Thai people: Wikis


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Total population
approx. 66,000,000
Regions with significant populations
 Thailand 64,200,000 [1]
 United States 199,000
 Laos 130,000
 Taiwan 110,000
 Malaysia 60,000 [2]
 Singapore 56,744 [3]
 Japan 53,221
 Burma 41,000
 Cambodia 39,556 [4]
 United Kingdom 38,000 [5]
 Australia 32,755
 Germany 22,000
 Hong Kong 15,000 [6]
 Sweden 11,244 (2004) [7]
 Saudi Arabia 20,000 [8]
 New Zealand 12,000
 Norway 10,989 [9]
 Philippines 10,000+
 United Arab Emirates 10,000
 Bahrain 9,670
 Qatar 7,800
 Libya 2,100

Predominantly Dharma Wheel.svg Theravada Buddhism

Related ethnic groups

Lao, Shan, Ahom, other Tai peoples

The Thai (or Tai) are the main ethnic group of Thailand and are part of the larger Tai ethnolinguistic peoples found in Thailand and adjacent countries in Southeast Asia as well as southern China. Their language is the Thai language, which is classified as part of the Kradai family of languages, and the majority of Thai are followers of Theravada Buddhism. The term Thai people may also refer to the population of Thailand in general, and not only to ethnic Thais. In this sense, they are also known as Thailanders.



The precursors of the Thai may have been among the many peoples that comprised the Yi and Bai ruled kingdom of Nanzhao (or Nanman), which dominated Yunnan and much of northern mainland southeast Asia in the 8th and 9th centuries AD. These early Thai (known as Tai) emanated out of the Yunnan region and dispersed into the general area of what is today Thailand. These Tai peoples arrived in various waves and displaced the earlier native Mon and Khmer populations as they settled the region with a large group settling in Thailand during the Sung period of China roughly around 960 CE. The related Lao people split off from the Tai peoples and moved into Southeast Asia, mainly Laos, while another kindred people, the Shan, made their way into Myanmar.

The founding of the Sukhothai kingdom culminated in the emergence of the first Thai nation-state founded in 1238. Various conflicts in Nanzhao and its successor state the Kingdom of Dali may have increased migration of the Thai, especially after the Mongol conquest of the region, and helped establish the Thai as a regional power. Successful wars with the Mon helped to establish the kingdom of Lan Na as the Thai increased their hold in Southeast Asia. The early Thai brought their Buddhist and Chinese traditions, but also assimilated much of the native Khmer and Mon culture of Southeast Asia. (See Thai Chinese for more details)

A new city-state known as Ayutthaya, named after the Indian city of Ayodhya, was founded by Ramathibodi (a descendant of Chiang Mai) and emerged as the center of the growing Thai Empire starting in 1350. Inspired by the then Hindu-based Khmer Empire (Cambodia), the Ayutthaya Empire's continued conquests led to more Thai settlements as the Khmer Empire weakened after their defeat at Angkor in 1431. During this period, the Thai developed a feudal system as various vassal states paid homage to the Thai kings. Even as Thai power expanded at the expense of the Mon and Khmer, the Thai Ayutthaya faced setbacks at the hands of the Malay at Malacca and were checked by the Toungoo of Burma.

Though sporadic wars continued with the Burmese and other neighbors, Chinese wars with Burma and European intervention elsewhere in Southeast Asia allowed the Thai to develop an independent course by trading with the Europeans as well as playing the major powers against each other in order to remain independent. The Chakkri dynasty under Rama I held the Burmese at bay, while Rama II and Rama III helped to shape much of Thai society, but also led to Thai setbacks as the Europeans moved into areas surrounding modern Thailand and curtailed any claims the Thai had over Cambodia, in dispute with Burma and Vietnam. The Thai learned from European traders and diplomats, while maintaining an independent course. Chinese, Malay, and British influences helped to further shape the Thai people who often assimilated foreign ideas, but managed to preserve much of their culture and resisted the European colonization that engulfed their neighbors. Thailand is also the only country that was not colonized in Southeastern Asia area in the early history.

Geography and demographics

The vast majority of the Thai people live in Thailand, although some Thai can also be found in other parts of Southeast Asia. About 60 million live in Thailand alone [10], while thousands can also be found in the United States, Laos, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia, Myanmar, the United Kingdom, Australia, and the United Arab Emirates. From 3,298 in 1980, there are now an estimated 100,000 migrant Thais living in Germany.[1]

Culture and society

The Thai can be broken down into various regional groups including the main Thai, northeastern, northern, and southern Thai with their own regional dialects of their mutually intelligible Thai language. Modern Central Thai has become more dominant due to official government policy which was designed to assimilate and unify the disparate Thai in spite of ethnolinguistic and cultural ties between the northeastern Thai and the Lao for example.

The modern Thai are predominantly Theravada Buddhist and strongly identify their ethnic identity with their religious beliefs that include aspects of ancestor worship (see Culture of Thailand). Indigenous arts include Muay Thai (the Thai version of South East Asian kick boxing), Thai dance, Makruk (Thai Chess), and Nang yai (shadow play).

The Thai have a literacy rate hovering at 98% and a strong predilection towards education and national development.

See also


  1. ^ Roongwitoo, Napamon (2009-03-30). "The Oldest Profession Gone Global". Bangkok Post: p. 27. Retrieved 2009-03-30.  
  • Girsling, John L.S., Thailand: Society and Politics (Cornell University Press, 1981).
  • Terwiel, B.J., A History of Modern Thailand (Univ. of Queensland Press, 1984).
  • Wyatt, D.K., Thailand: A Short History (Yale University Press, 1986).

Online references



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