“Tattoos are special,” Tuo Tuo said. “Every one of them has a story.”

As we sipped on our drinks on a rainy afternoon, Tuo Tuo showed me pictures of her tattoo “stories,” gesturing with a hand calloused from holding the needle. A tattoo artist in her late twenties, she sports a wide variety of tattoos herself: a colorful ship on the sea, a Chinese tiger with the “王” symbol on its head, butterflies and more — all in vivid colors.

But it wasn’t always like that.tattoo-smile

“After I graduated, I got married, had a child, and got an office job,” she said. “A lot of people thought ‘that’s it.’ Every day would be the same: I’d go to work, get off work, pick my child up from school, and that would be life. But, as my friends say, I’m someone who likes challenges.”

A challenge indeed, deciding to switch from being a full-time office worker to a tattoo artist. Tuo Tuo says that many thought it a foolish decision at the time.sit-tattoo

“My parents were surprised, definitely. But they already had a grandchild, right? Time for me to follow my dreams.” Later, when her father asked if she had any regrets, she simply said “Yes: I regret that I didn’t leave that office job sooner!”

She currently has a thriving business, both with foreign and Chinese customers.

So, what about the “stories” she tattoos?

“Foreigners often want something very Chinese, that will commemorate their time here. For Chinese, many are still quite conservative when it comes to tattoos. They choose small ones or ones that are easily covered up, but I think this is changing.”tattoo-desk

According to Tuo Tuo, much of this “conservatism” comes from traditional attitudes.

“In the past, some tattoo artists were people who never went to school, and so what they did wasn’t often seen as professional. Nowadays, tattoo artists put a lot of thought and training into every tattoo.”

Tuo Tuo herself takes a lot into consideration when approached by customers.

“I’m not the kind of person that will give you a tattoo the same day you come in. Our skin is very precious, and tattoos can’t be “in fashion.” They’re not like clothes that you can get rid of the following year. So, I always draw the design first and make the customer wait, sometimes up to a month, before getting it. It doesn’t matter how much money they offer me: I don’t want to give them something they’ll regret.”tattoo-bandw

As for her next step?

“I’m studying with another teacher in Jinhua. I want to study more traditional Chinese designs, because I think a lot of designs are taken from Western culture. Traditional Chinese art has a lot to offer, and it would be really interesting combining Chinese style with Western style.”

As she scrolled through pictures of Chinese kites on her phone, she showed me her past tattoos along with ones she wanted to study more.

In every one of them, a story being told.


For more info on Tuo Tuo’s studio, scan her barcode below:tuo tuo tattoo artist qr

Side Note:

As many are aware, many Westerners get tattoos of single Chinese characters. What is this like for Chinese?

“Well,” Tuo Tuo said, “I think Chinese characters are beautiful, but that their meanings are often complex and don’t work on their own.”bad chinese tattoos

Please ask a Chinese friend before getting a Chinese tattoo!


Want to read more about tattoos? Here’s a short history on tattoos in China. And if that’s not enough, we did a survey on what Chinese people think about getting a tattoo.

Categories: Hangzhou Snapshot, Life, Stories

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