When I was young, a long time ago, it was used to refer to people who "looked Chinese," i.e. those from China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, etc. and also to the region where they live. It was commonly used in America, even by people of those ethnicities. At some point when people became more sensitive (or possibly more whiny) it was declared offensive, along with other words commonly used with no intent to offend, like gypsy and eskimo. Then we were supposed to use "Asian" instead of "oriental." This resulted in a lack of precision, since Indians, Pakistanis, etc. are Asian but not "oriental." So now we use "East Asian" where we used to use "oriental" and the world is no doubt a safer place.