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New Left Review 43, January-February 2007

Duncan McCargo on Paul Handley, The King Never Smiles. Taboo-breaking biography of the world’s longest-serving monarch, Thailand’s Bhumibol Adulyadej. Is the throne’s mystique, carefully reconsolidated in the 20th century, now threatened by the lottery of primogeniture?



Royalty from twenty-five nations gathered in Bangkok in June 2006 to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the reign of King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The festivities culminated in a magnificent river ceremony on 9 June, when fifty-two traditional wooden barges, their bows bearing gilded figures of deities and mythical beasts, manned by over two thousand oarsmen, coursed along the capital’s Chao Phraya River. Crowds up to a million strong, most of them wearing yellow—Thais colour-code the days of the week; the King was born on a Monday—lined the riverbanks. Many sported special commemorative wristbands with the slogan ‘We love the King’ in both Thai and English. The world’s longest reigning monarch, draped in a shimmering golden robe, was greeted by a twenty-one-gun salute, fireworks, banners and festive music. It was an image of perfect royal harmony; the Thai genius for hospitality and display had captured global media attention, while the King himself was not only loved by all but profoundly respected for his shining virtue, wisdom, sincerity and personal modesty.

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Duncan McCargo, ‘A Hollow Crown’, NLR 43: £3

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