Orient(al[ism]) in East Asian languages

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Cortney Chaffin writes:

Today I've been corresponding over email with a colleague of mine at XYUniversity who organized an exhibition of Korean art to open tomorrow. Yesterday he sent out a description of the exhibit in which he used the phrases "oriental landscape painting" (in contrast to Western painting) and "oriental sensitivity" to describe the aim of the artist (to demonstrate "oriental sensitivity" in painting). I don't allow my students to use the term "oriental" in my art history classes, not only because it is a complex and loaded term, but I have first-hand experience of it being used as a racial slur in the U.S., so it makes me uncomfortable.

Anyways, my colleague just so happens to be Korean and after I explained to him why I feel we should not use the term in university publications, he responded that the term "oriental" is culturally acceptable in Korea and he linked to a website of an art school in Korea that refers to its institution as an "oriental art" school. My husband [himself Korean] showed me that in Korean "oriental" is translated from the characters dong yang 東洋 [VHM:  lit., "eastern ocean"]. Do you have any insight on the origin of dong yang 東洋? In a Chinese dictionary (Pleco), I see the term can mean "Japan" or "East Asian countries" and this made me very curious why this character combination was borrowed to mean "oriental" in Korean. Is it a loanword from Japanese?

Late addition:  My husband just clarified that 东洋画 [VHM:  "Oriental painting"] is a major at the premier art school Hongik University. The university website uses the Korean transliteration 동양화 and on their English language page "oriental."

The online Naver dictionary includes the following entries:

"oriental": ADJECTIVE.  東 洋의 (dong-yang-ui (RR), tong-yang-ŭi (MR) possessive particle).

"Oriental":  NOUN. (old-fashioned, offensive) 東洋人 (dong-yang-in (RR), tong-yang-in (MR)); "Oriental means coming from or associated with eastern Asia, especially China and Japan.

Online Daum dictionary:

"oriental" : ADJECTIVE.  1. 東洋의 (dong-yang-ui (RR), tong-yang-ŭi (MR) possessive particle) as in Oriental ideas, Oriental customs, etc.

2.東方의 (dong-bang-ui (RR), tong-bang-ŭi (MR)) as in Oriental Republic of Uruguay, Oriental Daily, etc.

N.B.:  MR = McCune-Reischauer Romanization; RR = Revised Romanization

Google Translate gives dong-yang-ui 동양의 as the Korean for "oriental";  Essence Modern Korean-English Dictionary concurs.  The first two syllables equate to 東洋, and the third hangul syllable is the genitive case marker.  The possessive particle -ui 의 isn’t used normally before a noun modified by "Oriental"; e.g., dong-yang salam 동양 사람 ("an Oriental [person])".

Tōyō 東洋 means "Orient" in Japanese.  Tōyō 東洋 ("the East") vs. Seiyō 西洋 (lit., "west ocean", i.e., "the West").  Oriental Studies is Tōyō-gaku 東洋学, and Tōyō no kuniguni 東洋の国々 means "Oriental countries", while Tōyō tetsugaku 東洋哲学 means "Oriental philosophy".  However, nowadays Ajia アジア(Asia)is used  more commonly, and Oriento  オリエント ("Orient") is used for the Middle Eastern countries especially in the archeological sense (kodai Oriento bunmei 古代オリエント文明 ["ancient Near Eastern / Near Eastern / Oriental civilization"]).

Tōyō 東洋 is never used for "Japan" in Japanese.  I don't think Tōhō 東方 ("[the] East") carries the meaning of "Orient" at all in Japanese.

Tōhō 東邦 signifies countries in the East — Oriental countries from the point of view of Westerners.

Tōa 東亜 means "East Asia(n)", Kyokutō 極東 is "Far East", and Ajia 亜細亜 is "Asia".

In Mandarin, for "Orient" we may say Dōngfāng 东方. Dōngyáng 東洋 (lit., "East Ocean") is an old slang term referring to Japan and the Japanese (cf., Dōngyáng guǐzi 东洋鬼子 ["Japanese Devils"], Dōngyáng huò 东洋货 ["Japanese goods"]). Yáng 洋 (lit., "ocean") in Mandarin refers to anything foreign (e.g., chóngyáng mèiwài 崇洋媚外 [lit., "worship of foreign things and fawning over things from abroad"; "xenophilia"], yángrén 洋人 ["foreigner"], xīyáng 西洋 ["Western"], yángcōng 洋葱 ["onion"], etc.).  "Orient(al)" refers to  a region that includes China, so it can not be considered yáng 洋 ("ocean", i.e., "foreign").

Despite the fact that Chinatowns all over the world still use the word "Oriental" with impunity (e.g., Oriental Noodle Factory, Oriental Fortune Cookies, Oriental Delight [many restaurants scattered all over the world; cf., "Tasty Chinese"]), there can be little doubt that, whether justly or not, it has been tainted by its association with colonialism.  That is why our department at Penn, which dates back to the 19th century, had to give up the name Department of Oriental Studies in 1992, when it became the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, with South Asian Studies splitting off and becoming a separate department.  Never mind that we were proud of our long tradition of philology and truly believed that "Ex oriente lux".

Much of the credit for this dramatic shift of attitudes toward "oriental" in the West is due to Edward Said's influential book entitled simply Orientalism (Vintage, 1978).

The heyday of Said's book has passed, and for balance one may now read The Birth of Orientalism (Penn Press, 2010) by the Swiss scholar, Urs App, which is linguistically and historically more solidly grounded than Said's work.

A few relevant Language Log posts:

"Laowai: the old furriner" (4/09/2014)

"The rhetoric of anti-Japanese invective" (9/23/2012)

and especially

"Fake foreigner" (10/03/2011)

[Thanks to Cecilia Segawa Seigle, Hiroko Sherry, Haewon Cho, Bill Hannas, Maiheng Dietrich; Bob Ramsey, and Jim Unger]



  1. rpsms said,

    July 8, 2014 @ 12:31 pm

    "Orientalist" and "Orientalism," in the context of (antique) painting/art and discussions of such in english, means "Middle Eastern." This seems implicit in the cited link to Said's book. This is different than "Oriental" to be sure, but the context might lead one to expect harems of white European women guarded by armed Moroccan men rather than traditional Korean landscapes.

  2. Stephan Stiller said,

    July 8, 2014 @ 1:18 pm

    Also relevant: "Dangerous Knowledge: Orientalism and its discontents" (Robert Irwin) [published in the UK as "For Lust of Knowing: The Orientalists and their Enemies"] and "Orientalism and Islam: European Thinkers on Oriental Despotism in the Middle East and India" (Michael Curtis)

  3. Urs App said,

    July 8, 2014 @ 2:02 pm

    "I don't think Tōhō 東方 ("[the] East") carries the meaning of "Orient" at all in Japanese"
    Yes it does; for example in Kyoto University's Tōhō Gakuhō 東方學報 whose English title is " Journal of Oriental Studies".
    Apart from that, I'm curious to know why the use of a word as a racial slur should place it on the index. Will we soon be afraid of using words like yellow, red, black?
    The word tōyō 東洋 is commonly used in Japan and has no pejorative connotation whatsoever. For example in libraries books on Asian history are classified under tōyōshi 東洋史 and some Asian study departments are called tōyō gakubu 東洋学部.
    I see no reason why words based on the Latin "oriens" (east) should all be infected with the Saidian virus. The German "Morgenland" is far more poetic than Orient (Oriental studies used to be called morgenländische Studien) but is today rarely used. This may be connected with a similar virus infection: that of the term "Abendland" (occident) by Spengler's "Untergang des Abendlandes" …

  4. J. W. Brewer said,

    July 8, 2014 @ 2:15 pm

    Wiktionary says that 洋 is among other things a typically male given name in Mandarin, and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_given_name has it as part of the allegedly 21st most-popular name in the PRC (in combination with the surname 刘. I would assume as a popular given name 洋 would not be understood as pejorative and I would be surprised if it connoted foreignness in that context. Am I right about that? (I assume the "foreign" meaning, whether xenophobic or merely descriptive, is parallel to the English "overseas" but with the "over" being implicit.)

  5. J. W. Brewer said,

    July 8, 2014 @ 2:17 pm

    I see that the American Oriental Society has not yet found it necessary to rename itself, despite presumably being dominated by the sort of people (i.e. academics) who are prone to being sensitive if not oversensitive on issues of this sort. Perhaps it has the same sort of grandfathered exemption from changing onamastic fashion as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People?

  6. Urs App said,

    July 8, 2014 @ 2:29 pm

    The issue here seems to be tōyō / dongyang 東洋 rather than just yō/yang 洋. The question is of course East of what? But all such terms are necessarily arbitrary; in Latin-based languages "meridional" refers to the Northern hemisphere just because Rome happened to be there (mid-day, lat. meri dies). Some Spanish and Portuguese speaking Americans in the Southern hemisphere could object.

  7. Urs App said,

    July 8, 2014 @ 2:49 pm

    Sorry, typo: meridional –> southern hemisphere < midday sun in Rome in South. Antonym is septentrional (referring to Ursa maior) which in Latin-based languages refers to North.
    On old maps we often find "Ori." for East, "Occ." for West, "Mer." for South, and "Sept." for North.

  8. Dongyoun Hwang said,

    July 8, 2014 @ 3:42 pm

    Many scholars in Korea do not use the term Orient or oriental in English but still use the term “Dongyang” or “Dongyang ui” in Korean. Even in the latter case, however, they use Asia or Asian instead of Orient or oriental, as their respective English translation. For example, Seoul National University has “Donyang sahak gwa” (lit. the Department of Dongyang History) but translates it as the Department of Asian History on its homepage. In the case of Ewha Women’s University it introduces “Dongyang painting major” as “Korean painting major” on its English website, somewhat differently.

    My point is that “Donyang” (or “Dongyang ui”) is not necessarily a translation of Orient (or oriental) in Korea anymore. Also, what is “culturally acceptable in Korea” today, I think, therefore, is the term “Dongyang (ui)” but not “Orient” (or “oriental”) in English.

  9. Mark Liberman said,

    July 8, 2014 @ 4:07 pm

    For a good "orientalist" joke, see "Orientalist meets Occidentalist", 2/11/2005.

  10. Sean Manning said,

    July 8, 2014 @ 4:34 pm

    "Orientalistik" is still part of active vocabulary in German, and Chicago still has an Oriental Institute.

    I try to avoid "orient" vocabulary not because of Edward Said but because it can mean either Southwest Asia or East Asia. Aside from the confusion when someone who thinks "the orient" is China learns that "orientalists" are more likely to learn Arabic than Mandarin, those two parts of the world don't have much in common, especially not in the millennium which I study.

  11. Victor Mair said,

    July 8, 2014 @ 4:49 pm

    There are several books entitled Occidentalism, the one I know best and like very much being Xiaomei Chen's Occidentalism: A Theory of Counter-Discourse in Post-Mao China (New York: Oxford, 1995). For a couple of others, see:


  12. Victor Mair said,

    July 8, 2014 @ 4:54 pm

    From Peter Golden:

    The word has undergone various changes since Said’s work (which was a polemic, often slipshod in its scholarly content – not a work of profound scholarship) became the model of political correctness. That 19th and some 20th century scholars of the Middle East were prejudiced and the handmaidens, as it were, of European imperialism was hardly a revelation – it was widely known and understood. “Oriental” in English, as we both know, could have a pejorative aspect to it, depending on the tone used by the speaker and the context of the speaker’s remarks, but any number of other ethnic designations could have the same value, depending on tone and context (cf. the term “Celestial” when applied to Chinese in the 19th and early 20th century, one could sense the smirk behind it). My son Greg was studying at Penn when the debate over changing the department name and removing “Oriental” was going on, but you know much more about it than I. Greg, who is Eurasian -and his roommate, who was also Eurasian – were repeatedly approached to sign one or another petition to change the name. Both were unconcerned and thought that there was a great deal of smoke, but little if any evidence of fire.

    I had encountered the word “Oriental” in various readings, always in a neutral sense and hadn’t given it much thought. There was nothing in the scholarly literature that jumped out at me in that way. In speech one could hear it used neutrally and or in a prejudiced way (again one had to judge by context and the tone of the speaker). In my first year in graduate school, my then mentor, Ihor Ševčenko, in our first meeting, after discussing my areas of interest (we were speaking in Russian, our customary language of communication in private settings), simply said to me: Вы будете ориенталистом (“you will be an Orientalist”). That was really my first professional contact with the word (it was not a term that my rural grandparents ever used as far as I can remember) and it meant to me that I would need to start learning Arabic and Persian. The Russian sense, in this context, referred to an old and excellent tradition of the study of Arabo-Persian sources that dealt with the history of the Rus’ and Eastern Europe in general. The word is still used in Eastern Europe in this – and broader contexts (e.g. the Polish journal Rocznik Orientalistyczny etc.).

  13. Tom S. Fox said,

    July 8, 2014 @ 4:56 pm

    “Much of the credit for this dramatic shift of attitudes toward "oriental" in the West…”

    In the West? In the USA, you mean! Don’t project your attitudes onto the entire hemisphere!

  14. Victor Mair said,

    July 8, 2014 @ 5:00 pm

    "Orient(al[ism])" is not tainted anywhere outside of the USA?

  15. Coby Lubliner said,

    July 8, 2014 @ 5:14 pm

    Does anyone remember the 1948-1952 Olympic diving champion (Dr.) Sammy Lee? He was a Korean-American graduate of Occidental College, and was known as "the Oriental from Occidental."

    I don't know that "Oriental" has ever been derogatory when applied to East Asians, and in the U.S., as far as I know, it has never been applied to any other group. Edward Said must have picked up its application to Middle Easterners as a student in British schools in Jerusalem in Jerusalem and Cairo, and, as an ivory-tower intellectual in the U.S., may never have learned how the term was used by ordinary Americans.

  16. Dave said,

    July 8, 2014 @ 5:17 pm

    I've never considered "oriental" to be a "racial slur" exactly, but my sense is that a significant portion of the people who use it also tend to harbor ideas that taint the word by association — people who call Asians "Orientals" rarely have nice things to say about them, but the word isn't necessarily derogatory in itself. How much it's tainted by association seems to vary by context. Based merely on my own level of discomfort, I'd posit that "Oriental" is worst when used to refer to people (and worse as a noun than as an adjective), creepy in a stereotyping context like "oriental mindset," still a little off for "oriental history," old fashioned but not particularly insulting for "the Orient" as a geographical region, and pretty much okay when talking about "oriental painting" (usually meaning Chinese or Japanese) or "oriental rugs" (meaning Persian or Afghan). I'd be curious whether others (Asians especially) share my subjective take on the subject. (For the record, I'm a white American in my 40s, living in the Northeast US. My wife is Chinese. I generally avoid using the word "oriental" just to be safe.)

  17. Bathrobe said,

    July 8, 2014 @ 5:42 pm

    "Orient(al[ism])" is not tainted anywhere outside of the USA?

    It probably wasn't, but since the US seems to lead in most things, resistance to the taint is likely useless in the long run, despite puzzlement or protests from others.

    Professor Mair discusses the Japanese and Korean usage of 東洋 along with the Chinese aversion to the term. Of some interest to me is the fact that Đông Dương in Vietnamese has a completely different meaning from what it does in East Asia: it traditionally refers to Indochina, the three Đông Dương countries (ba nước Đông Dương) being Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. I am very curious to know how this usage might have come about.

    Also, while China generally doesn't use 東洋 or 西洋, both Chinese and Japanese (not sure about Korean) at one time used 南洋 to refer to insular South East Asia. Does the vocabulary of 南洋, 東洋 and 西洋 hark back to older Chinese concepts of geography?

  18. Thomas Bartlett said,

    July 8, 2014 @ 5:43 pm

    The name "Anatolia" in Greek means "up land", i.e. the direction in which the sun rises, as viewed from Greek settlements around the Ionian Sea. "Orient" is merely a Latin expression of this received idea. "Ex oriente lux" refers both to the physical sunrise and to the cultural awareness of Greeks and Romans that their own lands were western frontiers of much older and more advanced civilizations. The Greeks and Romans were newcomers attracted to the ancient Near East, much as the Qin state was drawn to the older, more sophisticated states to its east.

    For the verb "to orient", OED includes the example "All early maps were oriented with the East at the top". That verb, as widely used in recent and earlier times, is utterly without discriminatory or pejorative connotation. "Orient" was a respected term among Europeans until recent times. Successful defense of Vienna against the Ottomans and Napoleon's conquest of Egypt were turning points

    By the way, Anatolia was the home of the "Asiai", apparently an Indo-European speaking nation allied with the Trojans; the name appears in Homeric poetry, at the dawn of European literature. The Asiai are also named in Hittite writings from around the 12th to 14th centuries BCE or earlier. In short, the name "Asia" is arguably no more free of cultural baggage or bias than the name "Orient". Interestingly, perhaps, a propos the often heard claim that China is the oldest continuing civilization, the name "Asia" is even older than the name "Zhongguo" 中國, for which the earliest attested evidence is the He Zun 和尊 bronze vessel dated to the early Western Zhou, i.e. ca 1,000 BCE.

    By analogy with "Anatolia" or "Orient", but independently derived, the English word "Japan" comes from the Fukienese pronunciation of the characters referring to that country as the "sun's source" in that greater region. That name was chosen by the Japanese, to assert that their emperor 天皇 outranked the Chinese emperor 天子.

    As for "Dongyang", its modern use implies the modern awareness of "Xiyang". Kenneth Ch'en's article (JAOS, 1937), on the world map that Matteo Ricci presented to Chinese friends, includes mention of 小西洋, referring apparently to the western Indian Ocean. A common phrase in Chinese is 鄭和下西洋, referring (slightly inaccurately) to the early Ming admiral Zheng He's voyages to that region. Presumably Chinese first became aware of a 大西洋 through Ricci's introduction.

  19. Bathrobe said,

    July 8, 2014 @ 6:02 pm

    I also suspect (although I'm only guessing) that 東洋 was possibly once at least partially acceptable in China but fell into disfavour after the Japanese invasion of China.

  20. the other Mark P said,

    July 8, 2014 @ 6:05 pm

    "Orient(al[ism])" is not tainted anywhere outside of the USA?'

    It most certainly is. I was at an art show decades ago in New Zealand which was my introduction to the negative senses of "orientalism", with paintings by the likes of Alma-Tadema.

    "Oriental" has pretty much disappeared from our vocabulary as a description of people or cultures. I suspect the offensiveness for the ordinary person is mostly the implication that the speaker lumps all places east of Greece as basically the same.

    The French tend to use "Orient" more, as it is their word for eastern, but my reading suggests "orientalism" in the old sense is just as tainted there.

  21. Thomas Bartlett said,

    July 8, 2014 @ 6:15 pm

    The ancient Chinese geographical text Shan Hai Jing, "Classic of Mountains and Seas", is a directory to valuable exotic resources, written for the benefit of potential exploiters. Presumably based on a kind of mystic cosmic symmetry, it refers to "Four Seas" 四海, one in each of the cardinal directions. The Southern Song scholar Cheng Dachang 程大昌 gave classics tutorials to his emperor, whose mind was naturally concerned with geography of the barbarian north. When Cheng lectured on Shan Hai Jing, the emperor asked about the Northern Sea 北海, and Cheng had to reply that the ancient sources don't say much about it. But he was so embarrassed at his ignorance of the subject that in retirement he compiled an essay that was in Ming times included in a large compilation of essays describing the oceans 古今說海. This might be an interesting place to look for evidence relating to contemporary China's claims in the South China Sea. Cheng cited detailed references from earlier historical writings of Han and Tang periods, identifying various bodies of water to the north and west of China proper. The 17th century writer Gu Yanwu included part of Cheng's essay in the article 四海 in Gu's masterpiece 日知錄. Annotations inserted in this article identify the 西海 mentioned in Han Shu as the Persian Gulf, although other modern interpretations have identified it with the Black Sea, as I remember.

    In short, 西洋 is an old and convenient binomial phrase that has evidently been defined differently in different times.

  22. Thomas Bartlett said,

    July 8, 2014 @ 6:20 pm

    In very recent times, Chinese customarily used the term 洋人, principally to refer to Caucasians. I once attended a semi-formal dinner at which a somewhat hostile individual told the following facetious story: He said that his mother once heard him calling someone a 洋人, so she asked him whether or not the other person would think it insulting. He then asked my opinion on the matter. I don't remember how I replied, but I think the best answer would be 請伯母放心吧.

  23. Thomas Bartlett said,

    July 8, 2014 @ 6:24 pm

    I once facetiously proposed, in the presence of Harvard's Professor Tam Thai, who was not amused, that a new verb, "to occident", be brought into use, to refer to modern cultural trends in East Asia. Mea culpa, mea culpa!!

  24. Brian Spooner said,

    July 8, 2014 @ 7:10 pm

    I think the best books on Edward Said's success in changing the
    meaning of the word "Orientalism" almost overnight in 1978 is "For lust of knowing : the orientalists and their enemies" by Robert Irwin and "Enough Said," by Dan Varisco. Said had a point but he went overboard. I am currently finishing a paper on the history of Iranian Studies that traces the way the field has evolved through periods of Orientalism, Occidentalism and now Globalization. At least we still have The School of Oriental and African Studies, and the Oriental Institute.

  25. Mark Mandel said,

    July 8, 2014 @ 7:40 pm

    @Thomas Bartlett: You wrote

    By the way, Anatolia was the home of the "Asiai", apparently an Indo-European speaking nation allied with the Trojans; the name appears in Homeric poetry, at the dawn of European literature. The Asiai are also named in Hittite writings from around the 12th to 14th centuries BCE or earlier. In short, the name "Asia" is arguably no more free of cultural baggage or bias than the name "Orient".

    What cultural baggage or bias does the word "Asia" carry in modern English that derives from a "apparent… Indo-European speaking nation" mentioned some three millennia ago and unknown today, except perhaps to a tiny handful of specialists?

  26. J. W. Brewer said,

    July 8, 2014 @ 7:46 pm

    @the other Mark P.: I think trying to come up with rational reasons for why particular words become taboo is not generally a productive activity. Taboos by their nature should not be expected to be rational (which is not to say that they are necessarily a bad thing), but perhaps tend to attract after-the-fact rationalizations which do not accurately account for their causation. One of the cool corpora BYU has is bajillions of words from back issues of Time magazine over the decades, which obviously had its house style, but maybe is a good barometer of taboo development in middlebrow U.S. public discourse (being neither too avant-garde nor too reactionary in these matters). "Oriental" is pretty steady through the 1960's, then drops a bit in the 1970's, then comes the collapse: half as common in the Eighties as in the Seventies; then half as common in the Nineties as in the Eighties, then asymptotically approaching the x-axis in the 21st century. I am highly confident that no mainstream American publication today would describe Maxine Hong Kingston's _The Woman Warrior_ as "the Oriental equivalent of Irving Howe's World of Our Fathers," which is an actual quote from the Jan. 5, 1981 issue of Time, showing no apparent self-awareness that the lexeme's days are numbered.

    I expect that the percentage of Americans who understand what "Orientalism" is a pejorative reference to, or who have ever heard the name Edward Said is probably quite small whereas the percentage who know that "Oriental" is one of those words you generally don't say anymore except in certain fixed idioms (probably still ok if followed by "rug," for example) is vast. The notion that Said's work was the proximate cause of that entire revolution in popular usage can't be ruled out on timeline grounds, but I am skeptical.

  27. Jerry Friedman said,

    July 8, 2014 @ 10:01 pm

    J. W. Brewer: Maybe it can be ruled out on timeline grounds. The earliest deprecation of "Oriental" I can find is from 1957. (The only others I've found before 1978 were one from '75 and one from '77.) In a Google ngrams comparison, nothing dramatic happens in 1978. I don't think Said started the trend against "Oriental".

    Urs App: I hate to argue with an expert, but I see no chance that we'll have to avoid "yellow", "black", or "red", and none that we'll have to avoid "orientation" and the verb "orient". As people have said, we can even keep "Oriental rug" and "Oriental Studies", at least for some time, while simultaneously not saying "that Oriental guy".

    The other Mark P.: I think the reason is at least as much all those wily and inscrutable Orientals of cliché as it is the excessive lumping.

  28. Simon P said,

    July 9, 2014 @ 1:32 am

    It's interesting how some words can be pejorative in one language and yet the common translation is perfectly acceptable in the language spoken by the people it refers to. I've heard Chinese talk about 黃種人 (lit. "yellow-kind people") as a completely acceptable term, whereas in English, referring to a Chinese as having "yellow skin" is extremely pejorative.

    Regarding "oriental", the word is only really used in two ways in Swedish: one is talking about rugs (though this is not very common; we usually talk about "Persian rugs") and the other is the word "orientalism", describing an exotification of East Asian people.

  29. Lugubert said,

    July 9, 2014 @ 1:47 am

    My impression is that "orientalism" etc. never has had any negative connotations in Sweden. At two of Sweden's major universities, the department concerned with East Asian languages are (translated) the Department of Oriental and African Languages, and the Department of Oriental Languages. The latter department irregularly publishes a scholarly magazine, "Orientaliska studier" ("Oriental studies" also includes material on the Arabic and Persian culture spheres). The former lot also feature Modern and Bible Hebrew, and Arabic.

    We're not totally immune, however, from US imported word scares. There was a proposal to change one of the above department names to the Department for Asian languages. It was turned down with for example emphatic comments that "orientaliska" has no racist meaning but maintains links to old and positive usages.

    As an aside, we've fairly efficiently succumbed to the US "N-word" scare, to the point that childrens' books depicting Africans in an entirely positive way are placed in quarantine because of that word.

  30. rgove said,

    July 9, 2014 @ 2:51 am

    It's important to note that the Mandarin 东方, meaning as it does nothing more or less than "Eastern", is very frequently used to refer to the east of China. For example, China Eastern [东方] Airlines, based in Shanghai in eastern China, was named at its creation to contrast with four other state-owned airlines named after other directions on the compass according to their main area of operations.

    Despite this, many Chinese translators continue to translate 东方 as "Oriental" out of habit, even in situations where the meaning is clearly east China rather than east Asia.

  31. David Morris said,

    July 9, 2014 @ 3:27 am

    Australians have inherited their world-mind-map from Europe, particularly the UK, and talk about the Middle East and the Far East, even though most East Asian countries are north of Australia (Tokyo is more-or-less due north of Adelaide and Beijing of Perth). Some politicians advocating closer ties in the region talk about the 'Near North' (which it's not).
    At the wedding of my wife and me in Seoul, the preacher (a Korean Anglican/Episcopalian priest) talked about the meeting 'not only of East and West, but also of North and South'.

  32. Alan Palmer said,

    July 9, 2014 @ 4:01 am

    "Orient(al[ism])" is not tainted anywhere outside of the USA?
    It isn't really tainted in the UK although its use has apparently declined, probably because of deference to US prejudices. As already mentioned we tend to use 'middle east' and 'far east' to describe the western and eastern sides of Asia, or just 'Asia/n'.

  33. Helen Wang said,

    July 9, 2014 @ 4:06 am

    As for the UK… I thought there had been a definite shift from oriental to Asian/East Asian/South Asian/South East Asian, but in fact there's quite a lot of variation – a few examples below:

    -School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London
    -Faculty of Oriental Studies, University of Oxford
    -Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Cambridge
    -British Library non-European has had many names and is now Asia Pacific and Africa Collections (with a separate Middle East Collections)
    -British Museum’s Dept of Oriental Antiquities was renamed the Dept of Asia
    -BM’s Dept of Western Asiatic Antiquities was renamed the Dept of the Middle East
    -Far Eastern Collection, V&A
    -Museum of East Asian Art, Bath
    -Oriental Ceramic Society
    -Oriental Numismatic Society
    -Royal Asiatic Society

  34. Martin said,

    July 9, 2014 @ 5:18 am

    Alan is correct in my experience. Oriental is not really a loaded term in the UK (Oxford and London both have university colleges using the term, for example). Admittedly it's rarely used in normal conversation, compared to 'east asian' etc.
    There's also the extra complication for many BrE speakers that 'asian' has for a long time referred to the indian subcontinent, making it unhelpful as a word to describe korea/japan/china etc.

  35. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 9, 2014 @ 7:38 am

    Two datapoints from the business world perhaps pointing in different directions. The once-major U.S. airline long known as Northwest Orient (to emphasize its historic focus on trans-Pacific routes) dropped the "Orient" from the name in 1986, although that was done in connection with a merger (with the old Republic Airlines) that was arguably refocusing the brand on domestic flights, so it's not clear if awkwardness about the O-word was a primary driver of the decision. OTOH, the Mandarin Oriental chain of high-end luxury hotels has expanded into the U.S. market in the last two decades or so (after the O-word had already become suspect/taboo in at least certain contexts) and has done exceedingly well for itself and afaik not suffered negative publicity because of that aspect of the name.

  36. Mark F. said,

    July 9, 2014 @ 7:41 am

    What Dave describes is exactly how most racial slurs become slurs. Once people notice that most people who use word X for group Y don't like group Y, anyone who doesn't want to advertise a dislike for group Y is going to start avoiding word X (at least as it applies the group). And contrariwise for people who do want to show a dislike.

  37. Adrian said,

    July 9, 2014 @ 10:19 am

    To add to Helen's list, the Oriental Museum at Durham: http://www.dur.ac.uk/oriental.museum/

  38. Jongseong Park said,

    July 9, 2014 @ 10:53 am

    The terms 동양 東洋 dongyang and 서양 西洋 seoyang are very ordinary terms in Korea with no problematic connotations whatsoever.

    I myself am wary of these terms as I think they imply a false binary division of the world into the East and West. I'd guess that this notion as well as the terms 東洋 and 西洋 come from Japan, and date from the period where the traditional China-centred worldview was first challenged by the arrival of Europeans and Americans. The former (which had previously been pretty much the whole of the known world) became 東洋 and the latter 西洋.

    Together, they are implied to cover the known world when employed in phrases like 동서양(東西洋)을 막론(莫論)하고 dongseoyang-eul mangnon-hago "regardless of East or West", which is understood to cover all cultures. So what does 東洋 mean to a Korean? Easy—Korea, China, and Japan. Neighbouring cultures of Southeast Asia, Mongolia, and Tibet could be included, as well as India at a stretch. But the Near East for example doesn't really figure into the usual Korean conception of 東洋, except as a result of translation of works by Edward Said and the like. Never mind Africa, Oceania, or the pre-Columbian cultures of the Americas.

    So 東洋 is pretty much coterminus with the Sinosphere in the Korean conception. That is why 동양화 東洋畫 dongyanghwa "Eastern painting" is the term for the traditional ink-and-brush style of painting practised in Korea, China, and Japan, in opposition to 서양화 西洋畫 seoyanghwa "Western painting" to describe the oil, watercolour, and pastel paintings and the like imported from the West. Persian miniatures would never be called 東洋畫 in Korea, for example, or even Indonesian scroll paintings, because the term is used for a style particular to the Sinosphere.

    So the terms 東洋 and 西洋 are the product of a fairly narrow worldview. But the East-West dichotomy is quite current outside of Korea as well, so when we discuss the Eastern and Western civilizations in English, for example, the natural translation in Korean is 동양 문명 東洋文明 dongyang munmyeong and 서양 문명 西洋文明 seoyang munmyeong respectively.

  39. Jongseong Park said,

    July 9, 2014 @ 11:15 am

    I picked up early enough on that "oriental" was a problematic term in English and avoid it myself, but occasionally I do hear the term from Asians. Koreans may simply know the word as the English equivalent of 동양 東洋 dongyang without being aware of the connotations, and I suspect it's a similar story for many Asians who learned English as a second language.

    I've been somewhat surprised on a couple of occasions recently, though, to hear the term separately from a Korean-American and from a biracial Chinese-British-American, both female in their late 20s/early 30s who grew up speaking American English. So I'm not really sure how pervasive the notion is that the term "oriental" should be avoided, even in the U.S. I avoid it to be safe, but I'm just not sure what impact it has for others.

  40. KWillets said,

    July 9, 2014 @ 11:22 am

    My wife majored in Painting at Hongik. Oriental Painting is a separate department where traditional materials and styles are used. Is it pejorative? I never thought of it that way, but they do seem to use the dated term on purpose.

  41. Levantine said,

    July 9, 2014 @ 11:23 am

    I would say that "Oriental" sounds old-fashioned in British English rather than offensive, though, as others have pointed out above, American attitudes are beginning to make themselves felt in the UK too. I recently heard a fellow Brit use the term "person of colour", which is definitely a recent importation from across the Atlantic.

    Coby Lubliner, the application of "Oriental" to Near and Middle Easterners was once usual throughout the anglophone world, including America. It is for this reason that Chicago's Oriental Institute, for example, is devoted to the study of the ancient Near East.

  42. Vanya said,

    July 9, 2014 @ 11:33 am

    I've never considered "oriental" to be a "racial slur" exactly, but my sense is that a significant portion of the people who use it also tend to harbor ideas that taint the word by association — people who call Asians "Orientals" rarely have nice things to say about them,

    My recollection is that in the 1970s the term was as neutral (or problematic) as "Jew" or "Black", not a slur for most people, but in the mouths of people who wanted it to sound like a slur, it could. What has happened since Said is that sensitive people simply stopped using "oriental" out of fear of being perceived as racists, so a process of negative self-selection has taken place whereby only people who mean the terms as a slur still use it. As a result we as a society have managed to create a slur where there hadn't been one before.

  43. Thomas Bartlett said,

    July 9, 2014 @ 12:31 pm

    Currently, the only blatantly pejorative term that's permissible in English is WASP (or Wasp, as sometimes written).

  44. J. W. Brewer said,

    July 9, 2014 @ 12:32 pm

    I think Vanya's analysis is half-right but overstated. Some people are better at adjusting their lexical usages to follow changing fashions (especially after a certain age) and/or some people spend more time in circles where everyone else is au courant on such matters so it is easier for their own usage to adjust almost automatically without a lot of self-conscious effort. But it is not unusual in the U.S. to have e.g. elderly relatives who sometimes say e.g. "Negro" or even "colored" with no malign intent (they were at some formative period of their life taught to use these as the polite/respectful words, are still doing so, and are by age or temperament possessed of below-median capacity for updating their lexicon), and it is I think inaccurate and unfair to treat them as interchangeable with those who deliberately deploy a prior usage (especially one that had already fallen out of fashion in their own younger years) as an ideological statement.*

    *Not that there's necessarily anything wrong with that – it depends on the particular change and its ideological valence. I myself sometimes use the old "Postal-map" spellings for place names in mainland China, both because they were still current in the atlases I pored over as a boy in the '70's and are thus the spellings I am likely to have internalized, and because I don't like to take advice on how to spell words in my native language from brutal dictatorships.

  45. Victor Mair said,

    July 9, 2014 @ 12:49 pm

    From Juha Janhunen:

    Thanks for this interesting discussion. It is sometimes amazing how far Americans can go in their striving for political correctness. As an opponent of PC I have never had any problems using the term "Oriental" – in fact, I can even talk of "Gypsies" and "Negroes" without meaning anything derogatory. Not to mention that the East Asian terms, as in Japanese Touyou vs. Seiyou, are completely current and usable. To my knowledge, after the end of Apartheid in South Africa, the US is about the only country where the population is divided along pseudoscientific grounds into "races" (that is, into "Whites", "African Americans", "Native Americans", "Asians" and – the most amazing of all: "Hispanics"). But the conceptual difference between "Oriental" and "Asian" is interesting and is certainly shifting. I am not comfortable using "Asian" for people from India or Pakistan, although British sources often use the term like this.

  46. Stefan said,

    July 9, 2014 @ 12:54 pm

    Seconding J.W. Brewer, it seems the Northwest Orient change to Northwest Airlines and then nwa was more about their expansion in the US and across the Atlantic than being PC. It happened in 1986 when they merged with Republic, I think the full-throated PC era had not yet dawned. Here is a discussion among airline geeks about it: http://www.airliners.net/aviation-forums/general_aviation/read.main/2627395/. It seems it was always Northwest Airlines Inc, and the Northwest Orient was a marketing name.

  47. Levantine said,

    July 9, 2014 @ 1:31 pm

    Juha Janhunen is being unkind to the USA. The ethnic categories he refers to are used for statistical purposes, and often very well-meaning ones (e.g., to trace the representation of minorities in specific fields of work). We have the same sort of thing in the UK, so such categorisation certainly isn't limited to the States.

  48. J. W. Brewer said,

    July 9, 2014 @ 1:56 pm

    To go back to the original concern in the original post, it seems that the phrase "Oriental Art" is still in use by some galleries/dealers right here on the island of Manhattan (usually not taken to be a reactionary anti-political-correctness locale . . .) right now in 2014. E.g., http://www.jjlally.com/ and http://www.imperialorientalart.com/. Presumably they do not think it will give undue offense to the sort of people they do business with. Maybe these are outliers, but given that they are businesses in one of the few niches where having studied art history in college is an actual job qualification, that may raise questions as to whether Prof. Chaffin's imposition of a word-taboo on her students is in the students' best interests.

  49. Thomas Bartlett said,

    July 9, 2014 @ 2:11 pm

    @ Mark Mandel: you wrote:

    "What cultural baggage or bias does the word “Asia” carry in modern English that derives from a “apparent… Indo-European speaking nation” mentioned some three millennia ago and unknown today, except perhaps to a tiny handful of specialists?"

    Please consider the Wikipedia article on "Asia" at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asia . Full of interesting data. A central point is that the concept of "Asia" was importantly shaped by the Greco-Romans, and continued in modern Europe, as a fundamentally Eurocentric view of the world. "Not that there's anything necessarily wrong with that, of course", because everyone does that, everywhere.

    Originally, in Greco-Roman times, "Asia" was a place named for one more or less local nation; later it became extended in European imagination to refer to all nations and places eastward of wherever the Europeans chose to place the border between Europe and Asia. But, basically, there is no single characteristic common to all peoples and nations called "Asian", except the fact that they are all to the east (more or less) of "Europe". Hence, the conceptual dissonance perceived by some people at embracing both China and India as "Asian". The Wikipedia article includes a perhaps unconfirmed etymology linking the word "Asia" with an Akkadian verb referring to the sun's rising, and the word "Europe" to another Akkadian verb referring to the sun's setting. (See fourth paragraph under heading "Bronze Age")

    "Yazhou" 亞洲 is used by many modern Chinese people without awareness of this cultural baggage, although some more reflective contemporary Chinese have (correctly and resentfully) identified the concept as originally foreign and called for it to be replaced, somehow (but how?), in Chinese usage. The character 亞 connotes the meaning of "second-ranking", as in the epithet 亞聖 referring to Mencius, the "second (Confucian) sage", and more pejoratively in 亞軍 meaning "runner up" in a competition. Would the character 雅 be more acceptable?

  50. J. W. Brewer said,

    July 9, 2014 @ 2:38 pm

    You can see the way in which words are used with different scopes in different contexts by considering the modern American racial/ethnic metacategory "Asian-American." It somewhat incoherently lumps together persons of East Asian, Southeast Asian, and (I think after some initial fuzziness or controversy) South Asian ancestry, but excludes those of "Southwest Asian" ancestry – they're from the "Middle East," and Middle-Easternness is somehow excluded from Asianness in this context. (Edward Said was most definitely not an "Asian-American"; and that the "Orient Express" was intended to take its passengers no farther than Istanbul doesn't have anything to do with how Turkish-Americans get classified.)

  51. Bathrobe said,

    July 9, 2014 @ 4:57 pm

    There is also the UK-based Oriental Bird Club which, according to its site, is concerned with the region bounded by:

    *the Indus river, Pakistan in the west through India and south-east Asia
    *the Wallacea line, East Indonesia in the east, and from
    *Mongolia, north-east Russia (E of 90°E) and Japan in the north
    *the Lesser Sundas and Christmas Island in the south

    I think Jongseong Park is right in pointing out the narrowness of the 東西 dichotomy, which dates to nineteenth century East Asia and carries all the historical baggage of that era. But like Zhou Enlai, who said it was too early yet to talk about the impact of the French Revolution, I think it takes an awfully long time for these things to play out. The many-layered baggage of previous eras is still with us despite our bright, modern PC notions. I, for one, was surprised to look up Wikipedia and find that 'Oriental despotism' dates back to the Greeks (I somehow thought it was from Lenin!)

  52. Bathrobe said,

    July 9, 2014 @ 5:24 pm

    Originally, in Greco-Roman times, "Asia" was a place named for one more or less local nation; later it became extended in European imagination to refer to all nations and places eastward of wherever the Europeans chose to place the border between Europe and Asia.

    I suspect that the only place in the world where there is actually a clearly-marked, conscious boundary between Europe and Asia is the Bosporus. I realise that the Urals are usually considered the boundary in Russia, but that is hardly a clearly defined line. The other boundary at the Caucasus is even less so.

  53. Bathrobe said,

    July 9, 2014 @ 5:30 pm

    Hmmm, that should have been the Bosporus, Sea of Marmara, and the Dardanelles.

  54. J. W. Brewer said,

    July 9, 2014 @ 6:18 pm

    The Bosporus seems a clean line geographically, yet the people who live right on one shore of the Bosporus are as a general matter racially/ethnically/culturally/religiously/linguistically indistinguishable from those who live right on the other shore, and this has been true for a very very long time (even as the local dominant culture/religion/language has shifted over the centuries, it largely has shifted in tandem). For all I know maybe those who live on the European side make jocular references about their "Asiatic" co-workers who commute in from the other side every day, but jocular is all such references could be.

    I think trying to draw a cultural/ethnic boundary between "Europe" and "Asia" is a bit like the old problem (before standardization and mass media and mass education) of trying to draw a boundary between "French" and "Italian" in the days when you could supposedly travel from Paris to Florence and the local dialect of each little village along the way would be mutually intelligible with that of the next. But it remains coherent to talk about French and Italian as different things even if the location of the border is blurry/fuzzy. If you travel overland from, say, Calais to Madras you will end up in a very different place racially/ethnically/culturally/religiously/linguistically from where you started, even if there is no single non-arbitrary place along the way where you can say you crossed the frontier.

  55. Bathrobe said,

    July 9, 2014 @ 7:46 pm

    I think trying to draw a cultural/ethnic boundary between "Europe" and "Asia" is a bit like the old problem of trying to draw a boundary between "French" and "Italian"

    I think Thomas Bartlett was closer to the truth.

  56. Thomas Bartlett said,

    July 9, 2014 @ 7:48 pm

    @ Bathrobe wrote:

    "But like Zhou Enlai, who said it was too early yet to talk about the impact of the French Revolution, I think it takes an awfully long time for these things to play out."

    When Kissinger asked Zhou Enlai in 1971 about the "French Revolution", Zhou Enlai thought he meant the Maoist revolution then going on in France. Mao was Zhou's boss and Zhou reflexively referred any conceptual issue to what Mao represented. In any case, Zhou was a diplomat, not a historical savant, and he should not be worshipfully portrayed as some sort of sage. Being a diplomat, he wasn't about to say anything that might offend the French, one way or another. "Too early to say" is tantamount to the standard bureaucratic "come back tomorrow". Winston Lord has made a career on the lecture circuit of re-telling this story to enhance his own role in the proceedings. It's all just self-serving baloney, by everyone concerned.

  57. Bathrobe said,

    July 9, 2014 @ 8:12 pm

    Actually, it appears that he was talking about the French protests in 1968, not the French Revolution. See Zhou Enlai's Famous Saying Debunked.

    But it's still a nice quote!

  58. Bathrobe said,

    July 9, 2014 @ 8:14 pm

    Sorry, yes, you were referring to the Maoist protest in France. As I said, it may be bunk, but it is a nice bunkum quote reflecting the long view on history.

  59. the other Mark P said,

    July 9, 2014 @ 8:15 pm

    J. W. Brewer said,
    I think trying to come up with rational reasons for why particular words become taboo is not generally a productive activity.

    Of course it is (assuming you don't get too worked up about "rational' reasons, for something that is often irrational). We do it every time we decide whether to follow a newly emerging taboo or not.

    It accept it can be impossible for an outsider some time after the fact to find out why a word became taboo, but since the older ones among us lived through this process for "oriental" we likely have some idea.

    I doubt it was because of Said, whose influence is only on a small sub-set of academics. My suspicion is that the sort of people who could not be bothered to distinguish between races, and so used "oriental" indiscriminately, were increasingly despised, and their usages avoided. That the social change meshes to perfectly with the usage change is unlikely to be an accident.

  60. Mark Mandel said,

    July 9, 2014 @ 9:49 pm

    Agreed, but with reservations. To me, that usage of "Oriental" seems a bit old-fashioned. I don't despise its users because I think of them as mostly of a previous generation (and I'm old enough to have grandchildren), whose attitudes were ignorant, and despicable by today's standards, because they didn't know any better.

  61. Vanya said,

    July 10, 2014 @ 2:06 am

    @ the other Mark said My suspicion is that the sort of people who could not be bothered to distinguish between races, and so used "oriental" indiscriminately, were increasingly despised,

    But for the most part people use "Asian" the exact same way, and just as indiscriminately.

  62. J. W. Brewer said,

    July 10, 2014 @ 9:39 am

    @the other Mark P. – the process you describe is a second stage. Something needs to happen first whereby some influential "tastemaker" subset of users of the language eschew the newly-taboo usage, not unlike (if perhaps for more admirable reasons) some group of tastemaker teens adopting a hip new slang expression. That then sets the stage for the innovation to expand or "go viral" or what have you, as other users of the language wish to be associated for whatever reasons (cultural prestige, a desire to appear au courant, a desire to appear thoughtful and considerate) with the innovators and thus emulate the innovation in their own usage, with those who refrain from adopting the innovation becoming increasingly a self-selected and low-prestige group, perhaps causing a further snowballing/bandwagon effect in helping the innovation to spread. But you still need a separate causal explanation of where the initial innovation came from, i.e. how you got from the initial state where no substantial subgroup self-consciously eschewed using "Oriental" in particular contexts to the subsequent state where an influential subgroup did.

  63. J. W. Brewer said,

    July 10, 2014 @ 9:53 am

    Semi-relatedly, if you take a look at the COCA corpus, there are more recent (i.e. post-2000) hits of the more deprecated usages of "Oriental" than I would have anticipated. One fits a pattern noted above (a direct quotation from the Korean CEO of Korean Airlines, speaking English and referring to "Oriental cultures"), but quite a lot are from fiction. One would need to dive deeper than I have time to do today to know what to make of the fictional instances. They might, for example, i) be from works with "period" settings and thus using now-archaic vocabulary in order to support that period feel; ii) be in the voices (or from the narrative POV, if not in direct quotes) of characters the reader is supposed to view as unenlightened or bigoted; and/or iii) be low-prestige genre fiction (paperback romances etc.), and thus tend to suggest that the writers and readers of that genre still find the usage natural and unproblematic and have not thus far adopted the taboo to the same extent as college professors, prestige media sources, etc., which might in turn suggest the taboo is more of a social-class shibboleth than a reliable sign of moral worth. (I myself am very much a member of the social class where the taboo has become pretty strong, and I seem to observe it in my own usage – I just find looking at this sort of corpus evidence a good way to, as the kids apparently say in college towns these days, "check my privilege," and be cautious of the temptation to impose a moralistic narrative on class/regional/etc. differences in language usage.)

  64. Vanya said,

    July 10, 2014 @ 10:24 am

    the taboo is more of a social-class shibboleth than a reliable sign of moral worth.

    That seems to me a good way to put it.

  65. J. W. Brewer said,

    July 10, 2014 @ 10:49 am

    Vanya: I should perhaps make clear that the "more a shibboleth" hypothesis is just that, a hypothesis. I don't think I have enough recent usage evidence to be willing to assert it's true, but it seems not implausible, subject to looking more deeply into the usage patterns of the sort of native AmEng speakers who may tend not to be the people (due to geography/class/etc.) that most LL commenters, including myself, frequently interact with. But that empirical research could as equally well disconfirm the hypothesis as confirm it.

  66. Rodger C said,

    July 10, 2014 @ 12:01 pm

    I'm reminded of National Lampoon's definition of Europe as "that ragged thing hanging out of Asia's butthole," or words to that effect. (unfortunately my search for "Asia's asshole OR butthole" turns up only porn sites.)

  67. Bloix said,

    July 10, 2014 @ 12:19 pm

    Oriental as a noun or adjective denoting a person's racial or ethnic origin tags the speaker as being elderly and clueless: "Barbara isn't happy about her son's new girlfriend." "Why not?" "Well, she's an oriental." Or, "in my day that neighborhood was Spanish, but now it's mostly oriental." But for objects – oriental rug, oriental painting – I would think the great majority of Americans would have no difficulty with it.

  68. J. W. Brewer said,

    July 10, 2014 @ 12:41 pm

    Well, let's just pick some of the recent COCA hits, "By some oriental magic, Padmaa always removed all the small hairs on her body, even the ones covering her sex." (From a novel published in 2011.) It may be badly-written soft porn, but I'm not willing to assume the author or narrative voice is elderly and clueless. Or "Lady Agnes had become expert in alluding to her mysterious oriental ways of creating well-educated and well-behaved young gentleman." (From a novel published in 2009 – snippet not large enough to determine whether it's going to turn pornographic on the next page . . .) "An oriental woman, wearing an apron, tells us kindly to remove our shoes in the tiny vestibule." (From a short story published in 2007 in what sounds like a snooty literary "little magazine," but maybe it has a period setting or other cover story for the usage?)

    These are all usages that I imagine would be uncommon and possibly discomfort-inducing among the circles Bloix and I tend to frequent, but they're Out There. Hurrah for Big Data, etc., while of course remembering that Big Data is not self-interpreting.

  69. Pete said,

    July 10, 2014 @ 2:43 pm

    But in Britain (as many people have said above) the word "Asian" means people from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and possibly also Afghanistan, and it's definitely not racially loaded or offensive in any way…except insofar as it's impolite to make inappropriate references to a person's race.

    That leaves only "oriental" for the people that in other countries call "Asian". It's just the normal word.

  70. Keith said,

    July 10, 2014 @ 6:03 pm

    When I lived in the US I was regularly chided for using the word "Oriental" to refer to the people, languages and cultures of "East Asia". My American friends would insist on using the term "Asian" and I would reply that for me, that refers more to the Indian sub-continent than to points further east.

    But they would also be confused at my reaction to their use of the word "African" to mean any "black" person, even if a seventh generation native of Chicago. For me, an African is born in Africa.

    Likewise, their use of the term "Native American"… I used to argue "I was born in England, I'm a native Englishman, you were born in America. you're a Native American". It didn't help clarify matter, but I spend an amusing half hour.

    Where I'm going, is that what "the other Mark P" wrote was right.
    Of course it is (assuming you don't get too worked up about "rational' reasons, for something that is often irrational). We do it every time we decide whether to follow a newly emerging taboo or not.

    People pick up their ideas from the ground where they find them. If some writer has come along and pissed all over an idea, it gets smelly and nobody wants to pick it up and wave it around. It becomes taboo because the writer has cursed it with his magic pollution. Only a few foolhardy souls are prepared to risk contamination by using these words and ideas in the same way as they did before the shamen-writer put the curse on them.

    Finally, I'll mention that in France there is a whole range of sweet pastries that are called "patisseries orientales", but which are typical not only of the Levant but also of the north-African countries collectively know by their Arabic name of "Maghreb", which means "the West"… so these are "Western-Oriental Pastries".


  71. Mark Mandel said,

    July 10, 2014 @ 7:13 pm

    @Thomas Bartlett: I have no argument with the etymology and history of the word as you describe them. But to me, "cultural baggage or bias" refers to the connotations a term has for contemporary users. I trust that all here agree that etymology ≠ semantics (denotation); I would expect equal agreement that etymology ≠ cultural baggage (connotation).

  72. Mark Mandel said,

    July 10, 2014 @ 7:18 pm

    @ J. W. Brewer:
    "Lady Agnes had become expert in alluding to her mysterious oriental ways of creating well-educated and well-behaved young gentleman [sic]" sounds period-ish. In addition or alternatively, "alludes to" suggests that Lady Agnes herself may use the term.

  73. Mark Mandel said,

    July 10, 2014 @ 7:25 pm

    P.S. to Thomas: Not knowing Chinese, I can't answer your third paragraph.

  74. Thomas Bartlett said,

    July 11, 2014 @ 12:17 am

    I agree with the views expressed here, that Said overstated the case against Orientalism. So I was interested to come across a collection of essays that he wrote on classical music, in which he was well trained as a pianist. Remarkably, in view of his apparently radical critique of Orientalism, his views on European classical music are said to be quite

  75. Thomas Bartlett said,

    July 11, 2014 @ 12:28 am

    @ Mark Mandel wrote; "P.S. to Thomas: Not knowing Chinese, I can't answer your third paragraph".

    亞洲 (spelled Ya Zhou and sounding like "ya-joe") is the common two-syllable expression for "Asia". Actually, 亞 is an abbreviation of 亞細亞, (spelled Ya-Xi-Ya and sounding like "ya-shee-ya"), a phonetic transliteration of "Asia", plus 洲, meaning "continent". The point is that 亞 is used here only for its sound, to transliterate a foreign name, and normally no one thinks of the meaning that this character usually has in a purely Chinese context, which is "second ranking". So I slightly facetiously (because, of course, it won't be done) suggested that maybe 雅, which sounds like 亞 and means "elegant", could be substituted for 亞.

    Sorry, but I must now withdraw from this interesting colloquy, due to pressing matters at hand. It has been interesting.

  76. Jongseong Park said,

    July 11, 2014 @ 6:04 am

    Korean does have the loanword 오리엔트 orienteu to translate the English or German term Orient, referring vaguely to the regions around the Eastern Mediterranean excepting Greece, used most often in the historical context referring to the civilizations of Mesopotamia, the Levant, and Egypt. Still, it's a pretty rare term, about as rare as the term Orient is in discussing history in English. Otherwise, it's used for set expressions like 오리엔트 특급 特急 orienteu teukgeup "Orient Express" and 오리엔트 정교회 正敎會 orienteu jeonggyohoe "Oriental Orthodox Church" (as opposed to 동방 정교회 東方正敎會 dongbang jeonggyohoe "Eastern Orthodox Church).

    In other words, 오리엔트 orienteu has pretty much no semantic overlap with 동양 東洋 dongyang.

  77. Levantine said,

    July 11, 2014 @ 9:37 am

    Pete, there's always "Far Eastern" or "East Asian".

  78. Bloix said,

    July 11, 2014 @ 3:33 pm

    Talking Points Memo today is making fun of a Republican politician for referring to "Chinamen." Which is clearly taboo. But why? Why is it not okay but Irishmen, Frenchmen, Scotsmen, even Norsemen, are all okay?

    And there's really no acceptable word for "person from China." "He's a Chinese?" Come on.

  79. Bloix said,

    July 11, 2014 @ 3:39 pm

    Oh, and JW Brewer –

    You're offering a quote that refers to a woman's genitalia as "her sex" as an example of current socially acceptable usage? That is one ick-inspiring book you found there.

    The "Lady Agnes" quote is obviously free indirect style – "oriental" is a word Lady Agnes would use.

    The third one – well, maybe. We need to know who the first person narrator is.

  80. J. W. Brewer said,

    July 11, 2014 @ 4:48 pm

    Bloix: I am offering that as a possible example of current acceptable-in-context usage among people with whom you or I might not frequently interact due to social-class barriers. My theory (which I guess could be disputed) is that even in low-literary-merit soft porn, sufficiently strong word taboos would still be observed to avoid unnecessarily distracting the reader, unless deliberate taboo-violation was intended for literary effect. (Indeed, the use of the rather euphemistic word "sex" rather than a more vulgar synonym suggests to me that this is a book marketed to a pulp/romance genre-fiction audience that wishes to understand itself as not consuming hardcore porn and thus observing certain social proprieties.) For example, I can't via COCA find an as-recent use of "Negress" in trashy fiction except for instances where even a short snippet is sufficient to make clear a period setting is intended.

    But now you've provoked me to share the most jaw-droppingly astounding sentence I came across in the prior COCA search: "“He lay opened now to the warm air and her cool hands, like a large, amorous fish symbolically slit up its ventral seam by the fingers of an Oriental mermaid.” That turned out datewise to be a bit of a red herring (a large, amorous red herring?), because while not turning up in print until 2005 it appears to be from a manuscript written possibly as much as a quarter-century earlier by none other than Marlon Brando and a collaborator, which had been prudently left unpublished until both co-authors were deceased.

  81. Adrian said,

    July 11, 2014 @ 6:53 pm

    Although I agree that the word 'oriental' isn't taboo in the UK, I think the line is drawn at its use as an epithet. One might say "He looked oriental" (meaning East Asian) but not "He married an oriental."

  82. Mark Mandel said,

    July 12, 2014 @ 1:04 am

    Bloix: Yes, "a Chinese" is pretty ungrammatical, but the deprecated word was plural. You didn't give the context, but in many contexts "Chinese" can be perfectly well used to mean "Chinese people". "The Chinese have one of the world's oldest literary traditions, if not THE oldest." "The crowd included many Vietnamese and Indonesians, along with Chinese, Cambodians, and a few Australians and New Zealanders." (Please don't ask me for a context for that one; I'm demonstrating grammaticality, not plausibility!)

  83. Phil Bowler said,

    July 12, 2014 @ 7:15 am

    @Martin: "Oriental is not really a loaded term in the UK (Oxford and London both have university colleges using the term, for example).”
    Indeed. Also ‘the Orient’. When I was an undergraduate at St Edmund Hall, Oxford, in the 60s, we had to make many journeys to the Orient, since this was the term for the (temporary) lavatories on the outer side of the eastern range of the quad, near the chapel. Was this simply a geographically-inspired term, perhaps some public school in-joke, or was there an unpleasant, condescending connotation as well?

  84. Bathrobe said,

    July 13, 2014 @ 3:15 am

    I don't particularly like the recent taboo against the words 'Orient' or 'Oriental', which carry a certain charm of the exotic that is missing from more prosaic substitutes, but I recognise that it's futile to fight against linguistic taboos and contagion, no matter how irrational these might be. However, I do tend to take issue with the characterisation of previous use of the word as being a result of 'ignorant' attitudes or as 'despicable by today's standards'.

    My reasoning for this is that:

    1) The suggested alternatives are not really any better. 'Asia' is a tainted concept, as Thomas Bartlett pointed out, since it is also Eurocentric. Using 'East Asia', 'South Asia', or 'Southeast Asia' is a slight improvement, but these terms simply subdivide Asia; they don't do away with it altogether. 'Middle East' is also Eurocentric. From the point of view of East Asia, it might be better called the 'Middle West'. These subdivisions are also far from fixed. While scholars might think of 'East Asia' as a definite geographic or cultural region, economists talk of the industrial economies of 'Northeast Asia' as much as they do of 'East Asia', which leaves the eastern part of Russia without a name. It's silly to imagine that by ousting 'Oriental' you are getting rid of the old taint, since it is deeply embedded in every 'correct' geographical expression that is offered as an alternative to colonialist ones. (I also question whether Xinjiang or Tibet really belong to 'East Asia'. Culturally they certainly do not. I raise this because certain kinds of colonialist attitude seem to be stigmatised; others are glossed over.)

    2) I used the word 'exotic' above. Of course, this appeal to the exotic is part of the point of the crusade against 'Orientalism', which is supposed to be guilty of 'othering' and 'exploitation'. And yet the same appeal to exoticism and exploitative othering is deeply embedded in many modern usages that haven't been stigmatised. Take the word 'ethnic'. The term 'ethnic' is generally a positive term in a cultural sense, but when people use it they are implicitly talking about 'minor', 'non-mainstream' ethnicities, as opposed to the blandness of mainstream modern society. Fashion designers, musicians (e.g. Deep Forest), and novelists feel free to appropriate and exploit the 'ethnic' appeal of other people's culture. The same kind of exploitation is perpetrated by Han Chinese writing novels about Tibet (very popular recently) or painting scenes from Tibet, to name just one way in which the 'exotic' is exploited. I don't think it's a valid position to dismiss 'Oriental' as ignorant or despicable while being blind to the exact same processes in other aspects of modern society.

    I've mentioned examples from China because that's where I am and that's what I tend notice the most. China has, in fact, carried out quite a few 'rebrandings' for national ideological purposes. One of them is the projection of the term 'minority' back into history, such that the tombs of people in ancient times who lived their entire lives without knowing that they were an 'ethnic minority' are tagged with the adjective 'minority' in modern China. But China is not the only country guilty of this, and if we were to truly apply the word 'ignorant' or 'despicable' to every case of 'othering' or 'exploitation' that we could identify, we would find it difficult to say anything at all.

  85. Levantine said,

    July 13, 2014 @ 6:22 am

    Bathrobe, in what way is "Asia" Eurocentric? (I'm not talking about the origin of the term, but the current understanding/application of it.)

  86. Bathrobe said,

    July 13, 2014 @ 6:42 am

    It's Eurocentric in origin, and Eurocentric in giving Europe its own special name while the rest gets lumped together as 'Asia' (i.e., 'Eurasia' minus Europe). That's the reason that British commenters are pointing out that 'Asian' for them means 'South Asian', leaving the rest in limbo, to which other (British) commenters suggest that they could use 'East Asian' or 'Far Eastern'. The problem is inherent in the word 'Asia'.

    It would be more neutral (although rather ugly) if we were to adopt terms like 'West Eurasia' (or 'Northwest Eurasia') for Europe, 'East Eurasia' for 'East Asia', 'South Eurasia' for 'South Asia', 'Southeast Eurasia' for 'Southeast Asia', 'Northeast Eurasia' for Russia east of the Urals, 'Southeast Eurasia' for that part of the Middle East in Asia, and 'Central Eurasia' for 'Central Asia'. I'm not advocating this, but anything that gives Europe special status while lumping all the rest together, whether as 'the Orient' or as 'Asia', is basically Eurocentric.

    You can't criticise 'Oriental' for being a mishmash if you're not willing to admit that 'Asia' is too.

  87. Bathrobe said,

    July 13, 2014 @ 6:46 am

    Sorry, that should have been 'Southwest Eurasia' for that part of the Middle East in Asia.

  88. Levantine said,

    July 13, 2014 @ 8:50 am

    I guess what I mean is that Asia is now a generally accepted concept throughout the world (in the same way that most nations use the Christian calendar without paying much heed to its origins). The rights and wrongs of this may well be debated, but I think it's fair to say that, in practical terms, "Europe" and "Asia" do not carry the kind of baggage that "Oriental" seems to have acquired. I agree it's not entirely logical why we should reject one vague catchall term while accepting another, but that's language, I suppose.

  89. Bathrobe said,

    July 13, 2014 @ 9:32 am

    "Oriental" didn't originally have that baggage, just as many terms we use today don't either — at least, not yet. When they do, people will be able to look back on us as 'despicable' and 'ignorant'. If 'ethnic' ever falls out of fashion and you're still around, remember what I said :)

  90. Levantine said,

    July 13, 2014 @ 10:03 am

    Perhaps I was too subtle, but I made the same points in my own comment. The difference between us is that I'm happier to accept that certain words will become problematic with time, just as I'm happier to adapt my lexicon accordingly. When I was a teenager, "Oriental" was the normal way to describe someone ethnically East Asian; now, I would be surprised to hear this term from one of my contemporaries. If "ethnic" goes the same way, then so be it. I don't see what point there is in complaining about linguistic shifts that are bigger than any one speaker.

  91. Bathrobe said,

    July 13, 2014 @ 10:45 pm

    Sorry, I don't disagree with you at all. I think we all follow fashion, although the ease with which we submit to its dictates varies from individual to individual.

    My comment was more directed at those are 'catty' about fashion. Calling certain uses 'ignorant' in retrospect is not only uninformed, it also runs the risk of being called 'ignorant' and 'despicable' in future if you get caught on the wrong side of fashion trends.

  92. Levantine said,

    July 14, 2014 @ 1:49 am

    Yep, we're on the same page. Sorry for the confusion!

  93. Victor Mair said,

    July 15, 2014 @ 6:22 pm

    Valuable discussion here:


  94. Robert said,

    July 27, 2014 @ 1:33 pm

    >> I recently heard a fellow Brit use the term "person of colour", which is definitely a recent importation from across the Atlantic.

    It seems you have fallen victim to the recency illusion. In Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stephenson has Squire Trelawney describe Long John Silver's wife as a "woman of colour". Later in the book, Jim Hawkins describes her as a "negress", so it's clear this isn't some 19th century expression meaning something else.

  95. Mark Mandel said,

    July 29, 2014 @ 9:49 pm

    "Person of colo(u)r" is certainly more recent than Stevenson, but only because of "person", not "of col_r".

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