GEOG101 Study Guide

Unit 10: East Asia

 10a. Identify the countries and territories of East Asia

  • What East Asian countries share a border with China?
  • What East Asian countries have a coastline on the Sea of Japan?
  • What East Asian countries are islands?
  • What other realms influence Mongolia and the Autonomous Region of Tibet?

China, the most populous country in the world, dominates the realm of East Asia. It borders only two other East Asian countries, Mongolia and North Korea. Across the Yellow Sea from northeast China, North Korea and South Korea form the Korean Peninsula. North Korea, South Korea, and Japan surround the Sea of Japan. East Asia has two island countries, Taiwan and Japan, which includes five main islands and thousands of smaller ones. As landlocked peripheral areas, the country of Mongolia and the Autonomous Region of Tibet are influenced by their neighboring realms. The Russian realm has influenced Mongolia and the South Asia realm has influenced the Autonomous Region of Tibet.



10b. Describe the physical features and climates of each country

  • What impact do the Himalaya Mountains and the Tibetan Plateau have on the physical geography of China and Mongolia?
  • Why is Japan prone to earthquakes?
  • How does Taiwan's climate compare to Japan's?
  • What two climate types are found on the Korean Peninsula?

Due to its proximity to tectonic plate boundaries, the realm of East Asia experiences both earthquakes and volcanoes and includes some of the most dramatic landscapes.

  • The Himalaya Mountains and the Tibetan Plateau are the result of the collision between the Indian tectonic plate and the Eurasian tectonic plate. Their influence extends beyond that collision zone into central and eastern China and southern Mongolia.
    • The Himalaya Mountains prevent moisture-laden air from reaching the Gobi Desert, which straddles China and Mongolia. This rain shadow effect, along with the distance from the Indian Ocean, makes the Gobi territory a desert.
    • The headwaters of the Yangtze (Yangzi) and Yellow (Huang He) Rivers are found in the Tibetan Plateau; they are the third- and sixth-longest rivers in the world, respectively.
  • The islands of Japan are volcanic islands at the intersection of four tectonic plates and part of the Ring of Fire. Thus, Japan is prone to earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions.

Although both Taiwan and Japan are islands, their climate varies due primarily to their latitudinal differences. Taiwan's latitude ranges from 21°N to 26°N with a humid subtropical (type C) climate that becomes tropical (type A) in the south. Japan's latitude ranges from 24°N to 45.5°N with a cold (type D) climate in the north and a humid subtropical (type C) climate in the south. Across the Korea Strait, the Korean Peninsula has a similar climate range as Japan, cold (type D) in the north and temperate in the south (type C).



10c. Analyze the relationship between physical geography and human populations in East Asia

  • Explain why most of China's population lives in the eastern region known as China Proper?
  • What feature of the physical landscape explains the population distributions of Japan and Taiwan?
  • What advantages does South Korea's physical landscape have over North Korea's in terms of human habitation?

China extends from below the Tropic of Cancer at approximately 18°N to 53°N latitude. This wide range of latitude in combination with a long coastline and a large landmass means China has many different climates. As is often the case, most of the population of China lives in the east along the coast because the climates are temperate (type C), the soils are good, and there is adequate freshwater. The population is also clustered along the major rivers that flow into China Proper

Terrain plays a significant role in the distribution of population in Japan and Taiwan, and puts South Korea at an advantage over North Korea. Rugged mountains are prevalent in these countries, so the population and economic activity is found along the coasts, on the plains, and in the valleys.

  • In Japan, most of the population lives along the low-lying southern coast of Honshu island. This is known as the Core Region and stretches from Tokyo in the east to Hiroshima in the west and onto the northern part of Kyushu island.
  • The majority of Taiwan's population lives on the flat and rolling plains along the west coast of the island. There are forest-covered mountain ranges that dominate the eastern two-thirds of the island.
  • Although the Korean Peninsula is mountainous, South Korea has more low-lying, flat land that can be cultivated than North Korea. North Korea's agricultural efforts are further challenged by a colder climate.

Review Introducing the Realm: East Asia.


10d. Describe how colonialism affected China

  • Why did China pose a greater challenge to colonizers than other countries?
  • How did British colonizers use opium to gain the upper hand in China?
  • What was the extent of colonization by other European powers?

European colonizers did not have the advantages over China that they did with other places. China was more technologically advanced than other societies.

  • They already recognized the necessity of clean water to avoid the spread of disease. 
  • They had established transportation networks and were using paper and gunpowder before they arrived in Europe.

The Industrial Revolution, however, soon gave Britain an advantage. They were able to produce goods more quickly than the Chinese.

The British also resorted to increasing the availability of opium so that it was accessible throughout Chinese society.

  • The Chinese government sought to counter the effects of opium on the population by destroying it.
  • The British demanded compensation for the lost opium, leading to the Opium Wars from which Britain emerged with the upper hand.

Other countries also had a colonial presence in China. Portugal actually predated the British, renting the island of Macau from China to use as a trading post until gaining full colonial control following the Opium Wars. Germany, France, Japan, and Russia also had a colonial influence on China.

Review the section titled Chinese Dynasties and Colonialism in Introducing the Realm: East Asia.


10e. Discuss the three-way split in China

  • What factions were parties involved in the struggle to control China following World War I?
  • How did World War II change the struggle for power in China?

Although the European colonizers were less involved in China as they worked to recover from the effects of World War I, Japan continued to expand its influence in the country. In addition to the Japanese, two factions within China sought control, the Nationalists and the Communists. The Chinese people wanted them to work together to defeat the Japanese, but it was not until Japan's defeat in World War II that the Japanese left China. Eventually, the Communists defeated the Nationalists, who fled to Formosa (Taiwan). The Communists claimed the mainland as the People's Republic of China and the Nationalists claimed Taiwan as the Republic of China.

Review the section titled Three-Way Split in China in Introducing the Realm: East Asia.


10f. Describe China's transition from communism to a capitalist-influenced economy

  • Distinguish between a command economy, a market economy, and the type of economy China has.
  • What has the growth in China's economy meant for its people?

China's transition from a command economy, also known as a planned economy, began after the death of Mao Zedong and the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976. Under Chairman Mao, the government controlled all aspects of China's economic activity, including production, investments, prices, and incomes. Mao's successor, Deng Xiaoping, started opening China's economy to undo the damage of such programs as the Great Leap Forward, which devastated China's population. This has been a gradual process that has been ongoing since 1978.

  • The government disbanded communes and relaxed restrictions on people's personal lives.
  • Deng Xiaoping established Special Economic Zones like Shenzhen, which were opened for foreign investment to spur economic growth for the country.
  • In the 1980s, the government began to decentralize controls and privatize some state enterprises. 
  • In the 1990s, the government reduced tariffs and regulations and joined the World Trade Organization (WTO).
  • Since the mid-2000s, China's government has favored more state control, although its economy remains market-oriented.

As a market-oriented economy, China is in between a command economy and a market economy, which means private businesses compete to determine production and prices. China's economy, also known as a socialist market economy, leans toward public ownership and state-owned enterprises within a market economy. Although the standard of living for most Chinese has improved since before reforms began, income inequality has dramatically increased.



10g. Analyze the One Child Only Policy and discuss its effect on Chinese culture

  • Why did the government implement the one-child policy in 1978?
  • Why does China have more males than females than is the global average?

In 1978, China began the one-child policy to control the size of its rapidly growing population. The government was concerned about the environmental, economic, and social problems associated with overpopulation. Although the policy has limited population growth, it has had troubling consequences. Because Chinese culture values male children over female children, sex-selective abortions, female infanticide, and the abandonment of female children increased. The result has been a sex ratio disparity; there are now more males than there are females. According to the CIA's World Factbook, the global average ratio of males to females aged 15 to 24 was 1.07 in 2020. In China, there were 1.17 males per female in 2020.

Review the section titled The People in Emerging China.


10h. Explain Hong Kong's progression from a British colony to a special autonomous region of China

  • How did the British acquire Hong Kong?
  • What were the conditions of the transfer of Hong Kong to China at the end of the lease?

The Qing Empire ceded Hong Kong Island to the British as one of the conditions of the 1842 Treaty of Nanking (Nanjing), ending the First Opium War. The colony of Hong Kong expanded to include Kowloon Peninsula and Stonecutters Island in 1860 following the Second Opium War. In 1898, the British expanded its colony when it obtained a 99-year lease of the New Territories, which included the area to the north of Kowloon and the outlying islands of Lantau and Lamma, among others.

As the end of the lease approached, Britain negotiated with China to extend Hong Kong's political and economic status for another fifty years. Thus, when Britain transferred Hong Kong to China in 1997, the area became a Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China. It is, at least until 2047, administered separately from mainland China under the principle of one country, two systems.



10i. Describe the relationship between Taiwan and mainland China

  • What is the "One China" policy?
  • Regarding Taiwan, what conditions did China impose on the United States when diplomatic relations opened in the 1970s? 

The People's Republic of China (PRC) asserts that there is only one sovereign state that can use the name China and are, therefore, opposed to Taiwan's use of the Republic of China (ROC). Neither the PRC nor the ROC considers the other to be the legitimate national government. The PRC believes Taiwan is part of China's territory and must be reunified with the mainland.

In order to engage in diplomatic relations and eventually trade with China, the United States had to acknowledge its One China Policy, significantly changing its official stance on Taiwan.

  • The U.S. moved its embassy from Taipei to Beijing.
  • U.S. State Department officials with a cabinet level position or higher cannot formally visit Taiwan, and equal level officials from Taiwan cannot visit the U.S. in a formal capacity.
  • The U.S. does maintain economic and cultural ties with Taiwan.

In order to be recognized internationally, Taiwan often uses the ambiguous name of Chinese Taipei.



10j. Explain the challenges that Tibet has experienced in becoming an autonomous region of China

  • What type of government did Tibet have prior to incorporation into the People's Republic of China?
  • Explain the core-periphery relationship between China and Tibet.
  • How is China shifting the ethnic balance of Tibet?

Historically, Tibet has been an independent theocracy, with the Dalai Lama as both the head of state and the spiritual leader. Tibet has, however, been under China's control since 1950. Although it is considered one of China's autonomous regions, in practice, Tibet has very little autonomy. The Dalai Lama has been in exile in India since 1950, and China abducted the Panchen Lama in 1995.

China's interest in Tibet is strategic both geographically and economically. Tibet buffers China from India and it has valuable resources. As the rural periphery to China's urban core, Tibet can provide minerals, energy resources, and timber for China's further industrial development. As China moves raw materials east, it is bringing its people west. Facilitating the movement of ethnic Chinese to Tibet further strengthens China's hold on Tibet by diluting its native population.

Review China's Periphery


10k. Discuss the economic development of Japan

  • Explain Japan's ability to go from the devastation of World War II to its position as an economic superpower.
  • What are the centripetal forces that contribute to Japan's economic growth?
  • With so few natural resources, how can Japan be so successful economically?

There are numerous factors involved in Japan's ability to rebuild its economy so quickly following the devastation of World War II.

  • It was already an industrialized society before the War.
  • The United States provided support to rebuild infrastructure.
  • Japan's centripetal forces outweigh the centrifugal forces.
  • Japan undertook major economic reforms.
  • The U.S. need for materials to participate in the Korean War stimulated Japan's economy.

These, in addition to other factors, worked together in Japan's favor, resulting in a significant improvement in its standard of living within thirty years.

As is the case in Taiwan, Japan has little in the way of natural resources yet it is a dominant economic power.

  • There is no one explanation for this disparity, but centripetal forces likely contribute to economic success. For example, Japan is a nation-state. As a population with a common heritage and shared aspirations, it is not divided by competing interests. 
  • Japan has also been remarkably successful in its ability to manage labor and resources. Its workforce is highly skilled and educated, savings rates and investment are generally high, and corporations took advantage of economies of scale.

Japan's economic success is closely associated with its reputation for high-quality, durable manufactured goods.

Review Japan and Korea (North and South)


10l. Discuss the political structure of North Korea

  • What countries' governmental structures influenced North Korea's when it was formed?
  • Describe the conditions under which North Koreans live.

The authoritarian style governments of China and the USSR influenced Kim Il Sung's formation of North Korea's government in 1948. North Korea continues to have a government in which the power resides with a single person, the country's citizens have no say in the process, and there is no independent media.

  • Although it is a communist country, the state does not provide education, healthcare, or jobs. Students, for example, must pay their teachers in goods that can be sold at market in order to attend school.
  • There is intermittent or no access to electricity and running water. Even the elites living in the capital city of Pyongyang may experience outages.
  • Food, particularly in the form of protein, is scarce. There was mass starvation during a period of famine from 1994 to 1998.

North Korea's government isolates its population from the rest of the world both physically and through propaganda. Although mobile phones are permitted, they cannot be used to dial out of the country nor can they access the Internet.



10m. Discuss South Korea's economy

  • What type of economy does South Korea have?
  • What are South Korea's major economic sectors?
  • How do income levels in South Korea differ from North Korea?

South Korea has a mixed economy. It has blended aspects of a free-market economy with a state-planned economy to grow from one of the poorest countries in the world following the Korea War to become the 10th largest in the world in 2020. Like Japan, South Korea undertook aggressive economic reforms focused on an export-oriented strategy, importing only raw materials. South Korea also invested heavily in education. Its workforce is highly skilled, which has spurred its growth in technology exports. South Korea's major economic sectors include shipbuilding, automobile manufacturing, and electronics. Incomes in South Korea are very high compared to North Korea's. 

Review Japan and Korea (North and South).


Unit 10 Vocabulary

This vocabulary list includes terms that students need to know to successfully complete the final exam for the course.

  • authoritarian style governments
  • Autonomous Region of Tibet
  • centrifugal forces
  • centripetal forces 
  • China 
  • China Proper
  • command economy (planned economy)
  • communist 
  • Communists 
  • core region
  • Cultural Revolution
  • Dalai Lama
  • Deng Xiaoping
  • earthquakes 
  • free-market economy 
  • Gobi Desert 
  • Himalaya Mountains
  • Hiroshima 
  • Honshu 
  • Industrial Revolution 
  • industrialized society
  • Japan 
  • Korea Strait 
  • Korean Peninsula 
  • Korean War
  • Kyushu
  • landlocked peripheral areas
  • Mao Zedong
  • market economy
  • mixed economy
  • Mongolia 
  • Nationalists 
  • nation-state
  • New Territories 
  • North Korea
  • one-child policy
  • One China policy
  • Opium Wars 
  • overpopulation 
  • Panchen Lama
  • People's Republic of China (PRC)
  • propaganda 
  • Pyongyang
  • Qing Empire
  • Republic of China (ROC)
  • Ring of Fire
  • rural periphery 
  • Sea of Japan 
  • sex ratio disparity 
  • Shenzhen
  • Special Administrative Region
  • socialist market economy
  • South Korea 
  • Special Economic Zones
  • state-planned economy 
  • Taiwan 
  • tectonic plate boundaries
  • theocracy
  • Tibet 
  • Tibetan Plateau
  • Tokyo 
  • Tropic of Cancer
  • tsunamis 
  • urban core
  • volcanic eruptions 
  • World Trade Organization (WTO)
  • Yangtze (Yangzi) River
  • Yellow (Huang HeRiver
  • Yellow Sea 
  • 1842 Treaty of Nanking (Nanjing)