top of page

Is The Term Oriental Rug Offensive To Asians People?

Updated: 5 days ago

We have all heard the term oriental rug or oriental when referring to people; what is this term Oriental, and when applied to rugs, is it appropriate, derogatory, or disrespectful to people from Asia? Should we refer to rugs as Asian rugs or Asian carpets instead well read on, dear friends, read on......

The term “Orient” is from the Latin word Oriens or Orientalis, meaning the east. 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 all part of the Orient, and their people were then oriental.

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 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 are all oriental? Eventually, the classic Roman area of Orientalis became known as the Levant, and 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 for that mater Oriental.

Some people may be offended by being called Oriental. I don't use the term to describe people or the places they come from; it's too vague and inaccurate, and the term just doesn't fit people.

Oriental Rugs

It's different with "Oriental rug" the term Occidental Rugs was used in the rug trade briefly, but since the bulk of rug weaving happens in the classic area of the Oriens, the term stuck.

Today the term Oriental rug has become a blanket term for hand-woven rugs made in Africa to China and everywhere in between. Oriental rug transcends geography, ethnicity, religion, gender, and politics; it's become its own thing. Today Oriental rug is a way to categorize a hard-to-categorize group of hand-woven rugs made in a vast area and nothing more. The term does not reference people that weave rugs; it's a category of floor covering, meaning a hand-woven rug.

Perhaps the term Asian rug or Asian carpet fits better in modern geography fit better today

old rug book
Vintage rug book Oriental & Occidental rugs
What about Persian rugs?

In 1935, Persia changed its name to Iran. From a technical standpoint, a Persian rug is an Iranian rug made before 1935.

However, people still use the term Persian for newer Iranian rugs. Iran's dominance in rug weaving and history as the top rug-weaving export country for centuries is well noted. Because of this, some classify Perian or Iranian rugs as separate from oriental rugs.

The thing to remember is that; all Persian rugs are oriental rugs or Asian rugs, but not all oriental rugs are Persian rugs.

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

What’s not an Oriental rug?

An oriental rug is a type of rug construction made on a warped loom with hand-tied knots. What isn’t an Oriental rug hand Tufted, hand-loomed, 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.

How to decorate with Oriental Rugs

Learn more about Oriental Rug Cleaning.

1 view0 comments
bottom of page