Chinese Tattoo Traditions and Modern Chinese Women
Chinese tattoos designs have captured the fancy of tattoo enthusiasts in the west and is a rage amongst people of all age groups. The beautiful characters that are often chosen for their exotic appearance often carry a deeper meaning than what meets the eye. Until recently, however, Chinese women, who are rather conservative in their outlook, didn’t think too highly of tattoos mostly because tattoos were used to mark criminals in the past. Those who were convicted of a severe crime would be tattooed on their face and exiled into a faraway land. This penalty was known as Ci Pei (Tattoo/Exile).
Modern Chinese people still tend to associate Chinese tattoos with organized crime and the criminal underworld, but among the younger Chinese generation, and especially young beautiful Chinese women and girls, are taking to adorning themselves with tattoos. However, this has perhaps become easier to accept, since now they are usually simply taking on temporary tattoos which last for short to medium periods of time, not for life as has been the case in the past.
Interestingly, while tattooing has always been looked down upon among mainstream Chinese, numerous ethnic Chinese groups have tattooing traditions that go back several centuries. Dulong and Dai tribes, along with the Li people of Hainan Island rank among such minority groups.
Tattooing among Dulong women is a rite of passage and seen as a sign of maturity. As soon as girls reach puberty, they are tattooed on their faces. The tradition goes back to Ming dynasty some 350 years ago when Dulong River, along which this tribe lived, was constantly under attack. Women were often raped and taken as slaves during the battles. So in order to save them from rape and slavery, women started tattooing faces of their daughters. The tradition survived and continues to thrive in tribal area despite the fact that Dulong is no longer under attack. And these tattoos are the old style permanent type, not the temporary “costume jewelry” or “discard able” type of tattoos now being worn by young Chinese women and girls as an emerging fashion style.
Among Dai people, both men and women are tattooed. For men it is a sign of virility and strength and only those designs that accentuate their muscles are chosen. Ferocious beasts like dragon or tiger are preferred though there are no fixed traditional designs. Dai women are tattooed on the backs of their hands, arms or between their eyebrows. Here also, the tattoo is given at the age of 14 or 15 and is a kind of rite of passage into adulthood even in these modern times.
Among the Li tribe of Hainan Island, tattooing has a long history. It is more popular among women than men and is considered as rite of passage that is done at the age of 13 or 14. Young girls are first tattooed on the nape of the neck, then the throat and finally on the face. The whole process takes about four or five days.
Girls then have their arms and legs tattooed over the next three years but their hands are left bare as only married women could have their hands tattooed among Li. Tattoos designs differ greatly among the different Li tribes, and could be easily used to differentiate between women of one tribe from the others.
However, such extensive tattooing is becoming less popular among even Chinese women of these ethnic monorities in modern times.
5/20/2012 4:07:44 PM