The largest continent in the world, occupying a third of its land surface. Asia stretches from the Arctic to the Equator and from the Ural Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. Asia includes the Indian sub‐continent, the peninsula of Asia Minor, and numerous islands, including Japan, the Philippines, and Indonesia.
The extreme north is mainly tundra, which gives way to the vast expanse of Siberia. The land rises to the south and central Asia is mountainous, containing the Himalayas, the highest mountains in the world. Major rivers, including the Indus, the Ganges, the Mekong, and the Yangtze provide water and sediment for large areas of India and China. The volcanic and earthquake zone at the edge of the Eurasian plate runs from Japan, across the south of the continent to Turkey in the west.
The ancient civilizations of Sumeria, Babylon, Assyria, Media, and Persia, as well as those of China and India arose in Asia. The world's major religions originated in Asia, Judaism and Christianity expanding westwards. Population movements have been affected by the topography, many cultures surviving in isolation in the mountains while conquerers, such as the Huns, Mongols and Cossacks, created vast empires. European trade with China was taking place via the Silk Road as early as the 2nd century bc. In the 15th century sea routes, discovered by such explorers as Vasco da Gama led to the creation of companies, including the East India Companies that were keen to exploit new resources. The European colonial powers acquired lands in Asia and it was not until the mid‐20th century that European influence began to wane as former colonies gained independence. The 20th century also saw the rise of communism in the form of the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China. The USA became involved in the Korean War and the Vietnam War and its fears of a major communist alliance were only averted by the ideological divergence of the Soviet Union and China after 1960. Japan led an economic boom, the ‘tiger economies’ of south‐east Asian countries in particular growing rapidly in the 1980s and 1990s. The early 21st century saw the emergence of China and India as major economic powers. The Middle East has continued to be troubled by violent unrest.