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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: June 2012

1 - The idea of ‘Asia’



BEFORE WE BEGIN to study something called ‘Asia’ we have to decide what it is we are studying. We have to decide what we include and what we exclude; we need to explain and justify our definition of ‘Asia’. This is important because, conceived extensively, Asia can be defined as all of the land mass on the continent of Asia east of the Mediterranean Sea, plus the islands of Japan and Southeast Asia. Map 1 provides a visual representation of this very extensive idea of Asia. We would face a difficult task if we employed this definition of Asia, as we would have to cover the following regions:

Asia (or the sub-continent of Asia – India, West and Southwest Asia (often called the Middle East – Turkey, Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and other countries)

South Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka)

Northern and Central Asia (Russia, the Central Asian states such as Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and so on)

East Asia (China, Japan, North and South Korea. See Map 3.)

Southeast Asia (mainland Southeast Asia – Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar [Burma], Malaysia; and island Southeast Asia – parts of Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei, the Philippines, and East Timor. See Map 4.)

The reader can see at a glance that if we attempted to cover such a huge geographical area, we could only do it very superficially. Rather than attempting this, we will make a judgment about what we mean by the term ‘Asia’, one that will define our field of study and limit it to more manageable proportions. It is possible to make this sort of judgment as the concept of ‘Asia’ is not a fixed one, and its meaning and significance are not universally agreed. ‘Asia’ is a construction, invented and used by human beings to describe something they think exists in reality. For our own convenience, and for reasons relating to the Australian perspective adopted in this book, the construction of ‘Asia’ we will use will be limited to the region occupied by those countries in the last two dot points listed above, and visually represented in Maps 2, 3 and 4.

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Guide to further reading
Dirlik, Arif 1992 The Asia-Pacific idea: reality and representation in the invention of a regional structureJournal of World History 3 55
Emmerson, Donald K. 1984 Southeast Asia’: what's in a nameJournal of Southeast Asian Studies 15 1
Goody, Jack 1996 The East in the WestCambridgeCambridge University Press
Katzenstein, Peter J 2000 Regionalism and AsiaNew Political Economy 5 353
Morris-Suzuki, Tessa 1998 Invisible countries: Japan and the Asian dreamAsian Studies Review 22 5
Narine, Shaun 2008 Forty years of ASEAN: a historical reviewPacific Review 21 411
Said, Edward 1978 OrientalismLondonRoutledge & Kegan Paul
Song, Young-Bae 2002 Crisis of cultural identity in East Asia: on the meaning of Confucian ethics in the age of globalizationAsian Philosophy 12 109
Terada, Takashi 2003 Constructing an ‘East Asian’ concept and growing regional identity: from EAEC to ASEAN+3Pacific Review 16 251