"old China hand"

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Tue May 14 07:03:10 UTC 2002

Compare "old hand" = "veteran"/"seasoned expert" ... as in "Don't worry,
I'm an old hand at this."

It seems to me that "old X hand" = "veteran X expert", more or less.

I do find "old legal hand" and "old parliamentary hand" and "old aviation
hand". I do not find "old medicine/medical hand" or "old
neurosurgery/neurosurgical hand" or "old art hand".

Google shows "old [geographical area] hand" most often with "China"; but
"Asia", "India", "Africa", "Japan" are fairly frequent also; many others
are found occasionally, including "South America", "Russia", "Burma",
"London", "Montreal", "Shanghai", "Chicago", ....

At MoA (Cornell), from 1878:

A. A. Hayes, Jr., "Pidgin English", Scribners Monthly 15(3):372-7 (1878):
p. 376:

<<Further investigation of this curious language must be deferred, unless
you call upon some of the "old China hands" whom you are to meet around
your host's table.>>

Why is "old China hand" more usual than "old Canada hand" etc.? I suppose
China is/was regarded as [more] mysterious and remote, [more]
incomprehensible to the [Anglo-Saxon] novice. I suppose one can expect the
concept as well as the expression to fade away as the world shrinks:
already it sounds to me like a joke/caricature or something out of an old
movie. In China/Chinese is there some analogous old-fashioned expression
referring to one who is expert in the strange ways of the inscrutable Occident?

-- Doug Wilson

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