For other uses of "Orient", see Orient (disambiguation).

The Orient is the East, traditionally comprising anything that belongs to the Eastern world, such as the Middle East (Near East) or the Far East, in relation to Europe. In English, it is largely a metonym for, and coterminous with, the continent of Asia. In France and other countries of Western Europe, it also denominates the countries of North Africa.


Look up Orient, orient, Oriental, or oriental in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.

The term "Orient" derives from the Latin word oriens meaning "east" (lit. "rising" < orior " rise"). The use of the word for "rising" to refer to the east (where the sun rises) has analogs from many languages: compare the terms "Levant" (< French levant "rising"), "Vostok" Russian: Восток (< Russian voskhod Russian: восход "sunrise"), "Anatolia" (< Greek anatole), "mizrahi" in Hebrew ("zriha" meaning sunrise), "sharq" Arabic: شرق (< Arabic yashriq يشرق "rise", shurūq Arabic: شروق "rising"), "shygys" Kazakh: шығыс (< Kazakh shygu Kazakh: шығу "come out"), Turkish: doğu (< Turkish doğmak to be born; to rise), Chinese: (pinyin: dōng, a pictograph of the sun rising behind a tree[1]) and "The Land of the Rising Sun" to refer to Japan. Also, many ancient temples, including pagan temples and the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, were built with their main entrances facing the East. This tradition was carried on in Christian churches. To situate them in such a manner was to "orient" them in the proper direction. When something was facing the correct direction, it was said to be in the proper orientation.

Another explanation of the term stems from Rome during the Roman Empire, specifically the Eastern Roman Empire, or the "Roman Orient", during the Byzantine Empire. Although the original East-West (or Orient-Occident) line was the Italian Peninsula's East Coast, around 600 AD this would shift to the City of Rome. Any area below the City of Rome was considered the Orient, as well as the ethnicities inhabiting the land, such as Dalmatian Italians, (modern Neapolitans along with Sicilians, Tunisians, Moroccans, Greeks, etc.), as well as everything East of Southern Italy, hence the Italian name "Italia nord-orientale" (in English Northeast Italy) for Le Tre Venezie (the 3 Venice's) located above the Roman latitude line separating it from modern Abruzzo; the beginning of the Orient in the East, while Lazio is its beginning in the West of the Italian Peninsula.

The opposite term "Occident" derives from the Latin word occidens, meaning west (lit. setting < occido fall/set). This term meant the west (where the sun sets) but has fallen into disuse in English, in favor of Western world.

History of the term

Further information: Orientalism
Harem Pool by the Orientalist painter Jean-Léon Gérôme c. 1876; naked females in harem or bathing settings are a staple of much Orientalist painting

In the later Roman Empire, the Praefectura Praetorio Orientis, the Praetorian prefecture of the East, included most of the Eastern Roman Empire from the eastern Balkans eastwards; its easternmost part was the Diocese of the East, the Dioecesis Orientis, corresponding roughly to the region of Syria. Over time, the common understanding of "the Orient" has continually shifted eastwards, as European people traveled farther into Asia. It finally reached the Pacific Ocean, in what Westerners came to call "the Far East". These shifts in time and identification sometimes confuse the scope (historical and geographic) of Oriental Studies. Yet there remain contexts where "the Orient" and "Oriental" have kept their older meanings (e.g., "Oriental spices" typically are from the regions extending from the Middle East to sub-continental India to Indo-China). Travelers may again take the Orient Express train from Paris to its terminus in the European part of Istanbul, a route established in the early 20th century.

In European historiography, the meaning of "the Orient" changed in scope several times. Originally, the term referred to Egypt, the Levant, and adjoining areas.[2] Later, the term became synonymous with Islam and Judaism and its scope expanded both eastward and westward to include all non-European areas of Eurasian civilization, including North Africa as far west as Morocco.[2] During the 1800s, India, and to a lesser extent China, began to displace the Levant as the primary subject of Orientalist research. By the mid-20th century, Western scholars generally considered "the Orient" as just East Asia, Southeast Asia, and eastern Central Asia.[2] As recently as the early 20th century, the term "Orient" often continued to be used in ways that included North Africa and even parts of southeastern Europe. Today, the term primarily evokes images of China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, and peninsular Southeast Asia.[2] Throughout the history of the changing sense of the term, "the Orient" was never equivalent to Asia as a whole. "The Orient" being largely a cultural term, large parts of Asia—Siberia most notably—were excluded from the scholarly notion of "the Orient".[2]

Equally valid terms for the Orient still exist in the English language in such collocations as Oriental studies (now Asian Studies in some countries).

The adjectival term Oriental has been used by the West to mean cultures, peoples, countries, and goods from the Orient. "Oriental" means generally "eastern". It is a traditional designation (especially when capitalized) for anything belonging to the Orient or "East" (for Asia), and especially of its Eastern culture. It indicated the eastern direction in historical astronomy, often abbreviated "Ori".[3] In contemporary American English, Oriental usually refers to things from the parts of East Asia traditionally occupied by East Asians and most Central Asians and Southeast Asians racially categorized as "Mongoloid". This excludes Jews, Indians, Arabs, and most other South or West Asian peoples. Because of historical discrimination against Chinese and Japanese, in some parts of the United States, some people consider the term derogatory. For example, Washington state prohibits the word "Oriental" in legislation and government documents, preferring the word "Asian" instead.[4]

In more local uses, "oriental" is also used for eastern parts of portions of the Mediterranean Sea, for example Morocco's Oriental Region. Oriental is also used as an adjective akin to "eastern", especially in the Spanish-speaking world. For example, the Philippine islands of Mindoro and Negros are each divided into two provinces whose titles include the words "oriental" and "occidental" respectively. The official name of Uruguay is the República Oriental del Uruguay or Oriental Republic of Uruguay because it is east of the Uruguay River.[5]

Since the 19th century, "orientalist" has been the traditional term for a scholar of Oriental studies; however, the use in English of "Orientalism" to describe academic "Oriental studies" is rare: the Oxford English Dictionary cites only one such usage, by Lord Byron in 1812. Orientalism is more widely used to refer to the works of the many 19th-century artists who specialized in "Oriental" subjects, often drawing on their travels to North Africa and Western Asia. Artists as well as scholars were already described as "Orientalists" in the 19th century. In 1978, Palestinian-American scholar Edward Said published his influential and controversial book, Orientalism; he used the term to describe a pervasive Western tradition, both academic and artistic, of prejudiced outsider interpretations of the Arab and Muslim worlds, shaped by the attitudes of European imperialism in the 18th and 19th centuries.[6]

Current usage

British English

In British English, the term Oriental refers to people from East and Southeast Asia (such as those from China, Japan, Hong Kong, Korea, Taiwan, Philippines, Thailand, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Mongolia and Laos) and is not generally regarded as offensive. "Asian" in the United Kingdom generally refers to people from South Asia (in particular Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Maldives) since British Asians make up approximately 6.9% of the population.[7] "Orientals" refers exclusively to people of East and Southeast Asian origin, who comprise 0.7% of the UK population as a whole, and 5.3% of the non-European population. Of these, the majority are of Chinese descent.[8] Orient is also a word for the lustre of a fine pearl.[9] Hong Kong, a former British colony, has been called "Pearl of the Orient".

American English

Distinct within American culture, some American English speakers consider the term "Oriental" to be an antiquated, pejorative, and disparaging term. John Kuo Wei Tchen, director of the Asian/Pacific/American Studies Program and Institute at New York University, said the basic critique of the term developed in U.S.A. in the 1970s. Tchen has said: "With the U.S.A. anti-war movement in the '60s and early '70s, many Asian Americans identified the term 'Oriental' with a Western process of racializing Asians as forever opposite 'others'."[10] In a 2009 American press release related to legislation aimed at removing the term "oriental" from official documents of the State of New York, Governor David Paterson said: "The word 'oriental' does not describe ethnic origin, background or even race; in fact, it has deep and demeaning historical roots".[11]

In 2016, President Barack Obama signed legislation striking the word from federal law.[12]

Australian English

In Australian English, the term "Asian" generally refers to people of East Asian or Southeast Asian descent, such as those of Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, or Filipino descent. Persons of Pakistani, Sri Lankan, and most other South Asian descent are referred to by their respective demonym, but without explicit knowledge, those people are indeterminately inferred as "Indian".


In German, Orient is usually used synonymously with the area between the Near East and India, including Israel, the Arab World, and Greater Persia.

The term Asiaten (English: Asians) means the people of East Asia and Southeast Asia. Another word for Orient in German is Morgenland (now mainly poetic), which literally translates as "morning land". The antonym "Abendland" (rarely: "Okzident") is also mainly poetic, and refers to (Western) Europe.

See also


  1. Harbaugh, Rick (1998). "東". Chinese Characters: A Genealogy and Dictionary. Han Lu Book & Pub. Co. p. 227. ISBN 0-9660750-0-5. Retrieved 26 October 2010.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Lewis, Martin W.; Wigen, Kären (1997). The myth of continents: a critique of metageography. University of California Press. pp. 53–58. ISBN 978-0-520-20743-1. Retrieved 8 November 2011.
  3. Hooke, Robert. 1666. Drawing of Saturn in Philosophical Transactions (Royal Society publication) Volume 1
  4. Senate bill (pdf file)
  5. "The World Factbook". cia.gov.
  6. Nosal, K R. American Criticism, New York Standard, New York. 2002
  7. "2011 Census: Ethnic group, local authorities in the United Kingdom". Office for National Statistics. 11 October 2013. Retrieved 13 April 2015.
  8. 2011 Census: KS201UK Ethnic group, local authorities in the United Kingdom, Accessed 19 April 2014
  9. orient: definition of orient in Oxford dictionary (British & World English). Oxforddictionaries.com. Retrieved on 12 April 2014.
  10. "Oriental: Rugs or People?". nyu.edu.
  11. official 2009 press release Archived 12 February 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
  12. Weaver, Dustin (2016-05-20). "Obama signs measure striking 'oriental' and 'negro' from federal law". TheHill. Retrieved 2016-05-20.

Further reading

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