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The groups of people who live in Asia — the biggest continent in the world!

Published on April 26, 2022 | Last Updated June 17, 2022
A group of Asian kids

What does 'Asian' mean?

map showing Europe and Asia

What comes to mind when you hear the word “Asian"?

Depending on where you are or what you’ve learned growing up, you might think of very different people. Especially because Asia is the biggest continent in the world.

Asia is chock-full of diverse groups of people that are united by a common ethnicity and language. Each part of Asia has its own wildly different cultures, countries and climates. You could spend your whole life talking about every single unique group in Asia.

For now, let's dive into its major areas, and a little bit about the people who live there.

What is East Asia?

map showing the countries in East Asia

MAP: East Asia includes China and Hong Kong, Japan, Mongolia, North Korea and South Korea.

Most people tend to think of East Asians when they think of Asian people. This is likely because people of Chinese descent are the seconds largest Asian group in Canada.

the boys of the K-Pop group posting on stage

K-pop group NCT Dream perform at the 9th Gaon Chart K-Pop Awards in Seoul, South Korea, 2020. (Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

Japanese, Korean and Chinese media have also become popular all over the world through TV shows and music. Anime (Japanese animated shows), K-pop (Korean pop music) and C-dramas (Chinese dramas) are just some of them.

What is South Asia?

map showing the countries in South Asia

MAP: Another major Asian region is South Asia. It includes India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Bangladesh and the Maldives.

South Asians make up the largest Asian group in Canada.

Even though it’s not the biggest part of Asia, it has the most people, with one-fourth of the population of the entire world!

A Bollywood performance on stage

Priyanka Chopra and Bollywood actors perform during the Indian Film Academy awards show in 2011. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

Some of the most popular films in the world are produced in Bollywood and Tollywood. Indian cinema is so big all over the world that it's giving Hollywood a run for its money.

What is Southeast Asia?

A map showing the countries in Southeast Asia

MAP: Southeast Asia has the most islands out of all of Asia. It includes Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, Brunei, East Timor, Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore.

Part of Southeast Asia is called the Malay Archipelago, one of the largest archipelagos (group of islands) in the world. Indonesia alone has 17,508 islands. And the Philippines has 7,641 islands.

four women work at an empanada stand

A family of meat pie makers prepare empanadas made of rice dough, eggs, papaya shavings and sausage, 2005. (Joel Nito/AFP via Getty Images)

Southeast Asians also make up the fourth-largest Asian population in Canada. A lot of people come here from the Philippines — more than all the rest of Southeast Asia combined.

What are Central Asia and North Asia?

a map showing the countries in central and northern Asia

MAP: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan all count themselves part of Central Asia. North Asia is unique in that its only region is Siberia in northern Russia. It's the only part of Russia that’s part of Asia.

This area was a major route in the Silk Roads — the way ancient people traveled and traded with each other.

a rider on horseback leans over the side and puts her leg up in the air

An expert rider performs at the World Nomad Games 2018 in Kyrgyzstan. (Vyacheslav Oseledko/Getty Images)

Ancient people of Central Asia were known for their nomadic living (not staying in one place) and horseback riding. Horses still play a big part in the cultures of countries like Kyrgyzstan.

What is West Asia?

a map showing the countries of West Asia

MAP: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Cyprus, Georgia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and Yemen are all found in West Asia. It is surrounded by eight seas but also has many deserts.

Part of West Asia is also known to many as the Middle East. The area nudges up against the continents of Europe and Africa.

the tall columns of a temple in the city of Hatra

A family visits a temple in the historic city of Hatra, also known as the City of the Sun, north of Baghdad, Iraq. (Suhaib Salem/Reuters)

Part of West Asia — called Mesopotamia — is considered one of the cradles of civilization. This is where the first urban (today's cities) centres started over 12,000 years ago.

A lot of amazing history can be found in West Asia, and a lot of it is preserved in their diverse and beautiful modern cultures.

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