Asians != Chinese?

An unusual thing happened to me recently. I received an email from someone from the BBC who was interested in learning more about alternate reality games. In the process of our chat, she mentioned she was involved with producing a TV show for Asians and wondered if I knew any British Asians who were into gadgets, technology, that sort of thing. I said I’d have a look, and that incidentally, I was an Asian who was into gadgets, etc.

Then she asked me if I was Indian, because the programme was for Indians. Of course, I’m not, and so it ended there. But it made me notice how the British media equates Asians with Indians, or at least people from the Indian subcontinent. The next time you read a newspaper or magazine, or in particular, view the BBC, look out for where ‘Asian’ is mentioned, and you’ll find that what they really mean are Indians.

Take, for example, this BBC pictorial about Asians in Britain. Very interesting, I’m sure. But it’s all about people from the Indian subcontinent. There is nary a Chinese, Malaysian, Japanese, Thai or Korean person to be seen, despite the fact that they also live in Asia.

Now, this doesn’t particularly bother me. Asia is a big continent, after all. And while there are more than a million people in the UK from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, there are less than a quarter of a million from Hong Kong, Malaysia, China and Singapore combined (Source: BBC). It’s hardly surprising that the Indian subcontinent gets more attention in the media. But there’s no point going on about Asians or ‘Asian programming on the BBC’ when what you’re really talking about is Indians or ‘programmes that are to do with Indians’; it gives the false impression of inclusion, where there is none.

4 Replies to “Asians != Chinese?”

  1. I’ve noticed this too. People seem to be referring to Chinese and Japanese people as East Asians now, and everyone else as South East Asians. I found this out by going to an Asian food show, expecting an array of Thai, Malay, Korean etc foods, and was disappointed to find that it only featured Indian cuisines. It’s an interesting cultural change. Doesn’t seem to be just propagated by the media, either.

  2. This seems very odd to me – I’d actually strictly associate ‘asians’ as being exclusively those from China, Japan, Korea, Thailand etc. I’d think of Indians/Pakistanis and those from futher towards the middle east, despite all possibly being technically Asians, as seperate entities. Have I missed something here?

  3. I agree that’s it’s tricky, and can easily throw people if you’re not used to it (eg Americans).

    Basically, in British English, the collective noun ‘Asians’ almost always refers to people from the Indian subcontinent, as does the adjective ‘Asian’ (althoughy slightly less so).

    Japanese, Chinese, Russian and other people people from the Asia continent are generally referred to directly.

    This is probably because historically there’s a much bigger association between Britain and India/Pakistan/Bangladesh, and people find the need to refer to this group of people collectively, and so the word ‘Asian’ was narrowed to this new definition.

    It’s almost certainly not intentional to confuse people or exclude non Indian Asians, but just an irritating side effect of the natural process of language variation…

  4. Major issue in classifying people. People from the Indian subcontinent are Asians just as Japanese, Koreans, Filipinos, Thai, and Chinese have right to the claim. Jeremy – you would be wrong in classifying Indians as Middle Easterners, because they are not. Much of the history of Asia was largely shaped by India, Japan, and China. To discount India as not Asian would detract from its influence on what is considered “Asian” through Hinduism, Buddhism, Martial Arts, Yoga, Religious Architecture and styles!

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