Southeast Asia Unit Summary
Southeast Asia lies right underneath China on both islands and peninsulas. It has a series of mountain ranges that have created natural borders. At the same time, the region depends on the sea for contact, food, and transportation. It lies in the Pacific’s Ring of Fire and the region frequently has earthquakes and volcanic activity.
Culturally, Southeast Asia is very interesting. The area is right between two cultural hearths, and served as
a stopping point between the two great ancient civilizations of China and India. The region has been heavily influenced both by countries. People familiar with either China or India will find a lot of things that seem
familiar in Southeast Asia. In addition to the ancient cultural influences of nearby countries, Southeast Asia was heavily influenced by European culture because most of the region was taken over by various European countries.
Southeast Asia is a region that is located on the Indochina Peninsula (it juts out from the bottom of
China), the Malay Peninsula (it juts out from the Indochina Peninsula) and the large number (over 20,000) of islands that surround the peninsulas. Many of
these islands are in clusters, or groups, called archipelagos. Southeast Asia is often divided between the countries of the peninsula (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia,
Myanmar, Thailand) and the island countries (Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei, Philippines). Malaysia is located on both the peninsula and an island.
Small mountain ranges create barriers between the countries and between Southeast Asia and other regions. The mountain chains usually run north-south and include a lot of active volcanoes.
Many rivers run in the valley between the mountain chains. For centuries, the people of Southeast Asia have used the rivers to grow food, communicate and transport things.
Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, and Malaysia have the world’s largest tin deposits. Tin is a type of light metal. Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam have a lot of precious gems like sapphires and rubies, while the Philippines sells a lot of pearls, which are created by a kind of oyster in the ocean.
While minerals are an important part of Southeast Asia’s economy, the region also has a lot of renewable resources that it trades and sells. Thick, tropical forests have trees like mahogany and rubber, which are used for furniture and manufactured goods.
More than 10% of prescription drugs are made from products found in the tropical forest. The seas provide a very important resource in fish, shellfish, and sea
plants. Seafood is an important part of any Southeast Asian’s diet.
Climate and Vegetation
Most of the region experiences monsoons, or seasonal winds. In summer, the winds bring daily rains because the
wind is coming off the ocean, where it has picked up a lot of moisture. In winter, the winds change direction and come from northern Asia. The winter
monsoon is very dry. Most of the islands and some of the peninsula are a tropical rain forest climate. Tropical rain forest climates are hot, humid, and
rainy. The portion of Southeast Asia that has a tropical rain forest climate is usually 79°F everyday, gets between 80 and 180 inches of rain a year, and
usually has 80-90% humidity. Most of the peninsula has a tropical savanna climate. This climate has a very dry season and a very wet season, caused by
monsoons. The northern part of Vietnam and Laos have a humid subtropical climate, which means the weather is kind of close to Oklahoma, with its very hot summers and fairly cold winters.
Southeast Asia has a large population of 574,902,047 and it is growing very quickly. Indonesia, with 230 million people, is
the country with the 4th highest population in the world. The other countries have much lower populations, but together, it is a lot. In general, more people live in those areas of Southeast Asia that are near water, with rivers or the ocean. Java, an island in Indonesia is one of the most densely populated islands in the world. Singapore, the smallest country in size, has the highest population density, with 6,336 people per square mile.
The peninsula has a lot of people who live in the rural areas and work in agriculture. More of the land on the peninsula is arable, which means land that
is good for growing crops. On both the islands and the peninsula, a lot of people are moving from the country to the cities. This movement is sometimes
hard because it is hard to make sure there are enough resources for all the new people, especially when the areas are poor. This movement is called
urbanization. There are at least 15 cities in Southeast Asia with a population of over one million.
People have lived in Southeast Asia for thousands of years. Kingdoms and empires have come and gone over the
centuries. Southeast Asia is a place that, because of its location, has been really influenced by other cultures. Southeast Asia lies in between two huge
and powerful neighbors, India and China. Buddhism, which originated in India, is the dominant religion of most of the countries in Southeast Asia. Chinese
beliefs about the importance of education have adopted by many of the people of the region. Basic farming techniques and food preferences are often based on
earlier Chinese or Indian practices. This influence lasted for centuries and continues today.
During the 1800s and 1900s, Southeast Asia was exposed to other cultures when European countries took control of the region through a process called colonialism. Colonialism is when one country takes over another place and runs it to help the country that is in charge. Usually colonies exist to economically benefit the country that took over. In Southeast Asia, Great Britain and France took over and started exploiting the resources Southeast Asia had. “Exploiting” means making use of something, often harmfully. Sometimes a country that takes over improves the colony’s infrastructure, or the things built to improve transportation and
communication. While that is good for the people of the colony, most people living in a colony will have a hard time meeting their basic needs because a
lot of the wealth the colonies made had to go to the country that was in control.
During World War 2 (1939-1945), when the Japanese took over the area they made the old colonial powers, like France, leave. After the war, the old colonial powers tried to take their colonies back but the people of colonies refused and fought the Europeans. These countries gained their independence. Once that happened, they had to decide what kind of government to have. While making these hard decisions, other countries tried to get involved. Terrible wars, such as the United
States’ Vietnam war (1965-1973), broke out over this issue in the 1960s and 1970s, killing millions of people. These wars finally ended. Things are more
On the peninsula, most people are Buddhist. In Indonesia and the Malay Peninsula, the majority are Muslim, orvfollowers of Islam. In the Philippines, most of the people are Roman Catholic.
Most Southeast Asian families live in a small village. They farm for a living. Since almost every person in Southeast Asia will eat rice every day, rice farming is the most important agricultural activity in the region. The climate and abundant (which means a lot of something) water make it perfect for growing the grain. Often the countries of Southeast Asia will grow extra rice and export (sell it to another country) it.
Other cash crops are sugar cane, rubber, coconuts, palm oil, and spices like cinnamon. Many Southeast Asian
countries continue to sell lumber (trees) from their tropical forests although this often leads to deforestation (cutting down forests to do something else
with the land) and environmental damage.
Oil, natural gas, and mining are other important industries. The small country of Brunei has become very wealthy from its oil and gas industries. Indonesia is such a large producer of petroleum that the country belongs to an important economic organization called the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Every Southeast Asian country has a major mining industry.
In addition, most nations in Southeast Asia are working very hard to industrialize. As time passes, more of the people will work in industry instead or farming. At this time, Singapore is the most industrialized. It is a major trading port and manufacturing center.
Human created pollution is a challenge that is increasing. As these countries make more stuff and have more things, they make more trash, air pollution, and water pollution. Deforestation is a huge challenge in this region of unique plants and animals that need the forests to live.
Southeast Asia is a great example of how the environment can affect humans. There are many active volcanoes, frequent earthquake activity, and tsunamis. Because of seasonal rains, more common natural disasters many people face are floods and typhoons.
Southeast Asia Unit Summary Questions
- Vocabulary: Please write a definition and sentence that show you know what they mean.
- What are the two major landforms that make up Southeast Asia?
- What is a natural barrier in Southeast Asia?
- Why was Southeast Asia so influenced by China and India so early?
- How many islands in Southeast Asia?
- Why would people centuries ago prefer to use river than use land to travel transport?
- What are some manufactured products that are made from the natural resources that are available in Southeast Asia?
- List the climates found in Southeast Asia and give at least three details about each climate.
- What is notable about Indonesia’s population?
- What is the dominant religion in Southeast Asia?
- Why would a country want a colony?
- How did the European countries benefit economically from having the Southeast Asian colonies?
- Look at the map. Make a table that shows the same information.
- How did colonialism end?ll
- Who fought aith Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s?
- In what country are most people Roman Catholic in Southeast Asia?
- What two things make Southeast Asia a good place to grow things?
- How does the environment affect the humans of the region?