It’s not hard to believe that tattoos traditionally carry a negative social stigma in China – after all, there are very few cultures where ink infused body art hasn’t been stigmatized. Still, China’s history with tattoos (like most things in China) dates long before modern fads put tattoos back in the public’s eye. The following are some interesting facts about Chinese culture and tattoos.

我们都知道在中国刺青是不太被社会认可的,毕竟这种将墨水注入到身体的艺术形式是在极少数文化中才会被认可。但中国的刺青历史其实远远早于当人们将其作为一个关注点的时期。以下我们将讲述一些关于中国文化和刺青的有趣事例。


1) Tattoos and Confucianism – 刺青和儒家思想


Confucianism is so deeply rooted in Chinese culture, the values are still present in today’s modern society. That being said, the Confucian attitude toward tattoos and other body alterations are being challenged. According to Confucianism, “the basis of filial piety lies in avoiding injury to the skin, hair, and body that is received from one’s parents.” Therefore, any damage to one’s natural body – be it intentional or otherwise – would be disrespectful. Interestingly enough, the most famous tattoo in Chinese history was given by a mother to her son.

儒家思想对中国文化的影响是根深蒂固的,很多价值观都被延续的到今天的现代社会。话虽如此,儒家对于刺青和身体改造的态度似乎受到了极大挑战。儒家思想里面说到“身体发肤,受之父母,不敢毁伤,孝之始也。”所以说,任何在身体上有毁损,如果是有意的,就是被认为对父母的不尊敬。但比较有趣的是,中国历史上最有名的刺青却是由一个母亲授之于她儿子的.


2) Yue Fei and Military Tattoos – 岳飞和军事刺青


jing zhong bao guo tattoos in china

Anyone who knows anything about Chinese history (or Hangzhou history, for that matter) knows about the famous Song general Yue Fei. Coincidentally, Yue Fei was also the owner of the previously mentioned “most famous tattoo in Chinese history” – according to legend, that is. Betrayed in battle by his commanding officer, Yue Fei defected from the army and returned home. When he arrived, his mother scolded him furiously. As punishment she used her own sewing needle to tattoo the phrase: “jin zhong bao guo” or “serve your country with ultimate loyalty” on to his back. This prompted many soldiers to get tattoos of their own. Whereas ordinary tattoos are viewed negatively, those who served in the military who bare tattoos are viewed with respect. Typically military tattoos are figurative because they are believed to possess supernatural abilities – “for example, the tattoo’s image might be a god who bestows power to those who bear his image.” Wait! If tattoos are a source of power, why are they stigmatized?!

tattoo of dragon on chinese person

“This tattoo will protect me from harm!” Sure it will…

一些懂中国历史(或者杭州历史)的人知道宋代将军岳飞。很巧的是,他就是那个前面提到的中国历史上最有名的刺青拥有者。他被他的司令毁谤为逃跑将军。当他回到家的时候,他母亲对他进行了严厉的批评。作为惩罚,他母亲用针头在他背上纹上了“精忠报国”。这引起了后面很多士兵都纷纷效仿。普通的刺青通常给人有不好的印象,但这一条却不适用于军队里的人。军事刺青是比较形象化的,因为他们被认为有特异功能,比如大家认为“身上的刺青是上帝赐予的,会被赋予特殊的力量”。但等一下,如果刺青是特异功能的来源,为什么还会不被大家所喜欢?


3) Criminal Punishment – 刑事处罚


In ancient China tattoos were used as a form of punishment for criminals. According to historical texts, during the Zhou period, there were five hundred crimes punishable by tattooing. For example, a ring would be tattooed behind the ear in the case of robbery or banditry. Most tattoos issued for punishment were placed on or around the person’s face. This caused the guilty person to lose face both physically and metaphorically as they were marked for life – making tattoos an effective deterrent for committing crimes. If that wasn’t enough, those who bore tattoos were often ostracized by society. Criminals were banished to protect groups of upstanding, law abiding citizens. The predominance of criminals baring tattoos continued into the 1940’s – becoming synonymous with crime syndicates like the mafia. Not all Chinese tattoos are bad, though!

在古代,刺青是被用于处罚犯人的。根据历史记载,在周朝有500个刑事处罚是以刺青的形式进行的。例如,凡是犯强盗罪在其耳后刺以环形。很多用在犯人身上的刺青都是被刺在脸上的。这样会让犯人不仅在肉体,还有心灵上留下永久的印记。刺印是一种非常有效而且具有威慑力的犯罪惩罚。罪犯会被流放去保护那些遵纪守法的公民。歹徒有刺青显示一直被持续到1940年代:后来多数被指向黑手党犯罪集团。当然不是没有有刺青的中国人都是坏人啦!


4) Minority Cultures and Dying Traditions – 少数民族文化和正在消失的传统


traditional tattoo

China is home to 55 minority cultures some of which have a long tattoo tradition. There are two in particular worth mentioning: the Li of Hainan and the Dulong of Yunnan. For both cultures, tattoo designs were unique to particular sub-groups of the culture. Designs were often inspired by patterns found in nature. Whereas the Li in Hainan bore tattoos on their neck and body, the women of the Dulong had tattoos applied to the center of their faces. Tattoos were administered through a method known as hand-tapping using bamboo rods and needles. The typical pattern for Dulong women’s tattoos was a butterfly. “The image of the butterfly is associated with passage in Dulong culture. The souls of the dead are thought to change into butterflies.”

中国拥有55个民族,有部分民族是有刺青文化的。其中有两个是有必要被提到的:海南的黎族和云南的独龙族。这两个民族都认为刺青是一种独特的少数民族文化。那些刺青设计常常源于自然。黎族人将刺青刺在脖子和身体上,而独龙族的女性会把刺青刺在脸中央。他们的刺青是通过竹竿和针头管理的。独龙族女性最常有的刺青是蝴蝶。“蝴蝶的图案常与独龙族文化相连。死去的人的灵魂被认为会孵化成蝴蝶。”tattoos-hainan-yunnan

When the People’s Republic of China was established in 1949, the Communist government implemented policies designed to end belief in superstitions and transform social traditions. These laws – which sought to unify Chinese culture and society – ultimately led to the demise of tattooing among minority cultures. Dulong tattoos were officially abolished in 1967. That being said, a 2003 census reported 65 Dulong women who still bore their traditional facial tattoos (though most of them were elderly).

当中华人民共和国在1949<年成立的时候,共产党决定要废除迷信思想,改革社会传统。这些法律试图统一中国文化和社会,最终导致了纹身的少数民族文化中消亡。独龙族刺青在1967<年正式被废除。话虽如此,一个2003年的人口调查显示有65个独龙族的女性仍然有面部刺青(不过她们都已年老)。


5) Modern Tattoo Culture – 现代纹身文化


Fast forward to today! Things are changing due to the influence of popular culture. Celebrities like music artists, athletes, and the like have further encouraged a more accepting attitude toward tattoos. Whereas the government held stake in tattoo culture in the past, body modification is not high on the current administration’s list of priorities. That’s where the Chinese Association of Tattoo Artists (CATA) comes in. This organization seeks to regulate tattoos in China by promoting safety and hygiene. The CATA hosts an annual convention for tattoo artists in China – the convention for 2015 was held in October in Nanning. Tattoo artists and enthusiasts from all over the world attend the event to share their love for body ink.tattoo-nanning

快进到今天,很多事情都在变化。一些名人,比如音乐艺人,体育明星等都比较能接受刺青。当然政府还是不太支持身体变化的,至少不会放在行政首要。这就导致了中国纹身艺术家协会的产生。这个协会旨在通过安全和卫生手段来促进中国纹身艺术的发展。中国纹身艺术家协会每年都会召开例会,而2015年10月份的会议是在南京举行的。来自世界各地纹身艺术家和的爱好者参加此活动来分享他们对在身上刺印的喜爱。

China’s long history of negative attitudes toward tattoos are far from disappearing. Still, only time will tell how popular tattoos become as society continues to develop. Interested in learning more about tattoos in China? Hangzhou Plus recently issued a survey regarding attitudes toward tattoos. See the results here. We also did an interview on what it is like to be a female tattoo artist in China.

然而中国对刺青负面的印象还会一直存在。只有时间能够告诉大家刺青是否会随着社会的进步而被广大群众给接受。还想了解更多中国刺青的事情吗?Hangzhou Plus最近做了一项关于纹身的调查。调查结果。想读更多个可以查看中国女纹身师的采访

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