Asia is the world's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the eastern and northern hemispheres. It covers 8.7% of the Earth's total surface area (or 30% of its land area) and with approximately 3.879 billion people, it hosts 60% of the world's current human population. During the 20th century Asia's population nearly quadrupled.
Asia is defined according to similar definitions presented by the Encyclopedia Britannica and the National Geographic Society as 4/5 of the landmass of Eurasia — with the western portion of the latter occupied by Europe — located to the east of the Suez Canal, east of the Ural Mountains and south of the Caucasus Mountains (or the Kuma-Manych Depression) 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 diverse regions and peoples than a homogeneous physical entity Asia differs very widely among and within its regions with regard to ethnic groups, cultures, environments, economics, historical ties and government systems.
The original distinction between Europe and Asia was made by the ancient Greeks. They used the Aegean Sea, the Dardanelles, the Sea of Marmara, the Bosporus, the Black Sea, the Kerch Strait, and the Sea of Azov as the border between Asia and Europe. The Nile was often used as the border between Asia and Africa (then called Libya), although some Greek geographers suggested the Red Sea would form a better boundary. Darius' canal between the Nile and the Red Sea introduced considerable variation in opinion. Under the Roman Empire, the Don River emptying into the Black Sea was the western border of Asia. It was the northernmost navigable point of the European shore.
The Don River became unsatisfactory to northern Europeans when Peter the Great, king of the Tsardom of Russia, defeating rival claims of Sweden and the Ottoman Empire to the eastern lands, as well as armed resistance by the tribes of Siberia, synthesized a new Russian Empire extending to the Ural Mountains and beyond, founded in 1721. The major geographical theorist of the empire was actually a former Swedish prisoner-of-war, taken at the Battle of Poltava in 1709 and assigned to Tobolsk, where he associated with Peter's Siberian official, Vasily Tatishchev, and was allowed freedom to conduct geographical and anthropological studies in preparation for a future book.
At home in Sweden again, five years after Peter's death, in 1730 von Strahlenberg published a new atlas proposing the Urals as the border of Asia. The Russians were enthusiastic about the concept, which allowed them to keep their European identity in geography as well as other cultural heritage. Tatishchev announced that he had proposed the idea to von Strahlenberg. The latter had suggested the Emba River as the lower boundary. Over the next century various proposals were made until the Ural River prevailed in the mid-19th-century. The border had been moved perforce from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea into which the Ural River projects. In the maps of the period, Transcaucasia was counted as Asian. The incorporation of most of that region into the Soviet Union tended to push views of the border to the south.
The border between Asia and Oceania is placed somewhere in the Malay archipelago. The terms Southeast Asia and Oceania, devised in the 19th century, have had vastly different geographic meanings since their inception. Oceania has never been Asia, whatever it may have been defined to be. The chief factor in determining what islands of the Malay Archipelago are Asian has been the location of the colonial possessions of the various empires there (not all European). Lewis and Wigen assert, "The narrowing of 'Southeast Asia' to its present boundaries was thus a gradual process." Currently Malaysia and Indonesia with the western half of New Guinea are in Southeast Asia (although the New Guinea territory of Indonesia is being disputed by the natives).
Geographical Asia is a cultural artifact, an imprecise concept causing endemic contention about what it means. In contrast to Europe, Asia is the largest and most culturally diverse of the continents in the seven-continent system. It does not exactly correspond to the cultural borders of its various types of constituents.
In addition to its general inherited geographical meaning, to which the entire literate world subscribes, Asia has any number of agency-specific meanings organizationally and operationally of use in more restricted fields of interest. For example, the World University Service of Canada is a volunteer organization dedicated to bringing educational, health and other services to nations that need them the most. The regional divisions most convenient to its operations include, among others, the Middle East and Europe, and South and Southeast Asia, termed just "Asia." Its administrative Asia is substantially different from the overall geographic and the same may be said of many hundreds more agencies across the globe that operate in Asia from headquarters elsewhere. Some of the most innovative and perhaps the most transitory uses of "Asia" have been promulgated by the news media reporting on current events. Their classifications must be the most suitable for the news and the sources of it. For example, the BBC News has an Asia-Pacific section, which acquires news from anywhere in Australasia, Oceania or the Pacific side of the Americas.
Some geographers do not consider Asia and Europe to be separate continents, as there is no logical physical separation between them. For example, Sir Barry Cunliffe, the emeritus professor of European archeology at Oxford, argues that Europe has been geographically and culturally merely "the western excrescence of the continent of Asia." 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 Plate and with the easternmost part of Siberia (east of the Cherskiy Range) on the North American Plate.
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.
The Islamic Caliphate took over the Middle East and Central Asia during the Muslim conquests of the 7th century. The Mongol Empire conquered a large part of Asia in the 13th century, an area extending from China to Europe.
Asia has the second largest nominal GDP of all continents, after Europe, but the largest when measured in PPP. As of 2010, the largest economies in Asia are the People's Republic of China, Japan, India, South Korea and Indonesia. Based on Global Office Locations 2011, Asia dominated the office locations with 4 of top 5 were in Asia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo, London and Shanghai. Around 68 percent of international firms have office in Hong Kong.
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 Malaysia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Thailand, Vietnam, Mongolia, Uzbekistan, Cyprus and the Philippines, and mineral-rich nations such as Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Brunei, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Oman.
China was the largest and most advanced economy on earth for much of recorded history, until the British Empire (excluding India) overtook it in the mid 19th century. Japan has had for only several decades after WW2 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 equaled that of the USA 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 Japan as well as 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 forecasted that India will 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. According to IMF statistics for the year 2010, the mostly unrecognized Republic of China PPP-adjusted GDP per capita, at USD 34,743, is already higher than that of Finland, France, or Japan. By 2027, according to Goldman Sachs, China will have the largest economy in the world. Several trade blocs exist, with the most developed being the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
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, rice, copper and silver. Manufacturing in Asia has traditionally been strongest in East and Southeast Asia, particularly in mainland China, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, India, Philippines 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.
According to Citigroup 9 of 11 Global Growth Generators countries came from Asia driven by population and income growth. They are Bangladesh, the People's Republic of China, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Mongolia, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Vietnam. Asia has four main financial centres: Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore and Shanghai. Call centres and business process outsourcing (BPOs) are becoming major employers in India 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 China as financial centres. Due to its large and extremely competitive information technology industry, India has become a major hub for outsourcing.
In 2010, Asia had 3.3 million of millionaires and slightly below North America with 3.4 million of millionaires. Last year Asia had toppled Europe. Millionaires means have worth at least $1 million, excluding their homes.
East Asia had by far the strongest overall HDI improvement of any region in the world, nearly doubling average HDI attainment over the past 40 years, according to the Report’s analysis of health, education and income data. PR China, the second highest achiever in the world in terms of HDI improvement since 1970, is the only country on the “Top 10 Movers” list due to income rather than health or education achievements. Its per capita income increased a stunning 21-fold over the last four decades, also lifting hundreds of millions out of income poverty. Yet it was not among the region’s top performers in improving school enrolment and life expectancy.Nepal, a South Asian country, emerges as one of the world’s fastest movers since 1970 mainly due to health and education achievements. Its present life expectancy is 25 years longer than 1970's.; more than four of every five children of school age in Nepal now attend primary school, compared to just one in five 40 years ago.Japan and South Korea ranked highest among the countries grouped on the HDI (number 11 and 12 in the world, which are in the “very high human development” category), followed by Hong Kong (SAR)(21) and Singapore (27). Afghanistan (155) ranked lowest amongst Asian countries out of the 169 countries assessed.
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 800 languages spoken in India, and more than 100 are spoken in the Philippines. China has many languages and dialects in different provinces.
Asian mythology is complex and diverse. The story of the Great Flood for example, as presented to Christians in the Old Testament, is first found in Mesopotamian mythology, in the Epic of Gilgamesh. Hindu mythology tells about an Avatar of the 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.
Almost all Asian religions have philosophical character and Asian philosophical traditions 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 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.
Over 80% of the populations of both India and Nepal adhere to Hinduism, alongside significant communities in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Bali. Many overseas Indians in countries such as Burma, Singapore and Malaysia also adhere to Hinduism.
Buddhism has a great following in mainland Southeast Asia and East Asia. Buddhism is the religion of the majority of the populations of Cambodia (98%), Thailand (95%), Burma (89%), Japan (84-96%), Bhutan (75%), Sri Lanka (69%), Laos (67%-98%) and Mongolia (50%). Large Buddhist populations also exist in Singapore (42.5%), Taiwan (35.1%-93%), South Korea (23.2%), Malaysia(19.2%), Nepal (10.7%), Vietnam (9.3-80%), People's Republic of China(8-80%), North Korea (4.5%-60%), Indonesia (<2%); and small communities in India and Bangladesh. In many Chinese communities, Mahayana Buddhism is easily syncretized with Taoism, thus exact religious statistics is difficult to obtain and may be understated or overstated. The Communist-governed countries of China, Vietnam and North Korea are officially atheist, thus the number of Buddhists and other religious adherents may be under-reported.
Jainism is found mainly in India and in oversea Indian communities such as India and Malaysia. Sikhism is found in Northern India and amongst overseas Indian communities in other parts of Asia, especially Southeast Asia. Confucianism is found predominantly in Mainland China, South Korea, Taiwan and in overseas Chinese populations. Taoism is found mainly in Mainland China, Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore. Taoism is easily syncretized with Mahayana Buddhism for many Chinese, thus exact religious statistics is difficult to obtain and may be understated or overstated.
The polymath Rabindranath Tagore, a Bengali Indian 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 on global issues including famine, welfare, and third-world development. Amartya Sen was Master of Trinity College, Cambridge University, UK, from 1998 to 2004, becoming the first Asian to head an 'Oxbridge' College.
Other Asian writers who won Nobel Prizes include Yasunari Kawabata (Japan, 1966), Kenzaburō 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. Most recently, Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for "his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China." He is the first Chinese citizen to be awarded a Nobel Prize of any kind while residing in China.
Sir C.V.Raman is the first Asian to get a Nobel prize in Sciences. He won the Nobel Prize in Physics "for his work on the scattering of light and for the discovery of the effect named after him".
Other Asian Nobel Prize winners include Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar, Abdus Salam, Shmuel Yosef Agnon, Robert Aumann, Menachem Begin, Aaron Ciechanover, Avram Hershko, Daniel Kahneman, Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin, Ada Yonath, Yaser Arafat, Jose Ramos Horta and Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo of Timor Leste, Kim Dae-jung, and 13 Japanese scientists. Most of the said awardees are from Japan and Israel except for Chandrasekhar and Raman (India), Salam (Pakistan), Arafat (Palestinian Territories) Kim (South Korea), Horta and Belo (Timor Leste).
In 2006, Dr. Muhammad 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 the specified period and the incidence of default is very low.
The Dalai Lama has received approximately eighty-four awards over his spiritual and political career. On 22 June 2006, he became one of only four people ever to be recognized with Honorary Citizenship by the Governor General of Canada. On 28 May 2005, he received the Christmas Humphreys Award from the Buddhist Society in the United Kingdom. Most notable was the Nobel Peace Prize, presented in Oslo, Norway on 10 December 1989.