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Thai Culture Guide >> King Bhumibol

King Bhumibol, Strength of Thailand

In 1946 His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, the ninth king of the Chakri dynasty, ascended to the throne. At his coronation ceremony he promised that both he and Queen Sirikit would "reign with righteousness for the benefits and happiness of the Siamese people." For over 60 years, as the world's longest reigning, living monarch, His Majesty has upheld the commitment articulated at his coronation.

While eschewing a political role himself, King Bhumibol has established himself as both a statesman and a unifying figure in a country often afflicted by political confusion. He has always relied on hard work, rather than wealth, power and position, to gain the respect of others. Willing to play whatever role his subjects felt suitable for him, he turned towards the people who needed him the most: the poor, the uneducated and the sick.

Beloved by his people and perhaps the world's hardest working monarch, King Bhumibol has actively pursued many interests as a sportsman and artist while balancing his civic and royal duties. He is the only monarch to win a medal at an international sporting event--a gold medal for sailing at the Southeast Asian Peninsular Games. He was also chosen as an honorary member of the Academy for Music and Performing Arts in Vienna Austria in1964, and was the first Asian ever to be so honored for his music. His composition, Blue Night, was featured in a 1950 Broadway production of Peepshow.

Not content to play the role of a figurehead, Bhumibol assisted national development through the alleviation of poverty and the improvement of the quality of life of his people. In 1993, he became the world's first reigning monarch to apply for, and be granted, a patent for his own invention. The invention was a buoy-type, low-speed air jet aerator used to add oxygen to ponds and other still waters.

The king has a very practical approach to national development and improving the lives of his citizens and the environment. Not afraid to get his boots dirty, King Bhumibol has trampled over many hills in the isolated areas of Thailand to meet excited subjects waiting to show off their new coffee shrub, peach tree or asparagus.

Like every Thai monarch, Bhumibol is guided by the Tenfold Moral Principles of the Sovereign. These Buddhist teachings serve to guide the monarch on the correct course to be taken by the leader of the country and by one who sets an example for all men. The Ten Commandments of Kingship, as His Majesty has called them, advise that a king should help those who need assistance in times of trouble. He has revitalized the monarchy through his interest in the everyday needs of the populace. He changed his field of study in Switzerland, from Engineering to Political Science and Law so that he could understand how to rule with justice and help his people in times of need. To that end, he committed to helping the poor and underprivileged. In 1995, he focused on the effects of flooding on the poorest sections of the outskirts of Bangkok and brought this destruction to the attention of the government so they could find a long-term solution.

According to this royal guide, a king should also be a person of moral integrity, willing to sacrifice his private interests for the sake of the greater public interest; grasping the means to do right at all times. During His Majesty's early childhood, the Princess Mother had instilled humanitarian principles, teaching him to give his time and money to others. She would tax the royal children ten percent of their pocket money every week, putting the contribution into a box in the center of their apartment. Then at the end of the month, she would gather all the children together to decide where the money would go: a foundation, a blind school or another charitable activity.

Bhumibol was trained to work for others, to sacrifice his time and money for the people. "That's why when he got on the throne he started working immediately." He turned over a large area of his grounds at Chitralada Villa to researchers and long-term experiments in the 50s, giving land in the Hua Hin District for the Hat Sai Yai Farm in the mid-60s and implementing a land reform program in 1975 in which royal land was donated to landless peasants. His generous nature is yet another example of his moral integrity.

Another of the principles of kingship is that a king needs to be faithful to his ideals, sincere in working for the public and honest, while being modest and gentle. He should be unassertive and pleasant of manner, refraining from anger or the display of displeasure. He should not provoke others, but promote peace and non-violent action.

Finally, a leader should be diligent and hard-working in all tasks, leading a simple life full of self-control; forbearing all; and not obstructing the will of the people. King Bhumibol is a shining example of all of these traits and has been recognized throughout the world for his service and leadership.

In 1992, the World Health Organization (WHO) awarded His Majesty its Health-for-All Gold Medal for services ensuring the nation's good health, which is a worthy accolade for a devout monarch whose prime concern has been the welfare of others. The king established free clinics staffed by royal physicians or other royal medical division and military medical personnel. He also created a Royal Mobile Dental Unit in April 1970, entrusting his personal dentist Dr. Sri Sirisingha who had recently retired, to undertake this mission. The doctor recalled the king's order:

". . . I would like you to look after the dental care of the students who live in remote areas. I will take care of all the necessary expenses and will provide you with a mobile dental unit to go out to isolated villages and hamlets. . . .

In June 1995 the respected periodical Asiaweek praised him at the top of their list of 20 great Asians. Asiaweek said that Bhumibol "has continued to look out for the good of even the lowest in the kingdom. He influences politics without being political. In doing so, he has made an ancient monarchy into a crucial component of a progressive and prosperous democracy."

His efforts were even noticed by governments outside of Asia. While addressing the United States Senate in 1995, Senator Max Baucus had this to say about His Majesty's hard work:

"Today, Thailand is one of the anchors of the modern, prosperous Southeast Asia. Bangkok has become one of the world's great cities and commercial centers. . . . Much of this extraordinary success is due to the wise guidance of King Bhumibol. The king has led by example. He has embodied the ten traditional moral principles of Buddhist kings: charity toward the poor; morality; sacrifice of personal interest; honesty; courtesy; self-restraint; tranquility of temperament; non-violence; patience; and impartiality in settling disputes. And he has led by action. Together, King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit have devoted decades to improving the lives of Thai people in rural and impoverished regions. They constantly travel to the country's 73 provinces, meeting with villagers and staying close to the people. The results are obvious in improved public health, the spread of education to all Thai children and the renewal of traditional crafts and textiles."

Because of his hard work and dedication to the Thai community, King Bhumibol continues to live in the hearts and minds of his people. Today where popularity is fleeting and fame disappears in moments, Thailand has always loved and cherished their benevolent king. He has not only lived up to his declaration at his coronation to rule with righteousness, he has lived up to his name: Bhumibol, which means "Strength of the Land."

About the Author:

Michael Jack Elliott, contributes articles on social issues and historical biographies for Vision Media. For more information on these and other topics, please visit the Vision Media web site at