According to direct evidence from archaeology and supporting evidence from comparative linguistics, the Neolithic cultures of the Yangtze alluvial plain played a significant role in the origins of rice cultivation and agricultural populations in East and Southeast Asia. The ultimate results of these developments, according to many authorities, were the dispersals of Austroasiatic and Austronesian-speaking peoples into Mainland and Island Southeast Asia. New archaeological discoveries suggest that some of the earliest pottery in the world also occurred in southern China. Therefore, the historical significance of this region cannot be overlooked. This paper provides a brief review of cultural developments and settlement histories in southern China from the early Neolithic (c. 11,000-8000 b.c.) to the terminal Neolithic (2000 b.c.). Geographically, we examine the middle and lower Yangtze alluvial plain, the Lingnan (southern Nanling Mountains) and Fujian region, and the Yungui Plateau of southern China. Against the backdrop of the waxing and waning of Neolithic cultures in the Yangtze Valley we plot the spread of material culture, rice farming and animal domestication out of the Yangtze region to the Lingnan-Fujian region and the Yungui Plateau, and later into Taiwan and Southeast Asia. This study suggests that the origins of rice agriculture and the process of farming dispersal were more complicated than previously assumed.