Expat blogger Ben Ross (www.benross.net) recently sparked debate with his post on the novelty of being a left-handed foreigner in a land full of right-handers. Ross, an American who lived in Fuzhou, Fujian province, recounted his experience at a Chinese Christmas party in the United States under the title, No Lefties in China?:
"During the party, I was conversing with a middle-aged gentleman who had lived in the US for 10 years. When the conversation turned to culture shock, I asked him what he thought was the strangest thing he saw when he first came to the US.
'Left handed people,' he replied without any hesitation.
'You don't have left-handed people in China?' I inquired, making sure I hadn't mistranslated his words.
'Nope, I had never seen anybody write with their left hand until I came to the US' he said.
'How is that possible?' I asked, 'Isn't that genetic?'
'Maybe so, but in China kids are all taught to write with their right hands. If they pick up a pencil with their left hand, the teacher will put it in their right. It's really just a matter of practicality. In the US, you have left-handed desks, left-handed guitars, and all sorts of other left-handed devices, but in China we have none of the sort. It works out better that way I think, no need to manufacture two different kinds of something when only one is necessary.'
Ross writes that he does not "recall ever personally encountering any southpaws in the land of the Middle Kingdom", and asks for input on the left-handed issue. Here are some of the responses:
"Among my students I've had many left-handed Chinese, and like the man says, they were all forced to use their right hand for all activities. Strangely, most of these students were underachievers in their classes, as opposed to American lefties, who are statistical overachievers."
"I have been teaching in universities in China for the past 12 years. Literally thousands of students. Only one has been left-handed. This compares with 10 percent of students when I was teaching in London. I'm sure that the genetic ratio is probably the same but children are forced to use their right hands - as they were in the UK (and the US, I guess) not that long ago."
"I am an American expat in China who happens to be left-handed. People always express surprise that I'm left-handed. However, they all tell me that left-handed people 'are very clever'."
"As a left-handed Chinese American who has been living in China for seven of the last 11 years, I think I'm uniquely qualified to talk about this. People do not believe you can write Chinese characters left-handed. Really. I've been stared at in the bank and asked 'How can you write that with your left hand?' But I'm seeing a lot more lefties here in 2007 Shanghai than I ever did in 1996 Guangdong. So I think the forced switching is slowly being phased out, at least in the city."
"This topic is very close to my heart. I am a left-handed man who attended a Montessori school in Southern California where no one gave a second thought to my left-handedness. My family moved to Beijing in 1980 when I was 5, and my parents placed me in a Chinese public school. As the only blond-headed boy in a sea of Chinese kids, I enjoyed some autonomy, but very soon, the teachers started to force me to write with my right hand."
(China Daily February 22, 2008)