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Since the arrival of Europeans in the 16th century the observed ethnic complexity of the Malagasy, the Madagascan people, has been a subject of conjecture in several respects. When did people first reach Madagascar? Where did the different elements of the population originate? What was the sequence of their arrival? What was the nature of their maritime migrations? Early answers to these questions relied on the historical traditions of some Malagasy populations, especially of the Merina and highland groups, and on an extensive archive of historical and ethnographic observations.
Recent approaches, through historical linguistics, palaeoecology, genomic history, and archaeology, especially in the last thirty years have provided new perspectives on the enduring issues of Madagascan population history. The age of initial colonization is still debated vigorously, but the bulk of current archaeological data, together with linguistic and genomic histories, suggest that people first arrived around the middle of the first millennium
Evidence of linguistic origins and human genetics supports the prevailing view that the first people came from Southeast Asia, the majority of them specifically from Borneo. Later Bantu migration from Africa was followed by admixture of those populations and other smaller groups from South Asia, in Madagascar. Admixture in East Africa before migration to Madagascar is no longer favored, although it cannot be ruled out entirely.
Voyaging capability is a key topic that is, however, difficult to pin down. There is no necessity in the current data to envisage transoceanic voyages, and no evidence of Southeast Asian vessels in East Africa or Madagascar in the first millennium
When composed of hunter-gatherers, Asia’s population numbered perhaps 1–2 million. But the emergence of agriculture saw population growth, and it appears likely that by 1 CE the continent’s population exceeded 100 million. For China and Japan, there are data which shed light on their population histories during pre-modern times. Moreover, both countries experienced rapid demographic transitions in the 20th century—substantially limiting the associated extent of population growth. For the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia, there are almost no population data prior to the late 18th century, although what happened subsequently is better recorded. Both these diverse regions experienced fairly protracted modern demographic transitions and substantial population growth. West Asia’s population is thought to have been of similar size in 1900 as in 1 CE. During the 20th century, however, most countries in West Asia experienced late birth-rate declines and very substantial population growth. Throughout history, the level of urbanization in Asia has generally been extremely low. Nevertheless, the continent contained most of the world’s most populous cities, though that situation changed temporarily in the 19th and 20th centuries. That said, after 1950 mortality decline fueled urban growth. As a result, by 2020 Asia once again contained most of the world’s largest cities, and about half of the continent’s people lived in urban areas. The population history of Asia has generally involved very slow population growth. The main explanation has been that death rates were high, marriage was early and universal, fertility was uncontrolled, and so birth rates were high too. However, research has increasingly suggested that in some areas the levels of fertility and mortality which prevailed in pre-modern times are better described as “moderate” rather than “high.” Moreover, as in Europe, there were regulatory mechanisms which helped to maintain a degree of balance between human numbers and the resource base.
Scholars often regard the Qing-Korean relationship as the most representative instance of the so-called tributary system, the Sino-centric hierarchical world order in early modern East Asia. It was also the most stable one, established in 1637 and ending as late as 1895 after the Qing’s total defeat in the first Sino-Japanese War. Precisely because this bilateral relationship was so typical and so stable, it was also unique in many ways. Although the Manchu regime largely inherited Ming China’s institutions in dealing with Korea (and, later, with other foreign states), this legacy revealed new meanings in the context of the Manchu conquest of China. As the Qing’s first and last subordinate state in the region, Chosŏn Korea served as both an ideological and a practical model in shaping the Qing’s geopolitical construction.
Beginning and ending with military clashes, the Qing-Chosŏn hierarchical relationship from the early 17th to the late 19th centuries was nourished and solidified by more peaceful interactions. Generally conducted under the Confucian zongfan (宗藩) principles, these interactions included rituals, diplomatic missions, trade, negotiations, cross-border jurisdiction, and cultural exchanges. Far from being imposed unilaterally by the Qing, the bilateral relationship was mutually constructed in a long process in which the Korean government and literati played a proactive role. During this time, the Korean attitude toward the Qing underwent a gradual change, from hostility to nuanced acceptance. In the late 19th century the two countries tried but failed to adjust their relationship in order to survive the geopolitical threat from industrialized, colonial powers. The collapse of the Qing-Chosŏn hierarchy eventually led to the rise of new national identities in both China and the Korean Peninsula in the 20th century.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Asian History. Please check back later for the full article.
Print culture in imperial China spanned over twelve hundred years, from the late 7th century
The Progressive Writers Association (PWA) was founded in the mid-1930s by a group of South Asian leftist intellectuals who moved between metropolitan and colonial contexts. Announcing itself with a manifesto written in London in 1934 and reaching its peak of influence as a movement and an organization inside India in the 1940s, the PWA was a significant component of the South Asian cultural left. Its interlinked political and literary aims (founded upon the principle that the political and the literary must be interlinked) addressed anticolonialism and radical social change at home, while simultaneously positioning itself as part of the international popular front against fascism. As the Progressive writers moved into the post-independence decolonizing period, they identified closely with communist movements in India and Pakistan, while simultaneously positioning themselves at the forefront of Afro-Asian or Third World liberation solidarity formations during the Cold War. Thus these writers occupied a dual position, as simultaneously the cultural wing of the South Asian left and the South Asian manifestation of an international anti-imperialist movement that in both periods viewed art, literature, and ideology as crucial components of building socialism and decolonization.
Sean C. Kim
Korea is the only Asian nation with a significant Protestant presence. One in five South Koreans professes the faith. With more than eight and a half million believers, Protestantism as an organized religion ranks second numerically, not far behind Buddhism, but in terms of power and influence, it is unrivalled. Protestants occupy a central position in the country’s politics, society, and culture. Western missionaries, mostly Americans, introduced Protestantism in the late 19th century. As bearers of Anglo-American civilization, the missionaries built not only churches but also modern hospitals and schools. Korean converts, however, quickly assumed leadership under a policy of self-propagation, self-government, and self-support. In the 1920s and 1930s, the church came of age under popular revivalists who commanded national audiences. The process of indigenization also involved the adaptation to local beliefs and practices, producing a distinctive Korean Protestant tradition. Moreover, because of Japanese colonization, Protestantism did not suffer the stigma of Western imperialism common in other mission fields. Many Protestants, in fact, became nationalist leaders. Following World War II, Korea suffered the division of the country and the Korean War. Protestantism was extinguished in the communist north, leading to a mass exodus to the south, but in South Korea, it thrived. Industrialization and urbanization provided opportunities for the churches to create a sense of community, but it was primarily the aggressive one-on-one proselytization and mass evangelistic campaigns that fueled the dramatic expansion. From the 1960s to 1980s, South Korea became the fastest-growing Christian population in the world. The growth stalled in the 1990s because of the church’s support for previous dictatorial regimes as well as scandals involving Protestant political and corporate leaders. Yet Protestantism today remains a vibrant force in South Korea, home to the largest churches in the world and the base for thousands of Korean missionaries.
Although popular literature circulated in manuscript from very early in Chinese history, the invention of woodblock printing or xylography in the 7th century greatly facilitated the dissemination of popular texts. The lively urban culture of the 11th through the 14th centuries stimulated the production of performance literature, prose or prosimetric narratives in simple classical and vernacular Chinese. Commercial publishers in the cities and Jianyang, Fujian, took advantage of the growing demand for texts among readers of modest literacy and produced ballads and “plain tales” for this audience.
The publishing boom of the 16th century greatly accelerated this trend, as publishers in the cities of the lower Yangzi delta (Jiangnan), and most particularly Jianyang (in northern Fujian), began crafting texts explicitly designed to meet the needs of non-elite readers: literacy primers, vernacular explanations of the Classics, historical fictions and adventure tales, and popular encyclopedias for daily use, all in a language accessible to readers of limited education.
At the same time literati authors mined the popular literature of earlier centuries for stories that they transformed into literary masterpieces—although in the process they often reversed the subversive messages and smoothed out the vigorous “vulgar” language of the originals. But their greatest achievements, dramas like The Lute Song and the novels Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Water Margin, and Journey to the West, remain among the most universally admired works of Chinese fiction. These latter texts presage, too, the development of the vernacular novel as one of the literary glories of the late imperial period.
By the 18th century, the population increase and growing demand for texts—and the spread of woodblock printing to the interior and hinterland—ensured the dissemination of a common core of universally popular fictional works throughout China Proper. It was not, however, until the early 20th century and the widespread adoption of mechanized printing, that a true mass readership developed. By that time, the introduction of new genres of literature—the modern short story and novel—had transformed the nature of popular literature.
Vietnam’s Central Highlands—or Tây Nguyên—area is usually described as remote, backward, and primitive, but this region has played a central role in the history of the surrounding states and the wider East and Southeast Asia region. Far from isolated, the Central Highlands engaged in trade in precious forest products with lowland states and beyond since at least the emergence of the Hinduized Cham states from the first centuries
Robert L. Winzeler
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Asian History. Please check back later for the full article.
The diverse religions of the peoples of Southeast Asia include indigenous traditions of supernaturally oriented beliefs and practices plus four of the largest world religions: Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity. The main changes that have taken place in religion in 20th-century Southeast Asia include several developments. The first notable change was increased conversion to one or another of the world religions, especially Christianity. The second was national efforts to eliminate or reduce religion in some countries and to shape or control it in others. In addition, popular religion in some instances became more politicized and linked to conflict, especially between Christian and Muslim communities. There were efforts at reform, to modernize religious traditions, or often to bring them into line with orthodoxy.
These religious changes occurred in two phases. The first, involving conversion, had begun in some areas long before, but was furthered and intensified in the 20th century as colonial governments extended control beyond urban areas, to coastal enclaves, lowland agricultural regions, and over interior and mountainous areas, making these more accessible to mission efforts. The second phase of change began in the middle decades of the 20th century as the colonized countries (including all the present-day Southeast Asian nations except Thailand) gained independence and then often attempted to shape religion in various ways. These efforts varied, but the main line of differentiation was between what happened in the socialist regimes, on the one hand, and in the non-socialist ones, on the other. The socialist countries were more inclined than the non-socialist ones to diminish, deemphasize, or control religion, and to block or inhibit missionization. The results can be seen today, where unconverted communities are common or even prevalent in the highland or tribal areas of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, in contrast to such areas in Thailand and—though less can be said about it—Myanmar. Finally, as a result of these changes, over the course of the 20th century and throughout Southeast Asia generally, there has been a reduction in religious diversity, above all as a result of the conversion of people from many different indigenous religious traditions to one or another of the fewer world religions. This is not to say, however, that adherents of Buddhism Christianity, Islam, or Hinduism are necessarily very similar to others of the same world religion.
The name Rohingya denotes an ethnoreligious identity of Muslims in North Rakhine State, Myanmar (formerly Burma). The term became part of public discourse in the late 1950s and spread widely following reports on human rights violations against Muslims in North Rakhine State during the 1990s, and again after 2012. Claims for regional Muslim autonomy emerged during World War II and led to the rise of a Rohingya ethnonationalist movement that drew on the local Muslim imaginaire, as well as regional history and archaeology. To explore the historical roots of distinctive identity claims and highlight Buddhist-Muslim tensions, one must reach back to the role of Muslims in the precolonial Buddhist kingdom of Arakan and their demographic growth during the colonial period. Civic exclusion and state harassment under Burma’s authoritarian regimes (1962–2011) put a premature end to political hopes of ethnic recognition, and yet hastened a process of shared identity formation, both in the country and among the diaspora. Since the 1970s, refugees and migrants turned to Bangladesh, the Middle East, and Southeast Asian countries, forming a transnational body of Rohingya communities that reinvented their lives in various political and cultural contexts. A succession of Rohingya nationalist organizations—some of whom were armed—had negligible impact but kept the political struggle alive along the border with Bangladesh. Although Rohingya nationalists failed to gain recognition among ethnic and religious groups in Burma, they have attracted increasing international acknowledgment. For postdictatorial Myanmar (after 2011), the unresolved Rohingya issue became a huge international liability in 2017, when hundreds of thousands fled to Bangladesh following military operations widely interpreted as ethnic cleansing. In December 2017, the United Nations’ high commissioner for human rights acknowledged that elements of genocide may be occurring.
Alfred J. Rieber
Throughout Russian history, domestic and foreign observers have sought to define the similarities and differences between Russia and Asia, combining symbolic and physical geographies, often as a corollary of Russia’s relationship to Europe. Both concepts and boundary lines changed as the Russian state expanded from the 15th century forward, from a small territorial base on the Upper Volga south and east, to incorporate territories inhabited by Asian peoples. Conquest was accompanied by uneven patterns of colonization and erratic attempts at conversion to Orthodoxy and russification. These processes varied in encounters with different populations and landscapes along four major frontiers, Pre-Volga and Siberia, the Pontic Steppe, Transcaucasus, and Trans Caspia. By 1914, the Russian Empire was a multi-national state that had not solved the fundamental problems of its self-perception as a civilization or the stability of its rule.
This entry discusses the manifestations of Orientalism in Russian Orientology (Oriental studies), as the broad umbrella discipline that studies Russia’s own Islamic heritage and Muslim societies. Russia’s geographical and political position between Europe and Asia has made Orientalism (and Westernism) an important issue in any debate on national identity and national interests, for both Russians and ethnic minorities in Russia. Orientalist forms of “othering” are found in the works of scholars who worked in academic institutions, in the writings of administrators, military officers, and Orthodox missionary Orientalists, and even Muslims themselves. But prominent Orientalist scholars from Russia—often with non-Russian backgrounds—have also offered the first comprehensive critiques of traditional Western Orientalism. These critiques peaked in the Soviet era, when the attack on western Oriental scholarship as a handmaiden of colonialism was the core mission of Soviet Oriental studies. Soviet Oriental studies were supposed to support the de-colonizing world abroad against western imperialism and provide scholarly legitimacy to Soviet development policies in the Muslim-populated regions of the USSR, in particular the Volga-Urals, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. In contemporary Russia, Oriental studies is still held in high esteem, and Orientalists function as experts on the politicization of Islam in the Muslim world and on religion policies at home.
The lifetime of Sayyid Ahmad Khan (“Sir Syed”) (1817–1898) spans profound transformations introduced to India and the wider world by the twin forces industrial capitalism and British imperialism. Sayyid Ahmad’s intellectual responses to a changing world and his leadership in the establishment of educational institutions, voluntary associations, and a broad public sphere all played a significant role in defining what it means to be Muslim, especially in India and what would become Pakistan but also in wider cosmopolitan and global networks.
The development, compromises, and contradictions of Sayyid Ahmad’s ideas and projects over time track the challenges he faced. If these efforts pointed the way to some sort of modernity, it was rooted in the Indo-Persian and Islamic formation of his early years and developed by selectively adopting bits and pieces of European ideologies, technologies, practices, and organizational arrangements. He has been claimed or condemned by advocates and opponents of a wide range of ideological and political tendencies under circumstances that he would barely have recognized in his own time: nationalism, democracy, women’s equality, and religious and literary modernism. At different points in his career one may find mysticism, scriptural literalism, and daring rationalism with respect to religious texts; charters for Muslim “separatism” and calls for Hindu-Muslim unity; demands for autonomy and political representation and opposition to it; bold critiques of British rulers; and proclamations of “loyalty” to the colonial state. A major figure in the advancement of the Urdu language, he later argued for the superiority of English, of which he himself had little, for the purposes of education and administration. Most of all, he helped establish an intellectual and institutional framework for contemporaries and future generations to debate and pursue collective goals based on religion, language, social status, or class interest.
From the consolidation of the Han empire (206
During the 518 years of Korea’s Chosŏn dynasty (1392–1910), many things changed and many things stayed the same. After the Yi family established the Chosŏn dynasty, Confucianism became the dominant philosophy. Although Confucianism’s grip on Chosŏn weakened somewhat at the end of the 19th century, it nevertheless continued to provide the basic framework for how government officials and most of the educated elite conceptualized ethics, religion, nature, and technology. This changed when the Chosŏn dynasty was absorbed into the Japanese empire in 1910. Chosŏn-era science, technology, and religion operated within a Confucian framework. This affected astronomical, geographical, mathematical, and medicinal thought and practice. It also affected the role of technology in Chosŏn life and society. Moreover, when Buddhism, folk religion and, from the end of the 18th century even Christianity, were practiced in Korea, it was necessary to maneuver within constraints imposed by a Confucian state and society.
Korea’s Confucianism was imported from China. Koreans, however “Koreanized” what they adopted from China to make it their own. When dealing with religion, Chosŏn-era Koreans adopted a much harsher attitude toward non-Confucian religions. When dealing with science and technology, Koreans sometimes made improvements on Chinese models. For example, in the 15th century, Koreans built astronomical instruments that were better than those they had learned about from Chinese astronomers. And, in the 17th century, Koreans produced the most comprehensive encyclopedia of traditional East Asian medicine of pre-modern times. However, none of those changes threatened the hegemony of Confucianism. Chosŏn Korea remained Confucian in its science, technology, and religiosity for over five centuries.
Southeast Asian polities were destined to play an active role in the world economy because of their location at the crossroads of East Asian maritime routes and their richness in commodities that were in demand in the whole of Eurasia. For a long time, historians restricted their role to examination of regional peddling trade carried out in small ships. Research on ships and trade networks in the past few decades, however, has returned considerable agency to local societies, particularly to Austronesian speakers of insular Southeast Asia, from proto-historic to early modern times. As far in the past as two thousand years ago, following locally developed shipbuilding technologies and navigational practices, they built large and sophisticated ships that plied South China Sea and Indian Ocean routes, as documented by 1st-millennium Chinese and later Portuguese sources and now confirmed by nautical archaeology. Textual sources also confirm that local shipmasters played a prominent part in locally and internationally run trade networks, which firmly places their operations into the mainstream of Asian global maritime history.
Ships form a critical component of the study of Southeast Asia’s interaction both within itself as well as with the major centers of Asia and the West. Shipwreck data, accrued from archaeologically excavated shipwreck sites, provide information on the evolving maritime traditions that traversed Southeast Asian waters over the last two millennia, including shipbuilding and navigational technologies and knowledge, usage of construction materials and techniques, types of commodities carried by the shipping networks, shipping passages developed through Southeast Asia, and the key ports of call that vessels would arrive at as part of the network of economic and social exchanges that came to characterize maritime interactions.
By the late 19th century, when much of Islamic Central Asia was conquered by the Russian Empire, the region was home to tens of thousands of slaves. Most of these slaves were Shiʿa Muslims from northern Iran, though the slave trade also ensnared many Russians, Armenians, Kalmyks, and others. Slave labor was especially commonplace in the Sunni Muslim domains of Khwarazm and Bukhara, where enslaved people constituted a substantial proportion of all agricultural workers, domestic servants, and soldiers. Slaves also labored in many other roles, and an individual slave could be tasked with a variety of jobs. Slaves served, for example, as concubines, craftsmen, miners, herdsmen, entertainers, blacksmiths, calligraphers, and even, in rare instances, as government officials.
Before the 16th century, the majority of the slaves in Central Asia—defined here as the region extending from the eastern shores of the Caspian Sea through Xinjiang, China, and from southern Siberia to northern Iran—seem to have been trafficked to the region from India. This changed in the 16th and 17th centuries, as a significant number of Iranian war-captives were brought north and enslaved during the course of numerous armed conflicts between the Central Asian Uzbeks and Iranian Safavids. Many of these slaves evidently labored on the region’s rapidly expanding agricultural estates.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, frequent Turkmen raids into northern Iran resulted in tens of thousands of Iranian Shiʿas being captured and funneled into a booming slave trade in Khwarazm and Bukhara. Further north, a much smaller number of Russians were seized and sold into slavery by Kazakh nomads along the steppe frontier.
The region’s slave trade declined in the late 19th century and seems to have remained dormant throughout the Soviet period. The post-Soviet period has witnessed a resurgence of human trafficking throughout Central Asia. In recent decades, local governments and international organizations have labored with mixed success to combat a new kind of slave trade, as Central Asian victims are trafficked by criminal cartels to neighboring countries, or to other regions of the world, for the purposes of forced labor or sexual exploitation.
The 19th century in India, and especially the last quarter, was a period in the development of what were to become India’s major new religious movements, with lasting significance into the century that followed, within India and beyond. Key to these movements was the notion of social “reform” and it associated idea of religious revival. These twin concepts involved a range of debates about existing religious traditions for Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs, the need to adapt them to social and political transformations, ideas about the “modern,” and institution building around education and social work. The very concept of community identity also underwent change, with the establishment, for example, of the idea of “Hinduism” as a world religion. The three main contexts to these debates were the formalization of the colonial state, the development of the socio-religious institution, and the impact of anti-colonial nationalism. The nature of colonial power in India shifted from trade expansion and conquest, to formal crown colony control over the course of the 19th century, and this had a profound impact on the nature of religious movements, ideas about reform, and social change. India’s main religious traditions confronted an array of challenges, both direct in the form of missionaries and indirect, in the shape of new social and political ideas. Partly in response to these changes, an array of ideologues built new organizations that reshaped the institutional landscape of India. Finally many of the leaders and intellectual influences of these organizations became pivotal to debates about national belonging and political representation as the century came to a close.
Since the seminal publication of Kenneth Pomeranz’s The Great Divergence (2000), there has been a continuing upsurge of writings on the possible reasons behind the rise of the West from a “global perspective.” Most of these studies focus on comparisons between Western Europe and China. Yet, in recent years works on India and the great divergence have followed suit, taking up research questions that have not been as prominent since the proliferation of debates on the subcontinent’s pre-colonial potentialities for capitalist development in the 1960s and 1970s. As of now, the paucity of quantitative data complicates endeavors to compare pre-colonial India with Europe and explore the underlying reasons behind the great divergence. Case studies examining the socio-economic history of a number of South Asian regions are still needed in order to conduct systematic comparisons between “core areas” of the subcontinent and those of Western Europe. The existing evidence, however, suggests that some of the advanced regions of 16th- to 18th-century India had more or less comparable levels of agricultural productivity, transport capacities (during the dry season), military capabilities in terms of ground forces (e.g., Mysore and the Marathas), commercial and manufacturing capacities (especially in textile, ship, and metal production), and social mobility of merchants (e.g., in Gujarat). Moreover, Indian rulers and artisans did not shy away from adopting European know-how (e.g., in weapon and ship production) when it redounded to their advantage. On the other hand, South Asia possessed some geo-climatic disadvantages vis-à-vis Western Europe that also impeded investments in infrastructure. India had a lower degree of consumer demand and lagged behind Western Europe in a number of fields such as mechanical engineering, the level of productive forces, higher education, circulation of useful knowledge, institutional efficiency, upper-class property rights, the nascent bourgeois class consciousness, and inter-communal and proto-national identity formations.