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A History of Love: Three Thai Literary Classics and Their Meanings Today

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In 2017, Thai scholar and writer, Prof. Pasuk Phongpaichit and author Dr Chris Baker were awarded the prestigious Fukuoka Prize (Grand Prize category) for “the prominence of their joint research and their great social contribution as eminent intellectuals in Thailand.” As this was the first time the prize had been won by a couple and they were commended for their ability to cooperate across the boundaries of gender, nationality and academic discipline; they decided to deliver their Grand Prize public lecture on a theme of love.

For their first appearance at Asia House and first London appearance since winning the prize, they will look at the treatment of love in three Thai literary classics from an ancient jataka tale Sudhana-Manohara, to a courtly tragedy Phra Lo, and one of the most famous works of old Thai literature; folk epic Khun Chang Khun Phaen (pictured above) – spread over several centuries. The presentation will include readings from their first-ever translations of all three classics, illustrated with artworks and dance inspired by each of the text.

While the stories of young love are similar across the three Thai classics, they will reflect in different ways on wider meanings of love in human society – as part of the difficult business of learning to live together in families, in society and in the world. The authors propose that there has been a “history of love,” which may have been similar everywhere. The final section of the talk examines the fate of these same values in recent history and in the present day.

About the speakers: Pasuk Phongpaichit and Chris Baker met at Cambridge in the late 1970s and have lived in Thailand ever since. Pasuk is an economist, Chris a historian. Together they have written widely on Thailand’s history, economy, politics and literature; have translated histories and literary classics and contribute regularly to the press and public debate. Together they have written, translated and edited many books including Yuan Phai, the Defeat of Lanna: A Fifteenth-Century Thai Military EpicThe Tale of Khun Chang Khun PhaenThaksin and Thai Capital after the 1997 Crisis and The Thai Village Economy in the Past.Their recent publications include A History of Ayutthaya: Siam in the Early Modern World; Unequal Thailand: Aspects of Income, Wealth and Power; and Yuan Phai, the Defeat of Lanna: A Fifteenth-Century Thai Epic Poem.

About the Fukuoka Prize: As Japan’s cultural gateway, Fukuoka City has, since antiquity, played a significant role in promoting exchanges with other regions of Asia. This history and a determination to promote and understand the distinctive cultures of Asia and to further peace inspired the inauguration of the Fukuoka Prize (formerly known as the Fukuoka Asian Culture Prize) in 1990 through collaboration between academia, businesses, and the city authorities. The Fukuoka Prize will continue to be a means of showing respect to those who have made outstanding contributions to academia, arts, and culture in Asia.

Above Image:  Mural from Khun Chang Khun Phaen by Muangsing Janchai, courtesy of the speakers themselves

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May 23, 2018
18:45 - 21:00
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Asia House


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