Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) is the oldest continually Buddhist country, Buddhism being the major religion in the island since its introduction in the 2nd century BC. Monks from Sri Lanka have an important role in spreading both Theravada and Mahayana throughout South-east Asia. It was Sri Lankan nuns who introduced the Sangha of nuns into China in 433AD. In the 16th century the Portuguese conquered Sri Lanka and savagely persecuted Buddhism as did the Dutch who followed them.
When the British won control at the beginning of the 19th century Buddhism was well into decline, a situation that encouraged the English missionaries that then began to flood the island. But against all expectations the monastic and lay community brought about a major revival from about 1860 onwards, a movement that went hand in hand with growing nationalism. Since then Sri Lankan monks and expatriate lay people have been prominent in spreading Theravada in Asia, the West and even in Africa.