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The term the Orient literally refers simply to the rising of the sun, being derived from the Latin word oriens. It is used to mean "the East". Similar terms are the French-derived "Levant" and "Anatolia" from the Greek anatole, two further locations for the direction in which the sun rises.
"Orient" and "Oriental" have been used in English to refer to both Near and Far Eastern countries, including the Middle East, China, Japan, and India. For example, Mizrahi Jews are often referred to as Oriental Jews, while the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies focuses on Africa as well as the Middle East and East Asia.
For discussion of history or current events, more specific words such as the Middle East, Southeast Asia, or individual country names may be preferred.
There is an opposite term "Occident", which literally refers to the setting of the sun, being derived from the Latin word occidens, refers to "the West", but nowadays the word "Occident" is hardly used.
Political correctness in the United States
The use of the term Oriental is politically incorrect for its inaccurate and racist implications of the peoples that it refers to. The term Oriental was used by white Europeans to set a parallel between the "East" and "West," where the East was seen as backwards, exotic, and patriarichal, while the West was seen as logical, rational, and more modern. Additionally, many of the universities in Europe that historically offered courses in Oriental Studies were riddled with inaccurate and false information that was further used to cloud and distort the reality of the people the studies referred to. These distorted pictures of so-called "Oriental" peoples was used to justify colonization of the countries and their people in order to "make them civilized and Western." Additionally, it has been used in a derogatory fashion in the United States as an ethnic slur, and those associations have remained with the term for many Asian Americans (see parallels at "nigger").
Last updated: 08-10-2005 23:06:05