Why is North America called the "West"?

If I was in China I would call North America the east? Why is it called the western world? Since I am in TORONTO so isn’t China the west?
I think it may have something to do with Greenwich main time zone and everything is based out of there but just always wondered.

It kind of annoys me though the way the “Western World” is portrayed as the superior class, elite. We are all just people.

We never realize how very lucky we are to live in Canada or the USA until we travel somewhere else in the world.

It’s not just North America that is referred to as “the West”; the term also includes western Europe and other countries influenced by their culture (regardless of geographical location). The historical reason is because these areas were on the western side of Eurasia, as opposed to “the East” on its eastern side, including the cultures of China and Japan.

Do they no longer use world maps that center on the Prime Meridian in schools any more?


However, many countries considered part of “the West” are mostly or entirely east of the Prime Meridian, including France, Germany, Italy, and Scandanavia.

Granted, but I had the impression that the OP was puzzled more over the “why is stuff to the west of me called the east” question.

I’m under the impression that the OP doesn’t know what “the Western World” actually means.

I am disappointed in your rather snarky answers to a simple question in the General Questions section. So far the original question hasn’t really been clearly addressed.

Dandmb50 Here is a simple answer to the first part of your OP.

The Prime Meridian is at 0 degrees longitude and divides the globe into 2 hemispheres, the eastern and western hemispheres. This is the physical basis of refering to ‘The West’ and ‘The East’ in geo-political terms.

No it’s not. Because, as was mentioned, Italy, parts of France, the Low Countries, Germany, Scandanavia etc. are east of the Prime Meridian and are considered “Western”.

I think the better answer is that the historians who defined these things were Western European, and so “the East” meant “East of us”. So you have the Near East (Turkey, the Levant) aka, “Those parts of the East near us”, the Middle East (Iraq, Iran, sometimes the Levant) aka “Those parts of the east sort of near to us”, and the Far East (China, Japan, Korea), aka “Those parts of the east really far from us”.

Except, as observed, the Greenwich Meridian doesn’t really demarcate what most people mean by “The West” very well. I wouldn’t drag in any particular boundary. It’s a rather nebulous cultural usage, not a geographic one, and changes with context. From the opening of the wiki article:

Also note that in the way most people use the terms, the world is not neatly divided in “West” and “East”. In many contexts, places like sub-Saharan Africa aren’t either. You wouldn’t call, say, Ghana, part of the “Western World”, but it certainly isn’t “The East” either.

I agree with this.

So why did Western Europeans get to define it? ITSM that China and Japan (for example) tended to be fairly insular, while the Europeans tended to go out looking for new worlds to conquer.

These are the correct explanations. Do some research on “Western civilization” for further info.

Hence what we used to call the “Third World,” no?

Most modern maps are descended from people who loved on the Eurasian continent.

That’s another whole discussion, and it’s not really related. At least we have a better idea where that term arose - the Cold War:


“The West” was sometimes used as a synonym for “First World”, but it doesn’t really line up very well with what was meant by “The West” for somebody like Rudyard Kipling. Of course, “Second World” has very little meaning anymore.

I don’t think my remarks were particularly snarky.

Yes it has.

As has been noted, this is quite wrong. The geopolitical definition definition of “the West” doesn’t have anything to do with position relative to the Prime Meridian. Besides the countries of western Europe I mentioned, Australia and New Zealand are commonly considered part of “the West.”

Many of them loved on the American continents too, which resulted in their populations now being considered part of the West.:slight_smile:

“East” and “West” refer to civilization or culture, which was a bit of an over simplistic view of the world as seen by Europeans hundreds of years ago. “East” was eastern Asia, such as China, Japan, Korea, etc. and “west” was Europe. Since this was the European view of the world, you had the near east (Turkey, etc), the middle east, and the far east, as Captain Amazing said.

Africa wasn’t included because back then they thought of Africa as just a bunch of uncivilized savages. “East” and “west” were for people who actually had a culture. According to Europeans at the time, Africans were just a bunch of animals. They didn’t have a culture that was worth mentioning.

The Americas and Australia are “western” cultures because they are descended from European cultures. It’s kind of odd when someone from China talks about the “western” country of Australia, but that’s what you get.

It’s a cultural thing, and thus it is therefore not surprising that westerners consider western culture to be superior to all other cultures. The idea that we are all just people, however accurate it may be, hasn’t been all that popular throughout history. Most cultures have embraced the “us” vs. “them” model instead. The OP being in Toronto, is smack dab in the middle of a “western” cultured country, and therefore was culturally taught about the superiority of western culture, and was probably taught history almost exclusively from a western point of view.

It shouldn’t be any great surprise that people brought up in someplace like say Japan don’t quite have the same world viewpoint.

In more recent years, “east” vs. “west” has been used to describe communist vs. democratic countries. China is “east” because you are either going by the old rules and they are one of them funky oriental peoples, or China is “east” because you are following the newer definitions and it’s one of them evil commie countries.

Personally, I’m with you. We’re all just people.

There’s an easy explanation of why the division of the world into the West and the East has nothing to do with the Prime Meridian. The Prime Meridian didn’t exist until long after the division became fairly standard. The division only originally made sense for a Western European before the time of Columbus. Europe was the easternmost land that they knew of (except for Africa, which we’ll get to in a moment), while Asia was everything to the west. Asia was the Orient (the land of the rising sun), while Europe was the Occident (the land of the setting sun). Asia was full of people who didn’t speak anything like the languages of Europe, while most of the languages of Europe were related. Once America was found, the Western Europeans had to think of there being something even further to the west than Europe. Rather quickly (from a historical perspective) the Western Europeans filled up the Americas, Australia, New Zealand, and a few of the Pacific islands with immigrants. It thus became possible to think of all of Europe, North America, South America, and some of the Pacific islands as being the West.

Of course, Africa didn’t really fit into this scheme. It was mostly just as far west as Europe, but it wasn’t Europe. The people there didn’t speak European languages. It clearly wasn’t like Europe at all, so the Western Europeans didn’t think of it as being part of the West. Eventually this resulted in the division used today. The Western world (or sometimes “Western civilization”) is Europe and all those places where the inhabitants are mostly descended from Europeans. So the Western world is Europe, the Americas, Australia, New Zealand, and a few Pacific islands. Everything else is the Nonwestern world.