Asia’s global importance has been a hot topic over the last 10-20 years. The region is home to territorial disputes, immense natural resources, massive amounts of people and has been the engine of global economic growth for years.
With the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit going on in China right now, I thought it would be a good time to shed some light on some basic, yet little-known facts about this fascinating and dynamic region of the world.
So let’s get to it.
1. Over 60 % of the world’s population lives in Asia
Let’s get that in numbers, shall we? There are 4.427 billion people in Asia. That’s more than all of the other continents combined! A third of the global population lives in India and China alone, with over a billion people living in each.
2. China only has one time zone
China spans across 3,705 million square miles of land yet everyone has their watch set to the same time. For comparison, China is roughly the same size as the United States, which is separated by six different time zones. Can you imagine walking outside for your lunchbreak and it being dark? Or regularly having dinner after midnight?
3. Everyone in Vietnam has the same birthday
In Vietnam, the New Year is called Tet. It’s also the day when everyone 25, turns 26, and every child that is 3, turns 4 and so on and so on. Now I don’t mean that the entire country plans out their pregnancies so that everyone is born on the same day. But many people there haven’t kept track of their exact birthdays so Tet has become the universal birthday. That must be one big party.
4. Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world
It’d be my guess that the country with the largest Muslim population would lie in the Middle East. But that’s not the case. 87% of Indonesia’s population-about 209 million people-practices Islam. And India has the next highest count with 176 million practicing Muslims. Granted, India’s much bigger than any of the Middle East so this only makes up 14% of its population, but there are a lot more religions to Asia than Hinduism and Buddhism. In fact, there’s just under 1 billion Muslims in all of the Asia-Pacific region.
5. The pre-Hindu caste system had 14 distinctions
The ancient Indus-Ganges civilization that settled on what is present-day Pakistan and India developed 14 different castes. Today in India, even though it is outlawed, the Hindu caste system still plays a role in society and class discrimination, but now there are only 4 distinctions: Brahmin, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas and Shudras. In the ancient civilization, before Hinduism rooted there, they divided their population into many more classes but Brahmin was still the highest caste and Shudras was still the lowest.
6. Japan has the second oldest population in the world (behind Monaco)
The life expectancy in Japan is 83 and in 50 years it is estimated that 40% of its population will be over 65. Also in that time, the ratio of worker to retiree will drop to 1:1. So basically it sounds like I need to move to Japan and enjoy an early retirement. But it also means that there will be a shortage of workers in Japan that needs to be addressed.
7. It has the largest mall in the world and it’s empty
10 of the largest malls in the world are in Asia, and the biggest one is in Dongguan, China. But apparently very few retailers decided to lease out space so as many square feet as this mall has, there are very few shops or shoppers to fill it up.
8. The Great Wall of China was built to keep the “barbarians” out
The Han civilization amongst the North China Plain believed that the world was divided into three kingdoms. The high kingdom was for the gods, the middle kingdom was “Han-land” and the lower kingdom was the rest of the earth. They didn’t believe that they were godlike, only that they were better than the rest of the people on earth. They certainly liked being isolated in the far east, so they built the Great Wall as a way to keep the “barbarians” of the lower kingdom out of their land. An interesting fact, the Great Wall was never breached by frontal assault-only by treachery and deceit.
9. It’s known for tug-of-war (of territories)
There are a number of land disputes within Asia. By some estimates, over 60 percent of the world’s territorial disputes are in Asia. India,Pakistan and China, all fight over the territory of Kashmir. Tibet is caught between China, Bhutan and independence. China believes it has a claim over Taiwan, meanwhile the island territory has moved on as its own state and continues to dispute whether Hong Kong belongs to them or not. And the strategically crucial South China Sea has so many overlapping claims its getting hard to keep count. There’s a lot of back and forth within Asia, often because there are resources or economic benefits to certain regions that the countries don’t want to give up.
10. Thailand has a giant water fight festival
Umm sign me up please?! On the Thai new year, the country takes the day off to celebrate with family, pay respect to monks and elders, and oh yea- soak each other in the streets with water guns. This festival is known as Songkran and is celebrated in April, one of the hottest months of the year in Thailand. Not a bad way to cool off right?
11. Indonesia is made up of more than 17,000 islands, Philippines has over 7,000
Many of the Asia-Pacific countries are not single land masses. There are thousands and thousands of islands that are included in their territory- some big enough to live on, others not so much. Though small size hasn’t kept them from arguing over who owns them.
12. Asia has it’s own poverty line
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) declared that the standard $1.25/day poverty line is not an adequate way to measure poverty in Asian because there are different factors to consider in the region. They say that the difference in food prices and vulnerability to climate change and natural disasters are examples of what should be factored in. The ADB measures the region’s poverty at $1.51/day. However you measure it, poverty is a big issue. In 2010, under ADB’s measure there were 733 million people in the region in extreme poverty. If you use the World Bank standard measurement that increases to 1.75 billion people. So I’d say regardless of the measurement, poverty is still a concern for the region.
13. China’s poverty fell three quarters in just 5 years
China recently celebrated its first Poverty Alleviation day as a way to raise awareness on anti-poverty efforts. CNN reports that from 2007-2012 the poverty rate in China fell by nearly three quarters (from 26%-7%) as a result of rapid industrialization and increased access to education and healthcare. So that means in five years China has pulled over 257 million people out of extreme poverty. Now, as big as China is, this means that there is still a lot of work that needs to be done, but in such a short window of time, that is an impressive jump.