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Cape Baba, western Asian countries, Ural River, Caucasus Mountains, Ural Mountains

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Asia, largest of the Earth’s seven continents, lying almost entirely in the Northern Hemisphere. With outlying islands, it covers an estimated 44,391,000 sq km (17,139,000 sq mi), or about 30 percent of the world’s total land area. Its peoples account for three-fifths of the world’s population; in 2008 Asia had an estimated 4.05 billion inhabitants.

Most geographers regard Asia as bounded on the north by the Arctic Ocean, on the east by the Bering Strait and the Pacific Ocean, on the south by the Indian Ocean, and on the southwest by the Red Sea and Mediterranean Sea. On the west, the conventional boundary between Europe and Asia is drawn at the Ural Mountains, continuing south along the Ural River to the Caspian Sea, then west along the Caucasus Mountains to the Black Sea. Some geographers include Europe and Asia together in a larger Eurasian region, noting that western Asian countries, such as Turkey, merge almost imperceptibly into Europe.

The continental mainland stretches from the southern end of the Malay Peninsula to Cape Chelyuskin in Siberia. Its westernmost point is Cape Baba in northwestern Turkey, and its easternmost point is Cape Dezhnyov in northeastern Siberia. The continent’s greatest width from east to west is 8,500 km (5,300 mi). The lowest and highest points on the Earth’s surface are in Asia, namely, the shore of the Dead Sea (408 m/1,340 ft below sea level in 1996) and Mount Everest (8,850 m/29,035 ft above sea level).

South of the mainland in the Indian Ocean are Sri Lanka and smaller island groups, such as the Maldives and the Andaman and Nicobar islands. To the southeast is an array of archipelagoes and islands that extend east to the Oceanic and Australian realms. Among these islands are those of Indonesia, including Java, Sumatra, Sulawesi, and Borneo. The western end of the island of New Guinea is within Indonesia and for that reason geographers occasionally consider it part of Asia. In this encyclopedia, however, it is treated as a part of the Pacific Islands. The Philippine Islands, which include Luzon and Mindanao, are also among the Southeast Asian islands. To their north lie Taiwan, the Chinese island of Hainan, the islands of Japan, and the Russian island of Sakhalin.

Because of its vast size and diverse character, Asia is divided into five major realms: East Asia, including China, Mongolia, North Korea, South Korea, and Japan; Southeast Asia, including Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei, and the Philippines; South Asia, including India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Nepal, and Bhutan; and Southwest Asia, including Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Cyprus, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Kuwait. Most of the countries of Southwest Asia are also considered part of the Middle East, a loosely defined region that includes Egypt. Afghanistan and Myanmar are sometimes considered part of South Asia, but most geographers place Afghanistan in Southwest Asia and Myanmar in Southeast Asia. The fifth realm consists of the area of Russia that lies east of the Ural Mountains (Russian Asia) and the states of Central Asia that were formerly part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). These states are Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan.

The continent may also be divided into two broad cultural realms: that which is predominantly Asian in culture (East Asia, Southeast Asia, and South Asia) and that which is not (Southwest Asia, Central Asia, and Russian Asia). There is enormous cultural diversity within both regions, however.

Sources

Sayre, April Pulley. Asia. Twenty-First Century, 1999. An overview of the continent for readers in grades 4 to 6.

Wakin, Eric. Asian Independence Leaders. Facts on File, 1997. For high school readers.

Wilkinson, Philip, and Michael Pollard. The Magical East. Chelsea House, 1994. For readers in grades 4 to 7.

Barnes, Ian R., and Robert Hudson. The History Atlas of Asia: From the World's Oldest Civilizations to Emerging Superpower. Macmillan, 1998. Historical geography depicted in graphics, 50 color maps, and informative text.

Bose, Sugata, and Ayesha Jalal. Modern South Asia: History, Culture, Political Economy. Routledge, 1998. A good introduction to the subcontinent by professors at Tufts and Columbia universities.

Bowman, John Stewart, ed. Columbia Chronologies of Asian History and Culture. Columbia University Press, 2000. Survey of key events in history, religion, arts, science, and everyday life for Asian countries.

Brandon, James R., ed. The Cambridge Guide to Asian Theatre. Cambridge University Press , 1993, 1997. Surveys the history of drama by country.

Chapman, Graham P., and Kathleen M. Baker. The Changing Geography of Asia. Routledge, 1992. Essays describing geographical changes, with maps and diagrams.

Clifford, Mark, and Pete Engardio. Meltdown: Asia's Boom, Bust, and Beyond. Prentice Hall, 1999. Two Business Week editors look at the Asian economy in the late 20th century.

Elegant, Robert S. Pacific Destiny: The Rise of the East. Crown, 1990. The cultural traditions informing current economic and political events.

Encyclopedia of Asian History. 4 vols. Macmillan, 1988. Comprehensive coverage in nearly 3,000 articles by scholars.

Frye, Richard N. The Heritage of Central Asia: From Antiquity to the Turkish Expansion. Markus Wiener, 1996. A concise yet comprehensive history.

Girard-Geslan, Maud, and others, eds. Art of Southeast Asia. Trans. J. A. Underwood. Abrams, 1998. Scholarly essays cover all regions; copiously illustrated.

Hillenbrand, Robert. Islamic Art and Architecture. Thames & Hudson, 1998. Covers a thousand years of history and art, for the general reader.

Keay, John. Empire's End: A History of the Far East from Colonization to Hong Kong. Scribner, 1997. Historical account of the decline of Western colonial powers in Asia.

Lee, Sherman E. A History of Far Eastern Art. 5th ed. Abrams, 1994. Classic introduction to the subject, for a general audience.

Margolis, Eric S. War at the Top of the World: The Struggle for Afghanistan, Kashmir, and Tibet. Routledge, 2000. A journalist's account of warfare in the region in the late 20th century.

McEvedy, Colin. The Penguin Historical Atlas of the Pacific. Penguin, 1998. Covers lands and peoples on the Pacific and along the Pacific rim.

Meyer, Karl E. The Dust of Empire: The Race for Mastery in the Asian Heartland. Public Affairs, 2003. An examination of Central Asian countries following the collapse of British and Soviet empires.

Meyer, Karl E., and Shareen Blair Brysac. Tournament of Shadows: The Great Game and the Race for Empire in Central Asia. Counterpoint, 1999. A vibrant history of the struggle between Britain and Russia for mastery of Central Asia.

Osborne, Milton. Southeast Asia: An Introductory History. 7th ed. Allen & Unwin, 1998. General survey presents the region as a coherent whole.

Thubron, Colin. The Lost Heart of Asia. HarperCollins, 1994, 2000. Portrait of life in Central Asia.

Heidhues, Mary F. Somers. Southeast Asia: A Concise History. Thames & Hudson, 2000, 2001. Concise history from early settlement to the present, for the general reader.

Meyer, Karl E., and Shareen Blair Brysac. Tournament of Shadows: The Great Game and the Race for Empire in Central Asia. Counterpoint, 2000. Reading much like high adventure, recounts the European competition for control of Central Asia, beginning in the early 19th century.

Tarling, Nicholas, ed. The Cambridge History of Southeast Asia. 4 vols. Cambridge University Press, 2000. Comprehensive, scholarly history from the ancient world to the present.

Barnes, Ian R., and Robert Hudson. The History Atlas of Asia: From the World's Oldest Civilizations to Emerging Superpower. Macmillan, 1998. Historical geography depicted in graphics, 50 color maps, and informative text.

Chapman, Graham P., and Kathleen M. Baker. The Changing Geography of Asia. Routledge, 1992. Essays describing geographical changes, with maps and diagrams.

Cranbrook, Gathorne Gathorne-Hardy, Earl of, ed. Wonders of Nature in Southeast Asia. Oxford University Press, 1997. Anthology of plant and animal life that shows the natural beauty and wonder of the region.

Laidler, Liz. China's Threatened Wildlife. Blandford, 1999. Profiles 20 of Asia's endangered species, including the panda, the Manchurian tiger, the Yangtze River dolphin, and the snow leopard.

MacKinnon, John. Wild China. MIT Press, 1996. Introductory surveys of animals, birds, and plants.

Schaller, George B. Wildlife of the Tibetan Steppe. University of Chicago Press, 2000. Survey of the flora and fauna of the Chang Tang Reserve, the world's second largest wildlife reserve.

Gurung, K. K., and Raj Singh. Field Guide to the Mammals of the Indian Subcontinent: Where to Watch Mammals in India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan. Academic, 1998. An authoritative guide to the larger mammals of the Indian subcontinent; well illustrated.

Contributors

Forbes, Dean K., B.A., M.A., Ph.D. Professor, School of Geography, Population and Environmental Management, Flinders University. Author of Asian Metropolis: Urbanisation and the Southeast Asian City and other books.

Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2009. © 1993-2008 Microsoft Corporation.



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