Asia, largest of the earth\'s seven continents.

With outlying islands, it covers an estimated 44,936,000 sq km (17,350,000
sq mi), or about one-third of the world\'s total land area. Asia has more
than 3.2 billion inhabitants. Its peoples account for three-fifths of the
world\'s population.

Lying almost entirely in the northern
hemisphere, Asia is bounded by the Arctic, Pacific, and Indian oceans.

The conventional boundary between Europe and Asia is drawn at the Ural

Mountains in Russia. Asia and Africa are separated by the Red Sea. Asia
is divided for convenience into five major realms: the areas of the former

Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR); East Asia, including China,

Mongolia, Korea, and Japan; Southeast Asia; South Asia, including the Indian
subcontinent; and Southwest Asia, including much of the Middle East. The
continent may also be divided into two cultural realms: that which is Asian
in culture (East Asia, Southeast Asia, and South Asia) and that which is
not (Asia of the former USSR, and Southwest Asia).

The Natural Environment

Asia\'s interior consists of mountains,
plateaus, and intervening structural basins. The continent\'s physiographic
system focuses on the Pamirs, a towering plateau region located where the
borders of India, China, and Afghanistan converge. It is known as the Roof
of the World. Mountain ranges spiral out from the Pamirs to the west (Hindu

Kush), and southeast (Great Himalayas). These ranges form an imposing eastern-western
arc, about 2500 km (about 1550 mi) in length, that contains numerous peaks
of heights well more than 6100 m (20,000 ft), including the highest peak
in the world, Mount Everest. Other ranges extend east and northeast of
the Pamirs (Karakorum, Kunlun, and Tien Shan). Between the Himalayan system
and the Karakorum-Kunlun ranges lies the high Tibetan Plateau. Around this
central core are arrayed four major plateau regions (Siberia, eastern China,
southern India, and the Arabian Peninsula) and several major structural
basins and river plains.

Several major rivers flow north to the

Arctic Ocean, others drain into the great interior drainage basin of Asia.

In the south, southeast, and east, rivers such as the Ganges, Mekong, and

Huang He (Yellow River) flow through vast lowlands. Climates in Asia range
from equatorial to arctic. Vegetation is extraordinarily diverse, ranging
from tundra, grasslands, and desert scrub, to coniferous and mixed forests,
tropical forest, and equatorial rain forests. Animal life is equally diverse.

Asia is enormously rich in mineral resources.

The People

The peoples of Asia are more diverse than
those of any other continent, and they are highly concentrated in a small
proportion of the total area, chiefly in southern and eastern Asia. Mongoloid
peoples are predominant in East Asia and mainland Southeast Asia. Malayo-Polynesian
peoples prevail in the archipelagos of Southeast Asia. Caucasoid peoples
dominate South Asia, Southwest Asia, Siberia, and much of Central Asia.

Chinese culture permeates East Asia, although
the Tibetan, Mongol, Korean, and Japanese cultures have their own languages.

Southeast Asia is more diversified, with separate ethnolinguistic groups
of Malay, Thai, Vietnamese, and others. In South Asia, Dravidian and Indo-Aryan
languages are spoken. In Southwest Asia, Persian (Farsi), Semitic, and

Turkic languages identify various ethnic groups. Turkic speakers also are
numerous in Central Asia and in western China. Russian is the principal
language in Siberia. Islam dominates in Southwest Asia and Central Asia
and is of major importance in South Asia and Indonesia. Hinduism is predominant
in India. Buddhism extends through interior Asia and into Southeast Asia,

China and Japan.

Patterns of Economic Development

Most of Asia is economically underdeveloped,
but a number of important exceptions exist. Japan has successfully modernized
its economy, as have Taiwan, South Korea, and Singapore. The majority of
the continent\'s population is employed in agriculture characterized by
low yields and low labor productivity. Rice is the food-staple crop of
the south and east, although wheat and other dry grains are also grown.

In Asia\'s drier interior regions, the raising of cattle, sheep, and horses
is important. Lumbering is an important industry in most Southeast Asian
countries. Marine fisheries are extremely important throughout coastal

Asia. Japan is the world\'s leading fishing country, and China follows closely.

Mining also is an important activity in most Asian countries; petroleum
is the most important mineral export. Many areas have petroleum resources,
but Southwest Asia contains the largest reserves.

Relatively few people in Asia are employed
in manufacturing. In general, urban centers and their industries are not
well integrated economically with the rural sector, and transportation
systems, both within countries and between them, are poorly developed.

A very high proportion of Asia\'s world trade is with countries on other
continents, rather than between Asian countries. The important exceptions
are the flow of oil and raw materials from other Asian nations to Japan,