Beijing, 15 November 2013

It often happens to me in China that when I’m writing something I feel a sudden hush around me, perhaps with a whispered comment or two. They have just noticed that I am writing with my left hand.


This habit of mine fascinates Chinese. As far as I can understand, left-handed writing is firmly and vigorously stamped out at school. The Chinese universally write with their right hand.


I guess it has to do with the fact that ink is still extensively used to write, and as all left-handers know writing with ink is a horror because of the constant risk of smudging as your hand travels across the paper.

left hand with smudged ink

But actually, I suspect any left-handedness is proscribed. For instance, all Chinese use their right hand to hold their chopsticks.

Chinese eating

Well, nearly all. I once sat next to a Chinese person who was eating with his left hand; I was very excited when I saw it.

And all Chinese golfers or tennis players seem to play with their right hand.

chinese golfer-boy

chinese tennis player-girl

I wonder if there is some sort of feng shui thing at work here – using your left hand brings bad luck or something. Typical anti-leftism …

As far as writing is concerned, it used to be the same in Europe. My paternal grandmother was born left-handed but was made to write with her right hand. So was my father. So was my brother, who is six years older than me. I went to the same school as him, but I suppose in the intervening six years there was a change in educational philosophies in the UK. I don’t know why, although my theory is that it was the spread of the ball-point pen that did it. This wonderful product eliminated the problem of smudging with fountain pens, so now it was possible for teachers to show more compassion for us left-handers. I take this opportunity to salute the Argentinian-Hungarian László Bíró, who invented the ballpoint in the 1930s.

Laszlo Biro

I hope he was given a special place in Heaven for letting me and millions of other left-handers write with serenity – at least until word processing came along and eliminated the need for either left handers or right handers to write by hand any more.

Often, when Chinese see me writing with my left hand, they tell me that left-handers are more intelligent. They’re just flattering me, but I accept the flattery gracefully. Anyway, it’s true. We left-handers know that we are more intelligent.


Left-hander: http://practicallycreative.net/wp-content/uploads/2007/06/left-handed.jpg [in http://marc3ll.squidoo.com/lefthandedperson%5D
Chinese child writing: http://thumbs.dreamstime.com/x/child-writing-chinese-calligraphy-9088290.jpg [in http://thumbs.dreamstime.com/x/child-writing-chinese-calligraphy-9088290.jpg%5D
Left hand with smudged ink: http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m9s458Vjrl1roqiq1o1_500.png [in http://southpawscopic.tumblr.com/post/31716402201/image-persons-left-hand-smudged-all-over-with%5D
Chinese eating: http://factsanddetails.com/media/2/20080225-wedding%20beifan%2016tbegin-ea222.jpg [in http://factsanddetails.com/china/cat11/sub73/item149.html%5D
Chinese golfer: http://blogs.r.ftdata.co.uk/beyond-brics/files/2013/04/mas_guan-tianlang.jpg [in http://blogs.ft.com/beyond-brics/2013/04/17/driving-golf-in-china-citics-sponsorship-of-guan-just-the-start/?Authorised=false%5D
Chinese tennis player: http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2008-08/13/xinsrc_30208051309386711607013.jpg [in http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2008-08/13/content_9243455_1.htm%5D
László Bíró http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/15/Ladislao_Biro_Argentina_Circa_1978.JPG [in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L%C3%A1szl%C3%B3_B%C3%ADr%C3%B3%5D