by John Kuo Wei Tchen

About John Kuo Wei Tchen

John Kuo Wei Tchen is founding director of the Asian/Pacific/American Studies Institute and Program at New York University. He is cofounder of the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA). He is coeditor of Yellow Peril! An Archive of Anti-Asian Fear and chief historian for a New-York Historical Society traveling exhibition on the origins and legacy of the Chinese Exclusion Act (1882).


“Orientals are carpets!” is a common Asian American retort today, one that rejects the linkage between objects of desire—whether hand-woven carpets made in central and western Asia or porcelains made in China—and the people who make them. During the late-1960s phase of the civil rights movement, second- and third-generation, college-age, mainly Chinese and Japanese Americans from the United States and Canada protested the term “Oriental,” seeking to replace it with the seemingly less fraught term “Asian.” But as in any debate about naming practices, the names rejected and defended reflect differing points of view, as groups trouble certain terms and adopt others in order to shape and reshape meanings for themselves. “Asia,” “Asian,” and “Asiatic” are still common, though the latter is far less preferred. Variations such as “Asianic,” “Asiaticism,” “Asiatise,” “Asiatall,” “Asiatican,” and “Asiatically” are now archaic.