The Western View on Orientalism


Aaron Kim


AsAm 115

The Western View on Orientalism

The term orient, derives from the view of the ‘Occidental’ (Western), which serves to depict anything East past the West. In a sense, it is grasped to be a geological term for locating Asia. However, it can also be interchangeably used to a word an Asian, and express a sense of pro-Western ideology. Orientalism is basically the cause of Western ideals to be seen as superior over the inferior ‘Otherness’ or in this case the Orient. 

In Margo Machida’s Unsettled Visions Chapter 2, Dr. Said establishes that the Orient was always seen by the white populous in the Occident as inferior, but not seen through the lens of primitiveness. Unlike Africa and even the new world of America (Native Americans), the Occident viewed the Oriental Asians as more like rivals rather than an inferior savagery beast. The Africans of the time were seen to be barbarians, but only barbaric to a certain point. This notion eventually led the common view that even the barbaric can, within assimilation and time, be civilized. The whites saw the physical advantages that the Africans had, but they also saw that their knowledge and even ability to defeat the Occidental purpose was flawed. To a certain extent, the whites also saw the Orient as one that had both physicality and mentality. In other words, they were fearful of what the Orients can do with their ability. Certainly, the West saw many advancements of civilization away from primitiveness and saw their resemblances. Through this, the sense of Orient vs Occident was formed, and in a sense the ‘grander’ rivalry established.

Take for example, the present day China and USA. The two are deemed possibly the most powerful countries of the world. Yet we can see their rivalry for that greater purpose to be the strongest. 
Said, demonstrated that the Orient set a motivational boundary only applicable to the Occidentals, and in a way paved a way towards competitive bounds. We can also see this in modern day: the economic stagnation between USA and China. In a way, Orientalism does not show any grotesque representation towards Asians, but rather it shows that mutual respect for them. Said gives a significant example of this ‘respect’ when the American propaganda depicted Japanese soldiers both as super-human fearless warriors, and as ape-like gypsies (Machida, 61). 

The highly egotistical Occident’s outlook towards the Orient only shows their destructive nature. In a way, it shows white people as the best humans and that nothing outside of it matters (Otherness). They do admit however, in context of Asia and Orient, that the Orient is capable of defeating the Western cause. In contrast, the whites saw the Natives and Africans as mere barbarians that can be assimilated to be ‘like’ white men. Asians however are viewed already as civilized but because of their traditions, ideals, and different set of beliefs, they are generally seen to be ‘aliens’ and not ‘like’ white men, in which the Occident strives for everyone to be.

This notion not only alienates me for being Asian and of Orient-descent, but also shows the dirty ignorance that the Occident has, and how that ignorance eventually motivated its people to stick up a rivalry against the Orient. In reality, the Orient, Asia and its countries, are just countries trying to live in peace, countries that try its best to maintain stability, and  countries that are living life. Who can say one country or one ideology is the superior? To an extent, it only mitigates my respect for the Western civilization, but majuscules my heritage to be one without such ignorance.

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