Thaification, or Thai-ization, is the process by which people of different cultural and ethnic origins living in Thailand become assimilated to the dominant culture of Thailand, that of central Thailand.
Thaification was a step in the creation in the 20th century of the Thai nation state in which Thai people occupy a dominant position, as opposed to the historically multicultural kingdom of Siam. A related term, "Thainess", describes the particular characteristics that distinguish Thai persons from others.
Thaification is a byproduct of the nationalist policies mandated by the Thai state after the Siamese coup d'état of 1933. The coup leaders, said to be inspired by Western ideas of an exclusive nation state, acted more in accordance with their close German nationalist and anti-democratic counterparts (pre-Nazi) to effect kingdom-wide dominance by the central Thai culture. Minority-owned businesses, like the traditionally merchant Thai Chinese, were aggressively acquired by the state, which gave preferential contracts to ethnic Thais and cooperative ethnic Chinese.
Thai identity was mandated and reinforced both in the heartlands and in rural areas. Central Thailand became economically and politically dominant, and central Thai (differentiated from multi-lingual Siamese) became the state-mandated language of the media, business, education, and all state agencies. Central Thai values were successfully inculcated into being perceived as the desirable national values, with increasing proportions of the population identified as Thai. Central Thai culture, being the culture of wealth and status, made it hugely attractive to a once-diverse population seeking to be identified with nationalist unity.
The main targets of Thaification were ethnic groups on the edges of the kingdom, geographically and culturally: the Lao of Isan (อีสาน), the hill tribes of western and northern Thailand, and the Muslim (มุสลิม) ethnic Malay of southern Thailand. There has also been a Thaification of the large immigrant Chinese, Indian, and Vietnamese population.
Thaification by the government can be separated into three sets of policies:
In the first set of policies, the government targeted specific policies and actions at fringe groups. An example of this is the Accelerated Rural Development Programme of 1964, the Isan component of which included the strengthening of allegiance to Bangkok and the rest of the country as one of its objectives.
The second set of policies consists of policies applied nationally, but that disproportionately affect fringe groups. One example of this is the prescribed use of Central Thai language in schools. This had little effect on the central Thai or Thai Siam who already used the language as a mother tongue, but made bilinguals of speakers of Isan in the northeast, of Northern Thai (คำเมือง) in the north, and of Pattani Malay (ยาวี) in the south.
Harsher methods were imposed on the Thai Chinese. After the People's Republic of China was founded in 1949, a series of anticommunist Thai military juntas, starting with that of dictator Plaek Phibunsongkhram, sharply reduced Chinese immigration and prohibited Chinese schools in Thailand.
Thai Chinese born after the 1950s had "very limited opportunities to enter Chinese schools". Those Thai Chinese who could afford to study overseas studied English instead of Chinese for economic reasons. As a result, the Chinese in Thailand have "almost totally lost the language of their ancestors", and are gradually losing their Chinese identity.
A third set of policies was designed to encourage Thai nationalism in the nation's peoples. Examples include the promotion of the king as a national figurehead, saluting the flag in school and the twice daily broadcasts of the national anthem (Thai: เพลงชาติ; RTGS: phleng chat) on radio and television at 08:00 and 18:00. Encouraging Thai nationalism had the intended side effect of discouraging other loyalties, such as that to Laos, stemming from central Thais' perceived threat of Lao cultural and political dominance in the Isan region and that of Malay (Thai: มลายู; RTGS: malayu) in the south. Similar programs exist to the present day. In 2018 the Thai government created a "soft power" campaign called Thai Niyom (Thai-ism) (Thai: ไทยนิยม; RTGS: thai niyom) to reinforce the notion of Thai exceptionalism. It includes "12 Core Values", reminiscent of the earlier Thai cultural mandates. The campaign has been criticized by some academics as "mere state propaganda".