被剥夺或限制税收；他们的儿子被怂恿去上培养地方官员的学校，后来被派遣到一些偏远的省份；将旧式的地方社会结合在一起的保护人-委托人关系分崩离析。地方统治者在法律案件中不能再保护他们的亲属和随从，并且随着强迫贫穷农民为地方统治者做兼职的行为在1905年被废除，地方统治者与农村人口不再有稳定关系基础。于是旧式地方统治家族与他们传统的社会环境切断了联系。 同样的情况从农村人口的角度看要更加复杂。根据政府1905年对农村人口的做的第一次普查，暹罗大约有30,000个村庄。这个数字比二三十年前，1800年代后期的数字有了一个大的增长。尽管现在很难想象，但暹罗中央平原在1800年代后期的定居人口远不及现在密集。直到十九世纪末期曼谷周边仍然有森林环绕，野生大象和老虎漫步在二三十公里外的乡村。 大多数人口迁移都涉及开垦新的土地用于种植水稻，两个因素使之成为可能并促进了它的发展。首先，通过博林条约，王国的国际贸易全面开放，迅速促进了水稻种植业经济的专门化，主要供给以水稻供给不足的亚洲国家（尤其是印度和中国）。暹罗水稻平均年出口量在十九世纪50年代末不足6千万千克/年，到世纪之交已经增长到6.6多亿千克/年，与此同时每千克水稻的平均价格翻倍了。同一时期，水稻种植面积从230,000英亩增长到超过350，000英亩。这个增长是成千上万的农民家庭集体决定扩张耕种土地数量，开垦种植新的土地，或是采用更高效耕作方式的结果。 农民们能够这样做还有第二个原因。他们比半个世纪以前相对更自由了。在第五朝代（1868-1910）统治时期，贵族及地方统治势力对农民的束缚减轻了。农民现在可以以个人身份缴税，而不必为政府服劳役。在这种情况下，广大农民家庭可以全职地从事农业生产，种植水稻去卖，而不像以前那样因为要服劳役而只能兼职生产。 这些发展带来了很多改变。农村人口在增长的同时更加分散，且与上一代相比均匀性更低，而移动性更大。村庄更容易受到政府官僚的专制对待，因为地方势力现在的控制力降低了。到20世纪初，因为政府的现代化在某种意义上已经赶上了自十九世纪七十年代以来在农村所发生的一切，政府官僚主义对乡村生活的影响越来越深入。乡下警察开始出现，伴随出现的还有地方官员，牲畜登记和土地契约，注册服兵役。农村手工艺减少甚至完全消失了，因为人们购买进口的商品，像布匹和工具，而不用自己制作了。更多的经济变化在农村形成，因为有些人通过种地变得富裕而有些人没有。另一个可以测量的指标是，农村生活水平在在第五朝代期间提高了。但与艰难的农民现实生活相比，统计学平均值说明不了什么。