Thai economist Pasuk Phongpaichit and her husband British historian Chris Baker on Thursday received the Grand Prize of the 2017 Fukuoka Prize, an award established by the City of Fukuoka to foster and increase awareness regarding the value of Asian cultures.
It was the first time the prize has been awarded to two laureates.
The presentation ceremony which took place at Acros Fukuoka Prefectural International Hall in Japan was attended by His Imperial Highness Prince Akishino, the second son of Japan’s emperor Akihito, his wife Princess Kiko and the mayor of Fukuoka City, Takashima Soichiro.
Other local and international media and distinguished guests included Salinee Phonprapai, Minister Counsellor of the Royal Thai Embassy to Japan.
Ms Pasuk and Mr Baker were together recognised for their multi-disciplinary and comprehensive analysis of the social changes which Thailand has experienced since the period of rapid economic growth in the 1980s, according to the award presentation.
They said they were delighted and proud, not just because of the recognition but for what this prize actually stands for.
The Fukuoka Prize “celebrates the great diversity among people. It’s dedicated to people. It encourages cultural exchange as a means for the world of peace and harmony,” said Ms Pasuk, 71.
“This is the first time the prize was awarded to a couple,” added Mr Baker, 69. “Somehow in our case, one plus one is equal more than two. We made something out of our differences – female and male, Thai and English, East and West, economics and history.
“Today in the world of uncertainty, the aspirations underlying the prize are more important than ever.”
When asked how the couple from Thailand could work collaboratively for so long and so successfully, Ms Pasuk answered: “Our interest is in humanity. And we would like to see the change in the society and the world around us in a way that improves the well-being of ordinary people. The reason why we work together very well is because we respect each other very much. It’s give and take.”
Two other laureates honoured at the ceremony were Wang Ming from China, winner of the Academic Prize for advocating NGO studies and environmental governance in his country, and Kong Nay, a visually impaired musician from Cambodia. He received the Arts and Culture Prize for his ongoing effort to preserve the chapey, a traditional Cambodian musical instrument disappearing amidst the arrival and popularity of contemporary music in the country.
Besides Ms Pasuk, since the Fukuoka Prize was initiated in 1990, seven Thais have won. They were MR Kukrit Pramoj (1990, Special Commemorative Prize), MC Subhadradis Diskul (1994, Grand Prize), Nidhi Eoseewong (1999, Academic Prize), Thawan Duchanee (2001, Arts and Culture Prize), Srisakra Vallibhotama (2007, Academic Prize), Charnvit Kasetsiri (2012, Academic Prize) and Apichatpong Weerasethakul (2013, Arts and Culture Prize).
The Pasuk-Baker team will give a public lecture Sunday at Elgala Hall in Fukuoka on the topic, “Of Love and Loss: Three Thai Literary Classics and their Human Messages Today.”
(This was originally posted at The Bangkok Post on 22 September 2017)