South East Asia is home to some of the oldest agriculture in the world, with small Stone Age farming communities growing millet, beans and yams, and keeping chickens, pigs and water buffalo. Many hunter-gatherer peoples also inhabit this region, making their homes in the dense forests which cover much of the landscape.
In India and South Asia, the foundations are being laid for one of the great civilizations of ancient historyclick to view India and South Asia 3500BC
By this stage in history, farming is well-established in the two great river valleys of China, the Yellow and Yangtze rivers, and is spreading to neighboring areasclick to view East Asia: China, Korea, Japan 3500BC
All the Pacific islands are uninhabited, except for Australia, New Guinea and the Solomonsclick to view Oceania 3500BC
At around this time, a series of major population movements begin to affect this region. Starting in southern China and Taiwan, farming and fishing communities begin to move south and east, into the coasts and islands of South East Asia. These are the ancestors of today's Malays, Polynesians and other Austronesian peoples, and it is the start of a millennia-long migration which will take them to Madagascar in one direction, and Hawaii in the other.
At the same time, the population of south west China is expanding as Austroasiatic migrants move in from the central Yangtze valley, with their wet-rice farming technology. From there they will soon begin to follow the river valleys down into present-day Burma and Laos.
One of the earliest civilizations in world history has emerged in ancient India, the Indus Valley civilizationclick to view India and South Asia 2500BC
Trade routes are spreading out across East Asia from the core areas of the Yellow river and Yangtze river valleysclick to view East Asia: China, Korea, Japan 2500BC
A new phase in technology is beginning in Australia, and the migration of the ancestors of the Polynesians has begun from south Chinaclick to view Oceania 2500BC
By this date Austronesians are settling the coast and islands of the Philippines, as well as points further east, into the Pacific, and south, towards New Guinea. They are sailors and fishermen, and have developed advanced boat-building and navigation techniques.
Meanwhile, continued population expansion in southern China is leading Austroasiatic-speaking peoples to migrate from there into northern South East Asia. They bring with them their wet-rice farming techniques, pioneered by their ancestors in the Yangtze Valley, and this allows their numbers to grow. Their rice-farming villages soon dot the rivers and valleys of present-day Burma and Laos. Their descendants, notably the Mon and Khmer peoples, will come to form a major part of the population of mainland South East Asia.
The great Indus Valley civilization of ancient India has vanished and a new people, the Aryans, are moving into the subcontinentclick to view India and South Asia 1500BC
The first literate, urban civilization has appeared in the history of East Asia, under the Shang dynasty in northern Chinaclick to view East Asia: China, Korea, Japan 1500BC
The ancestors of the Polynesians are beginning to settle the islands of the Pacificclick to view Oceania 1500BC
This region continues to witness movements of populations. The Austronesians have established themselves on the coasts and islands of the Philippines, and are now probing outwards to the coasts of Vietnam and Borneo, as well as south-eastwards along the coast of New Guinea and into the Pacific.
In the west, the Austroasiatic ancestors of the Mon and Khmer peoples are continuing to spread downwards in South East Asia, establishing their rice-growing villages as they go. The use of bronze for weapons and decorative objects is also now becoming established among these peoples, as a result of continuing links with southern China.
To the north, a new group of peoples, the Tibeto-Burmans, are moving down the river valleys of south-east China into northern Burma.
The Aryan peoples are spreading across northern India; an early form of the Hindu religion, which will be a defining element in Indian civilization, is evolvingclick to view India and South Asia 1000BC
Chinese civilization expands under the Zhou dynasty, which will be the longest-lasting dynasty in China's historyclick to view East Asia: China, Korea, Japan 1000BC
A new phase in technology is beginning in Australia, and the migration has begun from south China of the ancestors of the Polynesiansclick to view Oceania 1000BC
The Austronesians have, over the past few centuries, been thrusting westwards into the coasts and islands of South East Asia. Here, they will become known as the Champa, in Vietnam, the Malays, and the Javanese.
In the north, the Burmans (including the Pye) are establishing themselves in northern Burma, pushing the Mon and Khmer peoples south and east.
By this date, the use of iron, for weapons and farming implements, is spreading down into South East Asia from southern China.
City-based civilization is reappearing in India; this process is accompanied by developments leading to the founding of a great new religion, Buddhismclick to view India and South Asia 500BC
China is divided amongst many warring states, but in this turbulent time the philosopher Confucius lives, and his teachings will deeply influence millions of people in East Asia right up to the present dayclick to view East Asia: China, Korea, Japan 500BC
The ancestors of the Polynesians have reached as far east as Fijiclick to view Oceania 500BC
The coasts of Burma and the Malayan peninsula are by this date already being visited by sailors and traders from the Indian sub-continent, and by Hindu and Buddhist missionaries. These religions, together with the cultural package that they bring with them, including literacy (in Sanskrit), and Indian styles of art and architecture, are beginning to make headway in the region. Small kingdoms have probably already begun to appear along these coastlines, outposts of Indian civilization.
India has seen a great empire, the Mauryan, cover much of the subcontinentclick to view India and South Asia 200BC
China is now unified under the Han dynasty; under this dynasty the Confucian bureaucracy, which will be a feature of all later Chinese dynasties, is establishedclick to view East Asia: China, Korea, Japan 200BC
A distinctive Polynesian culture is now evolvingclick to view Oceania 200BC
The first literate and urban civilization of South East Asia has now appeared, in Burma. This is linked to the Pye kingdom, which, lying across the trade routes between China and India which pass down the Irrawaddy river system to the Indian Ocean, has received influences from both these great civilizations. The kingdom seems to be a confederacy of small states under a royal overlord based in the city of Pyu. According to Chinese records, the Pye culture is strongly Buddhist by religion, and is noted for its emphasis on humane values.
The Mauryan empire fragmented into different kingdoms; since then invaders from the western and central Asia have conquered much of northern and central Indiaclick to view India and South Asia 30BC
Under the Han dynasty, Chinese civilization has greatly expanded its territory. as well as its influence on neighbouring countries such as Koreaclick to view East Asia: China, Korea, Japan 30BC
A new phase of Polynesian expansion in the Pacific is occurringclick to view Oceania 30BC
The Pye kingdom continues to flourish, and it is likely that the broad outlines of later Burmese civilization are already being laid down, with its Buddhist foundations and emphasis on monasticism, expressed architecturally in the distinctive vaulted temples which adorned later Burmese cities.
Elsewhere in South East Asia, it is Hinduism that is most influential at this time. Indian traders have established stopping-off points along the coast, around which local rulers have established small states, deeply influenced by Indian civilization. The most notable of these states is the kingdom of Funan.
In southern China, increasing numbers of Chinese settlers from the north are putting pressure on local tribes. Most notably, the Tai (or Thai) people are gradually beginning to move away from their original homeland into the border areas between China and South East Asia.
The Kushana empire of ancient India is important to world history as a centre for the spread of Buddhismclick to view India and South Asia 200AD
The Han dynasty of China has dominated much of ancient East Asia for a long period of history - but not for much longerclick to view East Asia: China, Korea, Japan 200AD
Distinctive Polynesian societies are evolving on the various Pacific islandsclick to view Oceania 200AD
At this stage in its history the region’s strong trading and cultural links with India are at their height. Buddhism has gained a firm foothold in Burma, and Hinduism is a major cultural force throughout much of the rest of South East Asia. With these faiths has come Indian influences in art, architecture and political organization.
In present-day Vietnam, an area formerly full of “wild tribes” has been moulded into a kingdom by leaders of Chinese origin. Like Funan, to the south, it is organized along Indian lines, as are the numeous small kingdoms on the Malayan peninsula, eastern Sumatra and eastern Java.
In northern South East Asia, Mon tribes are expanding in modern-day southern Burma and northern Thailand. This movement may be linked to the drift of Tai (Thai) tribes southwards into Laos and northern Thailand.
This period of India's history has seen the rise of the Gupta dynasty, under whom ancient Indian civilization reaches its peakclick to view India and South Asia 500AD
China is weak and divided, but the influence of its civilization on Korea, Japan and Vietnam, is growingclick to view East Asia: China, Korea, Japan 500AD
The Polynesians have settled Hawaii and Easter Islandclick to view Oceania 500AD
By this period, Chinese influence is growing in South East Asia. Under the powerful Tang dynasty, China's trade with the countries of the region is expanding strongly, and one consequence of this may well be the rise of the maritime power of Sri Vijaya, which seems to enjoy a specially-favoured status as a tributary trading partner with the Chinese empire. This state controls the trade routes between China and India.
The Champa kingdom remains a thriving centre for trade, though further south the centuries-old kingdom of Funan has disappeared.
Another long-established South East Asian state, the Pye kingdom in Burma, is coming under increasing pressure from Burman tribes, from the north. Meanwhile, the Mon people have established powerful kingdoms in southern Burma and northern and central Thailand.
Powerful regional kingdoms now divide the Indian subcontinent, while the western parts have been absorbed into the Islamic caliphateclick to view India and South Asia 750AD
China is now united and powerful again, under the great Tang dynasty, and its civilization exerts a huge influence on neighbouring lands such as Japan, Korea and Vietnamclick to view East Asia: China, Korea, Japan 750AD
The Polynesian colonization of the major Pacific islands is in its final phaseclick to view Oceania 750AD
In Burma, the kingdom of Pyu has fallen. In its place, the Burmans have founded a state based on their capital Pagan, while a powerful Mon kingdom has also been established. Both the Mon and Pagan kingdoms have inherited much of their civilization from the Pyu kingdom, and both give Buddhism a central place in their religious and cultural life.
This period sees Champa reach a peak of power and prosperity, and to its north, the Vietnamese people, hitherto content to remain under Chinese rule, have won their independence. In Cambodia, a strong, centralized Khmer kingdom has superseded the numerous smaller states in the area.
The Sri Vijayan empire continues to dominate many of the coasts and islands of South East Asia. However, the kingdoms of Java have won their independence. Here, one of the most remarkable structures in the entire region has been constructed, the massive Buddhist temple complex at Borobodur.
This period of the subcontinent's history sees southern kingdoms emerging as major centres of Indian civilizationclick to view India and South Asia 979AD
China's influence over Korea and Japan has diminished, but at home it is a time of economic and technological advanceclick to view East Asia: China, Korea, Japan 979AD
Long-distance voyages remain a part of the Polynesian way of lifeclick to view Oceania 979AD
The Sri Vijaya empire has vanished, to be replaced by numerous kingdoms in Malaya, Java and Sumatra. The dominant power in the region is now the Khmer empire, which is based in Cambodia but has expanded over a huge empire. This is the age in which the great series of Khmer temples were built, culminating in Angkor Wat, by all measures one of the most spectacular buildings ever constructed anywhere in the world.
The historic kingdom of Champa has been conquered by the Khmer. In Burma, the Burman kingdom of Pagan has now expanded, conquering the Mon kingdom to the south.
India has entered a new phase in its history as a Muslim state, the Delhi sultanate, establishes itself over much of the north of the subcontinent
click to view India and South Asia 1215AD
This is a period of very strong economic progress, especially in China and Korea, and technologies like printing, the compass and gunpowder are all being developed hereclick to view East Asia: China, Korea, Japan 1215AD
Polynesian colonists discover New Zealandclick to view Oceania 1215AD
The Mongol empire launched powerful attacks into Vietnam, Burma, Java; despite inflicting much destruction, however, they failed to hold much territory.
For some centuries now, Thai tribes have been moving into northern South East Asia, from their homeland in southern China. These incomers have been a large cause of the steep decline of the Khmer empire, and the Thai kingdom of Siam is now the dominant state in that area. With these political changes has come a rise in the influence of Buddhism.
To the south, in a development of the utmost importance for future history, Muslim merchants from Arabia and India have established a network of small sultanates along the coasts and in the islands of the region.
Easter Island statues getting larger!click to view Oceania 1453AD
The past two centuries have been dominated by the rise and fall of the Mongol empire; however native dynasties have now regained control everywhereclick to view East Asia: China, Korea, Japan 1453AD
In the wake of the rise and decline of the Delhi sultanate, Muslim-ruled states now cover most of the Indian subcontinentclick to view India and South Asia 1453AD
On the mainland of South East Asia, Burma briefly conquered Siam and other neighbouring countries in the late 16th century. These conquests were short lived, and the Siamese have resumed both their independence and their regional dominance.
On the islands and coasts of the region, the numerous small Muslim sultanates have become home to a far-flung Malay culture, knit together by a shared religion and maritime trade. However, a new political and commercial presence has appeared in the form of European sailors, traders, soldiers and missionaries. First the Portuguese, and then the Dutch, have seized a handful of coastal bases, from which their seaborne trade is expanding. The Philippine islands, too, have been partially colonized by Spain.
The Mughal empire now rules much of the sub-continent, marking a high point in the history of Indian civilizationclick to view India and South Asia 1648AD
In China, the Qing dynasty rules, and Japan and Korea have experienced one of the most destructive wars in East Asian historyclick to view East Asia: China, Korea, Japan 1648AD
The first European sailors have now appeared in Oceaniaclick to view Oceania 1648AD
Burma again conquered Siam, in 1767, but within a decade the Thais regained their kingdom. Since then, a new dynasty has come to rule Thailand (and has held the throne up to the present day), with its capital at Bankok. Thailand has gone on to expand its power at the expanse of its neighbours, Laos and Cambodia.
Vietnam has expanded southwards, to more or less its present-day boundaries. However, the country is now torn by a vicious civil war, between north and south.
To the south, the Dutch have extended the control over Java, with their commercial influence spreading throughout the Indonesian islands. A new power, the British, have entered the region with the acquisition of Penang Island, off the west coast of the Malayan peninsula.
The first permanent European settlement has been established in Oceania, in south-west Australia, which has been claimed for the British empireclick to view Oceania 1789AD
This is the last glorious phase of East Asia's history before it feels the West's impact, and Qing dynasty China dominates the region with its tributary systemclick to view East Asia: China, Korea, Japan 1789AD
India has entered a new chapter in its history with the expansion of the British empire in the subcontinentclick to view India and South Asia 1789AD
Vietnam has been reunited. Cambodia has been see-sawing between control by Thailand and Vietnam, and the scene of fighting between the two opposing countries. The period ends with Thailand in control.
To the south, a British adventurer, Sir Stamford Raffles, occupied the sparsely populated islands of Singapore in 1819. It soon becomes a bustling trading town. A few years later the British acquired Malacca from the Dutch (1824).
European missionaries and traders are active throughout the Pacificclick to view Oceania 1837AD
New intrusions into East Asian history, Western merchants and missionaries, are clamouring to be let into China and the other countries of East Asiaclick to view East Asia: China, Korea, Japan 1837AD
The British empire now dominates most of India, marking the most radical change in the long history of the subcontinentclick to view India and South Asia 1837AD
Over the past few decades, European power has become much more in evidence in South East Asia. The Dutch have established their domination throughout the Indonesian archipelago, though they as yet do not directly control some of the islands. In Vietnam, the French have conquered much of the south of the country. Thailand, whilst retaining its borders largely intact, has had to give up much of its independence in a series of unequal treaties with western powers.
In another development of great importance to the region, thousands of Chinese have poured into South East Asia from their troubled homeland, settling mainly in the British-controlled Malay peninsula (especially the commercial centre of Singapore), and the Indonesian islands.
The Pacific islands are falling under European controlclick to view Oceania 1871AD
East Asian history has taken a radically new direction as Western powers force open the doors of China and Japan to trade and missionary activityclick to view East Asia: China, Korea, Japan 1871AD
The history of British India almost ended in a great rebellion, but the British were able to regain controlclick to view India and South Asia 1871AD
The past few decades have seen Western powers virtually sharing out the lands of South East Asia amongst themselves. The British now rule the whole of the Malay peninsula and much of northern Borneo. The Dutch have secured direct control over all the Indonesian islands. Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam have become protectorates of France. Only Thailand stands out as the exception: it has lost some border provinces to France and Britain, but otherwise remains intact. Internally, the country is carrying out a comprehensive modernization program.
The Philippines have passed from Spanish to US rule as a result of a short war (1898). Having secured the colony after a widespread revolt, the USA sets about introducing modern democratic institutions, as well as modernising its economy.
Throughout this period, millions of Chinese continue to settle in the towns of the Malay peninsula and Borneo. At the same time the British bring in thousands of Indians to work on the plantations.
The history of the British empire in India reaches its height - but it will shortly come to an endclick to view India and South Asia 1914AD
Japan has successfully modernized, and has gained international status at the expense of China and Koreaclick to view East Asia: China, Korea, Japan 1914AD
All the Pacific islands have fallen under foreign controlclick to view Oceania 1914AD
This region has experienced a huge amount of upheaval over the past few decades. Colonial rule by the European powers and the USA lasted intact until World War 2. Then, the Japanese occupied most of South East Asia, and many areas saw fierce fighting between the Allies and the Japanese.
After the war, European efforts to re-establish control over their colonies failed. Indonesia became independent from the Dutch in 1949, and in Vietnam, a bitter war between France and nationalist forces ended up with the country divided between the communist North and anti-communist South (1954). Cambodia and Laos were granted independence by France in 1949, the British gave Burma independence in 1948, and after putting down a major communist insurgency, Malaya in 1957. Singapore became a British crown colony in 1959, with self rule. The Philippines had been granted self-government by the USA in 1934, but full independence had to wait until until 1946, after the Japanese occupation during World War 2.
The long history of India and South Asia has entered a new chapter with the replacement of the British empire by independent republicsclick to view India and South Asia 1960AD
China, Japan and Korea have all experienced some of the most turbulent times in their entire history, as great wars have swept through East Asiaclick to view East Asia: China, Korea, Japan 1960AD
Many Pacific islands were caught up in the fierce fighting of World War 2click to view Oceania 1960AD
A long war between the communist North Vietnam and anti-communist South Vietnam broke out in the early 1960s, and soon drew in the USA and some other countries, as well as Vietnam's neighbours Cambodia and Laos. The USA eventually withdrew its forces (1973) and two years later North Vietnamese forces reunited the country. By this time one of the most brutal regimes in world history, the Khmer Rouge, had come to power in Cambodia, inflicting large-scale massacres on the population.
Since the 1980s, several South East Asian countries, especially Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam, have experienced dramatic economic growth, which gave the them nickname "Asian Tigers". This has been accompanied by the widescale adoption of multi-party democracy in the region (though not everywhere, for example in communist Vietnam). The Asian Financial Crisis of 1997 threatened to bring economic progress to a halt, but within a very short time growth had returned. The outstanding exception to all these developments is Burma, now called Myanmar, which remains under the tight control of an authoritarian military regime.
The history of India and Pakistan has been characterised by mutual hostilityclick to view India and South Asia 2005AD
The recent histories of all the nations of East Asia, China, Japan and Korea, have seen them become major economic powerhouses in the worldclick to view East Asia: China, Korea, Japan 2005AD
Many new independent nations now dot the Pacific Oceanclick to view Oceania 2005AD
Hover MAP for summary and tap to zoom. MAP < and > buttons change date. TIMELINE icons jump to date. See below for historical summary.