Why so many Thais have Chinese ancestry

With the Chinese New Year wrapping up, those who venture out onto Thailand’s streets will see just how much the country’s history has been shaped by China.

Modern-day Thai people are thought to have emigrated from China over 1,000 years ago. The Tai ethnicity originally consisted of those who spoke a common Tai language. Those same people migrated from China down through Southeast Asia, with many ending up calling their newly-discovered land “home.”

Why so many Thais have Chinese ancestry | News by Thaiger

As they initially settled in Thailand’s northern areas, they eventually spread throughout the kingdom, making up the majority of the Thai population today.

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Thailand’s second-largest ethnic group, however, is thought to have the most influence on the country. That group consists of those whose ancestors were Chinese traders that came to the Kingdom of Ayutthaya for business.

In the 13th century, Siam (Thailand’s previous name), and China shared a common enemy: Burma (now called Myanmar). As the Burmese military was considered a threat to both countries, China sent armies to Ayutthaya to help Siam.

Their efforts were successful with the Burmese military backing down, paving the way for a new wave of Chinese settlers who came for business. Chinese investors became common, with their capital gradually influencing Ayutthaya.

Thai-Chinese Memorial

Fast forward six centuries where Chinese migrants married Thai women in what was the beginning of the Thai-Chinese ethnic group. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the number of Chinese people in Thailand more than tripled.

But, the size of the Chinese population was further bolstered by their ever-increasing influence on businesses and industries in Thailand. From shipping and exports to fish, rice, sugar, and rubber, the Chinese had a hand in almost every major industry.

By the mid-20th century, just 50 Thai-Chinese families controlled between 80-90% of Thailand’s overall economic, market capitalisation.

Chinese fishermen

It was only a matter of time when Chinese migrants began to influence the political arena. Now, many politicians are said to have Chinese ancestry. Yingluck and Taksin Shinawatra were both former prime ministers of Thailand, And, if you can’t tell by their names, they are Thai-Chinese.

Throughout Thai society, China’s influence is tangible. From stunning Chinese temples to Bangkok having the largest Chinatown in the world, the fusion of the two countries clearly goes back in time.

Thai Life

Ann Carter

Ann Carter is an award-winning journalist from the United States with over 12 years experience in print and broadcast news. Her work has been featured in America, China and Thailand as she has worked internationally at major news stations as a writer and producer. Carter graduated from the Walter Williams Missouri School of Journalism in the USA.

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