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November 9, 2009

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Southpaws do the right thing in club for both hands

IT'S not easy to be left-handed (zuo pie zi) in a world of right-handed people, especially in China where for years lefty kids were taught to conform and use their right hands, like virtually everybody else.

Historically, China was not alone in preferring right-handers.

Left was considered less desirable, even abnormal, to say nothing of being inconvenient - left-handed chopsticks users are so annoying. Right has always been considered superior.

In some cultures, a left-handed child was considered an ill omen. The Latin word for left, sinistra, came to mean sinister or menacing.

Fortunately, attitudes have changed. Now many Chinese people think being left-handed indicates higher intelligence and creativity (so-called "right-brain" people). It's their grandparents who still think it should be corrected.

But it's still a world for right-handers, not southpaws.

And a group of left-handed young people in Hangzhou has joined hands in a club for lefties that not only makes them feel welcome but also has a higher goal of encouraging creative "right brain" activities for the social good.

The Lefthandedness Club (Zuo Li Shou, Zuo Pie Zi) in Hangzhou, founded in August, claims around 700 members, including about 100 folks from nearby cities.

Its Website,, exhibits products especially designed for left-handed people. Like fanciful clocks and watches that go counterclockwise, scissors with bigger left handles, guitars designed to be strummed or picked with the left hand. All are for sale, including an erhu (two-string fiddle).

Elsewhere there are numerous products designed for southpaws, and they're not just baseball gloves. There are also left-handed computer mouses, desks, corkscrews, kitchen utensils and many other items.

The club was started in August by Yao Bo, a 23-year-old white-collar leftie. He believes the club is one of the biggest in China.

The first get-together was on August 13, International Left-Handers Day, when people gathered at a youth hostel to celebrate being different.

Their slogan: "To conquer the world by the left hand, to move the Earth by the left hand!"

Left-Handers Day worldwide promotes awareness of the inconveniences faced by left-handers. Lefties are an estimated to be 7 to 10 percent of the world's population.

Being left-handed can be quite inconvenient in daily life.

"When I eat with my left hand, I have to sit a little apart from the person on my left (a right-hander), otherwise our chopsticks fight," says club member Bao Chuchu.

"I always bump into people because I dodge to the left every time subconsciously to avoid them, but they dodge to the right," says Lillian Huang, a leftie.

"The right brain is linked with more spontaneous, intuitive, subjective thinking while the left one is identified with more logical, sequential, rational thinking," says Huang.

So many right-handers (left brainers) may find that in conversation, left-handers (right brainers) jump among topics, she says.

(Ed: There's something there but it's not that simple. The right hemisphere of the brain generally controls the left side of the body and the left hemisphere generally controls the right side, but hand-dominance is not directly linked to brain dominance. People use both sides of their brain, though some people are clearly and consistently more rational or creative. Culture and teaching also affect creativity.)

Be that as it may, club lefties say they're glad they found each other.

"I feel a sense of belonging from being an odd-man-out to being in a group," says Huang. "I'm excited to see so many people of the same kind, and now I don't feel alone."

Club founder Yao was fortunate because his parents, unlike many others, didn't force him to conform and use his right hand. However, he does write with his right hand, as Chinese was originally written right to left, making it easier to use the right hand. Lefties tend to smudge their characters. With a computer it doesn't matter.

Today, left-handedness is far more accepted and some people think that increased use of the left hand can "balance" the brain and stimulate the right brain to produce more creative behavior.

"It does have some positive effect on developing right brain when a right-hander deliberately acts like a left-hander," says Wang Guisong, a neurosurgeon at Shanghai Renji Hospital.

"The development in the right brain can improve people's recognition of image and space, while the left brain takes care of logics and the way of thinking. But the exact effects are uncertain according to different individuals," he explains.

"People always say that left-handed people are smarter," says Yao. He says seven American presidents were or are left-handed, including Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao also uses his left hand to play basketball and ping-pong, he says.

"This is quite an encouragement to us left-handers," he says.

Proud of being a left-hander, Yao decided to build the Website and club. From the beginning he determined it would be a thoughtful, cultural and international group. He made a 20-year plan.

In the plan, the Website is much more than a gathering place for left-handers. Yao hopes it will encourage the recognition of so-called "right-brain thinking" (presumably by left-handers - holistic, creative and so on) as being equal to and sometimes superior to so-called "left-brain thinking" (presumably by right-handers - rational, sequential and logical). It's generally right-brain thinking taught, tested and rewarded in schools and conformist society.

"We want to cultivate right-brain (left-handed) talents to serve society," says Yao. "And we need to scout smart brains to help people in need so everyone can be treated equally in society.

"My friends think I am crazy to build such a castle in the air," he says. But Yao says he believes that his dream will be realized.

The club isn't just for getting together for a meal or KTV; it has sections on reading, activities, charities, celebrities, art, inner voice, practice, employment and a forum.

In the practice section, visitors can express and develop right-brain strength with tests and training. In the inner voice section, people can express the discrimination and frustration they have endured. The charity section features activities for members.

In seven months, the Website has been viewed more than 43,000 times.

The Website and club are not just for lefties. Yao plans to invite right-handers to join so both "brains" and hands can pool their power and creativity to improve society - and right-handed people can practice using their right brain and do some left-handed thinking.


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