Boy Left Girl Right

The other day I saw a few students taking a photo together and as they were arranging themselves the girl holding the camera shouted:

“Nán zuǒ nǚ yòu” 男左女右 [boy left girl right]

This seems to be a common/traditional way of arranging a boy and a girl for a picture or on stage hosting an event, etc. Also, while it’s not 100% consistent, I started looking at xǐ shǒu jiān 洗手间 arrangement and noticed that most follow the same pattern.

I asked my students what the origin of this little phrase is. One student said that in Traditional Chinese Medicine, the doctor would take the pulse (bǎ mài 把脉, for you Word Hogs) of men using the patient’s left wrist and use the right wrist of a woman patient.

Also, apparently a married man puts his wedding ring (if he has one) on his left hand’s ring finger and a woman on her right hand’s ring finger.

Has anyone else:

1) Heard this phrase?

2) Noticed it’s usage beyond photos, toilets, and wedding rings?

3) Learned the origin of where this came from?

If so, please enlighten us (or at least me).

(from left to right) CCTV’s Zhū Jūn 朱军 and Dǒng Qīng 董卿

10 Replies to “Boy Left Girl Right”

  1. My friend told me that it was the way couples walk down street; with the dude closest to traffic. So we changed places so she would be further from the traffic. But then a dog growled at her, and we switched back to girl right, me left.

  2. I once wanted to use the toilet next to the road in a small village near Yangshuo. When I got there, I realized there were two sheds, none of them marked in any way, so I thought there was no difference. When I tried to go in the left on, though, I was stopped by a man who told me that the women’s bathroom was the other one. Asked how I should know that with no signs visible, he replied with the same thing you mentioned. So it seems to be common knowledge …

  3. Definitely seems to be common knowledge. I’ve worked as a tour guide for about a year, and frequently pass by FengDu temple on the Yangtze river. It’s the temple of “doom” so to speak, and you have to chose if you want to be a man or a woman in your next life by walking over a high black threshold without touching anything. Men (or those wanting to be men) chose the left leg, women the right. The way I remember it is, of course, “a woman is always right” 😉
    Don’t think that’s the Chinese origin though, but I frequently come across it in temples and at weddings and such.
    Funny, cause it seems to be that the opposite is the case in European churches, where men always sit in the “sword side” (right side)
    I’ve heard that the reason some countries drive in the left side of the road is because they used to fight on horses with lances and had the lance or spear in the right hand. So anyone would take the left side, so as to better kill the opponent. Could this have anything to do with China?


  4. This concept of boy left girl right is almost innate to my Chinese mind, and I never queried it until I moved to the States in my early teens. I don’t know if there’s a legend/tale behind this ‘rule’ but I think it’s a matter of preference for gender and the collocation of words. Well, I am sure it’s not just in Chinese cultural, men are always said to have a higher social status. So, we always say 男女, but never said 女男. And, it’s also natural for us to say left and right, instead of right and left. (Not just in Chinese, but in English too, and probably many other languages). 1+1=2, and we have 男左女右.
    As for the ‘application’ of this ‘rule’, it applies to buttons in jackets and shirts as well.

  5. 这种习俗是怎么产生的呢?据传说:中华民族的始祖盘古氏化仙之后,


  6. It’s related to Chinese Medicine, according to which, left part of our body is Qi, right part is blood. Qi is Yang because it’s active while blood is Yin because it’s reluctant. Yang is man and Yin is woman. Thus boy left girl right.

  7. Compare and contrast this rubric from the 1662 English Book of Common Prayer:

    At the day and time appointed for solemnization of Matrimony, the persons to be married shall come into the body of the Church with their friends and neighbours: and there standing together, the Man on the right hand, and the Woman on the left

  8. (Sorry for leaving the previous comment incomplete. Trouble with buttons.)

    The Prayer Book rubric has normally been interpreted to mean that the bride stands to the groom’s left.

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