Professor Thongchai Winichakul has had a significant influence on humanities and social sciences on a global level by raising the question on how the modern notion of nations and national citizenship creeped into people's hearts and took root from an Asian perspective. He pays particular attention to how maps have been made and used as visual materials. He believes that there is potential to improve the relationship between nations and their nationals because both concepts are artificial creations. He has made sincere efforts to use the results of his research and the insights gained to promote social reform. He has also contributed to connect universities with wider society and to create a better society for young people and children.
Prof. Thongchai was born in Bangkok, Thailand in 1957. He received his undergraduate education in Bangkok, and completed his graduate studies in Australia. After working as a lecturer at Thammasat University for three years from 1988, he moved to the History Department of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA and served as Assistant Professor (1991-95), Associate Professor (1995-2001) and Professor (2001-16). During this period, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He became President of the Association for Asian Studies (2013-14) and served on its Executive Board (2012-16). In 2015 he was Visiting Research Scholar at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University and Visiting Fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, Singapore. From 2017 to 2019, he was Senior Researcher at the Institute of Developing Economies (IDE-JETRO), Japan and contributed to international academic exchanges.
In 1975 when Thailand was engulfed in the turbulence following the Vietnam War, Prof. Thongchai led the students' movement at Thammasat University. In the evening of October 5, 1976, he was holding a meeting on the university campus in protest against the return of military dictatorship. The students were attacked by border patrol police and right-wing organizations, and nearly 50 of them were killed in the horrific atrocity known as Bloody Wednesday. Immediately after, the army carried out a coup d'état and Prof. Thongchai was arrested. After 2 years of imprisonment, he received a royal pardon and was released from prison. He returned to academia and went to Australia to study a post graduate course at the University of Sydney.
In 2003, he published a book based on his Ph.D. thesis, entitled Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-body of a Nation (2003). He made Thailand his case study and examined its history to show conclusively that such apparently self-explanatory concepts as nations and national citizenship are in fact arbitrary and man-made constructs produced by the making and widespread distribution of maps. The book made a great contribution to the study of nationalism beyond Southeast Asia, with Professor Benedict Anderson (a Fukuoka Asia Prize laureate) among its proponents, and it won the 16th Grand Prize for the Asia Pacific Book Award. In another book, Moments of Silence: The Unforgetting of the October 6, 1976, Massacre in Bangkok (2020), he sets out a new direction and a new set of possibilities for historical research by examining the 1976 tragedy through reconsidering his own experiences. The book won the EuroSEAS Humanities Book Prize in 2022 and the George McT. Kahin Prize in 2023.
In recent years, he has published eight sole-authored books in Thai that discuss the history, current status and future of Thailand's monarchy and democracy, nation state and rule of law. Through these publications, he has played a pivotal role to lead and support the development of political awareness and activism among Thai students and citizens. His commitment to the progress of democracy and civil society, along with the originality of his activities at international level in academia make him a role model for Asian intellectuals. For such a contribution, Prof. Thongchai Winichakul is truly worthy of Grand Prize of Fukuoka Prize.
Message upon Announcement of Laureates
It is hard to describe the feeling when I got the news of receiving the Fukuoka Prize…. overwhelmed, surprised and ecstatic!
I am truly honored by this award from people of Fukuoka.
I am very pleased that the Fukuoka committee and people of Fukuoka City recognize both my dedication to the historical studies of Thailand and Southeast Asia and my commitment to democracy and social justice in Thailand.
I believe that the pursuit of knowledge even the one that may seem irrelevant to real life and society on the one hand, and the advocacy for democracy and social justice on the other, are mutually contributive.