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Chulalongkorn (Rama V) (royal name: Phra Chula Chomklao Chaoyuhua; พระบาทสมเด็จพระจุลจอมเกล้าเจ้าอยู่หัว) (September 20, 1853 – October 23, 1910) was the fifth king of the Chakri dynasty of Thailand. He is regarded as one of the greatest kings of Siam, as he is also called by Thais as "The Great Beloved King".
King Chulalongkorn was born September 20, 1853, in Bangkok as the oldest son of King Mongkut (Rama IV) and Queen Debsirinda. His father gave him a broad education, including instruction from European tutors such as Anna Leonowens.
Chulalongkorn succeeded his father on October 1, 1868, but the chief minister Chao Praya Si Suriyawongse served as regent for four years, as Chulalongkorn was still too young to rule. During this time he traveled to neighbouring western colonies including Singapore, Java and India, to study western politics, administration, lifestyle and colonialism. Later during his reign he also visited Europe twice, in 1897 and 1907, which makes him the first Thai king to visit Europe.
On November 16, 1873, he was crowned for the second time. During his travels he had learned about many reforms needed to modernize his country. With the help of the Belgian Gustave Rolin-Jaequemyns he managed to keep his country independent even though both France and Britain were colonizing most of Southeast Asia and the former constantly aggressive towards and antagonistic in its relations to Siam. He did, however, have to cede some territory to these two powers, notably claims on parts of what are now Laos, Cambodia and some northern parts of Malaysia.
King Chulalongkorn modernized the government by introducing a cabinet system, and the semi-feudal provincial administration was changed into a modern administration with provinces (changwat) and districts (amphoe) as it still is today. He declared amnesty for all political prisoners, and also gradually abolished slavery. This liberation is often misunderstood but was intended to weaken the power of the Bunnag, a noble family that strictly controlled the Chakri dynasty at the time. In addition, the liberation was intended to weaken regional governors and centralize the country.
Thailand's first railroad was opened in his reign in 1896 from Bangkok to Ayutthaya. It was during his reign that the western calendar replaced the traditional lunar calendar. In 1896 the British diplomat Alfred Mitchell-Innes took up a three-year appointment as Financial Advisor to the King, who also introduced the modern system of banknotes to Siam. Chulalongkorn also declared religious freedom, allowing Christianity and Islam to be practiced in the Buddhist country.
It is a common misconception that Chulalongkorn made a 1909 decree during his reign which forced the large local Chinese population to effectively assimilate into mainstream Thai society and reduced racial tensions and violent crime. The decree required all permanent residents to adopt Thai surnames (see Thai Chinese). However, in fact the Surname Act was enacted by King Rama VI, his son, in 1913.
King Chulalongkorn had 4 queen consorts (พระมเหสี), Queen Saovabha Bhongsi, Queen Savang Vadhana, Queen Sunandha Kumariratana and Queen Sukumalmarsri. He had at least 77 children, of which 33 were sons, with the 4 queens and his royal common wives. His second son, Vajiravudh, succeeded him as Rama VI.
Chulalongkorn University, founded in 1917 as the first university in Thailand, was named in his honour.
In 1997 a memorial pavilion was raised in honor of King Chulalongkorn in Ragunda, Sweden. This was done to comemorate King Chulalongkorn's visit to Sweden in 1897 where he visited the World Fair. During the time when Swedish-Norwegian king Oscar II travelled to Norway for a council, Chulalongkorn went up north to study forestry. Beginning in Härnösand and travelling via Sollefteå and Ragunda he mounted a boat in the small village of Utanede in order to take him back through Sundsvall to Stockholm. His passage through Utanede left a mark on the village as one street was named after the king. The pavilion is erected right next to that road.
In 2003, the Thai baht 100-baht note was revised to depict King Chulalongkorn in navy uniform and, in the background, abolishing the slave tradition.