Cultural influence in southeast Asia comes at first either from India or China. In the 1st century BC Indian traders penetrate Burma. Further east, in Vietnam, Bronze Age culture infiltrates gradually from China at some time before the 3rd century BC.
With these exceptions, the region is still occupied at this time by neolithic communities.
The kingdom of Nam-Viet
A narrow coastal strip of southeast Asia, between the Red River and the Mekong (the extent of modern Vietnam), becomes prosperous when rice begins to be cultivated in the last few centuries BC. It also offers useful harbours for merchant ships to trade round the coast. On both counts it is of interest to a powerful neighbour to the north, the empire of China.
In about 207 BC an imperial delegate to the Red River region, around modern Hanoi, sets himself up as ruler of a kingdom called Nam-Viet. A century later, when the Han dynasty is extending the reach of the Chinese empire, Nam-Viet is annexed. From 111 BC it is listed as a Chinese province.
The Indian influence: from the 1st century AD
The northern part of Vietnam, being a continuation of the coastal strip of southern China, remains for much of its history under the control of its larger neighbour. But the rest of southeast Asia, separated from China by mountain or jungle, or consisting of large offshore islands such as Sumatra and Java, is exposed to a different influence.
Civilization, when it reaches these areas, must come from the sea. And of the two civilized neighbours, to west and east, India proves to have more energetic traders than China.
The map of the world offers no route so promising to a merchant vessel as the coastal journey from India to China. Down through the Straits of Malacca and then up through the South China Sea, there are at all times inhabited... [continues]
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