Almanac 2006

Half of the world’s people live in what we know as Asia-the place once called “the east”, “the orient” or “the far east” but which now, by virtue of its immense economic and political importance and steadily-growing influence, folds its presence around every quarter of the globe. Counting among its constituent parts the oldest continuously ruling dynasty on the planet (Japan), the most venerable civilization on earth (China), the two most populous nations (China and India), the largest Islamic nations (Indonesia and Pakistan), the greatest of the world’s Buddhist populations (Thailand, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Cambodia), the biggest ocean (the Pacific), the most immense island nation (Australia) and an otherwise obscure island nation that is huge in sea-area and yet has almost no population at all (Kiribati)—Asia is a region rich in superlatives—and yet remains burdened, to many outside, with a nagging unfamiliarity.

It is still somehow “foreign,” somewhat “exotic,” a region needing an excess of explanation and requiring much understanding. And it is sometimes mysteriously condensed into a single entity, geographically, historically, culturally and anthropologically. It is worth remembering that there is an Asia Society in New York, for example, which offers programs relating to the complexities of the cultures of, among scores of other, Nepal, Korea, Laos, the Philippines. But nowhere in Asia are there institutions called the Europe Society, or, more laughably, a Western Society, no cultural body which seeks to offer programs to explain to Chinese or Japanese how Finland and Paraguay and Colorado are all, in a sense, a part of a huge entity too, and all endowed with a cultural and historical commonality.

It is precisely because this perverse duality haunts so many in the world—is Asia one thing, or many things?—that we have organized this Almanac as we have. First, we look at Asia as a whole, and relate its achievements, expectations and trends to the rest of the world. And then we examine each of the 67 nations that we call “Asia” in greater detail. And as we do, we may come to appreciate how diverse Asia truly is, and celebrate it for being so.

First, then, Asia and her world.