South, East, and Southeast Asia, 300 BCE - 1980 CE Overview and General Concepts

Topic 1: Overview and General Concepts

  • South, East, and Southeast Asia are home to a diverse array of nations and cultures, many with venerable and sophisticated traditions of artmaking. South Asia refers generally to what is now the nation of India, while East Asia takes in China, Korea, and Japan, and Southeast Asia refers to the Indonesian archipelago as well as the countries of Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam. All of these areas have long histories, often originating with cultures that emerged along the continent's great rivers, most notably the Indus and the Ganges in South Asia and the Yellow River in China. These areas also have a long history of interaction and cultural exchange.

  • The two major religious traditions that inspired much of the region's art, Buddhism and Hinduism, both originated in what is now India. Buddhism emerged in the north of India in the fifth century BCE and spread through much of Asia, often co-existing with other belief systems, though it almost died out in India itself. Hinduism, a polytheistic religion with deep popular roots as well as a complex intellectual tradition, became the dominant religion in India and was also imported to Southeast Asia. Buddhism spread to China, where it co-existed and interacted with the native spiritual traditions of Confucianism and Daoism. Buddhism was also introduced into Japan during its period of extensive cultural borrowing from China.

  • Buddhism and Hinduism are both iconic religions, meaning images play a central role; this generally encourages the production of art. The aniconic religion of Islam later gained influence in South and Southeast Asia, having an especially significant impact on the later art of India.

  • South, East, and Southeast Asia have all seen the rise and fall of multiple empires, and the political and social elites these produced ensured that strong traditions of courtly and secular art have generally existed alongside or overlapped with religiously inspired art. The production of goods for trade has also encouraged the development of new art forms, notably China's porcelain trade.

Related Links:
India & Southeast Asia Quiz
India Art History - AP Art History India
AP Art History Quizzes
AP Art History Notes