As you already know, China is a big country. It has immense political power and influences over many regions, like Hong Kong, Taiwan, and other small islands in east Asia. So, it is natural for some of you to ask, “is Thailand a part of China?”
The Kingdom of Thailand is by no means a part of China. Thailand has its sovereignty, territory, constitution, and leaders. However, the two nations have an intimate relationship. While China heavily influences Thai economics, tourism, and culture, Thai people consider the Chinese their siblings.
The story between Thailand and China goes way back. The two countries have been supporting each other for hundreds of years throughout history — and that relationship doesn’t seem to end any time soon.
Read on and dive deep into the intimacy between Thailand and China.
Is Thailand in China?
Believe it or not, many foreigners believe Thailand is a province in China. And that is not true at all.
Thailand is a Kingdom located in Southeast Asia. It has a territory of 513,120 square kilometers, 77 provinces, an estimated population of 70 million (as of 2022), and a capital city called Bangkok. The country shares borders with Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, and Malaysia. (Source)
Unlike Taiwan or Hong Kong, Thailand is not directly influenced by Chinese laws and politics. The Kingdom has its own constitution and leaders. Currently, Thailand is under the rule of its 20th constitution with the lead of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and King Maha Vajiralongkorn (Rama X). (Source)
Culturally, Thailand also has its own language — both in spoken and written form. Like the English language, Thai uses the alphabet system. There are 79 alphabets in the Thai language: 44 consonants, 21 vowels, 4 tonal indicators, and 10 numbers.
As you can see, none of these has anything to do with China.
However, that doesn’t mean Thailand has nothing to do with China. The two countries have a deeper bond than you might expect.
Is Thai Related to Chinese?
There are 3 famous theories suggesting Thai people have come from China.
Theory 1: Thai people are from Sichuan
This theory is proposed by Albert Terrien de Lacouperie, a professor at London University. In 1885, he published the Cradle of the Shan Race. He analyzed the Chinese dialects compared to the languages in Southeast Asian countries.
In his writing, he concluded that the Thai ancestor had been in Sichuan in southwestern China even before the Chinese. This statement is backed by the geographic survey in the Chinese archive.
Theory 2: Thai people are from Altai Mountain
In 1909, an American missionary named William Clifton Dodd proposed this theory. He suggested this idea in his book, The Tai Race: The Elder Brother of the Chinese.
Altai (or Altay) is a massive mountain range where Russia, China, Mongolia, and Kazakhstan converge. Dodd’s idea points out that The Tai race lived in this area. They inherited Mongolian blood and predated the Chinese and Hebrew civilizations.
The theory shook the historian’s circle back when it was published. Thai people had believed in this theory for a long time. Nowadays, with its weak evidence, nobody talks about it anymore.
Theory 3: Thai people are from southern China and nearby regions
Geographically, this theory might look the simplest for the non-scholars. Archibald R. Colquhoun, a British explorer, proposed this theory in 1885 after his travel from Guangdong in China to Mandalay in Myanmar.
Throughout his Journey, he claimed that he met Thai people of Thai ethnicity inhabiting these areas. Hence the origin of the Thai theory.
That said, no one can guarantee you where the Thai is actually from. There are 2 other theories suggesting the Tai race is from somewhere other than China. One claims they were here all along, while the other says they came from Malaysia. (Source)
Nevertheless, it is safe to say that Thai people have a deep bond with the Chinese. So, it is understandable that some people might mistake Thailand for a province in China.
What Is the Relationship Between China and Thailand?
Generally, you can say that Thailand and China have a sibling-like relationship. The two countries have acknowledged each other for hundreds of years. And this bond seems to continue for a long time.
The Origin of the Thai-Chinese Relationship
It is unclear when Thailand first made contact with China. However, the earliest evidence shows that they had already known each other since the Kingdom of Sukhothai (1238 – 1438). This should come as no surprise for any Thailand fanatics. Since Sukhothai is the first Kingdom in classic Thai history, most Thai “first times” happened here.
There were many efforts from China to contact Sukhothai. They tried to send diplomats to the southeast Asian Kingdom multiple times. However, these diplomats failed because of the harsh road and forces from opposing nations. The first successful contact between the two happened when King Ramkhamhaeng sent his diplomats to China.
China tried to reach Sukhothai because they wanted to spread the influence of their emperor, Kublai Khan. On the other hand, Sukhothai contacted China to gain support against neighboring powers.
Since then, the two kept in touch and established trade routes — land and sea. And when Sukhothai lost its power, China continued to nurture this relationship with the Ayutthaya Kingdom (1351–1767). (Source)
Current Thailand-China Relations
Despite a long history together, the “alliance” between Thailand and China hasn’t changed much. The two countries have never had any major conflict to the point of war. Not even a battle.
The only friction between the two is arguably the trade profit issues. But that had never escalated into anything consequential. So overall, you can say that they are good friends.
You can almost say that China is Thailand’s trade lifeline.
In 2019, China ranked 1st as a trade partner of Thailand — number 1 in imports and number 2 in export. As you already know, the Chinese market is massive in Asia. It is only natural that Thailand depends on trading with China for both imports and exports.
During the same year, Thailand ranked 13th as China’s trade partner — number 13 in imports and number 17 in export. (Source)
You might notice a sizable unbalance between the two rankings. But you need to understand that Thailand is a small developing country. Their trade value cannot compete with other giants trading with a global power like China.
As you know, Thailand’s economy relies heavily on tourists. Before COVID-19, Thailand saw approximately 30 million tourists annually (Source).
China only allows its people to travel outside the country under government surveillance. And Thailand was among the first countries the Chinese government allowed people to travel to. They even built the China National Tourism Office: CNTO in Bangkok in 2017.
In 2019, 10.98 million Chinese tourists came to Thailand. They made up more than 28% of all foreign tourists, ranking 1st on the Thai Tourism list. (Source)READ MORE ▸ What Country Visits Thailand the Most?
When it comes to culture, Thailand mostly plays the receiver role.
Since more than 10% of the Thai population — around 7 million people — are of Chinese descent, it is no surprise that you can see Chineseness in Thailand. From Chinese temples and Chinese restaurants to Chinese dance schools. You name it. (Source)
There are also hundreds of Chinese-Thai cultural exchange programs. These initiatives are held by both government organizations and the private sectors from both sides. (Source)
Examples of Chinese Influences in Thailand
Like many countries, Thailand has Chinese communities scattered all over the nation.
The one you should have heard of is Yaowarat. It is arguably the biggest and the most famous Chinese community in Thailand. Located in Bangkok, this district is bustling with food shops and restaurants of old Chinese families. Some buildings here are more than 200 years old.
Because Thailand was one of the more famous Southeast Asian sea trade sites, many Chinese merchants decided to settle here. As a result, these Chinese communities popped up all over the place. Not to mention the war and political refugees from mainland China in the old days.
Chinese New Year:
Thailand is one of those countries celebrating the Lunar New Year. The locals prefer to call it Chinese New Year since it is related to the Chinese farming season.
Despite the Chinese being the minority, Chinese New Year is a big deal. When January approaches its end, you can notice the Chinese vibe within everything in the country. Stores decorations, televisions ads, street banners, and even radio broadcasts. Everything shifts its focus to the upcoming Chinese New Year.
The celebration itself is divided into three days. Each day has different rituals and practices to be performed. It is a wild sight, and you should see it with your own eyes.READ MORE ▸ Does Thailand Celebrate Lunar New Year?
As discussed, there are millions of Chinese descent in Thailand. So, it’s no surprise they own more than a few big companies in the country. One of the most prominent “Chinese” corporations you should know about is the Charoen Pokphand Group or CP Group.
The CP group came from the agriculture industry. Nowadays, you can almost say that they are trying to monopolize many parts of Thai economics. Their power and influence in the country are basically limitless. And here are some examples.
If you have been to Thailand, you cannot miss the many Seven-Elevens around the country. You see them on almost every street. And all these Seven-Elevens are owned by the CP group. They recently took over the Tesco Lotus in Thailand, expanding their influence over the country’s retail sector. (Source)
Now that you understand the serious side of the Thai-China relationship, you might want to look at something more light-hearted. Keep reading to explore the fun side of these two countries.
3 Thai-Chinese Fun Facts
1. Chinese Thai people refer to their relatives with Chinese terms
Normally, Thai people call their father “พ่อ” (pronounced like “pore” without the /r/). The Chinese-Thai, however, call their father “เตี่ย” (read like “tear” without the /r/), which is a Chinese term. (Source)
This difference occurs with every member of the family. The Chinese-Thai refuse to address their relatives with Thai terms and stick with the Chinese terms to this day. The reason is quite unclear. But you can already feel the Chinese exclusivity from this action alone.
2. Many Thai can speak Chinese
Even though the Chinese language has nothing to do with Thai daily life, many younger Thais still decide to study Chinese (Mandarin).
As mentioned, many big companies in Thailand are owned by the Chinese. These companies often offer better payment to those who can speak their language. As a result, many Thais speak Chinese better than English.
A 2015 article claims that there were 850,000 Thai who studied Chinese. And the number is growing each year. (Source)
3. Even Thai people see Thailand as a part of China
This is a joke among the younger generations.
With many economic policies favoring Chinese investors, smaller investors in Thailand are salty towards the Chinese. But no matter what the locals do, the government doesn’t seem to care. It almost feels like the Thai government is trying to lick the Chinese’s boots.
With this unfairness and the Thai’s love for dark-sarcastic humor, younger Thais begin to call Thailand “Tai Gua” province. It means “Thai people” in Chinese.
At this point, the misunderstanding that Thailand is a part of China should be cleared in your head. However, there might be other misunderstandings about Thailand that still stick. And it is time you clear them out as well.
3 Misunderstandings People Actually Believe About Thailand
1. Thailand is Taiwan
This is arguably the most infamous misunderstanding among the three. Even though there are many similarities between the two countries, you must remember, “Thailand is not Taiwan.”
Since the names are similar, this mistake is understandable. But still, it is okay to refer to a Thai person in your neighborhood as “the Taiwan guy.”
2. Thai people ride elephants to work
This one is quite offensive. When the Thai hear this statement, they usually furrow their brows and say “what?” in bafflement. Thailand has cars, motorcycles, buses, and trains. People drive and ride those to work — just like the west.
If you study Thai history, you will know that elephants are the Thai national animal. Some Thai consider them sacred animals and don’t want you to mess around. (Source)
3. Thai people use chopsticks all the time
When eating food, Thai people prefer “fork and spoon.” Unlike Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, they rarely use chopsticks for meals. The only time they use them is when they eat noodles.READ MORE ▸ Do Thai People Use Chopsticks?
Thailand and China: The Unbreakable Bond
Even though “Thailand is a part of China” is a misunderstanding, you cannot deny the intimate relationship between the two. And in a way, it makes sense to think like that.
After all, Thailand receives many cultural practices from China. Its economics also relies heavily on the Chinese market. And their history can be traced back more than 500 years ago.
Like always, if you want to learn more about Thailand, stay with ThaiGuider. You might discover something you never knew about this unique country.READ MORE ▸ Is Thailand a Communist Country?