Asia is the largest continent of the globe. Its name comes probably from an Assyrian or Hebrew word meaning "the rising sun." It has the Arctic Ocean on the north, the Pacific on the east and the Indian Ocean on the south. On the west is Europe, the boundaries being the Ural Mountains, the Caspian Sea, Caucasus Mountains, the Black, Mediterranean and Red Seas. It is joined to Africa on the southwest by the Isthmus of Suez and on the northeast is separated from America by Bering Strait. The immense coast line of 35,000 miles is very irregular.
In the early 20th century Asia was partly independent, but two thirds of the area and nearly half of the people were controlled by Europe and the United States. Independent states include Afghanistan, Arabia (partly), Baluchistan (partly), Bhutan, China, Japan (including Formosa, Korea and part of Sakhalin), Nepal, Siam, some Malay states and Turkey. The dependencies were those of America, Britain, France, Germany, Holland, Portugal and Russia.
America held the Philippines. British colonial possessions included Baluchistan, British Borneo, Burmah, Ceylon, India, Hongkong, Labuan, Sarawak, the Straits Settlements and Weihaiwei. France had Anam, Cambodia, Laos, Tong-King and places in Hindustan. Germany owns Kiaochau. Holland possessed Borneo (partly), Celebes, Java, Sumatra and other islands. Portugal remains at Goa, Kambing, Macao and Timor. Armenia (partly), Caucasia, Siberia and part of Sakhalin belonged to Imperial Russia.
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In Asia history began. In Asia Minor originated man's oldest monuments and records outside of Egypt. Though Babylonian civilization ceased two thousand years ago, its contemporary exists yet in China. In Asia arose every great religion - Brahmanism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Zoroastrianism. (Confucianism is not a religion but a code of conduct.) Confucius, Gautama the Buddha, Mohammed, Moses, Paul and Zoraster were Asiatics, but each affected the world as powerfully as Alexander and Caesar.
The Aryans, possibly from east of the Caspian and north of the Hindu Kush, invaded Persia and India. Persia became the first world-empire, extending her dominion under Cyrus to the confines of Greece. Alexander in turn invaded Asia 330 B. C., conquered Persia, extended his power into India and carried Greek ideas and culture from the Bosporus to the Indus and Oxus. On the death of Alexander his empire fell to pieces and subsequently all western Asia came under the dominion of Rome, including Arabia in part, Asia Minor and Syria; Constantinople inheriting and holding this region for seven centuries after.
The power of Islam, dating from the seventh century, became dominant, building empires between the Mediterranean, Ganges and Caspian on the wreckage of Rome and extending its sway into Egypt and India. Palestine became a stage (1100-1300) for the wars of religion called crusades. Turks and Tartars issued from central Asia (1215-1415), destroyed the Saracen, Muscovite and Byzantine empires, and overthrew China temporarily. The Ottoman empire was establishes, however (1300), drove back the Mongols and in 1453 captured Constantinople. Mongols founded an Indian Empire (1525-1857) whose rulers included two of the best and ablest among monarchs, Akbar and Aurangzeb.
Portugal found a sea-road to Asia around Africa to India (1497), China (1517), and Japan (1542), and initiated Asia's modern era. Russia started across Siberia (1580), Holland gained footing in the East Indies (1596), England's East India Company arrived in 1600, and France entered India four years later. England's Indian empire began in 1757, and France, failing in Hindustan, built an empire in Indo-China during the 19th century.
America brought Japan into modern life (1854), though the Dutch had influenced it through commerce for two centuries, and in fifty years it entered among the world-powers. A war between China and Japan (1894) resulted in the cession of Formosa to Japan. The Philippines were transferred to the United States (1898) at the close of the Spanish-American war. A war between Russia and Japan (1904-5), the most sanguinary struggle of recent times, resulted in victory for Japan, with added prestige, the cession of part of Sakhalin and the control of Korea.
The first culture to be mentioned about in Asia is the Mongolian, the typical Asiatic and three fifths of the population. The second is the Caucasian, consisting of the Semitic and the Aryan family. The third is the Malay, whose separateness as a race is questioned. One Mongolian group embraces the tribes of Siberia and Turkestan, the other the people of China, Indo-China and Tibet.
The Turks, Koreans and Japanese belong to the first group, the Chinese, Siamese and Tibetans to the second. A Caucasian group, the family of Aryans, includes Afghans, Armenians, Baluchs, Hindus, Kurds, and Persians, but excludes Europeans and Americans; while another, the family of Semites, consists of Jews and Arabs. The Malay prevails in Philippines. Near America live Eskimos; in tropical Asia and the Philippine Islands, Negritos; and Anatolia, Arabia and Persia have Negro slaves. Of unrelated tribes hundreds exist.
The Red Sea, bordering Arabia, has become, by the building of the Suez Canal, a highway of the first importance. The Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal are wide, open divisions of the Indian Ocean. The Persian Gulf is shut in by deserts and mountains. The archipelagoes of the Pacific form the two China Seas, which, with their three gulfs, Siam, Tonquin and the Yellow Sea, constitute the Mediterranean of Asia. It is these seas that are visited by the dreaded storms called typhoons. In the north are the seas of Japan, Okhotsk and Bering.
The length of the continent from north to south is about 5,300 miles. The area, including islands, is estimated at 17,256,000 square miles, one-third of the dry land of the globe. The peninsulas of Asia occupy one fifth of its area. On the south are the three greatest peninsulas, Arabia, India and Indo-China. On the west, Asia Minor projects Europe-ward, and all but closes the waters of the Black Sea from the Mediterranean. In the east, are Kamchatka, Korea and the peninsula of Tchuktchia. The islands of Asia cover one sixth of her area. In the south and east they form a dotted line running parallel to the coast.
Surface and Drainage
Central Asia has been called the roof of the world. It is a region of lofty mountain ranges and wide plateaus, the highest of the world. North of this elevated region lies the great plain of Siberia, extending to the Arctic, while east and south are narrower plains extending to the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Extending northeast and southwest are mountain ranges and high plateaus. The great mountains of Asia are the Himalayas, the highest in the world. They are 2,000 miles in length, and from 100 to 500 in breadth, rising along their whole length far above the line of perpetual snow. There are several peaks 20,000 feet high or more the loftiest that has been measured, Mount Everest, being more than 29,000 feet. The Ural and Caucasus ranges are on the border of Asia.
There are two great tablelands: that of Western Asia, stretching from the Black Sea to the valley of the Indus, and the higher and larger tableland of eastern Asia, stretching from the Himalayas to the northeastern point of Asia, where it meets the great central tableland of North America. The plain culminates in Tibet, the highest tableland in the world, its lowest valleys being higher than Mont Blanc. These great plains separate the lowlands of Siberia and the Aral-Caspian region from the lowlands of India and China. Across the mountains to the north of Tiber is a swamp, Lake Lob-Nor, which once was a huge area, and whose rapid drying up was probably the cause of the westward migration of the Huns and Mongols.
Drainage systems are numerous, but only those of importance demand enumeration. They include continental and oceanic drainage. The first, 4,900,000 square miles in area includes rivers emptying, as in Gobi desert, Syro-Arabia or Tiber, into the Aral, Caspian or Dead Seas, Lakes Baikal, Kalkhash or Van, or the numberless lakes, sinks or swamps of Persia, Siberia, Turkestan. The oceanic systems drain to the Arctic, Pacific and Indian Oceans and the Mediterranean. The Arctic area covers 4,367,000 miles, the Pacific 3,641,000 and the Indian 2,873,000. The Lena, Ob and Yenisei flow into the Arctic, these rivers and their tributaries, when unfrozen, giving navigation throughout Siberia. China and Tibet contribute the Amur, Hwang-Ho, Si-Kiang and Yang-Tsi-Kiang to the Pacific Ocean. Indo-China gives the Mekong, Salwin and Irawadi to the Indian Ocean; India the Brahmaputra, Ganges and Indus; Armenia the Tigris and Euphrates.
Climate and Rainfall
On the tablelands and north of the main mountains the climate is very dry and there are great extremes of temperature, long severe winters and hot, short summers. South of the mountains and on the Pacific the climate is tropical but modified by altitude and the monsoons or rain-winds from the southern areas. The mean temperature ranges from nearly zero in Arctic Siberia to nearly 90&172; in Arabia. The lowest temperature is 100&172; below zero, the highest 120&172; above. Rainfalls vary from five inches annually over the Aral to 550 on the Khasiya Mountains near Calcutta.
Animal and Vegetable Life
Animals of Asiatic origin include the ass, buffalo, camel, cobra, crocodile, dromedary, dugong, dolphin, elephant, goat, horse, leopard, lion, ox, pheasant, reindeer, sheep, silkworm, sturgeon, tiger, yak, zo and others. Among indigenous plants, the flora of southeastern Asia numbering 12,400 species, are the banyan, barley, breadfruit, cedar, cotton, coffee, fig, indigo, flax, lemon, mulberry, mango olive, orange, peach, pomegranate, poppy, rice, sago, spices, sandalwood, sugar, tea, teak, the vine, wheat and many more.
The New Student's Reference Work (1914)