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Southeast Asia

Map of Southeast Asian kingdoms 1100 AD Throughout its history, Southeast Asia has been dominated by a number of powerful, independent kingdoms. In the 1500s European arrived, first as explorers and traders and then as colonists. By the end of the 1800s the entire region apart from Thailand was under European control. This situation continued until 1941, when the Japanese seized the entire region, which it held until its defeat at the end of World War II in 1945. In the decades after the war, the countries of Southeast Asia one by one became independent nations.

A statue of Vishnu, 6th or 7th century AD, found at the ancient port of Oc Eo, Funan.

Funan and Champa

In around 500 BC the first chiefdoms were formed in Southeast Asia. Trade led to the creation of towns and cities and the formation of the first kingdoms, of which Funan, around the Mekong Delta in what is now southern Vietnam, was the earliest in around AD 50. Funan prospered from the trade between India and China and came to dominate the region. 

Ruins of Champa temples at My Son, Vietnam. They were badly damaged by US bombing during the Vietnam War (1955–1975).

In around AD 192 the kingdom of Champa was founded in central Vietnam. Champa took advantage of Chinese weakness to launch raids across the border but its kings were eventually forced to submit to China after 586. The arrival of firstly Buddhism in around 300 and then Hinduism in around 400 led to the formation of small states in the islands of Sumatra, Java and Borneo as trade routes shifted south from Funan to the Malacca straits.

By 1700, Ayutthaya, with a population of around 1 million, may have been the largest city in the world.


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