Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Tattoos in China and A Chinese Tattoos

Tattoos in China and A Chinese Tattoos
Ever since seeing Beijing’s punk poster-boys Reflector at Xining’s Material Life Music Bar, I’ve been thinking an awful lot about tattoos. This Material Life Music Bar was full of inked Chinese and foreigners; it was the highest volume of tattoos I’d seen in a while and the inspiration for the following rant.

There are two topics I’ve been thinking about: i) Having Tattoos in China and ii) Getting Tattoos in Foreign Languages (especially Chinese or Tibetan).

Even though in recent times tattoos have become slightly more acceptable in the Chinese mainstream, tattoos still carry a social stigma. This article from China Daily showcases the growing trend of tattoos among China’s young people, but also hints at the slow-changing tattoo-wariness shared by the traditionally minded.

The wariness is easy to understand given the sordid history of tattoos in China. In his article “Street Scenes of Subalternity,” Michael R. Dutton explains some philosophical and historical background about why tattoos remain subversive in Chinese culture:

Dutton continues by describing how gangs of criminals adopted tattooing as a way to forge group identity and to “mark [themselves] outside the society.”

To sum up, tattoos have traditionally been the mark of outcasts and organized criminals. I’ve also heard it said that prostitutes also favor having tattoos, possibly as group identifiers or, more innocuously, as preferred ways for covering up unsightly scars.

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