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Geography and the history of India, China and Japan

The history of every country is shaped by its geography, as its history is affected by the ease with which its borders may be penetrated. This discussion shows how India, China and Japan have responded to this factor in their history.

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The influence of geography on history: comparing India, China and Japan

The histories of all peoples are very much influenced by the geography and climate of the regions they inhabit or adapt to. Australia, an island continent, has had its political boundaries defined by geography is a visible and unmistakable way. For many countries of the world, this is not the case, and there are some vivid examples of both circumstances in Asia.

India and China provide the starkest contrasts in terms of the influence of geography on their respective histories. India is protected on all sides by natural boundaries - the great Himalayan ranges to the north and west, the tropical jungles of the east, and the Indian Ocean to the south have created natural boundaries for the subcontinent. These boundaries have created a sense of unity in India, and yet there is great diversity within - of climates, landforms, races and cultures. The natural boundaries are not complete, and so many races, from pre-historic times onwards, have filtered into India; usually through the narrow passes in the Hindu Kush ranges to the northwest of India and Pakistan. Only rarely in India's history have there been substantial invasions, and even the newcomers, in the end, became part of the Indian cultural mosaic. It is this which gives Indian culture its tremendous resilience, strength, and acceptance of change, for adaptations have been made as new challenges arose.

Much of South and Southeast Asia is affected by the annual monsoons, which sweep across the region and create a cyclical pattern which is reflected throughout the cultures. In India, cyclical notions are central to the entire philosophy of life, with aspects of the divinity being represented by the trinity of gods - Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva - gods of Creation, Preservation and Destruction.

China, by contrast, has only the natural boundary of its coastline to ward off incursions by outsiders. To the north and west, there are no clear limits by which China might be defined in a cultural or geographical sense. There is no great river or mountain range which marks a national boundary. Invaders have crossed the broad steppelands time and time again and pillaged the Chinese villages and cities, depending on the relative strengths of the nomads and the central Chinese government.

This has led to a Chinese sense of insecurity in the face of foreigners - what is often ...