Prior to ventures into Asia by European explorers - most famously Marco Polo in the 14th century, who apparently did not 'tell the half of' what he saw, for 'fear of raising howls of derision' - this part of the world was either beyond the knowledge or even comprehension of most Europeans, except in fables.
Over the millennia, and throughout these extremes of terrain, Asia's amazingly diverse and resourceful peoples have harnessed and developed the resources to hand. In huge areas of rural Asia, people still live close to the land (or river, or sea), harvesting produce either at subsistence level among the poorest, or for sale for an income. Such a lifestyle is fragile, and over the centuries, millions have perished by famine or flood.
In addition to some of the poorest regions on earth, Asia increasingly contains the most-wealthy and fastest-developing countries. The Asian continent has some of the world's largest cities, among the world's most rapidly growing economies, and industries from archaic factories that belch tremendous quantities of pollutants into the atmosphere, to modern manufacturing, financial, computer and service-sector businesses that are among the world's most dynamic and wealthy.
Japan, Singapore, South Korea and areas of Asia with rich oil reserves have become among the world's most highly developed countries industrially, technologically and financially. Others remain among the world's poorest, least developed or most isolated - often a legacy of misrule, bad governance or failed ideology.
The new wealth is causing challenges to traditional thinking in terms of the value of human life and human rights. Sadly, in too many places still, life is cheap, and especially female life is readily for sale.
For centuries, many parts of Asia came under colonial rule by various European countries - British, French, Dutch and others - with countries individually gaining their independence by various means. This transition entailed various degrees of struggle, and led to huge varieties of subsequent governance, from open democracy to repressive dictatorship.
In many Asian countries, local culture, ethnicity, ideology and religion finally found expression in government. In others, failing systems totally foreign to the region's roots (Marxist communism in Khmer Rouge-era Cambodia, for example) met their demise in spectacular and tragic circumstances. Some conflicts even sucked in the world's mightiest superpowers; few individual international issues, before or since, left as indelible an imprint on the collective psyche of the American people as the Vietnam war.
Asia has long witnessed - and still features - such clashes of ideology, belief or political systems. In other instances, disputes are territorial, threatening or actually bringing about violent conflict. India and Pakistan's dispute over Kashmir has at times raised the spectre of war between the two nuclear powers.
Other countries struggle with insurgencies by extremist or militant groups seeking to determine their own boundaries and rights, or enforce their beliefs. Indonesia has suffered repeated and deadly ethnic and religious clashes. Some states have veered - often with violence - between dictatorship and democracy. Burma (now Myanmar) has been ruled for decades by a harsh, repressive military junta, while North Korea remains the world's most isolated and totalitarian communist state.
China, meanwhile, remains a non-democratic communist state - seeking, for example, to repress religious belief, if with quite the opposite effect in terms of the number of Christians - while embracing sufficient capitalist ideas to pump untold quantities of cheaply produced goods around the rest of the world, and increase its position and power in the process.
Yet it is these two countries - China and India - which today vie for the title of both the world's most populous country, and most rapidly growing economy.
Issues faced by Asia today - from a continental and national level, to the daily lives of villages, families and individuals - include migration, human trafficking, drugs, water supply, environmental and ecological issues, economic sustainability, and religious extremism. Indeed, the whole of the human condition, and all issues known to man in the modern world, are reflected in Asia today.
WorldShare's partnerships in Asia are extensive, long-standing and key to future strategy, as we come alongside local Christian populations seeking to outwork biblical principles and bring the light of Christ to bear on often-complex situations, and in the lives of individuals and whole communities.