Is The Term Oriental offensive To Asians People when referring to rugs?

Updated: Sep 22

We have all heard the term oriental rug or oriental people; what is this term, and when applied to rugs, is it appropriate, derogatory, or disrespectful to people from Asia? Read on, dear friends, read on......

The term “Orient” is from the Latin word Oriens or Orientalis, meaning East, and inversely, the term Occidentalis or Occidental means west. These terms were first used during the Roman empire of Emperor Diocletian (284–305), when the Diocese of the Orient was formed.

The terms were used to divide the Roman Empire into the east, Occidental, and west Orientalis. This was created as an organizational term for the governance of the roman empire at one time, parts of Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Egypt, Lybia, and Ukraine were part of the Orient.

Old roman empire map
Divide between the Occidentalis and Orientalis in the Roman empire

Over time, the geographic location of “the Orient” gradually shifted eastwards, and the term Oriental kind of stuck, while the term Occidental, well, not so much. The area of Oriental continually shifted east It finally reached the Pacific Ocean, in what Westerners came to call “the Far East”. Go far enough east, and you hit the shore of N.America; perhaps we all live in the Orient, and we are all oriental? Eventually, the classic Roman area of Orientalis became known as the Levant and the term Oriental moved eastward.

Today it's commonly referenced as countries of China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Mongolia, and Laos. But that's not it's the original meaning?

Is the term Oriental derogatory or offensive?

First, It's not descriptive of people; it's a vague geographic term, and even then, it’s not very accurate or precise. The classic Orient is a huge and subjective geographical area, and its people, white, black, Asian, and islander, encompass many religions Islam, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Hindu, Buddhist, Agnostic, and Atheist.

We don't refer to Europeans or their descendants as Occidentals for the same reason the term is too vague and unspecific; it's fallen out of favor since it's not specific to race, location or to describe accurately the diverse cultures that makeup Occidental or Oriental.

Some people may be offended being called Oriental I don't use the term to describe people or the places they come from.

Oriental Rugs

Oriental rug simply means “eastern rugs,” but even that is inaccurate Morrocan rugs, for example, are often lumped in with “Oriental Rugs”, Rug weaving has existed in Spain, France, and Uk, and Ireland. Technically, these are Occidental rugs, but the term isn't used now go not that far back, and the term Occidental Rugs was used in the rug trade.

Today the term Oriental rug has become a blanket term for hand-woven rugs made from Africa to China and everywhere in between. Oriental rug transcends geography, ethnicity, religion, gender, and politics. Today Oriental rug simply means a hand-woven rug made in a vast area and nothing more, the term has no reference to the people that weave rugs it's a category of floor covering meaning a had woven rug.

old rug book
Vintage rug book Oriental & Occidental rugs

For part of its history, Persia and Iran was not part of the Oriental, but they make “Oriental Rugs” in fact, most of us in the rug trade, when one says “oriental rug,” the first country that comes to mind is Iran / Persia. Iran’s dominance as the top rug weaving export country for over two centuries is well noted.

So much, rugs woven can be called oriental rugs but are often referred to as Persian rugs, the name of Iran prior to 1935. We often see rugs not made in Iran/Persian referred to as Persian rugs.

old map of the orient
17th century map of the Orient

What’s not an Oriental rug?

An oriental rug is a specific type of rug construction made on a warped loom with hand-tied knots. What isn’t an Oriental rug hand Tufted, Hand-loomed rugs, machine-made, or rugs irrigated of where the rug is made?

So a machine-made rug from Iran/ Persia, Turkey, China, or India is not an Oriental rug because it's not hand-knotted on a loom. The term Oriental rug has specific structural requirements to be an oriental rug but is irrelevant to the ethnicity of those who make oriental rugs.

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