Diverse Cultures of Southeast Asia

By: Kie'ra Johnson

Geography of Southeast Asia

  • Southeast Asia is made up of two major regions.
  • The mainland is separated from the rest of Asia by mountains and high plateaus.
  • Mountains also separate the four main river valleys of Southeast Asia
  • Merchants harbored their vessels in Southeast Asian ports, which became more centers of trade and culture.
  • The key product of Southeast Asia was spices.
  • The people's of Southeast Asia developed their own cultures before Indian or Chinese influences shaped their region.
  • Diverse ethnic groups speaking many languages settled in Southeast Asia.
  • They followed their own religious and cultural patterns.
  • Women had greater equality in Southeast Asia than elsewhere in Asia.
  • Women also had some freedom choosing or divorcing their marriage partners.
  • After Indian and Chinese influences arrived women retrained their traditional rights.

Indian Culture Spreads to Southeast Asia

  • Indian traders settled in Southeast Asian port cities in growing numbers.
  • They gave presents to local rulers and married into influential families.
  • Merchants exchanged products such as cotton cloth, jewels, and perfume for raw materials.
  • Indians carried a third religion.
  • By 1200s, Muslims ruled northern India.
  • Traders spread Islamic beliefs and Muslim culture.
  • Arab merchants spread the new faith.
  • Indonesia has the largest Muslim population of any nation in the world.

New Kingdoms and Empires Emerge

  • In 1044, King Anawrahta united the region.
  • Anawrahta made Pagan a major Buddhist center.
  • Filled his capital city with magnificent stupas.
  • Pagan fell in 1287 to conquering Mongols.
  • Indian influences also helped shape the Khmer Empire.
  • The Khmer people adapted Indian writing, mathematics, architecture, and art.
  • In 1100s, King Suryavarman II built the great temple complex at Angkor Wat.
  • In Indonesia, the trading empire of Srivijaya flourished from 600s to the 1200s.
  • Islam spread to Sumatra, Java, and other islands.
  • Local People often blended Indian beliefs into their own forms of worship based on nature spirits.

Vietnam Emerges

  • Indian traditions spread mostly through trade rather than conquest.
  • China sent military forces to conquer the neighboring sate of Annam.
  • The heart of northern Vietnam was the Red River delta.
  • There the river irrigated fertile rice paddies, which provided a growing population.
  • Han armies conquered the region, and China remained in control for the next 1,000 years.
  • They adopted the Chinese civil service system and built an government bureaucracy.
  • Vietnam adopted Mahayana beliefs from China.
  • In 939, the Tang Dynasty collapsed in China.
  • The Vietnamese still remained a tributary state of China for years on forth.