By: Daniel Otero
Thinking over China’s ancientness and accomplishments, while it tries to embark into a contemporary-socially extrovert world… And what will happen with all the countercultural events and activities occurring?
China is rapidly expanding into areas of liberalism: from issues on homosexuality to tattoos… The lines are not defined anymore, even quite blurred and confusing at times. Little by little the old stereotypes are breaking down into what should be told, the truth. Not only to turn or become judgmental-one sided truths…
Where did it all begin for China and its controversial feelings towards the tattoo? Well, it was more like with whom, and the clear answer was Yueh Fei. It was the 8th century period of the Song Dynasty, when this famous general had a disastrous defeat in the field of battle and coming back home, which happens to most soldiers–sent him into a deep-depression. Today we call it, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders. Back in the day, without psychologist to help soldiers out, sadly and ignorantly things were done in doses of ‘tough love’. Yueh Fei’s mother became desperate and in her anger to make him ‘snap out of it’, decided to teach her son a lesson…
Taking a sewing-needle and dipping it into a dark-ink, she began to tattoo four characters onto his back, “Jing zhong bao guo (精忠報國)!”, “Serve China with pure loyalty!”
Later in history, the tattoo got one of the worse connotations known. People got tattooed on the face for being a thief or the mark of a criminal in China, like the old “Scarlett Letter”. Slaves were typically marked like cattle; those that served as prostitutes had the mark of their pimp or profession on them. Deserters were usually marked with the letter ‘D’ on their upper-arm. And it was as recently as the Second World War (1939 – 1945), when Jews were marked as slave laborers to be eventually exterminated.
Contemporarily, the tattoo by the 20th Century became synonymous with service men or commonly associated with gangsters.
Dramatically, the tattoo took a turn by the 1950s, when after the War: surfers, scuba-divers and skydivers began to wear them, according to their respective ‘tribes’, hobbies or professions.
By the 1990s, tattoos became more of a fashion statement amongst singers, actors or generally those who were artist.
Coming back to China and what’s happening inside this traditional society? A wave of rebellion has engulfed the youth under 30 and tattoo parlors have been sprouting-up like ‘wildfire’. It’s the ‘new’ thing! Almost fashionable, but beware, it is a permanent mark!
Although, it’s the tattoo which has the oldest history and it does go back several thousand years and were used commonly by warriors, hunters and kings.
People are beginning to question more and thousands of young professionals are getting ‘marked in ink’ across China.
Surprisingly, the ones getting more tattoos here in Nanjing (Jiangsu Province) are the females (Wang, 2013). Popular with the young ladies are the butterflies and flowers, typically placed on the upper-back-shoulder or ankle. For males over 18 (the consenting age for a tattoo in China) are getting the dragon inked on their back or upper arm. Furthermore, piercings are the growing trend in a traditionally-modest society and things are certainly changing. People now are going more for the show-off of their bodies and to become even sexier.
For some, tattoos are about love. While for others it’s more about attraction and desire. Some females, especially in Western societies will place a tattoo on their backside as an attractive-artsy image to attract their mates and lovers. A tattoo is symbol of spiritual change in a person’s life, from war to peace. The skin is a canvas to notice what occurrences had happened in a person’s life, a timeline of momentous events! Tattoos are also a form of remembrance for those whom we love and have passed away. It’s a personal choice of adulthood, expression, freedom and independence.
Tattoos can range for as low as 500 (around three centimeters) and go as high as 20,000 RMB covering the body from neck to backside. Tattoos are therefore expensive. Another warning, the feelings of a tattoo go from stinging sensations to very painful, depending on the artist’s hand and talent. They are [the tattoos] sterile, in other words, every time it’s a clean procedure. The artist will wear gloves and open a package to change the ink-needle for every customer. However, when in doubt about prices, levels of pain or cleanliness of the parlor–don’t be shy and just ask! The customer has the right when they are paying.
Now, advice… If you’re ‘bucking for a tattoo’, make sure to keep it hidden. Unless you are working in the environment, a tattoo should be placed along the back, upper arms or places were they cannot be seen, even during a company-picnic while wearing shorts or a T-shirt. Company bosses are still very conservative, some frown upon them and can be touchy (even in America and England) on the issue of hiring or having a person with tattoos.
But other than that, if you’re interested, go get yourself inked!