Abstract: The transition from tropical to subtropical (warm temperate) evergreen forests is more clearly apparent in East Asia, from Nepal to the western Pacific coast, than elsewhere in the tropics. We review the nature of this transition and hypothesize the physical, ultimately climatic, factors that may maintain it, with a special focus on how the increasing instability and warming of climates will affect these forests. A primary climatic mediator of the transition is proposed, thereby offering a testable hypothesis for the climate–forest transition relationship. What is known of this transition is summarized in context of the primary climatic mediators of elevational zonation of forest formations in equatorial Asia to the tree line, in the Himalaya at the India-Indo-Burma northern tropical margin, and as both elevational and latitudinal zonation in southern China. Consequent secondary edaphic and other physical changes are described for the Himalaya, and hypothesized for southern China. The forest ecotones are seen to be primarily defined by tree floristic change, on which account changes in structure and physiognomy are determined. The montane tropical-subtropical transition in the Himalaya is narrow and observed to correlate with an as yet ill-defined frost line. A distinct tropical-subtropical transition forest is recognized in the southwest China mountains. There is a total change in canopy species at the Himalayan ecotone, but subcanopy tropical species persist along an elevational decline of c. 400 m. The latitudinal transition in South China is analogous, but here the tropical subcanopy component extends north over ten degrees latitude, albeit in decline. The tropical-subtropical transition is uniquely clear in East Asia because here alone a tropical wet summer-dry winter monsoon extends to 35° north latitude, encompassing the subtropical evergreen forest, whereas subtropical evergreen forests elsewhere exist under drier temperate summer climate regimes.