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Chinese Tattoos – Tons of Tattoo Designs & Ideas

Chinese tattoo for "mom"

Chinese tattoo for “mom”

Chinese tattoos are very popular for people all over the world. For some people they are a symbol of heritage, and for others it is simply a beautiful design whose symbolism means something to them. No matter why you have chosen a Chinese tattoo, it is fun to know the history behind tattoos from the area of the world; and a rich history it is. This is what we will go over first.

History of Chinese Tattoos

For thousands of years now, tattooing has been seen in China. Chinese tattoos is known in China as Ci Shen. Its literal English translation is to make punctures in the body. However, though tattoos were known in this country it was not embraced and quite uncommon. This is because the Chinese people saw tattooing as a bodily defamation and a highly undesirable practice. In fact, Chinese tattoos were often used as a mark on criminals to show that they were undesirable. Because of these things, there has been a great deal of controversy about Chinese tattoos from China since the country does not have a history of embracing and accepting this form of art.

Even though few Chinamen (and women) were tattooed in China’s history, there is a famous legend surrounding General Yueh Fei who was in service of the South Song Dynasty. During a battle with the north his leader deserted their people and joined up with the enemy. Fei was so upset by this that he left the service to return back home. His mom was angered by his choice and reminded him that above all else was his duty to China. To make sure he remembered this she took a needle and tattooed four letters on his back which read jin zhong bao guo. The lose translation of this sentence is “serve your country with the highest loyalty.”

Even though this is a grand Chinese story, even in modern day China tattoos have quite a stigma. They are often affiliated with crime and criminals. Even though the mainstream groups in China have no real tradition with tattooing, there are many minority groups on the country who have strong tattooing roots. The tribes of Dai and Drung and those from Hainan Island are prideful about their history with tattooing.

Chinese Dragon Tattoo

Chinese Dragon Tattoo

In the Western world, Chinese tattoos are very popular; especially Chinese characters. Since tattooing was never popular in China, this popularity has nothing to do with tradition and more to do with the beauty of the art associated with this beautiful country.  However, since many people there do not have the slightest idea of what the characters mean, there is a danger of getting something undesirable put on their body.  So, if you are considering getting any Chinese writing tattooed on your body, maybe you should do some research on each character or symbol to ensure that what you are getting is what you think it is. An Englishmen learned this the hard way when he chose a tattoo from a local parlor. The artist assured him that what he was getting tattooed meant Obey, Honor and Love. Much later he was approached by a woman from China who was quite confused about his tattoo. The reason for her eyebrow raising reaction was that what his tattoo actually said was “at the end of the day this is an ugly boy.” This just goes to show that even though the characters are beautiful, the meaning behind them may not be so attractive so do your homework before you get someone as permanent put on your body less you regret your decision.

Types of Chinese Tattoos

You already know that Chinese characters are a popular type of Chinese tattoos, but there are many other symbols that represent the Chinese culture, even if their people do not wish to get them on their bodies. Aside from characters, the Chinese astrology is also popular in Chinese tattoos. There are twelve Chinese signs which include the tiger, the rabbit, the dragon, the snake, the horse, the sheep, the monkey, the chicken, the dog, the pig, the rat and the cow. You can choose your birth sign and add the month of your birth in Chinese characters under it for extra added effect.

If you like the astrology idea but prefer a more traditional symbol (Aries, Pisces, Leo, Virgo, etc.) than get these with Chinese characters. Dragons are also popular in Western culture as a symbol in Chinese tattoos. They can be done in any form but the most common forms are tribal and those with vibrant colors.

Placement of Chinese Tattoos

Chinese character tattoo on the arm

Chinese character tattoo on the arm

Depending on what you are getting the best placement will differ. For characters the places are many. You can have them done on your chest, wrist, foot, ankle, neck, arm, leg, or any area of the back. Some like them large and some like them small. Many women go for smaller versions. The tattoo that reads “dream” above my breast is only about two inches tall and a little over an inch across. (And yes I made sure the meaning was correct first!) Dragons are best in a medium to large size and are often found on the chest or the back. Zodiac signs can also be either small or large and can go anywhere characters can go.

Celebrities with Chinese Body Art

Celebrities are usually among those that are ahead of the cool curve and have been getting Chinese  tattoos for a long time. The most popular with the “beautiful people” are characters and dragons, and who what group of people dons the most of these amazing tattoos? The answer is those who play basketball in the NBA. (I have no clue as to why this is.) This is ironic since the amount of sports stars who are actually Chinese who have Chinese tattoos is extremely low in comparison. One example (there are too many to list) is Marcus Camby who plays for the L.A. Clippers and has the term strive for the family tattooed on his arm in Chinese characters.

Singer Nick Carter from the boy band Backstreet Boys has a shark tattooed on his bicep with Chinese characters meaning Poseidon. Britney Spears has a flower near her belly button with the Chinese character meaning mystery near it. And Angelina Jolie, queen of the tattoo people, has a Chinese dragon tattoo on the small of her sexy little back. It seems that pop culture has embraced Chinese tattoos even if real Chinese people have not.

More Chinese Tattoos

Chinese tattoo with the text for "Have Fate Without Destiny"

Chinese tattoo with the text for “Have Fate Without Destiny”

Chinese tattoo on arm

Chinese tattoo on arm

Chinese character tattoo on foot

Chinese character tattoo on foot

Hakka Chinese Tattoo Half Sleeve

Hakka Chinese Tattoo Half Sleeve

Tattoo with Chinese Goddess Guanyin

Tattoo with Chinese Goddess Guanyin

Chinese Tattoo

chinese tattoo on back

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