The battle of symbols in Thailand

With plaques and lit mobile phones, protesters are challenging the monarchy's legitimacy by co-opting its traditional symbols

A protester holding up an image of a pro-democracy commemorative plaque at a rally in Bangkok in September. Official propaganda has long portrayed the mandate of Thailand's kings as divine. Now protesters are appropriating symbolism connected with ro
A protester holding up an image of a pro-democracy commemorative plaque at a rally in Bangkok in September. Official propaganda has long portrayed the mandate of Thailand's kings as divine. Now protesters are appropriating symbolism connected with royalty to crown themselves the country's rightful sovereigns, says the writer. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
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Last Thursday, a transgender protester wearing the traditional garb of a queen strutted down a red carpet in a street of central Bangkok. Another protester dressed like a court page - with sneakers - followed her, holding a red umbrella aloft in the style of a royal parasol. A crowd sat on the ground, prostrate, eyes cast down, as is required in the presence of royalty.

For centuries, the kings and queens of Thailand have walked under parasols that are colour-coded astrologically. Every planet is associated with both a colour and a day of the week, and Thai royals have parasols in the colour that represents the day on which they were born.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 05, 2020, with the headline The battle of symbols in Thailand. Subscribe