Rural Thais & Urban Thais: Stupid Buffaloes & Rich Snobs

One of the most senior and best-known observers of rural Thailand said that the continued rural-urban divide was “probably the most burning issue that needs to be addressed” in order for the country to successfully transform into a democratic and less hierarchical society that adheres to the rule of law.

William J Klausner said that urban people still view rural people as uneducated and provincial, which is a stereotype that doesn’t match reality anymore.

Equally crucial was the fact that rural folk “realised they have been looked down upon for so long”.

“The villagers want respect. They want others to recognise their dignity and not to be looked down upon and stereotyped as uneducated water buffaloes.

Although it seems that for certain parts of the population, giving respect to those who can’t afford the latest iPhone is a very challenging task.

Of course, there was a funny incidence when the “educated high-so” yellow shirt protesters went to the streets to protest the uneducated yellow shirts, holding up boards proclaiming “uneducate people” – when the point they wanted to make was that the red shirts were uneducated people. While they also displayed their own lack of education in other ways… (have a look at the picture)

“The villagers are no longer uneducated and they’re no longer provincial. They are connected, aware and understanding of the world outside,” Klausner said. Five decades ago, rural villagers got information in the form of tales and news from Isaan folk performers such as ‘mor lam’ singers, or from visiting relatives who returned from Bangkok. Today they have mobile phones, televisions, satellite dishes and “even the odd computer in the village”.

In many villages, villagers stopped listening to the radio or watching TV news after the red channel got banned, reasoning that “listening to the government lies will only upset us more”.

Klausner attributed the change to the end of the “new land” frontier. In the past, there was always new land for the oppressed to seek if they were pushed off existing plots. What’s more, traditional mechanisms to control behaviour, such as superstition and Buddhism, were becoming redundant, except for a few of “development monks” active in the Northeast.

“Not everything is about red and yellow. One must be willing to have some sense of empathy. This will serve the Thai body politic well and will not be a zero-sum game,” he said, making a plea that both rural and urban Thais try to understand each other. Klausner feared, however, that would take a generation to materialise.


He ended on a rather pessimistic note fearful about the country’s future. “I am concerned that the spirit of reconciliation and compromise seems be in short supply and that ‘third-force’ civil society views are muted,” he said.

Which strikes a similar tone to what Dr. Thinitan said (repression, not reconciliation)

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