East Asia Unit Summary
East Asia includes six countries: China, Japan, Mongolia, North Korea, South Korea, and Taiwan. Taiwan and Japan are island nations off the eastern coast of Asia, North Korea and South Korea share the Korean peninsula, and China and Mongolia are on mainland, or located on a continent, Asia. Much of the area is mountainous and difficult to live on. The rivers and the ocean around the area have helped make life easier. There are a variety of climates in East Asia, most of them comfortable climates like humid subtropical and humid continental.
These countries have existed for centuries and have long histories. China, a cultural hearth, or a place where the earliest civilizations developed, has influenced all the other countries in the region. Japan, another powerful country, has been very important in the area since the 1800s. Korea (it used to be one country) has had a hard time, often being forced to do what its more powerful neighbors want. This is why there are two Koreas instead of one. Taiwan became an important country after a lot of Chinese moved there because they did not like the government that took over in mainland China in 1949.
Mongolia had a rich history long, long ago when Mongol leaders controlled all of Asia and parts of Europe.
Today, this region is growing quickly. The economies of most of the countries are doing very well, the people have more of the basics in life than ever before, and they are becoming very important in the world. They do face challenges: overpopulation, environmental problems, and governments that cause a lot of anger and dissatisfaction.
China covers about 81% of the land area. Both China and Mongolia are large countries in Asia. North Korea and South Korea share the Korean Peninsula which juts out from the Asian continent. It separates the Sea of Japan from the Yellow Sea. Japan and Taiwan are countries located on islands in East Asia. Japan is an archipelago, or groups of islands. There are many other islands off the coast of Asian. They were formed there because of volcanic activity. These islands are a part of the Pacific’s Ring of Fire, so earthquakes and volcanoes are common. Much of continental, or located on a continent, East Asia is mountainous. Some of the highest mountains in the world are found in Western China. Large, high plateaus form a large part of Southwestern China and Western Mongolia. The coastal areas of China, Japan, North Korea, and South Korea have a much lower elevation.
China has three long, important rivers. The Huang He, or Yellow River, is the most northern river. The Yellow River has brought both benefits and tragedy to those that live near it. It carries very fertile soil, called loess, and deposits along the banks. This helps farmers. The river also floods often and violently. The longest and middle river is called Chang Jiang. The areas around the Chang Jiang and its tributaries, or smaller rivers that feed into the Chang Jiang, are excellent for farming. More than half of China’s crops are grown along the banks of this river system, which means a main river along with its tributaries.
The Xi river is the most southern river and is also a good place for farming.
China has abundant coal, tin, tungsten, and bauxite. The Koreas have iron ore, coal, gold, and copper. Japan lacks a lot of mineral resources and must import what it needs. Much of the land in East Asia isn’t suitable, or good for, farming. Much of China and Korea are mountains, while Japan is very hilly. Only 10% of the land in China can be used for farming. Much of East Asia borders the sea. The people have used the ocean for travel and food for centuries.
Monsoons, or seasonal winds, have a major impact on the climate of East Asia. The seasonal winds, called monsoons, blow in different directions based on the season. In the summer, winds come in from the Pacific, picking up moisture over the ocean and releasing it as rain. In the winter, the wind switches direction and brings cold. Dry air blows south from the Northern part of the Asian continent. East Asia has a variety of climates. In the western part of China, there is highland and desert. Mongolia is mostly steppe. The eastern part of China, North Korea, South Korea, and Japan are humid subtropical and humid continental climates.
China has the largest population of any country, with 1.3 billion people. Of this number, 92% are one ethnicity, called Han. The remaining 8% are divided amongst 50 different ethnic groups. Since a lot of China is difficult to live in, most of the people are packed into about 1/6 of the land. The government of China is very concerned about their population growing too fast, so they have policies that reward people who have one child and punish people who have more than one. Eighty percent of the people in China live in rural areas, but this is changing quickly because of urbanization, or the process of a large number of people moving to cities. China, because it has such a large population, also has a lot of people who live in cities.
Japan has 127 million people. Most of the people belong to one ethnic group, so it is ethnically homogenous, or all of one kind. Because Japan is a series of small islands, Japan has a high population density. Japan is very urbanized.
South Korea and North Korea
South Korea has 49 million people. North Korea has 23 million people. The people of both Koreas belong to the same ethnic group. North Korea is very rural while South Korea is urban.
Most people who live in Mongolia are ethnically Mongols. They have a small population of 2 million people. Mongolia has a sparse, or light, population density. It is very rural.
Taiwan has a high population density with 23 million people living on a small island. Most Taiwanese live in the cities on the coast.
China’s history goes back to the beginning of the Neolithic era (around 1600 BC). It was the most sophisticated place on earth for hundreds of years. China, because it was so well-organized and developed, had a major influence on all the cultures in the region from the style of writing to the important foods people eat to how the governments run. For a very long time, China was led by dynasties of rulers (which meant the rulers were all from the same family or group). The government was very strong and organized.
In the 1800s, European countries became stronger than China. They wanted many things that China produced that they could not. The Chinese government did not want people from other countries in their country. The European countries tried to force China to trade (The Opium wars) and they were fairly successful. The Chinese let each of the countries have trading cities on the coast.
In 1931, China would go to war with Japan, starting the Pacific portion of World War 2. They would fight for almost 15 years and China would lose over 10 million citizens in the conflict. Once World War 2 ended, two groups in China fought for control of the government—the Communists under Mao Zaedong and the Nationalists under Chiang Kai-Shek. The Communists took over in 1949. The Nationalists left mainland China and took over the country of Taiwan.
After the Communists gained control, they had to convert their economy and government to a Communist model. They made many mistakes and many people suffered because of famine and persecution. In the 1970s, the United States stopped ignoring China (the US was mad that China was Communist and pretended that Taiwan was actually China) and started trading and cooperating more. Shortly after that, China changed how its economy worked and included more features of capitalism. This made their economy grow very, very fast until now. They are now a very powerful country because of the wealth they have. Some people wanted China to have more features of democracy but the Communist government made it very dangerous for people to speak about the government.
Japan was very influenced by China for hundreds of years. The Japanese developed a system of government that had an emperor but gave the power to rule to military dictators, or shoguns.
For a very long time, Japan was interested in avoiding contact with other cultures. In the middle of the 1800s, a ship from the United States forced Japan to allow trade. The Japanese were shocked that another country could force them what to do. The government of Japan decided that they needed to be like the powerful Western countries that seemed to get what they wanted. So they studied the West and adopted Western ideas about education, the military, and the economy. They also worked hard to industrialize.
In the 1930s, Japan started a war with China. Japan is an island that lacks many resources so Japan decided to take over other lands that would give them easier access to the things they needed. This brought them into conflict with the United States. Japan attacked the US by surprise at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on December 7, 1941 and brought the United States into World War 2. The war would nearly destroy Japan which would surrender after it suffered two nuclear bomb attacks in 1945. The United States would take over, or occupy, Japan for a while after World War 2. The US wrote a new, more democratic constitution. The US worked to help Japan become strong because they were afraid the Russians and Chinese would have a strong influence in the area of they did not make Japan influential.
Today, Japan remains strong and influential. Their economy is one of the best in the world. Recently, Japan has had major challenges dealing with a recent tsunami and earthquake that devastated the northeastern coast of the country. One of the biggest problems was the destruction of a nuclear power plant which caused a large amount of radiation into the air which can harm people, animals, and the environment.
The Korean peninsula has been settled for thousands of years. For much of its history, Korea was one country that was heavily influenced by China. Things changed in the early 1900s when Japan took over Korea. Japan ran Korea like a colony. This lasted until the end of World War 2. Japan lost, so the United States occupied the south and the Soviet Union occupied the north. Very quickly, these areas became separate countries. North Korea became Communist and the South Korea was similar to Japan and the United States. In 1950, North Korea attacked South Korea with goal of making it one country under the rule of the Communists. This war, called the Korean War, involved many countries and lasted 3 years until both sides quit without winning anything. Today, they remain two different countries with two very different systems.
Most of the countries of East Asia have experienced fast economic growth recently.
Japan has been an important manufacturer of electronics, computer equipment, and cars since the 1960s. The economy has been strong for most of the time after World War 2. The people of Japan have much higher incomes than much of the rest of the world. In the 1990s Japan had a bad economic period, but it got better in the 2000s.
China has gone from a very poor, rural country in the 1970s to one of the most important economies in the world. The government did this by allowing the people of China to own land and businesses (before they could not). This caused a lot of job growth and economic improvement. One of the problems China now faces is dealing with coming up with ways to make the economy grow without hurting people. It was recently discovered that baby formula made in China was mixed with bad chemicals to make money. This made a lot of babies sick.
South Korea has a very successful economy. This country makes a lot of electronics and computer equipment.
North Korea is just the opposite. People regularly starve in this country because of food shortages. There are very few things for the people of the country to improve their situation because the government of North Korea is very harsh and demands that the people do what the government says. People try to sneak out of North Korea but sometimes they are caught. The situation is so bad that the people in North Korea are usually several inches shorter than their close relatives in South Korea. This is because of malnutrition, or poor diet.
Taiwan is a highly industrialized country that produces a large number of products to export (or trade or sell) to other countries.
Mongolia is a rural country where a lot of the population is involved in livestock raising, or raising animals to sell.
There are a variety of religions in East Asia. The main religion is Buddhism, which is based on the teachings of a centuries- old teacher named Buddha. Other important belief systems include Confucianism, which is a collection of views about how to live, and Shinto, a traditional religion in Japan that honors a variety of spirits that exist in nature. The Communist countries of China and North Korea are officially atheist, or one who rejects the existence of god, but some of the people in those countries work hard to maintain their beliefs.
Young people in East Asia often find that they have a hard time. They find that their parents have old beliefs about the world and what young adults should or should not be doing. For example, in many parts of East Asia, one of the important ways to honor a parent is to allow them to select a marriage partner. The child is then supposed to marry that person. The parents don’t believe in the idea of marrying for love. But a lot of young people do. At the same time, they still want to make their parents happy and do what their culture demands.
A lot of young people in East Asia share a love of computers, video games, and cell phones that many Western teenagers have. This is another place where they may disagree with their parents. Parents in East Asia want their children to be highly educated, so they are expected to go to school, be tutored, take afternoon classes in things like calligraphy (or beautiful writing) or martial arts and always do well. Young people often find that they would like more time to do what they want, but their parents don’t understand this.
There are several challenges East Asia countries face when it comes to their environment. Air pollution, or harmful chemicals in the air, makes it difficult to breathe and can poison people’s bodies. Air pollution is a big problem in those places that are industrialized, especially China. When China hosted the Olympics, many athletes were worried about what breathing the air in Beijing would do to their ability to breathe and compete. Erosion and farmland destruction is another big problem, especially in China. Some of the policies of the Chinese government in the past led to very poor use of the little farmland available. This has led to the destruction of what was once good farmland into barren, which means it can’t grow anything, wastelands. That makes it that much harder to grow enough food for so many people. Overfishing is a big problem for places where fish is an important part of the people’s diet, like Japan and Taiwan. Overfishing means catching so many fish that there are not enough left to make little baby fish that will grow, be caught, and eaten. Such large populations, especially China, make it difficult on the environment just because there are so many people who need things. Even if everyone in China worked hard to care for the environment, it would still be hard. Finally, all of the industrial pollution that is created contributes to global warming, which is a problem we all had to deal with.
East Asia Unit Summary Questions
All answers should be in complete sentences.
- Vocabulary—Define each word. Use the word in a sentence that shows what the word means.
- Cultural Hearth
- River Systems
- Livestock Raising
- Air pollution
- What is the largest country in East Asia in area? Population?
- Why is it a problem living on the bank of a river?
- One of the reasons that Japan went to war in World War 2 against the United States was because they lacked a lot of natural resources and needed them for their industry. They tried to take over a lot of East Asia. Why would a country choose to go to war instead of just buying the resources they need?
- What is an advantage to being an ethnically homogeneous country? What is a disadvantage?
- How does Japan have a much higher population density than China since Japan has a lot fewer people?
- Would Mongolia be suitable for a vacation filled with shopping, clubbing, and going to the museum?
- What happened in China in 1949? Why was this a really big deal?
- What happened in Japan in 1853? Do you think this is weird or normal? Why?
- What happened in Korea in 1945 and then in 1950? Why was this a really big deal?
- What are some products a lot of East Asian countries produce?
- What is a way for an economic decision or policy to hurt someone (don’t use the baby formula example)?
- What is something other countries can do for North Korea?
- List three East Asia philosophies or religions.
- Can you think of a time when you believe something different from your parents? Tell a story.
- If you lived in East Asia, which environmental challenge would you be most worried about? Why?