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Related subjects Geography of Asia


World map showing the location of Asia.

Area 43,810,582 km² (16,915,360.3 sq mi)
Population 3,879,000,000 (1st)
Density 89.07/km² (230.7)/sq mi)
Demonym Asian
No. of countries 37
Unrecognized Republics & Regions
Time Zones
Internet TLD .asia, many others
Largest Cities

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).


The word Asia originated from the Ancient Greek word "Ασία", first attributed to Herodotus (about 440 BC) 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 BC 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.

Definition and boundaries

Physical geography

Physical map of Asia (excluding Southwest Asia).
Physical map of Asia (excluding Southwest Asia).
Two-point equidistant projection of Asia.
Two-point equidistant projection of Asia.

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.

Political geography

"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. 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 them.

Territories and regions

UN geoscheme subregions of Asia:      Eastern Asia      Central Asia      Southern Asia      Southeastern Asia      Western Asia      Russia (Asia)
UN geoscheme subregions of Asia:      Eastern Asia      Central Asia      Southern Asia      Southeastern Asia      Western Asia      Russia (Asia)
Name of region and
territory, with flag
( 1 July 2008 est.)
Population density
(per km²)
Central Asia:
Flag of Kazakhstan Kazakhstan 2,346,927 15,340,533 5.7 Astana
Flag of Kyrgyzstan Kyrgyzstan 198,500 5,356,869 24.3 Bishkek
Flag of Tajikistan Tajikistan 143,100 7,211,884 47.0 Dushanbe
Flag of Turkmenistan Turkmenistan 488,100 5,179,573 9.6 Ashgabat
Flag of Uzbekistan Uzbekistan 447,400 28,268,441 57.1 Tashkent
Eastern Asia:
Flag of the People's Republic of China China 9,584,492 1,322,044,605 134.0 Beijing
Flag of Hong Kong Hong Kong, China 1,092 7,903,334 6,688.0
Flag of Japan Japan 377,835 127,288,628 336.1 Tokyo
Flag of Macau Macau, China 25 460,823 18,473.3
Flag of Mongolia Mongolia 1,565,000 2,996,082 1.7 Ulaanbaatar
Flag of North Korea North Korea 120,540 23,479,095 184.4 Pyongyang
Flag of South Korea South Korea 98,480 49,232,844 490.7 Seoul
Flag of the Republic of China Republic of China (Taiwan) 35,980 22,920,946 626.7 Taipei
Northern Africa:
Flag of Egypt Egypt 980,869 81,713,517 21.7 Cairo
Northern Asia:
Flag of Russia Russia 13,115,200 140,702,092 3.0 Moscow
Southeastern Asia:
Flag of Brunei Brunei 5,770 381,371 60.8 Bandar Seri Begawan
Flag of Cambodia Cambodia 181,040 14,241,640 70.6 Phnom Penh
Flag of East Timor East Timor (Timor-Leste) 15,007 1,108,777 63.5 Dili
Flag of Indonesia Indonesia 1,419,588 237,512,355 159.9 Jakarta
Flag of Laos Laos 236,800 6,677,534 24.4 Vientiane
Flag of Malaysia Malaysia 329,750 25,274,135 68.7 Kuala Lumpur
Flag of Burma Myanmar (Burma) 678,500 47,758,224 62.3 Naypyidaw
Flag of the Philippines Philippines 300,000 92,681,453 281.8 Manila
Flag of Singapore Singapore 704 4,608,167 6,369.0 Singapore
Flag of Thailand Thailand 514,000 65,493,298 121.3 Bangkok
Flag of Vietnam Vietnam 331,690 86,116,559 246.1 Hanoi
Southern Asia:
Flag of Afghanistan Afghanistan 647,500 32,738,775 42.9 Kabul
Flag of Bangladesh Bangladesh 144,000 153,546,901 926.2 Dhaka
Flag of Bhutan Bhutan 47,000 682,321 14.3 Thimphu
Flag of India India 3,167,590 1,147,995,226 318.2 New Delhi
Flag of Iran Iran 1,648,195 65,875,223 42 Tehran
Flag of the Maldives Maldives 300 379,174 1,067.2 Malé
Flag of Nepal Nepal 140,800 29,519,114 183.8 Kathmandu
Flag of Pakistan Pakistan 803,940 167,762,049 183.7 Islamabad
Flag of Sri Lanka Sri Lanka 65,610 21,128,773 298.4 Colombo
Western Asia:
Flag of Armenia Armenia 29,800 2,968,586 111.7 Yerevan
Flag of Azerbaijan Azerbaijan 46,870 3,845,127 82.0 Baku
Flag of Bahrain Bahrain 665 718,306 987.1 Manama
Flag of Cyprus Cyprus 9,250 792,604 83.9 Nicosia
Palestinian flag Gaza 363 1,537,269 3,315.7 Gaza
Flag of Georgia (country) Georgia 20,460 4,630,841 99.3 Tbilisi
Flag of Iraq Iraq 437,072 28,221,181 54.9 Baghdad
Flag of Israel Israel 20,770 7,112,359 290.3 Jerusalem
Flag of Jordan Jordan 92,300 6,198,677 57.5 Amman
Flag of Kuwait Kuwait 17,820 2,596,561 118.5 Kuwait City
Flag of Lebanon Lebanon 10,452 3,971,941 353.6 Beirut
Flag of Oman Oman 212,460 3,311,640 12.8 Muscat
Flag of Qatar Qatar 11,437 928,635 69.4 Doha
Flag of Saudi Arabia Saudi Arabia 1,960,582 23,513,330 12.0 Riyadh
Flag of Syria Syria 185,180 19,747,586 92.6 Damascus
Flag of Turkey Turkey 756,768 71,892,807 76.5 Ankara
Flag of the United Arab Emirates United Arab Emirates 82,880 4,621,399 29.5 Abu Dhabi
Palestinian flag West Bank 5,860 2,611,904 393.1
Flag of Yemen Yemen 527,970 23,013,376 35.4 Sanaá
Total 43,810,582 4,050,404,193 89.07

See Also: List of Asian countries by population

Country name changes

The names of quite a few Asian countries have changed during the last century.

Previous Name Year Current Name
East Pakistan 1971 Bangladesh, People's Republic of
Kampuchea, Democratic 1975 Cambodia, Kingdom 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
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
Formosa, Republic 1945 Taiwan
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


Economy of Asia
During 2003 unless otherwise stated
Population: 3,958,768,100 (2006 Estimate)
GDP ( PPP): US$18.077 trillion
GDP ( Currency): $8.782 trillion
GDP/capita ( PPP): $4,518
GDP/capita ( Currency): $2,143
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

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 and South Korea. 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 EU, 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, UK and France and 25 years later, surpass Japan, becoming the wealthiest country in Asia.

Trade blocs

  • Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation
  • Asia-Europe Economic Meeting
  • Association of Southeast Asian Nations
  • Gulf Cooperation Council
  • Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement
  • Commonwealth of Independent States
  • South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation


Manufacturing in Asia has traditionally been strongest in East and Southeast Asia, particularly in mainland China, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and Singapore. Japan and South Korea continue to dominate in the area of multinational corporations, but increasingly mainland China, Taiwan, 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 India, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Tokyo. 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 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.

Early history

Map of Asia, 1892
Map of Asia, 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 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 centre 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.

Rabindranath Tagore, the first Asian Nobel laureate.
Rabindranath Tagore, the first Asian Nobel laureate.

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.

Nobel prizes

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 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 Daejung, all of whom are Israelis except Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar and Venkata Raman (who are both Indian), Abdus Salam (who is Pakistani), Yaser Arafat (who is Palestinian), and Kim Daejung (who is from South Korea).

In 2006 Dr. Mohammad Yunus from Bangladesh and the Grameen Bank he established to lend money to poor people especially women in Bangladesh was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. 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. The story is also found in the Bible and Qur'an.


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, Cārvāka, preached the enjoyment of material world. Also Methidistism and protestism is popular among Koreans


Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam originated in West Asia. 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. 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. Judaism, one of the smaller yet 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.


The Indian religions of Sikhism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism originated in 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 Ahinsa, and redefined the concepts of nonviolence and nonresistance.


Other religions of Asia include the Zoroastrianism, Shamanism practiced in Iran and Siberia respectively, Shintoism practised in Japan (usually with Buddhism) and Animism practiced in the eastern parts of the Indian subcontinent and in Southeast Asia.

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