Asia is the largest and most populous continent in the world. It covers about 8.6% of the Earth's total surface area (or 29.9% of its land area) and contains more than 60% of the world's current human population (or over 4 billion people). Chiefly in the eastern and northern hemispheres, Asia is traditionally defined as part of the landmass of Eurasia—with the western portion of the latter occupied by Europe—lying east of the Suez Canal, east of the Ural Mountains, and south of the Caucasus Mountains and the Caspian and Black Seas. It is bounded on the east by the Pacific Ocean, on the south by the Indian Ocean, and on the north by the Arctic Ocean. Given its size and diversity, Asia—a toponym dating back to classical antiquity—is more a cultural concept incorporating a number of regions and peoples than a homogeneous physical entity<ref>"Asia". Encyclopædia Britannica. 2006. Chicago: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.</ref><ref name=McG-H>"Asia". McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology. 2006. New York: McGraw-Hill Inc.</ref>.
The word Asia originated from the Greek word "Ἀσία", first attributed to Herodotus (about 440 B.C.) in reference to Anatolia or, for the purposes of describing the Persian Wars, to the Persian Empire, in contrast to Greece and Egypt. Herodotus comments that he is puzzled as to why three women's names are used to describe one enormous and substantial land mass (Europa, Asia, and Libya, referring to Africa), stating that most Greeks assumed that Asia was named after the wife of Prometheus but that the Lydians say it was named after Asias, son of Cotys who passed the name on to a tribe in Sardis.
Even before Herodotus, Homer knew of a Trojan ally named Asios and elsewhere he describes a marsh as ασιος (Iliad 2, 461). The Greek language term may be derived from Assuwa, a 14th century BCE confederation of states in Western Anatolia. Hittite assu-—"good" is probably an element in that name.
Alternatively, the etymology of the term may be from the Akkadian word (w)aṣû(m), which means "to go outside" or "to ascend", referring to the direction of the sun at sunrise in the Middle East, and also likely connected with the Phoenician word asa meaning east. This may be contrasted to a similar etymology proposed for Europe, as being from Akkadian erēbu(m) "to enter" or "set" (of the sun). However, this etymology is considered doubtful, because it does not explain how the term "Asia" first came to be associated with Anatolia, which is west of the Semitic-speaking areas, unless they refer to the viewpoint of a Phoenician sailor sailing through the straits between the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea.
It is interesting to note, in Icelandic Saga, ancient Teutons separated Asia from Europe by the river Tanakvisl (or Vanakvisl), which flows into the Black Sea. Eastward across the River (in Asia), so legend tells, was a land known as Asaheim or Asaland, where dwelt Odin, chief god, in his citadel named Asgard.<ref>Rydberg, Viktor. Teutonic Mythology: Gods and Goddesses of the Northland, London: Norroena Society, A.D. 1907. pp.33-34</ref> However, Aesir and all its forms are related to Sanskrit asura and Avestan ahura, the local reflexes of the name of a class of divine beings.
Definition and boundaries
Medieval Europeans considered Asia as a continent – a distinct landmass. The European concept of the three continents in the Old World goes back to Classical Antiquity, but during the Middle Ages was notably due to Isidore of Sevilla. The demarcation between Asia and Africa (to the southwest) is the Isthmus of Suez and the Red Sea. The boundary between Asia and Europe is conventionally considered to run through the Dardanelles, the Sea of Marmara, the Bosporus, the Black Sea, the Caucasus Mountains, the Caspian Sea, the Ural River to its source, and the Ural Mountains to the Kara Sea near Kara, Russia. While this interpretation of tripartite continents (i.e., of Asia, Europe, and Africa) remains common in modernity, discovery of the extent of Africa and Asia have made this definition somewhat anachronistic. This is especially true in the case of Asia, which would have several regions that would be considered distinct landmasses if these criteria were used (for example, Southern Asia and Eastern Asia).
In the far northeast of Asia, Siberia is separated from North America by the Bering Strait. Asia is bounded on the south by the Indian Ocean (specifically, from west to east, the Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea, and Bay of Bengal); on the east by the waters of the Pacific Ocean (including, counterclockwise, the South China Sea, East China Sea, Yellow Sea, Sea of Japan, Sea of Okhotsk, and Bering Sea); and on the north by the Arctic Ocean. Australia (or Oceania) is to the southeast.
Some geographers do not consider Asia and Europe to be separate continents,<ref>"Asia." MSN Encarta Encyclopedia. 2007.</ref> as there is no logical physical separation between them.<ref name=McG-H /> For example, Sir Barry Cunliffe, the emeritus professor of European archeology at Oxford, argue that Europe has been geographically and culturally merely “the western excrescence of the continent of Asia.”<ref></ref> Geographically, Asia is the major eastern constituent of the continent of Eurasia – with Europe being a northwestern peninsula of the landmass – or of Afro-Eurasia: geologically, Asia, Europe, and Africa comprise a single continuous landmass (save the Suez Canal) and share a common continental shelf. Almost all of Europe and most of Asia sit atop the Eurasian Plate, adjoined on the south by the Arabian and Indian Plates, and with the easternmost part of Siberia (east of the Cherskiy Range) on the North American Plate.
In geography, there are two schools of thought. One school follows historical convention and treats Europe and Asia as different continents, categorizing subregions within them for more detailed analysis. The other school equates the word "continent" with a geographical region when referring to Europe, and use the term "region" to describe Asia in terms of physiography. Since, in linguistic terms, "continent" implies a distinct landmass, it is becoming increasingly common to substitute the term "region" for "continent" to avoid the problem of disambiguation altogether.
Given the scope and diversity of the landmass, it is sometimes not even clear exactly what "Asia" consists of. Some definitions exclude Turkey, the Middle East, Central Asia, and Russia while only considering the Far East, Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent to compose Asia,<ref>Welty, Paul Thomas. The Asians Their Evolving Heritage, 6th ed., p. 21. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, 1984. ISBN 0-06-047001-1.</ref><ref>World University Service of Canada. Asia-WUSC WorldWide. 2006. October 7, 2006. <http://www.wusc.ca/expertise/worldwide/asia/>.</ref> especially in the United States after World War II.<ref>Menon, Sridevi. Duke University. "Where is West Asia in Asian America?Asia and the Politics of Space in Asian America." 2004. April 26, 2007. page 71 </ref> The term is sometimes used more strictly in reference to the Asia-Pacific region, which does not include the Middle East or Russia,<ref>BBC News 2006. September 9, 2006. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/>.</ref> but does include islands in the Pacific Ocean—a number of which may also be considered part of Australasia or Oceania, although Pacific Islanders are commonly not considered Asian.<ref>American Heritage Book of English Usage. Asian. 1996. September 29, 2006. <http://www.bartleby.com/64/C006/007.html>.</ref>
"Asian" as a demonym
The demonym "Asian" is often used colloquially to refer to people from a subregion of Asia instead of for anyone from Asia. Thus, in British English, "Asian" can mean South Asian, but may also refer to other Asian groups.<ref>Color Q World. Clarifying the Definition of Asian. 2005. October 1, 2006. <http://www.colorq.org/PetSins/article.asp?y=2005&m=5&x=5_7>.</ref> In the United States, "Asian American" can mean East Asian Americans, due to the historical and cultural influences of China and Japan on the U.S. up to the 1960s and in preference to the terms "Oriental" and "Asiatic". However, the term is increasingly taken to include Southeast Asian Americans and South Asian Americans, due to the increasing numbers of immigrants from these regions.<ref>Lee, Sharon M. Population Reference Bureau. Asian Americans Diverse and Growing. Accessed 2006-11-10.</ref>
Territories and regions
| Name of region<ref> Continental regions as per UN categorisations (map), except 12. Depending on definitions, various territories cited below (notes 6, 11-13, 15, 17-19, 21-23) may be in one or both of Asia and Europe, Africa, or Oceania.
territory, with flag
(1 July 2008 est.)
| Population density
| Kazakhstan<ref> Kazakhstan is sometimes considered a transcontinental country in Central Asia and Eastern Europe; population and area figures are for Asian portion only.
| Template:Country data People's Republic of China<ref> The state is commonly known as simply "China", which is subsumed by the eponymous entity and civilization (China). Figures given are for mainland China only, and do not include Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan.
| Hong Kong<ref> Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the PRC.
| Macau<ref> Macau is a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the PRC.
| Template:Country data ROC<ref> Figures are for the area under the de facto control of the Republic of China (ROC) government, commonly referred to as Taiwan. Claimed in whole by the PRC; see political status of Taiwan.
| Russia<ref> Russia is a transcontinental country; population and area figures are for Asian portion only.
| Southeastern Asia:<ref name="ccau">Excludes Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands (Australian external territories in the Indian Ocean southwest of Indonesia).|
|Brunei||5,770||381,371||60.8||Bandar Seri Begawan|
|Cambodia<ref>General Population Census of Cambodia 2008 - Provisional population totals, National Institute of Statistics, Ministry of Planning, released 3rd September, 2008</ref>||181,035||13,388,910||74||Phnom Penh|
| Template:Country data East Timor<ref> East Timor is often considered a transcontinental country in Southeastern Asia and Oceania.
| Indonesia<ref> Indonesia is often considered a transcontinental country in Southeastern Asia and Oceania; figures do not include Irian Jaya and Maluku Islands, frequently reckoned in Oceania (Melanesia/Australasia).
| India<ref> Includes Jammu and Kashmir, a contested territory among India, Pakistan, and the People's Republic of China.
|Sri Lanka||65,610||21,128,773||298.4||Sri Jayawardenapura-Kotte|
| Armenia<ref> Armenia is sometimes considered a transcontinental country: physiographically in Western Asia, it has historical and sociopolitical connections with Europe.
| Azerbaijan<ref> Azerbaijan is often considered a transcontinental country in Western Asia and Eastern Europe; population and area figures are for Asian portion only. Figures include Nakhchivan, an autonomous exclave of Azerbaijan bordered by Armenia, Iran, and Turkey.
| Cyprus<ref> The island of Cyprus is sometimes considered a transcontinental territory: in the Eastern Basin of the Mediterranean Sea south of Turkey, it has historical and socio-political connections with Europe.
| Gaza<ref name = "Palestine"> Gaza and West Bank, collectively referred to as the "Occupied Palestinian Territory" by the UN, are territories partially occupied by Israel but under de facto administration of the Palestinian National Authority.
| Georgia<ref> Georgia is often considered a transcontinental country in Western Asia and Eastern Europe; population and area figures are for Asian portion only.
|Israel||20,770||7,112,359||290.3||Jerusalem<ref>In 1980, Jerusalem was proclaimed Israel's united capital, following its annexation of Arab-dominant East Jerusalem during the 1967 Six-Day War. The United Nations and many countries do not recognize this claim, with most countries maintaining embassies in Tel Aviv instead.</ref>|
| Turkey<ref> Turkey is generally considered a transcontinental country in Western Asia and Southern Europe; population and area figures are for Asian portion only, excluding all of Istanbul.</small>
|United Arab Emirates||82,880||4,621,399||29.5||Abu Dhabi|
|West Bank<ref name = "Palestine"/>||5,860||2,611,904||393.1||Jerusalem|
Country name changes
Various Asian countries have undergone name changes during the previous century as the result of consolidations, secessions, territories gaining sovereignty, and regime changes.
|Previous Name||Year||Current Name|
|East Pakistan||1971||Bangladesh, People's Republic of|
|Democratic Kampuchea||1975||Cambodia, Kingdom of|
|Empire of Great Qing of China|| 1911
| China, Republic of|
China, People's Republic of
|Portuguese Timor||1975||East Timor, Democratic Republic of|
|Dutch East Indies||1949||Indonesia, Republic of|
|Persian Empire||1935||Iran, Republic of|
|Transjordan||1946||Jordan, Kingdom of|
|Kirghizia (USSR)||1991||Kyrgyzstan, Republic|
|Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore||1963||Malaysia and Singapore|
|Burma||1989||Myanmar, Union of|
|Muscat||1971||Oman, Sultanate of|
|West Pakistan||1971||Pakistan, Republic of|
|Hejaz-Nejd, The Kingdom of||1932||Saudi Arabia, Kingdom of|
|Aden||1970||South Yemen, People's Republic of|
|Ceylon||1972||Sri Lanka, Democratic Socialist Republic of|
|Tajik S.S.R||1991||Tajikistan, Republic of|
|Siam||1939||Thailand, Kingdom of|
|Ottoman Empire||1923||Turkey, Republic of|
|Turkmen SSR (USSR)||1991||Turkmenistan|
|Trucial Oman & Trucial States||1971||United Arab Emirates|
|French Indo-China||1949||Vietnam, Socialist Republic of|
|Yemen, People's Democratic & Southern Yemen||1990||Yemen, Republic of|
Asia has the third largest nominal GDP of all continents, after North America and Europe, but the largest when measured in Purchasing power parity. As of 2007, the largest national economy within Asia, in terms of gross domestic product (GDP), is that of China followed by that of India, Japan, South Korea and Indonesia. However, in nominal (exchange value) terms, they rank as follows: Japan, China, India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, Indonesia. Since the 1960s, South Korea had maintained the highest economic growth rate in Asia, nicknamed as an Asian tiger, becoming a newly industrialized country in the 1980s and a developed country by the 21st century. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the economies of the PRC<ref>Five Years of China's WTO Membership. EU and US Perspectives on China's Compliance with Transparency Commitments and the Transitional Review Mechanism, Legal Issues of Economic Integration, Kluwer Law International, Volume 33, Number 3, pp. 263-304, 2006. by Paolo Farah</ref> and India have been growing rapidly, both with an average annual growth rate of more than 8%. Other recent very high growth nations in Asia include the Philippines, Pakistan, Vietnam, Mongolia, Uzbekistan and mineral-rich nations such as Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Brunei, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Oman.
Historically, Japan has had the largest economy in Asia and second-largest of any single nation in the world, after surpassing the Soviet Union (measured in net material product) in 1986 and Germany in 1968. (NB: A number of supernational economies are larger, such as the European Union (EU), the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Asia Pacific Economic Council APEC). In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Japan's GDP was almost as large (current exchange rate method) as that of the rest of Asia combined. In 1995, Japan's economy nearly equalled that of the USA to tie as the largest economy in the world for a day, after the Japanese currency reached a record high of 79 yen/dollar. Economic growth in Asia since World War II to the 1990s had been concentrated in the four regions of South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore located in the pacific rim, known as the Asian tigers, which have now all received developed country status, having the highest GDP per capita in Asia.
It is forecast that the People's Republic of China will surpass Japan to have the largest nominal and PPP-adjusted GDP in Asia within a decade. India is also forecast to overtake Japan in terms of Nominal GDP by 2020.<ref>Commonwealth Business Council-Asia. Retrieved on April 12, 2007.</ref> In terms of GDP per capita, both nominal and PPP-adjusted, South Korea will become the second wealthiest country in Asia by 2025, overtaking Germany, the United Kingdom and France. By 2050, according to a 2006 report by Price Waterhouse Cooper, China will have the largest economy in the world (43% greater than the United States when PPP adjusted, although perhaps smaller than the United States in nominal terms).<ref>China to dwarf G7 states by 2050. Retrieved on November 19, 2008.</ref>
- Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC)
- Asia-Europe Economic Meeting
- Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)
- Gulf Cooperation Council
- Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement
- Commonwealth of Independent States
- South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation
Asia is the largest continent in the world by a considerable margin, and it is rich in natural resources, such as petroleum forests, fish, water, and metal.
Manufacturing in Asia has traditionally been strongest in East and Southeast Asia, particularly in mainland China, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, India and Singapore. Japan and South Korea continue to dominate in the area of multinational corporations, but increasingly mainland China, and India are making significant inroads. Many companies from Europe, North America, South Korea and Japan have operations in Asia's developing countries to take advantage of its abundant supply of cheap labour and relatively developed infrastructure.
Financial and other services
Asia has four main financial centres: Mumbai, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Tokyo. Dubai is growing fast as a financial hub for West Asia. Call centres and business process outsourcing (BPOs) are becoming major employers in India, Pakistan and The Philippines due to the availability of a large pool of highly-skilled, English-speaking workers. The increased use of outsourcing has assisted the rise of India and the People's Republic of China as financial centres. Due to its large and extremely competitive information technology industry, India has become a major hub for outsourcing.
The history of Asia can be seen as the distinct histories of several peripheral coastal regions: East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia and the Middle East, linked by the interior mass of the Central Asian steppes.
The coastal periphery was home to some of the world's earliest known civilizations, each of them developing around fertile river valleys. The civilizations in Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley, and the Huanghe shared many similarities. These civilizations may well have exchanged technologies and ideas such as mathematics and the wheel. Other innovations, such as writing, seem to have been developed individually in each area. Cities, states, and empires developed in these lowlands.
The central steppe region had long been inhabited by horse-mounted nomads who could reach all areas of Asia from the steppes. The earliest postulated expansion out of the steppe is that of the Indo-Europeans, who spread their languages into the Middle East, South Asia, and the borders of China, where the Tocharians resided. The northernmost part of Asia, including much of Siberia, was largely inaccessible to the steppe nomads, owing to the dense forests, climate, and tundra. These areas remained very sparsely populated.
The center and the peripheries were mostly kept separated by mountains and deserts. The Caucasus and Himalaya mountains and the Karakum and Gobi deserts formed barriers that the steppe horsemen could cross only with difficulty. While the urban city dwellers were more advanced technologically and socially, in many cases they could do little in a military aspect to defend against the mounted hordes of the steppe. However, the lowlands did not have enough open grasslands to support a large horsebound force; for this and other reasons, the nomads who conquered states in China, India, and the Middle East often found themselves adapting to the local, more affluent societies.
Languages and literature
Asia is home to several language families and many language isolates. Most Asian countries have more than one language that is natively spoken. For instance, according to Ethnologue, more than 600 languages are spoken in Indonesia, more than 415 languages spoken in India, and more than 100 are spoken in the Philippines. The People's Republic of China has many languages and dialects in different provinces.
The polymath Rabindranath Tagore, a Bengali poet, dramatist, and writer from Santiniketan, now in West Bengal, India, became in 1913 the first Asian Nobel laureate. He won his Nobel Prize in Literature for notable impact his prose works and poetic thought had on English, French, and other national literatures of Europe and the Americas. He is also the writer of the national anthems of Bangladesh and India.
Tagore is said to have named another Bengali Indian Nobel prize winner, the 1998 laureate in Economics, Amartya Sen. Sen's work has centered around global issues including famine, welfare, and third-world development. Amartya Sen was Master of Trinity College, Cambridge University, UK, from 1998-2004, becoming the first Asian to head an 'Oxbridge' College.
Other Asian writers who won Nobel Prizes include Yasunari Kawabata (Japan, 1966), Kenzaburo Oe (Japan, 1994), Gao Xingjian (People's Republic of China, 2000) and Orhan Pamuk (Turkey, 2006).
Also, Mother Teresa of India and Shirin Ebadi of Iran were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their significant and pioneering efforts for democracy and human rights, especially for the rights of women and children. Ebadi is the first Iranian and the first Muslim woman to receive the prize. Another Nobel Peace Prize winner is Aung San Suu Kyi from Burma for her peaceful and non-violent struggle under a military dictatorship in Burma. She is a nonviolent pro-democracy activist and leader of the National League for Democracy in Burma (Myanmar), and a noted prisoner of conscience. She is a Buddhist and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.
Other Asian Nobel Prize winners include Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, Venkata Raman, Abdus Salam, Shmuel Yosef Agnon, Robert Aumann, Menachem Begin, Aaron Ciechanover, Avram Hershko, Daniel Kahneman, Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin, Yaser Arafat, and Kim Dae-jung. Most of the said awardees are from Israel except for Chandrasekhar and Raman (India), Salam (Pakistan), Arafat (Palestinian Territories), and Kim (South Korea).
In 2006, Dr. Mohammad Yunus of Bangladesh was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the establishment of Grameen Bank, a community development bank that lends money to poor people, especially women in Bangladesh. Dr. Yunus received his Ph.D. in economics from Vanderbilt University, United States. He is internationally known for the concept of micro credit which allows poor and destitutes with little or no collateral to borrow money. The borrowers typically pay back money within specified period of time and the incidence of default is very low.
Asian mythology is diverse. The story is first found in Mesopotamian mythology, in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Hindu mythology tells about an avatar of God Vishnu in the form of a fish who warned Manu of a terrible flood. In ancient Chinese mythology, Shan Hai Jing, the Chinese ruler Da Yu, had to spend 10 years to control a deluge which swept out most of ancient China and was aided by the goddess Nüwa who literally fixed the broken sky through which huge rains were pouring.
Asian philosophical traditions originated in India and cover a large spectrum of philosophical thoughts and writings. Indian philosophy includes Hindu philosophy and Buddhist philosophy. They include elements of nonmaterial pursuits, whereas another school of thought from India, Cārvāka, preached the enjoyment of material world. Christianity is also present in most Asian countries.
The Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam originated in West Asia. Judaism, the oldest of the Abrahamic faiths, is practiced primarily in Israel (which has either the largest or second largest Jewish population in the world), though small communities exist in other countries, such as the Bene Israel in India. In the Philippines and East Timor, Roman Catholicism is the predominant religion; it was introduced by the Spaniards and the Portuguese, respectively. In Armenia, Eastern Orthodoxy is the predominant religion. Various Christian denominations have adherents in portions of the Middle East, as well as China and India. The world's largest Muslim community (within the bounds of one nation) is in Indonesia. South Asia (mainly Pakistan, India and Bangladesh) holds 30% of Muslims. There are also significant Muslim populations in China, Iran, Malaysia, the Philippines, Russia and most of West Asia and Central Asia.
Dharmic & Taoist
The religions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism originated in India, South Asia. In East Asia, particularly in China and Japan, Confucianism, Taoism and Zen Buddhism took shape. During the 20th century, in the two most populous countries of Asia, two dramatically different political philosophies took shape. Gandhi gave a new meaning to Ahimsa, and redefined the concepts of nonviolence and nonresistance.
Other religions of Asia include Zoroastrianism and Shamanism practiced in Iran and Siberia respectively, Shintoism practiced in Japan (usually with Buddhism) and Animism practiced in the eastern parts of the Indian subcontinent and in Southeast Asia.
- "Asia". The Columbia Gazetteer of the World Online. 2005. New York: Columbia University Press.
- World Conflicts: Asia and the Middle East . Edited by Carl L. Bankston III. New York: Salem Press.
- Higham, Charles. Encyclopedia of Ancient Asian Civilizations. Facts on File library of world history. New York: Facts On File, 2004.
- Kapadia, Feroz, and Mandira Mukherjee. Encyclopaedia of Asian Culture and Society. New Delhi: Anmol Publications, 1999.
- Levinson, David, and Karen Christensen. Encyclopedia of Modern Asia. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2002.
- (European Digital Archive on the Soil Maps of the World - EuDASM)
- Map Asia
- Maps of Asia from the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library