It is a very strange occurrence in the calling of genuine democracy in Thailand, which was full of peaceful, nonviolent and weaponless acts in the past. It is said that whenever Ngew Thammasart or political Chinese opera appeared, the government at that time would not have stability and so, in the end, the prime minister resigned or dissolved the parliament. Ngew Thammasart acts like a living cultural weapon.
In 1957, the Ngew Thammasart group was founded when Thailand was governed by an autocratic government. A year later, the rights and freedom of the people and journalists and students, as well, were suppressed. Their political comments were restricted, so they organized art and drama clubs to express their ideas about students' rights and people's rights in general. Law students and alumni of Thammasart University were gathered and led by Chuan Leekpai, the former prime minister of Thailand.
For Ngew Thammasart in the past, Chuan Leekpai adapted the story from the Chinese epic novel “Romance of the Three Kingdoms." The writer graphically exposed how officials used too much power for their own benefit. In Thailand, Ngew Thammasat was famous because of its satirical interpretation of social and political situations at that time. But its absurd humor faded away from the memory of Thai people for a very long time. Ironically, some performers and writers, who claimed to hate bad politicians, gave up their ideals and become greedy politicians themselves.
Ngew Thammasart is a reflection of Thai politics with amusing and clever satirical performances. Highly mobile, the stage and performance may be moved anywhere that a public demonstration takes place.
Political crises arise, and prime ministers and their cabinets are expelled, as has happened in recent days. Because sometimes it is difficult and dangerous to criticize politicians directly, performances like Ngew Thammasart provide a means to deliver the criticism that is necessary. The background is derived from old Chinese novels which clearly illustrate honesty and patriotism—the bad guys are mostly corrupt politicians and nobles who wrongly influence the emperor of China with lies for their own, and the good guys are mostly peasants or lower government officials with less power. These dramatic plots are timeless and never outdated because, one thing is certain, history repeats itself.
Today, sadly, political corruption is even more clever and complex. It is often too difficult to unmask it without using violence. Many innocent people suffer as a result. At least with performances like Ngew Thammasart, there is a way, with humor, biting as it is, to give people an opportunity to say what they mean and mean what they say.