Praise, outrage after Chula students abolish ‘feudal’ royal parade

A Chulalongkorn University Phra Kiew parade held in 1999, with actress Taksaorn Paksukcharern perched atop the palanquin.
A Chulalongkorn University Phra Kiew parade held in 1999, with actress Taksaorn Paksukcharern perched atop the palanquin.

A long-time tradition honoring the royal roots of Thailand’s oldest university was scrapped by its own students for promoting “authoritarianism” and “inequality,” igniting bitter debate along predictable fault lines.

The Student Union of Chulalongkorn University announced it would no longer hold the Phra Kiew parade before its annual football matches with rival Thammasat University. Saturday’s announcement seemed designed to provoke, coming on Chulalongkorn Day, which commemorates the death of university founder King Rama V.

“The procession of Phra Kiew supports and reflects authoritarian regimes and a belief that people are not equal,” read the statement by the student government body. “This form of procession also represents feudalism by lifting one group higher than others.

All 29 members of the student government voted unanimously to scrap the tradition.

For nearly six decades, the symbolic parade involves 50 students carrying a male and female student reclining on a palanquin. It’s held prior to the famed football match, which usually happens in January.

While progressives hailed the decision as brave for breaking an age-old tradition, it enraged social conservatives.

“You did something that I never even thought of. Thank you for your courage to stand up and fight for this,” wrote Facebooker Jai Ruffles, a university alum. “Even though the university is linked to a royal name, we no longer need to carry on this feudal tradition.”

A bureaucrat and a renowned novelist, however, thought otherwise.

“Kids [these days] think like Artificial Intelligence. No sense of gratitude or respect for their elders. Discourteous like a robot,” former ambassador to Argentina Narisroj Fuangrabil wrote bitterly online. “They think that everything must be equal. They cannot understand complex, multidimensional concepts like that ‘humans’ are flesh and blood with parents and siblings.”

Win Lyovarin, an award-winning novelist and reliably conservative former Chulalongkorn student followed suit. Win said the procession was not a symbol of inequality but a connection between the students and royal founder King Chulalongkorn.

“Phra Kiew is a symbol of the university founder as well as a symbol of knowledge and gratitude,” Win wrote.

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