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There are an abundance of ethnic groups throughout Asia, with adaptations to the climate zones of Asia, which can be Arctic, subarctic, temperate, subtropical or tropical. The ethnic groups have adapted to mountains, deserts, grasslands, and forests. On the coasts of Asia, the ethnic groups have adopted various methods of harvest and transport. Some groups are primarily hunter-gatherers, some practice transhumance (nomadic lifestyle), others have been agrarian/rural for millennia and others are becoming industrial/urban. Some groups/countries of Asia are completely urban (Singapore and Hong Kong). The colonization of Asia was largely ended in the twentieth century, with national drives for independence and self-determination across the continent.


East Asia

Ethnic groups in Asia

East Asia, in general terms, consists of China and Taiwan, Japan, and Korea; politically (but not ethnically or culturally) Mongolia might also be included in definition. The major ethnicities of East Asia are: Han, Yamato, and Korean. Other ethnic groups of East Asia would be: Tibetan, Uyghur, Kazakh, Manchu, and Mongol- to name a few, and geographically East Asians further north would also include groups like the Buryats, Evenks, Yakuts, etc, but due to the national and political dividing lines, the inclusion of East Asians north of China and Mongolia is not considered.

Mainly, the language families/isolates of East Asia are: Sinitic, Tibeto-Burman, Japonic, Ainu languages, the Korean language, Mongolic, Tungusic, Turkic, Miao-Yao, Tai-Kadai and Mon-Khmer- with Indo-European in the Tajik language which is also spoken in China.

The dominant influence historically has been China. Evidence of this can be seen in the cuisine, architecture, and lexicons, for example, throughout the region; in modern times, however, cultural exchange has flowed more bi-directionally. Major characteristics of this region include shared Chinese-derived language characteristics, as well as similar social and moral philosophies derived from Confucianism.

The script of the Han Chinese is the oldest writing system still in use in the world, and it has long been a unifying feature in East Asia as the vehicle for Chinese culture. It was passed on first to Korea, then to Japan, where it forms a major component of the Japanese writing system, and later to Vietnam. In Korea, however, Sejong the Great invented an alphabet called hangul, which has now largely supplanted Chinese characters, and Vietnamese is now written in a variant of the Latin alphabet. In these cultures, especially in China and Japan, the educational level of person is traditionally measured by the quality of his or her calligraphy,[citation needed] rather than diction, as is sometimes the case in the West.

Korea and Japan, though not Chinese-speaking regions, have had their languages influenced by Chinese to some extent. Even though their writing systems have changed over time, Chinese is still found in the historical roots of many borrowed words, especially technical terms.

Apart from the unifying influence of Confucianism, Buddhism, Chinese characters, and other Chinese Cultural Influences, there is nevertheless much diversity between the countries of the region.

South Asia

Language families in South Asia
Traditional Rajasthani garments from Jaipur, Rajasthan.

South Asia, in general definition, consists of the countries of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, and the Maldives. Some North Indian states and the nations of Pakistan and Afghanistan share a common heritage from the Indus Valley Civilization and the Maurya, Kushan, Gupta and Mughal empires. The four South Indian states and Sri Lanka share a Dravidian culture, due to the prominence of Dravidian languages there. Bangladesh and the state of West Bengal share a common heritage and culture based on the Bengali language.

Nepal, Bhutan, the states of Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Ladakh in the state of Jammu and Kashmir and parts of the states of Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal have a great cultural similarity to Tibet, Tibetan Buddhism being the dominant religion there. Finally the border states of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland and Tripura have cultural affinities with South East Asia.

Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism, the four major world religions founded in the region that is today's India, are spread throughout the subcontinent. Islam and Christianity also have significant region-specific histories. While 80% of Indians are Hindus and Nepal is a Hindu-majority State, Sri Lanka and Bhutan have a majority of Buddhists. Islam is the predominant religion of Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Indo-Aryan languages are spoken in Pakistan and most of North, West and East India and Nepal. Dravidian languages are spoken in South India and Sri Lanka. Tibeto-Burman languages are spoken in the hills of Nepal, North and North East India.

Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia consists of Mainland Southeast Asia and Maritime Southeast Asia. Southeast Asia is usually thought to include Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, East Timor, Brunei and the Philippines. The region has been greatly influenced by the cultures and religions of India and China as well as the religions Islam and Christianity from Southwest Asia. Southeast Asia has also had a lot of Western influence due to the lasting legacy of colonialism. One example is the Philippines which has been heavily influenced by America and Spain due to colonization.

A common feature found around the region are stilt houses. Another shared feature is rice paddy agriculture, which originated in Southeast Asia thousands of years ago. Dance is also a very important feature of the culture, utilizing movements of the hands and feet perfected over thousands of years. Furthermore, the arts and literature of Southeast Asia is very distinctive as some have been influenced by Indian, Hindu, Chinese, Buddhist and Islamic literature.

West Asia

Traditional costumes of (from right to left) a Christian resident of Famagusta, a Christian woman of Famagusta, and an Orthodox monk of the Monastery of Tchiko, near Lefka. Photographed in Cyprus in 1873.

West Asia largely corresponds with the term the Middle East. However, the usage of the term Middle East is slowly fading out due to its obvious Eurocentrism as the region is east of Europe but it is south of Russia and west of India. West Asia consists of Turkey, Cyprus, Syria, Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Palestinian territories, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Oman and Yemen. The region is the historical birthplace of Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Today, the region is almost 93% Muslim and is dominated by Islamic politics.

Culturally, the region is mainly Arab and Persian, alongside smaller numbers of Turkish, Greek, Kurdish people, Jewish, Armenian and Cypriot peoples. Iraq is a unique example of both Persian and Arab culture. Many of the Arab countries are desert and thus many nomadic groups exist today. On the other hand, modern metropolises also exist on the shifting sands: Abu Dhabi, Amman, Riyadh, Doha and Muscat. The climate is mostly of a desert climate however some of the coastal regions have a more temperate climate, including the mountainous Anatolian plateau (Turkey, Georgia, Armenia). Coastal areas of the Eastern Mediterranean, particularly the island of Cyprus, have a distinct mediterranean climate. The Persian Plateau (Iran, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Turkmenistan) has a diverse terrain, it is mainly mountainous with portions of desert, steppe and tropical forest on the coast of the Caspian Sea.

West Asian cuisine is a fusion of Turkish, Arabian, Greek, North African and Persian cuisine. It is immensely rich and diverse. The literature is also immensely rich with Arabic and Persian literature dominating. One of the most famous literary works of West Asia is 1001 Arabian Nights.

Central Asia

Central Asia, in its most common definition, is deemed to consist of five former Soviet Socialist Republics: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. In a wider view, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan are included. In an even larger ethnical and cultural sense though, also included would be Xinjiang of northwestern China, some states of northern India, and Mongolia. Turkic, Indo-Iranian, and Mongolic peoples comprise its general ethnicities.

The main religions of Central Asia are Islam (Turkic/Indo-Iranian peoples) and Buddhism (Mongolia). Central Asia has a long, rich history mainly based on its historic position on the famous Silk Road. It has been conquered by Mongols, Persians, Tatars, Russians, and Sarmatians, and thus has a very distinct, vibrant culture. The culture is influenced by Chinese, Indian, Persian, Arabian, Turkish, Russian, Sarmatian and Mongolian cultures. The people of the steppes of Central Asia have historically been nomadic people but a unifying state was established in Central Asia in the 16th century: The Kazakh Khanate.

The music of Central Asia is rich and varied and is appreciated worldwide. Meanwhile, Central Asian cuisine is one of the most prominent cuisines of Asia, with cuisines from Pakistan, India, China and Azerbaijan showing significant influence from the foods of Central Asia. One of the most famous Central Asian foods is the kebab.

The literature of Central Asia is linked with Persian literature as historically it has been part of the Persian Empire for a lot of its history. Furthermore, being at the junction of the Silk Road it has numerous Chinese, Indian and Arabian literary works.

North Asia

For the most part, North Asia is considered to be made up of the Asian part of Russia solely. North Asia is geographically the northern extremenity of East Asia and the physical characteristics of its native inhabitants generally resemble that of East Asians, however this is principally divided along political lines under separate national identities, particularly that of China, Mongolia and Russia. The main ethnic groups of the region consist chiefly of some Uralic peoples, some Altaic peoples- such as those of the Turkic, Mongolic, and Tungusic groups- along with East Slavs and the Paleo-Siberian peoples, with most of these ethnic groups being comprised of nomads or people with a nomadic history.

The geographic region of Siberia was the historical land of the Turkic people, the Tatars, in the Siberia Khanate. Russia, under expansion of its territory however, took control of the region now known as Siberia, and thus today it is under Russian rule. There are roughly 40 million people living in North Asia.


See also



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