Asian vs. Oriental

What's the Difference?

The terms "Asian" and "Oriental" are often used interchangeably to refer to people or things originating from the eastern part of the world. However, it is important to note that there is a subtle difference in their usage and connotations. "Asian" is a broader term that encompasses a vast and diverse range of cultures, ethnicities, and countries, including East Asia, Southeast Asia, and South Asia. On the other hand, "Oriental" is an outdated term that was historically used to describe people and objects from East Asia, particularly China and Japan. While "Asian" is considered more inclusive and respectful, "Oriental" has fallen out of favor due to its association with colonialism and a reductionist view of diverse cultures.


Photo by Mason Wilkes on Unsplash
Geographical ReferenceRefers to the continent of AsiaRefers to the East, particularly East Asia
Cultural DiversityEncompasses a wide range of diverse cultures, languages, and traditionsPrimarily associated with East Asian cultures
Historical SignificanceRich history spanning thousands of yearsHistorically used in Western contexts to describe East Asian cultures
Language FamiliesIncludes various language families such as Sino-Tibetan, Indo-European, Dravidian, etc.Primarily associated with languages like Chinese, Japanese, and Korean
FoodDiverse cuisines including Chinese, Indian, Thai, Japanese, etc.Often refers to East Asian cuisine like Chinese, Japanese, and Korean
Art and AestheticsVaried art forms including calligraphy, painting, sculpture, etc.Traditionally associated with East Asian art forms like Chinese brush painting, bonsai, etc.
PerceptionCan be seen as a broader term encompassing a larger regionCan be seen as a narrower term specifically referring to East Asian cultures
Photo by 五玄土 ORIENTO on Unsplash

Further Detail


When discussing the attributes of Asian and Oriental, it is important to approach the topic with sensitivity and respect for the diverse cultures and histories encompassed within these terms. Both Asian and Oriental are broad categories that encompass a wide range of ethnicities, languages, religions, and traditions. In this article, we will explore some of the general attributes associated with these terms, while acknowledging the inherent complexities and variations within each group.

Geographical and Cultural Context

Asia is the largest and most populous continent, comprising diverse countries such as China, Japan, India, South Korea, Vietnam, and many more. The term "Asian" is used to refer to individuals or cultures originating from this vast region. On the other hand, the term "Oriental" historically referred to the East, particularly the regions of East Asia and Southeast Asia. However, it is important to note that the term "Oriental" has fallen out of favor in recent years due to its colonial connotations and the perception of it being an outdated and Eurocentric term.

Asian cultures are incredibly diverse, with each country and region having its own unique traditions, languages, and customs. From the ancient civilizations of China and India to the rich cultural heritage of Japan and South Korea, Asia is a tapestry of vibrant cultures and histories. The attributes associated with Asian cultures include a strong emphasis on family values, respect for elders, a deep-rooted sense of community, and a rich tapestry of art, music, and cuisine.

Language and Linguistic Diversity

One of the most striking attributes of Asia is its linguistic diversity. The continent is home to thousands of languages and dialects, belonging to various language families. For example, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese are part of the Sino-Tibetan language family, while Hindi, Bengali, and Punjabi belong to the Indo-Aryan language family. Each language carries its own unique characteristics, scripts, and cultural significance.

While the term "Asian" encompasses this vast linguistic diversity, it is important to note that not all Asians speak the same language. For instance, a person from China may speak Mandarin, Cantonese, or another regional dialect, while a person from India may speak Hindi, Tamil, or Bengali. The linguistic diversity within Asia is a testament to the rich tapestry of cultures and histories that exist within the continent.

Religion and Spirituality

Religion plays a significant role in the lives of many Asians, shaping their values, traditions, and way of life. Asia is the birthplace of major world religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Taoism, and Sikhism. These religions have had a profound impact not only within Asia but also globally.

Buddhism, originating in India and spreading throughout Asia, emphasizes the pursuit of enlightenment and the alleviation of suffering. Hinduism, also originating in India, is a complex and diverse religion with a focus on karma, dharma, and the pursuit of spiritual liberation. Confucianism, originating in China, emphasizes moral values, social harmony, and the importance of filial piety. Taoism, also originating in China, focuses on living in harmony with the Tao, or the natural way of the universe. Sikhism, originating in the Punjab region of South Asia, emphasizes equality, community service, and devotion to God.

It is important to note that these religions are not exclusive to Asians, as they have followers and practitioners worldwide. However, their origins and deep-rooted influence within Asian cultures make them significant attributes associated with the region.

Art, Literature, and Philosophy

Asian cultures have a rich artistic and literary heritage that spans thousands of years. From the intricate brushwork of Chinese calligraphy to the delicate beauty of Japanese tea ceremonies, Asian art forms are renowned for their precision, attention to detail, and deep symbolism.

Asian literature encompasses a wide range of genres, from ancient epics like the Mahabharata and Ramayana in India to classic works of Chinese literature such as "Journey to the West" and "Dream of the Red Chamber." These literary works often explore themes of love, honor, duty, and the human condition.

Asian philosophy has also made significant contributions to the world of thought. The teachings of Confucius, Laozi, and Buddha have shaped ethical systems, social norms, and ways of thinking not only within Asia but also beyond its borders. Concepts such as Yin and Yang, karma, and the Middle Way have found their way into various aspects of global culture.


While it is important to recognize the attributes associated with Asian and Oriental cultures, it is equally crucial to approach these terms with sensitivity and respect for the diverse range of ethnicities, languages, religions, and traditions encompassed within them. Asia is a continent of immense diversity, with each country and region having its own unique attributes and characteristics. By appreciating the complexities and variations within Asian cultures, we can foster a deeper understanding and appreciation for the rich tapestry of humanity that exists within our world.

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