Southeast Asia

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Southeast Asia,

region of Asia (1990 est. pop. 442,500,000), c.1,740,000 sq mi (4,506,600 sq km), bounded roughly by the Indian subcontinent on the west, China on the north, and the Pacific Ocean on the east. The name "Southeast Asia" came into popular use after World War II and has replaced such phrases as "Further India," "the East Indies," "Indo-China," and "the Malay Peninsula," which formerly designated all or part of the region. Southeast Asia includes the Indochina Peninsula, which juts into the South China Sea, the Malay Peninsula, and the Indonesian and Philippine Archipelagos. The region has 10 independent countries: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Peninsular Southeast Asia is a rugged region traversed by many mountains and drained by great rivers such as the Thanlwin, Ayeyarwady, Chao Phraya, and Mekong. Insular Southeast Asia is made up of numerous volcanic and coral islands. Southeast Asia has a generally tropical rainy climate, with the exception of the northwestern part, which has a humid subtropical climate. The wet monsoon winds are vital for the economic well-being of the region. Tropical forests cover most of the area. Rice is the chief crop of the region; rubber, tea, spices, and coconuts are also important. The region has a great variety of minerals and produces most of the world's tin.


Population is unevenly distributed, with the highest density in lowland areas. Most of the people live in small agrarian villages; the largest cities are Jakarta, Indonesia; Bangkok, Thailand; Singapore; Manila, Philippines; and Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. There is a great diversity in culture, history, religion, and ethnic composition. Many different languages are spoken, such as those of the Tibeto-Burman, Mon-Khmer, and Malayo-Polynesian families. Religions include Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Roman Catholicism, and Confucianism. Animism is still practiced among many more isolated peoples of the region.


Most of the influences that molded the societies of Southeast Asia predate European colonization, coming from early Chinese and Indian sources. Several great civilizations, including those of the Khmers and Malays, have flourished there. In the late 15th cent., Islamic influences grew strong but were overshadowed by the arrival of Europeans, who established their power throughout Southeast Asia; only Thailand remained free of colonial occupation. Because of Southeast Asia's strategic location between Japan and India, and the importance of shipping routes that traverse it, the region became the scene of battles between Allied and Japanese forces during World War II.

After the war the countries of Southeast Asia have reemerged as independent nations. They have been plagued by political turmoil, weak economies, ethnic strife, and social inequities, although the situation for most Southeast Asian nations improved in the 1980s and 90s. Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, however, there were open conflicts between Communist and non-Communist factions throughout most of the region, especially in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia (see Vietnam WarVietnam War,
conflict in Southeast Asia, primarily fought in South Vietnam between government forces aided by the United States and guerrilla forces aided by North Vietnam. The war began soon after the Geneva Conference provisionally divided (1954) Vietnam at 17° N lat.
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). In 1967 Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand created the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the objectives of which are to promote regional economic growth, political stability, social progress, and cultural developments. Since then, Brunei (1984), Vietnam (1995), Laos (1997), and Myanmar and Cambodia (1999) have joined ASEAN. In 1997 a monetary collapse in Thailand sparked a general economic crisis in several nations in the region; the results were most severe in Indonesia, which underwent economic, political, and social turmoil in the late 1990s.


See C. A. Fisher, Southeast Asia (2d ed. 1966); E. H. G. Dobby, Southeast Asia (10th ed. 1967); J. S. Bastin and H. J. Benda, History of Modern Southeast Asia (1968); G. Myrdal, Asian Drama (3 vol., 1968); L. Williams, Southeast Asia: A History (1976); D. G. E. Hall, A History of South East Asia (4th ed. 1981); M. Osborne, Southeast Asia (3d ed. 1985); D. J. Steinberg, ed., In Search of Southeast Asia (rev. ed. 1987).

Southeast Asia

a region including Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam
References in periodicals archive ?
As a result of the uncertainty surrounding the chronology of shell adzes in Island Southeast Asia (Spriggs 1989, 2011; Mijares 2008; Pawlik et al.
These finds constitute the first evidence of Roman materials in a prehistoric context in Island Southeast Asia.
Early agriculture and plant domestication in New Guinea and Island Southeast Asia.
While we have different ideas about Neolithic expansion in Island Southeast Asia and the Pacific we appreciate their collegial and informed discussions of the issues and data raised here.
Elsewhere in Island Southeast Asia, very small amounts of punctuate-stamped pottery occur in parts of East Malaysia (Sabah) and eastern Indonesia, again in association with red-slipped surfaces (Chia 2003; Chazine & Ferrie 2008; Peter Lape, Daud Tanudirjo, Truman Simanjuntak and Anggraeni, pers.
At about the same time as Peter Bellwood's initial publications on the 'Express Train thesis, Wilhelm Solheim (1984) proposed a very different model: he suggested that an increasingly maritime-oriented culture would have developed amongst Early and Mid Holocene foraging populations in Island Southeast Asia in the context of the flooding of 'Sundaland', the huge area (the size of Western Europe) that had been exposed by lower sea levels in the Pleistocene in response to glacier growth.
The prehistory of Bukit Tengkorak as a major pottery making site in Island Southeast Asia (Sabah Museum Monograph 8).
At least for Island Southeast Asia, there is a growing body of genetic evidence for a demographic expansion out of Sundaland, and less emphasis on the later dominance of Austronesian speaking agriculturalists.
The actors in the drama of Austronesian and Polynesian origins, who created new worlds in Island Southeast Asia and the Pacific, and seafaring technologies of unparalleled sophistication, were not the river valley civilisations or literate cities that so often capture the archaeological imagination, and dominate the public image of archaeology.
Spriggs reminds us that there is no clear-cut boundary between Island Southeast Asia and what Pacific archaeologists have come to call Near Oceania: the large islands of New Guinea and the adjacent Bismarck Archipelago.
The dating of one of the faces to the terminal Pleistocene begins to bridge the apparent disparity in the antiquity of early artistic production between Island Southeast Asia and the western Pacific on the one hand, and Australia on the other.
This in turn has implications for our understanding of the timing of suid introductions and human migrations from the mainland into Island Southeast Asia.