Buddha-Dharma-Sangha History

East Asia


                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.

(978-0716601036 WBE)


Fair Use Sources:

Buddha-Dharma-Sangha History



China is a huge country in eastern Asia. It is the world’s largest country in population and the third largest in area. About a fifth of the world’s people live in China. The country covers more than a fifth of Asia. Only Russia and Canada have more territory. China’s vast land area includes some of the world’s driest deserts and highest mountains, as well as some of the richest farmland.

The Chinese call their country Zhongguo, which means Middle Country. This name may have come into being because the ancient Chinese thought of their country as both the geographical center of the world and the only cultured civilization. The name China was given to the country by foreigners. The name may have come from Qin (pronounced chihn), the name of an early Chinese dynasty (series of rulers from the same family).

Most of the Chinese people live in densely populated areas in the eastern third of the country. This part of the country has most of China’s major cities and nearly all the land suitable for farming. Agriculture has always been the chief economic activity in China. Most of the people live in rural villages, and over half of all workers are farmers. Although only a small percentage of the people live in urban areas, China has several of the largest cities in the world. They include Shanghai and Beijing (also spelled Peking), the nation’s capital.

China has the world’s oldest living civilization. Its written history goes back about 3,500 years. The Chinese people take great pride in their nation, its long history, and its influence on other countries. The Chinese were the first people to develop the compass, paper, porcelain, and silk cloth. Over the centuries, Japan, Korea, and other Asian lands have borrowed from Chinese art, language, literature, religion, and technology.

In early times, China was divided into many small states. In 221 B.C., the Qin dynasty established an empire with a strong central government. This empire lasted in some form for more than 2,000 years. During those years, Chinese society survived wars, rebellions, and the rise and fall of numerous dynasties. The Chinese developed an increasingly powerful and efficient system of government, built great cities, and created magnificent works of literature and art. From time to time, nomadic invaders conquered all or part of China. But the invaders had little effect on Chinese civilization.

In the 1800’s, the Chinese empire began to weaken. In 1911, revolutionaries overthrew the empire. The next year, China became a republic. But the Kuomintang (Nationalist Party), which ruled the republic, never established an effective government over all of China. In 1949, the Chinese Communist Party defeated the Nationalists and set up China’s present government. The Communists gave the nation the official name Zhonghua Renmin Gongheguo (People’s Republic of China). The Nationalists fled to the island of Taiwan, where they reestablished their own government. But the People’s Republic claims that Taiwan should be part of its territory. This article discusses only the People’s Republic of China. For information about Taiwan, which the Nationalists call the Republic of China, see the World Book article on TAIWAN.

China has gone through many major changes under the Communists. All important industries have been placed under state ownership and direction. The government also controls most trade and finance. The Communists have dramatically increased industrial production and have expanded and improved education and medical care. China has one of the world’s largest economies in terms of its total economic production. However, the country has so many people that its economic output per person is small. As a result, economists consider China a developing country. The Communist Party and the government are making major efforts to modernize China.

This article discusses CHINA (History).


The Chinese government is dominated by three organizations. They are the Chinese Communist Party, the military, and a branch known as the State Council.

Of the three organizations, the Communist Party is the most powerful. All people who hold a middle- or lower-level position in the party or the government are called cadres. China’s Constitution, adopted in 1982, calls for the people to concentrate on modernizing agriculture, industry, the military, and science and technology.

The Communist Party. China has the largest Communist Party in the world. Millions of Chinese belong to it. But members make up less than 5 percent of the total population. China also has a number of minor political parties, but such parties have little or no power.

The Communist Party has four main decision-making bodies. These are the National Party Congress, the Central Committee, the Politburo (Political Bureau), and the Secretariat.

The National Party Congress has more than 1,900 representatives, selected by party members throughout the nation. The Central Committee consists of about 300 leading party members. The members are elected by the National Party Congress. The Politburo has about 20 members, who are top party leaders elected by the Central Committee. The Politburo includes a standing committee of 5 or 6 of the most important Communist Party leaders. The Secretariat has about 5 members, elected by the standing committee.

The Communist Party’s constitution states that the National Party Congress and the Central Committee are the most important bodies. But the congress has little real power. In general, it automatically approves policies set by the Central Committee and the Politburo. The Politburo also establishes policy guidelines for the party. The Secretariat is responsible for day-to-day decisions and supervision of party actions.

The highest post in the Communist Party is that of general secretary. But from the late 1970’s until the early 1990’s, Deng Xiaoping was the most influential person in the party and in the country. Even though he had resigned from his last remaining party and government posts in 1989, top party and government officials continued to consult him. Deng died in 1997.

National government. China’s Constitution establishes the National People’s Congress as the highest government authority. According to the Chinese electoral law, members of the National People’s Congress are elected by local people’s congresses of counties and townships. The Communist Party has an important influence on the selection of candidates for these and all other elections in China.

The members of the National People’s Congress serve five-year terms. The congress carries out various legislative duties. But in practice, it has no real power. Its chief function is to transmit policies of the national government and of the party to lower levels of government. A standing committee handles the work of the congress when it is not in session.

The State Council carries on the day-to-day affairs of the government. The council is led by the premier, China’s head of government. The premier is nominated by the Central Committee of the Communist Party and approved by the president, who is chiefly a ceremonial official. The premier is assisted by several vice premiers and a number of ministers and heads of special commissions. The ministers are in charge of government departments, including the defense ministry and the ministries responsible for economic planning.

Political divisions. China has 33 major political divisions. They consist of 22 provinces, 5 autonomous (self-governing) regions, 4 special municipalities, and 2 special administrative regions. The autonomous regions are Guangxi, Inner Mongolia (Nei Menggu), Ningxia, Tibet (Xizang), and Xinjiang. These regions have many people who belong to China’s minority ethnic groups. Although the regions are called autonomous, they are actually governed much like the rest of the nation. Local governments in these regions do have some powers to safeguard the culture and interests of the minority peoples. The special municipalities-Beijing, Chongqing, Shanghai, and Tianjin-are huge metropolitan areas that are administered by the national government. Each special municipality consists of an urban center and a rural area. The Hong Kong and Macao special administrative regions have their own executive, legislative, and judicial powers. China is responsible for their defense and foreign policy.

China has three levels of local government. The 33 major political units are divided into about 2,100 counties. These counties are subdivided into about 100,000 townships and towns. Each political unit has a people’s congress and an executive body patterned after the State Council.

Courts in China do not function as a completely independent branch of government as they do in the United States and many other Western nations. Instead, the courts base their decisions largely on the policies of the Communist Party.

The highest court in China is the Supreme People’s Court. It hears cases that involve national security or violations by high officials. It also supervises people’s courts in the provinces and counties. The Supreme People’s Procuratorate sees that the national Constitution and the State Council’s regulations are observed.

The armed forces of China are jointly commanded by the Military Commission of the Communist Party and the Central Military Commission of the government. China has an army, navy, and air force, which together make up the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The PLA has about 3 million male and female regular members. About 600,000 million men and women serve in China’s militia (citizens’ army). There are also about 900,000 army reserves. Men and women between 18 and 22 years of age may be drafted for military service. Draftees serve three years in the army and four years in the air force and the navy.

The armed forces have held enormous political power in the People’s Republic of China since its birth in 1949. Military officers have made up a large percentage of the members on the Communist Party’s Central Committee. In addition to its military duties, the People’s Liberation Army helps carry out party policies and programs.


Population. About a fifth of the world’s people live in China. Shanghai is China’s largest city and one of the world’s largest as well. Beijing, the country’s capital, is the second largest city. China has a total of about a hundred cities with more than a million people. However, most of the country’s people live in rural villages and small towns. Most of these people live in densely populated areas in eastern China. Western China makes up about half the land area of the country but has less than 10 percent of the population.

China’s government is concerned about the nation’s enormous population and seeks to limit population growth. By law, the country’s men may not marry until they are 22 years old, and women until they are 20. People are encouraged to postpone marriage until they are in their late 20’s and to have no more than one or two children.

Nationalities. About 92 percent of the people belong to the Han nationality, which has been China’s largest nationality for centuries. The rest of the population consists of about 55 minority groups, including Kazakhs, Mongols, Tibetans, and Uygurs. The different nationality groups are distinguished chiefly by language and culture.

Most of China’s minority peoples live in the border regions and the western half of the country. Some groups, such as the Mongols in the north and the Kazakhs in the northwest, herd sheep and goats. These people move from place to place during the year to feed their herds on fresh pastures. The Uygurs raise livestock and grow a wide variety of crops on oases in the deserts of northwestern China. The Tibetan people practice simple forms of agriculture and herding in China’s southwestern highlands. Many Koreans dwell near the border with Korea.

Many minority groups live in the far southern parts of China. Some of these groups speak dialects of Chinese and live much like the Han Chinese. Other minority groups are members of ethnic groups related to the peoples of Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, or Tibet. Many of these people, who live in less developed mountain areas, retain their traditional language and way of life.

Languages. The Han people speak Chinese. Spoken Chinese has many dialects, which differ enough in pronunciation to be considered separate languages. To bring about better communication among the people of China, the government has made the Northern Chinese dialect the official language. Many non-Chinese call the official language Mandarin, but the Chinese prefer the term putonghua (common language). Northern Chinese is spoken by about 70 percent of the nation’s people, and it is now taught in all Chinese schools. Other varieties of Chinese include Min (spoken in Fujian province), Wu (spoken in Shanghai), and Yue (Cantonese), each of which has many local dialects. For more information, see CHINESE LANGUAGE.

Although each dialect of Chinese has its own pronunciation, all speakers of Chinese write the language in the same way. The Chinese writing system uses characters instead of an alphabet. Each character is a symbol that represents a complete word.

Scholars have developed several systems of writing the Chinese language in the Roman alphabet. One system, called the Wade-Giles system, was developed during the 1800’s by two English scholars, Sir Thomas Wade and Herbert A. Giles. In 1979, China began using another system, called the pinyin system, in all news reports sent abroad and in all communications with other nations. Many Chinese words and names are spelled differently in the two systems. For example, the name of the man who led the country’s Communist revolution is spelled Mao Zedong in the pinyin system and Mao Tse-tung in the Wade-Giles system. This article generally uses pinyin spellings.

The minority peoples of China speak many languages, including Korean, Mongolian, and Uygur. Each group uses its own language in its schools and publications. Some members of China’s minority groups learn Chinese as a second language.

                Way of life 

Family life has always been extremely important in Chinese culture. Before 1949, some Chinese lived in large family units. As many as 100 or more relatives lived together under the rule of the oldest male. The ideal was “five generations under one roof.” However, those who lived this way were mainly the families of rich rural landowners, wealthy merchants, and government officials. Among the common people, most households consisted of only parents and children, but some also included grandparents and uncles. Today, the Chinese live in these smaller types of family units.

In the past, only men were expected to work outside the home. But today, almost all adults have a job. In many families, a grandparent looks after the house and children during the day. More and more children attend nursery school and kindergarten so that both parents can be free to work.

Relationships within Chinese families have become less formal and more democratic. Parents no longer expect their children to show unquestioning obedience. In the past, a father could legally kill his children if they disobeyed him. Young people today generally choose their own marriage partners on the basis of shared interests and mutual attraction. However, parents still play a role in arranging some marriages, especially in rural areas. Any couple would at least consult their parents about such a major decision.

Chinese families traditionally valued sons far more than daughters. A husband could divorce his wife if she failed to give birth to sons. In some cases, daughters were killed at birth because girls were considered useless. Today, social policy in China stresses that girls as well as boys are valued. The Communist government strongly supports the idea that women should contribute to the family income and participate in social and political activities. Women do many kinds of work outside the home. Many young husbands share in the shopping, housecleaning, cooking, and caring for the children to show that they believe the sexes are equal. However, equality between the sexes is more widely accepted in the cities than in the countryside.

Rural life. Traditionally, most Chinese lived in villages of 100 to 200 households. Many families owned their land, though in numerous cases it was not large enough to support them. Many other families owned no land. The members of these families worked as tenants or laborers for big landowners and rich peasants. They had to pay extremely high rents-from 30 to 60 percent of the harvest. In some cases, peasant families were so poor that they became beggars or bandits, or even sold their children as servants or slaves to rich families.

After the Communists took control of China, they organized agricultural collectives, in which large groups of peasants owned land, tools, work animals, and workshops in common. The highest level of the collective system was the commune, which administered the economic activity for 20 or more villages. Smaller collective units were called production brigades and production teams. Most day-to-day farm work was planned and performed by these units. Each family owned its house and a plot on which it could grow vegetables and raise chickens or pigs for its own use. If a family grew a surplus of crops, it could sell the surplus in a local market.

In 1979, the government introduced a new system to gradually abolish communes, brigades, and teams. Collectives now make production contracts with individual families. A production contract includes what crops and livestock the family will raise, how much will be given to the collective, and how much will be sold to the government at a set price. After fulfilling its contract, the farm family may use the remainder of its production as it wishes. Most families use some for food and sell the rest on the open market. Some sign contracts as key households. Key households provide transportation, repairs, or handicrafts on the free market instead of doing full-time farm work. After paying an agreed amount to the government and the collective, the key household keeps any profit. A few key households operate businesses or small factories and hire employees. Some of them have become relatively wealthy.

The standard of living in rural China today is considerably higher than it was before the Communists came to power. The average income in rural areas is still low. But most families have enough food and clothing and also own a bicycle, a radio, and a sewing machine. Some families own a television set, a washing machine, or a motor scooter. Most rural families live in three- or four-room houses. Older houses are made of mud bricks and have a tile or straw roof. Newer houses are made of clay bricks or stone and have a tile roof. Some villages have constructed apartment buildings. Except in remote areas, most houses have electricity.

Rural people work many hours a day, especially at planting and harvesting time. They also attend political meetings and night classes, where they learn to read and write or how to use scientific farming methods. Even so, the people have time for recreation. Many villages have a small library and a recreation center that offers television viewing and shows motion pictures. Villages also provide facilities for such sports as basketball and table tennis. Some villages have a small choral group, orchestra, or theater group.

City life. Many city residents live in older neighborhoods where the houses resemble those in the countryside. Many other city dwellers live in big apartment complexes. City governments construct some apartment buildings, and large factories build others.

Most families are assigned an apartment by the factory or other unit for which they work. City apartments have plumbing and heating, but many have less space than rural houses have. Some families purchase their own home or condominium. China’s cities are overcrowded, and new housing is in great demand.

Each city neighborhood or apartment complex has an elected residents’ committee. The committee supervises various neighborhood facilities and programs, such as day-care centers, evening classes, and after-school activities for children. When fights, petty crimes, or acts of juvenile delinquency occur in the neighborhoods, committee members talk with the people involved and try to help them solve the problem. These neighborhood organizations seek to keep crime from being a serious problem in spite of the overcrowding in China’s cities.

In general, people in cities have a higher standard of living than people in the countryside. Their wages are low compared with those of workers in Western industrial countries. But most households have at least two wage earners, and rents and the cost of food are low. Medical care, child care, and recreational activity also cost little. Thus, most city people can afford a bicycle, a television set, and some household appliances.

City people have more cultural advantages than do rural people. They can attend a greater variety of classes and meetings. On their days off, they enjoy browsing in stores; dining at a restaurant; or going to a park, museum, theater, or sporting event. Since the early 1980’s, stores have offered an increasing variety of merchandise. Large stores are owned and operated by the government. But many small stores, restaurants, and repair shops are privately owned.

Food. Grains are the main foods in China. Rice is the favorite grain among people in the south. In the north, people prefer wheat, which they make into bread and noodles. Corn, millet, and sorghum are also eaten. Vegetables, especially cabbages and tofu (soybean curd), rank second in the Chinese diet. Pork and poultry are the favorite meats. People in China also like eggs, fish, fruits, and shellfish.

Breakfast in China may be rice porridge, chicken noodle soup, or deep-fried pastries that taste like doughnuts. Favorite lunchtime foods include egg rolls and dumplings stuffed with meat or shrimp. A typical Chinese main meal includes vegetables with bits of meat or seafood, soup, and rice or noodles. Chopsticks and soup spoons serve as the only utensils at Chinese meals. Western fast food chains are popular among younger Chinese.

Tea is the traditional favorite Chinese beverage. But soft drinks, beer, and milk have also become popular beverages in the cities. Ice cream has also gained popularity there.

Fancy Chinese cooking varies from region to region. Beijing (also spelled Peking) duck is a northern specialty. It consists of slices of crisp roast duck eaten with thin rolled pancakes and a sweet sauce made from soybean paste. Food from the east and southeast coastal areas includes fish, crab, and shrimp. The spiciest foods come from Sichuan and Hunan. Chinese cooks vary the texture of dishes by adding slippery mushrooms and crunchy bamboo shoots and water chestnuts (bulbs of an aquatic plant). The Chinese occasionally eat things rarely used as food elsewhere, such as tiger lily buds, sea animals called sea cucumbers, and snake meat. Sharkfin soup is an expensive delicacy.

Clothing. Most Chinese make their own clothes, chiefly of cotton or synthetic materials. They dress for comfort and practicality rather than for style. Some women, especially in cities, wear skirts or dresses. But throughout China, both men and women generally wear Western-style shirts and loose-fitting trousers. Most adults wear dark or pastel colors. Children and young women sometimes wear clothes with bright colors and patterns. Men wear their hair short. Most women also wear their hair in short simple styles, though permanents and fancier styles are becoming popular.

Government officials and technicians may buy better-quality clothing at special stores. Such clothing includes suits with four-pocket jackets that button at the neck. But most of the time, it is difficult to tell from a person’s clothing whether that person is an ordinary worker, a government official, or a technician. In earlier times, however, the kinds of clothes that people wore indicated their place in Chinese society. For example, scholars traditionally dressed in long blue gowns. Women of the upper classes wore elaborate hairdos, long fingernails, and colorful robes. In contrast, peasants wore patched and faded jackets and trousers.

Health care in China combines traditional Chinese medicine and modern Western medicine. Traditional medicine is based on the use of herbs, attention to diet, and treatments such as acupuncture. In acupuncture, thin needles are inserted into the body at certain points to relieve pain or treat disease (see ACUPUNCTURE). From Western medicine, the Chinese have adopted many drugs and surgical methods.

All Chinese cities and towns have hospitals. These hospitals provide access to advanced medical technologies. In rural areas, some villages have part-time medical workers or rural doctors. These workers were once nicknamed barefoot doctors, not because they were actually barefoot, but because they shared the simple life of the peasants they served. Village health-care providers can treat simple illnesses, help at childbirth, prepare medicines made of herbs, and give prescriptions. For more advanced care, rural Chinese must go to a township health center or a county hospital. However, they may have to travel far to reach such a facility.

Prior to the 1990’s, village health-care providers carried out public health programs in their communities. They checked the quality of water and vaccinated people against diseases. They also supervised proper sanitation, such as disposing of garbage and exterminating harmful insects and rodents. Such measures contributed to the decline of infectious diseases throughout China.

During the 1990’s, China shifted from state-funded health care to privatized health care, in which patients must pay for their care. As a result, medical costs have greatly increased. Many rural Chinese can no longer afford adequate health care. In addition, many Chinese have turned to various folk remedies to improve their health. For example, a deep-breathing meditation exercise called qigong has become increasingly popular.

Religion is discouraged by the Communist government of China. However, it played an important part in traditional Chinese life. Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism were the major religions throughout most of China’s history. The religious beliefs of many of the Chinese people included elements of all three religions.

Confucianism is based on the ideas of Confucius, a Chinese philosopher who was born about 550 B.C. It stresses the importance of moral standards and of a well-ordered society in which parents rule their children, men rule women, and the educated rule the common people. In addition, Confucianism strongly emphasizes deep respect for one’s ancestors and for the past. See CONFUCIANISM.

Taoism is also a native Chinese religion. It teaches that a person should withdraw from everyday life and live in harmony with nature. Taoism began during the 300’s B.C. and is based largely on a book called the Tao Te Ching (The Classic of the Way and the Virtue). Taoism came to include many elements of Chinese folk religion and so became a religion with many protective gods. See TAOISM.

Buddhism reached China from India before A.D. 100 and became well established throughout the country during the 300’s. Under the influence of Confucianism and Taoism, Chinese varieties of Buddhism developed. They taught strict moral standards and the ideas of rebirth and life after death. The Chinese Buddhists worshiped many gods and appealed to them for help in times of troubles. See BUDDHISM.

The Chinese government regards religion as superstition. It encourages the people to study science and political writings to solve their problems. The Communists have opposed Confucianism because it emphasizes the past and justifies inequality in society. The Communists have also turned Taoist and Buddhist temples into museums, schools, and meeting halls. Since the late 1970’s, government attitudes towards religion have softened somewhat. The government now recognizes the value of such Confucian ideas as the importance of education and correct moral behavior. Also some temples have been returned to religious groups. But the government still tries to control religious organizations.

Muslims make up about 2 percent of the Chinese population, mostly minority peoples in the northwest. The government permits them to follow their religion, but it does not encourage them to do so. Christian missionaries worked in China for many years before the Communists came to power. The Communists expelled foreign missionaries and closed most Christian churches. But since the late 1970’s, the government has permitted many Christian churches to reopen. Today, about 1 percent of the people are Christians.

Education. The Chinese have always prized education and respected scholars. Before the Communists came to power in 1949, there were two major reasons for this high regard for education. (1) The Confucians believed that people could perfect themselves through study. They made no sharp distinction between academic education and moral education. They believed the function of all study was to build character. (2) The ability to read and write and a knowledge of Confucian sacred writings paved the way to financial security and social position. Candidates for government jobs had to pass an examination based on the Confucian works.

Today, the Communists regard education as a key to reaching their political, social, and economic goals. Since their rule began, they have conducted adult education programs in an effort to teach all Chinese to read and write. In the early 1950’s, they began a language reform program to help reduce illiteracy. The program included simplifying more than 2,000 of the most basic Chinese characters by reducing the number of strokes in each character. Such changes helped make written Chinese easier to learn. Today, most Chinese 15 years of age or older can read and write. For the country’s literacy rate, see LITERACY (table: Literacy rates).

Since the mid-1900’s, the Chinese have made great progress in providing education for their children. The number of children who attend elementary school and secondary school has increased sharply. China traditionally did not require children to attend school. But in 1986, the government passed a law that required children to attend school for at least nine years. Rural areas lag behind cities in educational progress, and the new laws apply to cities earlier than to rural areas.

Moral education is important in China. However, the Chinese teach morality as defined in a Communist sense. They say students should be both politically committed to Communist ideas and technically skilled. Courses in China combine the teaching of academic facts and political values.

An important issue in Chinese education involves a conflict between basic Communist principles and the desire to modernize China’s economy rapidly. Rapid modernization requires high-quality education with special opportunities and facilities for talented students. However, a Communist principle stresses equality in education. Supporters of this principle would like to increase the educational opportunities of peasants and workers at the expense of more privileged groups, such as scientists and government officials. Since 1949, the Communists have alternately stressed equality in education and high-quality education for modernization. At present, supporters of rapid modernization control the educational system. Students who show outstanding ability on nationwide examinations go to key schools, which have the best faculties and facilities. Key schools exist at the elementary, secondary, and college levels.

Elementary and secondary schools. Children in China enter elementary school at the age of 6 or 7 and must attend school for at least nine years. About 95 percent of the country’s children attend elementary school. Elementary school courses include the Chinese language, geography, history, mathematics, music, science, painting, physical education, and political education.

After completing elementary school, students may enter secondary schools, called middle schools. Junior middle school lasts three years, and senior middle school continues for another two or three years. Middle school courses include many subjects studied in elementary school plus biology, chemistry, physics, law, and English and other foreign languages. Vocational and technical middle schools offer training in agriculture, industrial technology, and other work-related subjects. About two-thirds of China’s children begin middle school, but most drop out before graduation.

Higher education. A nationwide examination determines who may advance to higher education and at what kind of school. High school students study intensely for the tests, which are held each July. Those who do best on the tests may enter a public university. Some wealthier students who do not qualify to attend a public university may pay to attend a private university. The chief university subjects include economics, languages, mathematics, and natural and social sciences.

Some students who pass the examination with lower scores enter a technical college. Each technical college specializes in one particular field, such as agriculture, forestry, medicine, mining, or teacher training. Many technical schools are administered by the government ministry specifically concerned with the subject that is taught. This system enables government leaders to plan the number of graduates who will have the special skills needed to run China’s farms and factories.

China has about 1,000 institutions of higher learning, including both universities and technical colleges. Only a small percentage of the students who wish to attend college can do so because of a shortage of faculties and facilities. Unsuccessful candidates can continue their education at “workers’ universities” run by factories. These schools offer short-term courses. Youths who dropped out of middle school can resume their studies at spare-time schools or through television and correspondence courses.

                The arts 

The oldest known Chinese works of art include pottery and carved jades from the 5000’s B.C. Beautiful bronze vessels that were used in religious rites were first fashioned between 2000 and 1500 B.C. Many ancient objects have been dug up from burial sites. Today, excavation of tombs and dwellings continues to yield different objects of art and a fuller understanding of China’s ancient past. Large numbers of works of art exist from all periods of Chinese history from the 200’s B.C. up to the present. They include masterpieces of painting and sculpture, pottery, ivory and jade carvings, furniture, and lacquerware. See BRONZE; FURNITURE (China); IVORY; JADE; LACQUERWARE; PORCELAIN.

Today, Chinese artists receive support from the government or work as amateurs in addition to their regular jobs. The Communists teach that the arts originate from the people-farmers, workers, soldiers, and minority groups. The Communists also stress that art should express the aims of their society. As a result, most Chinese art from the 1950’s to the 1970’s dealt with themes from the Communist revolution or from the daily lives of workers and peasants. Since then, art has also reflected traditional themes, ideas from other countries, and individual expression.

Literature. China has one of the oldest and greatest literatures in the world. The first significant work of Chinese literature was a collection of poems called the Classic of Songs. Some of these poems probably date from the 1100’s B.C. For more information on China’s rich literary heritage, see CHINESE LITERATURE.

Painting. Sophisticated designs were painted on Chinese pottery as early as the 5000’s B.C. Painting on silk has been an art in China since about 400 B.C. Painting on paper began later. Most early paintings show people, or gods or spirits. But landscapes became the chief subject of Chinese painting by the A.D. 900’s. During the Song dynasty (960-1279), many artists painted landscapes called shanshui (mountain-water), which showed towering mountains and vast expanses of water. In these paintings, the artist tried to suggest a harmony between nature and the human spirit.

Chinese painting was closely linked with the arts of poetry and calligraphy (fine handwriting). Chinese writing and the use of a brush for the writing originated during the Shang dynasty (c. 1766-c. 1122 B.C.). The Chinese traditionally considered calligraphy a branch of painting. During the 1200’s, it became popular for painters to combine shanshui and other subjects with written inscriptions that formed part of the overall design. In many cases, these inscriptions consisted of a poem along with a description of the circumstances under which the painting was created.

Chinese artists used the same brush for painting and calligraphy. It consisted of a wooden or bamboo handle with bristles of animal hair arranged to form an extremely fine point. The artist could paint many kinds of lines by adjusting the angle of the brush and the pressure on it. Chinese artists painted chiefly with black ink made of pine soot and glue. They sometimes used vegetable or mineral pigments to add color to their paintings. Chinese painters created many works on silk scrolls, which could be rolled up for storage and safekeeping. Other paintings were done on plaster walls and on paper. See PAINTING (Chinese painting).

Sculpture and pottery. The earliest Chinese sculptures were small figures placed in tombs. From the Shang dynasty through the Zhou dynasty (c. 1122-256 B.C.), sculptors created chiefly bronze and jade works. Shang and Zhou artists used bronze to make elaborate sacrificial vessels used in ceremonies for the dead. These works were cast in molds, and most had complicated designs based on animal forms.

In 1974, thousands of clay figures of people and horses were discovered near Xi’an in burial pits near the tomb of Shi Huangdi, the first emperor of the Qin dynasty. These figures, which are the earliest known life-sized Chinese sculptures, date from the 200’s B.C.

Buddhism reached China from India during the Han period. Sculptors then began to turn their skills to the service of this new religion. Temples were built in or near cities. In rural areas, cliffsides were hollowed out to form elaborate chapels. Sculptors decorated the chapels with figures of Buddha and his attendants. Some sculptures were carved from local stone. Others were molded of clay and painted. Still other sculptures were cast of bronze and coated with gold. As artistic expressions of religious faith, these works rival the finest sculptures in the monasteries and cathedrals of Europe. See SCULPTURE (China).

The Chinese have made pottery since prehistoric times. They began to use the potter’s wheel before 2000 B.C. and produced glazed pottery as early as the 1300’s B.C. During the Tang dynasty (A.D. 618-907), the Chinese developed the world’s first porcelain. Porcelain dishes and vases produced during the Tang and Song dynasties, and during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) and the early part of the Qing dynasty (1644-1912) are among the greatest treasures of Chinese art.

Architecture. Traditionally, most of the public buildings in China were constructed of wood on a stone foundation. The most outstanding feature of Chinese architecture was a large tile roof with extending edges that curved gracefully upward. These roofs were supported by wooden columns connected to the ceiling beams by wooden brackets. Walls did not support the roof but merely provided privacy. Most buildings had only one story, but the Chinese also built many-storied towers called pagodas (see PAGODA). Chinese architects no longer use the traditional styles, and new buildings in Chinese cities look much like those in Western cities.

Music. Chinese music sounds much different from Western music because it uses a different scale. The scales most commonly used in Western music have eight tones, but the Chinese scale has five tones. Melody is the most important element in Chinese music. Instruments and voices follow the same melodic line instead of blending in harmony.

Chinese musical instruments also differ from those played by Western musicians. Chinese instruments include the qin, a seven-stringed instrument, and the sheng, a mouth organ made of seven bamboo pipes. The Chinese also have a lutelike instrument called the pipa and two kinds of flutes, the xiao and the di. Today, Chinese musicians also play Western instruments and perform the music of many of the great European composers.

Theater. Formal Chinese drama began during the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368). Since the 1800’s, the most popular form has been Beijing opera (also called Peking opera). This type of drama combines spoken dialogue and songs with dance and symbolic gestures. It also features colorful and elaborate costumes. The plays are based on Chinese stories, history, and folklore.

                The land 

China is the world’s third largest country. Only Russia and Canada are larger. China’s land is as varied as it is vast. It ranges from subarctic regions in the north to tropical lowlands in the south and from fertile plains in the east to deserts in the west.

Several regions of China have traditionally been known by certain names. Northeastern China has been called Manchuria. But in China today, it is called simply the Northeast. Xinjiang covers the far northwest, and Tibet covers the far southwest. Inner Mongolia lies in the north. The eastern third of China, south of Manchuria and Inner Mongolia, is sometimes called China Proper. It has always had most of China’s people.

China is divided into eight major land regions. They are (1) Tibetan Highlands, (2) Xinjiang-Mongolian Uplands, (3) Mongolian Border Uplands, (4) Eastern Highlands, (5) Eastern Lowlands, (6) Central Uplands, (7) Sichuan Basin, and (8) Southern Uplands.

Much of China is so densely populated that little wildlife remains. But rugged mountain forests at the eastern edge of the Tibetan Highland area shelter pandas, golden monkeys, takins, and other rare animals. Wild elephants and gibbons dwell in the subtropical far southwestern uplands. A few Amur tigers live in remote forests of Manchuria.

The Tibetan Highlands lie in southwestern China. The region consists of a vast plateau bordered by towering mountains-the Himalaya on the south, the Pamirs on the west, and the Kunlun on the north. The world’s highest mountain, Mount Everest, rises 29,035 feet (8,850 meters) above sea level in the Himalaya in southern Tibet. Two of the world’s longest rivers, the Huang He and Yangtze, begin in the highlands and flow eastward across China to the sea.

Tibet suffers from both drought and extreme cold. Most of the region is a wasteland of rock, gravel, snow, and ice. A few areas provide limited grazing for hardy yaks-woolly oxen that furnish food, clothing, and transportation for the Tibetans. Crops can be grown only in a few lower-lying areas. See TIBET.

The Xinjiang-Mongolian Uplands occupy the vast desert areas of northwestern China. The region has plentiful mineral resources. However, it is thinly populated because of its remoteness and harsh climate.

The eastern part of the region consists of the Ordos Desert and part of the Gobi Desert. The western part of the region is divided into two areas by the Tian Shan range, which has peaks over 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) above sea level. South of the mountains lies one of the world’s driest deserts, the Taklimakan. The Turpan Depression, an oasis near the northern edge of the Taklimakan, is the lowest point in China. It lies 505 feet (154 meters) below sea level. To the north of the Tian Shan, the Junggar Basin stretches northward to the Altai Mountains along the Mongolian border.

The Mongolian Border Uplands lie between the Gobi Desert and the Eastern Lowlands. The Greater Hinggan Range forms the northern part of the region. The terrain there is rugged, and little agriculture is practiced. The southern part of the region is thickly covered with loess, a fertile, yellowish soil deposited by the wind. Loess consists of tiny mineral particles and is easily worn away. The Huang He and its tributaries have carved out hills and steep-sided valleys in the soft soil. The name Huang He means Yellow River and comes from the large amounts of loess carried by the river.

The Eastern Highlands consist of the Shandong Peninsula and eastern Manchuria. The Shandong Peninsula is a hilly region with excellent harbors and rich deposits of coal. The hills of eastern Manchuria have China’s best forests, and timber is a major product. The highest hills are the Changbai Mountains (Long White Mountains) along the Korean border. To the north, the Amur River forms the border with Russia. Just south of the river is the Lesser Hinggan Range.

The Eastern Lowlands lie between the Mongolian Border Uplands and the Eastern Highlands and extend south to the Southern Uplands. From north to south, the region consists of the Manchurian Plain, the North China Plain, and the valley of the Yangtze River. The Eastern Lowlands have China’s best farmland and many of the country’s largest cities.

The Manchurian Plain has fertile soils and large deposits of coal and iron ore. Most of Manchuria’s people live on the southern part of the plain near the Liao River. To the south lies the wide, flat North China Plain in the valley of the Huang He. Wheat is the main crop in this highly productive agricultural area. Major flooding formerly occurred in the valley. These frequent and destructive floods earned the river the nickname “China’s Sorrow.” Dams and dikes control most floods.

The Yangtze Valley has the best combination of level land, fertile soil, and sufficient rainfall anywhere in China. In the so-called Fertile Triangle between Nanjing, Shanghai, and Hangzhou, the rural population exceeds 5,000 persons per square mile (1,900 per square kilometer). The Yangtze River and its many tributaries have long formed China’s most important trade route.

The Central Uplands are an area of hills and mountains between the Eastern Lowlands and the Tibetan Highlands. The Qin Ling, a mountain range, make up the chief physical feature of the region. Peaks in the range rise more than 12,000 feet (3,658 meters) above sea level near the city of Xi’an. The Qin Ling cross the region from east to west. They form a natural barricade against seasonal winds that carry rain from the south and dust from the north. For this reason, the Qin Ling are China’s most significant geographic boundary. To the north of the mountains are dry wheat-growing areas. To the south lie warm, humid areas where rice is the major crop.

The Sichuan Basin lies south of the Central Uplands. It is a region of hills and valleys surrounded by high mountains. A mild climate and a long growing season make it one of China’s main agricultural regions. Most crops are grown on terraced fields-that is, on level strips of land cut out of the hillsides. The name Sichuan means Four Rivers and refers to the four streams that flow into the Yangtze River in the region. The rivers have carved out deep gorges in the red sandstone of the region and so made land travel difficult. Ships can travel on the Yangtze into western Sichuan, but only small craft can navigate the river’s swift-flowing tributaries.

The Southern Uplands cover southeastern China, including the island of Hainan. The Southern Uplands are a region of green hills and mountains. The only level area is the delta of the Xi Jiang (West River). The Xi Jiang and its tributaries form the main transportation route for southern China. Guangzhou (also called Canton), southern China’s largest city, lies near the mouth of the Xi Jiang. Deep, rich soils and a tropical climate help make the delta area an extremely productive agricultural region.

Much of the Southern Uplands is so hilly and mountainous that little land can be cultivated, even by terracing. The central part of the region, near the city of Guilin, is one of the most beautiful areas in China. It has many isolated limestone hills that rise 100 to 600 feet (30 to 182 meters) almost straight up.


China has an extremely wide range of climates because it is such a large country and has such a variety of natural features. The most severe climatic conditions occur in the Taklimakan and Gobi deserts. Daytime temperatures in these deserts may exceed 100 °F (38 °C) in summer, but nighttime lows may fall to -30 °F (-34 °C) in winter. Both Tibet and northern Manchuria have long, bitterly cold winters. In contrast, coastal areas of southeastern China have a tropical climate.

Seasonal winds called monsoons greatly affect China’s climate. In winter, monsoons carry cold, dry air from central Asia across China toward the sea. These high winds often create dust storms in the north. From late spring to early fall, the monsoons blow from the opposite direction and spread warm, moist air inland from the sea. Because of the monsoons, more rain falls in summer than in winter throughout China. Most parts of the country actually receive more than 80 percent of their rainfall between May and October.

Summers tend to be hot and humid in southeastern China and in southern Manchuria. In fact, summer temperatures average about 80 °F (27 °C) throughout much of China. However, northern China has longer and much colder winters than the south has. In January, daily low temperatures average about -13 °F (-25 °C) in northern Manchuria and about 20 °F (-7 °C) throughout much of the eastern third of the country. However, the coastal areas of the Southern uplands are much warmer. Southern China and the Yangtze Valley west of Wuhan are shielded from the winter winds by mountains. The Sichuan Basin is especially well protected, and frost occurs only a few days each winter.

The amount of precipitation varies greatly from region to region in China. The deserts of Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia receive less than 4 inches (10 centimeters) of rain yearly. More than 40 inches (100 centimeters) of rain falls each year in many parts of southeastern China. Some areas near the southeastern coast receive up to 80 inches (200 centimeters) annually. In northern China, the amount of precipitation varies widely from year to year. However, most areas in northern China receive less than 40 inches (100 centimeters) yearly. For example, annual precipitation averages about 25 inches (63 centimeters) in Beijing and 28 inches (70 centimeters) in Shenyang. Snowfalls occur only in the north. But even there, they are infrequent and usually light.


China has one of the world’s largest economies in terms of its total economic production. It ranks among the leading countries in terms of the gross domestic product (GDP), the value of all goods and services produced in a country within a year. But in terms of per capita (per person) GDP, China ranks low. More than half of the world’s countries have a higher per capita GDP than China. Economists consider China a developing country because it has such low per capita GDP.

The national government exercises much control over China’s economy. It owns and operates the most important industrial plants and controls most nonagricultural employment and wages. In addition, the government controls and operates the nation’s banking system, all long-distance transportation, and foreign trade. It rations some kinds of food and sets the prices of certain key goods and services.

The national government receives most of its income from taxes paid out of the profits of state-owned businesses. Government planners have used these profits to invest heavily in the development of China’s manufacturing industries.

China’s government makes national economic plans that cover five-year periods. These plans determine how much money the government will invest in industry and agriculture. The plans help determine the quantity of goods each worker is expected to produce.

The Communist government has achieved an impressive record of economic growth. The Communists have provided widespread employment opportunities, job security, and a more even distribution of income among the people. The prospects for China’s economy to continue growing remain favorable. The country has enough mineral and fuel resources to become one of the world’s developed nations. Another important resource is China’s hard-working and skillful people.

In the early 1980’s, the Chinese government began putting into effect a series of economic reforms that led to less government control over some business activities. Since then, the number of privately owned and operated businesses has increased dramatically. Many experts believe the increased ownership of business has contributed significantly to China’s economic health.

Manufacturing and mining make up the largest single part of China’s GDP, 42 percent. Shanghai is one of the world’s leading manufacturing centers. Its industrial output far exceeds that of any other place in China. Beijing and Tianjin rank second and third. Other important industrial centers include Shenyang in Manchuria; Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Suzhou, Wuhan, and Wuxi in southeastern China; and Chengdu and Chongqing in central China.

After the Communists came to power, they began to rebuild China’s factories in an effort to make the nation an industrial power. They concentrated on the development of heavy industries, such as the production of metals and machinery. Since 1949, China’s industrial production has grown at an average annual rate of more than 12 percent. Today, China has one of the world’s largest and most rapidly growing steel industries. The machine-building industry provides metalworking tools and other machines for new factories. Other major manufactured products include cement, fertilizer and other chemicals, irrigation equipment, locomotives, military equipment, ships, tractors, and trucks.

The largest consumer goods industries are the textile industry and the food-processing industry. As the standard of living in China improves, demand is growing for such consumer goods as bicycles, radios, sewing machines, and watches. As a result, the Chinese are increasing their production of these items.

To help continue the country’s industrial expansion, China’s leaders have made contracts with foreign companies to modernize the country’s factories and to build new ones. They have also begun to improve and expand scientific and technical education in China and to send students abroad for training. Waste and inefficiency in industry are also problems. To combat these problems, the government has introduced wage and bonus systems that give workers more pay for more production.

China is the world’s largest producer of coal. Coal deposits occur in many parts of China, but the best fields are in the north. During the early 1950’s, more than 90 percent of China’s energy came from coal. Since that time, however, the Chinese have discovered and rapidly made use of large deposits of petroleum. Today, hydroelectric plants provide about 20 percent of China’s energy, and oil-burning plants supply about 15 percent. The largest oil field in China is at Daqing in the northern part of Manchuria. Other major Chinese oil fields include those at Shengli on the Shandong Peninsula; at Dagang, near Tianjin; and at Karamay in Xinjiang.

China is a leading producer of iron ore. Most of the ore comes from large, low-grade deposits in the northeastern provinces. Some mines in the central and northern parts of the country yield rich iron ore.

China outranks all other countries in the production of manganese, tin, and tungsten, and it is a leading producer of antimony, gold, lead, and salt. China also mines bauxite, uranium, and zinc.

Service industries are industries that produce services, not goods. These industries include such services as trade; government services, including the military; transportation; communication; finance; insurance; and personal and business services. Together, they account for 34 percent of China’s GDP. More information on transportation and communication appears later in this section.

Agriculture accounts for less than 25 percent of China’s GDP, but it ranks as the country’s largest employer by far. About 60 percent of China’s workers are farmers. In southern China, rice, sweet potatoes, and tea are the major crops. Wheat is the chief crop in the north, followed by corn and sorghum. China produces more cotton, pears, rice, tobacco, and wheat than any other country. It grows 85 percent of the world’s sweet potatoes. In addition, it is a leading producer of apples, cabbages, carrots, corn, melons, potatoes, rubber, sugar beets, sugar cane, tea, and tomatoes. Other important crops include millet, peanuts, and soybeans. Farmers on Hainan Island grow tropical crops, such as bananas, oranges, and pineapples.

Only about 13 percent of China’s land area can be cultivated. Thus, farmers have extremely little cropland to support themselves and the rest of the huge population. However, they manage to provide almost enough food for all the people. Only small supplies must be imported. This accomplishment is made possible partly by the long growing season in southern China. Farmers there can grow two or more crops on the same land each year. Chinese farmers must do most of their work by hand with simple tools. They make use of irrigation and organic fertilizers and practice soil conservation.

During the 1950’s, the Communists collectivized China’s agriculture-that is, they transferred farm ownership to the state. They organized the peasants to farm the land cooperatively in units called communes. In the 1980’s, emphasis on communes declined, and individual families farmed more of the land. The families must give part of their crop to their collective and must sell an agreed quota of farm products to the state at a fixed price. They may then sell their surplus crops at farm markets, sometimes to city dwellers.

China’s farm output has greatly expanded since the Communists took control of China. Faster growth in agriculture will require the introduction of higher-yielding seeds, increased use of machinery, expanded irrigation, and wider use of chemical fertilizers. In rural areas, many families raise chickens and ducks, and nearly every household has a hog. Hogs provide both meat and fertilizer. China has more than 350 million hogs, more than 40 percent of the world’s total. China also has large numbers of cattle, goats, horses, and sheep.

Fishing industry. China has the world’s largest fishing industry. The Chinese catch about 161/2 million short tons (15 million metric tons) of fish, shellfish, and other seafood annually. About 40 percent comes from freshwater fisheries, and the rest comes from the sea. Fish farming is an important industry in China. Fish farmers raise fish in ponds both for food and for use in fertilizer.

International trade is vital to China’s economic development. During the 1950’s, the Chinese imported from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.) most of the machinery needed to build their industries. However, friendly relations between China and the U.S.S.R. broke down in the early 1960’s. The Chinese then began a policy of economic self-reliance and limited imports. But in the late 1970’s, China’s leaders turned away from the principle of self-reliance and began to open the economy to foreign trade. China imports machinery and other technology needed to modernize its economy. The Chinese sometimes even seek foreign loans to finance these imports. In 1999, China signed a landmark trade agreement with the United States that lowered many barriers to foreign trade.

China’s chief imports are metals and machinery. Other leading imports include grain, cotton, and fertilizers. China’s main exports include clothing, textiles, tea, and such foods as fruits, pork, and vegetables. In the 1970’s, the Chinese began to export large quantities of petroleum, offsetting the cost of imports. Much of China’s international trade passes through Hong Kong. China’s chief trading partners include Germany, Japan, and the United States.

Transportation. The Chinese rely mainly on simple, traditional means for transportation over short distances. The people carry heavy loads fastened to their back or hanging from poles carried across their shoulders. Carts and wagons are pulled either by people or by donkeys, horses, or mules. Boats are pulled along canals and rivers by animals on the bank.

Railroads make up by far the most important part of China’s modern transportation system. Rail lines link the major cities and manufacturing centers. The railroads transport over 60 percent of the freight hauled by modern means. They also carry much passenger traffic.

China has an extensive network of roads that reaches almost every town in the nation. Most roads are unpaved. Highway traffic in China consists mostly of trucks and buses. China has an average of less than 1 automobile for every 500 people. Most cars are owned by government agencies. Private ownership of cars is permitted, but very few Chinese can afford to buy a car. Bicycles and buses are widely used for local travel.

Ships carry passengers and freight on several Chinese rivers, especially the Yangtze. The Grand Canal, which is the world’s longest artificially created waterway, extends more than 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) from Hangzhou in the south to Beijing in the north.

China’s major ports include Dalian, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Qingdao, and Shanghai. The chief airports are at Beijing, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, and Shanghai. More than 80 Chinese cities are linked by domestic air service. Chinese and foreign airlines fly between China and many cities in Asia, Europe, and North America.

Communication in China comes under strict government control. Newspapers, radio, and television formerly were devoted mostly to political propaganda. But since the late 1970’s, the government has increasingly used these communications media to provide information and entertainment. Educational programs, concerts, plays, and new films are often shown on television.

The government and the Chinese Communist Party publish hundreds of daily newspapers and many weeklies. China’s leading newspaper is Renmin Ribao (People’s Daily) of Beijing, the official paper of the Communist Party. In addition to printed newspapers, China has countless mimeographed and handwritten newssheets. So-called big-character posters were formerly a means of communication and personal expression in China. People expressed opinions on the posters and hung them on walls in cities. In the late 1970’s, many people began using posters to complain about China’s political system. In 1980, the government forbade posters that criticized its policies. Now, posters typically give such information as tips on health and physical fitness.

China has an average of 1 radio for every 5 people and 1 television set for every 32 people. Radio programs are also broadcast over loudspeakers in many public areas. Television sets are sometimes bought by groups, such as occupants of an apartment building, and placed in a lobby or public room. The Chinese use their telephone and telegraph systems mainly for official purposes or in emergencies. The people depend chiefly on the postal system for personal communication.


Beginnings of Chinese civilization. The oldest written records of Chinese history date from the Shang dynasty (about 1766 B.C. to about 1122 B.C.). These records consist of inscriptions inside bronze vessels and notations scratched on thousands of turtle shells and animal bones. About 100 B.C., a Chinese historian named Sima Qian wrote the first major history of China. Through the centuries, the Chinese have always appreciated the importance of history and so have kept detailed records of the events of their times.

People have lived in what is now China since long before the beginning of written history. Prehistoric human beings known as the Peking people lived between about 500,000 and 250,000 years ago in what is now northern China. By about 10,000 B.C., a number of New Stone Age cultures had developed in this area. From two of them-the Yangshao and the Longshan-a distinctly Chinese civilization gradually emerged.

The Yangshao culture reached the peak of its development about 3000 B.C. The culture extended from the central valley of the Huang He to the present-day province of Gansu. In time, it was displaced by the Longshan culture, which spread over much of what is now the eastern third of the country. The Longshan people lived in walled communities, cultivated millet and rice, and raised cattle and sheep.

China’s first dynasty, the Shang dynasty, arose from the Longshan culture during the 1700’s B.C. The Shang kingdom was centered in the Huang He Valley. It became a highly developed society governed by a hereditary class of aristocrats. The dynasty’s outstanding accomplishments included the creation of magnificent bronze vessels, the development of horse-drawn war chariots, and the establishment of a system of writing.

About 1122 B.C., the Zhou people of western China overthrew the Shang and established their own dynasty. The Zhou dynasty ruled China until 256 B.C. The dynasty directly controlled only part of northern China. In the east, the Zhou gave authority to certain followers. These followers became lords of semi-independent states. As time passed, these lords grew increasingly independent of the royal court and so weakened its power. Battles between the Zhou rulers and non-Chinese invaders further weakened the dynasty. In 771 B.C., the Zhou were forced to abandon their capital, near what is now Xi’an, and move eastward to Luoyang.

About 500 B.C., the great philosopher Confucius proposed new moral standards to replace the magical and religious standards of his time. This development in Chinese thought compared in many ways to the shift from religion to philosophy that occurred among the people of Greece at about the same time.

During the later Zhou period, the rulers of the eastern states fought one another for the control of all China. In 221 B.C., the Qin state defeated all its rivals and established China’s first empire controlled by a strong central government. The Qin believed in a philosophy called Legalism, and their victory resulted partly from following Legalistic ideas. Legalism emphasized the importance of authority, efficient administration, and strict laws. A combination of Legalistic administrative practices and Confucian moral values helped the Chinese empire endure for more than 2,000 years.

The age of empire. The Qin dynasty lasted only until 206 B.C. But it brought great changes that influenced the entire age of empire in China.

The early empire. The first Qin emperor, Shi Huangdi, abolished the local states and set up a strong central government. His government standardized weights and measures, the currency, and the Chinese writing system. To keep out invaders, he ordered the construction of the Great Wall of China. Laborers built the wall by joining shorter walls constructed during the Zhou dynasty. The Great Wall, added to and rebuilt by later dynasties, extends about 4,500 miles (7,240 kilometers) from the Bo Gulf of the Yellow Sea to the Lop Nur region in the province of Xinjiang in western China.

Shi Huangdi taxed the Chinese people heavily to support his military campaigns and his vast building projects. These taxes and the harsh enforcement of laws led to civil war soon after his death in 210 B.C. The Qin dynasty quickly collapsed. The Han dynasty then gained control of China. It ruled from 202 B.C. to A.D. 220.

During the Han period, Confucianism became the philosophical basis of government. Aristocrats held most of the important state offices. However, a person’s qualifications began to play a role in the selection and placement of officials. Chinese influence spread into neighboring countries, and overland trade routes linked China with Europe for the first time.

In A.D. 8, a Han official named Wang Mang seized the throne and set up the Xin dynasty. However, the Han dynasty regained control of China by A.D. 25. Art, education, and science thrived. Writers produced histories and dictionaries. They also collected classics of literature from earlier times. During the late Han period, Buddhism was introduced into China from India.

Political struggles at the royal court and administrative dishonesty plagued the last century of Han rule. In addition, powerful regional officials began to ignore the central government. Large-scale rebellion finally broke out, and the Han fell in 220. China then split into three competing kingdoms. Soon afterward, nomadic groups invaded northern China. A series of short-lived non-Chinese dynasties ruled all or part of the north from 304 to 581. Six regimes followed one another in the south from 222 to 589. The period of Chinese history from the fall of the Han to 589 is often called the “Six Dynasties.” During these centuries of division, Buddhism spread across China and influenced all aspects of life.

The brief Sui dynasty (581-618) reunified China. By 605, the Grand Canal linked the Yangtze Valley with northern China. The canal made the grain and other products of the south more easily available to support the political and military needs of the north.

The Tang dynasty replaced the Sui in 618 and ruled China for nearly 300 years. The Tang period was an age of prosperity and great cultural accomplishment. The Tang capital at Chang’an (now Xi’an) had more than a million people, making it the largest city in the world. It attracted diplomats, traders, poets, and scholars from throughout Asia and the Mediterranean area. Some of China’s greatest poets, including Li Bo and Du Fu, wrote during the Tang period. Buddhism remained an enormous cultural influence, but followers adapted it to Chinese ways. Distinctly Chinese schools of Buddhism developed, including Chan (Zen) and Qingtu (Pure Land). But in the 800’s, a revival of Confucianism began.

In 755, a rebellion led by a northern general named An Lushan touched off a gradual decline in Tang power. From 875 to 884, another great rebellion further weakened the Tang empire, which finally ended in 907. During the period that followed, a succession of “Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms” struggled for control of the empire. In 960, the Song dynasty reunified China.

The Song dynasty brought two major changes that affected the Chinese empire throughout the rest of its existence. First, the Song rulers firmly established a system of civil service examinations that had begun during the Tang period. They thus completed the shift of social and political power from aristocratic families to officials selected on the basis of talent. The second significant change was the development of Neo-Confucianism, which combined the moral standards of traditional Confucianism with elements of Buddhism and Taoism. The philosopher Zhu Xi was largely responsible for this new Confucianism. The Song dynasty established Neo-Confucianism as the official state philosophy, and all later Chinese dynasties continued to support it.

During the Song period, the introduction of early ripening rice made it possible to grow two or three crops a year in the south. The increased rice production helped support the population, which for the first time exceeded 100 million. Chinese inventions during this period included gunpowder and movable type for printing. Literature, philosophy, and history flourished as more and more people learned how to read and write. In the fine arts, the great Song achievements were hard-glazed porcelains and magnificent landscape paintings.

The Song dynasty suffered from frequent attacks by nomadic peoples from the north. By 1127, it had lost northern China to invaders from Manchuria. The Song then moved their capital from Kaifeng to Hangzhou on the wealthy lower Yangtze Delta, and the dynasty became known as the Southern Song.

Mongol rule. During the 1200’s, Mongol warriors swept into China from the north. The Mongol leader Kublai Khan established the Yuan dynasty. It controlled China from 1279 to 1368, the first time that all China had come under foreign rule. During the Yuan period, Europeans became increasingly interested in China because of the reports of travelers and traders. The most enthusiastic reports came from Marco Polo, a trader from Venice. After traveling widely in China from 1275 to 1292, Polo returned home with glowing accounts of the highly civilized country he called Cathay.

The Mongols ruled China harshly. During the mid-1300’s, rebellions drove the Mongols out of China and led to the establishment of the Ming dynasty.

The Ming dynasty ruled from 1368 to 1644, a period of stability, prosperity, and revived Chinese influence in eastern Asia. Literature and art flourished again. In reaction to Mongol rule, the Ming emperors looked down on all things foreign. When European traders visited China during the 1500’s and 1600’s, the Ming rulers treated them as inferiors. In addition, the Chinese considered the Europeans’ trade activities to be smuggling and piracy. The low opinion the Chinese had of European traders hampered Roman Catholic missionaries who began to reach China about 1600.

The early rule of the Manchus. In 1644, the Manchu people of Manchuria invaded China and established the Qing dynasty. The Manchus ruled China until 1912. Like the Mongols, the Manchus were foreigners. But unlike the Mongols, the Manchus had adopted many elements of Chinese culture before they gained control of the empire. The Manchus strongly supported Neo-Confucianism and modeled their political system after that of the Ming.

From 1681 to 1796, the Qing empire enjoyed stability and prosperity. Chinese influence extended into Mongolia, Tibet, and central Asia. Commerce and the output of agriculture and the handicraft industry increased remarkably. China’s population expanded rapidly. It rose from about 150 million in 1700 to more than 400 million by 1850.

By the late 1700’s, the standard of living in China began to decline as the population grew faster than agricultural production. After the 1760’s, political dishonesty plagued the Qing administration. In 1796, the worsening conditions touched off a rebellion, which was led by anti-Manchu secret societies. The rebellion lasted until 1804 and greatly weakened the Qing dynasty.

Clash with the Western powers. European merchants had little effect on China before the 1800’s. The Chinese government restricted foreign trade to the port of Guangzhou and severely limited contact between foreigners and Chinese. China exported large quantities of tea and silk to the West but purchased few goods in return. To balance their trade, European merchants began to bring opium to China during the early 1800’s. The Chinese had outlawed the importation of opium, and so the Europeans were smuggling the drug.

Opium smuggling created much local disorder in China, and the large outflow of silver to pay for the opium seriously disturbed the economy. In March 1839, Chinese officials tried to stop the illegal trade by seizing 20,000 chests of opium from British merchants in Guangzhou. The Opium War then broke out between China and the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom easily won the war, which ended with the Treaty of Nanjing in 1842.

The Treaty of Nanjing was the first of what the Chinese called the unequal treaties. It gave the Chinese island of Hong Kong to the United Kingdom and opened five Chinese ports to British residence and trade. The Treaty of Nanjing also granted British officials the right to deal on equal terms with Chinese officials and to try criminal cases involving British citizens. China signed similar treaties with France and the United States in 1844 and with several other European nations by 1851. These treaties stated that any rights granted to one foreign power must also be given to the other nations. The Western nations thus acquired a common interest in maintaining their special privileges in China.

From 1858 to 1860-after China lost another war, against the United Kingdom and France-China and the foreign powers signed more treaties. These treaties opened additional ports to trade, permitted foreign shipping on the Yangtze, and allowed missionaries to live on and own property in the interior of China. The treaties also called for the Western nations to establish permanent diplomatic offices in Beijing. The United Kingdom added the Kowloon Peninsula to its Hong Kong colony, and Russia received all Chinese territory north of the Amur River and east of the Ussuri River.

The Taiping Rebellion. A series of uprisings in the mid-1800’s posed a serious threat to the survival of the Qing dynasty. The most important uprising was the Taiping Rebellion. It lasted from 1850 to 1864 and caused the loss of millions of lives. The Taipings were a semireligious group that combined Christian beliefs with ancient Chinese ideas for perfecting society. They challenged both the Qing dynasty and Confucianism with a program to divide the land equally among the people. After 14 years of civil war, local Chinese officials organized new armies, which defeated the Taipings. The Qing received some military aid from the foreign powers. These nations wanted the dynasty to survive so the terms of the unequal treaties could remain in effect.

The fall of the Manchus. A disastrous war with Japan in 1894 and 1895 forced the Chinese to recognize Japan’s control over Korea. China also had to give the Japanese the island of Taiwan, which China had controlled since 1683. The United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Russia then forced the crumbling Chinese empire to grant them more trading rights and territory. The division of China into a number of European colonies appeared likely. But the Chinese people had begun to develop strong feelings of national unity. This growth of nationalism helped prevent the division of the country, as did rivalry among the foreign powers. None of the foreign powers would allow any of the others to become dominant in China. In 1899, the United States persuaded the other Western powers to accept the Open-Door Policy, which guaranteed the rights of all nations to trade with China on an equal basis. The rivalry among the powers was a reason the policy was approved.

By the 1890’s, some Chinese violently opposed the spread of Western and Christian influences in China. Chinese rebels formed secret societies to fight these influences. The best-known society was called the Boxers by Westerners because its members practiced Chinese ceremonial exercises that resembled shadowboxing. In the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, the Boxers and other secret societies attacked and killed Westerners and Chinese Christians. Even the Manchu court supported this campaign of terror. A rescue force from eight nations crushed the rebellion.

In the years following the Boxer Rebellion, the Manchus set out to reform the Chinese government and economy. They abolished the Confucian civil service examinations, established modern schools, and sent students abroad to study. They also organized and equipped a Western-style army. In addition, the Qing court reorganized the central government, promised to adopt a constitution, and permitted the provinces to elect their own legislatures.

The Manchu reforms came too late to save the dynasty. A movement to set up a republic had been growing since the Japanese defeat of China in 1895. In 1905, several revolutionary republican organizations combined to form the United League. They chose as their leader Sun Yat-sen, a Western-educated physician.

From 1905 to 1911, the rebels staged a series of unsuccessful armed attacks against the Manchus. Finally, on Oct. 10, 1911, army troops loosely associated with the United League revolted at Wuchang. By the year’s end, all the southern and central provinces had declared their independence from Manchu rule.

Modern China. In December 1911, the leaders of the revolution met in Nanjing to establish the Republic of China.

The early republic. The leaders of the revolution named Sun Yat-sen temporary president of the republic. The Manchus then called upon Yuan Shikai, a retired military official, to try to defeat the republicans. But Yuan arranged a secret settlement with Sun and his followers. The last Manchu emperor, a 6-year-old boy named Pu Yi, gave up the throne of China on Feb. 12, 1912. On March 10, Yuan became president in place of Sun, who agreed to step down.

Yuan quickly moved to expand his personal power and ignored the wishes of the republicans. In 1912, the former revolutionaries established the Kuomintang (Nationalist Party). In 1913, they organized a revolt against Yuan. The revolt failed, and the Nationalist leaders fled to Japan. Yuan’s presidency became a dictatorship, and he took steps to establish himself as emperor. But even Yuan’s own followers opposed the reestablishment of the empire. A rebellion by military leaders in the provinces forced him to abandon his plans.

The war lord period. Yuan Shikai died in 1916, and the power of the central government quickly crumbled. Presidents continued to hold office in Beijing, but the real power in northern China lay in the hands of war lords (local military leaders). With the support of southern war lords, Sun Yat-sen set up a rival government in Guangzhou in 1917. By 1922, the republic had failed hopelessly and civil war was widespread.

Meanwhile, great changes were occurring in Chinese culture and society. For example, a magazine called New Youth attacked Confucianism and presented a wide range of new philosophies and social theories. On May 4, 1919, students in Beijing demonstrated against the Versailles Peace Conference. The conference permitted Japan to keep control of the German holdings it had seized in China during World War I (1914-1918). The demonstrations helped spread ideas presented by New Youth and other journals. This revolution in thought became known as the May Fourth Movement. It contributed greatly to the growth of Chinese nationalism and so strengthened the drive for political revolution.

In 1919, Sun began to reorganize the Nationalist Party and to recruit supporters from among students. At almost the same time, the first Communist student groups appeared in Beijing and Shanghai. In 1923, the U.S.S.R. sent advisers to China to help the Nationalists. (The U.S.S.R. had been formed in 1922 under Russia’s leadership.) The Soviets persuaded the Chinese Communists to join the Nationalist Party and help it carry out the revolution. The party began to develop its own army and to organize workers and peasants to prepare for an attack on the northern war lords.

Sun Yat-sen died in 1925, and leadership of the Nationalist Party gradually passed to its military commander, Chiang Kai-shek. In 1926, the Nationalists began a campaign to defeat the northern war lords and soon won some major victories. In 1927, Chiang and his troops turned against the Communists and destroyed the Communist-backed labor unions in Shanghai. Most Communist leaders fled to the hills in the province of Jiangxi in southern China. In 1928, the Nationalists captured Beijing and united China under one government for the first time since 1916.

Nationalist rule. The Nationalist government was a one-party dictatorship that never gained full control of China. Communist opposition and Japanese aggression severely limited its power and accomplishments.

By 1931, the Communists had established 15 rural bases and set up a rival government in southern and central China. In 1934, Chiang Kai-shek’s armies forced the Communists to evacuate their bases and begin their famous Long March. By the end of 1935, the Communists had marched more than 6,000 miles (9,700 kilometers) over a winding route to the province of Shaanxi in northern China. Of the approximately 100,000 Communists who began the march, only a few thousand survived to reach Shaanxi. During the march, Mao Zedong became the leader of the Chinese Communist Party.

While Chiang was fighting the Communists, the Japanese were seizing more and more Chinese territory. In 1931, the Japanese occupied Manchuria and made it a puppet state called Manchukuo. They then extended their military influence into Inner Mongolia and other parts of northern China. Chiang agreed to a series of Japanese demands because he felt unprepared to fight the Japanese until he had defeated the Communists.

Many students and intellectuals opposed Chiang’s giving in to Japan. They organized demonstrations and anti-Japanese associations. Dissatisfaction spread to Manchurian troops who were blockading the Communist-held areas in the northwest. In 1936, the Manchurian forces kidnapped Chiang in Xi’an. He was released only after agreeing to end the civil war and form a united front against the Japanese.

War with Japan. The Japanese army launched a major attack against China in 1937. The Chinese resisted courageously, but Japanese armies controlled most of eastern China by the end of 1938. The Nationalist forces withdrew to the province of Sichuan, where they made Chongqing the wartime capital.

China joined the Allies in World War II on Dec. 8, 1941, one day after Japan attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The Allies gave aid to China, but constant warfare against Japan exhausted China’s resources and strength. The cost of the war caused severe inflation, which demoralized the Chinese people and weakened support for the Nationalists.

For the Communists, the war against Japan provided an opportunity for political and military expansion. In northern China, they gained control of large areas that the Japanese army had overrun but lacked the forces to defend. The Communists enlarged their army and organized the people to provide food and shelter for their soldiers. They also began a social revolution in the countryside, which included redistributing land to the peasants in Communist-controlled areas. When the war against Japan ended in August 1945, the Communists held an area in northern China with a population of about 100 million. In addition, they claimed to have an army of more than 900,000 soldiers.

Civil war. In 1946, the United States sent General George C. Marshall to China to attempt to arrange a political settlement between the Nationalists and the Communists. However, neither the Nationalists nor the Communists believed that they could achieve their goals by coming to terms with the other side. In mid-1946, full-scale fighting began.

The superior military tactics of the Communists and the social revolution they conducted in the countryside gradually turned the tide against the Nationalists. After capturing Tianjin and Beijing in January 1949, Mao Zedong’s armies crossed the Yangtze River and drove the Nationalists toward southern China. On Oct. 1, 1949, Mao proclaimed the establishment in Beijing of the People’s Republic of China. In December, Chiang Kai-shek and his followers fled to the island of Taiwan.

The beginning of Communist rule took place under the direction of Mao Zedong, the chairman of the Communist Party. Premier Zhou Enlai directed all government departments and ministries. Military and economic aid from the U.S.S.R. helped support the new government. From 1949 to 1952, the new government firmly established its control over China and promoted the recovery of the nation’s economy. It seized farmland from landlords and redistributed the land among the peasants. This process of land redistribution was a bloody one. Estimates of the number of landlords killed range from 50,000 to several million.

In 1953, China began its First Five-Year Plan for economic development. From 1953 to 1957, Chinese industry grew at the rapid rate of about 15 percent a year. By 1957, the Communists had brought all important industries under the control of the government. In addition, peasants were forced or persuaded to combine their landholdings into agricultural cooperatives. But agricultural production increased much more slowly than industrial output.

The Great Leap Forward was the name given to China’s Second Five-Year Plan. Launched in 1958, this plan was designed to accelerate dramatically China’s economic development. It was based on Mao’s belief that human willpower and effort could overcome all obstacles. Thus, the government tried to speed development by greatly increasing the number of workers and their hours while ignoring China’s lack of capital and modern technology. It combined the agricultural cooperatives into huge communes to improve the efficiency of farmworkers. In industry, laborers worked extra shifts. Machinery was operated continuously, without being stopped even for maintenance.

The Great Leap Forward shattered China’s economy. From 1959 to 1961, China experienced economic depression, food shortages, and a decline in industrial output. By 1962, the economy began to recover. However, the Chinese had not solved the problem of achieving economic growth while maintaining revolutionary values. Disagreement over this issue began to produce a major split within the Communist Party between radicals and moderates. The radicals called for China to strive for a classless society in which everyone would work selflessly for the common good. The moderates stressed the importance of economic development. They believed that the policies of the radicals were unrealistic and hampered the modernization of China.

Break with the U.S.S.R. Friendly relations between China and the U.S.S.R. ended in the early 1960’s. China had criticized the Soviets as early as 1956 for their policy of “peaceful coexistence” with the West. Unlike the Soviets, the Chinese at that time believed that war with the West was inevitable. They also accused the U.S.S.R. of betraying the aims of Communism. In 1960, the U.S.S.R. stopped its technical assistance to China. In 1962, the Soviets refused to support China in its border war with India. The U.S.S.R. signed a nuclear test ban treaty with the United States and the United Kingdom in 1963. The Chinese then broke off relations with the Soviets, whom they accused of joining an anti-Chinese plot. In 1989, officials of China and the U.S.S.R. announced that they had improved relations. The U.S.S.R. was dissolved in 1991. China then began to establish relations with the former Soviet republics.

The Cultural Revolution. In 1966, Mao Zedong gave his support to the radicals in the Communist Party. Mao thus began what he called the Cultural Revolution. The radicals accused many top party and government officials of failing to follow Communist principles and removed them from their positions. Students and other young people formed semimilitary organizations called the Red Guards. They demonstrated in the major cities against those whom they called counterrevolutionaries and anti-Maoists. The universities were closed from 1966 to 1970. Radicals seized control of many provincial and city governments. Violence frequently broke out as competing radical groups struggled for power.

Mao’s attempt to put China back on a revolutionary path wrecked the government and economy so severely that he had to call out the army in 1967 to restore order. In 1969, the Communist Party, the government, and the educational system gradually began to resume their normal activities. But the conflict between radicals and moderates within the party continued.

Improved relations with the West. During the early 1970’s, Canada and several other Western nations established diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China. The United States continued to recognize the Nationalist government on Taiwan. But in 1971, the United States ended its long-standing opposition to United Nations (UN) membership for the People’s Republic. Instead, it favored UN membership for both the People’s Republic and Taiwan. In October 1971, the UN voted to admit the People’s Republic in place of Taiwan.

In 1972, U.S. President Richard M. Nixon traveled to China and met with Premier Zhou Enlai and Communist Party chairman Mao Zedong. During Nixon’s visit, the United States and China signed the Shanghai Communique, which looked forward to the establishment of normal relations. The two nations sent representatives to serve in each other’s capital.

Deng Xiaoping. Both Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedong died in 1976. A power struggle then developed between moderates led by Hua Guofeng and radicals led by Mao’s widow, Jiang Qing. Hua’s group won, and he succeeded Zhou as premier and Mao as chairman of the Communist Party. Hua’s group imprisoned Jiang and three of her followers-the so-called Gang of Four.

In 1977, Deng Xiaoping, a moderate, became vice premier and vice chairman of the Communist Party. On Jan. 1, 1979, China and the United States established normal diplomatic relations.

By 1980, Hua had lost most of his power. Deng had become China’s most powerful leader. Hua resigned as premier in 1980 and as party chairman in 1981. Deng helped Zhao Ziyang become premier and helped Hu Yaobang, who was then general secretary of the party, also become chairman. Zhao and Hu were moderates.

Deng resigned as vice premier in 1980. In 1982, the party’s new constitution abolished Deng’s post of vice chairman and Hu’s post of chairman. The position of general secretary became the top party post, and Hu continued in that office. However, Deng remained China’s most influential leader.

Deng and the other moderates sought to reduce the people’s admiration of Mao. Many people admired Mao so much that they believed China should follow all his policies. The moderates praised Mao’s leadership, but denounced the idea that all his policies should be followed. They greatly increased trade and cultural contact with foreign countries. They set out to modernize China’s economy with technical help from abroad.

Protests. In the late 1980’s, uprisings against Chinese rule broke out in Tibet. In March 1989, China sent troops there to restore order.

In December 1986, many Chinese university students began demanding increased freedom of speech and a greater voice in the selection of officials. Students held demonstrations in a number of cities to promote their demands. In January 1987, Hu Yaobang was removed from his post of Communist Party general secretary. Conservative leaders had criticized Hu for his liberal views on freedom of expression and political reform. Zhao Ziyang became acting general secretary of the Communist Party. He also remained as premier. In November 1987, Zhao became general secretary of the party, and Li Peng became acting premier. Li became premier in April 1988.

Hu died in April 1989. University students held marches to honor Hu and mourn his death. They called for a reevaluation of Hu by the country’s leaders. These events led to large demonstrations by students and other citizens in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square and on the streets of a number of other Chinese cities. The protesters called for more democracy in China and an end to corruption in government. The military crushed the demonstrations and killed hundreds of protesters. After the demonstrations, the government arrested many people who were suspected of being involved in the prodemocracy movement. The government executed a number of those arrested. In addition, the Communist Party dismissed Zhao from his post for showing support of the prodemocracy movement. Jiang Zemin replaced Zhao as general secretary. In 1993, Jiang was also named to the largely ceremonial post of China’s president.

In 1989, Deng had resigned from his remaining party and government posts. But he continued to have influence until the early 1990’s. Deng died in 1997.

Hong Kong. In 1984, China and the United Kingdom signed an agreement regarding the return of Hong Kong to China when the United Kingdom’s lease expired. China agreed that Hong Kong would retain a high degree of autonomy (self-rule) and keep its free-enterprise economy for at least 50 years after 1997. In 1990, the Chinese government approved the Basic Law, the new framework for Hong Kong’s administration. On July 1, 1997, Hong Kong became a special administrative region of China.

Recent developments. In 1998, Zhu Rongji succeeded Li Peng as premier. Zhu had been a vice premier in charge of economic policy. Li Peng was named chairman of China’s national legislature.

Construction of Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River began in 1994. The dam, which is scheduled for completion in 2009, will be the world’s largest. Its huge reservoir will cover areas now occupied by several cities and towns and will require the resettlement of more than 1 million people. The dam will generate electric power and control flooding.

Portugal returned control of Macao to China in 1999 under an agreement signed by both countries in 1987. Like Hong Kong, Macao is considered a special administrative region of China and maintains separate political, judicial, and social systems.

In the late 1990’s, a spiritual movement known as Falun Gong began publicly protesting its repression by the Chinese government. The protests resulted only in further repression of the movement.

In 2001, China became a member of the World Trade Organization, which promotes trade among its members. China’s entry into the organization marked progress in freeing the Chinese economy from government control.

Contributor: Frederic Wakeman, Jr., Ph.D., Haas Professor of Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley.


How has family life in China changed since the Communists came to power?

What three groups dominate China’s government?

When was the People’s Republic of China established?

Why did the Chinese have a high regard for education in the past? Why do the Communists prize it today?

How does the government control China’s economy?

Which dynasty established China’s first empire controlled by a strong central government?

How does China rank in the world in population? In area?

                Additional resources

                Level I

Cotterell, Arthur.Ancient China. Knopf, 1994.

Dramer, Kim. China. Childrens Pr., 1997.

Shemie, Bonnie.Houses of China. Tundra, 1996.

Tao, Wang.Exploration into China. Silver Burdett, 1996.

                Level II

Ebrey, Patricia B. The Cambridge Illustrated History of China. Cambridge, 1996.

Hudson, Christopher, ed.The China Handbook. Fitzroy Dearborn, 1997.

Mackerras, Colin, and others, eds.Dictionary of the Politics of the People’s Republic of China. Routledge, 1998.

Wang, Ke-wen, ed. Modern China: An Encyclopedia of History, Culture, and Nationalism. Garland, 1998.


(978-0716601036 WBE)


Fair Use Sources:

Buddha-Dharma-Sangha History

Japanese Language

Japanese (日本語, Nihongo [ɲihoŋɡo] (listen)) is an East Asian language spoken by about 128 million people, primarily in Japan, where it is the national language. It is a member of the Japonic (or Japanese-Ryukyuan) language family, and its relation to other languages, such as Korean, is debated. Japonic languages have been grouped with other language families such as AinuAustroasiatic, and the now-discredited Altaic, but none of these proposals has gained widespread acceptance.

Little is known of the language’s prehistory, or when it first appeared in Japan. Chinese documents from the 3rd century recorded a few Japanese words, but substantial texts did not appear until the 8th century. During the Heian period (794–1185), Chinese had considerable influence on the vocabulary and phonology of Old JapaneseLate Middle Japanese (1185–1600) included changes in features that brought it closer to the modern language, and the first appearance of European loanwords. The standard dialect moved from the Kansai region to the Edo (modern Tokyo) region in the Early Modern Japanese period (early 17th century–mid-19th century). Following the end of Japan’s self-imposed isolation in 1853, the flow of loanwords from European languages increased significantly. English loanwords, in particular, have become frequent, and Japanese words from English roots have proliferated.

Japanese is an agglutinativemora-timed language with simple phonotactics, a pure vowel system, phonemic vowel and consonant length, and a lexically significant pitch-accent. Word order is normally subject–object–verb with particles marking the grammatical function of words, and sentence structure is topic–commentSentence-final particles are used to add emotional or emphatic impact, or make questions. Nouns have no grammatical number or gender, and there are no articles. Verbs are conjugated, primarily for tense and voice, but not personJapanese equivalents of adjectives are also conjugated. Japanese has a complex system of honorifics with verb forms and vocabulary to indicate the relative status of the speaker, the listener, and persons mentioned.

Japanese has no clear genealogical relationship with Chinese,[2] although it makes prevalent use of Chinese characters, or kanji (漢字), in its writing system, and a large portion of its vocabulary is borrowed from Chinese. Along with kanji, the Japanese writing system primarily uses two syllabic (or moraic) scripts, hiragana (ひらがな or 平仮名) and katakana (カタカナ or 片仮名). Latin script is used in a limited fashion, such as for imported acronyms, and the numeral system uses mostly Arabic numerals alongside traditional Chinese numerals.”


(978-0716601036 WBE)


Fair Use Sources:

Buddha-Dharma-Sangha History


“Asia is the largest continent in both size and population. It covers almost a third of the world’s land area and has about three-fifths of its people. Asia extends from Africa and Europe in the west to the Pacific Ocean in the east. The northernmost part of the continent lies within the frozen Arctic. But in the south, Asia ends in the steaming tropics near the equator.

Asia has some of the world’s longest rivers, largest deserts, and thickest forests and jungles. The highest and lowest places on the earth are in Asia. Mount Everest, the highest, rises 29,035 feet (8,850 meters) above sea level along the Nepal-Tibet border. The Dead Sea shore, the world’s lowest land, lies about 1,310 feet (399 meters) below sea level between Israel and Jordan.

The 49 countries of Asia include some of the world’s largest and smallest countries in population. China, the world’s most populated nation, has about 1 1/4 billion people. But about one-third of Asia’s countries have populations of less than 5 million people.

Asia also contains some of the world’s largest and smallest countries in area. Russia, which lies partly in Europe but mostly in Asia, is the world’s largest country in area. It covers more than 6 1/2 million square miles (17 million square kilometers). But three Asian nations-Bahrain, the Maldives, and Singapore-each cover less than 300 square miles (780 square kilometers).

The nations of Asia have a variety of political systems. Communist governments rule China, North Korea, and Vietnam. Such nations as Bhutan and Saudi Arabia have kings. Sheiks control Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. Asian nations that operate under democratic principles include India, Israel, and Japan. Military leaders have taken control of many Asian countries in times of trouble.

The people who inhabit Asia are as varied as everything else about the continent. The people differ greatly in their ancestry, customs, languages, religious beliefs, and ways of life. Because of these differences, this article discusses the life of the people of Asia in six separate Way of life sections.

Civilization in Asia began about 5,500 years ago, long before it began in Europe. During ancient and medieval times, Asia moved ahead of Europe in economic, cultural, and scientific development. Asians founded the first cities, set up the first systems of law, and became the first farmers and merchants. Asians invented writing and created the earliest literatures. All the world’s major religions originated in Asia. In addition, Asians invented paper, the magnetic compass, and movable type.

About A.D. 1500, Europe entered a period of rapid economic and technological progress. As a result, Western European nations became wealthier than their Asian counterparts. What had been European trading outposts in Asia gradually turned into colonies. About 1750, Western European nations began conquering large parts of Asia.

The economic gap between Asia and the West widened during the period of European colonial rule. Europeans and North Americans developed the factory system of manufacturing, and they began to use farm machinery and other aids to agriculture. These developments in industry and agriculture helped create new jobs and increase production, and living standards improved. Most countries in Asia, in contrast, developed little mechanized industry. They remained largely agricultural countries, and their farmers continued to use hand tools and old-fashioned farming methods.

Meanwhile, a population explosion sent the number of people in both Asia and the West soaring. The growing populations created a need for more food, jobs, schools, and other necessities. The West, because of its more advanced economic development, was better able than Asia to handle the problems caused by the growth in population. Today, the population explosion continues throughout Asia, though it has slowed dramatically in Europe and North America.

Almost all colonial Asia gained independence during the mid-1900’s. Ever since, many Asians have worked to raise living standards by increasing industry, improving agriculture, and slowing the population growth. Political disputes in Asian nations have added to the difficulty of this challenge.

After World War II (1939-1945), Asia became a center of the struggle between Communist and non-Communist countries. In many Asian nations, fighting broke out between a government supported by Western allies and Communists trying to replace it. The Communists succeeded in China and Vietnam, and achieved partial success in Korea.

Tensions remain high between the Communists and their democratic rivals in some places. The non-Communist Chinese Nationalists escaped to the island of Taiwan. Today, China and Taiwan struggle over the issue of Taiwanese independence. Korea was divided into Communist North Korea and democratic South Korea. The two sides never signed a formal truce, and a 20-mile (32-kilometer) zone of separation still divides them.

In addition, disputes unrelated to the struggle between Communists and non-Communists have brought about fighting between many groups of people in Asia. Most notably, India and Pakistan have never resolved which country controls the territory of Jammu and Kashmir. As a result of such disputes, Asia almost continually faces wars and threats of wars while trying to solve all its other problems.

This article discusses ASIA (History).


About 3 4/5 billion people, or about 60 percent of the world’s population, live in Asia. China has more people than any other country in the world, and India has the second largest population. Nearly two-fifths of all the people in the world live in these two countries.

This section gives a broad overview of the population distribution in Asia. It also discusses, in general terms, Asia’s ethnic (cultural) groups, religions, and languages. The article’s six Way of life sections then provide more detailed information about Asian peoples who live in various regions of the continent.

Population distribution. If Asia’s people were distributed evenly throughout the continent, there would be only 224 persons per square mile (86 per square kilometer). But many areas are so cold, so hot, so dry, or so mountainous that few people live there. The vast majority of Asians live in river or mountain valleys or near seacoasts, where many of them live by farming or fishing.

Parts of Asia rank among the world’s most thickly populated areas. They include Bangladesh, the Hong Kong peninsula in China, Singapore, eastern mainland China, the Ganges Valley of India, most of Japan, and the island of Java in Indonesia. In these regions, millions of people pack the big cities. Even many rural areas in these places have hundreds or thousands of people per square mile or square kilometer.

Peoples of Asia. The peoples of Asia have rich and varied cultures and ancestries. Asia has dozens of ethnic groups-both large and small. A single country may have several groups. The largest ethnic groups on the continent include the Arabs of Southwest Asia and the Chinese of East Asia.

The members of an ethnic group may be united by language, religion, common ancestry, or other characteristics. Ethnic groups establish rules of conduct for their members and preserve artistic, religious, and other traditions. Many members of ethnic groups feel a strong sense of identification or belonging.

In many parts of Asia, however, neighboring ethnic groups dislike and distrust each other. These feelings often lead to violence among ethnic groups, both within and between countries. During the 1900’s, for example, ethnic group fighting in Asia included wars between Arabs and Jews, Greeks and Turks, Hindus and Muslims, Chinese Malaysians and Malays, and Armenians and Azerbaijanis. Fighting between the various ethnic groups in Asia strains relations among many countries. Such fighting also causes a lack of unity within some nations.

Religions. All the world’s major religions began in Asia-Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism. The history of these religions is traced in separate articles and in the RELIGION article.

More Asians practice Hinduism than any other religion. Hinduism is the major faith in India and Nepal.

Islam has the second largest number of Asian followers. Geographically, it ranks as the most widespread religion on the continent. Most of the people of Southwest Asia and Central Asia are Muslims (followers of Islam). A majority of Indonesians also practice Islam.

Buddhism is the chief religion of Southeast Asia and also has many followers in East Asia. Lamaism, a branch of Buddhism, is the chief religion of Mongolia and other parts of Central Asia. Confucianism and Taoism also have many followers in China, and Shinto is important in Japan. Many Asian people combine Buddhism with one or more of these other beliefs.

Christianity, which has more followers throughout the world than any other religion, has never been a major faith in Asia. Most people in Cyprus and the Philippines and many in Lebanon, Armenia, Georgia, and Russia practice Christianity. Judaism is the chief religion in only one nation-Israel.

Languages. The many languages and dialects (local forms of languages) spoken in Asia present a major barrier to communication. In some parts of the continent, the people of one village cannot speak to their neighbors in a village a few miles away. For example, in Madhya Pradesh, one of India’s states, the people speak more than 375 languages and dialects.

Many experts group all languages into nine major language families. Languages of all these groups except African have wide use in Asia.

Arabic and Hebrew, the chief languages of far southwestern Asia, belong to the Afro-Asiatic family. Russian and the chief languages of Afghanistan, northern India, Iran, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka are-like English-Indo-European languages. The major languages of southern India are in the Dravidian family. Languages of the Uralic and Altaic families are spoken in Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Siberia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Chinese is the major language of the Sino-Tibetan family, which also includes Burmese, Lao, Thai, and Tibetan.

Such southeastern Asian languages as Khmer and Vietnamese are in the Mon-Khmer family. Most people on the islands in Southeast Asia speak Malayo-Polynesian languages, including Indonesian, Malay, and Filipino. Japanese and Korean make up the Japanese and Korean language family. See LANGUAGE (Language families).

                Way of life in Southwest Asia 

Southwest Asia covers about 2,700,000 square miles (7,000,000 square kilometers), or 16 percent of the continent. It includes the 7 nations of the Arabian Peninsula and 12 nations north and east of the peninsula.

Saudi Arabia, which is the region’s largest nation in size, covers about two-thirds of the Arabian Peninsula. The other peninsular nations are Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. The nations that lie outside the peninsula include Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cyprus, Georgia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey. Small parts of Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey are in Europe, but these countries lie mainly in Asia. Southwest Asia also includes the Sinai Peninsula, which is the northeast corner of the African country of Egypt; the disputed region known as the Gaza Strip; and the West Bank, a region west of the Jordan River and the Dead Sea. The Gaza Strip and the West Bank are administered partly by Israel and partly by the Palestinian Authority.

Desert covers much of Southwest Asia. Little rain falls, and water is scarce in most of the region. Even so, many Southwest Asians work on farms. The farmers live crowded together along the seacoasts and in river and mountain valleys, which have enough water for growing crops. The region’s deserts are thinly populated. Southwest Asia has a population density of only 104 persons per square mile (40 per square kilometer).

A shortage of good farmland and a lack of big industrial cities in most of Southwest Asia have made economic progress difficult. But the land-even the desert-holds hope for the future. It yields huge quantities of oil, the region’s most valuable natural resource. Southwest Asian governments use some of the oil income to fight poverty. They also work to increase farm production and to bring industry to their nations.

The people. About 282 million people, or 7 percent of all Asians, live in Southwest Asia. Members of the Arab ethnic group make up the majority of the population in 11 of the 19 Southwest Asian nations. These 11 nations are the 7 of the Arabian Peninsula, plus Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. The millions of Arabs throughout Southwest Asia and North Africa are united by language (Arabic), religion (Islam), and cultural and historical background.

The first Arabs lived on the Arabian Peninsula and in nearby areas in ancient times. The Islamic prophet Muhammad was an Arab who died in A.D. 632. His followers spread Islam, the Arabic language, and the Arab way of life to many lands.

Israel, most of whose people are Jews, lies among the Arab nations. Like the Arabs, Jews have lived in Southwest Asia since ancient times. Through the years, many Jews settled in Europe, North America, and other parts of the world. In the late 1800’s, Jews began a movement to reestablish a homeland in Southwest Asia. This movement led to the founding of Israel in 1948. The Arabs opposed the creation of a Jewish nation in what they considered Arab land. Ever since, the Arabs and Israelis have quarreled-and fought. Conflicts have also erupted between various Muslim groups and between Muslims and Christians. Southwest Asia remains one of the world’s chief trouble spots.

The Arabs and Jews speak languages in the Semitic group of the Afro-Asiatic language family. Arabs speak Arabic, and Jews speak Hebrew. People in the countries of northern Southwest Asia-Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cyprus, Georgia, Iran, and Turkey-speak Indo-European and Turkic languages. The ancestors of the Afghans, Azerbaijanis, Iranians, and Turks came mainly from Central Asia. The Armenians and Georgians are descended from ancient peoples of the Caucasus Mountain region. About 80 percent of the people on the island of Cyprus are Greeks, and Turks make up the other 20 percent of the island’s population.

Religions. Christianity, Islam, and Judaism began in Southwest Asia. Today, the majority of people in most of the Southwest Asian nations practice Islam. However, Christianity is the chief religion of Armenia, Cyprus, and Georgia. Judaism is the chief religion of Israel.

Country life. About a fourth of Southwest Asia’s people work on farms. Also, thousands of nomads move through the deserts and mountains of Asia herding camels, goats, and sheep. Most of the farmers and nomads follow ways of life that have roots deep in the past. Many people wear clothing similar to that of their ancestors. For example, many Arab men wear long, flowing robes and a draping cloth that covers the head and neck (see ARABS (Clothing)).

Like their ancestors, most of the farmers do not own the land they work. Instead, they rent it from wealthy landlords. They use hand tools, and many raise only enough food for their families. Farm families eat foods made from such grain crops as barley and wheat. Other important foods include dates, olives, and other fruits.

Some Southwest Asian farmers live on the outskirts of urban areas. Many others live in small villages near the land they work. A typical village consists of about 50 houses crowded together along narrow streets. Dried mud and adobe are the most common building materials. Some villages have a public bathhouse, and a teahouse where men gather to discuss community affairs. But many villages have only one public building-a mosque (Islamic house of worship).

Southwest Asian nomads rely almost entirely on their animals for the necessities of life. They live in tents made from the hair of camels or goats. Their food includes cheese, meat, and milk, all of which come from their animals. Many nomads make their clothing from animal hair and skins. The nomads move about, looking for pasture for their herds. Occasionally-perhaps once a year-a nomad visits a city or town to sell cheese, meat, skins, and wool and to buy supplies. The number of nomads has declined as many have settled in villages and towns, sometimes under pressure from their governments.

Many rural Southwest Asian women-especially Arab women-remain at home most of the time, as their female ancestors did. These women both keep house and take part in outdoor chores, such as harvesting crops or milking animals. When they appear in public, they cover their faces with a veil.

Social relationships in rural Southwest Asia are also based on traditions. Most of the farm and nomad families live according to an ancient arrangement called the extended family. Grandparents, parents, unmarried children, and married sons and their families all live together. The oldest male in the family has complete authority over all the other family members. The oldest male also has the responsibility for the well-being of the entire group.

Outside the family, a farmer’s strongest ties are to the village, and a nomad’s are to the tribe. A chief and a council of elders govern most villages. These officials settle disputes between families. Most nomad tribes consist of many families related on the male side. The tribal leader, called a sheik in Arab nations, is usually the wealthiest member of the group. The leader settles disputes between families and often provides aid for needy members of the tribe.

Many farmers and most nomads have little or nothing to do with their national government. They view government officials as outsiders without power in village or tribal matters. Many Southwest Asian governments are working to establish more contact with their rural people. In some areas, the governments teach modern agricultural techniques to farmers. They have also established schools in a number of rural communities, helping to bring in ideas about modern life.

In rural Southwest Asia, radios and televisions have become more common. However, in these remote corners, people must use satellite dishes to receive TV signals beamed from satellites high above the earth.

Rural life in Israel differs greatly from that in other nations of Southwest Asia. Many Israeli farmers live in a collective community called a kibbutz, in which the farmers share all property and combine their labor. Other Israeli farmers belong to a cooperative community called a moshav. On a moshav, the farmers purchase equipment and other goods as a group. However, the farmers own their own land and homes. See ISRAEL (Agriculture).

City life. Since the 1950’s, the cities of Southwest Asia have grown tremendously. The three largest cities of Southwest Asia are Baghdad, Iraq; Tehran, Iran; and Istanbul, Turkey. However, most of the city of Istanbul lies in Europe. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, is the largest city of the Arabian Peninsula. There are more urban people than rural people in each of the countries of Southwest Asia, except Afghanistan and Yemen.

Many Southwest Asian cities present a sharp contrast between the old and the new. They include an old section, which dates back hundreds of years, and a modern section. The old sections have long been trading centers where farmers, nomads, and merchants exchange goods and where craftworkers make and sell handcrafted articles. Much of this activity takes place in crowded trading and shopping centers called bazaars or suqs. Some of these are open-air markets, while others are covered and resemble shopping malls. The covered bazaar in Istanbul, which was built in the mid-1400’s, contains more than 4,000 shops. The houses in the old sections are small and jammed tightly together. Old sections of Muslim cities feature beautiful houses of worship called mosques.

The modern sections of Southwest Asian cities resemble modern Western cities in many ways. Tall apartment and office buildings rise along wide streets. These sections also include airports, motion-picture theaters, and radio and television stations. Some cities have industrial plants, such as factories and oil refineries.

Social changes have also come to the cities of Southwest Asia. New jobs have opened up for businesspeople, factory workers, government workers, physicians, teachers, and others. Most of the governments have expanded their school systems to train people for new job opportunities. The extended family has become much less common in the cities than in rural areas. In addition, the city people have stronger ties with their national government than do the rural people.

Women in cities have more freedom than do women in rural areas. In most countries, old customs-such as wearing a veil in public-have been challenged. In Iran and Saudi Arabia, however, conservative Muslims continue to enforce old customs.

Education. The literacy rate (percentage of people over 15 years old who can read and write) is low in much of Southwest Asia. Several Southwest Asian nations have a literacy rate of less than 50 percent. But the literacy rate varies widely from country to country. In Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Israel, almost all adults can read and write.

Throughout history, most Southwest Asian children received little or no schooling. Boys learned a craft, farming, or herding from their fathers, and girls learned housekeeping skills from their mothers. But during the mid-1900’s, most Southwest Asian nations built many new schools, especially in the cities. Today, most city children attend school for at least a few years. More children than ever go on to a college or technical school. Educational progress has been much slower in rural Southwest Asia than in the cities.

The arts. The best-known art of Southwest Asia is Islamic art. This term refers to an art style developed by the Arabs and adopted by the many peoples they conquered. Islamic art flourished from the mid-700’s to about 1700 and then declined.

Architectural works-especially mosques-rank as the most famous examples of Islamic art. Islamic artists also created beautiful bookbindings and illustrations, ceramics, glassware, metalware, rugs, textiles, and sculptures. Islamic religious leaders prohibited artists from depicting human beings and animals. Instead of drawing people and animals, artists developed a style of decoration that consisted of elaborate patterns of winding stems, leaves, and other objects. See ISLAMIC ART.

Many Southwest Asian decorative artists, including potters and rug makers, still use the traditional Islamic style. But authors have modernized Southwest Asian literature. In the past, most authors wrote about life among the nobility and royalty. Today, however, many writers deal with life among the common people of Southwest Asia.

                Way of life in South Asia 

South Asia covers about 1,730,000 square miles (4,480,000 square kilometers), or 10 percent of the continent. India occupies almost three-fourths of this region, and Pakistan makes up almost one-sixth. Pakistan borders India to the northwest. South Asia also includes five small nations. These nations are Bangladesh, along India’s eastern border; Bhutan and Nepal, high in the mountains along India’s northeast border; and Sri Lanka and the Maldives, island countries that lie south of India in the Indian Ocean.

South Asia ranks among the world’s most crowded places. About 1 1/3 billion people live there-about a third of all Asians and a fifth of all the people in the world. The region’s population density of 790 persons per square mile (305 per square kilometer) is more than 7 times the world average. South Asia’s chief farm area, the northern plains of India, is as crowded as many cities. Calcutta, a city in India, has about 110,000 persons per square mile (42,000 per square kilometer). Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, has about 74,000 persons per square mile (29,000 per square kilometer).

South Asia has much fertile farmland, and there are several large cities with thriving economies. Even so, the region faces severe poverty. The South Asian nations are trying to solve this problem by improving agricultural techniques and by creating new jobs in the cities. However, the rapid growth of population in the overcrowded region makes the fight against poverty much more difficult.

The people. Over 75 percent of South Asia’s people live in India. More than 10 percent live in Pakistan, and almost 10 percent in Bangladesh. The four other countries of South Asia contain the remaining 3 percent of the population.

India’s two largest groups are the Indo-Aryans and the Dravidians. Most of the Indo-Aryans live in northern India. The majority of the Dravidians live in the south. The ancestors of the Indo-Aryans invaded India from Central Asia about 1500 B.C. These people are known as the Aryans. The Aryans conquered the Dravidians in northern India and drove some of them south.

The many groups that make up Pakistan’s population include people of Afghan, Arabic, Aryan, Dravidian, Persian, and Turkish origin. Other South Asian peoples include the Sinhalese of Sri Lanka and of the Maldives, whose ancestors came from northern India. The Tamils of Sri Lanka are descendants of people from southern India. The Nepalese have ancestors who include both Aryans and people from Tibet and Mongolia.

The people of South Asia are divided along the lines of religion, language, and social class. Differences between Hindus and Muslims-the region’s two major religious groups-have often caused violence. These differences even led to the creation in 1947 of a new nation, Pakistan. In an attempt to end the bloodshed between Hindus and Muslims, the United Kingdom, which then controlled India, divided it into two nations-India for Hindus and Pakistan for Muslims. East Pakistan became the independent nation of Bangladesh in 1971.

Language differences also have far-reaching effects among the people of South Asia. Most states of India, for example, consist chiefly of people who speak the same language. The Indian government changed state boundaries and created new states to give certain language groups their own states. See INDIA (Languages).

In general, social class divides people throughout South Asia. Social standing, however, probably has the greatest importance among the Hindus of India, who make up a majority of South Asia’s population. Each Hindu belongs to a social class called a caste. India has about 3,000 castes.

Hindus belong to their parents’ caste and find it very hard to join a higher caste. Each caste in India has its own customs. These customs limit social contact with members of other castes. Marriage between members of different castes seldom occurs. For more detailed information about the caste system in India, see INDIA (Religion); CASTE.

Religions. About four-fifths of India’s people are Hindus, and more than a tenth are Muslims. Most of the people of Bangladesh, the Maldives, and Pakistan are Muslims. Sri Lanka has a mixture of Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, and Muslims. In Nepal, about 90 percent of the people are Hindus, and most of the others are Buddhists. About two-thirds of Bhutan’s people are Buddhists, and a majority of the rest are Hindus.

As India’s chief religion, Hinduism has the most followers in South Asia. Hinduism-unlike Christianity, Islam, and Judaism-is not based on the belief in a single, personal god. A Hindu may believe in many gods, all of whom are different forms of Brahman, the Supreme World Soul or Spirit. Hindus believe all living creatures have a soul whose goal is to become united with Brahman. After death, a soul in one body passes on to another body. This process continues until the soul becomes perfect enough for union with Brahman.

Country life. About three-fourths of the people of South Asia live in villages and work on nearby farms. The majority of South Asian farmers own a small piece of land, but some of them rent land from wealthy landlords.

Some farms in South Asia employ modern agricultural tools and methods, but many of the farmers still use the same kinds of hand tools and farming methods as their ancestors used hundreds of years ago. Large numbers of South Asian farmers must struggle just to raise enough to feed their own families. Most South Asian farm families include not only several children but also the other members of an extended family.

South Asians get most of their food from rice, wheat, millet, barley, and other grains, and from such vegetables as beans and peas. Many Hindus eat no meat. They believe all animals have a soul and must not be killed. See INDIA (Food and drink).

The clothing worn by rural South Asians varies from region to region. Many people wear a large piece of cloth wrapped around the body. Women’s garments of this kind are called saris. Some men cover their heads with a turban. See INDIA (Clothing).

The houses of a typical South Asian village stand close together. Most of them are small and made of sun-dried bricks or mud. A wall surrounds each house in many villages, giving the people a little extra privacy.

There is much contact between rural and urban South Asia. Government officials from the cities often go to villages to teach the people how to use modern fertilizers, plows, and seeds. They help villagers set up health clinics and schools. The government also builds roads and irrigation systems in rural areas.

The struggle to improve the people’s lives faces many difficulties. South Asian governments lack great wealth. But even if they had much wealth, they would be hard-pressed to end poverty as long as the population keeps growing so quickly. In addition, many rural South Asians are proud of their customs and traditions and feel reluctant to change the way they live and work. However, the economic growth and modernization of urban areas holds promise for the future of the region.

City life. Although South Asia is chiefly a rural region, it has many large cities. Calcutta, Delhi, and Mumbai in India and Karachi in Pakistan rank as the biggest cities. Several other cities in India and Pakistan also have more than a million people.

Few places present so sharp a contrast between old and new-and between the wealthy and the poor-as do the cities of South Asia. The British built some parts of these cities during their reign. The United Kingdom ruled most of the region from the late 1700’s to the mid-1900’s. During this colonial period, British citizens occupied much of the housing in the sections they had built.

South Asian governments continued to build up the cities after the various nations became independent. Today, middle-class and wealthy South Asians, including businesspeople, doctors, government officials, and lawyers, live primarily in the newest sections.

South Asia’s cities include many terrible slums. Millions of people in these slums live in cheap, crowded apartments and in shacks made of pieces of metal, wood, or cloth. The slums in some cities are so crowded and poverty is so widespread that thousands of people have nowhere to live at all. They sleep in doorways, on sidewalks, or in any other place they can find.

South Asian governments are trying to improve city life as well as rural life. Their efforts include slum clearance and construction programs to provide more decent housing. Governments also sponsor programs to expand industry and provide more jobs-and to train unskilled workers for those jobs. But the cost of improving any city is high, and the problems are many. In South Asian cities, as in many cities elsewhere, high birth rates rank among the major problems. Also, thousands of rural people move to the cities each year in the hope of finding a better life. Many end up no better off than they were before.

Education. More than 85 percent of Sri Lanka’s adults can read and write. However, the other countries in the region have low literacy rates. Large numbers of children never go to school at all, either because no school is nearby or because they must work to help support their families.

Since the mid-1900’s, the South Asian governments have built many new schools. More children now attend school than ever before, and literacy rates are improving. But the governments have found it difficult to build enough schools and to train enough teachers to serve their enormous populations.

The arts. South Asia has a rich and varied artistic tradition. The Aryans produced outstanding literature long before the time of Jesus Christ. Numerous Aryan literary works contributed to the development of Hinduism. Such writings included the epics the Mahabharata and the Ramayana and the philosophical works called the Vedas and the Upanishads. The Aryans composed their works in Sanskrit, which was the first Indo-European language with a literature. See SANSKRIT LANGUAGE; SANSKRIT LITERATURE.

Three religions-Buddhism, Islam, and Hinduism-had major effects on the arts of South Asia. Major Buddhist works include many beautiful sculptures of Buddha, founder of the religion. The Muslims made their major contribution in the field of Islamic architecture. A giant tomb in this style, the magnificent Taj Mahal, is one of the world’s most beautiful buildings. See TAJ MAHAL, and the pictures of the building in this article and in the INDIA article. The Hindus built stone temples, many of which are richly decorated with sculptures of gods.

Other important arts in South Asia include dance and music. The highly symbolic movements in South Asian dances tell stories and are included in many dramas. South Asian music sounds strange to many Western people because it uses a different scale than does music of the West. South Asian people play much of their music on stringed instruments, such as the lute, sitar, and vina. The flute and the tabla, a type of drum, are also important instruments.

During the colonial period, the British introduced some forms of Western art-including Western architecture and the novel-into South Asia. Many South Asians came to fear that their own artistic traditions were being forgotten. During the 1900’s, they began calling for a return to South Asian art forms. Today, the art of the region shows the influence of both traditional South Asian art and Western art.

A reversal of the West’s influence on South Asian culture occurred during the mid-1900’s. At that time, South Asian art and philosophy began to attract many people in the West. Sitar music, a physical and mental exercise called yoga, and Hindu religious teachers called gurus became especially popular. The attraction to South Asian culture was most widespread among young people of the West.

                Way of life in Southeast Asia 

Southeast Asia covers about 1,570,000 square miles (4,070,000 square kilometers), or 9 percent of the continent. The area has an average of 336 persons per square mile (130 per square kilometer)-about three times the world average. The region includes the peninsula east of India and south of China, and thousands of islands south and east of the peninsula.

Ten independent nations make up most of Southeast Asia. Five of them-Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam-lie on the peninsula. Malaysia lies partly on the peninsula and partly on the island of Borneo. Brunei also lies on Borneo. Indonesia and the Philippines each consists of thousands of islands, and Singapore is made up of about 50 islands. Geographers consider far eastern Indonesia to be part of Oceania rather than part of Asia.

Southeast Asia has a wealth of natural resources. Forests cover much of the land, valuable minerals lie beneath it, and fish are plentiful in the coastal waters. Much of the soil is fertile, and the rivers and rainfall provide plenty of water.

Europeans had established trading outposts in Southeast Asia as early as the 1500’s. In the 1700’s, Europeans began taking control of Southeast Asia. By the late 1800’s, only Thailand remained free of European rule. Many Southeast Asians resented colonialism and fought for independence. These nations began to win independence after World War II ended in 1945.

Most of the newly independent Southeast Asian governments faced uprisings by Communists and other groups who wanted to take over the countries. Communists gained control of North Vietnam in 1954. In 1975-after years of bitter fighting-they took over South Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. The Vietnamese Communists united North and South Vietnam into the single nation of Vietnam in 1976. For details on the conflict in Vietnam, see VIETNAM WAR.

The people. More than 525 million people, or 14 percent of all Asians, live in Southeast Asia. Most live in rural areas, but millions live in large, crowded cities.

The ancestors of most Southeast Asians came to the region from Central Asia and southern China during prehistoric and ancient times. They drove the original inhabitants of the region into the mountains and other remote areas. Today, descendants of the original inhabitants live in those remote areas. Through the years, thousands of people from China and India settled in Southeast Asia. These people control much of the region’s business activity.

Fighting has taken place within and between nations in Southeast Asia, especially as groups there have battled over control of the best land. Through much of the 1900’s, political differences caused sharp divisions among Southeast Asians. In almost all the countries, Communists tried to take political power from non-Communists. In some cases, the Communists succeeded. The fighting in and between Southeast Asian nations divided the people and stalled economic progress.

Beginning in the 1980’s, relations between Southeast Asian nations-both Communist and non-Communist-markedly improved. By 2000, all of the nations of the region belonged to an economic and political organization known as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Religions. Buddhism is the chief religion on the peninsula. It teaches that people can find peace and happiness by getting rid of their desires. Many Southeast Asians, partly because of their religious beliefs, seem easygoing to people in the West-and to their Chinese and Indian neighbors.

Islam began in Arabia and spread all the way to Southeast Asia. Today, it ranks as the chief religion in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei. Christianity became the major faith of the Philippines during the period of Spanish rule, and it remains so today.

Many Southeast Asians, especially rural people, mix religious beliefs and practices with animism, the belief that everything in nature has a spirit. These people believe that good and bad spirits cause good and bad fortune. Some farmers offer small sacrifices to the spirits in the hope that the spirits will bring good fortune and not harm them. Some of these farmers build small boxes resembling birdhouses on the tops of poles in their rice fields. In the boxes, they put cloth, food, incense, paper, and other offerings to the spirits.

Country life. The majority of Southeast Asians live in small villages and work on farms. Many Southeast Asian farmers, like farmers elsewhere in Asia, use ancient agricultural methods. They plant by hand and harvest with sickles and other hand tools. Many use water buffaloes to pull large rakelike tools that plow the fields. However, the use of farm machines, such as tractors, is becoming more common. Rice is the major crop and chief food throughout most of Southeast Asia.

A typical farm village in this region has from 25 to 30 houses, made mostly of bamboo and wood. Many rural Southeast Asians build their houses on raised platforms for protection against insects, wild animals, and heavy rains. The space under the platforms provides shelter for household animals. Almost all villages on the Southeast Asian peninsula include a pagoda or some other Buddhist shrine.

The clothing of Southeast Asia varies widely. People of Western countries are perhaps most familiar with the cone-shaped hats worn by many farmers and the colorful sarongs (skirts) of the Indonesians. Many Southeast Asians, though, have adopted Western-style clothing.

Some Southeast Asians, especially islanders, work on large plantations owned by the government or wealthy landowners. The plantations produce large quantities of coffee, copra, fruits and vegetables, palm oil, rubber, sugar cane, tea, and tobacco. Most of these products go for export.

Most of the mainland farmers own a small plot of land. Much of the land is fertile and, in good times, almost all the farmers can raise enough food to feed their families. Many have food left over that they sell. Some have begun raising cash crops, such as cashews, cotton, and jute.

In general, farmers on the peninsula are better off than those on the islands. Good farmland is scarce on the islands, and a large number of farmers work on land that is owned by others.

Rural Southeast Asians maintain the custom of extended family. But compared to Southwest Asia and South Asia, relationships between older and younger generations are less rigidly patterned.

City life. All the nations of Southeast Asia have at least one big city, and some nations have several. Jakarta, Indonesia, and Manila, in the Philippines, are the largest cities in the region.

Southeast Asian cities serve as centers of government and manufacturing and as links between the rural areas and the rest of the world. Farm products, lumber, minerals, and other goods go from the rural areas to the cities to be shipped abroad. Goods from other countries pass through the cities before being sent on to the rural areas. Manufacturing takes place in many of the region’s cities. The largest cities, such as Singapore and Manila, have much large-scale manufacturing.

Outsiders have long played important roles in Southeast Asian cities. In the 1800’s, Chinese and Indian immigrants began taking over a large part of the retail trade in the cities. Today, in some countries, they are still retail leaders. The European colonial rulers also established businesses and governments in the cities. They gained wealth for themselves and their nations from Southeast Asia’s resources. They also built up the cities and modernized them along European lines.

Southeast Asians continued the modernization process after becoming independent. Many of the cities have luxury hotels, high-rise apartment and office buildings, motion-picture theaters, and other modern features. But like cities everywhere, they include slums and other rundown areas.

Education varies widely in Southeast Asia, but the region as a whole has a high literacy rate. Since independence, the governments of some countries have established many new schools and set up special programs to increase literacy. Indonesia has raised its literacy rate from less than 10 percent in 1945 to more than 80 percent today.

The arts. Precolonial Southeast Asian art reveals much Indian and some Chinese influence. A large part of the art is religious and includes many Buddhist shrines and statues of Buddha. Colonial rule brought Western architecture and literary forms to the region.

The art of Indonesia and Malaysia shows less outside influence. The people on the islands of Bali and Java, in Indonesia, have unique and highly developed styles of architecture, dance, drama, and music. Their dances, in which each movement helps tell a story, are probably their most famous art form. See INDONESIA (Arts).

                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, 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 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 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. Buddhism and Shinto are Japan’s major faiths, and many Japanese combine the two. Confucianism influences religion in Japan, as elsewhere in East Asia.

Life in China. China has many large cities, including about 35 with a population of 1 million or more. Even so, it has always been an agricultural nation. About half of the people work on farms.

Most Chinese farm families live in two- or three-room houses. These homes are made of mud or clay brick and have a roof of tile or straw. Many city dwellers live in large apartment buildings. However, other city residents live in crowded apartments above stores or behind workshops. Still others live in old neighborhoods where the houses resemble those in rural areas. The Chinese eat mainly vegetables and various foods made from rice, wheat, and other grains.

Only about 4 percent of China’s people belong to the Communist Party. However, the party has almost complete control of the country-and it has the power to order sweeping changes in the people’s way of life. In the early 1980’s, for example, the Communists decreed that each married couple should have no more than one child. They hoped to limit China’s population growth by this measure. Other major Communist goals include the elimination of social classes and the modernization of China’s economy. See CHINA (Way of life).

Property. After the Communists came to power in 1949, they took over most businesses and factories in China. They also completely changed the ownership of agricultural land. Before the Communists gained control of the country, many Chinese farmers owned a small plot of land. Others worked on large farms owned by wealthy landlords. During the 1950’s, the Communists collectivized China’s agriculture-that is, they organized the peasants into groups who owned and farmed the land cooperatively.

In the 1980’s, the Chinese government shifted emphasis away from collective farming. Individual families began farming more of the land. Initially, the families were required to give part of their crop to their collective and to sell a quota of farm products to the government at a fixed price. They then sold their surplus for profit at a market. The government has gradually relaxed its requirements. Now many farm families are free to raise and sell crops as they choose. In addition, the government encourages families to establish small businesses, such as stores, repair shops, and restaurants. The government still owns many large businesses, however.

Family life has always been important in Chinese society. In pre-Communist China, extended families were widespread. In such families, the oldest male had complete authority. Husbands ruled their wives, and parents had total control over their children. Today, most family units consist only of parents and children, though some also include grandparents. Relationships within families have become much less rigid. Husbands and wives treat each other as equals, and parents no longer expect their children to show unquestioning obedience.

In pre-Communist days, relatively few women worked outside the home. Today, nearly all adults have a job. In many families, a grandparent cares for the children during the day. Many other children stay in day-care centers while their parents work.

Social class. Confucian teachings gave the Chinese a respect for educated people. In pre-Communist China, a group of scholars who served as government officials ranked just below the emperor and his family in social importance. To become a scholar-official, a person had to learn Confucian philosophy thoroughly and pass difficult civil-service examinations. Other well-educated Chinese, including doctors, lawyers, and teachers, also had high social rank. The Communists, in spite of their own control over society, teach the principle of equalitarianism. According to this principle, all people, no matter what their occupation, have equal social rank. In practice, though, some groups of people-such as government officials-have much more power, wealth, and prestige than others.

The economy. China has long been one of the world’s poorest nations. The country has much good farmland, and it ranks among the leading producers of many crops. But China has such a large population that it must struggle to raise enough food for everyone.

The Communists hope to eliminate poverty in China through the modernization of the country’s agriculture and industry. Chinese agricultural production has increased, but most farmers still use crude hand tools and farming methods. The Communists have greatly increased industrial production. But further growth will depend on China’s acquiring new technology and training highly skilled workers and technicians.

Life in Japan differs greatly from that in most of the rest of Asia. Japan is a modern country in every sense of the word. More than 75 percent of its people live in urban areas. Japan’s big cities are busy, modern centers of commerce and industry. Tokyo, the capital of Japan, is one of the world’s largest cities. Tokyo is also the chief city in the heavily populated Tokyo-Yokohama urban area.

Manufacturing makes Japan an industrial giant and does much good for Japan’s economy. However, manufacturing also helps cause a problem faced by all industrial nations-pollution.

Japan’s farms also reflect a modern way of life. Almost all Japanese farmers own their own land. The use of chemical fertilizers, farm machinery, and other advanced agricultural methods is more common in Japan than anywhere else in Asia. The success of modern farming methods, however, has forced many Japanese farmers to seek part-time work outside the farm.

The Japanese, more than any other Asian people, have adopted features of Western life, especially American life. For example, baseball ranks as Japan’s favorite sport, and neon signs light up many city streets. Most people in Japan wear Western-style clothing. Some Japanese, especially older people, wear the traditional kimono (loose robe) at home and for special occasions.

The Japanese have also kept many old traditions, including their deep respect for beauty. Shinto, once Japan’s state religion, teaches love of nature’s beauty. Zen, a branch of Buddhism chiefly practiced in Japan, is famous for its emphasis on beauty in even simple things. Long ago, monks in Zen monasteries made art forms of everyday functions, including bathing, flower arranging, gardening, and tea drinking. These and other artistic traditions became-and remain-part of the way of life for people in Japan.

Many people in Japan, including the wealthy, live in a traditional plain, wooden Japanese house. Most of these homes have a garden and a high surrounding wall. Almost every Japanese family that can afford it owns at least one brush painting mounted on a scroll. At many meals, the Japanese serve each food in a separate bowl to emphasize the food’s color, shape, and texture. Rice is the chief food. The people eat with chopsticks.

The extended family is not nearly so common in Japan as it was before the 1900’s. But the Japanese still have strong family ties and a deep respect for authority. They expect individuals to obey all people who have authority over them, including their father and older brothers, and government officials. At the same time, persons in authority must act courteously toward others. This rule comes from an old belief that one person should never embarrass another.

Economic growth and modernization began in Japan in the mid-1800’s. Before that time, Japan’s rulers worked to keep the country free from outside influences. The Japanese way of life was rooted deep in the past. Japan ended its isolation when it began trading with the United States during the 1850’s. The nation adopted Western economic ways and made itself a world power.

Japan’s economic progress suffered a major setback with the nation’s defeat in World War II. But the Japanese, with help from the United States, rebuilt their country and its economy with astonishing speed.

Korea and Taiwan. North Korea modeled its economic, political, and social systems on those of other Communist countries. Rural people, who make up about a third of the population, live on collective farms operated by the government. The country has much industry. Most of the industrial workers live in city apartments and work in factories owned and operated by the government.

South Korea and Taiwan were formerly agricultural countries. Agriculture is still important, but after the 1950’s, South Korea and Taiwan developed into industrial nations. Their economies grew rapidly, and living standards rose greatly.

Education. Japan and North and South Korea have high literacy rates. Almost all Japanese 15 years of age or older can read and write. Most Japanese attend elementary school and high school, and a high percentage go on to college. More than 90 percent of adult Koreans can read and write.

In China, the Communists have expanded elementary education. During the 1940’s, only a small percentage of the people could read and write. Today, about four-fifths of all Chinese 15 years of age or older can do so. China still has a severe shortage of schools, but the situation is gradually improving. Some children teach their parents or grandparents how to read and write.

The arts. East Asia has one of the world’s oldest and richest artistic traditions. The Chinese created artworks before the beginning of written history. Through the years, Chinese artists became masters in many art forms, including architecture, painted porcelain, carving, scroll painting, and sculpture. Much Chinese art shows Buddha or other religious subjects. Chinese artists also portrayed people, animals, and nature, and created beautiful designs and rich colors. Artists in other parts of East Asia combined Chinese styles with their own.

In China today, artists strive for self-expression. But the government discourages art that is critical of Communism. Both Japan and South Korea have continued their rich artistic traditions but have also adopted some Western art forms. For example, the people of both countries enjoy Western plays, television dramas, and motion pictures. Filmmakers in Japan and Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese control in 1997, produce hundreds of movies yearly, many of which have won international awards.

For more detailed information on East Asian art, see the Arts section of the articles on CHINA and JAPAN. See also the articles on specific art forms, including ARCHITECTURE; PAINTING; and SCULPTURE.

                Way of life in North Asia 

North Asia covers about 5 million square miles (12,900,000 square kilometers), or about 30 percent of the continent. It is the largest region in Asia. It extends from the Ural Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. North Asia consists entirely of Siberia, which makes up about 75 percent of Russia. The rest of Russia lies west of the Urals, in Europe.

North Asia covers more land than any other region in Asia but has the smallest population. About 38 million people live in the region, or about 1 percent of Asia’s total. North Asia has a population density of only 8 persons per square mile (3 per square kilometer).

A harsh climate has limited North Asia’s development and population growth. The region has an abundance of natural resources, including many minerals, vast oil fields, rich forests, and grasslands in the extreme southwest that are good for farming. But the winters are long and bitter. Ice and snow cover most of the region about six months of the year. The temperature can drop below -90 °F (-68 °C). Most of the coastal waters, lakes, and rivers freeze for much of the year.

Because of North Asia’s isolation, governments, including that of the Soviet Union, have used it as a place of exile and imprisonment. The Soviet Union was formed under Russia’s leadership in 1922, and it existed until 1991. Russia and the other former Soviet republics are now independent nations. In the past, Russian and Soviet rulers sent millions of criminal and political prisoners to isolated parts of Siberia. Many prisoners were forced to work building factories, mines, and railroads.

The use of forced labor for Siberian construction projects ended after the death of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in 1953. The government then began trying to attract workers to North Asia by offering high salaries and long vacations. However, many workers stay only a few years before leaving for better living conditions elsewhere. During some years, more people leave Siberia than move there.

The people. Most Siberians are Russians. Ethnic Russians are descended from Slavs who lived in Eastern Europe several thousand years ago. Such Mongol and Turkic groups as Buryats, Tuvinians, and Yakuts lived in Siberia originally, and descendants of these peoples still live there.

Religion. Russian Orthodoxy, a branch of Christianity, is the chief religion among North Asians of European descent. Many descendants of the original North Asians practice Buddhism or Islam. The Soviet Union’s Communist leaders had tried to discourage religion, but many people still practiced their faith. In the late 1980’s, religious toleration began to increase dramatically, and attendance at religious services shot up.

Life of the people. Many North Asians farm, fish, or work in factories or mines. Most North Asian factories operate in cities along the Trans-Siberian Railroad. Until the late 1980’s, the Communist government owned or controlled most of the farms and factories throughout the Soviet Union. In the late 1980’s, however, the Communists began to allow private ownership. After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, most businesses became privately owned.

About 70 percent of Siberia’s people live in cities. Most city people are crowded into small apartments. Many people in rural areas live in simple, but more spacious, log houses. Novosibirsk is the largest city in Siberia. It has a population of about 11/2 million.

Education. Almost all Russians can read and write. Public education is free for all citizens. Children attend school for 11 years, from ages 6 to 17.

The Communist government of the Soviet Union controlled education and considered it a vehicle for social advancement. The government also banned private schools. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, new private schools began to open, and educators removed the emphasis in the school curriculum on Communist Party principles.

The arts. Much art of North Asia shows Chinese and Islamic influence. Some art shows Christian influence.

                Way of life in Central Asia 

Central Asia covers about 3,486,000 square miles (9,029,000 square kilometers), or 21 percent of the continent. It is the second largest region in Asia. Only North Asia has more land. Central Asia includes Tibet, Qinghai, and Xinjiang, which lie in western China, and the independent nations of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. A tiny part of Kazakhstan lies west of the Ural River, on the continent of Europe.

Except Mongolia and the Chinese-controlled areas, the lands of Central Asia were once part of the Communist-led Soviet Union, which broke up in 1991. These nations have moved away from the Communist system to democratic forms of government. However, most have retained close ties to Russia, which led the Soviet Union.

Mongolia adopted a Communist system in 1921. In 1990, it changed to a democratic system. The rest of Central Asia is under Communist rule. Qinghai is a province of China, which is ruled by a Communist government. China calls Tibet and Xinjiang “self-governing regions,” but the Chinese Communist government actually rules them.

Central Asia is a region of high plateaus and mountains, vast deserts, and treeless, grassy plains. Much of the land is too dry or too rugged for farming. A majority of the people earn a living by herding livestock. Industrial activity centers in the region’s few cities.

More than 80 million people live in Central Asia, or about 2 percent of the continent’s population. Of the regions of Asia, only North Asia has fewer people. Central Asia has a population density of 24 persons per square mile (9 per square kilometer).

The people. The people of Mongolia are called Mongols. The great conqueror Genghis Khan united various Mongol tribes in the early 1200’s. He and his grandson Kublai Khan built the largest land empire in history. It extended from China and Korea, across much of Central and Southwest Asia, and into Europe. The people of Central Asia’s other independent nations include the Kazakhs, the Kyrgyz ethnic group, and ethnic Tajiks, Turkmen, and Uzbeks.

Even though Qinghai, Tibet, and Xinjiang are part of China, most of their people are not Chinese. Tibetans make up the population of Tibet, and many of the people of Qinghai are Tibetans. Tibetans have lived in the area since ancient times. Uygurs, a people of Turkic origin, make up about half of Xinjiang’s population.

Religion. Most Central Asians are Muslims. Islam is the chief religion in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. When these areas were part of the Soviet Union, the Communist government discouraged religion, but people continued to practice their faith. These nations now allow religious freedom.

Islam is also the chief religion in the Chinese region of Xinjiang. Lamaism, a branch of Buddhism, is the chief religion in Mongolia, Tibet, and Qinghai. The Chinese Communists discourage religion in the areas under their control. The Chinese government regards religion as superstition. It encourages the people to study science and political thinking, rather than religious beliefs, to solve their problems.

Life of the people. All of Central Asia was once under Communist control. Today, only Qinghai, Tibet, and Xinjiang continue to be ruled by Communists. The six independent nations of Central Asia have moved to democratic forms of government, and they have removed controls that existed in such areas as religion, education, and the arts.

Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, is the largest city in Central Asia. It has about 2 million people. Most city dwellers live in single-story houses or apartment buildings. The majority of the people of Central Asia live in rural areas. Most of them farm or raise livestock.

In much of Central Asia, people in rural areas live in mud-brick houses in villages. Many rural villages do not have electric power or running water. Most families are large, and many members of an extended family may live together in one household. Such a household might include parents, married children and their offspring, and other relatives. Some rural people live in traditional tentlike dwellings called yurts. These portable homes are constructed of a circular wooden frame covered with felt.

Many of Mongolia’s people live on livestock farms. The farms are like huge ranches with small towns in the center. The central buildings include houses, offices, shops, and medical centers.

In Xinjiang, large numbers of people are herders who live near oases. Many people farm on the oases.

The Chinese Communists seized Tibet in 1950. Before that time, few parts of the world were so completely controlled by religious leaders as was Tibet. Buddhist monks ruled the country and owned most of the land. The monks and a small group of nobles made up Tibet’s upper class. Farmers and wandering herders formed Tibet’s lower class. The farmers worked the land, and most nomads tended the flocks of monks and nobles.

The Communists reduced the power and wealth of the monks and nobles. They broke up many large estates and took over the land or distributed it among the people. They reduced the importance of religion. The work of farmers and herders has changed little since the Communist take-over. But the farmers and herders give much of what they produce to the government rather than to landowners.

Life in Mongolia before Mongolian and Russian Communists took over resembled life in Tibet. The monks had religious and political power and great wealth. They owned large herds, which were given to them by the people as offerings. The youngest son of each family was expected to become a monk. The monks and a small group of nobles made up Mongolia’s upper class. The lower class consisted chiefly of herders who moved about the country with their flocks.

The Communists established large livestock farms and tried to force herders to settle there. But in the early 1990’s, the government allowed herders to leave the large farms. By the end of the 1990’s, the livestock herds and most agricultural land had come under private ownership.

Education in Mongolia and Tibet centered around religious instruction before the Communists took over. Except for the monks and nobles, few people received more than a few years of schooling. The Communists extended education to more people. Teaching Communist principles is an important part of the curriculum in the Chinese regions of Qinghai, Tibet, and Xinjiang. It also was important in Mongolia until 1990.

In the rest of Central Asia, the Communist government of the Soviet Union once controlled education. Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, schools in the former Soviet republics have removed the emphasis on Communist Party principles from the curriculum. Most of the people in these nations can read and write. Most children attend school for 11 years, from ages 6 to 17.

The arts. Carpet making is an important craft among the people of Central Asia. Other important crafts include embroidery and jewelry making. In Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, the recitation of epics (poems about heroic events) is an important part of the culture. In the Chinese regions of Central Asia, the arts, like education, formerly centered around religion but today are intended to serve Communism.

                The land 

Asia, the world’s largest continent, covers about 17 million square miles (44 million square kilometers), or about 30 percent of the world’s land area. It extends from the Arabian Peninsula, Turkey, and the Ural Mountains eastward to the Pacific Ocean. From the Arctic Ocean, it reaches south to the Indian Ocean. Geographers consider thousands of islands off the mainland as part of Asia. These islands include-roughly from west to east-Cyprus, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, most of Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Japan.

Asia and Europe are part of the same mass of land. No body of water separates the two completely, and so some geographers consider them as a single continent called Eurasia. Certain physical features mark the division between Asia and Europe. The Ural Mountains, Ural River, and Caspian Sea act as an east-west boundary in the north. The Dardanelles, Sea of Marmara, Bosporus Straight, Black Sea, and Caucasus Mountains link to form a north-south border in the west.

Asia has some of the world’s highest mountains, largest deserts and plains, most important rivers, and best-and worst-soil. This section describes each land region of Asia. It also tells about Asia’s major natural features and how they affect the lives of the people.

Land regions. Asia has six major land regions, as discussed in the Way of life sections of this article. Southwest Asia is a land of desert in the south and of mountains and plateaus in the north. Dry soil makes farming difficult in most of the region. But Southwest Asia’s land contains much oil, one of the world’s most valuable natural resources. The northern border of South Asia includes the Himalaya, the world’s highest mountain range. Much fertile soil lies south of the mountains. Southeast Asia is rich in natural resources, including fertile soil, forests, and mineral deposits. East Asia also has much fertile soil and other valuable resources.

Forests cover a large part of North Asia, and areas of good farmland lie in the southwestern section of this region. But much of northern North Asia is so cold that the land stays frozen throughout most of the year. Central Asia has much of the continent’s poorest land. Its main features include deserts, mountains, and rocky plateaus.

Mountains. Asia has more mountains than any other continent. The mountains make transportation difficult in many places. They also separate people from each other and have hindered the exchange of ideas. On the other hand, melting ice and snow from mountaintops feed many Asian rivers. Millions of farmers depend on water from these rivers to grow crops.

Many of the major Asian mountain systems branch out from a large group of rugged peaks and deep valleys called the Pamirs. This area lies where Afghanistan, China, and Tajikistan meet. It is sometimes called the roof of the world. Some peaks in the Pamirs rise over 25,000 feet (7,620 meters) above sea level. The floors of some of the valleys are as much as 4 miles (6 kilometers) below the peaks.

The Tian Shan range extends northeast from the Pamirs into Xinjiang. The Altai Mountains form part of the boundary between Mongolia and Xinjiang. Beyond these high ranges, the smaller mountains of such ranges as the Stanovoy and Yablonovyy reach across southern Siberia toward the Sea of Okhotsk.

The Kunlun Mountains extend east from the Pamirs. This range forms the Qilian Mountains in eastern Tibet, then becomes the Qin Ling range in central China.

The Karakoram Range extends southeast from the Pamirs. The famous Himalaya rises south of the Karakoram Range and extends along Tibet’s southern border. The lofty Himalaya includes many of the world’s highest peaks. On the border between Nepal and Tibet, Mount Everest-the world’s highest mountain-rises 29,035 feet (8,850 meters) above sea level.

The Hindu Kush range extends west from the Pamirs across Afghanistan. Farther west, the Elburz, Zagros, and other ranges enclose the high Plateau of Iran. The Pontic and Taurus mountains surround Turkey’s Plateau of Anatolia near the western end of Asia. The Caucasus Mountains extend through southern Russia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. The Caucasus Mountains form one of the boundary lines between Asia and Europe.

Rivers. Millions of Asians live crowded together in the continent’s river valleys and deltas. The rivers play an important role in the lives of the people. Many rivers aid farmers by depositing fertile soil along their courses and providing water for irrigation. They also serve as important transportation routes for trade and travel.

Southwest Asia’s major rivers flow through the northern part of the region. The Tigris and Euphrates rivers begin in Turkey and meet in Iraq, forming the Shatt al Arab. The Karun River flows from Iran into the Shatt al Arab, which empties into the Persian Gulf. The Jordan River flows south from Lebanon into the Dead Sea.

In South Asia, several rivers flow south from the mountains in the northern part of the region. The main ones include the Indus, which winds through Pakistan and into the Arabian Sea; and the Brahmaputra and Ganges, which flow through northern India and Bangladesh before emptying into the Bay of Bengal. The delta, a low plain formed from sediments, at the mouth of the Brahmaputra and Ganges is the largest river delta in the world.

Four important Southeast Asian rivers begin in the mountains that are located in and near Tibet. There, the Irrawaddy, Mekong, Menam (Chao Phraya), and Salween rivers start their long routes through Southeast Asia to the sea.

East Asia’s major rivers, the Huang He (Yellow River) and Yangtze, begin in the Tibetan Highlands and flow east across China. The Huang He empties into the Yellow Sea, and the Yangtze empties into the East China Sea. The Yangtze, which measures 3,900 miles (6,275 kilometers) long, is Asia’s longest river. The Xi, southern China’s chief river, flows from south-central China into the South China Sea.

The major rivers of North Asia-the Lena, Ob, and Yenisey-flow from south to north through northern Siberia. They empty into the Arctic Ocean. The Amur River is the major waterway of far eastern Siberia.

Large parts of Central Asia have no rivers. But important rivers rise in the mountains of that region.

Deserts and plains. Deserts extend diagonally across Asia from the Arabian Peninsula northeast to China and Mongolia. These huge deserts are unsuitable for farming, and few people live there.

The Arabian Desert makes up most of the Arabian Peninsula. Other deserts cover much of the rest of Southwest Asia. A desert called Karakum occupies most of Turkmenistan. Kyzylkum is a desert that spreads across southern Kazakhstan and northern Uzbekistan. The Thar Desert stretches across much of the border between India and Pakistan. Farther east, the Taklimakan of western China and the Gobi of China and Mongolia form huge wastelands. The frozen tundra region that is in northern Russia is sometimes called a cold desert because so few plants can grow there (see TUNDRA).

Plains are flatlands. Rivers cut through most plains and rain falls on them, helping make the soil fertile. The major Asian plains include those that lie across northern India, eastern China, northern Kazakhstan, and central Russia.

Coastline, bays, seas, and lakes. Asia’s coastline measures about 80,205 miles (129,077 kilometers)-over three times the distance around the earth’s equator. Many harbors along the coast are shallow. Through the years, mud and silt carried downstream by rivers have partly filled the harbors. Asia’s northern harbors, located on the Arctic Ocean, stay frozen much of the year.

Two huge bays of the Indian Ocean indent Asia’s southern coast. These are the Bay of Bengal east of India, and the Arabian Sea west of India.

Along Asia’s east coast, islands and peninsulas block off parts of the Pacific Ocean into a series of seas. These seas include-from north to south-the Bering, Okhotsk, Japan, Yellow, East China, and South China seas.

The Red Sea lies between the continents of Asia and Africa. The Aegean, Black, and Caspian seas make up part of the boundary between Asia and Europe. The Caspian Sea, which lies north of Iran, is the world’s largest inland body of water. It is not really a sea but a salt lake that covers 143,250 square miles (371,000 square kilometers).

Other lakes include Lake Baikal in Russia; Lake Balkhash in Kazakhstan; the Aral Sea, which lies between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan; and the Dead Sea, between Israel and Jordan. The Dead Sea shore, about 1,310 feet (399 meters) below sea level, is the lowest place on earth.


Because of Asia’s tremendous size, its regions have a wide variety of climates. These varied climates include the bitter cold of the polar north; the hot, dry desert environment of Central Asia and Southwest Asia; and the hot, humid conditions of the tropical south. The large map in this section illustrates Asia’s climate patterns. The smaller maps provide statistical information on temperatures and precipitation.

Winds called monsoons influence the climate of much of Asia. A monsoon blows regularly in the same direction during definite seasons. In winter, monsoons from the north move into East Asia and cause cold, dry weather. The wind switches in summer and blows from the seas that lie south and southeast of that region. It causes hot, humid weather.

Most of East Asia’s rain falls between April and October. The rainfall is heaviest in the east, and it decreases away from the sea.

Monsoons pass through South Asia and Southeast Asia from November to March. They cause the coolest weather in those two regions. Beginning in April, monsoons from the southwest send temperatures soaring. From May to October, wet monsoons bring heavy rains from the south seas. Many of these monsoons cause floods.

In Southwest Asia, monsoons affect only the southern and southwestern coasts of the Arabian Peninsula. Most of Southwest Asia has long, hot summers and mild winters. Inland, temperatures often climb above 115 °F (46 °C) in summer. But there are no clouds to keep the daytime heat close to the earth at night. A warm but comfortable night may follow an extremely hot day. The region’s heaviest rains fall in Turkey near the Black Sea and in the Caucasus region between the Black and Caspian seas. Some parts of the Arabian Peninsula receive no rain for several years at a time.

Bitter cold polar weather keeps part of northern Siberia’s land frozen the year around. In the grasslands in the southwest, the temperatures vary from 3 °F (-16 °C) in January to 64 °F (18 °C) in July. Central Asia’s climate ranges from extremely cold in its mountain regions to extremely hot and dry in the deserts in the summer.


Domesticated animals. Many Asian people use domesticated (tamed) animals to do work and as sources of food, clothing, and shelter. Useful domesticated animals include the dromedary and other camels of Southwest Asia and the elephant and ox of South Asia. Other domesticated animals used by Asian people are the Bactrian camel and yak of Central Asia, the water buffalo of Southeast Asia and East Asia, and the reindeer of North Asia.

Wild animals. Arctic foxes, Arctic hares, lemmings, and reindeer live in the Arctic. The lemmings live under the snow in the winter. Many animals in North Asia south of the Arctic are highly valued for their fur. They include brown bears, elks, ermines, lynxes, martens, otters, and sables.

Antelopes, burrowing rodents, and locusts live in Mongolia and northwestern China. From time to time, swarms of locusts attack the fields of northern China, eating the crops in their paths. The giant panda, a black-and-white bearlike animal, lives in the wild only in China. Much of East Asia is so crowded with people that few wild animals live in the region.

South and Southeast Asia have the continent’s greatest variety of wild animals. Apes and monkeys and beautiful tropical birds are plentiful in these regions. Some animals-including crocodiles, leopards, rhinoceroses, scorpions, tigers, and poisonous snakes-endanger the rural people. Wild animals of Southwest Asia include antelopes, caracals, onagers, and ibexes and other wild goats. The region’s deserts support many insects and reptiles.


Few kinds of plants can survive in the Arctic area of North Asia. But the world’s largest fir and pine forest lies south of the Arctic. Its trees supply lumber, pulpwood, and other products.

The dry land of most of Central Asia supports little plant life except for grasses. But grass serves as the food for livestock, the basis of Central Asia’s economy.

Valuable plant life grows in eastern East Asia, which has plentiful rain. Trees supply East Asians with fruit, lumber, and paper. The people use one fruit tree, the mulberry, in an unusual way. They feed its leaves to silkworms, which produce silk thread for clothing.

Much valuable plant life also grows in the warm, wet climate of Southeast Asia and parts of South Asia. Products from plants account for a large part of the exports of these regions. People in many parts of the world use products from the nutmeg, rubber, and teak trees, the tea bush, and bamboo grass.

Few plants grow in much of the dry parts of Southwest Asia. But date palms and olive trees of desert oases provide many people with a large amount of the food they eat and export.

The opium poppy is grown in parts of Asia, including Afghanistan and Myanmar. Such powerful drugs as heroin, morphine, and opium are made from this flower. Doctors prescribe such drugs to ease pain and for other purposes. But millions of people both in and outside Asia use the drugs just to “feel good.” Many of them become drug addicts and ruin their physical and mental health (see DRUG ABUSE (Abuse of illegal drugs)).


Agriculture is by far the most important economic activity in Asia. About three-fifths of the people make a living from farming. Farm products also account for the majority of Asia’s exports.

In many Asian countries, most of the farmers use hand tools, and many have animals that pull plows and do other work. Yet in such countries as China and Bangladesh, intensive hand labor by farm families plus using every bit of available land produces high crop yields. But these nations have so many people that there is barely enough food to go around.

The use of modern farm tools and chemical fertilizers has become widespread in some Asian nations, including Israel, Japan, and the countries that were formerly part of the Soviet Union. Some Asian nations have increased farm productivity by the use of irrigation and new, higher-yielding rice and wheat seeds. These countries include China, India, South Korea, and Thailand.

This section gives an overview of how farms are organized in Asia and of Asia’s major crops and livestock animals. The six Way of life sections of this article provide more information on how rural Asians live and work.

Farm organization in Asia follows three chief systems: private ownership, tenant farming, and collective farming.

Some farmers in all parts of Asia own their own farms. Private farm ownership is most common, however, in South Asia and on the mainland of Southeast Asia. Many farmers in these areas own a small plot of land.

Tenant farming is also practiced in many parts of the continent but is probably most common in Southwest Asia. Many farmers in that region work on land they rent from wealthy landlords. They pay the landlords with crops or money.

Few collective farms still exist. Israel has many collective farming communities called kibbutzim, and there are still some collective farms in China.

The Communist countries of Asia formerly practiced collective farming, but it proved inefficient and unpopular. The Chinese government introduced collective farming communities called communes in 1958 but began abandoning them in 1979. The government then tried a system similar to tenant farming. Farm families produced a certain amount of crops for the state. They could sell whatever excess they produced on the open market. The Chinese government gradually relaxed its crop requirements. Now many farm families raise and sell crops as they choose.

Crops. South Asia, Southeast Asia, East Asia, and southwestern North Asia rank as the continent’s main crop-growing regions. The land and climate of most of Southwest Asia, Central Asia, and North Asia are poorly suited to farming.

The chief crops of Asia are rice and wheat. The countries of Asia-led by China and India-produce more than 90 percent of the world’s supply of rice. Asia’s leading wheat-producing countries include China, India, Russia, and Turkey.

Most of the world’s natural rubber and tea come from Asia. Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand are the top natural-rubber producers in the world. Asia’s leading tea-growing countries include India, China, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia.

Other important Asian crops include cotton, jute (fiber from which burlap is made), and sugar cane. China, India, Pakistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan stand among the leading cotton-growing nations. Jute comes chiefly from Bangladesh, China, and India. India ranks second in the world in the production of sugar cane. Only Brazil produces more.

Livestock. In South Asia, farmers who raise livestock use the animals chiefly to help with the work. In the less fertile parts of Central, North, and Southwest Asia, many people raise livestock for a living. They get cheese, milk, and meat from their animals, as well as fur and hides for clothing and shelter. Manure from livestock is used as fertilizer and sometimes as a cooking fuel.

Some of the animals are used for transportation. Livestock farmers also sell animals or products made from them to buy supplies.

Hogs and poultry are raised for food throughout most of East Asia and Southeast Asia. Camels, goats, and sheep are the most important livestock in Southwest Asia. Central Asians herd Bactrian camels, cattle, goats, horses, pigs, sheep, and yaks. Reindeer herding is a major activity in the northern part of North Asia.


Industry is growing rapidly in many East and Southeast Asian nations. These countries have prospered as their industries have expanded. But most other Asian nations have relatively little manufacturing and depend heavily on agriculture.

Mining. Raw mined materials rank among Asia’s most important exports. Southwest Asia supplies a large part of the world’s oil. Southeast Asia provides much of the world’s tin. China exports large amounts of antimony and tungsten. Manganese and mica from China and India and chromite mined in Turkey and the Philippines are exported to many parts of the world.

Asia exports most of its raw mined materials to industrialized nations on other continents. Asia’s factories cannot use all of the continent’s mined products.

Manufacturing. During colonial days, Asia served as a source of food for Europe’s people and as a source of raw materials for its industries. The processing of food and other products became important in Asia, and it still is today. Such industries as sugar refining and the processing of fish, rice, and tobacco have major economic importance in some parts of the continent.

Most of Asia’s heavy manufacturing takes place in such countries as China, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and Taiwan, all of which have large, modern factories. Industries in these countries make such products as automobiles, electronic equipment, factory machinery, iron and steel, military weapons, and ships. Israel, North Korea, Singapore, and Turkey also have some heavy industry.

Other industries. Light industries play an important role in the economies of such countries as Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand. Many Southeast Asian countries manufacture textiles, footwear, personal electronic products, and other consumer goods.

Millions of Asians who live along the seacoasts and rivers catch fish for a living. The countries of China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Russia, and Thailand rank among the most important fishing nations of the world.

Tourism and a related industry, handicrafts, have great economic importance in many parts of Asia. Large numbers of non-Asians visit the continent each year, and many Asians travel outside their home countries within Asia. The tourists spend money on food, transportation, and shelter.

Tourists also buy handicrafts made by Asians. The handicrafts include carvings, leather goods, metalware, pottery, rugs, and textiles. The tourist industry is especially active in South, Southeast, and East Asia.

Industrial development. Many Asian governments are trying to improve the economies of their nations by creating new industries and by expanding old ones. They have taken various steps toward industrialization. Some countries offer low tax rates to non-Asian business people to set up businesses in Asia. Asian governments have also used their own funds and aid from other countries to establish industries. The governments sold some of these industries to Asian business people at low cost. Many changes in Asian education are aimed at training people in industrial skills.

The governments of Asia’s Communist countries have attempted to increase industry by tight government control and by economic planning. In the late 1900’s, however, both China and Vietnam began to loosen government controls and to encourage private enterprise.

A number of Asian countries have succeeded in increasing their industry. Japan is one of the world’s leading industrial nations. It exports cars, electronics, and other consumer goods throughout the world. Israel, South Korea, and Taiwan have also made great progress in industrial development.

Other Asian countries have made some industrial progress, but they continue to be less developed compared to most industrial nations. China and India have huge factories and manufacture a wide variety of goods. But they still must import many items, and their people have a low standard of living. Such other Asian nations as Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand, and Turkey are developing modern industry. Saudi Arabia and other oil-producing nations have large oil refineries.

Most other Asian countries have little industry other than the processing of agricultural products and raw materials. The Asian countries that were once part of the Soviet Union face the need to replace old industrial equipment and develop new markets for their goods.

                Transportation and communication 

The transportation and communication systems of Asia’s cities are more advanced than those of the rural areas. The cities have many of the same modern devices that Western cities have. But in some rural areas, transportation and communication differs little from that of hundreds of years ago.

Transportation. Many kinds of vehicles transport people and goods in Asian cities. Automobiles, buses, motor scooters, and trucks speed by vehicles powered by people or animals. People supply the power for such vehicles as bicycles and pedicabs. The pedicab, a taxicab operated like a bicycle, has largely replaced the jinrikisha and other taxis pulled by runners (see JINRIKISHA; PEDICAB). Oxen, water buffaloes, and other animals pull carts through the streets of some cities.

Motor vehicles are less common in rural Asia. Buses travel along the rural roads, many of which are unpaved. Some people share the ownership of a jeep. Many villagers transport goods in carts pulled by animals or people. Others travel by foot-to save wear and tear on their animals. Carts get stuck in the soft sands of the deserts, and so many people use the sure-footed camel for desert transportation.

Rivers rank among the chief transportation routes of rural Asia. The people use barges, canoelike vessels, junks, sampans, and other small boats for travel and to transport goods. Junks and some other boats of rural Asia have sails and are moved by the wind. But many Asians must paddle their boats or move them by pushing a long pole against the river bottom. Sometimes, people on shore pull heavy barges by means of long ropes attached to the barges. People in Iraq sail an unusual boat called a kufathat looks like a huge bowl.

Airlines link most large Asian cities with one another and with other parts of the world. But railroads are still the continent’s chief means of long-distance transportation. Colonial rulers built a large network of railroads during the late 1800’s. They used trains to carry raw materials from inland areas to coastal cities and ports. Today, almost all Asian countries have at least one railroad. More trains are needed, however, to handle increased passenger and cargo loads. Asia also has a shortage of railroad managers, train repair personnel, and replacement parts for old trains. Japan, with one of the world’s most modern railroad systems, is a major exception.

The colonial rulers also built up Asia’s highway system between inland areas and coastal cities. Since the end of colonial rule, Asian nations have continued to build or improve highways so that more trucks and buses can use them.

Oceangoing vessels carry much cargo to and from Asia’s ports. These huge modern ships tower above the small, old-fashioned sampans and other boats that dockworkers use while loading and unloading them.

Communication in some Asian countries is much the same as in Western countries. Many people read newspapers. Radio and television stations broadcast from most cities. Most households have radios, and many own television sets. In Oman, for example, about 7 out of 10 people own a television set.

In other Asian countries, newspapers, radio stations, and television stations are less numerous. Broadcasts do not reach some rural areas. Some families own radios, but few own television sets. In Myanmar, for instance, only about 1 person out of 200 owns a TV set. Satellite television receivers and mobile telephones enable some rural communities to stay in touch with the rest of the world, however.


Four areas of the world are sometimes called the cradles of civilization because of the important early civilizations that began there. One of these areas is in Egypt and the other three are in Asia. The Asian cradles of civilization are (1) the Tigris-Euphrates Valley, now mostly Iraq; (2) the Indus Valley of South Asia; and (3) the Huang He and Yangtze valleys of China, in East Asia.

The Tigris-Euphrates Valley, near the head of the Persian Gulf, was the site of the world’s first civilization. This valley forms the center of a larger historic region called the Fertile Crescent. This region, named for its rich farmland, follows the Tigris and Euphrates rivers north and west from the Persian Gulf. Then it curves south through the valley of the Jordan River. The region includes parts of what are now Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria.

Ruins of old cities dot the Fertile Crescent. Archaeologists have discovered much about the ancient civilizations that existed in the area between about 3500 B.C. and the 200’s B.C. These civilizations included the Sumerian, Babylonian, and Assyrian civilizations.

The Sumerians developed the world’s first civilization about 3500 B.C. They invented a method of writing, called cuneiform, and used it to inscribe clay tablets. The Sumerians traded widely with other peoples, including the Egyptians. Sumerian armies had war chariots a thousand years before the Egyptians did. The Sumerians also developed a complicated system of laws governing weights, measures, and trading.

No one really knows why Sumer declined. But by about 1900 B.C., the first of several great Babylonian dynasties appeared in the region north of Sumer. Babylon became the capital city of an advanced civilization that gained fame for its laws, religion, and walled cities.

The Assyrian Empire, north of Babylonia, began to expand after 883 B.C. For about 100 years, between 728 B.C. and 626 B.C., Assyria controlled Babylonia. Babylonia regained its independence after King Ashurbanipal of Assyria died in 627 B.C. But the Persians conquered the empire in 539 B.C.

The Persian Empire reached its height about 520 B.C. At that time, it included much of Southwest Asia and parts of South Asia, the southern part of Russia, and North Africa. Persia’s importance lasted nearly 200 years. Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire in 331 B.C. (see ALEXANDER THE GREAT).

The Indus Valley. From about 2500 B.C. to about 1700 B.C., an advanced Bronze Age culture developed in South Asia. This civilization spread through the valley of the Indus River and included hundreds of settlements in what are now Pakistan and northwestern India. Scholars do not know how the Indus society began, nor if its people were related to the peoples of Southwest Asia.

About 1500 B.C., nomadic tribes called Aryans invaded India. The Aryans probably came from the plains north of the Caspian Sea. They gradually spread their culture eastward to the Ganges Valley. The Aryans developed the religious and social practices that formed the basis of later Hindu cultures. By 517 B.C., the Persian Empire had started to overrun the Indus Valley.

From 327 to 325 B.C., Alexander the Great conquered the Indus area. But he soon gave up his rule over the area, and India came under the control of Buddhist rulers. Buddhist dynasties controlled much of the Indian subcontinent for hundreds of years. The greatest empire in this period was that of Ashoka. He united nearly two-thirds of South Asia during his rule, which lasted from about 272 B.C. to 232 B.C. Art and literature thrived during Ashoka’s reign.

The Huang He and Yangtze valleys of north and central China make up the third early center of Asian culture. In the Huang He Valley, during the 1700’s B.C., the Shang dynasty became the first major civilization of East Asia. Palaces filled the Shang capital of Anyang. Shang priests used pictographs (simple drawings representing words) to report events and keep records. This early picture writing formed the basis of the written Chinese language.

The Zhou (also spelled Chou) dynasty replaced Shang rule about 1122 B.C. The Zhou dynasty was centered in the Yangtze Valley. During Zhou rule, Chinese art and learning flourished. Great thinkers, such as Confucius and Laozi (also spelled Lao Tzu), laid the basis of East Asian philosophy. Feudal wars weakened the Zhou dynasty after 403 B.C., and the dynasty ended in 256 B.C. Several large states controlled China until 221 B.C., when the Qin (also spelled Ch’in) dynasty took over.

Qin rulers created the first united Chinese empire. The first Qin ruler, Shi Huangdi, ordered major construction on the Great Wall of China in an attempt to protect the empire from the nomadic peoples of the north. But rebel warriors overthrew the Qin rulers in the late 200’s B.C. China’s next dynasty, the Han, ruled a large empire from 202 B.C. to A.D. 220.

Nomadic invasions destroyed ancient civilizations in all parts of Asia after A.D. 300. For centuries, nomadic barbarians poured out of Central Asia and southern North Asia. In East Asia, during the 300’s, the Huns of Mongolia conquered northern China. Then they turned west and invaded Europe, where they contributed to the fall of the Roman Empire. In about 500, Huns ended India’s 180-year-old Gupta Empire.

East Asia had peace from the early 600’s to the 1100’s, when nomadic invasions and religious wars weakened western Asia. The Tang and Song (also spelled Sung) dynasties ruled China during that period. They developed gunpowder, printing, paper money, and porcelain.

Muslim peoples conquered Southwest Asia during the 600’s and built an empire that included North Africa and most of Spain and Portugal. From the 300’s to the 1100’s, the Byzantine Empire in the eastern Mediterranean area was the only Christian power in Asia. That Christian influence eroded as the empire fell to the Ottomans, a Muslim people from Central Asia. Over several centuries, the Ottomans steadily occupied Byzantine territories and established a great Muslim empire called the Ottoman Empire. In 1453, they captured the Byzantine capital, Constantinople, which then became known as Istanbul.

New barbarian invasions came from the center of Asia after 1206 when Genghis Khan united Mongol tribes and conquered northern China, northern India, Persia (now Iran), and parts of Europe. The Mongol Empire extended from China and Korea to the Danube River in Europe. It was the largest land empire in history. The empire lasted until 1368, but it achieved its greatest importance during the mid-1200’s under Kublai Khan.

After the fall of the Mongol Empire, the Ming dynasty gained control of China and spread its power throughout most of East Asia. During the nearly 300 years of Ming rule, Chinese art and literature flourished.

In 1526, Mongols again invaded India and established the Mughal Empire. About the same time, the Ottoman Empire reached its height in Southwest Asia. Ottoman rule also extended to North Africa and southeastern Europe. But none of these empires remained powerful. Europeans had entered a period of cultural and economic expansion that resulted in their conquest of Asia.

The Western conquest of Asia began during the early 1500’s. The desire for Asia’s riches-especially control of the spice trade-excited all Europe. An age of colonial expansion followed. In the 1500’s, the Portuguese took control of the Indian Ocean and, farther east, obtained Macao and Melaka as ports for trade. The Spanish began trading in the Philippines about 1565. The English and Dutch entered the Asian trade after 1600. The Dutch gained a foothold in Java in 1619. They took Melaka from the Portuguese in 1641 to control the spice trade.

In Japan, the strong Tokugawa rulers forced the Spanish and Portuguese to leave the country in 1639. Japan allowed only the Dutch to send a ship to trade at Nagasaki once a year. China, under the Qing dynasty of the Manchus, also closed its doors to the West. Foreign traders were permitted only at Guangzhou (Canton).

The British and Dutch, stopped from trading with China and Japan, turned to South and Southeast Asia. The British gradually conquered most of India, and the Dutch took over the East Indies (now Indonesia). At about the same time, European Russians pushed into Siberia from the west.

The age of colonialism. Europe and the United States brought their economic and military strength to bear on Asia during the 1800’s. In 1839, China and the United Kingdom began the Opium War, a battle over opening China to imports. China lost and, in 1842, agreed to British trade at five Chinese ports. Two years later, China began trading with the United States and France. In 1854, Matthew C. Perry, the leader of an American naval mission, signed a treaty that opened Japan to limited U.S. trade.

A period of fierce competition began among Western powers for Asian trade and colonial expansion. The United Kingdom became a powerful force in Southwest Asia, India, and southern China. Russia expanded into Central Asia and Manchuria. The French colonized Indochina. The United States acquired the Philippines from Spain in 1898, after the Spanish-American War.

By the 1900’s, Western influence had produced great changes throughout Asia. Western art influenced Asian art, and the colonials built large parts of Asian cities along Western lines. The colonials played the leading part in the economic and political life of much of Asia.

The colonials made great profits through their control of Asia. At the same time, large numbers of Asians lived in poverty and had no voice in their government. Many Asians were dissatisfied with colonialism and demanded that Asians rule Asia. New feelings of nationalism grew up in many parts of the continent. In time, these nationalist movements ended colonialism in Asia.

The rise of the Japanese Empire. Japan overthrew the Tokugawa system of government in 1867. After adopting a constitutional monarchy in 1889, Japan quickly rose to great power in eastern Asia. From 1894 to 1905, in wars with China and Russia, Japan won the island of Taiwan and a foothold in Manchuria and Korea.

A new Chinese republic replaced the Manchu dynasty in 1912. But China found it difficult to build a strong new government. For many years, war lords fought for control of the country. Finally, in 1928, the Chinese Nationalists united China under one government. But the Nationalists still had to contend with rival Communist groups, which left the nation open to attack.

In 1931, Japanese troops invaded Manchuria. Six years later, they swept into central China. The troops left China only partly conquered and began to drive toward Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands.

In 1941, Japan joined Germany and Italy in World War II. At the height of its power, in 1942, the Japanese Empire extended from the Aleutian Islands of Alaska, south to the Netherlands Indies, and as far west as Burma (now Myanmar). The huge empire collapsed with Japan’s defeat in 1945. See WORLD WAR II (The war in Asia and the Pacific).

The end of colonialism. The Allied victory in World War II returned most of the colonies to the Western powers, but only for a short time. Feelings of nationalism in Asia had grown during the war. Mohandas K. Gandhi, who led India’s movement for independence from the United Kingdom, was perhaps the most famous Asian nationalist.

Between 1943 and 1949, Burma (now called Myanmar), Ceylon (now called Sri Lanka), India, Indonesia, Pakistan, and the Philippines changed from colonies into nations. A number of Southwest Asian colonies and territories also became independent nations. In addition, a new nation, Israel, was formed in 1948 as a homeland for Jews. In 1949, Indochina was the only part of Asia that still had major Western colonies. However, that region was torn by revolt and gained independence five years later.

Results of colonialism. With the end of colonialism, Asian nations again controlled their own development. But years of colonial rule had left Asia poorly prepared in some ways to face the modern world.

Economically, Asia lagged far behind the West. An industrial boom in the West, which began during the 1700’s, provided jobs for the rapidly increasing population. The boom enriched governments and business people and gradually raised the living standard of most of the population. The West also made major improvements in farm tools and methods.

Under colonial rule, Asia provided raw materials needed for Western industry. But most of Asia did not become industrialized. Nor did the continent experience much agricultural improvement. As a result, poverty became more widespread in Asia than in the West by the end of the colonial period.

Colonialism also slowed Asia’s political and military development. At the same time Western nations ruled Asia, they developed a tradition of strong central government that their colonial possessions lacked. After the Europeans left, various groups in many Asian nations struggled for political power. In many cases, Asians who came to power had difficulty establishing their authority over all the people in their countries. Political factions divided many nations.

Western nations developed militarily as well as industrially and politically during the colonial period. But in Asia, the colonial rulers-not the Asians-were responsible for the military defense of the lands they governed. After the colonial rulers left, many Asian nations found themselves without suitable military protection. This military weakness added to Asia’s problems.

The spread of Communism. Two Asian nations-the Soviet Union and Mongolia-turned Communist long before World War II. (The Soviet Union had been formed in 1922, under Russia’s leadership.) By the time the war began in 1939, Communist parties had gained strength in many other parts of the continent. The Communists spoke out against colonial rule and used their stand against colonialism to gain followers. During World War II, many Communists fought alongside the Allies, some of which were colonial powers. But after the war, the Communists called for an end to colonialism and sought power for themselves.

In 1949, the Chinese Communists defeated the Chinese Nationalists. Mao Zedong led the Communists in their 22-year struggle for control of China. With this victory, Communists controlled Asia’s two largest nations-China and the Soviet Union.

At the end of World War II, Korean Communists took control of North Korea, and non-Communist Koreans took over South Korea. In 1950, the North Koreans invaded South Korea, touching off the first international war between Communists and non-Communists. The United States and other non-Communist nations fought on the side of the South Koreans. North Korea’s allies included China, which sent troops, and the Soviet Union, which sent supplies. The Korean War ended in 1953. But Korea still remains divided between a Communist north and a non-Communist south.

Communism also gained a foothold in Southeast Asia. In 1946, Communists in Vietnam, which was then a colony of French Indochina, began a long war against the French forces there. A nationalist group called the Vietminh led the movement. It was headed by the Communist leader Ho Chi Minh. The Communists finally defeated the French in 1954. Indochina was then divided into four independent nations-Cambodia, Laos, North Vietnam, and South Vietnam.

The fighting did not end when the French left. Communists in Cambodia, Laos, and South Vietnam continued to fight the new non-Communist governments. North Vietnam sent troops and supplies to help them, and China and the Soviet Union also sent supplies.

In the early 1960’s, South Vietnam seemed about to fall to the Communists. The United States sent troops to help defend South Vietnam. A cease-fire agreement ended U.S. participation in the fighting in 1973. But clashes continued between the Vietnamese Communists and non-Communists. Battles also flared up in Cambodia and Laos during the 1960’s and early 1970’s. In 1975, Communists took control of South Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. North and South Vietnam were reunited in 1976. See VIETNAM WAR.

Communist rebels have fought against the governments of several other Asian countries, including Myanmar, the Philippines, and Thailand. But none of these rebellions succeeded.

In 1978, leftist military leaders gained control of the government of Afghanistan. Many Afghans rebelled against the new government. At the end of 1979, the Soviet Union began sending troops to help the Afghan government crush the rebels, called mujahideen. But the government forces and their Soviet allies were unable to defeat the rebels. The Soviet Union withdrew its troops in 1988 and 1989. The war between the rebels and the government continued until 1992, when the rebels overthrew the government.

By the end of 1991, the Soviet Union had ceased to exist as a country. First, Communist rule ended there after conservative Communist officials failed in an attempt to overthrow Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev. After the failed attempt, most of the Soviet republics declared their independence. In December 1991, Gorbachev resigned, and the Soviet Union was dissolved. The former Soviet republics became independent nations.

Other struggles. Fighting in Asia has not been limited to the struggle between Communists and non-Communists. Ethnic group friction, power struggles within nations, border disputes, and other causes have led to fighting among many Asian peoples.

Israel and the Arabs of Southwest Asia and North Africa have struggled since the founding of Israel in 1948. The Arabs claim that the Israelis have no right to establish a Jewish state in what Arabs consider their land. Since 1948, the Arabs and the Israelis have fought four wars. In the late 1970’s, relations between Israel and the Arab country of Egypt improved. In the early 1990’s, relations improved between Israel and both Jordan and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), an Arab organization that represents Palestinians. But in the early 2000’s, tension and fighting between Israel and the Palestinians increased.

Conflicts have also erupted between various groups of Muslims in Southwest Asia. In the 1960’s, rebels battled government forces in Iraq; Syria; and Yemen (Sana), now part of Yemen. In the late 1970’s, Islamic revolutionaries overthrew the shah of Iran and established a new government. In 1980, Iran and Iraq began fighting. The two nations agreed to a cease-fire in 1988. In Lebanon, fighting broke out between Muslims and Christians in the mid-1970’s, and among various Muslim groups in the 1980’s. A peace plan ended most of the fighting in 1991. In 1990, Iraq invaded and occupied Kuwait. Many Southwest Asian nations and Western nations joined forces to drive Iraqi troops out of Kuwait in 1991.

The Kurds are a Muslim people whose homeland extends across the mountainous border regions of several Southwest Asian nations. In the late 1900’s, the Kurds often battled the governments of those countries for the right to establish their own government.

India and Pakistan have disputed control of Kashmir since the two countries were formed in the late 1940’s. Fighting has erupted many times in the region. Now that both nations possess nuclear arms, the Kashmir conflict ranks as one of the world’s most troubling.

Civil war broke out in Pakistan in 1971. The government, centered in West Pakistan, ordered troops to put down a rebellion in the east. But forces from India joined the East Pakistanis and succeeded in defeating West Pakistan in December 1971. East Pakistan then became the independent nation of Bangladesh.

Indonesia occupied East Timor in 1975, after Portugal ended its colonial rule there. Many East Timorese opposed Indonesian control, and the United Nations refused to recognize Indonesia’s claim. In 1999, East Timor finally won independence.

Communist nations have also quarreled with one another. China and the Soviet Union traded sharp criticism, each nation claiming that the other failed to follow Communist principles. In 1969, troops of the two nations clashed in border fights. During the late 1970’s, disputes led to fighting between Cambodia and Vietnam and also to border clashes between China and Vietnam.

A new era. Asia still faces many problems. Millions of people in Asia are poor and illiterate. Disputes between peoples continue to threaten peace in many areas. Despite these problems, much of Asia entered a new era of development in the late 1900’s.

Parts of East Asia and Southeast Asia have progressed rapidly. In the 1990’s, some of these countries became known as “Asian tigers” because their economies were so strong. These economies are based largely on high-technology industries and businesses, such as computer manufacturing. In Southwest Asia, Israel developed a strong economy less than 20 years after its creation. Earnings from oil have greatly improved the economies of other Southwest Asian nations. Economic progress enables governments to build new schools and train new teachers in an effort to raise educational levels. Today, a larger percentage of Asians than ever before attend school for at least a few years.

But economic progress in Asia has been uneven. In some nations, including Cambodia and Laos, development has been slow. In other nations, including China, India, and Pakistan, progress has been mixed. Some parts of these countries have taken significant steps forward. Other parts remain poor.

Fewer Asians suffer malnutrition today, but millions still do not have enough to eat. The development of new high-yielding varieties of rice and wheat has helped reduce hunger in parts of the continent.

Political instability continues to slow progress in some Asian nations, but signs of hope exist. In 2000, for example, leaders of the two Koreas met for the first time since Korea was divided.”

Contributors: Graham P. Chapman, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Geography, Lancaster University.

Richard Louis Edmonds, Ph.D., Senior Lecturer and Editor, The China Quarterly, SOAS, University of London.

Abraham Marcus, Ph.D., Director, Center for Middle Eastern Studies, University of Texas, Austin.

Jonathan Rigg, Ph.D., Reader in Geography, University of Durham.


What percentage of the world’s people live in Asia?

What percentage of the world’s land lies in Asia?

How do some Southeast Asians make use of the space under their houses?

What parts of Asia are called cradles of civilization?

What do geographers mean by Eurasia?

Why do the Japanese often serve each food in a separate bowl?

What empire controlled more land than any other in history?

How do Southwest Asian nomads make use of their animals?

What physical features mark the boundaries between Asia and Europe?

Who led India’s drive for independence from British colonial rule?

                Additional resources

                Level I 

Portraits of the Nations. HarperCollins, 1989-1993. This series includes books on many Asian countries, such as The Land and People of Pakistan by Mark Weston (1992).

Sammis, Fran.Asia. Benchmark Bks., 1999.

Sayre, April P.Asia. 21st Century Bks., 1999.

Tull, Mary H., and others.Northern Asia: Understanding Geography and History Through Art. Raintree Steck-Vaughn, 1999.

Viesti, Joseph F., and Hall, Diane.Celebrate! In South Asia. Lothrop, 1996. Celebrate! In Southeast Asia. 1996. Books about holidays celebrated in these places.

                Level II

Bowman, John S., ed. Columbia Chronologies of Asian History and Culture. Columbia Univ. Pr., 2000.

Foster, Dean A. The Global Etiquette Guide to Asia. Wiley, 2000.

Mason, Colin.A Short History of Asia. St. Martin’s, 2000.

Wild Asia: Spirit of a Continent. Pelican Pub. Co., 2000. A book of photographs.

Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations, Vol. 4: Asia & Oceania. 10th ed. Gale Group, 2000.


(978-0716601036 WBE)


Fair Use Sources:

Hardware and Electronics History Networking

Sharp Corporation

Return to Timeline of the History of Computers

Sharp Corporation (シャープ株式会社, Shāpu Kabushiki-gaisha) is a Japanese multinational corporation that designs and manufactures electronic products, headquartered in Sakai-ku, SakaiOsaka Prefecture. Since 2016 it has been majority owned by the Taiwan-based Foxconn Group.[4][5][6] Sharp employs more than 50,000 people worldwide. The company was founded in September 1912 in Tokyo and takes its name from one of its founder’s first inventions, the Ever-Sharp mechanical pencil, which was invented by Tokuji Hayakawa in 1915.

Fair Use Sources:

Hardware and Electronics History Networking

Seiko Epson Corporation

Return to Timeline of the History of Computers

Seiko Epson Corporation (セイコーエプソン株式会社, Seikō Epuson Kabushiki-gaisha) (Epson being an abbreviation for “Son of Electronic Printer”),[2] or simply Epson, is a Japanese electronics company and one of the world’s largest manufacturers of computer printers, and information and imaging related equipment. Headquartered in SuwaNagano, Japan,[3] the company has numerous subsidiaries worldwide and manufactures inkjetdot matrix and laser printersscannersdesktop computers, business, multimedia and home theatre projectors, large home theatre televisionsrobots and industrial automation equipment, point of sale docket printers and cash registerslaptopsintegrated circuitsLCD components and other associated electronic components. It is one of three core companies of the Seiko Group, a name traditionally known for manufacturing Seiko timepieces since its founding.


The roots of Seiko Epson Corporation go back to a company called Daiwa Kogyo, Ltd. which was founded in May 1942[4] by Hisao Yamazaki, a local clock shop owner and former employee of K. Hattori, in Suwa, Nagano, Japan. Daiwa Kogyo was supported by an investment from the Hattori family (founder of the Seiko Group) and began as a manufacturer of watch parts for Daini Seikosha (currently Seiko Instruments). The company started operation in a 230-square-metre (2,500 sq ft) renovated miso storehouse with 22 employees.


The roots of Seiko Epson Corporation go back to a company called Daiwa Kogyo, Ltd. which was founded in May 1942[4] by Hisao Yamazaki, a local clock shop owner and former employee of K. Hattori, in Suwa, Nagano, Japan. Daiwa Kogyo was supported by an investment from the Hattori family (founder of the Seiko Group) and began as a manufacturer of watch parts for Daini Seikosha (currently Seiko Instruments). The company started operation in a 230-square-metre (2,500 sq ft) renovated miso storehouse with 22 employees.

In 1943, Daini Seikosha established a factory in Suwa for manufacturing Seiko watches with Daiwa Kogyo. In 1959, the Suwa Factory of Daini Seikosha was split up and merged into Daiwa Kogyo to form Suwa Seikosha Co., Ltd: the forerunner of the Seiko Epson Corporation. The company has developed many timepiece technologies. In particular, it developed the world’s first portable quartz timer (Seiko QC-951) in 1963, the world’s first quartz watch (Seiko Quartz Astron 35SQ) in 1969, the first automatic power generating quartz watch (Seiko Auto-Quartz) in 1988 and the Spring Drive watch movement in 1999.

The watch business is the root of the company’s micromechatronics technologies and still one of the major businesses for Seiko Epson today although it accounts for less than one-tenth of total revenues.[5] The watches made by the company are sold through the Seiko Watch Corporation, a subsidiary of Seiko Holdings Corporation.


In 1961, Suwa Seikosha established a company called Shinshu Seiki Co. as a subsidiary to supply precision parts for Seiko watches. When the Seiko Group was selected to be the official time keeper for the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, a printing timer was required to time events, and Shinshu Seiki started developing an electronic printer.[6]

In September 1968, Shinshu Seiki launched the world’s first mini-printer, the EP-101 (“EP” for Electronic Printer,) which was soon incorporated into many calculators. In June 1975, the name Epson was coined for the next generation of printers based on the EP-101 which was released to the public. (EPSON:E-P-SON: SON of Electronic Printer).[7] In April of the same year Epson America Inc. was established to sell printers for Shinshu Seiki Co.The Epson HX-20

In June 1978, the TX-80 (TP-80), eighty-column dot-matrix printer was released to the market, and was mainly used as a system printer for the Commodore PET Computer. After two years of further development, an improved model, the MX-80 (MP-80), was launched in October 1980.[6] It was soon described in the company’s advertising as the best selling printer in the United States.[8]

In July 1982, Shinshu Seiki officially named itself the Epson Corporation and launched the world’s first handheld computer, HX-20 (HC-20), and in May 1983 the world’s first portable color LCD TV was developed and launched by the company.[9]

In November 1985, Suwa Seikosha Co., Ltd. and the Epson Corporation merged to form Seiko Epson Corporation.[10]

The company developed the Micro Piezo inkjet technology, which used a piezoelectric crystal in each nozzle and did not heat the ink at the print head while spraying the ink onto the page, and released Epson MJ-500 inkjet cartridge (Epson Stylus 800 printer) in March 1993. Shortly after in 1994, Epson released the first high resolution color inkjet printer (720×720 dpi was considered as a high resolution), the Epson Stylus Color (P860A) utilizing the Micro Piezo head technology. Newer models of the Stylus series employed Epson’s special DURABrite ink. They also had two hard drives. The HD 850 and the HD 860 MFM interface. The specifications are reference The WINN L. ROSCH Hardware bible 3rd addition SAMS publishing.[11]

In 1994 Epson started outsourcing sales reps to help sell their products in retail stores in the United States. The same year, they started the Epson Weekend Warrior sales program. The purpose of the program was to help improve sales, improve retail sales reps’ knowledge of Epson products and to address Epson customer service in a retail environment. Reps were assigned on weekend shift, typically around 12–20 hours a week. Epson started the Weekend Warrior program with TMG Marketing (now Mosaic Sales Solutions), later with Keystone Marketing Inc, then to Mosaic, and now with Campaigners INC. The Mosaic contract expired with Epson on June 24, 2007 and Epson is now represented by Campaigners, Inc. The sales reps of Campaigners, Inc. are not outsourced as Epson hired “rack jobbers” to ensure their retail customers displayed products properly. This frees up their regular sales force to concentrate on profitable sales solutions to VAR’s and system integrators, leaving “retail” to reps who did not require sales skills.

Personal computers[edit]

Starting in 1983, Epson entered the personal computer market with the QX-10, a CP/M-compatible Z80 machine. By 1986, the company had shifted to the growing PC compatible market with the Equity line. Epson withdrew from the PC market in 1996.

21st century[edit]

In June 2003, the company became public following their listing on the 1st section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange. As of 2009, the Hattori family and its related individuals and companies are still major shareholders of Seiko Epson and have the power.[12] Even though Seiko Holdings and Seiko Epson have some common shareholders including the key members of the Hattori family, they are not affiliated. They are managed and operated completely independently. Epson has established its own brand image but rarely uses Seiko.

In 2004, Epson introduced their R-D1 digital RangeFinder Camera, which supports Leica M mount and Leica screw mount lenses with an adapter ring. This camera is the first digital rangefinder on the market. Because its sensor is smaller than that of the standard 35 mm film frame, lenses mounted on the R-D1 have the field view 1.53 times as long as that of the standard 35 mm camera. As of 2006 the R-D1 has been replaced by the R-D1s. The R-D1s is less expensive but its hardware is identical. Epson has released a firmware patch to bring the R-D1 up to the full functionality of its successor—the first digital camera manufacturer to make such an upgrade available for free.[citation needed]

In 2009, the company became full owner of Orient Watch, one of the largest timepiece manufacturers in Japan.[13]

In September 2012, Epson introduced a printer called the Epson Expression Premium XP-800 Small-in-One. It has the ability to print wirelessly.[14] Furthermore, the name Expression has followed various models of scanners.

In September 2015 Epson debuted a printer, the Epson ET-4550 which instead of print cartridges, enables the user to pour the ink into separate inkwells from ink bottles.[15] In the third quarter of 2012, Epson’s global market share in the sale of printers, copiers and multifunction devices amounted to 15.20 percent.[16]

Epson is also involved in the smart glasses market. Since 2016 the company has three different models. First up was the Epson Moverio BT-100 which was followed up by the Epson Moverio BT-200. In 2016 the company also released the Moverio Pro BT-2000 which is an enterprise oriented, upgraded version of the BT-200 with stereoscopic cameras. The company also was the first to release consumer smart glasses with see through optics that made them very popular under drone pilots for being able to get a first person view while still being able to see the drone in the sky.

Fair Use Sources:

Hardware and Electronics History Networking


Return to Timeline of the History of Computers

Hitachi, Ltd. (株式会社日立製作所, Kabushiki gaisha Hitachi Seisaku-sho, lit. “Share Company Hitachi Manufacturing Plant” or “Hitachi Works Corporation”) (Japanese pronunciation: [çi̥taꜜtɕi]) is a Japanese multinational conglomerate company headquartered in Chiyoda, Tokyo, Japan. It is the parent company of the Hitachi Group (Hitachi Gurūpu) and formed part of the Nissan zaibatsu and later DKB Group of companies before DKB merged into the Mizuho Financial Group. As of April 2019, Hitachi operates ten business segments, ranging from IT, including AI and big data, to Construction Machinery.[5][6]

Hitachi is listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange and Nagoya Stock Exchange and its Tokyo listing is a constituent of the Nikkei 225 and TOPIX Core30 indices. It is ranked 38th in the 2012 Fortune Global 500 and 129th in the 2012 Forbes Global 2000.[7]


Hitachi was founded in 1910 by electrical engineer Namihei Odaira in Ibaraki Prefecture.[8][9][10] The company’s first product was Japan’s first 4-kilowatt (5 hp) induction motor, initially developed for use in copper mining.[11]

Fair Use Sources:



Return to Timeline of the History of Computers

Panasonic Corporation (パナソニック株式会社, Panasonikku Kabushiki-gaisha), formerly known as the Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd. (松下電器産業株式会社, Matsushita Denki Sangyō Kabushiki-gaisha), founded by Kōnosuke Matsushita in 1918 as a lightbulb socket manufacturer, is a major Japanese multinational electronics company, headquartered in KadomaOsaka.[2] In addition to consumer electronics of which it had been the world’s largest maker in the late 20th century, Panasonic offers a wide range of products and services, including rechargeable batteries, automotive and avionic systems, as well as home renovation and construction.[3][4][5][6]

Panasonic has a primary listing on the Tokyo Stock Exchange and is a constituent of the Nikkei 225 and TOPIX indices. It has a secondary listing on the Nagoya Stock Exchange.


Panasonic, then Matsushita Electric, was founded in 1918.

Fair Use Sources:



Return to Timeline of the History of Computers

Fujitsu Limited (富士通株式会社, Fujitsū Kabushiki-gaisha) is a Japanese multinational information technology equipment and services company headquartered in Tokyo.[3] In 2018, it was the world’s fourth-largest IT services provider measured by global IT services revenue (after IBMAccenture and AWS).[4] Fortune named Fujitsu as one of the world’s most admired companies[5] and a Global 500 company.[6]

Fujitsu mainly makes computing products, but the company and its subsidiaries also offer a diversity of products and services in the areas of personal computing, enterprise computing, including x86, SPARC and mainframe compatible server products, as well as storage products, telecommunications, advanced microelectronics, and air conditioning. It has approximately 140,000 employees and its products and services are available in over 100 countries.[2]

Fujitsu is listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange and is a constituent of the Nikkei 225 and TOPIX indices.


Fujitsu is the second oldest IT company after IBM and before Hewlett Packard, established on June 20, 1935,[7] under the name Fuji Telecommunications Equipment Manufacturing (富士電気通信機器製造, Fuji Denki Tsūshin Kiki Seizō), as a spin-off of the Fuji Electric Company, itself a joint venture between the Furukawa Electric Company and the German conglomerate Siemens which had been founded in 1923. Despite its connections to the Furukawa zaibatsu, Fujitsu escaped the Allied occupation of Japan after the Second World War mostly unscathed.

In 1954, Fujitsu manufactured Japan’s first computer, the FACOM 100 mainframe,[8][9] and in 1961 launched its second generation computers (transistorized) the FACOM 222 mainframe.[10] The 1968 FACOM230 “5” Series marked the beginning of its third generation computers.[11] Fujitsu offered mainframe computers from 1955 until at least 2002[12] Fujitsu’s computer products have included minicomputers,[13] small business computers,[14] servers[15] and personal computers.[16]

Fair Use Sources:



Return to Timeline of the History of Computers

Japan (Japanese: 日本, Nippon [ɲippoꜜɴ] (listen) or Nihon [ɲihoꜜɴ] (listen)) is an island country in East Asia located in the northwest Pacific Ocean. It is bordered by the Sea of Japan to the west and extends from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south. Part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, Japan comprises an archipelago of 6,852 islands covering 377,975 square kilometers (145,937 sq mi); the country’s five main islands, from north to south, are HokkaidoHonshuShikokuKyushu, and OkinawaTokyo is Japan’s capital and largest city; other major cities include YokohamaOsakaNagoyaSapporoFukuokaKobe, and Kyoto.

Japan is the eleventh-most populous country in the world, as well as one of the most densely populated and urbanized. About three-fourths of the country’s terrain is mountainous, concentrating its population of 126.2 million on narrow coastal plains. Japan is divided into 47 administrative prefectures and eight traditional regions. The Greater Tokyo Area is the most populous metropolitan area in the world, with more than 37.4 million residents.

Japan has been inhabited since the Upper Paleolithic period (30,000 BC), though the first mentions of the archipelago appear in Chinese chronicles from the 1st century AD. Between the 4th and 9th centuries, the kingdoms of Japan became unified under an emperor and his imperial court based in Heian-kyō. Beginning in the 12th century, however, political power was held by a series of military dictators (shōgun) and feudal lords (daimyō), and enforced by a class of warrior nobility (samurai). After a century-long period of civil war, the country was reunified in 1603 under the Tokugawa shogunate, which enacted an isolationist foreign policy. In 1854, a United States fleet forced Japan to open trade to the West, which led to the end of the shogunate and the restoration of imperial power in 1868. In the Meiji period, the Empire of Japan adopted a Western-styled constitution and pursued a program of industrialization and modernization. In 1937, Japan invaded China; in 1941, it entered World War II as an Axis power. After suffering defeat in the Pacific War and two atomic bombings, Japan surrendered in 1945 and came under a seven-year Allied occupation, during which it adopted a new constitution. Since 1947, Japan has maintained a unitary parliamentary constitutional monarchy with a bicameral legislature, the National Diet.

Japan is a great power and a member of numerous international organizations, including the United Nations (since 1956), the OECD, and the G7. Although it has renounced its right to declare war, the country maintains Self-Defense Forces that are ranked as the world’s fourth-most powerful military. After World War II, Japan experienced high economic growth, becoming the second-largest economy in the world by 1990 before being surpassed by China in 2010. Despite stagnant growth since the Lost Decade, the country’s economy remains the third-largest by nominal GDP and the fourth-largest by PPP. A leader in the automotive and electronics industries, Japan has made significant contributions to science and technology. Ranked the second-highest country on the Human Development Index in Asia after Singapore, Japan has the world’s second-highest life expectancy, though it is currently experiencing a decline in populationJapanese culture is well-known around the world, including its artcuisinemusic, and popular culture, which encompasses prominent animation and video game industries.


“Japan is an island country in the North Pacific Ocean. It lies off the east coast of mainland Asia across from Russia, Korea, and China. Four large islands and thousands of smaller ones make up Japan. The four major islands-Hokkaido, Honshu, Kyushu, and Shikoku-form a curve that extends for about 1,200 miles (1,900 kilometers). About 126 million people are crowded on these islands, making Japan one of the most densely populated countries in the world.

The Japanese call their country Nippon or Nihon, which means source of the sun. The name Japanmay have come from Zipangu, the Italian name given to the country by Marco Polo, a Venetian traveler of the late 1200’s. Polo had heard of the Japanese islands while traveling through China.

Mountains and hills cover most of Japan, making it a country of great beauty. But the mountains and hills take up so much area that the great majority of the people live on a small portion of the land-narrow plains along the coasts. These coastal plains have much of Japan’s best farmland and most of the country’s major cities. Most of the people live in urban areas. Japan’s big cities are busy, modern centers of culture, commerce, and industry. Tokyo is the capital and largest city.

Japan is one of the world’s economic giants. Its total economic output is exceeded only by that of the United States. The Japanese manufacture a wide variety of products, including automobiles, computers, steel, television sets, textiles, and tires. The country’s factories have some of the most advanced equipment in the world. Japan has become a major economic power even though it has few natural resources. Japan imports many of the raw materials needed for industry and exports finished manufactured goods.

Life in Japan reflects the culture of both the East and the West. For example, the favorite sporting events in the country are baseball games and exhibitions of sumo, an ancient Japanese style of wrestling. Although most Japanese wear Western-style clothing, many women dress in the traditional kimono for festivals and other special occasions. The Japanese no and kabuki dramas, both hundreds of years old, remain popular. But the Japanese people also flock to see motion pictures and rock music groups. Many Japanese artworks combine traditional and Western styles and themes.

Early Japan was greatly influenced by the neighboring Chinese civilization. From the late 400’s to the early 800’s, the Japanese borrowed heavily from Chinese art, government, language, religion, and technology. During the mid-1500’s, the first Europeans arrived in Japan. Trade began with several European countries, and Christian missionaries from Europe converted some Japanese. During the early 1600’s, however, the rulers of Japan decided to cut the country’s ties with the rest of the world. They wanted to keep Japan free from outside influences.

Japan’s isolation lasted until 1853, when Commodore Matthew C. Perry of the United States sailed his warships into Tokyo Bay. As a result of Perry’s show of force, Japan agreed in 1854 to open two ports to U.S. trade.

During the 1870’s, the Japanese government began a major drive to modernize the country. New ideas and manufacturing methods were imported from Western countries. By the early 1900’s, Japan had become an industrial and military power.

During the 1930’s, Japan’s military leaders gained control of the government. They set Japan on a program of conquest. On Dec. 7, 1941, Japan attacked United States military bases at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, bringing the United States into World War II. The Japanese won many early victories, but then the tide turned in favor of the United States and the other Allied nations. In August 1945, U.S. planes dropped the first atomic bombs used in warfare on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On Sept. 2, 1945, Japan officially surrendered, and World War II ended.

World War II left Japan completely defeated. Many Japanese cities lay in ruins, industries were shattered, and Allied forces occupied the country. But the Japanese people worked hard to overcome the effects of the war. By the 1970’s, Japan had become a great industrial nation. The success of the Japanese economy attracted attention throughout the world. Today, few nations enjoy a standard of living as high as Japan’s.

This article discusses JAPAN (History).


Japan is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary government. The Constitution, which took effect in 1947, guarantees many rights to the people, including freedom of religion, speech, and the press. It awards the vote to all men and women age 20 and older. The Constitution establishes three branches of government-the executive, the legislative, and the judicial.

National government. Japan’s emperor is considered a symbol of the nation. The emperor performs some ceremonial duties specified in the Constitution, but he does not possess any real power to govern. The emperor inherits his throne.

The Diet is the national legislature, the highest lawmaking body of Japan. The Diet consists of two houses, the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors. The representatives have slightly more power under the Constitution than the councillors do.

The House of Representatives has 480 members who are elected to serve terms of up to four years. Three hundred representatives are elected directly from 300 electoral districts. The other 180 are chosen under a system called proportional representation, which gives a political party a share of seats in the Diet according to its share of the total votes cast.

The House of Councillors has 252 members. They are chosen in two ways-100 from the nation as a whole and 152 from small districts. Councillors serve six-year terms.

The prime minister is the head of the executive branch of the government. The prime minister leads the government and represents Japan abroad. Members of the Diet elect the prime minister, who must be a civilian and an elected member of the Diet. The prime minister selects members of the Cabinet to help govern the country. At least half the Cabinet ministers must be members of the Diet.

Local government. Japan is divided into 47 political units called prefectures. The residents of each prefecture elect a governor and representatives to a prefectural legislative assembly. The residents of each city, town, and village also elect a mayor and a local council.

Politics. The Liberal Democratic Party is the largest of Japan’s political parties. Other important parties include the Democratic Party of Japan, the Liberal Party, the New Harbinger Party, and the Social Democratic Party.

Courts. The Supreme Court is the nation’s highest court. It consists of 1 chief justice and 14 associate justices. The Cabinet names, and the emperor appoints, the chief justice. The Cabinet appoints the associate justices. Every 10 years, the people have an opportunity to remove a justice from the court by voting in a referendum.

The Supreme Court oversees the training of Japan’s judges and attorneys. It also administers the national system of courts. The court system includes 8 regional high courts; 50 district courts; many summary courts, which handle minor offenses and small claims without the formal procedures of other courts; and numerous family courts, which handle domestic cases.

Armed forces. The Constitution prohibits Japan from maintaining military forces to wage war. But Japan does have a Self-Defense Agency created to preserve Japan’s peace, independence, and national security. A civilian member of the Cabinet heads the agency. The agency oversees an army, a navy, and an air force consisting of about 240,000 members. All service is voluntary.


Japan is one of the world’s most populous nations. About 90 percent of the people live on the coastal plains, which make up only about 20 percent of Japan’s territory. These plains rank among the most thickly populated places in the world. Millions of people crowd the big cities along the coasts, including Tokyo, Japan’s capital and largest city. The Tokyo metropolitan region, which includes the cities of Yokohama and Kawasaki, is the most populous urban area in the world.

Ancestry. The Japanese are descended from peoples who migrated to the islands from other parts of Asia. Many of these peoples came in waves from the northeastern part of the Asian mainland, passing through the Korean Peninsula. Some ancestors of the Japanese may have come from islands south of Japan.

Historians do not know for certain when people first arrived in Japan. But by about 10,000 B.C., the Japanese islands were inhabited by people who hunted, fished, and gathered fruits and plants for food. This early culture is known as the Jomon, which means cord-marked, because the people made pottery that was covered with the impressions of ropes or cords.

About 300 B.C., a new, settled agricultural society began to replace the Jomon. This culture is called the Yayoi, after the section of modern Tokyo where remains of the culture were found. The Yayoi people grew rice in irrigated fields and established villages. They cast bronze into bells, mirrors, and weapons. The Japanese people of today are probably descended from the Yayoi. In fact, scholars believe that by A.D. 100 the people living throughout the islands closely resembled the present-day Japanese in language and appearance.

Chinese, Koreans, and a group of people called the Ainu (pronounced EYE noo) make up Japan’s largest minority groups. The country has about 70,000 Chinese, about 675,000 Koreans, and about 15,000 Ainu. Most of the Ainu live on Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan’s main islands. Many Ainu have intermarried with the Japanese and adopted the Japanese culture. The rest of the Ainu are ethnically and culturally different from the Japanese. Some scholars believe the Ainu were Japan’s original inhabitants, who were pushed northward by the ancestors of the present-day Japanese people.

Japan’s minority groups suffer from prejudice. But the people who have suffered the most injustices are a group of Japanese known as the burakumin. The burakumin number about 3 million. They came from buraku (villages) traditionally associated with such tasks as the execution of criminals, the slaughter of cattle, and the tanning of leather. According to Japanese religious traditions, these tasks and the people who performed them were considered unclean. As a result, the burakumin-though not ethnically different from other Japanese-have long been discriminated against. Many of the burakumin live in segregated urban slums or special villages. The burakumin have started an active social movement to achieve fair treatment, but they have had only limited success so far.

Language. Japanese is the official language of Japan. Spoken Japanese has many local dialects. These local dialects differ greatly in pronunciation. However, the Tokyo dialect is the standard form of spoken Japanese. Almost all the people understand the Tokyo dialect, which is used in schools and on radio and television. Many Japanese can also speak English to some extent. A number of Japanese words, such as aisu kuriimu (ice cream) and guruupu (group), are based on English.

Written Japanese is considered one of the most difficult writing systems in the world. It uses Japanese phonetic symbols that represent sounds as well as Chinese characters. Each character is a symbol that stands for a complete word or syllable. Schools in Japan also teach students to write the Japanese language with the letters of the Roman alphabet.

                Way of life 

City life. About three-fourths of the Japanese people live in urban areas. Most of the urban population is concentrated in three major metropolitan areas: (1) the Tokyo metropolitan region, which also includes the cities of Kawasaki and Yokohama; (2) Osaka; and (3) Nagoya.

The prosperity of Japanese society is visible in these cities. The downtown streets are filled with expensive, late-model automobiles and are lined with glittering high-rise buildings. The buildings house expensive apartments, prosperous firms, fashionable department stores, and elegant shops.

Most Japanese people who live in cities and suburbs enjoy a high standard of living. Many work in banks, hotels, offices, and stores. Others hold professional or government jobs.

Housing in metropolitan areas includes modern high-rise apartments and traditional Japanese houses. The houses are small because land prices are extremely high. Tokyo, for example, has some of the most expensive land in the world.

In traditional homes, the rooms are separated by sliding paper screens, which can be rearranged as needed. Straw mats called tatami cover the floors. People sit on cushions and sleep on a type of padded quilt called a futon. Today, many Japanese apartments and houses have one or more rooms fitted with carpets instead of tatami and containing Western-style chairs and tables.

Japan’s big cities, like those in many other countries, face such problems as overcrowding and air and water pollution. However, crime and poverty are not as common in Japan as they are in most Western nations.

Rural life. Only about one-fourth of the Japanese people live in rural areas. Farm families make up most of the rural population. In rural areas along the coasts, some Japanese make their living by fishing and harvesting edible seaweed.

Most families in rural areas live in traditional Japanese-style wooden houses like those in the cities. Housing is cheaper in the countryside than in cities, but it is still expensive by international standards.

Japan’s rural areas face an uncertain future. Only about 15 percent of farm households live on their farming incomes alone. By taking second and third jobs, farmworkers maintain an average household income slightly higher than that of urban workers. But rural populations have declined as the children of farmers leave to work in Japan’s cities.

Clothing. Some well-to-do Japanese buy designer-made garments, but the majority of the people purchase more moderately priced clothing. The styles they buy are similar to those worn in the United States and Western Europe.

For business and professional men, typical workday wear consists of a dark suit, white shirt, conservative tie, black shoes, and a dark woolen overcoat for winter. Younger men sometimes wear patterned sport coats and colorful ties. When not at work, Japanese men typically wear slacks and a casual shirt or sweater.

Most working women wear a skirt, blouse, and jacket to the office. Most women who do not work outside the home dress in moderately priced dresses or blouses with skirts or slacks when at home or in their own neighborhood. While in a major city shopping area or business district, many of these women wear expensive imported dresses or skirts, blouses, and jackets. For accessories, they wear fine jewelry and silk scarves.

On special occasions, such as weddings, funerals, or New Year’s celebrations, Japanese women may dress in the traditional long garment called a kimono. A kimono is tied around the waist with a sash called an obi and worn with sandals known as zori.

Most Japanese children wear uniforms to school. The uniforms often consist of a black or navy jacket worn with matching shorts, skirt, or slacks. On weekends, Japanese children dress in the latest casual styles from Europe and the United States or in T-shirts printed with Japanese cartoon characters.

Food and drink. Many Japanese families eat at restaurants on weeknights and weekends as well as on special occasions. Favorite dining spots include Japan’s new casual family restaurants. Roads and superhighways are lined with such American establishments as Denny’s and McDonald’s and similar Japanese-owned chains called Skylark and Lotteria.

When dining at home, most older people eat traditional Japanese foods. They drink tea and eat rice at almost every meal. They supplement the rice with fish, tofu (soybean curd cake), pickled vegetables, soups made with miso (soybean paste), and on occasion, eggs or meat.

Younger people eat fewer of the traditional foods. Like their elders, they eat fish, but they also like to eat beef, chicken, and pork. They eat more fruit, including imported kiwi and grapefruit as well as the apples, oranges, pears, and strawberries grown in Japan. They also consume larger amounts of eggs, cheese, and milk than their parents. Instead of rice, many prefer bread, doughnuts, and toast. In fact, by 1990, total rice consumption in Japan had dropped to about half its level in 1960.

Overall, younger people now take in significantly more protein and fat then their grandparents did. The nutritional change has helped make the members of the younger generation an average of 3 to 4 inches (8 to 10 centimeters) taller than their grandparents.

Recreation. Japanese people are energetic sports enthusiasts. Schools encourage children to enjoy sports, and adults spend large sums on athletic equipment and membership fees. Baseball, bowling, golf, gymnastics, and tennis attract large numbers of participants, and many Japanese are good swimmers and runners. Another popular sport is kendo, a Japanese form of fencing in which bamboo or wooden sticks are used for swords. Many Japanese also practice aikido, judo, and karate, traditional martial arts that involve fighting without weapons. Spectator events, such as baseball, horse racing, soccer, and the Japanese form of wrestling called sumo, are also popular.

Hobbies are another important leisure time activity for Japanese men and women. Popular hobbies include performing the tea-serving ceremony, chanting medieval ballads, or ikebana (flower arranging). Many Japanese study with masters of these arts to improve their skills.

Travel is a favorite leisure pursuit. Every year, millions of Japanese visit foreign countries. Within Japan, popular travel destinations include temples or shrines, hot springs, and famous historical sites.

Other leisure pursuits common in Japan include watching television, playing video games, and listening to recorded music. The Japanese also like to read books and magazines. Many workers read during the hours spent commuting by train between homes in the suburbs and jobs in the city.

Men in Japan often spend their free time after work socializing in small groups. They stop off at little shops, restaurants, and bars to have a snack together and a drink of sake (Japanese-style rice wine) or beer.

The Japanese celebrate many festivals during the year. One of the most popular celebrations in Japan is the New Year’s Festival, which begins on January 1 and ends on January 3. During the festival, the Japanese dress up, visit their friends and relatives, enjoy feasts, and exchange gifts.

Religion. Many Japanese people say they are not devout worshipers and do not have strong religious beliefs. However, nearly everyone in Japanese society engages in some religious practices or rituals. Those practices are based on the two major religious traditions in Japan, Shinto and Buddhism.

Shinto means the way of the gods. It is the native religion of Japan and dates from prehistoric times. Shintoists worship many gods, called kami, that are found in mountains, rivers, rocks, trees, and other parts of nature. Shinto also involves ancestor worship.

In 1868, the Japanese government established an official religion called State Shinto. State Shinto stressed patriotism and the worship of the emperor as a divine being. The government abolished State Shinto after World War II, and the emperor declared he was not divine.

Today, fewer than 3 percent of Japanese practice strict traditional Shinto. But almost all Japanese perform some Shinto rituals. Many people visit Shinto shrines to make offerings of fruit, rice, prayers, and other gifts to the gods. In return, they may ask the gods for favors, such as the safe birth of a child, success on examinations, or good health. Japanese people typically invite Shinto priests to preside at weddings and to offer blessings for the New Year or for the construction of new buildings.

Buddhism came to Japan from India via China in the 500’s. Buddhism has a more elaborate set of beliefs than Shinto, and it offers a more complicated view of humanity, the gods, and life and death. Generally, Buddhists believe that a person can obtain perfect peace and happiness by leading a life of virtue and wisdom. Buddhism stresses the unimportance of worldly things. Many Japanese turn to Buddhist priests to preside at funerals and other occasions when they commemorate the dead.

A variety of religious groups called New Religions developed in Japan during the 1800’s and 1900’s. Many of these religions combine elements of Buddhism, Shinto, and in some cases, Christianity. Japan also has a small number of Christians.

Gender roles. Japanese society imposes strong expectations on women and men. The society expects women to marry in their mid-20’s, become mothers soon afterward, and stay at home to attend to the needs of their husband and children. Women often have a dominant role in raising children and handling the family finances. Men are expected to support their families as sole breadwinners. To make this possible, Japanese employers provide male workers with family allowances.

Most Japanese men accept this idea of their place in society, and many women do, too. But in practice, the majority of Japanese women do hold jobs at one time or another. Most women work before they marry, and many of them return to the labor force after their children are in school or grown. In addition, some Japanese women work while their children are young.

Altogether, about 50 percent of all Japanese women over age 15 are in the labor force at any one time. But because of the society’s expectations about gender roles, female employees earn lower incomes and receive fewer benefits than male employees do, and have almost no job security.

The traditional ideas about gender roles have begun to change in Japan, most quickly among younger women. Many women in their early 20’s are reluctant to give up their jobs and income. As a sign of that change, an increasing number of Japanese women are postponing marriage until they are in their late 20’s or early 30’s.

Education. Japanese society places an extremely high value on educational achievement, particularly for males. The Japanese measure educational achievement chiefly by the reputation of the university a student attends. The student’s grades or field of study are less important as signs of success. Under most circumstances, any student who graduates from a top-ranked university has a big advantage over other college graduates in seeking employment. Families work hard to get their children into a good university, starting as soon as the youngsters begin school.

After six years at an elementary school, almost all Japanese children continue for another three years at a junior high school. Education at public schools is free during these nine years for children 6 to 14 years of age.

Japanese elementary and junior high school students study such subjects as art, homemaking, the Japanese language, mathematics, moral education, music, physical education, science, and social studies. In addition, many junior high school students study English or another foreign language. Students spend much time learning to read and write Japanese because the language is quite difficult. The country has an exceptionally high literacy rate, however. Almost all adults can read and write.

Public school students attend classes Monday through Friday and half a day on Saturday, except for two weeks each month when they have Saturdays off. The Japanese school year runs from April through March of the next year. Vacation is from late July through August.

During the last two years of junior high school, many students focus on attaining admission to a high school with a good record of getting its graduates into top universities. Many of the most successful high schools are expensive private institutions that require incoming students to pass a difficult entrance examination. To prepare for the test, many eighth- and ninth-grade students spend several hours each day after school taking exam-preparation classes at private academies called juku.

Students attend senior high school for three years. Classes include many of the same subjects studied in junior high school, along with courses to prepare students for college or train them for jobs. While in high school, a student may continue to study at a juku as preparation for the entrance exam to a university.

Japan has more than 500 universities and about 600 technical and junior colleges. The most admired institutions are the oldest national universities, the University of Tokyo and the University of Kyoto. Two private universities, Keio University and Waseda University in Tokyo, are also highly regarded.

After students are admitted to one of these four universities, they tend to pay more attention to extracurricular activities than to their classwork. Simply being at a top university will ensure job interviews at the country’s best firms.

Because Japanese society does not expect a woman to be the family’s main wage earner, the educational experience for girls is more limited. About half of the women who get college educations attend technical or junior colleges rather than universities. In contrast, nearly all men who get a college degree attend universities. At the graduate level, male students outnumber females 2 to 1.

Japanese students consistently score well on international tests of science and mathematics skills. But many Japanese are concerned about the disadvantages of their educational system. Parents feel that it places too much emphasis on memorization and taking exams. Most would prefer to have their children educated in a more creative environment that requires less time in classrooms. Many Japanese politicians and business people agree that their educational system has flaws.

                The arts 

For hundreds of years, Chinese arts had a great influence on Japanese arts. A Western influence began about 1870. However, there has always been a distinctive Japanese quality about the country’s art.

Music. Most forms of Japanese music feature one instrument or voice or a group of instruments that follow the same melodic line instead of blending in harmony. Japanese instruments include the lutelike biwa; the zitherlike koto; and the three-stringed banjolike samisen, or shamisen. Traditional music also features drums, flutes, and gongs. Performances of traditional music draw large crowds in Japan. Most types of Western music are also popular. Many Japanese cities have their own professional symphony orchestras that specialize in Western music.

Theater. The oldest form of traditional Japanese drama is the no play, which developed during the 1300’s. No plays are serious treatments of history and legend. Masked actors perform the story with carefully controlled gestures and movements. A chorus chants most of the important lines in the play.

Two other forms of traditional Japanese drama-bunraku (puppet theater) and the kabuki play-developed during the late 1600’s. In puppet theater, a narrator recites the story, which is acted out by large, lifelike puppets. The puppet handlers work silently on the stage in view of the audience. Kabuki plays are melodramatic representations of historical or domestic events. Kabuki features colorful costumes and makeup, spectacular scenery, and a lively and exaggerated acting style.

The traditional types of theater remain popular in Japan. But the people also enjoy new dramas by Japanese playwrights, as well as Western plays.

Literature. Japan has a rich literary heritage. Much of the country’s literature deals with the fleeting quality of human life and the never-ending flow of time. Murasaki Shikibu, a lady-in-waiting to the empress, wrote The Tale of Genji during the early 1000’s. This long novel is generally considered the greatest work of Japanese fiction and possibly the world’s first novel.

Sculpture. Some of the earliest Japanese sculptures were haniwa, small clay figures made from the A.D. 200’s to 500’s. Haniwa were placed in the burial mounds of important Japanese people. The figures represented animals, servants, warriors, weapons, and objects of everyday use.

Japanese sculptors created some of their finest works for Buddhist temples. The sculptors worked chiefly with wood, but they also used clay and bronze. The most famous bronze statue in Japan, the Great Buddha at Kamakura, was cast during the 1200’s.

Painting. Early Japanese painting dealt with Buddhist subjects, using compositions and techniques from China. From the late 1100’s to the early 1300’s, many Japanese artists painted long picture scrolls. These scrolls realistically portrayed historical tales, legends, and other stories in a series of pictures. Ink painting flourished in Japan from the early 1300’s to the mid-1500’s. Many of these paintings featured black brushstrokes on a white background.

During the mid-1500’s and early 1600’s, a decorative style of painting developed in Japan. Artists used bright colors and elaborate designs and added gold leaf to their paintings. From the 1600’s to the late 1800’s, artists created colorful wood-block prints. Printmaking is still popular in Japan.

Architecture. Many architectural monuments in Japan are Buddhist temples. These temples have large tile roofs with extending edges that curve gracefully upward. Traditional Shinto shrines are wooden frame structures noted for their graceful lines and sense of proportion. The simple style of Shinto architecture has influenced the design of many modern buildings in Japan. Japanese architecture emphasizes harmony between buildings and the natural beauty around them. Landscape gardening is a highly developed art in Japan.

Other arts. Japan ranks among the world’s leading producers of motion pictures. Many Japanese films have earned international praise. The Japanese have long been famous for their ceramics, ivory carving, lacquerware, and silk weaving and embroidery. Other traditional arts include flower arranging, cloisonne (a type of decorative enameling), and origami (the art of folding paper into decorative objects).

                The land 

Japan is a land of great natural beauty. Mountains and hills cover about 70 percent of the country. In fact, the Japanese islands consist of the rugged upper part of a great mountain range that rises from the floor of the North Pacific Ocean. Jagged peaks, rocky gorges, and thundering mountain waterfalls provide some of the country’s most spectacular scenery. Thick forests thrive on the mountainsides, adding to the scenic beauty of the Japanese islands.

Japan lies on an extremely unstable part of the earth’s crust. As a result, the land is constantly shifting. This shifting causes two of Japan’s most striking natural features-earthquakes and volcanoes. The Japanese islands have about 1,500 earthquakes a year. Most of them are minor tremors that cause little damage, but severe earthquakes occur every few years. Undersea quakes sometimes cause huge, destructive waves, called tsunami, along Japan’s Pacific coast. The Japanese islands have more than 150 major volcanoes. Over 60 of these volcanoes are active.

Numerous short, swift rivers cross Japan’s rugged surface. Most of the rivers are too shallow and steep to be navigated. But their waters are used to irrigate farmland, and their rapids and falls supply power for hydroelectric plants. Many lakes nestle among the Japanese mountains. Some lie in the craters of extinct volcanoes. A large number of hot springs gush from the ground throughout the country.

The Japanese islands have a total land area of about 145,834 square miles (377,708 square kilometers). The four main islands, in order of size, are Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, and Shikoku. Thousands of smaller islands and islets lie near these major islands. Japan’s territory also includes the Ryukyu and Bonin island chains.

Japan’s four chief islands have 4,628 miles (7,448 kilometers) of coastline. The Pacific Ocean lies to the east and south of Japan. The Sea of Japan washes the country’s west coast. It is sometimes called the East Sea because it lies east of Russia and the Korean peninsula.

Honshu, Japan’s largest island, has an area of 89,000 square miles (230,510 square kilometers). About 80 percent of the Japanese people live on Honshu.

Three mountain ranges run parallel through northern Honshu. Most of the people in this area live in small mountain valleys. Agriculture is the chief occupation. East of the ranges, along the Pacific, lies the Sendai Plain. West of the mountains, the Echigo Plain extends to the Sea of Japan.

The towering peaks of the Japanese Alps, the country’s highest mountains, rise in central Honshu. Southeast of these mountains lies a chain of volcanoes. Japan’s tallest and most famous peak, Mount Fuji, or Fujiyama, is one of these volcanoes. Mount Fuji, which is inactive, rises 12,388 feet (3,776 meters) above sea level. The Kanto Plain, the country’s largest lowland, spreads east from the Japanese Alps to the Pacific. This lowland is an important center of agriculture and industry. Tokyo sprawls over the southern part of the Kanto Plain. Two other major agricultural and industrial lowlands-the Nobi Plain and Osaka Plain-lie south and west of the Kanto region.

Most of southwestern Honshu consists of rugged, mountainous land. Farming and fishing villages and some industrial cities lie on small lowlands scattered throughout this region.

Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan’s four major islands, covers 30,144 square miles (78,073 square kilometers). It is the country’s second largest island but has only about 5 percent of Japan’s total population. Much of the island consists of forested mountains and hills. A hilly, curved peninsula extends from southwestern Hokkaido. Northeast of this peninsula is the Ishikari Plain, Hokkaido’s largest lowland and chief agricultural region. Smaller plains border the island’s east coast. The economy of Hokkaido depends mainly on dairy farming, fishing, and forestry. The island is also a popular recreational area. Long winters and heavy snowfall make Hokkaido ideal for winter sports.

Kyushu, the southernmost of the main islands, occupies 14,114 square miles (36,554 square kilometers). After Honshu, Kyushu is Japan’s most heavily populated island, with about 11 percent of the population. A chain of steep-walled, heavily forested mountains runs down the center of the island. Northwestern Kyushu consists of rolling hills and wide plains. Many cities are found in this heavily industrialized area. Kyushu’s largest plain and chief farming district is located along the west coast.

The northeastern and southern sections of Kyushu have many volcanoes, high lava plateaus, and large deposits of volcanic ash. In both regions, only small patches of land along the coasts and inland can be farmed. Farmers grow some crops on level strips of land cut out from the steep sides of the lava plateaus.

Shikoku, the smallest of the main Japanese islands, covers 7,049 square miles (18,256 square kilometers). About 3 percent of the Japanese people live on the island. Shikoku has no large lowlands. Mountains cross the island from east to west. Most of the people live in northern Shikoku, where the land slopes downward to the Inland Sea. Hundreds of hilly, wooded islands dot this beautiful body of water. Farmers grow rice and a variety of fruits on the fertile land along the Inland Sea. Copper mining is also important in this area. A narrow plain borders Shikoku’s south coast. There, farmers grow rice and many kinds of vegetables.

The Ryukyu and Bonin islands belonged to Japan until after World War II, when the United States took control of them. The United States returned the northern Ryukyus to Japan in 1953 and the Bonins in 1968. In 1972, it returned the rest of the Ryukyu Islands, including Okinawa, the largest and most important island of the group.

More than 100 islands make up the Ryukyus. They extend from Kyushu to Taiwan and have about 11/4 million people. The Ryukyu Islands consist of the peaks of a submerged mountain range. Some of the islands have active volcanoes. The Bonins lie about 600 miles (970 kilometers) southeast of Japan and consist of 97 volcanic islands. About 1,900 people live on the islands.


Climates in Japan vary dramatically from island to island. Honshu generally has warm, humid summers. Winters are mild in the south and cold and snowy in the north. Honshu has balmy, sunny autumns and springs. Hokkaido has cool summers and cold winters. Kyushu and Shikoku have long, hot summers and mild winters.

Two Pacific Ocean currents-the Kuroshio and the Oyashio-influence Japan’s climate. The warm, dark-blue Kuroshio flows northward along the south coast and along the east coast as far north as Tokyo. The Kuroshio has a warming effect on the climate of these regions. The cold Oyashio flows southward along the east coasts of Hokkaido and northern Honshu, cooling these areas.

Seasonal winds called monsoons also affect Japan’s climate. In winter, monsoons from the northwest bring cold air to northern Japan. These winds, which gather moisture as they cross the Sea of Japan, deposit heavy snows on the country’s northwest coast. During the summer, monsoons blow from the southeast, carrying warm, moist air from the Pacific Ocean. Summer monsoons cause hot, humid weather in the central and southern parts of Japan.

Rain is abundant throughout most of Japan. All areas of the country-except eastern Hokkaido-receive at least 40 inches (100 centimeters) of rain yearly. Japan has two major rainy seasons-from mid-June to early July and in September and October. Several typhoons strike the country each year, chiefly in late summer and early fall. The heavy rains and violent winds of these storms often do great damage to houses and crops.


The size of Japan’s economy ranks second only to that of the United States in terms of its gross domestic product (GDP). The GDP is the total value of all goods and services produced within a country yearly. Japan is one of the world’s leading countries in the value of its exports and imports. On average, Japanese families enjoy one of the highest income levels in the world, and their assets and savings are among the world’s largest.

Key elements of Japan’s economy are manufacturing and trade. The country has few natural resources, so it must buy such necessities as aluminum, coal, lead, and petroleum. To pay for those imports, the government has adopted a strategy of exporting manufactured goods of high value.

Manufacturing. Japan’s manufactured products range from tiny computer components to giant oceangoing ships. The most important manufactured products are cars and trucks, electronic products, and communications and data processing equipment. Other products include cement, ceramics, clothing, fabricated metal products, food products, plastics, textiles, steel, tires, and watches and other precision instruments.

Japan’s manufacturing sector (portion of the economy) plays a major role in the Japanese economy. Manufacturing industries have consistently employed over 20 percent of the Japanese labor force and generated about 25 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.

An especially important part of Japan’s manufacturing sector is known as the large-firm sector. It includes such well-known companies as NEC Corporation, Nissan Motor Company, Sony Corporation, Toshiba Corporation, and Toyota Motor Corporation. Most of the large manufacturing firms assemble parts and components into a finished product such as a car, computer, or television set. The large firms then sell the product at a significantly higher price than the cost of the components.

Another part of the manufacturing sector consists of tens of thousands of small factories. Most of these companies make the parts or components that large firms assemble into finished products.

A core group of Japanese managers and skilled workers in the large-firm sector have secure jobs, earn high wages, and enjoy generous benefits. But some workers in the large-firm sector and many in the small factories have less job security, lower wages, and fewer benefits.

Manufacturing in Japan is concentrated in five main regions. For the location of each region and a listing of its main products, see the map titled Economy of Japan in this section of the article.

Construction. The construction sector consists of several giant national firms, hundreds of medium-sized regional firms, and thousands of small local firms. The sector employs about 10 percent of Japan’s labor force and generates about 10 percent of the GDP.

The industry grew dramatically after World War II, when construction firms were needed to rebuild Japan’s ruined cities and demolished factories. Later, the nation’s growing economy brought a constant demand for new shops, offices, factories, roads, harbors, airports, houses, apartments, and condominiums. In the 1990’s, most of the largest firms began to expand internationally. Today, Japanese construction firms build such large projects as hotels and office buildings throughout the world. They handle many projects in other parts of Asia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Mining. Japan has a wide variety of minerals, but supplies of most are too small to satisfy the nation’s needs. The chief mining products are coal, copper, lead, limestone, manganese, silver, tin, and zinc.

Agriculture. Throughout much of Japan’s history, agriculture was the mainstay of the Japanese economy. As late as 1950, the agricultural sector employed 45 percent of the labor force. But as Japan’s industries grew, the economic importance of agriculture declined. By the end of the 1900’s, farmworkers made up less than 6 percent of the labor force, and they produced less than 2 percent of the GDP.

Because Japan is mountainous, only about 15 percent of the land can be cultivated. To make their farmland as productive as possible, Japanese farmers use irrigation, improved seed varieties, fertilizers, and modern machinery. Farmers grow some crops on terraced fields-that is, on level strips of land cut out of hillsides.

Japan’s farmers are able to produce almost all the eggs, potatoes, rice, and fresh vegetables eaten in Japan. They also produce 50 to 80 percent of the dairy products, fruit, and meat. However, they raise only a tiny share of the animal feed, beans, and wheat that Japan needs. The nation must import the agricultural products that its farmers cannot supply.

For decades, government policies have kept crop prices high, especially for rice. Those policies help ensure that Japan has an adequate supply of food, and they protect rural communities from the sudden loss of income. But most Japanese consumers want to reduce the government subsidies so that food becomes less expensive. Other nations want Japan to stop protecting its agricultural sector, so that foreigners can sell rice and other farm products to the Japanese.

Fishing industry. Japan is one of the most important fishing nations in the world. Japanese fishing crews catch large amounts of bonito, carp, eel, mackerel, pollock, sardines, trout, and tuna. Other products of Japan’s fishing industry include crabs and other shellfish and squid. Workers also harvest oysters and edible seaweed from “farms” in coastal waters.

The fishing industry began to decline in the 1950’s. Pollution and international restrictions on ocean catches have reduced the quantity and value of the Japanese catch. Today, few young people enter the industry.

Service industries. Taken altogether, service industries generate over 60 percent of Japan’s GDP and employ more than 60 percent of the labor force. Japan’s leading service industries include community, social, and personal services; finance, insurance, and real estate; and wholesale and retail trade. Other service industries that contribute to Japan’s economy are government, utilities, and transportation and communication.

Many of the workers in the service industries are highly educated and well-paid. They hold such positions as bankers, financial analysts, civil servants, engineers, teachers, accountants, doctors, and lawyers. Most of these workers are men, and they-as well as managers in the manufacturing industry-are known as sarariman (salarymen). In general, salarymen receive generous incomes and benefits, and they enjoy good job security until they retire in their late 50’s or early 60’s.

However, a number of other workers in the service industries earn lower salaries and have fewer benefits and little job security. They work in such businesses as department stores, movie theaters, restaurants, and the small retail establishments often called “Mom-and-Pop shops.” Such shops sell food, clothing, household necessities, and a variety of other goods. The little shops are far more numerous in Japan than in the United States or Western Europe. But they are disappearing as giant discount stores force them out of business.

Energy sources. Japan requires large amounts of energy to power its factories, households, offices, and motor vehicles. But the nation must import most of the fuel required to produce that energy. Japan has virtually no natural supplies of petroleum. Hokkaido and Kyushu contain fairly large deposits of coal, but its quality is poor, and the deposits are difficult to mine.

Nevertheless, Japan ranks among the world’s leading consumers of electric power. Power plants that burn coal, natural gas, or petroleum produce about 65 percent of Japan’s electric power. Nuclear power plants supply about 25 percent of the country’s electric power, and hydroelectric plants about 10 percent.

Japan had hoped to build many more nuclear power plants to decrease its reliance on imported fuels. But a 1995 accident at an experimental nuclear reactor raised questions about the future of the expansion program.

International trade. In many ways, the driving force of Japan’s economy is international trade. By trading with other nations, Japan obtains the raw materials it does not have and finds buyers for the expensive, high-quality manufactured goods its workers produce.

Japan’s largest single import is crude oil. Other major imports include chemicals, fish and shellfish, and metal ores. Japan buys many of its imports from Asian nations with small populations and few consumers. Some of Japan’s trading partners are relatively poor. As a consequence, Japan is seldom able to sell to its trade partners enough manufactured goods to maintain an equal balance of imports and exports.

To find buyers for Japan’s expensive products, the nation looks to wealthy countries in North America and Western Europe. Since the end of World War II, the United States has bought the largest share of Japan’s exports. In the 1950’s, the United States purchased inexpensive Japanese textile products. Later, it began to buy more costly goods, such as automobiles and communications and computer equipment.

The United States sells Japan many American goods in return, including expensive items, such as computers and medicines. However, Japanese trade barriers place restrictions on many imports. By the 1980’s, the United States was buying far more from Japan that it was selling to it. The inequality led to a large trade imbalance between the two nations. In the early 1990’s, a similar imbalance arose between Japan and the nations of North and East Asia and Western Europe.

Japan’s trade surpluses enabled it to accumulate huge reserves of foreign currency, in an amount that was second only to the foreign reserves of the United States. Japan used some of its reserves to invest in factories, banks, businesses, and real estate in the United States and many other countries.

Just as Japan was reaping these successes, Canada, the United States, and Western Europe were suffering economic slowdowns. People in other nations began to envy and resent Japan for its trade surpluses, large reserves of foreign currencies, and heavy investment in other countries. Under pressure, Japan began to lift some of its trade barriers.

Transportation. Japan has a modern transportation system, including airports, highways, railroads, and coastal shipping. All the major cities have extensive local transit networks that include buses, trains, and subways. Japan also has the world’s longest suspension bridge, the Akashi Kaikyo Bridge. The bridge has a main span of 6,529 feet (1,990 meters). It connects Kobe and Awaji Island and thus provides a link between the island of Honshu and the island of Shikoku.

An eight-company business unit known as Japan Railways Group operates about 75 percent of Japanese railroads. Trains traveling between Honshu and Hokkaido go through an undersea tunnel called the Seikan Tunnel. At 33.5 miles (53.9 kilometers) long, it is the world’s longest transportation tunnel.

Japan’s commercial fleet is one of the world’s largest. Japan’s chief ports are Chiba, Kobe, Nagoya, and Yokohama. Hundreds of smaller ports and harbors enable coastal shippers to serve every major city in Japan.

Japan has many airports. Its busiest airports include Tokyo International, also called Haneda; New Tokyo International, also called Narita; and Kansai International at Osaka. Tokyo International handles most of Japan’s domestic flights. New Tokyo International handles much foreign air traffic. Osaka’s Kansai International was built on an artificial island in Osaka Bay.

Communication. Japan has thriving publishing and broadcasting industries. The nation has more than 100 daily newspapers. Each year, Japanese publishers produce tens of thousands of new books and periodicals, including popular comic books, called manga, for both adults and children. Virtually every Japanese household has at least one color television set and one or more radios.

The Japanese government operates the postal system. The country’s telegraph and telephone systems are privately owned.


Early days. People have lived on the islands of Japan for more than 30,000 years. The earliest inhabitants lived by hunting and gathering food and made tools out of stone. Historians refer to the period of Japanese history between about 10,000 and about 300 B.C. as the Jomon era. During this time, people lived in small villages of about 50 people. To obtain food, they hunted for deer and boar, fished, and gathered nuts and berries. The main artifacts these people left behind were pots with markings made by cords or ropes. Jomon means cord-marked.

Near the end of the Jomon era, people in Japan learned new ideas and new technologies from contact with Korea and China. The Japanese learned how to grow rice in irrigated fields, and they began to settle in communities near the rice paddies. They also learned how to make tools and weapons out of bronze and iron. This period is called the Yayoi era (about 300 B.C. to about A.D. 300).

By the end of the Yayoi era, different groups of extended families began to struggle for power in the Yamato Plain. The plain lies southeast of modern Kyoto. When the leaders of these groups died, their relatives buried them in large tombs called kofun that were often shaped like keyholes. The period of Japanese history from about 300 to 710 is often known as the Kofun era. It is also sometimes called the Yamato period. The tombs were surrounded with small clay sculptures called haniwa. Many haniwa are figurines of warriors or sculptures of bows and arrows, a sign that warfare had become an important part of Japanese society.

Chinese influence. In the 600’s and 700’s, one of the extended family groups began to dominate the others, and it declared itself Japan’s imperial household. By tradition, the imperial family has no family name. The head of the imperial house, whose given name was Kotoku, became emperor in 645.

The next year, the imperial family began a program called the Taika Reform. The program involved constructing capital cities and organizing Japanese society following the example of China. The imperial family created a central government and official bureaus and adopted a system of land management similar to China’s. Under this system, most people worked as farmers on land the government owned. In return, the farmers paid taxes to the government and provided labor, including service in the government’s small armies.

To justify its claim to authority, the imperial family relied not on China but on ancient Japanese beliefs. Japanese histories written in the 700’s maintain that the family had descended from the gods who created the Japanese islands in Japanese mythology. The family’s presumed descent was through Amaterasu, the Japanese sun goddess.

Heian era. In 794, the imperial household moved to a new capital city called Heian-kyo, located at the site of today’s Kyoto. During the next 400 years, Heian-kyo was the center of Japan’s government and nobility.

During the Heian era, a male in the imperial household ruled as emperor. The male heads of noble families assisted the emperor by administering the government, collecting tax revenues, maintaining small armies, and judging legal disputes. These officials earned generous incomes and lived in large mansions in the capital city.

The ruling nobles used their leisure time primarily to observe nature and write poetry. Female members of the nobility, who were barred from holding office, had the most time for these pursuits. Women produced the era’s most famous writings, including The Tale of Genji.

During the Heian era, the leading noble families undermined the power of the emperor and his government. One such family was the Fujiwara, who gained power by intermarrying with the imperial family.

Creation of private estates. As the central government’s power declined during the Heian era, a new type of institution emerged-the shoen (private estate). Private estates were plots of land whose owners were free from government interference and taxation. The government began to establish these estates in the 700’s to provide Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines with income to fund their religious activities. Gradually, the religious institutions became major landholders.

During the 700’s, the government also began to allow tax exemptions to those who developed new lands for growing rice. The aristocratic families and religious institutions that had enough wealth to develop new lands acquired large holdings. Later, the Fujiwara and other high-ranking families in Heian-kyo used their influence to obtain ownership of other public lands. In the late 1000’s, even retired emperors began taking land. By the 1200’s, about half of the rice-growing land in Japan had been converted into private estates.

As the influence of the private estate owners increased, the power of the central government declined. With less public land, the government had less tax revenue to support its activities. The government and the aristocrats in Heian-kyo had to rely on bands of professional soldiers called samurai to protect the land and keep order in the countryside.

Rise of the shogun. By the 1100’s, two large military clans-the Taira and the Minamoto-had armies of samurai under their command. Both clans were descendants of the noble families at court. In the late 1100’s, the Taira and Minamoto clashed in a series of battles for power. The Minamoto finally emerged victorious in the 1180’s.

The Minamoto established a new military government headquartered in Kamakura, a town in eastern Japan far from Heian-kyo. In 1192, the head of this military government, Yoritomo, was given the title of shogun, a special, high-ranking military post granted by the emperor. His military government became known as a shogunate.

Although Yoritomo was the emperor’s special commander, he established his own separate bases of power. He assumed control of the administration of justice. He began to place nobles who had sworn loyalty to him on private estates and appointed others to oversee the remaining public lands. In this way, the shogun began to influence both areas of power in Japan-the imperial government and the private estates.

By the early 1200’s, Japan’s political situation had become highly unstable. The imperial government’s influence was limited and declining. Private estate owners were struggling to retain control over their lands as the shogun’s ambitious supporters expanded their influence.

The next 200 years brought waves of conflict and change. First, the Minamoto family lost its influence to members of the Hojo family, who ruled as agents in the name of the Minamoto shoguns. Then the military government in Kamakura fell to the superior force of another clan, the Ashikaga. The Ashikaga established a new military government in Kyoto in the 1330’s. Gradually, the clan lost control of the nobles under its command. By the 1460’s, Japan had no effective central political authority.

Warring states period. In the century after the 1460’s, Japan was an armed camp. Peasants in the countryside were forced to take up swords to protect their communities. Temples with large landholdings trained their own armies of warrior-monks to protect their assets. Some estate owners gathered private armies of samurai to guard their lands. Samurai without masters roamed the country offering to fight for pay.

The most powerful samurai became regional lords called daimyo. They exercised control over many armed warriors and governed large areas of farmland. They fought each other for military supremacy during the 1500’s, as Japan sank into a long period of civil war.

In 1549, Saint Francis Xavier, a missionary from Portugal, arrived in Japan and introduced a new element into this unstable scene. Xavier and a few other priests had come to convert the Japanese populace to Christian beliefs. The missionaries also intended to help Portuguese traders sell European luxury goods and up-to-date weapons to the Japanese.

The priests had little success in converting the Japanese to Christianity. But the traders found eager customers among the daimyo in southern Japan. The guns they sold were an explosive addition to the civil wars.

One regional lord who made much use of the weapons was Oda Nobunaga. Nobunaga was a ruthless warrior with a keen desire for power. In the 1560’s, he gathered a large coalition of forces under his command and led them to Kyoto. He brought order to the capital district. He was beginning to impose control on other areas of Japan when he was killed in 1582.

Nobunaga’s successor, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, took up the task of uniting the nation. Hideyoshi carried out several reforms with far-reaching effects. He disarmed the peasantry. He brought many of the unruly samurai under his control. And he surveyed most of the usable farmland in the country. Hideyoshi tried to extend his power to Korea in the 1590’s. Twice he tried to conquer Korea, but both times he failed.

Tokugawa period. Hideyoshi was succeeded by a noble named Tokugawa leyasu, who had also served Oda Nobunaga. In 1603, the emperor gave Tokugawa leyasu the title of shogun. For the next 265 years, leaders of the Tokugawa house governed Japan as shogun.

The Tokugawa shogun presided over a delicately balanced system of authority. The shogun directly controlled about 25 percent of the farmland in the country. He also licensed foreign trade, operated gold mines, and ruled the major cities, including Kyoto, Osaka, and the shogun’s capital-Edo, which is now Tokyo.

The Tokugawa shogun had to share authority with the daimyo, who controlled the remaining 75 percent of Japan’s farmland. The number of daimyo during the Tokugawa period averaged about 270. Each of these daimyo governed his own han (domain). In each han, the daimyo, not the shogun, issued laws and collected taxes. During the Tokugawa era, Japan thus had only a partially centralized government.

By the early 1600’s, Japan was also home to five groups of foreigners: the Portuguese, Spanish, English, Dutch, and Chinese. Their presence disturbed the shogun, in part because the Tokugawa did not support Christianity, the religion of most of the outsiders. In addition, the shogun wanted to control Japan’s international trade to prevent any daimyo from gaining too much wealth and power through trade with the outsiders.

For these reasons, the Tokugawa had most foreigners expelled from Japan during the 1630’s under orders known as seclusion edicts. Only a few Dutch and Chinese traders were allowed to remain in Japan to conduct their business. But they could live only in the distant city of Nagasaki. That town served as Japan’s sole window on the European world until the mid-1800’s.

Japan had now put an end to centuries of internal wars and had closed itself off from the rest of the world. During this period of peace and isolation, the nation began to pursue its own course of development.

At this time, Japan laid the foundation for its future economic growth. People in all walks of life developed a strong work ethic and devotion to their craft and duty. Hard-working farmers in the countryside and merchants in the cities saved money and learned to invest it wisely. Trading firms in the large cities developed skills in finance, organization, and personnel management.

Entertainment and the arts also flourished, particularly in Edo. In the 1700’s, Edo became one of the world’s largest cities. It developed thriving industries to entertain the many samurai and merchants living there. Entertainers perfected the form of stage drama called kabuki and the puppet theater called bunraku. The entertainment districts, called ukiyo (the floating world), became the subjects of a new Japanese art style named ukiyo-e. The colorful wood-block prints depicted the men and women of the entertainment districts.

But the Tokugawa era was also a time of critical difficulties. The military government grew dull and strict. It discouraged individual freedoms and slowed commercial development. Government financial problems led to cuts in the income of samurai. Their declining incomes added to the samurai’s growing dissatisfaction with Japan’s rigid social structure, which prevented them from rising to better stations in life. Finally, poor harvests and harsh lords drove many peasants to join together in protest.

Renewed relations with the West. In 1853, renewed contact with the West led directly to sweeping changes. That year, a small fleet of American naval vessels sailed into the bay south of Edo. The fleet’s commander, Matthew C. Perry, asked Japan to open its ports to international trade.

The shogun rebuffed Perry, but Perry returned in 1854. After many discussions, Japan allowed the United States to station a negotiator, Townsend Harris, in the small port of Shimoda, far from Edo. In 1858, Harris succeeded in his negotiations on behalf of the United States, and Japan signed a treaty of commerce. The treaty permitted trade between the two countries, called for opening five Japanese ports to international commerce, and gave the United States the right of extraterritoriality. This right enabled American citizens to be governed only by U.S. laws while they were on Japanese soil.

Many Japanese disapproved of the treaty and similar agreements signed later. To them, the treaties were unequal, because Japan had granted extraterritoriality and other privileges that were not given to the Japanese in turn. The treaties enraged many samurai, who attacked and killed some foreign officials. The samurai also plotted to overthrow the shogunate.

Meiji era. In 1867, a small group of samurai and aristocrats pressured the shogun into resigning and restored the emperor to his previous position as head of the government. The revolutionaries disapproved of the trade treaties and wanted to increase Japan’s security and well-being in what they considered a dangerous and competitive world. They acted without support of the Japanese people.

On Jan. 3, 1868, the emperor officially announced the return of imperial rule. The emperor, a teen-ager named Mutsuhito, adopted Meiji, meaning enlightened rule, as the name for the era of his reign. He reigned from 1868 to 1912, a span of time known as the Meiji era. The revolution that placed him in power is known as the Meiji Restoration.

In practice, however, the leaders of the Meiji Restoration and their successors ruled the country, not the emperor. The leaders adopted the slogan “Enriching the Nation and Strengthening the Military” as their guiding policy. By enriching Japan, the new leaders believed they would enable the nation to compete with the Western powers.

To compete in the late 1800’s meant building modern industries. And so Japan embarked on an ambitious program of economic development. The nation invested in coal mines, textile mills, shipyards, cement factories, and many other modern enterprises.

Few of these ventures were successful, however. In the 1880’s, the government began selling its industries to private companies. Some of these companies, such as the Mitsui and Sumitomo groups, were old merchant houses that had been in business since the 1600’s. Others, such as the Mitsubishi group, sprang up after the Meiji restoration. From the 1880’s to the 1940’s, these business enterprises grew large and rich. These conglomerates became known as zaibatsu.

Most zaibatsu were owned and operated by a single family or a family group. They created many related ventures, especially in banking, insurance, international trade, manufacturing, and real estate. The zaibatsu cooperated with the government to promote its aim of enriching the nation. But they remained private enterprises that enriched themselves at the same time.

The second strategy of the Meiji leadership was to strengthen Japan’s military force. Former samurai took charge of a modern military recruited from the sons of farmers. With the advice of European military experts, the government built naval shipyards and assembled military arsenals. Within 20 years after the Meiji restoration, Japan had developed the best military force in East Asia.

From 1868 to 1889, government leaders also experimented with different methods of organizing the nation’s political institutions. In 1889, they produced Japan’s first Constitution. This document made the emperor the head of the government and established a cabinet of ministers and a legislature with two houses. The Constitution spelled out the rights and duties of the citizens, and it created a system of courts.

Under this Constitution, the powers of the Japanese people were extremely limited. The leaders of the restoration and their appointees continued to hold real power. These men now served in official roles as prime ministers and Cabinet members.

Another aim of the new government was to reorganize society. The nation removed the restrictions that had prevented people from pursuing any occupation they desired. New laws made the family the basic unit of society and males the heads of households. Some of these laws limited women’s rights more drastically than they had been during the Tokugawa era of the 1600’s to mid-1800’s.

Finally, the government established an ambitious system of public education. By the early 1900’s, Japan offered free elementary education to most young people. More advanced, specialized schooling was available to students who had the money and talent to proceed further. This school system made it possible for many people to improve their status in society. It greatly assisted Japan’s economic development. The schools also cultivated in students a strong sense of national pride and superiority.

Imperialism. In due course, the Meiji government’s emphasis on military might and the educational system’s emphasis on Japanese superiority led to war. In 1895, Japan began to build an empire like those of Britain and other European powers. Three Asian regions were the initial targets of Japanese expansion: Taiwan, Korea, and Manchuria.

After defeating China in a short war, Japan assumed control over Taiwan in 1895. The Japanese then exploited Taiwan as an agricultural colony producing rice and sugar.

Korea fell under Japanese control in 1910, following a bitterly fought war between Japan and Russia in 1905. Japan exploited Korea for its rice and its potential to develop industries. Remembering stories of Toyotomi’s invasions in the 1590’s, Koreans fiercely resented Japan’s colonization. The Japanese treated them badly in return.

The Russo-Japanese War also gave Japan a small foothold in Manchuria. There, Japan’s army of occupation gradually expanded its control.

World War I began in 1914. Japan, as an ally of Britain, at once declared war on Germany. The war gave Japan an opportunity to enlarge its empire slightly. More important, the war gave Japan an economic advantage in India and the rest of Asia. As Western nations became preoccupied with the war in Europe, they stopped their investment and trade in the East. Japanese exporters and manufacturers took that opportunity to move into Indian and other Asian markets. The zaibatsu expanded, and Japan’s economy boomed.

Rise of militarism. The 1920’s were a time of great difficulties for Japan. After the war, Western nations re-established trade with India and the rest of Asia, and the Japanese economy suffered. In 1923, a terrible earthquake struck the Tokyo-Yokohama area and led to the deaths of about 143,000 people. A worldwide depression during the late 1920’s further hurt the Japanese economy.

About this time, China began to strengthen its administration in Manchuria. Japan feared it might lose the rights it gained in the Russo-Japanese War.

Japan’s prime minister and other government leaders could not deal with the problems troubling Japan. Officers in the Japanese army decided to take matters into their own hands. In 1931, the Japanese occupation force took control of Manchuria. At home, nationalist groups began to threaten members of the government who opposed the army. On May 15, 1932, nationalists assassinated Prime Minister Tsuyoshi Inukai.

By 1936, Japan’s military leaders were in firm control of the government. As Japanese armies marched across China and into Southeast Asia, the United States grew increasingly concerned. Meanwhile, Japan moved toward closer relations with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy by signing anti-Communist pacts with the two nations.

World War II began in Europe in September 1939. In September 1940, Japanese troops occupied the northern part of French Indochina. When they moved into the southern part of Indochina the next year, the United States cut off its exports to Japan.

In the fall of 1941, General Hideki Tojo became prime minister of Japan. Japan’s military leaders began preparing to wage war against the United States.

Japanese bombers attacked the U.S. military bases at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941. They also bombed U.S. bases on Guam and Wake Island and in the Philippines. The bombing brought the United States into war against Japan and Japan’s European allies, Germany and Italy.

Japan quickly won dramatic victories in Southeast Asia and in the South Pacific. By 1942, the Japanese empire spanned much of the area from the eastern edge of India through Indonesia, and from the Aleutian Islands near Alaska to the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific Ocean.

The Japanese fleet suffered its first major setback in May 1942, when the United States fought the Battle of the Coral Sea to a draw. The U.S. victory in the Battle of Midway the following month helped turn the tide in favor of the United States. As Japanese defeats increased, political discontent in Japan grew. On July 18, 1944, Prime Minister Tojo’s Cabinet fell.

Early in 1945, the battle for the Japanese homeland began. American bombers hit industrial targets, and warships pounded Japanese coastal cities. American submarines cut off the shipping of vital supplies to Japan. On August 6, the United States dropped the first atomic bomb ever used in warfare on the city of Hiroshima. Two days later, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan and invaded Manchuria and Korea. The next day, U.S. fliers dropped a second and larger atomic bomb on Nagasaki.

Japan agreed to surrender on August 14. The next day, Emperor Hirohito announced to the Japanese people that Japan had agreed to end the war. On Sept. 2, 1945, Japanese officials officially surrendered aboard the battleship U.S.S. Missouri in Tokyo Bay.

As a result of the war, Japan lost all its territory on the mainland of Asia. It also lost all the islands it had governed in the Pacific. The nation kept only its four main islands and the small islands nearby. In the 1950’s, 1960’s, and 1970’s the United States returned to Japan the Bonin Islands, Iwo Jima, and the Ryukyu Islands. Russia still occupies the Kuril Islands.

Allied military occupation. Japan’s defeat brought foreign occupiers to its shores for the first time in its long history. Under the direction of U.S. General Douglas MacArthur, the occupation force carried out a sweeping set of reforms inspired by American ideals. The Japanese government served only to carry out MacArthur’s orders.

Under the occupation, more than 5 million Japanese troops were disarmed. The Allies tried 25 Japanese leaders for war crimes. Seven of the leaders, including former Prime Minister Tojo, were executed. The rest were sent to prison.

The Allied occupation force began reforms in 1946, when MacArthur and his advisers drew up a new Japanese Constitution. Under this document, the emperor lost all real power and became merely a symbol of the state. The two-part legislature became Japan’s supreme lawmaking body. A civilian prime minister, chosen by majority vote in the legislature, became head of the government. The rights of the people increased dramatically compared with those granted by the Meiji Constitution.

The American occupiers also began economic and social reforms. They redistributed farmland, legalized labor unions, and encouraged new laws giving women and children greater rights. The Americans also reorganized Japan’s educational system to make it more democratic.

In 1951, Japan signed a peace treaty with 48 nations that went into effect on Aug. 28, 1952. The Allied occupation officially ended on that day.

Postwar boom. The Japanese economy suffered greatly from World War II. Allied bombing destroyed many of the nation’s factories and nearly leveled most large cities. Many Japanese were forced out of work. Much of the population lived in dire conditions in small rural villages, and they depended on friends and neighbors to survive.

Japan was almost closed off from the outside world because many of its trading ships had been destroyed. The value of its currency, the yen, dropped so low that Japan could not afford to purchase many foreign goods.

Recovering from these losses took about a decade of effort. The United States provided financial assistance, but the Japanese national government played the central role in promoting reconstruction.

After the war, the government began to guide and direct the nation’s industries. The government formed the Ministry of International Trade and Industry to identify the industries in Japan that needed to be developed. Then the Ministry of Finance directed investment funds toward these enterprises. The Japanese tradition of working hard, saving money, and investing wisely helped the nation become economically stable. By the mid-1950’s, the output of most Japanese industries matched their prewar levels.

From 1955 to 1993, a single conservative party called the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) dominated national politics. The Liberal Democratic Party consistently won the most seats in the Diet as well as in the prefectural and local assemblies. The LDP strongly advocated Japan’s economic growth, and it put into effect many successful policies.

Many social changes occurred during the postwar years. Fewer and fewer people stayed in rural areas to earn a living by farming. Instead, they moved to cities and became workers in manufacturing or service industries. Families saw their incomes doubling and tripling within a generation.

Cooperation and harmony continued to be prized ideals in Japan. But the pressures to conform to society’s expectations were less apparent in large cities than in the small villages. Young people felt freer to be individuals than their parents and grandparents had.

Even the imperial family took part in some changes. In 1959, Crown Prince Akihito broke tradition by marrying a commoner, Michiko Shoda, the daughter of a wealthy industrialist. In 1971, Emperor Hirohito and Empress Nagako visited Western Europe. This visit marked the first time that a reigning Japanese emperor had ever left the country.

Political changes. Emperor Hirohito died in 1989, and his son, Akihito, began to reign. It soon began to appear that Akihito’s era would be a time of unsettling political and economic change.

Troubles for Japan’s long-term ruling political party, the LDP, began in the 1980’s. A number of leading government figures were accused of raising campaign funds illegally. Some were tried and convicted of corruption. Voters began to turn against the LDP. In mid-1993, the party lost its majority in the Diet.

For nearly 10 months, a coalition of seven other parties governed. The coalition passed a number of major laws reforming the election system. But its members could not overcome their differences on other issues.

The LDP returned to power in mid-1994, ruling in alliance with the Social Democratic Party of Japan and the New Harbinger Party. In late 1994, most of the opponents of the governing coalition formed the New Frontier Party. By the mid-1990’s, Japan’s political parties had gathered into two large factions, one composed of the LDP and its allies, the other a coalition of opposition parties. Conflicts among and within the parties continued, however.

Economic troubles also arose in the late 1980’s, as Japanese manufacturers began finding it difficult to sell their products abroad. Japan’s strong currency, high real estate values, and high labor costs all made Japanese goods expensive to overseas customers. Japanese manufacturers also had to compete with low-cost businesses from newly developing nations.

At the same time, the Japanese banking system began to suffer because the banks had made many loans during the late 1980’s that failed as real estate prices dropped in the 1990’s. The result of Japan’s problems in trade and finance was a recession, a period when the economy virtually stopped growing. In the 1990’s, Japan’s unemployment rate rose, average household incomes nearly stopped growing, and consumer spending declined. However, other nations also suffered economic problems, so Japan’s relative economic position in the world did not change dramatically. But economic anxiety spread throughout Japan as businesses and workers tried to maintain their competitive edge.

Recent developments. In 1997, the New Frontier Party disbanded. During 1998, Japan’s opposition parties regrouped, and two major opposition parties emerged, the Democratic Party of Japan and the Liberal Party. Japan’s economic troubles continued into the early 2000’s.

In April 2001, Junichiro Koizumi became Japan’s prime minister after the ruling LDP chose him as its leader. Koizumi projected a more dynamic image than most Japanese politicians and promised to reform the government and revive the economy.”

Contributor: Gary D. Allinson, Ph.D., Ellen Bayard Weedon Professor of East Asian Studies, University of Virginia.


What is the oldest form of Japanese drama?

Why does Japan have many earthquakes each year?

How does the Japanese economy depend on foreign trade?

Who are the burakumin ?

Why are juku important to Japanese students?

How do monsoons affect Japan’s climate?

How did the Constitution of 1947 change the Japanese government?

What percentage of Japan’s land can be cultivated?

Why did the Tokugawa rulers expel most foreigners from Japan in the 1600’s?

Why did Japan’s economy recover rapidly after World War II?

                Additional resources

                Level I

Hamanaka, Sheila, and Ohmi, Ayano.In Search of the Spirit: The Living National Treasures of Japan. Morrow, 1999.

Heinrichs, Ann.Japan. Children’s Pr., 1998.

Pilbeam, Mavis.Japan Under the Shoguns, 1185-1868. Raintree Steck-Vaughn, 1999.

Roberson, John R.Japan Meets the World: The Birth of a Super Power. Millbrook, 1998.

Whyte, Harlinah.Japan. Gareth Stevens, 1998.

                Level II

Beasley, William G.The Japanese Experience. Univ. of Calif. Pr., 1999.

Bowring, Richard, and Kornicki, P. F., eds.The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Japan. Cambridge, 1993.

Jansen, Marius B.The Making of Modern Japan. Belknap, 2000.

Japan. Rev. ed. Kodansha, 1999.

Kamachi, Noriko.Culture and Customs of Japan. Greenwood, 1999.


Fair Use Sources:



Return to Timeline of the History of Computers

Toshiba Corporation (株式会社東芝, Kabushiki gaisha TōshibaEnglish: /təˈʃiːbə, tɒ-, toʊ-/[2]) is a Japanese multinational conglomerate headquartered in MinatoTokyo. Its diversified products and services include power, industrial and social infrastructure systems, elevators and escalators, electronic components, semiconductorshard disk drives, printers, batteries, lighting, logistics, as well as IT solutions such as quantum cryptography.[3][4] It had been one of the biggest manufacturers of personal computersconsumer electronicshome appliances, and medical equipment. As a semiconductor company and the inventor of flash memory, Toshiba had been one of top 10 in the chip industry until its flash memory unit was spun off as Toshiba Memory, later Kioxia, in the late 2010s.[5][6][7]

Toshiba was founded in 1939 as Tokyo Shibaura Denki K.K. (Tokyo Shibaura Electric Co., Ltd) through the merger of Shibaura Seisaku-sho (founded in 1875) and Tokyo Denki (founded in 1890). The company name was officially changed to Toshiba Corporation in 1978. It is listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, where it was a constituent of the Nikkei 225 and TOPIX indices (leaving both in August 2018), the Nagoya Stock Exchange, and the London Stock Exchange.

Having been a technology company with a long history and sprawling businesses, Toshiba has been a household name in Japan and looked upon as a symbol of the country’s technological prowess, though its reputation was heavily damaged following the accounting scandal in 2015 and the bankruptcy of Westinghouse in 2017, by when it had to shed a myriad number of its valuable or underperforming businesses, essentially eradicating the company’s century-long presence in consumer markets.[8][9][10]

Fair Use Sources:

Hardware and Electronics

! Template WP Japan Pastes

Return to Timeline of the History of Computers

Fair Use Sources:


Programmable Robot – circa 60 A.D.

Return to Timeline of the History of Computers

c. 60

Programmable Robot

Heron of Alexandria (c. 10 AD–85 AD), Noel Sharkey (b. 1948)

“Heron was an engineer in ancient Alexandria who was well known for designing and possibly building devices that were once considered too advanced for that time. But in recent years, modern enthusiasts have recreated many of Heron’s inventions, using technology that was available in Heron’s era, to demonstrate that it would have been possible for the works of this extraordinarily talented individual actually to have been built.

In 2007, computer scientist Noel Sharkey at the University of Sheffield, England, made an astonishing announcement: nearly two millennia ago, Heron had constructed a theatrical robot that could be programmed to follow a set of instructions, including moving forward or backward, turning right or turning left, and pausing. In his 2008 article “Electro-Mechanical Robots before the Computer,” Sharkey went on to assert that automatons—robots, if the word is broadly defined—were invented independently in ancient Greece and China “around 400 BC.” However, those automatons had predefined behavior.

Heron’s theoretical robot was a three-wheeled contraption, designed to fit inside a large doll or figure that would be put on a stage, and was programmed by wrapping a long string around the cart’s drive axle. The long string was attached to a set of pulleys and a weight, such that as the weight dropped, the cord would be pulled, providing power to the wheels. Pegs placed strategically in the axle allowed the cord to reverse direction, which resulted in the right or left wheel reversing direction.

Sharkey demonstrated that Heron could have created such an automaton by creating one of his own, albeit with modern implements: three wheels from one of his child’s toys, some aluminum framing, and string. But Sharkey’s construction was a demonstration that, yes, it is in fact possible to program and power such a contraption using only string, weights, and pulleys, and it is known that the ancient Greeks and Romans had all three. According to Sharkey, Heron’s was the first programmable robot, due to the ability to change the robot’s behavior by changing the winding of the string.”

SEE ALSO Rossum’s Universal Robots (1920), Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics (1942), Unimate: First Mass-Produced Robot (1961)

Engraving showing a statue thought to depict the ancient Greek mathematician and engineer Heron of Alexandria.

Fair Use Source: B07C2NQSPV