Timeline of World History: Year by Year from Prehistory to Present Day





The Modern Era

1789 - 1914



Southeast Asia

UNTIL 1914


Apart from Siam—present-day 1 Thailand—nearly all of Southeast Asia came under the colonial rule of European powers during the 19th and early 20th centuries. In addition to the British, who had been expanding their Indian empire eastward by annexing ever more colonial territory to it, Holland— with control of Indonesia—and France were the most significant colonial powers in Southeast Asia. Trapped between British-occupied Burma and French-ruled Indochina, Siam was able to escape colonization only through the wise politics of kings Mongkut and Chulalongkorn. These kings opened up the country to Western notions of modernization and industrialization.

Guard figure at the Wat Phra Kaeo (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) in
Bangkok, 19th century


The French and British Conquest of Southeast Asia

Indochina and Burma fell victim to the expansionist ambitions of France and Great Britain.


In 1802 the French ended the local power struggles in Vietnam by helping Nguyen Anh defeat the ruling Tay Son dynasty. Nguyen centralized administration, following the Chinese model, and significantly expanded his dominion. He claimed the title of Emperor from 1806 on and made efforts to win landowners over to his side against the rebelling peasants, but his successor Minh Mang was no longer able to prevent the uprisings.

The 3 persecution of Christian missionaries under Minh offered the French and the Spanish the opportunity to attack Vietnam.

The Spanish withdrew, but the French commander stayed on, governing with the help of his officers, and thus established the beginning of the French empire in the Far East.

By 1867 they had conquered Cochin China, the southern part of Vietnam; Annam and 2 Tonkin, the middle and northern parts of Vietnam, became 4 protectorates in 1883-1884.

3 Execution of the French
missionary Pierre Bone, 1838

2 French-Chinese war over the province of Tonkin,
the Battle of Nam Dinh, 1883, contemporary lithograph

4 Establishing the French protectorate
over Annam, 1883

In the first half of the 19th century, Cambodia was besieged by Siam and Vietnam. In 1845, the two powers finally agreed on joint administration of the old Khmer Empire.

On the request of the Khmer king Norodom, the French—primarily interested in rice and rubber—established a 5 protectorate.

They supported the monarchy and acted as its advisors. A national administrative elite was trained and the infrastructure of the country was modernized.

The 6 "Union of Indochina," combining Vietnam and Cambodia, was the largest French colonial possession apart from its African territories.

Meanwhile, Burma—now known as Myanmar—came into Britain's range of vision. When the Burmese occupied large parts of Siam, the East India Company used the opportunity for an expansion of its sphere of influence. In the First Anglo-Burmese War in 1824, which began with the conquest of the capital Rangoon, the British made only small territorial gains. In the Second Anglo-Burmese War, Great Britain was able to annex the south with its fertile rice plains and as a result of this became the most important Asian exporter of rice. After the Third Anglo-Burmese War in 1885, all of Burma was a British colonial territory.

5 Cambodia as French protectorate,
painting, 1885

6 Captives of the French in Indochina




Modernization and Independence in Siam

Kings Mongkut and Chulalongkorn opened Siam up to Western influences, and in this way the country was able to avoid colonization.


The ruling dynasty of Siam, the 8 Chakri, was confronted with the expansion designs of the British.

8 Chakri Maha Prasat (Grand Palace) in
Bangkok built under Rama V

Therefore, in 1826, Siam entered into a trade agreement that increased the position of power of the British—whose merchants had been present since the early 17th century—but prevented total colonization. This strategy remained that of future Siamese kings: making concessions to Western modernization ideas to the point where they could use their advantages and simultaneously defend against the occupation of their country. With Vietnam coming under French rule, Siam was threatened by both the French in the east and the British in Burma. Having little choice, the Siamese king Mongkut (Rama IV) made the Bowring Treaty with Britain in 1855, which granted concessions such as a British consulate in Bangkok and gave the British advantages along the lines of the "unequal treaties" of the Europeans with China. Mongkut, a former monk who had unearthed the records of King Rama Kamheng of the 13th century that are important for Thailand's identity, had intensively investigated the European world of ideas. After his accession to power in 1851, he gave up the previous policy of isolation. Advised by Europeans, he improved the infrastructure of the country with new streets and canals, modernized agriculture, and created a military after the European example.

Mongkut's son 7 Chulalongkorn (Rama V) continued his father's direction during his long 9 reign from 1868 to 1910.

7 Chulalongkorn (Rama V), King of Siam

9 Visit of Chulalongkorn (Rama V), King of Siam,
to Otto von Bismarck in Friedrichsruh, 1898

The administration was reformed and organized along more strictly centralized lines, and a modern justice system, based on the ideas of a European constitutional state and respect for human rights, was implemented. Chulalongkorn did away with slavery. Hospitals were constructed, the postal system built up, road works continued, and the construction of a railway network begun. Franco-British negotiations concerning the frontiers of their colonies with Siam took place in 1895.

In the course of the creation of French Indochina, 10 Siam lost Laos and regions in Cambodia and Siam itself. But the Siamese heartland was preserved from colonization and kept its independence.

10 French gunboats make the claim to Laos in Siam,
contemporary newspaper




Rama V, better known as Chulalongkorn, was crowned king of Siam in 1868. He shared the opinion of his father, King Mongkut, that his country had to modernize following European models. As the first Siamese king since Rama Kamheng to leave his country, Chulalongkorn traveled to India, Burma, Java, and Singapore in 1871 and visited Europe in 1907.

He was able to fend off many attempted coups, but as a result was only able to carry out cautious reforms. The "Beloved Great King, "as the Thai people called him, died on October 23, 1910; October 23 is now honored as a Thai national holiday.

Funeral procession for the Siamese king Chulalongkorn