Who Got What?
Java, Spice Islands,
Japan at Nagasaki
• Spain—The Philippines
• The Dutch—Macao,
• England—India, Singapore,
• Conquest has played a significant role in the lives of the people of Vietnam
for more than 2,000 years. Alternately they have conquered other peoples
and have themselves been conquered by foreigners. The peoples
conquered by the Vietnamese, without exception, have declined in
number, vitality, and importance following the conquest. The Vietnamese,
however, survived 1,000 years of Chinese colonial rule, both French and
Japanese imperialism during the 1800s and 1900s and, more recently, a
war that involved the United States.
• Vietnam emerged from the last of these conflicts stronger than ever
before in its history, at least militarily. Indeed, not long after the war, it
became an invader itself again, occupying adjacent Cambodia.
• Yet this incessant warfare left Vietnam—one of Southeast Asia's richest
lands in terms of natural resources—in an almost preindustrial stage of
development. Unable to serve even the nation's food needs with a state-
controlled economy, Vietnam's Communist leaders made an about-face in
1987. They permitted ordinary citizens to sell crops and manufactured
goods and provide services for a profit.
• The original inhabitants of the central and eastern portions of
mainland Southeast Asia were primarily the Malay peoples, who
now constitute the majority populations of Malaysia, Indonesia,
and the Philippines. About the 4th century B.C., these and other
peoples were pushed south and southwest as the Vietnamese,
whose earliest known home was near modern Canton in China,
moved into the Red River Delta region of northern Vietnam.
• Chinese pressures forced the Vietnamese to move southward.
When the Chinese attempted to rule the Vietnamese indirectly,
through puppet governments, the Vietnamese rebelled. The
Chinese reacted by taking over Vietnam and incorporating it into
their empire, ruling it from 111 B.C. to A.D. 939. In 939, the
Vietnamese were able to throw off Chinese rule only to experience
it again in the early 1400s. In 1427, led by Le Loi, a national hero,
Vietnam again resumed its independence from imperial Chinese
• Much as they disliked the Chinese, the
Vietnamese were influenced by this long
contact. The Vietnamese borrowed so heavily
from Chinese religion, philosophy, language,
arts, dress, food, and political organization
that many foreigners referred to the
subsequently independent land as "Little
China." Yet in much of its long history,
Vietnam has defined itself as China's enemy, a
fact memorialized in folk song and legend.
• The Vietnamese played the role of aggressor toward
peoples to the south of them. They defeated the
kingdom of Champa in central Vietnam, and the
subjugated Cham became an underprivileged ethnic
minority in a larger Vietnamese state. Similarly, the
Khmer of Cambodia, whose once-great empire
extended from Myanmar to the Southeast Asian coast,
were overcome by the Vietnamese and forced to
withdraw into a state of a much smaller size. As the
borders of the Khmer empire shrank, an impoverished
Cambodian minority was left stranded in the Mekong
• France invaded Vietnam in 1858, consolidating
its control there by 1883. France was to
remain Vietnam's ruler until 1954, although
the Japanese were actually in control as the
occupying power from 1940 to 1945, during
World War II.
• Thailand, whose name means "Land of the Free
People," is the only Southeast Asian country that has
never been a colony of a European power. Visitors to
Thailand who expect to find a nation frozen in the past
are always startled by what they find. Thailand has
borrowed freely from the West without losing its
special Asian identity. It is a dynamic society. Its
location at the heart of Southeast Asia has enabled it
to become a regional hub of international activity. The
nation's ability to adapt new ideas and technologies to
suit its needs is a source of pride for the Thais. And so
are Thailand's exquisite beauty and rich culture, a
culture built on more than 5,000 years of tradition.
• Archaeological evidence indicates that people
in what is now north-eastern Thailand, in the
village of Non Nok Tha, cultivated the world's
first rice 5,000 years ago. Recent studies also
point to early bronze metallurgy in nearby
communities. These two factors provided the
impetus for social and political organizations.
Thus, these early technological innovations
most likely were transmitted to China, not
from China, as was long believed.
• In 1238, Thai chieftains overthrew the Khmer at Sukothai, establishing the Thai
Kingdom. They named it Sukhamhaeng, "Dawn of Happiness." In 1350, a new
centralized kingdom emerged at Ayutthaya. Its first ruler, Rama Thibodi,
established the official religion of Buddhism and compiled a legal code based on
Hindu sources and Thai tradition. During this period of the Ayutthaya Kingdom
(1350–1767), Thailand expanded its frontiers and became the dominant nation of
mainland Southeast Asia. It also established contact with European trading powers
such as Holland, Portugal, and Great Britain.
• In the late 1700s, Burma (now Myanmar) overwhelmed the kingdom. However,
Rama I, founder of the present ruling dynasty, routed them, changed the country's
name to Siam, and established Bangkok as the nation's capital. Successive rulers
became preoccupied with European colonialism. That Thailand was never a colony
is a source of great pride, and it can be attributed to the efforts of two kings who
ruled during the mid-1800s. King Mongkut, or Rama IV (popularized in the Rodgers
and Hammerstein musical The King and I), and Chulalongkorn, or Rama V, are most
responsible for introducing extensive reforms. Slavery was abolished, outmoded
royal customs were ended, and the power of the aristocracy was limited. For the
most part, however, only the top level of Thai society was changed. Life for most
Thais remained the same.