How did local, Indian, and Chinese elements and influences interact to help shape the societies of early Southeast Asia? Were Southeast Asian cultures really unique, or were they largely based upon...
How did local, Indian, and Chinese elements and influences interact to help shape the societies of early Southeast Asia? Were Southeast Asian cultures really unique, or were they largely based upon those of India and/or China?
Historically, India’s influence on the region of Southeast Asia has been rather peaceable. The religions of Hinduism and Buddhism spread through the nonviolent means of trade.
One of the best examples of the influence of these two religions is the temple city of Angkor Wat in modern-day Cambodia. This Angkorian structure built by the Khmer people (a group not to be confused with the genocidal regime of the Khmer Rouge) was completed in the ninth century and was an illustrious city until it was eventually abandoned in the fifteenth century.
This temple was originally Hindu in character and was known for its bas relief portraying the Churning of the Ocean of Milk tale. In the Indian Hindu tradition, this tale was not a central theme; however, the Khmer people embraced this tale, making it their own. This demonstrates that even though there was Indian Hindu influence, the Khmer people accepted it on their own terms. After the Hindu temple of Angkor Wat was abandoned, it was next inhabited by Buddhist monks and remains an active Buddhist monastery today.
In recent years, other Khmer wats and cities have been discovered through satellite imagery. The mysteries of the Angkorian kingdom, and its Hindu influence, are still unfolding.
Indian and Chinese elements helped to influence the societies of Southeast Asia in several ways. Examples of Indian influence can be seen in the areas of religion, political thinking, and literature. Hinduism and Buddhism spread to Southeast Asia. Because of geographic features that acted as a barrier, the incorporation of Indian ways was done slowly. Trade with India also existed.
Chinese elements also impacted Southeast Asia. Examples of Chinese influence include pottery and stone tools; domesticated animals, including dogs and chickens; and some language development. Trade with China also occurred.
It is believed the earliest contact the people of Southeast Asia had with the people of China and the people of India occurred between 50 B.C. and A.D. 100. This contact was initiated as traders were looking for water-based silk routes to replace land routes that had been blocked.
Indian and Chinese elements influenced the cultural development of Southeast Asia in several ways.
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Outside influence and local ways mixed in SE Asia. For example, when states first developed in SE Asia, they borrowed Indian and Chinese models but adapted them to local circumstances. As an example of borrowing, Vietnam borrowed state Confucianism and called their rulers emperors. At the same time, rulers like those of the Angkor tried to meld Indian gods with local deities.
So, they were based on India and China but they were still unique because of the local influences that were mixed in.
The history of cultural interactions is one that is absolutely fascinating and something that we are forced to see the importance of today. You might like to consider the way in which cultural interactions produce hybridity, or a mixture of elements of both. Certainly this can be seen in the way in which Indian and Chinese cultural norms were incorporated into the fabric of new states.