A short history of the transformation of ethnic Chinese organizations in Thailand: From seditious secret societies to patriotic cultural NGOs


  • Zhang Ying Ying is a PhD candidate in the Thai Studies program, Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University
  • Wasana Wongsurawat Faculty of Arts, Chulalongkorn University


Ethnic Chinese organizations, NGO, secret society, trade association, philanthropic association, modernization, nationalism


Ethnic Chinese organizations in Thailand were transformed and developed through the past century and a half of the modern era in three major phases. In the early-19th century, an influx of Chinese labor migrants followed the tradition of establishing fi ctive kinship networks in their host country through sworn
brotherhoods and secret societies. Towards the end of the 19th century, however, the modernization and nation-building processes of the Thai state came into confl ict with the culture and lifestyle of Chinese secret societies and they became criminalized. Consequently, the ethnic Chinese community in Thailand entered the second phase of registering their ethnic organizations as legitimate trade and philanthropic associations according to the Thai law in the early-20th century. These trade and philanthropic associations also played an important political role as representatives and organizers of the ethnic Chinese community through the period leading up to and during the Second World War. After the conclusion of the War, Chinese associations came under serious scrutiny from the Thai
state that had become increasingly paranoid of Chinese communist threats from the People’s Republic of China. Ethnic Chinese organizations in Thailand, thus, transformed into the third phase by registering as NGOs according to the government’s National Economic and Social Development Plans in the 1960s, and proliferated as clan associations from the 1970s onwards. The main purpose of Chinese clan associations from this late Cold War period to the present day
remains largely the same. That is, to encourage networking within each organization, networking among fellow Chinese organizations and to act as a bridge to better the ethnic Chinese community’s relationship with the Thai general public, the Thai government, and the rising infl uence of the People’s Republic of China in the post-Cold War period.


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How to Cite

Ying, Zhang Ying, and Wasana Wongsurawat. 2020. “A Short History of the Transformation of Ethnic Chinese Organizations in Thailand: From Seditious Secret Societies to Patriotic Cultural NGOs”. ASIAN REVIEW 32 (2):41-63. https://so01.tci-thaijo.org/index.php/arv/article/view/240245.



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