Asia is the world's largest and most populous continent. It covers 8.6% of the Earth's total surface area (or 29.4% of its land area) and, with over 4 billion people, it contains more than 60% of the world's current human population. 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 (see Subregions of Asia, Asian people).
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. 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.
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 (see T and O map). 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, as there is no logical physical separation between them. 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, especially in the United States after World War II. The term is sometimes used more strictly in reference to the Asia-Pacific region, 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, although Pacific Islanders are commonly not considered Asian.
| Name of region and|
territory, with flag
(1 July 2008 est.)
| Population density|
|5,770||381,371||60.8||Bandar Seri Begawan|
See Also: List of Asian countries by population
|Previous Name||Year||Current Name|
|East Pakistan||1971||Bangladesh, People's Republic of|
|Kampuchea, Democratic||1975||Cambodia, Kingdom of|
|Empire of Great Qing of China|| 1911|
| China (Taiwan), Republic of|
China (Mainland), 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||1970||Yemen, Republic of|
|Population:||3,958,768,100 (2006 Estimate)|
|GDP (PPP):||US$18.077 trillion|
|GDP (Currency):||$8.782 trillion|
|Millionaires:||2.0 million (0.05%)|
|Most numbers are from the UNDP from 2002, some numbers exclude certain countries for lack of information.|
Asia has the third largest nominal GDP of all continents, after North America and Europe, but the largest when measured in PPP. 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 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) or 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. Economic growth in Asia since World War II to the 1990s had been concentrated in the four countries 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. 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, it is expected that China will have the largest economy in the world and Asia, followed by India, Indonesia, Japan and South Korea.
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.
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.
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 Myanmar for her peaceful and non-violent struggle under a military dictatorship in Myanmar. She is a nonviolent pro-democracy activist and leader of the National League for Democracy in Myanmar (Burma), 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.