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The term Occidentalism is used to refer to images of "The West" in one of two main ways: a) stereotyped and sometimes dehumanizing views on the Western world, including Europe and the English-speaking world; and b), ideologies or visions of the West developed in either the West or non-West.[1] The former definition stresses negative constructions of the West and is often focused on the Islamic world. The latter approach has a broader range and includes both positive and negative representations. The term was used in the latter sense by James G. Carrier in his book Occidentalism: Images of the West (1995), and subsequently by Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit in their book Occidentalism: the West in the Eyes of its Enemies (2004). The term is an inversion of Orientalism, Edward Said’s label for stereotyped Western views of the East. A number of earlier books had also used the term, sometimes with different meanings, such as Chen Xiaomei's Occidentalism: A Theory of Counter-Discourse in Post-Mao China (New York: Oxford, 1995).

Picturing the West[edit]

In China "Traditions Regarding Western Countries" became a regular part of dynastic histories from the fifth-century CE. At that time, commentary on "the West" in China focused on an area that did not go further west than modern-day Syria.[2]

With the spread of European trade and imperialism during the 18th and 19th centuries, the modern concept of an East/West distinction came to be more clearly articulated. Stereotyped portrayals of Westerners appear in many works of Indian, Chinese and Japanese artists during this period.[3] At the same time, Western influence in politics, culture, economics and science came to be constructed through an imaginative geography of West and East. In the late 19th century many Western cultural themes and images began appearing in Asian art and culture, especially in Japan. English words and phrases are prominent in Japanese advertising and popular culture, and many Japanese comics and cartoons are written around characters, settings, themes, and mythological figures derived from various Western cultural traditions.

Israeli scholar S. Ilan Troen argues that the Zionist movement was rooted in a conscious rejection of Europe and the West in general, in favor of a modernized Hebrew culture. He writes that "Zionists explicitly distanced themselves in crucial ways from the European exile they left behind." Troen notes an example of this trend in the "revival of Hebrew into a living language; the marking the landscape with a Jewish identity; and the development of an indigenous culture with roots in the ancient past."[4]

Another way Occidentalism has been manifested is through the attempt to forge 'non-Western' identities and cultures. Notions of 'spiritual Asia' are an example, since they depend upon constructions of the 'materialist West'. These images can be read as forms of resistance but they also demonstrate the power of Western models.

Debates on Occidentalism[edit]

Buruma and Margalit argue that this nationalist and nativist resistance to the "West" actually replicates responses to forces of modernization that have their roots in Western culture itself, among both utopian radicals and nationalist conservatives who saw capitalism, liberalism and secularism as destructive forces.[5] They argue that while early responses to the West represent a genuine encounter between alien cultures, many of the later manifestations of Occidentalism betray the influence on Eastern intellectuals of Western ideas, such as the supremacy of the nation-State, the Romantic rejection of rationality and the alleged spiritual impoverishment of the citizens of liberal democracies. They trace this to German Romanticism and to the debates between the "Westernisers" and "Slavophiles" in 19th century Russia, asserting that similar arguments appear under differing guises in Zionism, Maoism, Islamism, wartime Japanese nationalism and other movements. However, Alastair Bonnett rejects this analysis as Eurocentric and makes a case for Occidentalism emerging from the interconnection of non-Western and Western intellectual traditions.[6] [7][8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Jalees Rehman, M.D.: 'Occidentophobia': The Elephant in the Room". Huffingtonpost.com. Retrieved 2013-01-29. 
  2. ^ (Bonnett, 2004)
  3. ^ Hilton, Isabel. "Occidentalism". Prospectmagazine.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-01-29. 
  4. ^ Troen, S. Ilan (21 September 2007). "De-Judaizing the Homeland: Academic Politics in Rewriting the History of Palestine". Israel Affairs 13 (4). doi:10.1080/13537120701445372. Retrieved 10 June 2013. 
  5. ^ Hari, Johann (2004-08-15). "Occidentalism by Ian Buruma & Avishai Margalit - Reviews - Books". The Independent. Retrieved 2013-01-29. 
  6. ^ Jul 2, 2005 (2005-07-02). "Asia Times Online :: Middle East News, Iraq, Iran current affairs". Atimes.com. Retrieved 2013-01-29. 
  7. ^ Martin Jacques (2004-09-04). "Review: Occidentalism by Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit | Books". The Guardian. Retrieved 2013-01-29. 
  8. ^ "Occidentalism by Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit | The New York Review of Books". Nybooks.com. 2002-01-17. Retrieved 2013-01-29. 

Further reading[edit]