Distinguishing Between Asian & Oriental

Asian vs Oriental

Oriental is a term Europeans have used for centuries to refer to everything originating from, or referring to the part of the world that lies east of Europe. Although the Middle East includes Western Asia and Northern Africa, Southeast Asia is closer to the concept of Oriental, as perceived by Europeans. However, recently, the term has faced criticism, particularly from human rights activists, for its negative connotations. These individuals argue that “Asian” is the more appropriate term to describe people from this vast continent, rather than “Oriental.” The debate between Asian vs Oriental has become a hot topic, with many people confused about the differences between the two terms. Let’s take a closer look.


The word “orient” refers to the east or things that are eastern. Coined by Europeans, the term is used to describe people and areas that lie east of Europe. Etymologically, the word refers to the land of the rising sun. Since the sun rises in the east, the term “orient” has come to represent the east. Western authors have long used the term “orient” to describe people and cultures distinct from occidental, or western peoples and cultures. Europeans were often curious about eastern items such as spices and silk. The term “oriental” represents the exotic and mysterious aspects of cultures and peoples who were different in appearance and behavior from western people. To many American activists, the term “oriental” is Eurocentric and has negative connotations, which is why they prefer the more neutral term “Asian” to describe people from eastern cultures.


The term “Asian” is used for people and things belonging to the vast continent of Asia, especially in relation to Europe. Westerners often refer to Asians based on the part of Asia they come from, such as Southeast Asians, South Asians, East Asians, and Far East Asians. In America, people tend to equate Asians with those who have slanted eyes. However, individuals from countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka do not have such eyes, and this generalization is, therefore, inaccurate. Regardless of their skin color or facial features, people from the Asian continent, which stretches from Turkey and India to China and countries such as Cambodia, Thailand, Japan, and Vietnam, are considered Asian. While India was under British rule, all people from the subcontinent were referred to as Indians, but this changed with the division of India into two and then three countries.

Key Takeaways

  • Oriental refers to things and people from the east, particularly east of Europe, and is a term coined by Europeans to describe exotic and mysterious eastern cultures and people; it is the opposite of occidental, which refers to things and people from the west.
  • Human rights activists in America consider the term Oriental to be loaded with negative connotations and prefer the more neutral term Asian.
  • Although some people in America associate slanted eyes with the term Oriental, not all Asian people have slanted eyes, particularly those from the Indian subcontinent; it is more appropriate to refer to people from this continent as Asians rather than Oriental, which should be reserved for items from the East, such as rugs and carpets.
Dmitri Ivanov
Dmitri Ivanovhttps://whats-different.com
Dmitri Ivanov, a writer and managing editor, was educated in Canada and holds a BS in Science. Dmitri loves doing research, writing, and teaching various courses.


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