Southeast Asia: People, Land and Economy

Southeast Asia: People, Land and Economy

Southeast Asia: People, Land and Economy

Southeast Asia: People, Land and Economy

Synopsis

"The first comprehensive study of the geography of Southeast Asia to be published for forty years. Continuity, change and the ever-increasing diversity of an already colourful region are examined in the context of economic transformation over the last several decades."

Excerpt

Does Southeast Asia really exist? Many scholars, in many disciplines, writing since the 1960s have been so certain that the region is a distinctive and coherent entity that they have not bothered to define it. A few, the historians Chandler and Steinberg for instance, are careful to delimit the region, while recognising that at different times its boundaries might be placed other than where they are now generally considered to be. In political terms the land boundaries are clear enough, encompassing the swathe of mainland countries east from Myanmar (Burma) to Viet Nam and the great ‘Indian Archipelago’, as it once was termed, extending from Sumatera's western islands east to the entirely arbitrary boundary of Indonesia's West Irian with Papua New Guinea. (The maritime boundaries are still to some degree a matter of dispute, especially in the South China Sea.) But most of the land boundaries have been inherited from colonial times as foreign administrators, adopting what was for the region the then novel concept of fixed, delimited boundaries, sought to impose that notion, probably on the basis that good ‘fences’ (i.e. defined boundaries) make good neighbours.

Such boundaries, as in Africa, cut across cultural and linguistic zones leaving similar peoples on opposite sides of new national fences. The Shan of northeastern Myanmar are essentially ‘Thai’, using that term in a broad sense. The Mon (Taking) of southern Myanmar spill over into Thailand, while along China's southwestern borders lives a multitude of ethnic minority peoples whose affinities in the past, and still to some degree today, are with Southeast Asians rather than with Han Chinese. Language, music, the once-prevalent custom of body tattooing, chewing betel and the technique of batik cloth manufacture are just a few basically Southeast Asian characteristics that have survived there.

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