Crossroads region: Southeast Asia

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Southeast Asia is home to a diverse array of peoples whose livelihoods once revolved around combinations of shifting swidden cultivation in highland areas, wet rice production on the lowland plains, and the harvesting of rare forest and sea products - many of which were destined for the world market. By the opening of the fifteenth century, many Southeast Asian peoples - from the Tibeto-Burman, Tai, Vietnamese and Mon-Khmer speakers of the mainland, to the Austronesians of the archipelago - had long been involved with a vibrant inter-regional trade that networked their polities together. This trade furthermore established them as key waypoints between the ports ruled by the successive Chinese empires and the constellation of entrepots that made up the Indian Ocean World. Such globally networked transactions, necessitated by the prevailing monsoonal systems that forced traders to break their journeys between oceanic zones, engaged Southeast Asians as much beyond their home world as within it. They moreover empowered numerous dynasties - both agrarian and trade-focused - such as those based around the central plains of Pagan in Burma, Angkor in Cambodia and the Mekong Delta, the volcanic heartland of Java and even the coastal polities of Champa in what is now Central Vietnam. Islam and Buddhism between China and India: All the aforementioned kingdoms and their many subordinates and potential rivals, which were often located within relatively easy reach of the region’s permeable estuarine and coastal systems, had long prided themselves on offering a standing welcome to sojourners bringing not only goods, but expertise and prestige. For in a world that was far less populated than today, the comparative ability to attract or (as was often the case) capture people through warfare marked polities as successes. In the process, too, the visitations and peregrinations of key foreigners generated and then reinforced a commitment to the religious traditions of the subcontinent. Such was symbolized most powerfully by the impressive monuments of the charter states, many of which, such as Angkor Wat and Borobudur, were consecrated for Hindu or Mahayana Buddhist purposes, although Theravadan Buddhism, long identified with Sri Lanka, was also present in Burma.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge World History Volume VI
Subtitle of host publicationThe Construction of a Global World, 1400-1800 CE, Part 1: Foundation
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9781139194594
ISBN (Print)9780521761628
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Arts and Humanities


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