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Crazy Rich Asians

September 18, 2018

The recent film Crazy Rich Asians has garnered good reviews and sounds a lot of fun. Maybe I’ll go and see it. What I find interesting about the title, though, is that it shows up a difference between American and British English: when Americans use the word Asian, they mean people from East Asia – China, Japan, Korea, etc. When British people talk of Asians they mean South Asians – those from the Indian subcontinent or its neighbours. This difference reflects both geography (Americans look west across the Pacific towards Asia, whereas we look east across Europe) and history (Britain had an empire in South Asia and hence more immigration from those regions, while America has always had more immigration from East Asia because of its Pacific coast).

In reality Asia is far too big and diverse for its inhabitants to be effectively characterised by being called ‘Asian’, of course. We need some more precise terms. But ‘Crazy Rich East Asians’ would not have been such a neat title and would have confused American audiences who already have a settled picture of what Asian means.

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5 Comments
  1. Simon Carter permalink

    Also that part of the world was historically referred to as the Far East in Britain or ,more exotically, The Orient.

    • ‘Far East’, yes, you’re right. But I think ‘the Orient’ historically included the near east and middle east too (didn’t the Orient Express stop at Istanbul?).

  2. Simon Carter permalink

    Yes, I think it did which gives The Orient the same dimensions as Asia which also famously starts in Istanbul. The was slso the area of the near and middle east called The Lavant.

    • Yes – Levant, as I am sure you meant. It was called that because, from a Western perspective, that was where the sun rose (‘levant’ meaning ‘rising ‘ in French).

  3. Simon Carter permalink

    Yes that’s what I meant! It’s a word that used to appear in old thrillers, although usually as a derogatory term.
    Incidentally Oriental/ Occidental were also related to the sun’s rising and setting which brings me to one of your posts about names for the head, occiput being used by P.G.Wodehouse (a stuffed eel skin coming into contact with it being the context).

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