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Changing definitions of Asia


The meaning of Asia has changed drastically during the millennia the concept has been in use. Its usage was established in Greek literature 2,500 years ago as a geographic reference to lands inhabited by the Greeks at the Eastern side of the Aegean Sea. Over the ensuing centuries, Asia’s Western boundary was extended to the rivers Don in the North and Nile in the South. At that time, it hardly contained any definite political or civilisational meanings. These were added to the concept in 1730 in a kind of Swedish–Russian cooperation when the Urals were redefined to form the boundary between Europe and Asia, the former starting to represent progress, and the latter its opposite. This situation has been gradually changing after World War II, when first definitions made in the United States, and later in East Asian countries have devalued the position of Europe and elevated that of Asia. Today, Asia is not a geographical concept. It is a political commonplace, used as a strong and positively loaded linguistic asset in political rhetoric in the Asian Pacific area for various kinds of regional integrative purposes.

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Correspondence to Pekka Korhonen.

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Korhonen, P. Changing definitions of Asia. Asia Eur J 10, 99–112 (2012).

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  • Ural Mountain
  • Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation
  • Continental Division
  • East Asia Summit
  • Geopolitical Region