Asian people

Asian or Asiatic people (the Asian Continental Ancestry Group) 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 "racial group" or an ethnic group.

In the United States, Canada, and Australia, the term refers most commonly to people of predominantly East Asian, South Asian, and Southeast Asian ancestry; however, in the United Kingdom and Anglophone Africa, the term refers most commonly to South Asians. In other countries, the term is applied to all people from Asia in general. In the US, however, Middle Eastern and Central Asian people are usually not considered Asian peoples.

Definitions by country

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.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, 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 Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans. 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.

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.


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


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.

Anglophone 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 Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans.

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, although in South Africa, Asian can refer to East Asians as well.

New Zealand

New Zealand's census called Statistics New Zealand defines the Asian to include people of Chinese, Indian, Korean, Filipino, Japanese, Sri Lankan, Cambodian and Thai ancestries.


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

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 China, Japan, Korea, 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 a east Asian has no negative connotations attached and is commonly used since here 'Asian' is taken to mean a South Asian. 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 it's 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 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

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