Eastern Asia: History, Culture and Tradition

Eastern Asia: History, Culture and Tradition

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Updated on Apr 27, 2010

The temples of Tokyo, the Great Wall of China, the coastlines of Korea, and the steppes of Mongolia… When many people think of Asia, they think of Eastern Asia, which the United Nations defines as the region containing China, Taiwan, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, and Mongolia. Geographically, Eastern Asia covers about 4,600,000 square miles (12,000,000 kilometers), which makes it about 15 % bigger than all of Europe. But more than 1.5 billion people live within its borders. That’s more than 1 in 5 people in the world!

A large portion of Asian Americans can trace their roots to this area. Want to spark some conversation? Here are some facts about each of the countries in this region.


In terms of population and geography, the biggest fish in the region, by far, is China. In fact, China is the world’s most populous country, with 20% of the world’s population: over 1.3 billion people. Geographically, only Russia, Canada, and the US have more land, and China has a huge variety of geography—from towering mountains to flat plains. Its southern regions are tropical, while some of its most Northern reaches are subarctic. China is one of the world’s oldest civilizations, with more than 40 centuries of culture, philosophy, and tradition under its belt. From magnificent dynasties like the Han, to the fall of the last Chinese emperor in the early 20th century, to Japanese invasion and the rise of Communism, China has a rich and diverse history. The calendars, writing, religions, and cultures of many other Eastern Asian countries have roots in China.


When Americans think of Japan, they often think of the cars or electronics it produces. But while the country is famous for its modern gadgets, it’s grounded in age-old traditions and a rich culture passed down through the generations. From the rituals of the tea ceremony to the meticulous care of the bonsai, Kabuki theater to ancient temples, this nation of islands is steeped in traditions, and it was isolated from the rest of the globe for most of its history. Unlike many of its neighbors, who were invaded multiple times, no country successfully penetrated Japan’s borders until World War II. Japan’s main religion, Buddhism, and its writing, both came originally from China, but Japan resisted outside influence for most of its history, which helps explain why its culture has remained so strong.


In the heart of Asia, with China on one side and Siberia on the other, landlocked Mongolia is the most sparsely populated country in the world. Nomadic empires have ruled Mongolia for centuries, including Genghis Khan, who founded the Mongol Empire in 1206. Even today, about 30% of the country’s population is nomadic or semi-nomadic. Much of the country is covered by steppes, with beautiful mountains to the north and the Gobi Desert to the south. Mongolia has short hot summers and extremely cold winters. Some parts of the country don’t get a single raindrop in an entire year and very little of the land is arable.

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