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Asian people or Asiatic people is a demonym for people from Asia. However, the use of the term varies by country and person, often referring to people from a particular region or subregion of Asia. Though it may be based on residence, it is also often considered a race or an ethnicity.

In North America, the term refers most commonly to people of predominantly East Asian and Southeast Asian ancestry; however, in the United Kingdommarker and Anglophone Africa, the term refers most commonly to South Asians. In other countries, the term is applied in a wider sense to all people from Asia or from a number of its regions. In the United States, however, Middle Eastern and Central Asian people are usually not considered "Asian."

Definitions by country


Africa and Caribbean

In parts of anglophone Africa, especially East Africa and South Africa, and in parts of the Anglophone Caribbean, the term "Asian", though it can refer to the continent of Asia as a whole, is more commonly associated with people of South Asian origin, particularly Indiansmarker, Pakistanismarker, Bangladeshismarker and Sri Lankansmarker.


Notably, the Australian Census includes Central Asia, a region that is often considered to be part of the Greater Middle East. The Australian Census includes four regions of Asia in its official definition. Defined by the 2006–2011 Australian Census, three broad groups have the word Asian included in their name: Central and Southern Asian, South-East Asian and North-East Asian. Russians are classified as Southern and Eastern Europeans while Middle Easterners are classified as North African and Middle Easterners.


The Canadian Census' list of Visible Minorities includes "West Asian", "South Asian" and "Southeast Asian"..

New Zealand

New Zealand'smarker census undertaken by Statistics New Zealand defines the Asian to include people of Chinese, Indian, Korean, Filipino, Japanese, Vietnamese, Sri Lankan, Cambodian and Thai ancestries. In less formal contexts, the term Asian often does not include South Asian people.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdommarker, the term "Asian", though it can refer to the continent of Asia as a whole, is more commonly associated with people of South Asian origin, particularly Indiansmarker, Pakistanismarker, Bangladeshismarker and Sri Lankansmarker. The UK usage of the term "Asian" is reflected in the "ethnic group" section of UK census forms, which treat "Asian" and "Chinese" as separate (see British Asian). Most respondents to the UK 2001 Census of non-Chinese East Asian and Southeast Asian descent chose to write-in their ethnicity in the "Other Ethnic Group" category rather than the "Other Asian" category, reflecting the association of the word Asian in the UK with South Asian. Despite there being a strong presence of East Asians in the United Kingdom there are considerably more South Asians, for example the 2001 Census recorded 1.05 million people of Indian origin and 247,000 of Chinese origin in the UK.

The United Kingdom, Anglophone Africa and Anglophone Caribbean are places in the Western world where the word "Asian" is used primarily to identify people from the Indian subcontinent. Due to the term's contested definition in British English, the use of the term "South Asian" is used for clarity in discussions in the United Kingdom on colonialism, discrimination, and migration or when the content of its parameters may become mistakenly conflated with those of East Asian descent.

United States

Earlier Census forms from 1980 and before listed particular Asian ancestries as separate groups along with White and Black or Negro. Previously, Asian Americans were classified as "other". But the 1980 census marked the first general analyses of Asians as a group, combining several individual ancestry groups into "Asian or Pacific Islander." By the 1990 census, Asian or Pacific Islander (API) was included as an explicit category, although respondents had to select one particular ancestry.

The US Census Bureau definition includes people who originate in the original peoples of Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent. In 1930 and 1940, Indian Americans were a separate race, Hindu, and in 1950 and 1960, they were racially classified as Other Race, and in 1970, they were classified as White. Since 1980, Indians, and all other South Asians, have been classified as part of the Asian race. Sociologist Madhulika Khandelwal "described how, as a result of activism, South Asians came to be included as 'Asians' in the census only in the 80's. Prior to that, many South Asians had been checking 'Caucasian' or 'Other'." Respondents can also report their specific ancestry like Okinawan, etc. Someone reporting these ancestries but no race will be classified as "Asian". Unlike South Asians, Middle Eastern Americans and Central Asian Americans have not lobbied to be included as Asians by the US Census.

According to Sharon M. Lee in her 1998 publication, for many non-Asian Americans in the United States (in 1998) Asian American means Oriental, Chinese American or Japanese American. This is due to the Chinese and Japanese immigrants being the first Asian immigrants into the United States. Today, with the increasing demographic of South Asian Americans and Southeast Asian Americans the definition among United States citizens of who is Asian American is expanding.


Statistics Norway considers people of Asian background to be people from all Asian countries.

Central Asia

Native ethic groups of Kazakhstanmarker, Kyrgyzstanmarker, Usbekistanmarker, and Turkmenistanmarker have a self-identification as Asians. They are also recognized as Asians by Russians and Chinese.

However, these people are not recognized by Americans as Asians, as their appearance is not stereotypically "Asian". This self-identification is based phenotypically, and on cultural differences from Russians, as these countries used to be parts of the Russian Empiremarker and the Soviet Unionmarker, and therefore have significant Russian populations. Another reason for such self-indentification is patriotic: "the native people of the Center of Asia - are undoubtedly Asians".

Definition by non-government sources

Keith Lowe

Dr. Keith Lowe, race-relations expert for the Canadian government, claims that Asian people refer to Central, South, Southeast and East Asians.

Oxford English Dictionary

The Oxford English Dictionary, states that Asian is used in North America to refer to people originating from East Asia like Chinamarker, Japanmarker, Koreamarker, etc.

Orientals and the Orient

The term "Oriental" (from the Latin word for "Eastern") was originally used in Europe in reference to the Near East. It was later extended to the rest of Asia, but came to refer to Northeast Asians and Southeast Asians in the 19th and 20th century US, where most Asians were Chinese (and later Japanese and Filipino). By the late 20th century, the term had gathered associations in North America with older attitudes now seen as outmoded, and was replaced with the term "Asian" as part of the updating of language concerning social identities, which critics have derided as political correctness. In Europe however use of the term oriental for an east Asian has no negative connotations attached and is commonly used. Note particularly that, in the UK at least, Indian people (for example) are considered Asian but not Oriental, giving credence to the point that the term 'Oriental' now means 'East Asian' rather than any meaning related to the Greenwich Meridian and its colonial links.

Marginal Inclusion

West Asians

Clovis Maksoud, Director for the Organization of Global South, argues that the term "Middle East" is a Eurocentric term denoting the region between Europe and East Asia, because it denies the Middle East's connection with Muslim North Africa. In English parlance, Western Asians like Jews, Iranians and Arabs, and the Central Asians of the former Soviet Republics are not referred to as "Asian" by United States government agencies.The Canadian government uses "West Asian" in its statistics; however people from the Arab countries are counted in a separate "Arab" category.

Pacific Islanders

In normal American usage Asian does not refer to the people from the Pacific Islands who are usually called Pacific Islanders. The term "Asians and Pacific Islanders" or "Asia/Pacific" was used on the 1990 US Census.

However, in the 2000 US Census, the Asian or Pacific Islander category was separated into two categories, "Asian" and "Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander".

See also


  1. " Asian". Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary.
  2. United States National Library of Medicine. Medical Subject Headings. 2004. November 17, 2006.[1]: Asian Continental Ancestry Group is also used for categorical purposes.
  3. Aspinall, Peter J. Oxford Journals. Journal of Public Health. 2003. October 26, 2006. [2]
  4. Lee, Sandra S. Mountain, Joanna. Barbara, Koening A. The Meanings of Race in the New Genomics: Implications for Health Disparities Research. Yale University. 2001. October 26, 2006. [3]
  5. Barnes, Jessica S. and Bennett, Claudett E. The Asian Population:2000. 2002. September 1, 2006. [4]
  6. Color Q World. Clarifying the Definition of Asian. 2005. October 1, 2006. [5]
  7. The New Oxford Dictionary of English. 2001. New York: Oxford University Press.
  8. Lee, Sharon M. Population Reference Bureau. Asian Americans Diverse and Growing. 2006. September 10, 2006. [6]
  9. World The Middle East. September 30, 2006. [7]
  10. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Australian Standard Classification of Cultural and Ethnic Groups Second Edition. 2005. August 20, 2006. [8]
  11. '2001 Census Visible Minority and Population Group User Guide'
  12. Statistics New Zealand. Asian people. 2006. December 4, 2006.[9]
  13. For example, "Asian and Indian people" are referred to in the New Zealand Heart Foundation's BMI calculator.
  14. British Sociological Association. Equality and Diversity. Language and the BSA:Ethnicity & Race. 2005. October 26. [10]
  15. National Statistics. Ethnicity. 2005. August 27, 2006. [11]
  16. 1980 Census: Instructions to Respondents, republished by Integrated Public Use Microdata Series, Minnesota Population Center, University of Minnesota at Accessed 19 Nov 2006.
  17. Lee, Gordon. Hyphen Magazine. "The Forgotten Revolution." 2003. January 28, 2007.[12]
  18. 1990 Census: Instructions to Respondents, republished by Integrated Public Use Microdata Series, Minnesota Population Center, University of Minnesota at Accessed 19 Nov 2006.
  19. Reeves, Terrance Claudett, Bennett. United States Census Bureau. Asian and Pacific Islander Population: March 2002. 2003. September 30, 2006.
  21. Campbell Gibson and Kay Jung, Historical Census Statistics On Population Totals By Race, 1790 to 1990, and By Hispanic Origin, 1970 to 1990, For Large Cities And Other Urban Places In The United States Working Paper no. 76 (2005); see footnote 6 in paper
  22. Chandy, Sunu P. What is a Valid South Asian Struggle? Report on the Annual SASA Conference. Accessed August 8, 2008. [13].
  23. Arab American Institute. Not Quite White:Race Classification and the Arab American Experience. 1997. September 29, 2006. [14]
  24. Immigration and emigration
  25. SSB: Unge innvandrere i arbeid og utdanning - Er innvandrerungdom en marginalisert gruppe?
  26. Ontario Multicultural Association. "Speaker Biography: Dr. Keith Lowe." 2007. July 29, 2007.[15]
  27. Asian Heritage Month. "Credits." 2007. July 29, 2007. [16]
  28. Cornell Asian American Studies
  29. Cawley, Kevin. University of Notre Dame. Oriental. 2004. September 29, 2006. [17]
  30. Hu, Alan. Model Minority. On Asian and Oriental. 1993. September 29, 2006. [18]
  31. The American Heritage Book of English Usage. 2005. September 1, 2006. [19]
  32. Friedman. Haladina. The Politically Correct Handbook. 1992. September 1, 2006. In the UK however since the 'term' Asian is universally assumed to mean South Asian Oriental is regarded as an acceptable term for someone of East Asian descent.[20]
  33. Katz, Elizabeth. Virginia Law. Democracy in the Middle East. 2006. September 9, 2006. [21]
  36. American Heritage Book of English Usage. Asian. 1996. September 29, 2006. [22]
  37. Census '90. Asian and Pacific Islanders in the United States. 1990. September 1, 2006. [23]

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