The growth of Bangkok – Part 5

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The growth of Bangkok – Part 5

Part five of our series on Bangkok’s growth covers the period from the turbulent 1930s until the end of the Second World War and the Communist victory in China.

By 1938, the Japanese invasion of mainland China led to a significant downturn in the number of Chinese immigrants. The war in China and the Great Depression also drastically reduced the amount of trade conducted between the two countries, the corresponding fall in the demand for labour also affecting migration.

These factors in turn led to Bangkok developing from a capital city largely reliant upon its port facilities to generate income and business, to encouraging diversification, fostering the establishment and expansion of industrial, commercial, and financial enterprises. This in turn made the city a more attractive place for internal migration, with Thais moving from the provinces in the hope of finding better jobs and earning more money.

The Second World War (1939-1945) and Thailand’s alliance with the Japanese led to great hardships in the countryside, especially after 1943 and continuing until around 1947.

Rice production fell in 1945 and was sluggish in 1946, with many farmers deserting their lands to seek better opportunities in Bangkok and other major centres. Equally, the teak industry was thrown into disarray by the war, with logging cut in half. Allied bombing of key industrial sites in Bangkok and other cities also slowed growth and its effects were still being felt some two to three years after the end of hostilities.

The differential between urban and rural wages was quite pronounced, and in May 1947 the government imposed a restriction on Chinese immigrants, permitting a meagre 200 arrivals a year, thereby forcing wages to rise in Bangkok as cheaper labour became harder to find. In turn, this made Bangkok an enticing place to work for those looking to increase their income.

The victory of the Communist Chinese forces of Mao Zedong (Mao Tse Tung) over Chiang Kai Shek in 1949 saw a corresponding fall in the amount of money sent by Chinese migrants in Thailand to relatives in mainland China. This resulted in Chinese ex-pats turning their attention and their finances inward and forging long-term investments in their adopted homeland.

By 1950, Bangkok numbered some one million inhabitants. Chiang Mai, the second-largest city in the country, had a population of around 50,000. Since 1950, Bangkok has grown at a rate at least twice the national average. Urbanisation grew to such an extent that by 1959, the bicycle pedi-cab, a reminder of a by-gone age, disappeared from the streets of the central areas of the city.

continued next issue