During 2013 while visiting densely-populated Manila, an American teacher named Ken Myers noticed that if you draw a 2,500-mile (4,000-kilometer) radius circle around Mynamar (Burma), that circle would enclose half the people alive. Three years later, a Singaporean professor named Danny Quah used a computer algorithm to fine-tune that circle to only 2,050 miles (3,300-kilometer) radius and centered on the village of Mong Khet in eastern Mynamar. This has become known as the ‘Valeriepieris circle‘ after Myers pseudonym on Reddit.com, where he initially posted his map.
I routinely use the Valeriepierris circle map during the first class of my New Media Business postgraduate course every semester at Syracuse University’s school of media. That’s because generally half of my students each year are American and the others Chinese. And I find that:
- Most of the Americans have no clue how heavily populated the southeastern quadrant of Asia is. I tell them to imagine a 2,500-mile radius circle centered on the small town of Lyons, Kansas. That circle’s boundary would extend as far south as the nation of Costa Rica; as far north as Hudson’s Bay; as far west as somewhat beyond the Pacific coast of the lower 48 U.S. states (but not quite reaching even Juneau in the southernmost of Alaska; and as far east as all of the eastern U.S., the Canadian maritime provinces, the Bahamas, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic yet not Haiti or Puerto Rico. Then cram more than 3.5 billion people into that circle.
- Contrarily, most of my Chinese students don’t realize how much open space is in that North American version of the circle: only a total of fewer than 500 million people rather than 3.5 billion.
I also find that most Americans don’t realize that if half the world’s population is within the valeriepieris circle, that means approximately half of all colds, flus, and other infectious diseases that plague humans originate there. So, when Donald Trump mislabels COVID-19 the ‘China virus’ he’s engaged in anti-oriental racism. He doesn’t call Ebola the ‘Congo virus’. Both Ebola and COVID-19 are believed by scientists to have originally been fruit bat viruses that first infected humans encroaching on African and Asian deep forest.
There are so many things that Americans are ignorant about Asia. One of my favorites is, as Parag Khanna noted during the 2018 World Economic Summit in Davos, “More people live in democracies in Asia than the entire rest of the world combined.” A sizeable minority of Americans tend to think that most people who live in democracies live in the U.S. or Canada. A majority of Americans are a bit wiser and tend to think that the majority of people living in democracies live in the U.S., Canada, and Western Europe. The reality is that the majority of people who live in democracies live in India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, and Thailand.