Getting a Chinese Character Tattoo – The Do’s and the Don’ts

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Welcome to the ChinesePod Weekly, your chance to find out what’s going on at ChinesePod this week!

Tattoos (纹身- Wénshēn) are all the rage in the west these days and what’s even more is that an increasing number of people are getting interested in Chinese character tattoos. Whether to be exotic, to express some deep-felt meaning, or for your own personal reasons, getting a tattoo is fine by ChinesePod (we just want you to be careful before taking the plunge). That is precisely why we have created a little guide for you to avoid any permanent embarrassments next time you visit the tattoo parlor.

But first, let’s touch for a moment on Chinese local attitudes toward tattoos. Traditionally, tattoos are seen as quite “taboo” in China. While a few minority groups in China practice tattooing for traditional purposes, amongst 汉族人 it is quite uncommon, for a number of reasons. Part of this attitude has to deal with a certain cultural outlook towards one’s body. There is an old saying in Chinese that goes “身体发肤受之父母”(your body, hair and skin are given by your parents). The idea behind this is that your parents have made you just the way you are, and it is not necessarily up to you to change that. Considering that tattoos permanently and physically alter the appearance of your skin, you can see how this goes against the saying. In addition, there was a tendency in ancient China for both criminals and gangsters to be marked with tattoos (often on the face) so that people could tell them apart from the general public. Although not in practice anymore, you can still see how a negative association with tattoos might persist, especially amongst the older population (after all, no one wants their grandchildren looking like criminals!). That being said, we are all about freedom of choice here at ChinesePod, and if you are into tattoos, we say “go for it!” Just a few things to note before you consider getting one with Chinese characters:

The Do’s

  • DO check out this week’s Beijing Standard Time for examples of tattoos-gone-astray.
  • DO make sure your characters are tattooed correctly, as a number of tattoo artists seem to like to miss strokes here and there. Be sure to research the characters you want thoroughly and bring a copy of the text when you go into the tattoo shop.
  • DO make sure the characters are facing the proper direction. As you can see in the this week’s BST, all sorts of mishaps can occur when trying to orient characters (tip – if they look fine when looking into the mirror then something has gone wrong…)
  • DO make sure the characters are not split up in anyway. Characters split (for whatever reason) look very weird to the local Chinese eye. Every character should be in its own invisible square.
  • DO bring a native Chinese speaker with you when getting your tattoo. They can help make sure you aren’t getting anything weird written on your back!
  • DO check with your Chinese friends about what to write. Chinese language can be very deep, and your Chinese friends are sure to have good ideas if you are looking for something with meaning.

The Don’ts

  • DON’T go to a non-Chinese speaking tattoo artist if you can help it. It’s just not worth the risk.
  • DON’T go in empty-handed. Always bring a picture or text of what you want written, in big, clear letters!
  • DON’T act on a whim. With little planning, you might get something very strange written…
  • DON’T pick characters based on their dictionary meaning. Many characters have multiple meanings in Chinese, and can often be construed as something else when written next to (or in the absence of) other characters. Remember – context is key!
  • DON’T be carefree with the font. Sometimes certain fonts can have implications with meaning in Chinese (best to consult a Chinese friend, who can help you choose a font that best suits the text).

With the above kept in mind, you should have no problems getting the exact Chinese character tattoo you want, and won’t have to regret any embarrassing and long-lasting catastrophes! And be sure to check out this week’s BST for more insight into tattooing in Chinese characters, as well as some examples of tattoo mishaps.


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You may enter the code on Step 2 of the payment process under “Do you have a promotion code?”. This code with expire February 15th, 2013. Happy Spring Festival Poddies!

Announcements for the Chinese New Year Holidays

As the Chinese New Year National Holidays are quickly approaching, we just have a few announcements for you poddies.

1. Customer Support: As much of our staff will be on holidays over the next week, from February 9th to February 15th we will be limited to email support only. Please also be aware that there may be some delays in support due to the shortness of staff.

2. Academic Support: Many of our academic team memebers are also on holiday over the next week, so please be aware that there may also be some delays in responses to questions posted on our comment boards. The lesson production schedule, however, will continue as usual.


– The ChinesePod Team

Learn Chinese in Cairns today!
S Chen

About S Chen

Director of My Learning Club Pty Ltd. Owner of Learn Chinese Cairns
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