The Influence of
China and India in Southeast Asia
Strong Influence from China
The homo erectus found in Java and China
about 1.5 million years ago suggests early migrations out of China into Southeast
although the evidence is not clear.
Later migrations of Chinese peoples into Southeast Asia have occurred at various time
periods. Early Filipinos may have come
from southern China through Taiwan,
and spread further south. Thai-speaking peoples have also originated
from southern China.
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may have originated in Thailand and spread out to India and China after 10,000
B.C. Most early agriculture
at this time is slash and burn of
taro, beans, and peas.
The earliest known villages are
in Vietnam which appeared around 3,000 B.C., with bronze working
similar to that in China.
Influence from India Predominates
By 200 AD,
tribal villages in Southeast Asia began to change under influence from India.
Three major commercial zones appeared:
1) As central Asian caravan routes became disrupted, trade shifted to southern sea
routes through the Isthmus of Kra in Malaysia (Arabia to India; India to
Malaysia; Malaysia to Funan port in Vietnam; from Funan to China's south
following the monsoons).
Consequently, trading entrepots arose.
2) Java Sea region and spice trade from eastern Indonesia to Funan and then
3) By the fifth Century (400 AD),
trade shifted from Isthmus of Kra to the
Straits of Malacca.
Lesser trade zones included China, the Philippines, and Borneo by the 11th
it was thought that Indians settled Southeast Asia through vast human migrations.
Now, we know that Indic influence
came through the early trading entrepots, where early Southeast
chiefdoms welcomed Brahman priests
that were brought in to serve Indian traders waiting out the monsoon
four cultural elements dispensed to Southeast Asia (but not in the Philippines nor
1) a conception of royalty characterized by
Hindu and Buddhist cults, which provided a notion of divine kingship for chiefdoms
2) literary expression in Sanskrit language
3) mythology from great Hindu texts
such as Ramayana and Mahabharata
(expressed today in the forms of
classic dancing and wayang puppet theatre)
4) observance of the Dharma, or sacred law of Hinduism, including notion of rebirth
and karma; following the dharma (caste law)
as a means of attaining liberation and unification with
the godhead, as well as release from phenomenal existence.
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blended with earlier Hinduism in royal courts and spread to the rest of the
population through the monasteries.
In Vietnam, Mahayana Buddhism played the same role.
In the Philippines, classic prehistoric notions of leadership,
based on personal prowess, were retained.
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