Far East

The Far East is a geographical region that includes East and Southeast Asia as well as the Russian Far East.[1] South Asia is sometimes also included for economic and cultural reasons.[2] The term "Far East" came into use in European geopolitical discourse in the 12th century, denoting the Far East as the "farthest" of the three "easts", beyond the Near East and the Middle East. Likewise, in Qing Dynasty of the 19th and early 20th centuries the term "Tàixī (泰西)" – i.e., anything further west than the Arab world – was used to refer to the Western countries.

Far East
Location of the Far East, geographically defined.
Chinese name
Traditional Chinese遠東
Simplified Chinese远东
Literal meaningFar East
Burmese name
Burmeseအရှေ့ဖျား ဒေသ
IPA[ʔəʃḛbjá dèθa̰]
Vietnamese name
Vietnamese alphabetViễn Đông
Chữ Hán
Thai name
Tawan-oak klai
Korean name
Mongolian name
Mongolian CyrillicAls Dornod
Japanese name
Malay name
Malayتيمور جاءوه
Timur Jauh
Indonesian name
IndonesianTimur Jauh
Filipino name
TagalogSilanganan (poetic)
Malayong Silangan (literal)
Portuguese name
PortugueseExtremo Oriente
Russian name
RussianДальний Восток
IPA: [ˈdalʲnʲɪj vɐˈstok]
RomanizationDál'niy Vostók
Lao name
Taven-oak kai

Since the 1960s, East Asia has become the most common term for the region in international mass media outlets.[3][4]

As in relating to the remoteness of the territory from Europe, the term Far East informs of an Eurocentric worldview.[5]


Among Western Europeans, prior to the colonial era, "Far East" referred to anything further east than the Middle East. In the 16th century, King John III of Portugal called India a "rich and interesting country in the Far East[6] (Extremo Oriente)." The term was popularized during the period of the British Empire as a blanket term for lands to the east of British India.

In pre-World War I European geopolitics, the Near East referred to the relatively nearby lands of the Ottoman Empire, the Middle East denoted northwestern South Asia and Central Asia, and the Far East meant countries along the western Pacific Ocean and eastern Indian Ocean. Many European languages have analogous terms, such as the French (Extrême-Orient), Spanish (Lejano Oriente), Portuguese (Extremo Oriente), German (Ferner Osten), Italian (Estremo Oriente), Polish (Daleki Wschód), Norwegian (Det fjerne Østen) and Dutch (Verre Oosten).

Cultural as well as geographic meaning

Significantly, the term evokes cultural as well as geographic separation; the Far East is not just geographically distant, but also culturally exotic. It never refers, for instance, to the culturally Western nations of Australia and New Zealand, which lie even farther to the east of Europe than East Asia itself. This combination of cultural and geographic subjectivity was well illustrated in 1939 by Robert Menzies, a Prime Minister of Australia. Reflecting on his country's geopolitical concerns with the onset of war, Menzies commented that:

The problems of the Pacific are different. What Great Britain calls the Far East is to us the Near North.[7]

Far East in its usual sense is comparable to terms such as the Orient, which means East; the Eastern world; or simply the East. Southeast Asia, the Russian Far East, and occasionally South Asia might be included in the Far East to some extent.

Concerning the term, John K. Fairbank and Edwin O. Reischauer, professors of East Asian Studies at Harvard University, wrote (in East Asia: The Great Tradition):

When Europeans traveled far to the east to reach Cathay, Japan and the Indies, they naturally gave those distant regions the general name 'Far East.' Americans who reached China, Japan and Southeast Asia by sail and steam across the Pacific could, with equal logic, have called that area the 'Far West.' For the people who live in that part of the world, however, it is neither 'East' nor 'West' and certainly not 'Far.' A more generally acceptable term for the area is 'East Asia,' which is geographically more precise and does not imply the outdated notion that Europe is the center of the civilized world.[4]

Today, the term remains in the names of some longstanding institutions, including the Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok, Far Eastern University in Manila, the Far East University in South Korea, and Far East, the periodical magazine of the Missionary Society of St. Columban. Furthermore, the United States and United Kingdom have historically used Far East for several military units and commands in the region; the Royal Navy's Far East Fleet, for instance.

Territories and regions conventionally included under the term Far East

Name of region[8] and
territory, with flag
Population density
(per km2)
Capital Forms of government Currency Official languages
North Asia
Russia[9][10] 6,952,600 8,371,257 1.2 Moscow[11] Federal semi-presidential republic Ruble Russian and
27 other co-official languages
Southeast Asia
 Brunei 5,765 417,200 72.11 Bandar Seri Begawan Absolute Islamic Sultanate Brunei dollar Malay and English
 Cambodia 181,035 16,245,729 81.8 Phnom Penh Constitutional monarchy Riel Khmer
 Christmas Island[12] 135 1,843 10.39 Flying Fish Cove External territory of Australia Australian dollar English[13]
 Cocos (Keeling) Islands[14] 14 544 43.0 West Island External territory of Australia Australian dollar None[15]
 Indonesia 1,904,569 261,115,456 138.0 Jakarta Presidential republic Rupiah Indonesian
 Laos 237,955 6,758,353 26.7 Vientiane Socialist Republic Kip Lao
 Malaysia 330,803 32,049,700 92.0 Kuala Lumpur Federal constitutional monarchy,
Parliamentary democracy
Ringgit Malay
 Myanmar (Burma) 676,578 53,582,855 76.0 Naypyidaw Unitary presidential
constitutional republic
Kyat Burmese
 Philippines 300,000 100,981,437 336.0 Manila Unitary presidential
constitutional republic
Philippine peso (Piso) Filipino and English
 Singapore 722.5 5,638,700 7,804.0 Singapore Parliamentary republic Singapore dollar Malay, English,
Chinese (Mandarin), and Tamil
 Thailand 513,120 68,863,514 132.1 Bangkok Constitutional monarchy,
Parliamentary democracy
Baht Thai
 Timor-Leste (East Timor) 15,410 1,167,242 78.0 Dili Parliamentary republic U.S. dollar / Centavo coins Tetum and Portuguese
 Vietnam 331,212 94,569,072 276.03 Hanoi One-party led state,
Socialist Republic
đồng Vietnamese
East Asia
 China[16] 9,598,094[17]
1,371,821,094[18] 145.0 Beijing One-party socialist republic Yuan (Renminbi) Chinese (Mandarin)[19]
 Hong Kong[20] 1,108 7,448,900 6,777.0 Hong Kong Special administrative region
of the People's Republic of China.
Hong Kong dollar Chinese,[21]
 Japan 377,973 126,440,000 334.0 Tokyo Parliamentary democracy,
Constitutional monarchy
Yen None[22]
 Macau[23] 115.3 653,100 21,340.0 Macau Special administrative region
of the People's Republic of China
Pataca Chinese,[24]
 Mongolia 1,566,000 3,081,677 1.97 Ulaanbaatar Parliamentary republic Tögrög Mongolian
 North Korea 120,540 25,368,620 212.0 Pyongyang Juche unitarian dictatorship
Socialist Republic
North Korean won Korean
 South Korea 100,363 51,446,201 507.0 Seoul Presidential republic South Korean won Korean
 Taiwan[25] 36,197 23,577,271 650.0 Taipei Semi-presidential system New Taiwan dollar Chinese (Mandarin)


See also


  1. "Oxford Dictionaries - Dictionary, Thesaurus, & Grammar". askoxford.com.
  2. The 'Far Eastern Economic Review' for example covers news from India and Sri Lanka.
  3. "A menagerie of monikers". The Economist. 7 January 2010. Retrieved 9 July 2011.
  4. Reischauer, Edwin and John K Fairbank, East Asia: The Great Tradition, 1960.
  5. Fields, Larry (1981). "The eurocentric worldview: misunderstanding East Asia" (PDF). Asian Studies. 19: 40.
  6. Robert Sewell (1901). A Forgotten Empire: Vijayanagar; A Contribution to the History of India.
  7. "Historical documents". Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
  8.   Continental regions as per UN categorisations (map), except 12. Depending on definitions, various territories cited below (notes 6, 11-13, 15, 17-19, 21-23) may be in one or both of Asia and Europe, Africa, or Oceania.
  9. Russia is a transcontinental country located in Eastern Europe and Northern Asia, but is considered European historically, culturally, ethnically, and politically, and the vast majority of its population (78%) lives within its European part.
  10. Only the Russian Far East.
  11. Moscow is located in Europe.
  12.   Christmas Island is an External Territory of Australia.
  13. English does not have de jure status in Christmas Island and in Australia, but it is the de facto language of communication in government.
  14.   The Cocos (Keeling) Islands are an External Territory of Australia.
  15. English does not have de jure status in the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and in Australia, but it is the de facto language of communication in government.
  16.   The state is commonly known as simply "China", which is subsumed by the eponymous entity and civilisation (China). Figures given are for Mainland China only, and do not include Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan.
  17. Includes PRC-administered area (Aksai Chin and Trans-Karakoram Tract, both territories claimed by India).
  18. Information listed is for Mainland China only. The Special administrative region (i.e. Hong Kong and Macau), the island territories under the control of the Republic of China (which includes the islands of Taiwan, Quemoy, and Matsu) are excluded.
  19. "Law of the People's Republic of China on the Standard Spoken and Written Chinese Language (Order of the President No.37)". Chinese Government. 31 October 2000. Retrieved 21 June 2013. For purposes of this Law, the standard spoken and written Chinese language means Putonghua (a common speech with pronunciation based on the Beijing dialect) and the standardized Chinese characters.
  20.   Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China
  21. No specific variety of Chinese is official in the territory. Residents predominantly speak Cantonese, the de facto regional standard.
  22. Japan's National Diet have not officially enacted a law stating that the official language is Japanese.
  23.   Macau is a Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China.
  24. No specific variety of Chinese is official in the territory. Residents predominantly speak Cantonese, the de facto regional standard.
  25.   Figures are for the area under the de facto control of the Republic of China (ROC) government, commonly referred to as Taiwan. Claimed in whole by the PRC; see political status of Taiwan.

Further reading

  • Clyde, Paul Hibbert, and Burton F. Beers. The Far East: A History of Western Impacts and Eastern Responses, 1830-1975 (1975). online
  • Crofts, Alfred. A history of the Far East (1958) online free to borrow
  • Fairbank, John K., Edwin Reischauer, and Albert M. Craig. East Asia: The great tradition and East Asia: The modern transformation (1960) [2 vol 1960] online free to borrow, famous textbook.
  • Green, Michael. By More Than Providence: Grand Strategy and American Power in the Asia Pacific Since 1783 (2019) excerpt
  • Iriye, Akira. After Imperialism; The Search for a New Order in the Far East 1921-1931. (1965).
  • Keay, John. Empire's End: A History of the Far East from High Colonialism to Hong Kong (Scribner, 1997). online free to borrow
  • Macnair, Harley F. & Donald Lach. Modern Far Eastern International Relations. (2nd ed 1955) 1950 edition online free, 780pp; focus on 1900–1950.
  • Norman, Henry. The Peoples and Politics of the Far East: Travels and studies in the British, French, Spanish and Portuguese colonies, Siberia, China, Japan, Korea, Siam and Malaya (1904) online
  • Paine, S. C. M. The Wars for Asia, 1911-1949 (2014) excerpt
  • Ring, George C. Religions of the Far East: Their History to the Present Day (Kessinger Publishing, 2006).
  • Vinacke, Harold M. A History of the Far East in Modern Times (1964) online free
  • Vogel, Ezra. China and Japan: Facing History (2019) excerpt
  • Woodcock, George. The British in the Far East (1969) online.
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