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‘Oriental Rug’ Is The Term Offensive To East Asians People?

Updated: 4 days ago

The term “Orient” is from the Latin word Oriens or Orientalis, meaning East, and inversely, the term Occidentalis or Occidental means the west.

These terms were first used during the Roman empire of Emperor Diocletian (284–305), when the Diocese of the Orient was formed. To divide the Roman Empire from east to west, or Occidental from Orientalis.


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?

The term Oriental has in the past applied to Europeans in Modern-day Russia, Ukraine, and Romania. Egypt, Syria in the classical areas considered the Orient could keep going but you get the point.

Oriental Rugs

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



old rug book
Vintage rug book Oriental & Occidental rugs

Notice for much of its history, Persia, 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 2 centuries.

Do we refer to Europeans or their descendants as Occidentals? Calling a person Oriental isn’t particularly offensive but it’s also not an accurate term; it’s a movable subjective, somewhat vague, geographic term.



Notice for much 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 2 centuries.

Do we refer to Europeans or their descendants as Occidentals? Calling a person Oriental isn’t particularly offensive but it’s also not an accurate term; it’s a movable subjective, somewhat vague, geographic term.




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

Is the term Oriental derogatory or offensive?


I can’t answer that for people, At the least, it’s not very descriptive, accurate, or precise. The orient is a huge subjective geographical area and its people white, black, Asian, and islander, encompass many religions Islam, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Hindu, Buddhist, Agnostic, and Atheist.


In the rug world, and for myself, Oriental Rug means rugs woven in the geographic area we call “the rug weaving belt” from Morroco to China and the term Occidental largely dropped.

What is an Oriental Rug?

Rug weaving areas of the world
The "Oriental Rug" weaving belt from Morocco to China

Specifically, we use the term Oriental rug from traditional handwoven rug specifically a rug woven on a loom with hand-tied knots from a geographic area from Morroco to China. An Oriental rug is a rug made by hand tieing knots on a warp on a loom weaving Oriental rugs, oriental for us is a thing, a rug, from a broad geographical area, not people.


Handweaving a rug in Iran
Weavers in Isfahan, Iran weaving an Oriental rug

What’s not an Oriental rug?

An oriental rug is a specific type of rug construction made on a warped loom with a hand-tied knot. What isn’t an Oriental rug hand Tufted, Hand-loomed rugs, machine-made, or rugs described as “handmade”..whatever that means?

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