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)
"Fake foreigner" (10/03/2011)
[Thanks to Cecilia Segawa Seigle, Hiroko Sherry, Haewon Cho, Bill Hannas, Maiheng Dietrich; Bob Ramsey, and Jim Unger]