Sam McManus

The social structure of South East Asia is mostly defined by the religious groups present in the country. Many of these countries adhered to Hinduism of Buddhism, giving them either a caste system or a neutral society.

Malaysia: The structure of Malaysia mainly focused around family, and less on physical wealth. If one had a wealthy or influential family, then they were held in a higher status than a family with little or no money. The country mainly adheres to Islam, so all people are held in equal regard to an extent.

Cambodia: The structure of Cambodia was much less family oriented and much more religiously and politically affected. The country was split into many classes, the lower ones being rural peasants or unskilled urban workers, most people belonged to this class. The small middle class mainly consisted of businessmen, teachers, and clergymen. The upper class was split into 2 groups, one was nobility and royalty, and the other was students, professionals, and lower hierarchy members. The prior of the 2 was nearly impossible to enter.

Thailand: In many ways, the Taiwanese structure was very similar to that of Cambodia. People with little or no education filled the bottom most portion, people with skills made up the middle class, and nobility and high education students made up the upper class. Despite the similarities, there were some differences. Some people were outside the system, like Buddhist monks and Chinese immigrants. They formed their own groups, and weren't held on the same scale.

Vietnam: The structure of Vietnam was highly influenced by the U.S., only they were under strict imposement by the military. Under normal conditions, social classes were based on work group, with peasants on the bottom, workers in the middle, and professionals and nobility on the top. People could move between class based on work ethic, so a peasant could move up in class if he became skilled in a trade.

India: The region most influenced by religion, India adhered to a strict caste system, and people could not move up or down in their lifetime, but rather by preforming good deeds and being promised reincarnation. The system consisted of 5 classes, Brahman, Kshatriya, Vaishya, Shudra, and Harijan. The Brahman were priests, and were held in the highest regard. Kshatriya were the warriors and land owners, being of powerful descent and heritage. Vaishya were the middle class merchants, holding very little power. Shudra are the lowest class in the system, consisting of artisans and farmers, they were little more than manual labor. The Harijan are so low they do not even go in the caste.

Most of South East Asia's social structure is defined by influences of other countries or religions. Some of these structures impose harsh laws and guidelines, while others simply live and let live. Some of these structures have been long abolished, and replaced with much more lenient laws, allowing people to fluctuate in and out of social classes.

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