Remembering a Legend: Pridi Banomyong

Pridi Banomyong’s statue at the Tha Phrachan campus, Thammasat University. PHOTO BY TAKATO MITSUNAGA.

May 8, 2014 | By Chit Hnin Aye and Takato Mitsunaga

“It was a shame when Pridi Banomyong died, but his spirit definitely keeps influencing Thammasat University students. Even now, many students want to work for the better society in the future,” said Nirut Autpin, a first-year engineering student from Thammasat University (TU).

Inspired, he dedicated 15 days to a volunteer camp at Lampang Province after his first semester.

Nirut Autpin, a first-year engineering student from TU, preparing concrete for a volunteer construction in Lampang Province in 2013. PHOTO CONTRIBUTED BY AUTPIN.
Nirut Autpin working for a volunteer camp in Lampang Province. PHOTO CONTRIBUTED BY AUTPIN.

“I know I can’t help many people, but I’m sure I can at least help some,” he said.

“I am proud of being one of the students here, because not everyone can come and study at Thammasat University. As long as I am here to learn to love the people, I will try my best.”

He was likely motivated by one of TU’s slogans, which reads Thammasat University, where we learn to love the people.

The slogan of TU, “Thammasat University, where we learn to love the people,” is on display near the SC Building in the Rangsit Campus. PHOTO BY CHIT HNIN AYE.

Banomyong, the founder of TU, would be celebrating his 114th birthday this May 11. He is such an important figure that even after his physical presence has long disappeared, his legacy and contributions to Thailand are still remembered within the nation.

Why He’s Remembered

The most well-known thing Banomyong did for Thailand was the Siamese Revolution in 1932, which introduced a constitutional monarchy government to Thailand after 150 years of absolute monarchy under the Chakri Dynasty.

“To enhance the people’s livelihood lies at the heart of my revolutionary act.”
- Pridi Banomyong

Only 32, Banomyong and other members of the Khana Ratsadon (People’s Party), risked their lives by staging a “bloodless coup” when King Prajadhipok, Rama VII of the Chakri Dynasty was in power.

Due to their tremendous effort, Siam transitioned into a single-party state in 1933.

The Fall

Another power change would follow soon after King Ananda Mahidol, Rama VIII’s, mysterious death on June 9, 1946. The subsequent events would eventually drive Banomyong from Thailand.

Banomyong had been Prime Minister of Thailand for three months when he declared that the King’s death was an accident.

His political opponents, mainly a group of military leaders, took it as a chance to oust the Pridi government. They carried out a coup d’état against Banomyong using the regicide as an excuse.

Banomyong escaped from the country but later returned with a number of naval officers for a counter coup in 1949. He failed.

What followed would become a permanent exile.

Never to Return Home

After a second escape, Banomyong lived in China for 21 years until the Cultural Revolution drove him to France, where he’d spend the rest of his life.

There, he’d lead a peaceful, ordinary life with his family in the suburbs of Paris. He spent the last 13 years of his life writing memoirs and helping Thai university students adjust to life in Europe.

He expressed his desire to return but never had the chance to set foot in his homeland again. On May 2, 1983 — just nine days before his 83rd birthday — he passed away due to heart failure.

His remains would come home to Thailand three years later.

His Legacy

Twelve years after Banomyong’s death, one can find two memorials, four roads, a college, a library, a bird species, numerous statues and a vast number of books dedicated to his memory. Despite these reminders many people don’t actually know all of his achievements.

Pridi Institute displays upcoming events at its location at 65/1 Soy Thonglor Sukhumvit Road 55, Klong Tan Nuea, Watthana, Bangkok. PHOTO BY TAKATO MITSUNAGA.

“Thai people know about Banomyong, but just a few things,” said Sinsawat Yodbangtoey, the manager of the Pridi Institute in Bangkok.

The institute opened at Soi Thonglor in 1995 with a clear vision to inspire people through his life and path. It has an exhibition called Inspiration Zone… Pridi Banomyong, which features nine zones describing his life in Thai, English and Japanese.

“Thai history is sometimes distorted and misinterpreted in negative ways. Through knowing and learning about him, it would be a great opportunity for us to seek the truth and know how our country was formed historically,” said Yodbangtoey.

“I want as many people as possible to visit us and be inspired, not only Thai people, but also people from all over the world.”

The institution, together with TU, will hold an event called “Pridi Day” on May 11 at the Tha Phrachan campus in Bangkok. From 7 a.m. till 1 p.m. a panel of scholars will discuss “Pridi Banomyong and the 80th anniversary of Thammasat University”.

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