Since When is the Term “Oriental” Racist?

Since When is the Term “Oriental” Racist?

After spending almost a decade in China, my return to Canada was not without surprises.  I was quite astounded when I discovered that I’ve become sexist, anti-ageist, and a chauvinist.  If that isn’t bad enough, I’ve recently been made aware of the fact that I’m also a horribly racist person.

Over all those years I was under the false impression that the term “Oriental” was an untainted term used to describe people from East and Southeast Asian, and more particularly those from China, Korean, and Japan.

But according to the US and Canada, “Oriental” is a racist term.

John Kuo Wei Tchen, director of the Asian/Pacific/American Studies Program and Institute at New York University, originated the basic critique of the term “Oriental” which had developed in the 1970s.  He said: “With the 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’.”

Oriental Tower, Shanghai, China.

Oriental Tower, Shanghai, China.

It escalated in 2009 when a press release indicated that there was impending 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.”

That declaration struck me as being both illogical and humorous.  If you’ve spent any time in China, or are just a well- travelled tourist, you will look around in puzzlement at the frequency with which the term Oriental is used, especially in places like Qingdao and Shanghai.  There are 100’s if not 1000’s of examples.  You have:

Oriental Pearl Tower (Shanghai) – the Showpiece of Shanghai and China.

Oriental Movie Metropolis (Qingdao) – launched in September 2013 with a cost of 8.3 billion dollars by China’s richest man. The site has been nicknamed by those in the West as “The Chinese Hollywood”,

Oriental Group Co Ltd (listed on the stock exchange, one of many companies with “Oriental” in it’s name).

New Oriental Education & Technology Group Inc.

It’s irrefutable that “Oriental” has become the term which is freely exchanged for “Chinese” or the “Chinese people”.  The most obvious question you then ask is:  If “Oriental” is such as derogatory word used to describe Chinese people (and other Asians), why does China proudly use it both as a noun and an adjective to describe both themselves and many major billion-dollar points of interest?  Similarly, give me an example where black people are naming their monuments or enterprises “Nigger Tower, “Nigger Movieplex”, “Nigger Group Co Ltd” or “New Nigger Education”.

Oriental Movie Metropolis (aka "Chinese Hollywood), Qingdao, Shandong, China

Oriental Movie Metropolis (aka “Chinese Hollywood), Qingdao, Shandong, China

Even in the US there are many Chinese Supermarkets and Restaurants using the word “Oriental”, such as “Oriental Mart”, to name one.

And I really doubt that any successful Chinese person in the US, like a Chinese doctor or businessman objects to the use of the term “Oriental” or even gives a shit. He’s making good money, he’s happy, he’s empowered, he doesn’t care what people say about him, and really doesn’t have the time.  Those who are offended by this brand of petty garbage are the unfortunates, the unemployed, the poor or simply people with too much time on their hands, and become one of many chronic complainers.

It’s another case of whiners uniting and looking for a cause as dumb as which words we can or can’t use. It’s like those people who think all the history books should be rewritten with “humankind” rather than “mankind” or “man”.  They pollute the internet, camp out in a parks and generally stink up places with their B.O., braided hair, and carry on their game of hackey sack, until the authorities entertain them with a hungry bulldozer.

New Oriental School (NYSE: EDU) - 500 learning centers in 48 cities in China

New Oriental School (NYSE: EDU) – 500 learning centers in 48 cities in China

I may be biased, but to me “Oriental” is more descriptive than the politically acceptable term “Asian.” When people think of the Orient – they think of riches, including silk and teas. Oriental appropriately defines those people from the more Eastern countries of Asia, while the term “Asian” necessarily includes anyone from Asia – and that encompasses countries like Russia, whose inhabitants generally  look more white than Asian and have very different historical roots than those from China, Japan or Korea.

Obviously it’s only Asians in Canada and the US that are sensitive to this terminology.  They are living in a predominately white country, and think that all the white people should call them something different.

Well, I’m sensitive about white people and their history.  I don’t like the fact that we conquered much of the New World with our guns, germs, and steel, and raped and decimated our indigenous population.  It was truly barbaric and I don’t want to be associated with barbarians.  So don’t call me “white guy” anymore (or cracker, or cupcake, or whitebread…) instead I want to be called “Whitan.” Yes, Whitan. Change the history books, start a campaign, from now on Whitan will be the official name of white people. Join the revolution! Who’s with me???!!!

***crickets***

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