In recent months, there has been a lot of talk about “soft power” in Thailand, with Prime Minister Settha Thavisin creating the National Soft Power Strategy Committee to guide initiatives that will develop and promote soft power industries such as Thai food, tourism, music, and sports.
The term “soft power” refers to a countries ability to wield power on the global stage not through military strength and coercion, but through its culture, values, and foreign policy. There is a ranking called the Global Soft Power Index, where Thailand ranks 35th in the world and 6th in Asia.
Thailand’s policy makers are focused on improving this ranking, believing the Kingdom has the potential to climb near #1 in Asia and in the top 10 globally.
Currently, almost all discussions regarding the development of “soft power” in Thailand have focused on those areas of Thai culture that are directly related to the economy.
For example, the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) has identified The 5 Fs of Thai Soft Power as: Food, Film, Fashion, Festivals, and Fighting (Muay Thai). Meanwhile, Dr. Ake Pattaratanakun, of Chulalongkorn’s Business School has emphasized that Thailand’s soft power and economic growth depend on the development of The Two Ts: Talent and Tools.
What seems to have been lacking, so far, is any deep discussion of the “values” aspect of soft power. That is, what are the underlying Thai values that have made Thailand’s culture attractive to so many foreigners?
These values after all are the foundation from which Thai food, fashion, music, film, etc. have emerged and flourished. And if these traditional Thai values are to survive through the modern age, they need to be identified, nurtured, and promoted.
Thailand’s education system, businesses, government, and individual creators alike should work together in this task of preservation. Otherwise, the Kingdom’s unique cultural industries could lose their soft power.
At MySakonNakhon.com, we’ve identified the following Thai values as important to Thailand’s soft power on the world’s stage.
T – Tolerance: In keeping with Buddhism, the Thai people show tolerance in their generous acceptance of people with different beliefs, opinions, and lifestyles, allowing diversity to flourish in its best sense.
H – Harmony: Every aspect of Thai culture strives to achieve harmony, whether it be in traditional dance & music, arts & crafts, culinary dishes, or a harmonious environment in which to work and live. It also is the reason why Thais place such importance on being “greng jai” and saving face.
A – Affection: Work done without heart is work not worth doing. Thai people are famously affectionate not only with family and friends, but in the love they apply to the work they do and their interactions with others.
I – Independent: Thailand means “free land,” and there are few countries with a more independent spirit than the never-colonized Thai kingdom, where over 50% of the population are entrepreneurs or self-employed.
L – Light-hearted: The light-hearted smiling Buddha, seen at so many Thai temples, is an ideal that most Thai people seek to emulate, and a value that contributes famous Thai smile. It could be considered one of Thailand’s most important cultural exports.
A – Awakened: After his enlightenment, the Buddha said, “I am awake”. But to be awakened in Thailand isn’t only to be spiritually awakened. It is to be fully awakened in the senses, so you can experience all that life has to offer.
N – Natural: Thailand is a country of great natural beauty, with enchanting mountains, lush rice fields, and white sandy beaches. The Thai people place high value on “the natural way” when it comes to food, lifestyle, and medicine.
D – Devoted: The devotion that Thai people show to their ancestors and family members is an aspect of Thai culture that many foreigners admire. This devotion is an extension of the people’s religious faith.
It should be recognized by all “value” stakeholders in Thailand that these values do not only form the foundation of Thai soft power. They also are those traditional values and ideals that appeal to foreigners — especially those in the West who have witnessed a decline in these values in their home countries.
Whether making a Thai culinary dish, recording a Thai song, shooting a Thai film, weaving an indigo dress, or organizing a trip through undiscovered Thailand, creators always should keep these “soft power” values in mind, so as to create distinct Thai products that influence the world for the better.
Storytelling is one of the most effective ways to develop and strengthen Thailand’s soft power domestically and spread it on the international stage. Of course, one shouldn’t be hitting people over the head with Thai values in storytelling. A good, compelling, story must always come first.
However, Thai storytellers can always keep in the back of their minds The 8 Thai Cultural Values of Soft Power, and look for subtle ways to demonstrate them in their stories, so as to strengthen Thailand’s national brand image. For example, we’ve created a short outline of a story to demonstrate.
In the Isaan province of Sakon Nakhon (the birthplace of Indigo fashion) the story unfolds around Sirinan, a young woman with a passion for preserving and promoting traditional Thai textiles.
She organizes a week-long festival (Threads of Siam) to showcase the diversity of Thailand’s textile makers. Weavers and independent fashion designers from throughout Thailand are invited to Sakon Nakhon to join the festival and deliver workshops.
TOLERANCE: During festival preparations, Sirinan discovers that the invited weavers hold opposing views on the future direction of their craft. Some insist on adhering strictly to age-old techniques, while others are eager to experiment with contemporary influences.
Rather than imposing a singular vision, Sirinan encourages an open dialogue. She creates a platform for the weavers and designers to express their opinions, fostering an environment of acceptance for diverse perspectives.
HARMONY: Thanks to Sirinan’s respectful and inclusive approach, the festival participants find common ground, and the final collaborative showcase at the festival becomes a harmonious blend of varied traditions, reflecting the unity within diversity.
Sirinan’s commitment to fostering a collaborative spirit among the artisans becomes a living testament to the power of harmony in preserving and promoting Thailand’s rich cultural tapestry.
AFFECTION: Sirinan discovers the unique stories woven into the fabric of the artisans’ lives. As she spends time with each Thai weaver and designer, Sirinan goes beyond the surface of their craft to understand their personal journey as craftspeople.
The shared narratives become threads of affection, weaving an emotional tapestry that showcases the importance of human connection in preserving and promoting Thailand’s cultural heritage.
INDEPENDENCE: Sirinan faces a dilemma when a large Thai textile manufacturer approaches weavers during the event with an offer to mass produce their products.
Determined to preserve the authenticity of traditional Thai arts and crafts, Sirinan convinces attendees to form a cooperative of independent weavers and designers. This move allows them to maintain control over their artistic processes, pricing, and creative decisions.
LIGHT-HEARTED: Despite occasional challenges and disagreements, Sirinan and the artisans find joy in activities. The indigo-dying and weaving workshops with festival-goers are filled with shared laughter, mor lam music, Thai dancing, and joyful moments of creation.
This light-heartedness becomes an integral part of festival, fostering a positive and uplifting atmosphere.
AWAKENED: Sirinan’s exploration of traditional textiles leads her to a profound understanding of their cultural significance. She becomes awakened to the interconnectedness of Thai history, identity, and the art of weaving.
This newfound awareness fuels her determination to safeguard and promote these timeless traditions.
NATURAL: During the festival, Sirinan shows videos of Thailand’s silk farms, Indigo trees, and cotton farms, rekindling a sense of appreciation for the natural elements that contribute to the art of weaving.
This re-connection with nature reinforces the importance of sustainable practices among Thailand’s traditional textile community.
DEVOTION: We learn that Sirinan’s dedication to preserving traditional Thai textiles intertwines with her profound sense of family responsibility. It was on discovering that her aging grandmother (a talented Thai weaver with unique skills) had a terminal illness that Sirinan committed herself to organizing the “Threads of Siam” textile festival (at great financial cost) so that her grandmother’s weaving creations could be recognized by a nationwide audience.
Teachers, government officials, and independent creators in Thailand who would like further ideas on how to develop Thailand’s “soft power” or how to integrate “soft power” cultural values into creative Thai products, please contact us via our Contact Page.