Asian vs Oriental
Oriental is a word that has been used by the Europeans for centuries to refer to all things that come from, or refer to the part for the world that was eastern in direction to them. While Middle East comprises western Asia and Northern Africa, it is Southeast Asia that comes closer to the concept of oriental as perceived by Europeans. However, of late, the word has come under a lot of fire, particularly by human rights activists for having bad connotations. These are people who feel that Asian is the right word to refer to the people belonging to this large continent rather than calling them oriental. Asian vs Oriental has become a hot debate these days with many people confused between the two terms. Let us take a closer look.
The word orient literally means to the east or things eastern. The word was coined by Europeans, to refer to people and areas that were eastern with reference to the location of Europe. Etymologically speaking, the word refers to the land of the rising sun. Since sun rises in the east, the word orient has come to represent east. Orient has long been used by western authors, to refer to peoples and cultures that were distinct from occidental or western peoples and cultures. Europeans were often curious about things coming from the east such as spices and silk. The word oriental represents exotic and mysterious aspects of the cultures and peoples who were different in looks and mannerisms from the western people. To many American activists, the word oriental is Eurocentric and has bad connotations. This is the reason they prefer a more neutral word Asian to refer people from eastern cultures.
Asian is a word that is used for people and things belonging to this large continent in the east, particularly in relation to Europe. It is common for people from the west to refer to people from Asia based upon which part of Asia they belong. Thus, we have Southeast Asians, South Asians, East Asians, and Far East Asians instead of just Asians. People in America tend to equate Asians with people having slanted eyes. However, people from countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, etc. do not have such eyes and this kind of a generalization is, therefore, not accurate. Irrespective of their color of skin or facial features, people belonging to the Asian continent that stretches from Turkey and India to China and then to countries like Cambodia, Thailand, Japan, and even Vietnam are considered as Asians. As long as India was ruled by the British Empire, all the people from the subcontinent were referred to as Indians. The problem began with the division of India into two and then into three countries.
What is the difference between Asian and Oriental?
The term oriental stands for things and people from the east, particularly east of Europe. It is a term coined by Europeans, to refer to the exotic and mysterious cultures and people from the East. The term is opposite of occidental that refers to things and people from the west.
However, human rights activists in America consider the term oriental to be a loaded word having bad connotations. They also consider the term to be Eurocentric.
People in America have this tendency to refer to people with slanted eyes as oriental. Though such people belong to Asian countries such as China, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, etc., not all Asian people have slanted eyes, in particular, people from the Indian subcontinent. There are huge cultural differences in people from different parts of Asia.
However, it is better to refer to people from this continent as Asians rather than oriental, which is a term that should be used to refer to things form East such as rugs and carpets.
I find this an interesting subject because it has been taken over by a kind of political correctness.
The Orient as is pointed out in classical times was a nebulous term that seemed to connote things to the East of whatever Western Empire was ruling at the time. I think it started with the Middle East, which today we do not think of as Oriental.
But, there are problems with using Asia to refer to … uh, Asiatic people’s with almond shaped eyes and flatter faces since Russians and Indians are Asians too.
I wonder if anyone has written a book or discourse on this subject as I would really be interested in going deep into this? Somehow in the US I think that Oriental referred in the media as things like Charlie Chan, Chinese or Japanese … but where did that misuse begin and why?
wilson lawson says
As a European I’m sick of immigrants trying to tell me what words I can and cannot use in my own language. We talk of Asians in my country and they are almost always from Pakistan and India. I don’t like the term because it has come to be a camouflage to describe mainly Pakistanis who have notoriously been involved in the industrial rape of English girls over decades.So do the Americans want us to refer to these rapists as ”Asians” or as what they really are….muslims.
Diego Terneus says
To the author of this piece: Asian persons eyes are not “slanted” . I’ve never seen any person with diagonal eyes. That statement seems demeaning to me. If you are going to characterize someone’s eye, maybe “almond shape” is a more acceptable term. Slanted is just wrong.
wilson lawson says
I’ve just spent a minute looking at examples of oriental eyes and some of them are indeed slanted. So back off with your eager pursuit of finding offence. It’s boring.
SPENCER J GURNEY says
Using the word “Asian” as a descriptor is useless. Let’s say there is a woman who looks like Michelle Kwan, the skater. And you are trying to describe her to a friend. And let’s further say that you don’t know her heredity, so you can’t describe her as “Japanese” or anything specific. If you say she’s Asian, you’re including one billion Indians and a lot of blue-eyed blonde Russians. If you say she’s Oriental, at least your friend is getting an inkling of what she looks like.
Patrick Ronald Shiruba says
Spencer, Michelle is American of Chinese descent. That is the correct description. She is not from China, she is not from Asia. If you meet her, she will not speak Chinese to you. If you ask her what an In and out burger is, she will describe it to a tee.