The term the East has traditionally been used to refer collectively to a large number of non-European countries, including those of the Indian subcontinent. Some people would distinguish between the Near East (often used interchangeably with the Middle East), India, and the Far East.
The Near/Middle East has generally referred to the countries of Western Asia and North Africa, while the term Far East has covered a range of East Asian countries including China, Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia and Korea. The term the Orient has also been used interchangeably with the East, particularly the Far East.
It is now recognised that these terms are heavily loaded ones, redolent of colonization, imperialism and Eurocentric thinking. In particular, the Palestinian-American scholar Edward Wadie Saïd has drawn attention to how Orientalism (the study of various Asian cultures by Europeans) has yielded a prejudiced, and often pejorative, view of numerous non-European cultures.
Readers of Jane Austen's period would probably have associated the East with the activities of the British East India Company which, from the early 17th century onwards, traded with the East Indies and China. Amongst the goods traded by the company were cotton, silk, tea, opium, indigo and saltpetre.