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The Asia Portal
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Asia (/ˈʒə, ˈʃə/ (About this soundlisten)) is Earth's largest and most populous continent, located primarily in the Eastern and Northern Hemispheres. It shares the continental landmass of Eurasia with the continent of Europe and the continental landmass of Afro-Eurasia with both Europe and Africa. Asia covers an area of 44,579,000 square kilometres (17,212,000 sq mi), about 30% of Earth's total land area and 8.7% of the Earth's total surface area. The continent, which has long been home to the majority of the human population, was the site of many of the first civilizations. Asia is notable for not only its overall large size and population, but also dense and large settlements, as well as vast barely populated regions. Its 4.5 billion people () constitute roughly 60% of the world's population.

In general terms, Asia is bounded on the east by the Pacific Ocean, on the south by the Indian Ocean, and on the north by the Arctic Ocean. The border of Asia with Europe is a historical and cultural construct, as there is no clear physical and geographical separation between them. It is somewhat arbitrary and has moved since its first conception in classical antiquity. The division of Eurasia into two continents reflects East–West cultural, linguistic, and ethnic differences, some of which vary on a spectrum rather than with a sharp dividing line. The most commonly accepted boundaries place Asia to the east of the Suez Canal separating it from Africa; and to the east of the Turkish Straits, the Ural Mountains and Ural River, and to the south of the Caucasus Mountains and the Caspian and Black Seas, separating it from Europe.

China and India alternated in being the largest economies in the world from 1 to 1800 CE. China was a major economic power and attracted many to the east, and for many the legendary wealth and prosperity of the ancient culture of India personified Asia, attracting European commerce, exploration and colonialism. The accidental discovery of a trans-Atlantic route from Europe to America by Columbus while in search for a route to India demonstrates this deep fascination. The Silk Road became the main east–west trading route in the Asian hinterlands while the Straits of Malacca stood as a major sea route. Asia has exhibited economic dynamism (particularly East Asia) as well as robust population growth during the 20th century, but overall population growth has since fallen. Asia was the birthplace of most of the world's mainstream religions including Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Jainism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, as well as many other religions.

Selected panorama

Hiroshima Peace Memorial
Credit: Dean S. Pemberton

A panoramic view of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, the site of the first atomic bomb to be used in warfare on August 6, 1945, during the final stages of World War II. Over 70,000 people were killed immediately, and another 70,000 suffered fatal injuries from the radiation, after the U.S. Army Air Force bomber Enola Gay dropped the bomb, codenamed "Little Boy". The Genbaku ("A-bomb") Dome (center) was directly beneath the blast, but managed to survive mostly intact.

Featured picture

Sikh pilgrim at the Golden Temple
Credit: Paul Rudd

A Sikh pilgrim at the Harmandir Sahib, known informally as the "Golden Temple", located in the city of Amritsar, Punjab, India. The temple is the best-known of the Sikh gurdwaras and was completed in 1604. In the early nineteenth century, Maharaja Ranjit Singh covered the upper floors of the gurdwara with gold, giving it its distinctive appearance.

Featured biography

Ban Ki-moon
Ban Ki-moon is the eighth and current Secretary-General of the United Nations, after succeeding Kofi Annan in 2007. Before going on to be Secretary-General, Ban was a career diplomat in South Korea's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and in the United Nations. He entered diplomatic service the year he graduated from university, accepting his first post in New Delhi, India. In the foreign ministry he established a reputation for modesty and competence. Ban was the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Korea from January 2004 to November 2006. In February 2006, he began to campaign for the office of Secretary-General. Ban was initially considered to be a long shot for the office. As foreign minister of South Korea, however, he was able to travel to all of the countries that were members of the United Nations Security Council, a maneuver that turned him into the front runner. On 13 October 2006, he was elected to be the eighth Secretary-General by the United Nations General Assembly and officially succeeded Annan on 1 January 2007. Ban has led several major reforms regarding peacekeeping and UN employment practices. Diplomatically, Ban has taken particularly strong views on Darfur, where he helped persuade Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to allow peacekeeping troops to enter Sudan; and on global warming, pressing the issue repeatedly with former U.S. President George W. Bush. Ban has received strong criticism from OIOS, the UN internal audit unit, stating that the secretariat, under Ban's leadership, is "drifting into irrelevance".


Featured article

The Han dynasty in 87 BCE (brown), with commanderies (red dots) and protectorates (green dots) shown
The Han dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE) was the second imperial dynasty of China, preceded by the Qin dynasty (221–207 BCE) and succeeded by the Three Kingdoms (220–280 CE). It was founded by the rebel leader Liu Bang, known posthumously as Emperor Gaozu of Han. It was briefly interrupted by the Xin dynasty (9–23 CE) of the former regent Wang Mang. This interregnum separates the Han into two periods: the Western Han (206 BCE – 9 CE) and Eastern Han (25–220 CE). Spanning over four centuries, the period of the Han dynasty is considered a golden age in Chinese history. To this day, China's majority ethnic group refers to itself as the "Han people" and Chinese characters are referred to as "Han characters". The Han Empire was divided into areas directly controlled by the central government, known as commanderies, and a number of semi-autonomous kingdoms. These kingdoms gradually lost all vestiges of their independence, particularly following the Rebellion of the Seven States. The Xiongnu, a nomadic confederation which dominated the eastern Eurasian Steppe, defeated the Han army in battle in 200 BCE. Following the defeat, a political marriage alliance was negotiated in which the Han became the de facto inferior partner. When, despite the treaty, the Xiongnu continued to raid Han borders, Emperor Wu of Han (r. 141–87 BCE) launched several military campaigns against them. The ultimate Han victory in these wars eventually forced the Xiongnu to accept vassal status as Han tributaries. These campaigns expanded Han sovereignty into the Tarim Basin of Central Asia and helped establish the vast trade network known as the Silk Road, which reached as far as the Mediterranean world. Han forces managed to divide the Xiongnu into two competing nations, the Southern and Northern Xiongnu, and forced the Northern Xiongnu across the Ili River.


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