« PreviousContinue »
LIFE IN ASIA.
WHEN Columbus set sail with his little fleet, it was with the determination to find a shorter route to the East. For centuries the rich products and manufactures of Arabia and India had been known to the nations of southern Europe. The Romans had established no less than three routes by which to reach these lands. One was by way of the Red Sea, another across Syria, and the third along the shores of the Black Sea.
By these three routes the Romans received from India pearls and other precious gems, silks, and spices. These wearisome, and sometimes dangerous, caravan routes proved a barrier to extensive trade. In later times the Venetians revived the commerce with these distant and strange lands, and soon gained great wealth by dealing in “the spices of Arabia, the silks of Damascus, the woven stuffs of Persia, the pearls of Ceylon, or the rarer products of the wonderful regions whence travelers like Marco Polo brought back true stories that rivaled the inventions of Arabian story-tellers.”
At last, in the year 1497, Vasco da Gama succeeded in reaching this much desired land by rounding the Cape of Good Hope. From this time knowledge of Asia rapidly spread, and it was found that her riches were even greater than Marco Polo or other early travelers had told. Moreover, Europeans discovered that Asia was the home of their ancestors, and that to it they owed much of their civilization.
Asia is sometimes called the cradle of the world," for here the history of man really began. Here, the most progressive nations of the earth originated and thence migrated westward. When we see the horse, the cow, and the sheep about us, we think perhaps they have always been known on our continent, but, as we shall learn, they, too, came from Asia. There, many of our most useful plants, such as wheat, cotton, tea, and sugar cane, first grew. The apple, pear, and plum first ripened in the gardens of Asia.
Asia is the largest of the continents. Its northern shores lie within the frigid zone, while its southern peninsulas reach far into the tropics. It joins Europe on the west, and stretches thousands of miles eastward to the Pacific Ocean. It is about four times as large as Europe. Perhaps we shall think, by and by, that Europe is really a part of Asia, — its great western peninsula.
The coast line of Asia, like that of Europe, is very irregular. Great peninsulas jut out from the land, and there are numerous seas and islands along the coast. The three southern peninsulas, Arabia, India, and Indo
China, are the most important, and may be compared to Spain, Italy, and Greece. On the southern and eastern coasts are many fine harbors; but the whole northern coast, thousands of miles in extent, is locked in ice nearly the entire year.
We have noticed the great size of Asia. It is not only the largest of the continents, it is also the highest. Across the central part, from east to west, extend several great mountain ranges. One of these, the Himalaya, is the highest mountain range in the world. Here, too, are the highest and most extensive plateaus.
From this huge central mass the land slopes to the Arctic Ocean, forming the Siberian Plain. This great low plain is larger than all Europe. To the east and south lie the plains of China and India. The western part is all a high plateau. From out the glaciers that lie in the valleys and gorges of the mountains, come the great rivers for which Asia is noted.
A little later we will visit some of the lofty mountains, and study more closely the country as it lies before us.
This great area, together with the high mountains and extensive plateaus, gives Asia every possible variety of climate.
The low northern plain is very cold. Along the Arctic shores the ground is frozen much of the year. There is a short summer, during which a thin growth of moss springs up, and herds of reindeer come to feed upon it. These low frozen lands are called tundras. As we go south we find a temperate climate, and see forests and grain fields; but, as we approach the mountainous
region, we see deserts on every side. The mountains shut off the warm, moist winds from the south, making the northern land cold and barren.
South of the Himalayas all is changed. The climate is hot, and there is an abundance of rain. This is the most fertile part of all Asia. The land is richly productive and in many sections highly cultivated. The vegetation is wonderful in its luxuriance and beauty. Here grows nearly every kind of tree and shrub known to man. One country in southeastern Asia has been called the - Garden of the World.”
As Asia is the largest continent, we should expect it to be the home of many peoples. We are right in so thinking, for Asia contains more than half of the population of the whole globe. But its inhabitants are not settled over its entire surface. In some divisions, for example Siberia and the desert-like, plateau of Tibet, the people are widely separated over lands for the most part cold, gloomy, and barren. In other sections, among the fertile fields of China and Hindustan, and especially in the great cities of India, China, and Japan, are to be found the most densely crowded places known. The people of Asia differ much from one another in the languages they speak, as well as in manners, dress, and religion. They are also very unlike Americans or Europeans.
Asia is the ancient home of civilization. The history of the settlement of Europe by tribes moving westward from Asia and the effect of their customs and industries upon the barbarian inhabitants of that continent have been carefully traced, and are a most interesting study.