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Asia is the largest and most populous continent or region, depending on the definition. It is traditionally defined as part of the landmass of Africa-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. Asia covers 8.7% of the Earth's total surface area or 29.8% of its land area, and contains more than 60% of the world's human population.
Etymology - 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 (about 440 BC), where it refers to Asia Minor; 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 different women's names are used to describe a single 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, 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, 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 Semitic erēbu "to enter" or "set" (of the sun). However, this etymology is considered doubtful, because it does not explain the fact that the term "Asia" first came to be associated with Anatolia, which actually lies west of the Semitic speaking areas.
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 with the etymology of the word rooted 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 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. However, modern discovery of the extent of Africa and Asia made this definition rather anachronistic, especially in the case of Asia, which would have several regions that would be considered distinct landmasses if these criteria were used (for example, South Asia and East Asia).
Geologists and physical geographers no longer consider Asia and Europe to be separate continents. It is either defined in terms of geological landmasses (physical geography) or tectonic plates (geology). In the former case, Europe is a western peninsula of Eurasia or the Africa-Eurasia landmass. In the latter, Europe and Asia are parts of the Eurasian plate, which excludes the Arabian and Indian tectonic plates.
In human geography, there are two schools of thought. One school follows historical convention and treats Europe and Asia as different continents, categorizing Europe, East Asia (the Orient), South Asia (British India), and the Middle East (Arabia and Persia) as specific regions for more detailed analysis. The other schools equate the word "continent" in terms of geographical region when referring to Europe, and use the term "region" to describe Asia in terms of physical geography. Because 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.
There is much confusion in European languages with the term "Asian". Because a category implies homogenity, the term "Asian" almost always refers to a subcategory of people from Asia rather than referring to "Asian" defined in term of "Asia". The fact that in American English, Asian refers to East Asian, while in British English, Asian refers to South Asian reflects this confusion. Sometimes, it is not even clear exactly what "Asia" consists of. Some definitions exclude Turkey, the Middle East, or Russia. The term is sometimes used more strictly in reference to Asia Pacific, which does not include the Middle East or Russia, but does include islands in the Pacific Ocean — a number of which may also be considered part of Australasia or Oceania. Asia contains the Indian subcontinent, Arabian subcontinent, as well as a piece of the North American plate in Siberia.
Economy of Asia
During 2003 unless otherwise stated Population: 3,862,000,000 (2004)
GDP (PPP): US$18.077 trillion
GDP (Currency): $8.782 trillion
GDP/capita (PPP): $4,518
GDP/capita (Currency): $2,195
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.
See also: Economy of the world - Economy of Africa - Economy of Asia - Economy of Europe - Economy of North America - Economy of Oceania - Economy of South America
Main article: Economy of Asia
In terms of gross domestic product (PPP), the largest national economy 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 above 7%. 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, UK, France and Italy).
In terms of exchange rates (nominal GDP) however, 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: A number of 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 almost as large as 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 a record high of 79 yen. However, since then Japan's currency has corrected and China has grown to be the second largest Asian economy, followed by India in terms of exchange rates. It is expected that China will surpass Japan in currency terms to have the largest nominal GDP 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)
Natural resources - Asia is by a considerable margin the largest continent in the world, and is rich in natural resources, such as Petroleum and iron.
High productivity in agriculture, especially of rice, allows high population density of countries in the warm and humid area. Other main agricultural products include wheat and chicken.
Forestry is extensive throughout Asia except Southwest and Central Asia. Fishing is a major source of food in Asia, particularly in Japan.
Manufacturing - Manufacturing in Asia has traditionally been strongest in East and Southeast Asia, particularly in mainland China, 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 advantage 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 and Business Process Outsourcing (BPO's) are becoming major employers in India and the Philippines, due to the availability 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.
Map of Asia published in 1892.
The history of Asia can be seen as the distinct histories of several peripheral coastal regions East Asia, South 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 Yangtze 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, India, 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 technologically and socially, the urban city dwellers were more advanced, 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, and more than 100 are spoken in the Philippines. But Korea is home to only one language.
Nobel prizes - Rabindranath Tagore, the first Asian Nobel laureate.
The polymath Rabindranath Tagore, a Bengali poet, dramatist, and writer who was an Indian, 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 also wrote the Indian anthem
Other Asian writers who won Nobel Prizes include Yasunari Kawabata (Japan, 1966), and Kenzaburo Oe (Japan, 1994).
Mythology, philosophy and religion - The story of Great Floods find reference in most of the regions of Asia. The 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 Nuwa who "fixed" the "broken" sky through which huge rains were pouring.
Philosophy - Asian philosophical traditions originated in India and China 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, Carvaka, preached the enjoyment of material world.
Taoism was founded by Chinese philosopher Lao Zi, who lived 605-520 B.C. Buddhism was founded by Siddhartha Gautama, who lived 563-483 B.C.
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. During the same period, Mao Zedong’s communist philosophy was crystallized.
Religions - Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism originated in India, a country of South Asia. In East Asia, particularly in China and Japan, Confucianism, Taoism, Zen Buddhism and Shinto took shape. Other religions of Asia include Bahá'í Faith, Shamanism practiced in Siberia and Animism, practiced in the eastern parts of the Indian subcontinent.
Today 30% of Muslims live in the South Asian region of Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. The world's largest single Muslim community (within the bounds of one nation) is in Indonesia. There are also significant Muslim populations in the Philippines, China, Central Asia, Iran, and Russia.
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 sects have adherents in portions of the Middle East.
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: Cambodia, China, Japan, Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam, parts of northern, eastern, and western India, and parts of central and eastern Russia (Siberia).
Mahayana Buddhism: China, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam.
Theravada Buddhism: Cambodia, parts of China, Laos, mainly northern parts of Malaysia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, as well as parts of Vietnam.
Vajrayana Buddhism: Parts of China, Mongolia, parts of northern and eastern India, parts of central, eastern Russia and Siberia.
Hinduism: India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Malaysia, Singapore, Bali.
Islam: Central, South, and Southwest Asia, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, Brunei and Indonesia
Shia Islam: largely to specific Iran, Azerbaijan, parts of Iraq, Bahrain, parts of Afghanistan, parts of India, parts of Pakistan.
Sunni Islam: dominant in the rest of the regions mentioned above.
Qadiani: Pakistan, Bangladesh, India.
Sikhism: India, Malaysia, Hong Kong
Daoism: China, Korea, Vietnam, Singapore, and Taiwan
Zoroastrianism: Iran, India, Pakistan
Animism: Eastern India, Philippines, Japan, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Indonesia
Zikri: Pakistan, Iran.
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, Pakistan, India and the Philippines)
Judaism (slightly fewer than half of its adherents reside in Asia; Israel, Iran, India, Syria.)
References - "Asia". The Columbia Gazetteer of the World Online. 2005. New York: Columbia University Press.