The idea of "East and West" originated in the (nowadays) Middle East during "Trojan" times. The meaning of "East and West" changed since then but the "Western" governments (and by default, Eastern countries) are still holding on to this idea. Why is that?

Edit: As I mentioned this idea originated in the "Middle East". The "West" was pretty much Greece those days and the "East" was nowadays "Turkey". This idea has evolved during the passage of time, expanding and shrinking geographically. The world is moving towards a global economy, shredding the idea of "East and West", but politically, we still see the divide. My question is why can't the world move away from the "East and West" politically? (I suspect the answer lies in history.)

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    Which specific idea? Do you mean the use of "West" to refer to European civilization and its offspring and "East" to refer to Eastern Asian civilizations? – David Thornley Nov 16 '11 at 2:26
  • @DavidThornley: As you see from Tom Au's answer below, people could provide different meanings to this idea. – Sony Nov 16 '11 at 20:29
  • Someone down voted this question. Can that person provide a reason? – Sony Nov 16 '11 at 20:35
  • I'm not that person but I'll downvote it and explain why. It's incredibly wooly-headed thinking. 'Greece' and 'Turkey' were both Greece in antiquity; the division was between Greece and the Persian Empire; then Rome and Parthia; then Christendom and the Caliphate; then Europe and the Ottomans, Muslim India, and the Chinese Empire. Each of those was more about their own separate eras than any consistent East/West division. Similarly, there's Latin/Greek Christianity; Western/Slavic Europe; 'Free'/Communist Europe. – lly Jul 1 '18 at 10:03
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    All in all, it's a pretty terrible question that should be rewritten to focus on why an East/West division has begun to be reused despite Said's Orientalism making a mockery of the old trope and the collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellites. The answer to that question would be that China has risen dramatically and is offering an entirely separate programme of world and national governance to that upheld by the democratic, free-trade capitalists based in Western Europe and its former colonies. – lly Jul 1 '18 at 10:32

The main factor is here undoubtedly Christianity. The Ancient Greeks may have distinguished themselves from the eastern Persians, but they did not align themselves any more with the barbarian tribes in most of Europe at the time. In fact, they at least appreciated the civilisation of the Achaemenid Persians. Other factors, most notably the Roman Empire and it successors the Byzantine and Holy Roman Empires contributed to uniting Europeans as a single entity.

The partitioning of the world in this sense started after the growth of Christianity really, and properly after the rise of Islam. In all fairness the "West" is really synonymous with the European Christian world, which happens to lie mainly in the west of the Old World. The "East" refers to the non-Christian, predominantly Muslim, Hindu, and Chinese/Oriental regions. Africa usually isn't included in this, due to the lesser role the continent played in world religion and politics for the most part, and never really posed a threat to European religion or culture (unlike e.g. the Arabs or Turks).

During the Middle Ages, the fierce wars between Christian European nations and the "East" in the form of religious Crusades in the Levant, and notably the Mongol invasions of much of Eurasia except Central and Western Europe only increased the view of Westerners and Easterners mutually as strange foreigners, and often enemies. In essence, a combination of religion, conquest (imperial rule), culture, and ethnicity led to increasing separatism between the "West" and the "East". It has however interesting to note that these factors unified European/Western nations rather more than they did the Asian nations, arguably for obvious geographic and historical reasons.

Now, historically the majority of Christians were based in Europe and specifically controlled by Rome (the Catholic church) -- very much towards the West of the Old World when considered as a whole. The colonisation and Christianisation of the Americas by the Spanish, Portuguese, French, and English, only helped solidify this geographic barrier. Sure, Australia/New Zealand sort of broke it, but they're still considered "Western" nations because of their religious and cultural heritage. Hence, the term is largely cultural and socio-political these days, rather than geographic.

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  • I don't fully agree with the Christian concept as being that which ties the West together, although I don't have a better definition and I think you are far closer to the answer than Tom is. In some ways I think of this as part of the Byzantine split to East and West but I believe the thinking was in place before then, but I have no sources to back me up. – MichaelF Nov 18 '11 at 13:01
  • The Christian basis may not the whole reason, though it does offer an awfully accurate partition. Cultural (Greek/Roman-influenced nations) and geographic factors also have a role to play. As do ethnic ones even. – Noldorin Nov 18 '11 at 14:55
  • Updated answer... hope it's clearer now. :-) – Noldorin Nov 18 '11 at 15:04
  • Very much so, I agree with this more now than I did before. Thanks for the update. – MichaelF Nov 18 '11 at 16:51
  • I have to divide my comment to two parts as there is no room for the full comment within the character limit of a comment. Part 1: I tend to agree,conditionally, with this view. Few years ago most of the countries were divided into 3 categories as the Western Block (US, UK, France, West Germany etc.), the Eastern block (USSR, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary etc.) and the Non-aligned (India, Yugoslavia, Argentina, Brazil etc.). As winners of the "cold war", Western Bloc seems to be in the "us" against "them" mode now, that is, divide the world to only two categories; East and West. – Sony Nov 20 '11 at 16:45

I believe that's because the Pacific Ocean is the world's largest body of water, and hence, the hardest to cross. (The Atlantic is the world's second largest body of water).

There is a large continental mass which I refer to as "EuroAsAF" that contains the majority of the world's people. Within this large land body, it's easy to characterize "east" and "west."

The Americas are a bit trickier. One can consider them part of the "west" (in relation to "EurAsAF") or "east," in relation to the same. In the end, it appears that the reason that America is part of the "west" is because the Atlantic is still smaller than the Pacific, making it easier for the Europeans to cross it and colonize "America" than was the case for the Asians of "EurAsAf."

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  • I think it's simpler than you are presenting, and basically that many of these terms are EuroCentric. So Asia is the Far East while Europe, and by extension America, is the West. – MichaelF Nov 16 '11 at 20:59
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    @MichaelF: But I (an Asian-American) have heard Asians used east and west in the same way. So I believe it may have something to do with the land mass issue. In China for instance, "east" and "south" are "good," while "north" and "west" are "bad." (Which is understandable if you look at what's north and west of China.) – Tom Au Nov 16 '11 at 21:12
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    I've heard the same from my wife's family (who are Chinese) and they may alternately refer to us as either direction but in general America they considered a Western nation. From the people who have come from China, when I have talked about this, is they look at Europe as the West and America as an extension of it. Chinese media, although it's hard to tell from translation, often refers to America as the West. It always confused me since we could be East as well, but it's just not used much. – MichaelF Nov 16 '11 at 21:32
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    Your "EuroAsAF" is better known as "The Old World" I think. ;-) – Noldorin Nov 17 '11 at 19:30
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    I disagree with this answer, since it ignores the huge cultural factor. – Noldorin Nov 17 '11 at 19:30

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