The distribution of Asia's huge population is governed by climate and topography, with the monsoons and the fertile alluvial plains determining the areas of greatest density. Such are the Ganges plains of India and the Chang (Yangtze) and northern plains of China, the small alluvial plains of Japan, and the fertile volcanic soils of the Malay Archipelago. Urbanization is greatest in the industrialized regions of Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, but huge urban centers are to be found throughout the continent.
Almost two thirds of Asia's indigenous population is of Mongolic stock. Major religions are Hinduism (in India); Theravada Buddhism (in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos); Lamaism, or Tibetan Buddhism (in Mongolia and China, particularly Tibet); East Asian Buddhism (in China and Korea, mixed with Confucianism, shamanism, and Taoism; in Japan mixed with Shinto and Confucianism); Islam (in SW and S Asia, W central Asia, and Indonesia); and Catholicism (in the Philippines, East Timor, and Vietnam).
Subsistence hunting and fishing economies prevail in the forest regions of N and S Asia, and nomadic pastoralism in the central and southwestern regions, while industrial complexes and intensive rice cultivation are found in the coastal plains and rivers of S and E Asia. Because of extremes in climate and topography, less than 10% of Asia is under cultivation. Rice, by far the most important food crop, is grown for local consumption in the heavily populated countries (e.g., China, India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Japan), while countries with smaller populations (Thailand, Vietnam, and Pakistan) are generally rice exporters. Other important crops are wheat, soybeans, peanuts, sugarcane, cotton, jute, silk, rubber, tea, and coconuts.
Although Asia's economy is predominantly agricultural, regions where power facilities, trained labor, modern transport, and access to raw materials are available have developed industrially. Japan, China, Russian Asia, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, and Israel are distinguished for their industrialization. China and India are making considerable strides in this direction. The most spectacular industrialization has occurred in Japan and the "Four Little Dragons"—Taiwan, Korea, Singapore, and Hong Kong. The economies of Thailand, Indonesia, and South China are booming thanks to Japanese investment in plants and to cheap indigenous labor. The development of railroads is greatest in the industrialized countries, with Japan, India, China, and Russian Asia having the greatest track mileage.
Also contributing greatly to the income of many Asian countries are vital mineral exports—petroleum in SW Asia, Russian Asia, and Indonesia and tin in Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia. Asia's other valuable mineral exports include manganese from India and chromite from Turkey and the Philippines; China produces great amounts of tungsten, antimony, coal, and oil.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.