Khunying

Why is that in Thailand today, women can be awarded title as “Khunying,” but there doesn’t seem to be an equivalent “Khunchai” title that gets awarded to men? Reverse sexism?

Khunying and Thanphuying are titles awarded by the King of Thailand to women who have somehow contributed to society, like the Queen of England knighting someone as “Sir” or “Dame.” So Khunying is like a “Dame”, but there’s no Khunchai analogous to “Sir.” The forensics expert Dr. Porntip Rojanasunan is a Khunying (I think she was awarded the title waay before the tsunami). The wife of Prime Minister Thaksin is likewise a Khunying, but there’s lots of wives of rich/influential men who are made Khunying.

Thailand had/has two parallel systems of aristocracy: One was for royalty, the descendants of kings, to differentiate between the descendants from a queen vs. a consort vs. a concubine of a king. This system also differentiated between the number of generations removed a nobleman/woman was from his/her kingly ancestor, i.e. the grandson of a king usually outranked a great-great-grandson of a king. Up to 100 years ago, the kings practiced polygamy in a big way, which constantly replenished the pool of royal aristocrats; today, of course, they are much fewer in number.

The other ‘aristocracy’ was a merit-based system of titles for civil servants (only for men, I think). This allowed commoners to work their way up the food chain, and was open to both Thai and foreigners. In fact “Chao Phraya,” the name of the river that runs through Bangkok, is also the highest title one could achieve in the merit-based system. This merit-based system of titles was eliminated when absolute monarchy was eliminated, except for the Khunying title.

I wonder how this all came about?

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One thought on “Khunying

  1. I know of/have met a couple of “khun chais,” but I think that these two had that title because of their aristocratic title of mom rachawongse. My problem is that the title of Khunying seems so often to be given as a reward to their powerful husbands. I know that there are people doing admirable work in all parts of Thailand. However, because their husbands aren’t big shot industrialists, they’ll never, ever get a whiff of the Khunying title. In short, some of the awards are just too political in my view. Perhaps someday we’ll indeed have the merit-based title of khun chai to reward the husbands of powerful women.

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