Asia is the largest and most populous of the Earth's continents. It is traditionally defined as part of the landmass of Africa-Eurasia lying east of the Suez Canal, east of the Ural Mountains, and southeast of the Caucasus Mountains and the Caspian and Black Seas. About 60 percent of the world's human population lives in Asia, of whom only 2 percent live in the northern and interior half (Siberia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Xinjiang, Tibet, Qinghai, western Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan); the other 98% live in the remaining half.
Continents are concepts of human geography (i.e., landscapes and landforms as interpreted by humans), not of geology or physical geography, and definitions may vary. The concept of the three continents of the Old World goes back to classical antiquity with the etymology of the word also having roots in the ancient Near and Middle East. The demarcation between Asia and Africa is the Isthmus of Suez and the Red Sea. The boundary between Asia and Europe is commonly believed to run via the Dardanelles, the Sea of Marmara, the Bosporus, through 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.
It is sometimes unclear what Asia precisely consists of. In some definitions, it may exclude Turkey, the Middle East and/or Russia. Asia is sometimes used more strictly in reference to Asia Pacific, which does not include the Middle East or Russia, and does include islands in the Pacific Ocean — a number of which may also be considered part of Australasia and/or Oceania. The world's only subcontinent, the Indian Subcontinent, lies in Asia.
The word Asia entered English, via Latin, from Ancient Greek Ασία (Asia; see also List of traditional Greek place names). This name is first attested in Herodotus (c. 440 BC), where it refers to Asia Minor; or, for the purposes of describing the Persian Wars, to the Persian Empire, as opposed to Greece and Egypt. Even before Herodotus, Homer knew of a Trojan ally named Asios, son of Hyrtacus, a ruler over several towns, and elsewhere he describes a marsh as ασιος (Iliad 2, 461). The Greek term may be derived from Assuwa, a 14th century BC confederation of states in Western Anatolia. Hittite assu- "good" is probably an element in that name.
Alternatively, the ultimate etymology of the term may be from the Akkadian word (w)aṣû(m), cognate of Hebrew יצא, which means "to go out" or "to ascend", referring to the direction of the sun at sunrise in the Middle East. This may be contrasted to a similar etymology proposed for Europe, as being from Semitic erēbu "to enter" or "set" (of the sun). These etymologies presuppose an originally Mesopotamian or Middle Eastern perspective, which would not explain how the term "Asia" first came to be associated with Anatolia as lying west of the Semitic speaking area.
Lastly, the name Asia is also derived from the Phoenician word "asa" meaning east, relative to the Phoenician word "ereb", the basis of the name Europe.
See also: Orientalism
See also Geography of Asia.
Some Asian countries stretch beyond Asia. See Bicontinental country for details about the borderline cases between Asia and Europe, Asia and Africa and Asia and Oceania.
Asia itself is often divided in the following subregions:
- Central Asia
- East Asia (or Far East)
- North Asia
- South Asia (or Indian Subcontinent)
- Southeast Asia
- Southwest Asia (or Middle East or West Asia)
There is no absolute consensus in the usage of this term. Usually, Central Asia includes:
- the Central Asian Republics of Kazakhstan (excluding its small European territory), Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan.
- Afghanistan, Mongolia, and the western regions of China are also sometimes included.
- Former Soviet states in the Caucasus region.
Central Asia is currently geopolitically important because international disputes and conflicts over oil pipelines, Nagorno-Karabakh, and Chechnya, as well as the presence of U.S. military forces in Afghanistan.
East Asia (or Far East)
This area includes:
- The Pacific Ocean island countries of Taiwan and Japan. (The political status of the island of Taiwan and associated territories is under dispute. See: Political status of Taiwan)
- North and South Korea on the Korean Peninsula.
- China, but sometimes only the eastern regions
More informally, Southeast Asia is included in East Asia on some occasions.
This term is rarely used by geographers, but usually it refers to the bigger Asian part of Russia, also known as Siberia. Sometimes the northern parts of other Asian nations, such as Kazakhstan are also included in Northern Asia.
South Asia (or Indian Subcontinent)
South Asia is also referred to as the Indian Subcontinent. It includes:
- the Himalayan States of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh.
- the Indian Ocean nations of Sri Lanka and the Maldives. India's Andaman, Nicobar and Lakshadweep islands also lie in the Indian Ocean.
- the peninsular India (also known as the Deccan Plateau)
- In Maritime Southeast Asia, the countries of Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines, Singapore and Indonesia (some of the Indonesian islands also lie in the Melanesia region of Oceania). East Timor (also Melanesian) is sometimes included too.
Southwest Asia (or Middle East or West Asia)
This can also be called by the Western term Middle East, which is commonly used by Europeans and Americans. Middle East (to some interpretations) is often used to also refer to some countries in North Africa. Southwest Asia can be further divided into:
- Anatolia (i.e. Asia Minor), constituting the Asian part of Turkey.
- The island nation of Cyprus in the Mediterranean Sea.
- The Levant or Near East, which includes Syria, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and the Asian portion of Egypt.
- The Arabian peninsula, including Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Yemen and Kuwait.
- The Caucasus region, including almost all of Armenia, a small portion of Russia and nearly half of Georgia and more than half of Azerbaijan.
- The Iranian Plateau, containing Iran and parts of other neighbouring nations.
Also see Gulf States, for a different grouping involving several of the above countries.
Main article: Economy of Asia
|Population:||4.001 billion (2002)|
|GDP (PPP):||US$18.077 trillion|
|GDP (Currency):||$8.782 trillion|
|Annual growth of
per capita GDP:
|Income of top 10%:|
|Millionaires:||2.0 million (0.05%)|
|Most numbers are from the UNDP from 2002, some numbers exclude certain countries for lack of information.|
|Template:World economy infobox footer|
In terms of gross domestic product (PPP), Asia's largest national economy wholly within Asia is that of the PRC (People's Republic of China). Over the last decade, China's and India's economies have been growing rapidly, both with an average annual growth rate over 6%. PRC is the world's second largest economy after the US, followed by Japan and India as the world's third and fourth largest economies respectively (then followed by the European nations: Germany, U.K., France and Italy). In terms of exchange rates, the standard business practice, Japan has 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: Many supernational economies are larger, such as the EU,NAFTA or APEC). Economic growth in Asia since World War II to the 1990's had been concentrated in few countries of the Pacific Rim, and has spread more recently to other regions. In the late 80's and early 90's Japan's economy was larger than that of the rest of the continent combined. In 1995, Japan's economy nearly equalled the USA to tie the largest economy in the world for a day, after the Japanese currency reached record high of 79 yen. However, since then Japan's currency has corrected and China has grown to be the 2nd largest Asian economy, and South Korea the third, followed by India at fourth. It is expected that China will surpass Japan in currency terms to be the largest economy in Asia within a decade or two.
- Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation
- Asia-Europe Economic Meeting
- Association of Southeast Asian Nations
- Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement
- Commonwealth of Independent States
- South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation
- South Asia Free Trade Agreement (proposed)
Forestry is extensive throughout Asia except Southwest and Central Asia. Fishing is a major source of food in Asia, particularly in Japan.
Manufacturing in Asia has traditionally been strongest in East and Southeast Asia, particularly in PRC, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and Singapore. The industry varies from manufacturing cheap goods such as toys to high-tech goods such as computers and cars. Many companies from Europe, North America, and Japan have significant operations in the developing Asia to take avantage of its abundant supply of cheap labor.
One of the major employers in manufacturing in Asia is the textile industry. Much of the world's supply of clothing and footwear now originates in Southeast Asia.
Financial and other services
Asia has three main financial centers. They are in Hong Kong, Singapore and Tokyo. Call centers are becoming major employers in India and the Philippines, due to the availablity of many well-educated English speakers. The rise of the business process outsourcing industry has seen the rise of India and China as the other financial centers.
Main article: History of Asia
The coastal periphery was home to some of the world's earliest known civilizations, with each of the three regions developing early civilizations around fertile river valleys. The civilizations in Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley, and the Yangtze shared many similarities and likely exchanged technologies and ideas such as mathematics and the wheel. Other notions such as that of writing likely developed individually in each area. Cities, states and empires developed in these lowlands.
The steppe region had long been inhabited by mounted nomads, and from the central steppes they could reach all areas of Asia. The earliest known such central expansion out of the steppe is that of the Indo-Europeans, who spread their languages into the Middle East, India, and in the Tocharians to the borders of China. The northern part of Asia, covering much of Siberia, was inaccessible to the steppe nomads, due to the dense forests and the tundra. These areas were very sparsely populated.
The centre and periphery were kept separate by mountains and deserts. The Caucasus, Himalaya, Karakum Desert and Gobi Desert formed barriers that the steppe horsemen could only cross with difficulty. While technologically and culturally, the urban city dwellers were more advanced, they could do little militarily to defend against the mounted hordes of the steppe. However, the lowlands did not have enough open grasslands to support a large horsebound force. Thus the nomads who conquered states in China, India, and the Middle East were soon forced to adapt to the local societies.
The following table lists countries and dependencies by population density in inhabitants and km2.
Unlike the figures in the country articles, the figures in this table are based on areas including inland water bodies (lakes, reservoirs, rivers) and may therefore be lower here.
The whole of Egypt, Russia, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkey are referred to in the table, although they are only partly in Asia.
A large majority of people in the world who practice a religious faith practice one founded in Asia.
Religions founded in Asia and with a majority of their contemporary adherents in Asia include:
- Bahá'í Faith (slightly more than half of all adherents are in Asia)
- Buddhism (Japan,Sri Lanka, Korea, Singapore, China, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, Malaysia, India)
- Hinduism (India, Singapore, Malaysia, Nepal, Bali)
- Islam (Central, South, and Southwest Asia, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia)
- Jainism (India)
- Shinto (Japan)
- Sikhism (India, Malaysia, Hong Kong)
- Taoism (China, Vietnam, Singapore, and Taiwan)
- Zoroastrianism (Iran, India, Pakistan)
- Shamanism (Siberia)
- Animism (E. India)
Religions founded in Asia that have the majority of their contemporary adherents in other regions include:
- Christianity (Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Armenia, Georgia, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, East Timor, India and the Philippines)
- Judaism (slightly fewer than half of its adherents reside in Asia; Israel, Iran, India, Syria.)
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