"old China hand"

Billionbridges.com translation at BILLIONBRIDGES.COM
Thu May 16 00:14:17 UTC 2002

A translator colleague sent me the following link to a site set up
specifically to archive the "heritage" of Old China Hands.


A definition of the term is given on the first page:

"Who is an "Old China Hand"and what is the "Old China Hand
According to A Concise Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional
English, edited by Paul Beale, (Macmillan, 1989), this term has been
in use since approximately 1910 and is applied to "One who has
spent many years in China in the commercial or civil service, or
as a missionary."


> 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
> -- Doug Wilson

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