It was a story about implanting in Siam ideas of freedom and of new technology without tearing up the living roots of an ancient culture. In America, these facts were buried by a remarkable literary landslide, an acute misfortune. The historical confusion was started by an English governess, Anna Leonowens, whom King Mongkut engaged for some four years to teach his children. In 1870 she published an entertaining, if biased account of her experiences.
…omdetch Phra Paramendr Maha Mongkut, late Supreme King of Siam, it may safely be said (for all his capricious provocations of temper and his snappish greed of power) that he was in the best sense of the epithet, the most remarkable of the Oriental princes of the present century, -unquestionably the most progressive of all the supreme rulers of Siam, of whom the native historians enumerate not less than forty, reckoning from the founding of the ancient capital (Ayudia or Ayuo-deva, ‘the abode of gods’) in AD1350. He was the legitimate son of the king P’hra Chow-P’hra Pooti-lootlah, commonly known al Phen-den-Klang; and his mother, daughter of the youngest sister of the King Somdetch P’hra Bouromah Rajah Pooti Yout Fah, was one of the most admired princesses of her time, and is described as equally beautiful and virtuous. She devoted herself assiduously to the education of her sons, of whom the second, the subject of these notes, was born in 1804; and the youngest, her best beloved, was the late Second King of Siam….Read More:http://www.hasekamp.net/anna.htm
In more recent times, a frankly fictionalized version of her story, Anna and the King of Siam, inspired successive broadway and Hollywood productions which in spite of good quality actors, took the usual liberties. And so, for Western readers and audiences, the character of one of Asia’s greatest men was cut down gradually, but steadily to musical comedy size. And the part which Americans played in his life was quickly forgotten. An the book was off base on facts; the charming dinner party for Sir John Bowring in the famous scene of The King and I could not have taken place, because Anna Leonowens did not arrive in Bangkok until 1862, six years after the event. She was even more off base on sympathy: the king was moody and prone to tantrums, impatient and fearful that the West would find some pretext to intervene, and fearful that his country would be called barbaric.
In 1835, when Dan Bradley a Christian physician with his wife Emilie Royce, Siam was a total backwater. To the Thai public, Bradley’s ideas of human rights were as novel as his medicines. A thousand yers before, the Thai had been a simple frontier people on the fringe of China.But moving south, they had absorbed ideas of autocracy and grandeur from the ancient Indian culture of Southeast Asia. Now they were used to falling flat before their superiors. They were forbidden to even look at their king; when he went abroad, shutters were closed against the royal archers who shot a clay pellet at anyone who peeked. At the clinic all patients were treated alike, noblemen awaiting their turn with commoners….