Gareth Jones

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Far East Contents

by Gareth Jones  
Bangkok, Siam 

They were a curious collection, the three men who sat beneath the vast picture of King Chulalongkorn in a room in the Siamese Ministry of Education at Bangkok.  The first was a Siamese with a forceful personality who consider­ed that he had the mission of forming the Siam of the future, namely Pra Sarasastra Prabhand, the Minister of Education.  He was clad in the old Siamese dress, wearing a purple cloth with one end tucked between the legs so as to form a garb between a shirt and bulging trousers; an unusual dress for one who is a barrister of the Inner Temple.  The second was a learned, religious British professor at Bangkok University and the third a critical Journalist.  They had met to discuss the effects of the revolution on the education of Siam. 

“In the year 2777” began the Minister of Education, but noticing that the Journalist was bewildered, he corrected himself and said: “I beg your pardon, I am reckoning the years in the Siamese way.   I meant 1934 we made a vigorous campaign through Siam to drive all children into the schools, with the result that in 2778, I mean 1935, we will have over a million children in schools.  This stress upon education is one of the main pillars of our revolution.  

“What will the million children learn?’ asked Journalist 

“Our task is to put the school back into society.  By that I mean that we are not fostering the ‘clerks disease’ and turning every schoolboy into a white-collar worker who is ashamed to soil his hands.  That was a defect of the old regime, when the scholars could not go back to their old society.  We teach the children about nature, about their work.  I have started schools to teach mixed farming.  Our youth must learn how to live in their environment.  Thus we uphold vocational training.”  

The Professor referred to a talk he had had with a lead­ing man in British Borneo who had said of education in Sarawak.  “I do not even want the natives to learn English for it is no noble ideal for them to go the towns as pen-pushers.  I believe in teaching them about forestry.” 

The Ministry of Education agreed entirely.  “Educators throughout the world have tended to put the town on a pedestal and to throw acorn on the country.  We hope to reverse that.  I send Siamese teachers who have been to Europe to the provinces of the North in order that they may learn and respect the country.  I want to abolish that snobbishness by which the children who have been trained in Bangkok refuse to go back to the countryside.  I send a number of teachers front the towns into distant villages.  We owe almost all to the country.” 

The Journalist was reminded of a ta1k he had had in Moscow with Lenin’s widow, Krupskaya, one of the Soviet Union’s leading educationalists.  “Krupskaya was a great advocate of sending the townsfolk into the villages to build up a link between town and. country between proletarian and peasant;” he said: “She has plans for building up the New Man in Russia, much as you have the ideal of creating a. finer Siamese population.  I wonder how her Soviet educational plans would compare with the educational plans in Siam.  She believed that loyalty to society should take the place of loyalty to the family and that too much stress had been laid upon the fami1y. 

The Minister of Education threw up his arms in energetic disagreement.  “The family is the foundation of our education,” he proclaimed. 

“Lenin’s widow declared the need of basing education upon atheism,” said the journalist.  

Again the Minister was alarmed by this view.  “A must have faith in religion’ or he can have no faith in himself,” he declared.  “Our Wats (temples and monasteries) are a fine moral training and are good as Eton or Harrow.  Buddhism is at the basis of our education. 

The Professor spoke: “Just as Christianity builds up good character in the schools of the West, so you believe that Buddhism, will be the foundation of good character in Siam.” 

The Minister replied: “Yes the two religions are similarly good in their effect on character.  The man influenced by Buddhism will think of others as he thinks of himself.” 

Here the journalist intervened: “May I quote a view which I have often heard expressed in the East and ask your opinion?  It is this, that Buddhism, by its doctrine that desire and life are evil and. that happiness lies in the absence of desire, has a bad effect on national character, leads to a laissez faire attitude and creates a character which does not strive toward progress.  The belief in reincarnation, I hear causes priests not to help beggars and diseased people for they regard poverty and illness as punishment for misdeeds in former lives.  I told also that women have no souls in some Buddhist beliefs and for that reason women do the hard work here.” 

The Minister pondered: “The Buddhism which we teach. in the schools is an ideal Buddhism and not superstition.  We take the best of Buddhist doctrines, not the whole.  We cannot make: everybody into a Buddha.” 

The Professor suggested: “You try to conservate rather than abolish desire.  But how,” he added:  “Can you reconcile the Buddhist teachings with the military training which you are driving forward in the schools of Siam?  You have sent native guns and aeroplanes to visit even remote schools and you teach the youth to worship the soldier.” 

“Military training helps us in our Buddhist teaching,” answered the Minister:  “It completes a side untouched by Buddhism.  It gives the child discipline and builds up character”. 

“A test character of children is the type of hero they admire,” said the Journalist.   “Whom do the young Siamese admire?” 

The Minister of Education said: “First is King Chulalongkorn, the giver of Siamese civilisation.  All comes from him.  But let the Professor as a neutral give his list.” 

Outside Siam my students admire the following most,” stated the Professor.  “First, Louis Pasteur whom they regard as greater than Napoleon; Secondly Lister as a great pioneer of science; thirdly, Florence Nightingale, and fourth, Dr. Reed, the American doctor who discovered how to cure yellow fever.” 

Above all the children to cling to Siamese traditions and to Siamese dress, to revere the past of Siam, and to study the culture of Siam.  That is the rope which binds our nation.” 


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