Way of life in East Asia
East Asia covers about 2,570,000 square miles (6,640,000 square kilometers), or 15 percent of the continent. The region includes most of China, the world’s largest nation in population. Tibet, Qinghai, and Xinjiang, three thinly populated parts of western China, are located in Central Asia.
China covers more than 90 percent of East Asia, and it has about 85 percent of East Asia’s people. Four other nations – Japan, Korea, – North Korea, South Korea, and Taiwan – are also part of East Asia.
More than 1 1/2 billion people, or about 40 percent of all Asians and a fourth of all the people in the world, live in East Asia. The region is one of the world’s most crowded places. The population density of East Asia, 594 persons per square mile (230 per square kilometer), is over five times the world average.
Off and on throughout history, China has ruled much of East Asia. The Chinese influence spread through the places they ruled and even to areas they did not rule. Chinese art strongly influenced art throughout East Asia. People throughout the region adopted Chinese religious and philosophical beliefs to some degree.
The Confucian system of ethics is probably the most important Chinese contribution to everyday life in East Asia. This system teaches the duties and manners of rulers and subjects toward each other, of family members toward one another, and of friends toward friends. The Confucian system stresses polite behavior and obedience to proper authority, two lasting characteristics of East Asian society.
The influence of China brought some unity to life in East Asia. But the region has been sharply divided along political and economic lines. China and Japan, East Asia’s two largest nations, have almost completely opposite political systems. A Communist government rules China, and the people have little political freedom. Japan operates under democratic principles of government, and its people have much freedom.
China’s economy has centered on agriculture and remains largely underdeveloped. As China has moved away from strict government control of the economy, its standard of living has improved. Japan ranks among the world’s main industrial nations and practices more advanced agriculture than any other country in Asia. The Japanese have one of the world’s highest standards of living.
Political differences divide China and Taiwan and also North Korea and South Korea. The Chinese Communists drove the Chinese Nationalists out of China in 1949. The Nationalists then established their government in Taiwan. Before World War II broke out in 1939, North Korea and South Korea were one country. Today, Communists rule the north, and non-Communists govern the south. Troops have patrolled both sides of the border between North Korea and South Korea since the two countries fought each other during the Korean War (1950-1953).
The people. The first East Asian civilization began in China. Today, descendants of the early Chinese-known as the Han ethnic group-make up a majority of China’s people, except in the far north and west. Han people also form a majority in Taiwan. The Koreans are an ancient people who have often come under Chinese rule. People called the Ainu were among the first inhabitants of the islands that now make up Japan. But almost all of the people of Japan today are descended from Asian peoples who settled the country about 2,000 years ago.
Religions. The Chinese Communist government has worked hard to discourage religion. However, many of the people still practice the traditional religion of their country. This religion – Buddhism combined with teachings of Confucianism and Taoism – is also the chief faith in Taiwan. Many Koreans practice Korean Buddhism, but their religion also shows Confucian influences. Buddhism and Christianity rank as the leading religions in South Korea. The North Korean government also discourages religion, even more strongly than China’s government. Japanese Buddhism and Shinto are Japan’s major faiths, and many Japanese combine the two. Confucianism influences religion in Japan, as elsewhere in East Asia.