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We’ve all seen those pictures; someone thought a tattoo of some Chinese characters looked ‘beautiful’ and got Chicken Chow Mein tattooed on their shoulder. Well, we thought it was about time that someone gave some suggestions without getting something ludicrous permanently inked onto your body, you know, for the rest of your life.
Tattoo in Chinese is 纹身 (wén shēn), which means to “mark the body”.
Tattoos in China
Tattoos, even in modern China, are not very common. Although the art form has existed for thousands of years, for the mainstream it has often been viewed as undesirable. There are a few minorities of Chinese people whose traditions are stronger in regards to tattooing, especially among women. These groups include the 独龙 (dú lóng) Dulong and 傣 (dǎi) Dai tribes.
The oldest story of tattoos in China, is that of 岳飞 (yuè fēi), a general of the South Song Dynasty. When the field marshall whom Yue Fei served under, deserted, Yue Fei fled the battle and went home. His mother told him that his first loyalty was to his country, and to remind him of this, she tattooed 4 characters onto his back with her sewing needle: ‘精忠报国‘ (jīng zhōng bào guó) – Serve the country with ultimate loyalty.
If you’re serious about getting a Chinese tattoo, then do some research first, or take a look at some of our ideas for Chinese influenced tattoo designs.
1. Get your Chinese Name tattooed
Among the Chinese communities who get tattoos, names, including their own or a lover’s, has become more popular. Sometimes, it can just be a single character to represent the name instead of writing all 3 characters.
Your own Chinese name is at least more personal than your favourite take-away dish, and since we’ve devised a simple algorithm for our Chinese name generator, the characters will be recognized as ‘name’ characters. Although our name generator is pretty good, if you’re not happy with your Chinese name and want something more personal, we can help you create your Chinese name.
2. Use a quote from Confucius or Lao zi
David Beckham’s Chinese character tattoo is from the Confucius book Analects:
生死有命，富贵由天。 (shēng sǐ yǒu mìng, fù guì yóu tiān.) = Life and death are decreed by fate,rank and riches determined by Heaven.
The following is another commonly used quote taken from the Dao De Jing, or book of Dao.
道可道,非常道；名可名,非常名. (dào kě dào, fēi cháng dào; míng kě míng, fēi cháng míng.)
You can tell the truth, not eternal truth; you can call out the name, not the eternal name.
Here are some recommendations from our very own Chamcen:
1.千里之行,始于足下.《道德经》 (qiān lǐ zhī xíng, shǐ yú zú xià) <dào dé=”” jīng=””> A journey of a thousand miles, begins at one’s feet. From Dao De Jing</dào>
2. 无为而治.顺其自然得天下,逆着失之. (wú wéi ér zhì. shùn qí zì rán dé tiān xià, nì zhe shī zhī.) = By letting go it all gets done. The world is won by those who let go, if you try and try, the world is beyond winning.
3. 四海之内皆兄弟也。《论语》 (sì hǎi zhī nèi jiē xiōng dì yě.) <lún yǔ=””> = All Men Are Brothers. From Analects</lún>
4. 己所不欲,勿施于人。《论语》 (jǐ suǒ bù yù, wù shī yú rén.) <lún yǔ=””> = What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others. From Analects</lún>
5. 君子喻于义，小人喻于利。《论语》 (jūn zi yù yú yì, xiǎo rén yù yú lì.) = A gentleman takes as much trouble to discover what is right as lesser men take to discover what will pay. From Analects
6. 见贤思齐焉，见不贤而内自省也。《论语》 (jiàn xián sī qí yān, xiàn jiàn bù xián ér nèi zì xǐng yě.) = In the presence of a good man, think all the time about how you may learn to equal him. In the presence of a bad man, turn your gaze within! From Analects
3. Stick With a Dragon or a Tiger
To be absolutely certain you won’t have a rude word tattooed on your person, you can always stick with a Chinese image instead. Pictures of dragons, tigers and other traditional Chinese animals are common among Chinese people and westerners.
4. Choose a Single Chinese Character Tattoo with a Special Meaning
A single character is more difficult to get wrong than a longer quote or phrase. Also, single characters can have more impact and meaning.
忍 (rěn): to endure
龙 (lóng) dragon
Here are some suggestions for single character tattoos:
力 (lì) Power
强 (qiáng) Strength
智 (zhì) Intelligent
忠 (zhōng) Loyal
爱 (ài) Love
5. Buddhist quotes and Images
6. Ask a Native Speaker
If you’re still unsure whether the examples you’ve found make sense in Chinese, you can always ask a native Chinese speaker to help you. Feel free to post your question on our Facebook page!
If you’re interested in learning Chinese, you can check out our Written Chinese Dictionary! You can learn more about our Chinese Learning Toolkit here! You can also click on the links below to download it for your iOS and Android devices!