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A Critical Discourse Analysis of Thai-ness in Children’s Literature

Filed under : SOCIAL SCIENCE

“A Case Study of TK Park Books for Children in the Southernmost Provinces of Thailand”

A Critical Discourse Analysis of Thai-ness in Children’s Literature: A Case Study of TK Park Books for Children in the Southernmost Provinces of Thailand

Nattapol Zupasit

Graduate School of Language and Communication, National Institute of Develpoment and Administration (NIDA), 188 SeriThai Road, Klongcahn, Bangkapi, Bangkok, 10240, THAILAND

Tel: 0870507206

Fax: 02377-7892

Email: z_nattapol@yahoo.com; luvbebe_jolie@hotmail.com


            This paper aims to analyze the representations of Thai-ness and Malay Muslim identity in the children’s books published for the deep south of Thailand. Based on Fairclough’s CDA and van Dijk’s ideological square, the analysis reveals that there are discursive strategies of positive representation of Thai-ness (Us) and “the assimilation of Malay Muslim identity (Them) into the mainstream Thai culture” subtly enacted at both textual and visual levels. The strategies at textual level include: nominalization; the use of the Muslim voice to express the appreciation of Thai-ness; the use of the terms Thai, Thai Buddhist, and Thai Muslim which connotes unequal representation; the misrepresentation of the Muslim; and legitimization of Thai-ness as normalcy in disguise of reconciliation. The visual strategy includes the signification of the sense of inferiority and minority of the Muslims and their Islamic way of life displayed in the pictures of the books. 


Keywords: Thai-ness, Malay Muslim Identity, deep south, hegemony, children’s literature, Critical Discourse Analysis


            This study aims to analyze the representation of different cultural identities in the collection of children’s literature, especially published for the children in Yala province in the South. The collection is a part of the children’s literature project for its local branches in four main regions of the country initiated by Thailand Knowledge Park (TK Park). In general, the books are aimed as a tool to develop reading habits of children in Yala and other neighboring districts in the deep south. In specific, the books can be classified as multicultural children’s literature. They are intended to encourage those children to learn more about their own ‘unique’ local history and culture in order to promote a better understanding of cultural diversity, and develop a sense of harmony among three different ethnic groups; Muslims, Thai Buddhists, and Sino Thais, living together amid the current tension in the southernmost provinces of Thailand.

            Grounded on multiple causes, the tension in the deep south has its root as Islamist separatist insurgency which was active in the southern region of the country during 1940s to the late 1980s (Croissant, 2005, p. 21).  The current conflict has erupted since 2001, after decades of peace.  The new forms of present violence are also different from what they used to be.  Instead of focusing on the groups of people that symbolically represent the dominant power of central Thai cultural identity in the areas, the violence is now a potential threat to everyone regardless of their religious backgrounds (Ranee Hassarungsee et al., 2009), bringing the relationship between the Muslims and the Buddhists down at the lowest level ever, with feelings of distrust and alienation on both sides (Yusuf, 2009, p. 51).

            Given the current situation there, it is apparent that children’s books, designed especially for Yala children and published in 2007 by TK Park, are also aimed as a medium to help reduce conflict, create trust and bring back a united and multicultural environment into the regions. The books, then, should not be considered as a simple narrative, but a discourse articulated with specific intentions and ideologies, thus making them political in nature.

            It also should be noted here that TK Park, the publisher of this collection of children’s literature, is a public organization, the third type of state agency, aside from the government sector and state enterprise, which is subsidized and supervised by the central government.  This state agency was established in an attempt to transform Thailand into “knowledge based society” (TK Park, 2006).  The idea of TK Park was that of “a place of learning that is innovative, accessible, and conducive to creativity which is aimed to cultivate a love of reading and independent learning, coupled with the opportunity to participate in educational activities” and intended to take a major role in encouraging  Thais to read and to learn (ibid.).  As a library, TK Park, therefore, holds authority, credibility, and power to produce and reproduce a certain set of norms, values, attitudes, and ideologies in a form of knowledge and education.

            As a product of TK Park, it is possible that the books could serve as a political tool of the central Thai government to cultivate a certain perspective among the readers in the region. Their narratives might presuppose a certain set of knowledge, beliefs and ideologies which lead to the reproduction of ethnic prejudice, discrimination and racism in a subtle manner. It is in this sense that the books are worth studying. Here, the asymmetrical representations and relationships of the books about Thai-ness or Thai National identity and Malay Muslim identity will be focused on as the main scope of this paper.

Analytical Frameworks: Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) and van’s Dijk’s Ideological Square

            Children’s literature is a powerful medium through which children construct messages about their cultures and role in society (Hefflin and Barksdale-Ladd, 2001:810, cited Nair, 2009, p. 1).  Like all sorts of text, children’s books  represent a particular point of view, and hold certain assumptions, beliefs, and theories, just as readers carry assumptions, beliefs, and theories in their engagements with texts (Blumenreich and Siegel, 2006, p. 82).  As a result, children’s literatures are always employed ‘to intervene in the lives of children as society regards childhood as a crucial period for socializing an individual into accepting its norms and values’ (Stevens, 1992, p. 8). As a form of media discourse, children’s book is seen as a site of ideological struggle and, thus, is an interesting area to the study of discourse, ideology, society and power.

            Considering language as social practice, Critical Discourse Analysis (and henceforth CDA) is an interdisciplinary approach to the study of discourse or language in use, mediating between language, mind and society under critical perspective. CDA, then, emphasizes the role of language in the production and reproduction of social reality (Fairclough, 1992, 2003, cited in Kjær and Palsbro, 2008, p. 606). It primarily focuses on the relationships between discourse, power, dominance, and social inequality (van Dijk, 1993, p. 249, cited in Mayr, 2008, p. 8) which are enacted, produced, reproduced and challenged by text and talk in social and political context (van Dijk, 2003, p. 352). An important goal of CDA, then, is to uncover the implicit arguments and meanings in texts which tend to marginalize non-dominant groups, while justifying the values, beliefs, and ideologies of dominant-hegemonic groups in a given society (Ricento, 2003, p. 615). It is in this sense that CDA is best applicable for the purpose of this study in order to expose the hidden set of ideology expressed by means of textual and visual signs of these children’s literatures.

            CDA, however, is an elusive approach and is not a single or specific theory in itself (Wodak and Meyer, 2009, p. 5).  This explains why CDA is always multidisciplinary, requiring other systemic tools, approaches, and perspectives to complement its goal.  Apart from the general concept of CDA, the analysis of representation of different socio-cultural ‘identities’ in this study, then, will be drawn under van Dijk’s concept of ideological square (1998) which accounts for a polarization strategy between Us and Them, and explains the way in which ideology takes part in the representation of our ‘self’ or ‘identity’ in relation to the others’ by means of discourse.  As any worldview of a certain socio-cultural group towards the others always holds a certain level of biases into it, an ideological account of us and them dichotomy proposed by van Dijk will be employed in order to find out whether Thai-ness and Malay Muslim identity are positively or negatively represented in relation to each other. Combined with CDA, the concept of ideological square will be accountable for the exposition of the possible asymmetrical representation of Thai-ness and Malay Muslim identity in this context.

            Guided by Fairclough CDA (1989), the analysis in this study will be divided into two levels: the macro and micro analysis.  The macro analysis will look at the involved communicative events that contextualize the text.  Hence, the socio-cultural background of Thai-ness and Malay Muslim identity, together with the discursive practices of the books will be explored and described.  The micro analysis is the analysis of discourse of the books, encompassing both of textual and visual signs, in relation to the context involved.

Macro Analysis

Socio-cultural backgrounds

            Thailand has been regarded as a homogeneous-structured society, despite the fact that there are various degrees of ethno-cultural diversity embedded in such structure (Farouk, 1999, p. 210; Hayami, 2006, p. 283; Selway, 2007:, p. 53).  Ever since the age of modernism in the twentieth century, the trinity of Nation, Religion (Buddhism) and Kingship (Chakri Monarchy) has been perceived as an official discourse of the national identity of the country in the nation-building process of King Rama VI (Sulak, 2002, p. 35; Kobkua, 2008. pp. 163-164).  Such a process helps construct the standard meaning of Thai cultural identity.  However, the promotion of a certain cultural identity as a norm naturally subordinates, represses and ignores the differences of those who do not fit such standard.

            In fact, Thailand and its citizen are made of various groups of people with different ethno-religious backgrounds.  Though it is evident that the majority of Thai people are Buddhists, the situation is reversed for the three southernmost provinces of Thailand – Pattani, Yala, Naratiwat– since the Malay Muslims are predominant, constituting approximately 80 % of the population there (Thanet, 2007, p. 79).  The remaining groups are made up of Thai and Chinese Buddhists and a small number of Christians (Thailand, National Statistical office, 1982. cited in Sabur, 2005, p. 2).  The above statistics provides a clear evidence that the composition of Thai population is by no means homogenous, or made up only of Thai Buddhists as many may recognize.

            The Malay Muslims in the deep south have their own unique identity, compared to the Thai Buddhists and also the Muslims in the other regions of the country.  They see themselves as ‘orae nayu’ (Malay-Muslim) who ‘kecek nayu’ (speak local Malay), and consider themselves to be unlike the ‘orae siye’, or the ethnic Thai Buddhists who are the minority in the South (Yusuf, 2009, p. 45).  As the tree pillars of nation, religion (Buddhism) and monarchy are the important basis of Thai national identity, it can be said that the foundation of Malay Muslim identity, on the contrary, is based on the trinity of nayu (Malay race), baso (Malay language) and agama (Islam) (Yusuf, 2007, p. 4). 

            The attempt to ascribe Thai-ness as national identity had come to the climax when the Field Marshall Phibunsongkram launched an utral-nationalist program called ‘Ratthaniyom’ (Thanet, 2007, p. 36) during 1938-1944, enforcing various groups of minority cultures to assimilate into the mainstream Buddhist “Thai-ness” (Rahimmula, 2003, cited in Croissant, 2005, p. 30).  The Malay Muslims in the deep south, then, were severely affected the most by such attempt.   The mandates banned the use of Malay language in government offices, forced government employees to take Thai names, forbade men and women from wearing traditional Muslim Malay dress in public, and circumscribed almost every aspect of their daily life (International Crisis Group, 2005, p. 3).  The term ‘Thai Muslim’ or ‘Thai Islam’ also had been created as part of this government campaign to eradicate their Malay ethnic identity (Jory, 2007, cited in Marddent, 2007, p. 51).  The Muslims were forced to pay homage to Buddha’s image (Thanet, 2003, p. 19).  Some were forced to convert to Buddhists (ibid.).  This provoked the formation and growth of an Islamic political movement in three southernmost provinces. The violent clashes between insurgents and the security forces were the rule.

            The situation was relieved around the 1980s and 1990s since the strong assimilation policy was softened (Croissant, 2005, p. 25).  In this period, democracy was promoted as the forth pillars of Thai identity, alongside with the three pillars of nation, religion and monarchy (Bechstedt, 1991, p. 295; Nelson, 1994, p. 183, cited in Arghiros, 2001, p. 35). A number of provisions important for the South including the recognition of human rights, the decentralization of government and school administration, and a strengthening of the judiciary system have been addressed since the1997 ‘people’s constitution’ was promulgated (Melvin, 2007, p. 36).  The age of globalization in the1990s onwards is seen as a transformation of the nationalist Thai-ness into the more-open notion of socio-cultural pluralism (Kobkua, 2008, p. 168)

            Although the Thai state can ascribe some degree of religious freedom to the Muslims, it is apparent that the influence of the three pillars of Thai ethnics, religion and royalism is still retained as the basis of Thai national identity to the present day. Though the constitutions, new or old, state that every Thai people has freedom in worshipping or creed (Arong, 1989, cited in Darunee, 2008, p. 17), practically, it is widely believed that to be Thai is to be only Buddhist (ibid.).   Such beliefs results in the crisis of identity which may be partly seen as one of the major factors for a return of the ongoing intensified insurgencies in the deep south to date.


Data Description: Analysis of Discursive Practices and the General Characteristics of the Book.

            The collection of children’s literatures subjected in this study is made up of 12 volumes: six of them are published in a form of picture books, and another six in a form of chapter books.  The picture books are written for the children at the age 6-9 years old below, whereas the rest is composed for those at the age 9-12 years above.  The picture books are published and translated in two versions; Thai-Arabic, and Thai-English.  The chapter books are published in Thai only.  The overall analysis of this study, however, will be based on Thai language version.

Table 1 Summary of macro characteristics of the books

No. Title Author Illustrator  Theme Original Source
1 Charaw Keetaw (Our Story) Samran PetChai (B) Pratheep Suwanro (B) Local way of life, Unity, Reconciliation Newly invented
2 Muang Na Yu Ti Nu Rak (The city I love) Noppadon Tassawa (B) Pratheep Suwanro (B) Unity, Local way of life Newly invented
3 Kai Kong Musang (The chicken and the civet cat ) Noppadon Tassawa and Samran PetChai (B) Winai Sookwin (B) Local Story Adapted from the local folktales ‘Mea Kai Kab Musang’ (The hen and the civet cat) and ‘E Hen Na Ngo’ (Stupid civet cat)
4 Pawseadaw Kab Sama (Pawseadaw and Sama) Noppadon Tassawa and Boonsong Loisuwan (B) Winai Sookwin (B) Local Story. Unity, Reconciliation Adapted from the local folktale ‘PawSeadaw’
5 Kai Nui Kab Peah Noi Nai Wan Hari Rayo (Kai Nui and the baby goat in Hari Rayo Day) Nikholea Raden-ahmad (M) Nikholea Raden-ahmad (M) Islam, Local way of life, Unity, Reconciliation Newly invented
6 Sengor Choa Pah Pu Kla Han (Sengor: the brave lion) Sunan Sookkeaw (B) Chothiwat Wanametin (B) Unity, Reconciliation Newly invented
7 Sagai Sugee Boonlimteng (B) Winai Sookwin (B) Local way of life Newly invented
8 Prasawetsurakachatarn (The royal elephant) Pranee Thong-Dhammachat(B) Sookkhasem Charong (M) Nation, Buddhism and Brahmanism, Monarchy,Local History Newly invented, based on the story of royal elephant found inYala
9 Rayokhonea Pranee Thong-Dhammachat (B) Sookkhasem Charong (M) Local Story Adapted from the local folktale ‘Rayokhonea’
10 Jato: the board game Sunan Keawrat (B) Sookkhasem Charong (M) Local Culture, Local Story,Buddhism and Brahmanism Adapted from the local folktale ‘Tam Nan Jato’ (The legend of Jato) and ‘Rayo Siyong’
11 Wat Tam Kuhabhimuk (Kuhabhimuk, the Cave Temple) Sopon Preksawanich (B) Oad SriSamai (B) Buddhism and Brahmanism,Local History Newly invented, based on the history of the Buddhism in Yala
12 Dan Khon Tan (Gandharvas) Boonsong Loisuwan (B) Abdulrased Cheloh (M) Local Story, Buddhism and Brahmanism Newly invented, based on the local beliefs of Buddhism and Brahmanism of the Buddhists inYala
Note:M represents the writer or the illustrator who is identified as Muslim.B represents the writer or the illustrator who is identified as Buddhist.


Of all twelve volumes, there are four books that are adapted from the local Malay Muslim oral folktales: Kai Kong Musang, Pawseadaw Kab Sama, RayoKhonea and Jato: the board game.  The rest of them are newly invented based on the distinctive characteristics of Yala province in terms of people, places, natural resources, history, and also culture.  The brief analysis of their global semantics (titles) in relation to the stories inside reveals that most of books here are a mixture of different discourses embedded in the form of local stories.  It shows that this interdiscursive characteristic of the books is not only based on the story, history, culture, and religion of local Malay Muslims, but also intricately grounded on the basis of Nation, Buddhism, and Monarchy of Thai-ness as channeled through various forms of discursive features in these books.

In terms of authorship, it is interesting to note that, from all of the total of twelve books here, there are 7 writers who are Buddhists, in comparison to only one Muslim writer; and there are 4 Buddhist illustrators compared to 3 who are Muslims.  Such facts seem to not correspond to the fact that the books are aimed at Yala children who are made up of Muslims as the majority, and can be seen as a very first signification of asymmetrical representation, as focused on in this research.


Micro Analysis: Discourse Analysis and Interpretation

Methodology and Analytical Tools 

Framed under the general frameworks of CDA and van Dijk’s ideological square, the discourse analysis of this study will be divided into two main stages; textual and image analysis.  The textual analysis is mainly grounded on Halliday’s Systemic Functional Grammar (SFG). SFG focuses on the notion of “choice” in which language, or any other semiosis system, is constructed as “networks of interconnected options” (Halliday, 1985: xiv quoted in Erjavec, 2004: 568).  In view of this, any choice made over the other possibilities in a certain linguistic system always signifies a certain set of implication about intentions and ideologies attached with the language use in a certain context.  These choices can mainly be made through the system of lexis and grammar called lexicogrammar, one of the most important linguistic strata of SFG.

The textual analysis, then, will be divided into two subsections.  The first subsection looks at the way each main character is named and described in order to analyze their ‘constructed’ identity.  Then, any choice of lexis, especially nouns, pronouns and adjectives, made to refer, or attribute to these leading characters will be analyzed and interpreted.  Another subsection concerns with the representation of social actions, events, voice, and point of view as encoded in the stories.  Here, the language choices made of different parts of speech, including nouns, pronouns, adjectives, adverbs, and verbs, along with grammatical structures i.e. active or passive voice, used to form the narrative of the stories, will be considered whether they are employed to emphasize or deemphasize the positive representation of Us (Thai-ness) or the negative representation of Them (Malay Muslim Identity) in the books.

For the image analysis, the basic semiotics derived from Saussure (1974, 1996), Pierce (1931-1958), and Barthes (1967) will be applied.  The notion of sign, as composed of signifier (form) and signified (meaning), will be focused.  Any symbol, icon, or index encoded in the pictures will be read off if they are employed to represent the notion of Thai-ness or Malay Muslim Identity.  Here, the selected pictures will be analyzed and interpreted from their ‘denotation’ (literal meaning) as a starting point to their second level of meaning, or ‘connotation’ (the possible implications of the picture based on cultural knowledge and subjectivity).  In addition, the way in which each sign is connected and positioned will be interpreted based on the ‘compositional meaning’ from social semiotics or multimodal discourse analysis, pioneered, and revised by Kress, and van Leeuwen (2006).  Here, each elements in a picture will be interpreted whether they are made salient, centered, or marginalized in the frame, and thus might lead to the unveil of equal or unequal representation of each sign. 


Textual Analysis

Analysis of the main characters’ identities

            The analysis in this part is aimed to identify different naming and attributions ideologically invested in each character in order to reveal his/her constructed identity represented in the books.  Here, the three main characters of the story: PawChee, Muai, and Kai Nui, constructed as the representatives of each main ethnic group of the people in the deep south—namely, Thai Buddhist, Muslim, and Chinese will be mainly focused on. 

Table 2 Signification of the names of the main characters

Names Signification
Kai Nui A little boy with Southern Thai ethnic  background
Muai Young girl with Chinese ethnicity, Non-Thai
PawChee Muslim, Non-Thai


As can be seen, it is apparent that the way each main character is named here is mainly based on their ethnicity, age and gender. This contributes to the construction of their ‘identity’ in general. In this sense, the identity of Kai Nui is informed by his name.  The word ‘Kai’ indicates his male characteristic, whereas the word ‘Nui’ is from the southern Thai dialect, meaning ‘little’ or ‘young’ in central Thai.  In a similar vein, the name ‘Maui’ is derived from Chinese word which means ‘sister’, or ‘young lady’. The name ‘PawChee’ is derived from local Malayu language, meaning ‘uncle’ in Thai.  Though sound un-Thai, the name of the characters ‘Muai’ and ‘PawChee’ are intentionally constructed to esteem the expression of the Chinese and Malay identities rather than to exclude them as the Others.

From the analysis, it is also found that the three main characters, as representatives of Muslim, Chinese, and Thai Buddhist ethnic groups, are always represented in the positive sense.  PawChee is always described as a well-rounded, kind person.  Muai and Kai Nui are described as smart and inquisitive kids who love to speak out and have a kind of creative imagination.  Such positive representations of these characters are, however, by no means absent from certain intention and ideology.  Since the books are didactic by nature, it can be said that all of the description of the characters is, more or less, tied with what the writers want to cultivate their readers—the children in the deep south—to be, or to perceive as such. 

The way each character is addressed, described or qualified here not only creates their identity but also constructs the pattern of their relationship, power and status.  Considered from the hierarchical terms of kinship as reflected in the name of each character, it can be said that the character PawChee, literally translated as uncle, is ranked in a higher social position, compared to the other two characters.  His seniority coordinates with and is affirmed by his experiences, knowledge, and his well-rounded characteristic.  As can be seen throughout the books, PawChee is the character who always controls the flow of discourse and provides a didactic lesson to Maui and Kai Nui.  This is supported by the frequent use of verb ‘explain’ to narrate his actions.

The description of the character here also reflects the intention of the writers towards the relationship between two ethno-religious relationships, especially for the Thai Buddhists and the Muslims.  In the book titled Dan Khon Tan, PawChee, who is a Muslim, is described as a close friend of the Buddhist abbot of Lam PaYa temple.  The fact that the Muslim character is tied to have a close relationship with the master of Buddhism here is not a coincidence, but is discursively intended to promote a sense of harmony and reconciliation among the current conflict in the deep south.  This affirms the dialectic relationship between the social practice and the texts of CDA.  In this sense, it is apparent that the influence of social practice constraints and limits the representation of all the main ethnic characters in the texts to be shown in a positive way only.  The books are obviously a part of reconciliation policy for the current conflict in the deep south.

This is, however, not to suggest that there is no asymmetrical representation between Thai-ness and Malay Muslim identity found in the books.  According to the analysis, it is revealed that, though they are described in a positive way, the Muslim characters are always represented as Thai Muslims.  Though this seems to be minor, the use of the term ‘Thai Muslim’ has an interesting background since it is discursively constructed by the Thai state to force and assimilate those Malay Muslims in the south to be Thai.  The fact that there is no mention of the term Malay Muslim, which is seen as the right term to address those Muslims who belong to Malayu origins in the south, reflects and reaffirms the trace of hegemonic struggle of the Thai nation state in theses children’s literatures.  Denying the authentic identity of those Malay Muslims, and pretending as they are by nature Thai Muslim indirectly represent the asymmetrical representation of Thai-ness and Malay Muslim identity.  This also implies that the term Malay Muslim is not preferred and, thus, needed to be excluded out of the text.  The example below shows such implication.

(1) As I myself (PawChee) am Thai who practice Islam, so I am a Thai Muslim. Kai Nui and Muay practice Buddhism, so you guys are Thai Buddhists. Leaving our religions aside, all of us are Thais alike, do you get it? (Sopon, 2007, p. 16).

From the extract above, it is evident that PawChee describes himself as Thai Muslim, instead of Malay Muslim, whereas Muai and Kai Nui are described as Thai Buddhists in the same manner.  This suggests that the issue of races and ethnicities is completely suppressed under the banner of Thai.  Besides, the way in which Muai, though ethnic Chinese, is labeled as Thai Buddhist is significant since it implies that to become Thai, race is not an important factor as much as Buddhist religion.  In this sense, the idea of to be Thai is to be Buddhist remains and, in turn, imposes the sense of ‘difference’ and ‘otherness’ on the Muslims.  This shows that, though included as Thai Muslim, they will also be markedly represented as minority who are distinct from the majority Thai Buddhists and somehow are never fully accepted as Thai as determined by the dominant definition of Thai-ness.  

Next, the narratives of these children books will be investigated in order to ascertain if there is any more trace of ideological account of Us and Them dichotomy expressed in these children’s books. 

Analysis of the narrative: the representation of social actions, events, voice, and point of view

Due to the limited space available in this paper, only two chapter books: ‘Wat Tam Kuhabhimuk’ and ‘Dan Khon Tan’ will be selected as the example for this step of analysis.  Both revolve around the journey of the main characters: PawChee, Muai, and Kai Nui.  They are selected for this level of analysis since, from the titles and the contents inside; they do not only best represent unequal representation of Thai-ness and Malay Muslim identity quantitatively, but also feature various moves and strategies that depict a subtle form of Us and Them dichotomy by means of language use more than the other books.  Authored by Thai Buddhists, it is interesting to see the way in which the bias of Thai national ideology is recontextualized and asserted in the story plots.

Book Title: Wat Tam Kuhabhimuk

The book titled ‘Wat Tam Kuhabhimuk’ is the story about the history of ‘Wat Tam’ or ‘Cave Temple’, an important temple of Yala which features the ancient remains of Buddhist materials discovered in the province.  The history of the settlement of Yala and the neighboring district is also included in this book.           

The first extract selected in this step is a part of the conversation of the main characters.  Here, PawChee, the Muslim character, explains the history of Yala city under the revolution in Siam to Muai and Kai Nui.

(2) In the regime of King Rama V, there was an improvement on the local governing system by replacing the old one with Thesaphiban system into all the 7 districts i.e. Pattani, Nong Chik, Yaring, Sai Buri, Rangea, Raman and Yala…(Sopon, 2007, p. 84).

The extract here is the most apparent case for the legitimate strategy of Thai-ness.  It provides the history of southernmost provinces under Thesaphiban system introduced by King Rama V.  As can be noticed, the agent of the action in this passage, however, is left out and turned into circumstance instead.  The annexation, the term which is supposed to be the right term for the case, as conducted by King Rama V, is transformed or ‘nominalized’ into the noun ‘improvement’.  The word ‘improvement’ here can also be seen as a euphemism employed to project a positive sense of his actions, although it is in fact used to mitigate and legitimize the negative action of the Siam court in an intervention of the former Pattani Malayu dynasty.  Here, it is obvious that this bit of Yala history and its relationship with Siam is partially retold from the perspective of Thai-ness.  The struggle of the Muslims in reaction to such improvement is excluded. 

            The next extract is the following part of the previous conversation. PawChee, again, plays a crucial role in illustrating the history of the then Yala.  The opinions of the characters are asserted here.   

(3) Yala is a part of Pattani during 2002 to 2020 B.E. The Malacca troops seized Pahang, Trangganu, Kalantan, and Sai Buri which are the tributary state of the Thai Kingdom. This army destroyed the images of the Buddha, the evidence of Buddhism, and the other Brahman material disastrously. The Ayuddhaya cannot help to defend the troop since it was in the middle of the Shiang Mai war. At that time, Phra Ya Inthira, the ruler of Pattani converted to Islam to conform to the king of Malacca. Islam has been extended in Pattani since then. And Yala was a part of Pattani.

                This means Yala was intruded by Malacca troop, wasn’t it? Kai Nui asks

Yes, the Malacca troops completely destroyed all the image of Buddha, and the other ancient places. PawChee answers.

                 Does that include the image of Buddha in Silapa cave too? Kai Nui asks.

There is a high possibility to be so. PawChee says (Sopon, 2007, pp. 90-91).

As can be seen, the passage seems to emphasize the negative action of the Malacca army as the intruders through verbs ‘seized’ and ‘destroyed’.  In addition, the adverb ‘disastrously’ and ‘completely’ put in the passage also function as a modalizer which helps evaluate and amplify the actions of the Malacca soldiers here in a more negative light. The symbols of Thai national identity, i.e. images of Buddha and the Thai state, are represented as the victim of them, or the Malacca who were ‘Muslim’. The then governor of Pattani is also to blame here, since he converted himself to Islam and cannot resist the action of the Malacca troops. So, the Muslim and Islam are implicitly represented as the other who intruded into Thai territory, and also destroyed the national Buddhist treasures, which are the major discursive elements of Thai-ness.

The following extract still revolves around the historical settlement of Yala city.  What is interesting is the way in which different groups of social actor are represented in the text.

(4) In 2490, the governor that came to rule Yala is Thai. His name is Nai Muang. He is the son of Nia Pai. Nai Pai is the governor of Yaring. So, Nai Muang is ….

Yaring people. Kai Nui says.

You’re right. The Thai Buddhists had a closely-tied relationship with Nai Muang. They learned that Nai Muang was going to take post as the governor of Yala. So the Thai-Buddhist families decided to move here with him (Sopon, 2007, p. 10).

…Beside ten families of Thai people, there are a lot of Thai Muslims nearby Tam Temple as well. Some Thai Buddhists live at Ban Por Seng, four-five kilometers from Tam Temple (Sopon, 2007, p. 11).

As shown, it can be seen that the participants mentioned in the passages here are mainly classified by their races and religions i.e. Thai, Thai Buddhists, and Thai Muslims.  Literally, the passages seem to be neutral and unbiased.  However, it should be noted that there is an asymmetrical representation pragmatically hidden here through the use of the unmarked term ‘Thai’ which can be interchangeably referred to by the marked term ‘Thai Buddhists’ (Nai Muang and Thai people are all Thai Buddhists).  This strongly indicates that, to the mind of the author, to be Thai is to be only Buddhist.

On the contrary, it should be noted that the marked term ‘Thai-Muslim’, cannot be interchangeably entitled to be referred to as Thai in the same manner as Thai Buddhist can be.  The Muslim, then, can be seen as the outsider within, the marginalized, inferior class of citizen in Thai society in which the Thai Buddhists are original and superior.  Taking the social practice of Thai cultural hegemony into consideration, the word Thai Muslim here also represents the attempt of the Thai state to assimilate those Malay Muslims under the banner of ethnic Thai. (Throughout the books, the Muslim characters are referred to as Muslims, or Thai Muslims.  None of them is described as Nayu or Malay Muslim. In this sense, the authentic ethno-religious identity of the Malay Muslim is suppressed and excluded.)

The next extract is taken from the conversation between PawChee, who is Muslim, and Kai Nui, who is a Thai-Buddhist boy.  During the visit of Tam Mued (The Dark Cave) near Wat Tam, Kai Nui appears to wonder why the certain stalactite is called the Bell Rock.  PawChee provides an answer to him.

(5) Why do they call it ‘Hin Ra Kang’ (The Bell Rock)? 

It is non-self. It is just named to be distinguishable. Just like our names; Kai Nui, Muai or PawChee, all is non-self (Sopon, 2007, p. 47).

Here, it is interesting to see that the notion of ‘non-self’, which is obviously belonged to the discursive feature of Buddhist philosophy, is intentionally asserted and emphasized twice in the extract.  The explanation of the term is also absent of modal marker. This suggests the highest value of truth and certainty committed by this character regarding the notion of ‘non-self’.

In fact, it is obvious that this dialogue can be excluded from the story.  It is in this sense that such assertion can be seen as a subtle attempt to cultivate and perpetuate the idea of Buddhism.  More importantly, the way in which such idea is interdiscursively inserted through the voice of Muslim character himself also affirms his stance and identity as subjected under the superiority of Buddhism.  By this, the asymmetrical representation of Us and Them is subtly signified.

Book Title: Dan Khon Tan

‘Dan Khon Tan’ is a newly-invented book which talks about the fantasy adventure of the main characters in the wonderland of ‘gandharva’, a group of male nature spirits in Buddhism and Brahmanism.  The book is influenced much by ‘Petprauma’, the popular Thai novel of adventure written by ‘Panomtien’, and is also based on the local belief of the Buddhists there, along with the legend of Luang Por Krai, the late respected monk of Yala.

The following extract is taken from the opening scene of the book.  The narrator describes the picture of the Buddhist temple ceremony in which PawChee, the Muslim character, also attends.  Here, it is interesting to see the way in which the opinion of the writer is indirectly asserted in as it is of the characters.

(6) PawChee joins in the ceremony of the temple too. He is a friend of the current abbot of Lam Pa Ya temple. His Muslim being does not pose any limitation in associating with Thai Buddhists. PawChee is grown up with a lot of his Thai-Buddhist friends. So, his religion does not divide or prevent him from being Thai. Visiting temple, to him, is not something strange, but instead a good opportunity for him to meet his old friends who he hasn’t met for years. With such behavior, PawChee is loved by everyone in the village, especially those new generations who pay him a good respect (Boonsong, 2007, p. 9).

From the narrative, the plot seems to legitimize the action of PawChee, joining the Buddhist temple fair, as preferred. It argues through deontic modal markers that all the Muslims ‘can’ and ‘should’ visit the Buddhist temple since it is the opportunity for them, the Muslims, to socialize with the others in order to be included and accepted. However, it also can be seen that this should be the responsibility of those Muslims to push themselves in the mainstream community of Thai people for the sake of ‘reconciliation’. In order to maintain social relationship and restore peaceful condition, it is obviously not the job of our Thai people to make such an effort, but it is Their duty. By this, the asymmetrical representation of Us and Them is signified.

The last excerpt is taken from the scene in which the main characters are trapped by the illusion of the spirits in the jungle.  PawChee tries to protect himself and the kids from the mysterious bodies who are approaching them.

(7) PawChee sits cross-legged on the ground. He closes his eyes and mumbles for a while. Then he opens his eyes and looks around. Everyone is staring at PawChee and have no idea what he is doing. The village ahead still exists. But the team cannot approach it. The more they try; the village seems to be more distant. Muai, KaiNui and Kerd rest themselves under the big tree, and let PawChee cast his spell alone.  

The bodies come closer to the team. They step up on the line of the magical sand sprinkled around by PawChee (Boonsong, 2007, p. 80). 

As can be seen in the extract here, PawChee, the Muslim character, is narrated as he is casting some forms of magic. In fact, the use of magic can be seen as shirk or sinful in Islam, and thus strongly forbidden for the Muslims. The role ascribed to PawChee here is not only misrepresented as deviant to the norm and principle of Islam, but also inclined to conform to the beliefs in Animism, or  Brahmanism, and Buddhism of Thai-ness  (as informed by the keywords ‘sitting cross-legged’, ‘casting the spells’, and ‘magical sand’).  The passage, therefore, does not only reflect the insensitiveness of writer towards the authenticity of Islamic issue, but also can be seen as the misrepresentation of the Muslim identity in support of the mainstream Thai culture.

In sum, the textual analysis in this part reveals the clearer picture of unequal representation between the two ethno-cultural identities.  Here, the Malay Muslim identity is not only subjected to be shadowed behind the positive representation of Thai-ness, but also represented as they are assimilated into the mainstream Thai culture by various discursive strategies.  This includes: nominalization; the use of the Muslim voice to express the appreciation of Thai-ness; the use of the terms Thai, Thai Buddhist, and Thai Muslim which connotes asymmetrical representation; the misrepresentation of the Muslim; and legitimization of Thai-ness as normalcy in disguise of reconciliation.

As the meaning of discourse in CDA is not limited to linguistic signs alone, next, the illustrations of these children’s literatures will be analyzed and interpreted based on semiotic theories. This is to illustrate if there are any more hidden forms of unequal representation of Us and Them enacted in the visual discourse of the books.


Image Analysis      

According to the analysis, it is revealed that the discursive strategies of positive representation of Us and the negative representation of Them are not apparent in this visual level, compared to the narrative texts in the previous section of analysis.  This is partly because the pictures here are mostly composed of and encoded with iconic signs which are less abstract, and thus are not as easy to manipulate as linguistic signs.  At facial value, it can be said that most of the pictures in these books connote the sense of unity, reconciliation, and multiculturalism as they are intended to.

             As visual signs can also be seen as matter of choices in semiotic system made by the illustrators, the analysis shows that there are some of them that can be interpreted as a part of asymmetrical representation of Us and Them. Though the Muslims might be included and emphasized in the pictures, the sense of inferiority and minority can always be connoted form such representations.  The sense of inferiority of the Malay Muslim identity can be connoted when the discursive features of Buddhism and Chakri Monarchy are asserted in; whereas the sense of minority can be signified when they are relatively represented with Thais, or Buddhists included in the same picture.  Due to the limited space of this paper, only two pictures from the picture books will be selected and analyzed as follows. 


Figure 1 Cover of the book titled ‘Muang Na Yu Ti Nu Rak’


The first picture is taken from the cover of the picture book titled ‘Muang Na Yu Ti Nu Rak’.  As can be seen, the image includes the iconic signs which represent different ethnic groups of people. There are 4 Muslims, followed by a Chinese, a Sagai man, as identified by their clothes and other physical appearances. The rest are presumed to be ethnic Thai. In general, it can be said that the picture connotes a sense of harmony and multiculturalism among the different ethnic groups of people in Yala province, which is informed by their gestures, such as the way they are holding hands, talking to each other, and also their smiles.

But, conversely, the way in which the Muslims’ hands are led by the Thais and the Chinese might connote that they are inferior and bound to be led by the others. It also should be noted that there is a relatively smaller number of Muslims included in this picture than those of the Buddhists. The city gate is also the most salient essence of the picture connoting that this is a Yala city, but a part of Thailand under the protection of the Thai monarchy, as symbolized by the picture of two war elephants beside the gate. So it is in this sense that the sense of inferiority and minority of the Muslims is signified.   



Figure 2 Muai salutes ‘Sawassdee’ to Pawchee

The second picture is taken from the story book titled ‘Kai Nui Kab Peah Noi Nai Wan Hari Rayo’ which is written and illustrated by Muslim author.  The book is authored and intended to promote a better understanding of Islam and Muslims’ way of life through the Hari Rayo Day.  It narrates the scene in which Muai and Kai Nui stopped by at PawChee place.  As can be seen, the image is composed of three main actions framed in different positions on the page; Muai is saluting Sawasdee to PawChee, Kai Nui is chasing for the baby goat, and the mother goat is stealing the bananas from the motorbike basket respectively.  Here, the first action is foregrounded and represented as the main action of the picture since it is the most salient one, indicated by the size of it.

Sawasdee, however, can be seen as a signification of Thai-ness.  The symbol is a part of Buddhist practice, but has been reinvented and employed as a code of greeting since Phibun ultra-nationalism period.  In this sense, it can be interpreted that Muai, though a Chinese ethnic, has already been cultivated and assimilated as Thai.  The way in which PawChee is subjected to Muai action is obviously a choice of selection which connotes the same interpretation here.  It also should be noted that, in fact, when approaching the Muslims in the deep south, it is more appropriate for the Thai Buddhists, who are the minority there, to say ‘Salaam’ to the Muslims in order to show their respect instead of Sawasdee.  The picture, then, can be seen as an attempt to favor and cultivate the mainstream Thai-ness to the readers.  By asserting ‘Sawasdee’ as the main action here, it is unavoidable to interpret that the author of this book has emphasized and accepted this signification of Buddhism and Thai-ness as a norm of the people there.


This study is an interdisciplinary effort which provides a political and critical investigation into the power of language used in TK Park children’s literature as an educational media text. The analysis shows that though the books are intended to promote the notion of cultural diversity and mutual acceptance, they indirectly create  asymmetrical representations by favoring Thai-ness as superior to Islamic and Malay Muslim identity. This, in turn, leads to a subtle form of discrimination and racism against the Malay Muslim minority under the cover of multicultural and reconciliatory discourse. 




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