Diseases of Antiquity and the Premodern Period in Southeast Asia

In the imaginations of commentators, both Asian and European alike, disease and Southeast Asia have long held a close association. For Chinese officials posted to the southernmost regions of the T'ang empire, it was a fearful place of miasmas and malarial fevers. To many Europeans, Southeast Asia was, like tropical Africa, a "white man's grave." In the chronicles of the inhabitants of the region, the reality of disease merged with that of other calamities, in a world populated with spirits that held sway over human life. Aside from biomedical considerations, there are clearly important political and cultural dimensions to these links between region and disease. This essay will examine some of the factors that have given disease such a prominent place in Southeast Asian history.

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