The story appears on

Page C2

March 30, 2010

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Feature

Tattooed ladies: naughty or nice

PRIMLY dressed, perfectly mannered Monica Lin interns at a real estate company and takes care not to show the small colored butterfly on her ankle.

In winter it was hidden, but the 22-year-old worries that in summer when she wears skirts, her secret will be exposed.

Lin believes the inconspicuous tattoo cost her a great job opportunity last summer at a Chinese energy company where she was also interning. Tiny though it is, the image was a bit risque, and over-the-edge to conservative corporate eyes.

"The human resources people just told me they had no vacancies after my three-month internship was up," says Lin. "But they recruited other people and I'm quite sure it was because my mentor spotted the tattoo when we had dinner - I was wearing a skirt.

"Nobody will ever tell you or write down that you are not allowed to have a tattoo, but it's sort of an unwritten rule that it is not good for many jobs," she adds.

It was precisely because she feared discovery that she decided four years ago to get the butterfly tattooed on her ankle, which is less noticeable. She got the tattoo along with high school friends as a sign of friendship as they went their separate ways to university.

Lin is not the only young woman concerned about the negative impression body art makes in a conservative society: Only "bad" girls or tough girls get tattoos.

Twenty-four-year-old Xu Shenjia registered for the written national civil service examination, but she decided not to bother.

She was told that even if she passed she would fail the physical exam when a doctor spotted the wings tattooed on her back.

"It's not a written requirement, but everyone says so, and I just gave up," says Xu.

"Everyone" included her parents, university teachers and friends. Her parents criticized her for getting the tattoo in the first place and hiding it from them.

While some young women like Lin and Xu are accepting tattoo as fashion and art, they have to consider the negative reactions of others. For guys the reaction is often disapproving, but not as emphatic as that for tattooed ladies.

In China, tattooing was a form of punishment that can be traced back more than 3,500 years. "Ink penalty," as it was called, was one of the five major penalties for criminals.

In some dynasties, slaves and war prisoners were tattooed on the face to mark their status. Many Chinese movies depict gangsters with a dragon, tiger and other tattoos to signify their allegiance.

All these stories lead to the stereotypical perception that those with tattoos are hooligans, criminals or wicked women. The notion is still deeply rooted and pervasive, especially among those over 30 years old. A group picture of some tattoo lovers in Changsha, Hunan Province, was posted on a BBS with the title "Local Changsha gang show off their tattoos."

Needle nous

The go-to tattooed lady in Shanghai is Zhuo Danting, a 28-year-old artist from Heilongjiang Province in northeastern China who herself is covered with tattoos; she also has pierced lips and a punk green-and-blue-dyed Mohawk haircut.

Zhuo, who is married to an Irishman, has been in business for nine years and has a considerable clientele that she estimates is 60-percent expat.

Zhuo, from Shanghai Tattoo, finds that her Chinese customers, mostly women, are more worried about a tattoo's price, size and how to conceal it than the content and meaning of the permanent sign, and the hygiene of the tattoo parlor.

Most foreigners have a clear idea of what they want, says Zhuo who creates individual tattoos and doesn't copy others' designs.

She urges everyone who wants a tattoo to pay strict attention to hygiene standards of shops, as many are far from adequate.

Many young people tend to go for small, cheap places without considering the basics and the dangers of cross infection.

"It's not just the equipment, clean needles, disinfected surfaces and disposable gloves, but also the environment," says Zhuo. "It's safer to have it done in a neat place."

In general, tattooing in China has not reached the same level of art as in many Western countries.

"Many people are still worried what others, like their parents, boyfriends or colleagues, will think of them if they see the tattoo." This can be artistically constraining.

Zhuo herself isn't inhibited. Heads turn to see the tattooed lady with designs up her throat and extending to many fingers.

Zhuo goes for the unique. An art lover and painting student, she got her first tattoo when she was 19, from a traveling tattooist who stopped in Harbin, capital city of her hometown Heilongjiang Province. It was love at first sight with the then almost-unheard-of art "because it was rare."

Such a nonconformist wants her art to be unique as well. She doesn't copy and often chats with customers before designing their tattoos.

"A tattoo should commemorate a part of one's life and it should be unique for each individual," says Zhuo. "I can't bear to think that millions of tattoos would be identical to a tattoo that I copied from someone else's design."

She does her own version of popular dragons, tigers, flowers, vines, wing, butterflies and crosses, as well as innovative designs from Chinese paintings, such as bamboo, or Buddha's head.

She often tires of young Chinese women who hesitate because they fear their boyfriends might not like their tattoo. Many end up getting a small anklet tattoo that could be mistaken for jewelry.

These worries may not be excessive: 29-year-old Yang Lin just had a big fight with his girlfriend when he saw her tattoo, done two weeks ago.

"I know a tattoo is nothing bad today, but I just can't get rid of the idea," says Yang. "I find myself suddenly looking at her from different angles. I can't help thinking that she might be more open than I expected."

Before and after tattoo

Check whether the shop's environment is clean and neat.

Check whether the tattooist uses disposable facilities, especially the needle and the gloves.

Check the quality and country of the ink.

Check the tattooist's past works.

Usually, a tattooist who can sketch and design is better.

No alcohol the day before tattoo.

Eat breakfast on the day of tattoo.

Relax during the process, because the pain reduces if you relax.

Shower quickly every day afterward. No soap on the tattoo.

No sauna or swimming before it heals.

Do not use ointment other than the tattoo cream.

Restrain from alcohol, spicy food or seafood before it heals.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend