Southeast Asia-China Interactions: Reprint of Articles from the Journal of the Malaysian Branch, Royal Asiatic Society is a volume of articles written between the 1930s and the early twenty-first century selected and introduced by Geoff Wade from the entirety of the journal issues published since 1878. The relations between the societies and states of Southeast Asia and China have been of enormous significance to both these regions, extending back for literally thousands of years. This useful single-volume edition of key studies on Southeast Asia-China interactions, which were first published in the Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society (and its precursors), includes classics such as Wang Gungwu’s The Nanhai Trade and Paul Wheatley’s Geographical Notes on Some Commodities Involved in Sung Maritime Trade. In this compendium, 18 studies examine political, economic and social interactions, as well as the flows of people and technologies which have tied these regions together over that period. The work provides a comprehensive summation of the Southeast Asia-China historical relationship, while situating the various individual works in their broader context.
Today, as China re-emerges as a global power, it is essential to understand that East Asia has long existed as a region of interactions, with China and Southeast Asia forming major parts of this system. The history of these interactions—the patterns and processes of the links, the conditioning events and trends, technological exchanges and migrations, and individual accomplishments as well as institutional and organizational change—offers a way to understand developments currently underway. How then are we to classify the interactions which did occur between these regions?
Such trans-regional interactions can be generally divided into a number of useful categories: (i) economic interactions have always been important in the relations between Southeast Asia and China. These included commodity trade, remittances and other capital flows; (ii) another group of linkages to be considered are the political interactions, including diplomatic engagement, military endeavours and empire extension; (iii) flows of people—traders, entrepreneurs, labourers, migrants, soldiers or others—mark many of the Southeast Asia-China interactions that these articles examine; (iv) often coextensive with such human flows were flows of technologies—ship-building and ceramic production techniques, for example—and the articles do also reflect these flows in diverse spheres; and (v) another area of interaction was in the cultural sphere, where linguistic influences, food, religious beliefs and other aspects of social practice often also travelled along with the people who moved between these regions. It is perhaps now appropriate to briefly introduce the articles included within this volume, examine which of the interactions noted above are manifested in the pieces and try to place them in a broader context.