History of Asia

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The history of Asia is the history of several distinct peripheral coastal regions such as East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Each is linked by the interior mass of the Eurasian steppe.

The coastal periphery was the home to some of the world’s earliest known civilizations and religions. Each of these three regions developed early civilizations around fertile river valleys. These valleys were fertile because the soil there was rich and could bear many root crops. The civilizations in Mesopotamia, India, and China shared many similarities and likely exchanged technologies and ideas such as mathematics and the wheel. Other cultural practices such as that of writing likely developed individually in each area, and cities, states, and then empires developed in these lowlands.

The steppe region had long been inhabited by mounted nomads. From the central steppes, they could reach all areas of the Asian continent. The northern part of the continent, covering much of Siberia, was also inaccessible to the steppe nomads on account of its the dense forests and tundra. As a result, these areas in Siberia were very sparsely populated.

The center and periphery were kept separate by mountains and deserts. The Caucasus and Himalayas and the Karakum and Gobi Deserts formed barriers that the steppe horsemen could only cross with difficulty. While technologically and culturally the city dwellers were more advanced, they could do little militarily to defend against the mounted hordes of the steppe. However, the lowlands did not have enough open grasslands to support a large cavalry force of horses. Thus the nomads who conquered states in the Middle East were soon forced to adapt to the local societies.

The spread of Islam brought the Islamic Golden Age and the Timurid Renaissance, which later influenced the age of Islamic gunpowder empires.

Asia’s history features major developments seen in other parts of the world, as well as events that have affected those other regions. These include the trade of the Silk Road, which spread cultures, languages, religions, and diseases throughout Afro-Eurasian trade. Another major advancement was the innovation of gunpowder in medieval China, later developed by the Gunpowder empires, mainly by the Mughals and Safavids, which led to advanced warfare through the use of guns.

The history of Asia includes most of the human population and many of the world’s first civilizations and their mainstream religions of Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Jainism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Christianity, Islam, and Sikhism.

China and India became the world’s largest economies in the the early 19th century. China’s vast economy sustained what was then the world’s most advanced civilization. But the legendary wealth and prosperity of ancient India attracted both European commerce and colonialism, which endured until the Second World War. India gained its independence from Britain in 1949, and was soon followed by British Malaya, French Indochina, and the Dutch East Indies. While in Southeast Asia, only Thailand remained free of colonialism. After enduring its Century of Humiliation (and the Opium Wars) at the hands of the West, China went on to both fight a civil war. It eventually prevailed in its war against Japanese invaders, establishing the Peoples’ Republic of China in 1949. The United States occupied Japan in the years following the Pacific War, and the Korean War erupted and raged until an armistice was signed in 1955.

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