Southeast Asia in World History

By Craig A. Lockard | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 11
Southeast Asia and the
Wider World

The late nineteenth-century Philippine nationalist hero José Rizal claimed that to read the destiny of a people, it is necessary to open the book of their past. The Southeast Asian lands may no longer be as green nor the rivers as blue as they were centuries ago. But with their long, rich connections to the wider world and persistent ability to integrate ideas and institutions from abroad with indigenous traditions, Southeast Asians have made their mark on world history. Although outsiders imposed some influences, Southeast Asians also selected ideas that appealed to them. This process of exchange continues today as the world becomes even more linked through trade, communications, international organizations, migration, and travel. The influential Indonesian thinker Soedjatmoko, summing up the globalizing trends of the later twentieth century, described a world of “collapsing national boundaries and horrifying destructive power, expanding technological capacity and instant communication [in which] we live in imperfect intimacy with all our fellow human beings.”1

Southeast Asians have contributed to and engaged with the wider world from early in their history. Maritime trade linked the earliest societies to China, India, and beyond. The Golden Age kingdoms and their successors attracted visitors from afar. Many centuries before the first European adventurers sailed into the Straits of Melaka, Southeast Asia was part of a larger Afro-Eurasian economy, and European activity made Southeast Asia an even more crucial part of the developing world economy after 1500. By the early twentieth century, the various Southeast Asian societies had become part of a global system dominated economically and politically by various Western European nations and the United States, connecting these peoples more firmly than ever before to global patterns and networks.

Expanding Western imperial power and the much greater degree of integration of Southeast Asians into the rapidly expanding world

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