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My Parents Would Be So Angry! Chinese Girls and Tattoos

Chinese Girl with Tattoo

Mark's wife got her tattoo

I got my first tattoo a few months before I came to China.  Now, six years and twenty tattoos later, I’ve learned a lot about China’s attitudes towards tattoos.  It all started when a heroic Chinese guy got tattooed by his mother (!) so he would always remember the important things in life.  Since then, tattoos have become a stigmatizing identification mark of criminals, much like the Japanese perception.  This attitude holds true today, but thanks to globalization, the *gasp!* factor has lessened considerably.

What Chinese girls think about tattoos

Chinese girls are very enthusiastic about fashion and personal aesthetics (whether this enthusiasm translates into actual ability is another issue).  However, being girls, they change their minds a lot, and the permanence of tattoos scares many of them (as it does guys as well).  Yet a lot of girls are very curious about tattoos, and you’ll come across many of them with temporary or henna tattoos.  It’s a fact that girls like decorations.

If you see a tattoo on a Chinese girl, it will usually be small, either tribal or floral or both.  It will usually be on the upper arm, hand, shoulder, or ankle (the lower back “tramp stamp” is thankfully rare since Chinese girls have very nice waists).  If a Chinese girl is going to get a tattoo, it’s usually for one of two reasons: 1) she wants to follow her favorite superstar or 2) she wants to cool enough to hang out with the “in crowd” (that girl at the barbeque joint playing dice with the dudes probably has a tattoo).  Girls also think it increases their sex appeal (in my opinion, rightly so), and you’ll find many tattooed girls in their Barbie doll outfits and 7” heels heading towards the KTV to start their shift.

Of course, some girls don’t care what other people think and just like the look of tattoos.  Compared with the average Chinese girl, these girls are often more independent, outgoing, and “fun” (you can take that to mean whatever you want).  I’ve been quite surprised when some of my students come bounding up to me with the exciting news that they got a tattoo.  Sometimes it’s well done, and sometimes it’s generic, but I applaud their bravery.

What parents, husbands, and bosses think (about tattoos)

Um, that’s a negative.  I’ve never met a Chinese woman who got a tattoo after she was married (besides my wife).  For some strange reason, Chinese husbands don’t like their wives being too sexy so a tattoo is a definitely “no.”  Respectable jobs, such as being a teacher, secretary, government official, or other white collar careers are out of reach for women with visible tattoos.  With Chinese women becoming more independent mentally, socially, and financially, you will find tattoos where you wouldn’t before, but tattoos are usually the domain of young, single women who aren’t thinking about the consequences for their future.

Of course, the biggest ixnay comes from the parents.  Since a tattoo hurts a girl’s marriage and job prospects, it is absurd why their perfect, angelic daughter would even consider such a thing.  If the daughter has always been a little “different,” her parents might not be so aghast, but almost none of them would encourage their daughter to get inked.


I know tattoos aren’t for everyone.  Personally, I think tattoos can look great on a Chinese girl.  Before she met me, my wife didn’t have or want any tattoos, and now she has two and is planning to get a third. Asian skin is very well-suited for tattoos, and I think a Chinese girl with a tasteful, well-done tattoo displays confidence, sexiness, and a willingness to be different.  So if any Chinese ladies read this and you feel that you really want a tattoo, think carefully about it, and go for it!  But please, no more Jolin-inspired 1/3 arm bands.  Those are about as lame as the snarling wolves that most of the guys get.

  • Elijah

    Great article Mark!

    It’s fascinating to see the differences between men and women who get tattoos and the perceptions of others towards them, especially in different cultures.

    Tattoos are almost universally accepted in Canada on men and women, with the exception of the more conservative types. The other exception is with highly visible (face, throat, hands, eyeballs etc.) and/or offensive/stupid designs (ex-gf names, gore, barbed wire etc.). But obviously, that’s in Canada.

    What you said about in china is 100% true. I came to china with 2 tattoos and left with an extra 5 (1 had to be covered cause of the mess the fucking idiot made). Canney never had a tattoo and only after we had been together for 2 years did she have an interest. We were walking along Zhong Shan Lu and passed by the tattoo place (third floor) that I went to before after the useless idiot. She wanted to get something.

    So we went up and got a really nice tattoo together (number seven for me) on the inside of our forearm. They mean a lot to us and are exactly the same.

    2 1/2 years later, she wants another one. She wants to surprise me, but I’m a little hesitant about her safety so I said that we’ll get one together here in Hong Kong. That way I can make sure everything is safe, clean, she gets a nice tattoo and doesn’t get ripped off.

    Only problem is once you start, you find that sooner or later, you want another to “complete” the project.

    • Crystal

      Yeah, I read somewhere that there are very few people who have ONLY one tattoo.
      Once you get one, sooner or later there will be another.

  • Bored in Melbourne

    I still maintain that it is a trend that in many parts of the world is currently leading to a massive number of people trying to get them, burned off with a laser. Tattoo as fashion? No thanks, I’ve regretted enough mistakes already. Chinese people can tend towards conformity so when they see a role model has them they are easily influence to conform to that example.

    To me a Tattoo is a permanent reminder of a temporary mistake.

    Knock yourselves out and get whatever you want, I do not make a judgement about people with ink, but I would and will not do it myself just not my style

    • Crystal

      If your daughter would want to make a tattoo – would you be furious about it?

      • Bored in Melbourne

        Crystal you already know the answer to that. My daughter is being raised to have some independent thought so I hope she is unlikely to follow others in a trend that she would regret later.

        I’d be unhappy if she got some unoriginal branding on herself, but if she wanted it I would not force-ably stop her, could be the end of any career dreams to be a lingerie model though haha. Having said that if she was thinking about tramp stamps I would do me best to persuade her away from a mistake like that.

    • SB
  • WanderingAmerican

    I love tattoos as long as they’re well done. I have a half sleeve on my upper left arm and it sure surprised my girl’s friends and family. They seemed very interested in it and didn’t show any disapproval. I like to get more one day when I have some disposable income. Maybe we could get a small couple’s tattoo or something. Fingers crossed!

  • Mark

    My wife’s first tattoo was a simplified copy of a scorpion that I have on my arm. We weren’t married yet when she got it, and I was a bit hesitant because I had heard so many regretful tales about couples who got inked together and later split up, carrying permanent reminders of their failed relationships. But fate was on our side, and we stuck together, and now we have (somewhat) matching tattoos. Couples’ tattoos are way better than those ultra-sappy couples’ T-shirts anyway.

    • Elijah

      Oh yeah, for sure.

      Couple shirts are stupid-looking at best. Then again for those that don’t like tattoos, they’ll say the same about tattoos.

      I disagree obviously. A tattoo for me can either be artwork or a marker on the road map of your life. Each of my tattoos are simple, no bigger then my palm and easy to cover with a t-shirt (except the couples tattoo on my inner forearm which I’m the most proud of).

      I agree with BIM about following the trend, but not in the sense of what he said. I hate barbed wire/tribal tattoos, wild animal tattoos (tigers, lions, dragons, etc.) death-centric (grim reaper, torn flesh, skeletal, etc.), names, cutesy (flower, butterfly, unicorn, etc.) or group/team tattoos (sports, etc.). Those are the people with tattoos that I think are making a mistake, those are the ones who aren’t very good at long-term thinking.

      My wife and I love our tattoos though, they mean a lot to us as people and as a couple. She feels no shame when walking down the street with me or on her own. Her parents were a bit shocked the first week she got it, but now they barely notice it. As a matter of fact, her mother recognizes the pull the tattoo has for Canney and will point it out sometimes when Canney’s missing me while away.

      That’s my take anyways.

  • korean_guy

    This trend of Asians getting tattoo is disturbing to say the least. White people do not look good with tattoos, Asians look horrendous with tattoo.

  • Wil

    Tattoo is a big no no. Why do you think companies won’t hire people who haved tattoo or they must hide them. I think people just go throught a phase in their life and want to show that they are like people who wear them. I am a real estate person and i rent houses and apartments to people and I do not rent to people who have tattoos, most of the time . I feel people who put on tattoo are more stubborn, nonconformers and like to be right all the time. And sometimes they might defy authority (me). I would go crazy if I had a daughter and she put on a tattoo. It’s not really ladylike, in my eyes. i think if they have self confidence and think good about themselves, they would not put on tattoos. Only my opinion.

    • skiller1369

      Wil in the US that is bold and clear discrimination and you would loose your real estate lisence just for posting what you wrote. If i was to rent from you you would have the best tennant if i purchased a house from you i could pay cash for anything you had to offer. Lazy? So in what ignorant place did you learn a tattoo makes you lazy? I personally think your a fashist and you need to work out your personal issues. Oh and by the way if you worked for me in one of my companies your authority would cease to exist I would fire you for being a bigot! I’m native american so tattoos are part of my culture, my heratige and ancestral way of life. I think you have a lot to learn about the world. You sound like a high school bully not a grown man with a child. ” Just my opinion”

  • Guy

    I have been doing a survey recently. I would ask every girl I know who had a tattoo how they feel about it now. I am getting 100% response, they all regret it. Many have said after getting it, they realize how stupid it was. Many felt it ended up devaluing their character.

  • Crystal

    More than a year ago Eugene suddenly suggested that I get a tattoo. Curiously, he doesn’t have any tattoo himself and doesn’t want any.

    So, we visited a tattoo shop in Israel, flipped through their albums and later I even searched for different tattoo patterns on internet.

    But later this idea somehow faded away and hasn’t been revived since.

    • Elijah

      Could have been a passing urge. I find that girls with the proper tattoos (not tramp stamps or cutesy crap etc.) are a huge turn-on sometimes (especially Asian girls for some reason – probably the pedo-yellow fever ;-) )

      My mama always told me that when you’re gonna get yerself a tattoo, you’s gots ta follow da rules:

      1) Make sure the ink, the needle, the gloves etc. are fresh out of the package, in front of your eyes. Hep B is a gift that stays.

      2) Make sure the environment and tattooist is clean. Microbes and bacteria is a sure fire to fuck your tattoo up.

      3) Make sure you’ve had time to think about what you’re getting, a week is a good time to wait. Week is just a week, but a tattoo is forever.

      4) Make sure the tattooist knows what the hell he’s doing. You think you’re getting a tiger then end up up with a dog-like blob.

      5) Make sure what you’re getting is permanent. Frat houses, girlfriend’s names, sports logos, etc. aren’t going to be the same your whole life.

      6) Make sure it’s somewhere you can cover easily. As some of the more twat-like people have mentioned, they won’t do this or that with a person who has a tattoo.

      7) Make sure it’s something that you’ll be proud of. It might be something cool, suitable to you, clean, well-hidden etc. but is it something you can really live with for the rest of your life?

  • WanderingAmerican

    I think you can tell who’s old and who’s not by reading the comments. :lol:

  • Ziccawei

    Tattoos became very popular in Shanghai around 2005/6. It was like no one had one before then (except bar girls and gangsters) then it was like THE fashion statement of the year.

    I now see some girls in Shanghai with tattoos in weird places like the inside of their forearm. Or on the side of their neck. I notice China very much has an attitude of ‘action now, think later’ and this is exemplified in the kind of tattoos young women have in Shanghai.

    Rather than being a symbol of defiance and rebellion it is very much a symbol of fashion and wanting to conform with an ‘elite’ group. The modern concept of ‘face’ comes into it where a girl might have a tattoo to show how ‘modern’ she is.

    It’s very much comparable to Chinese girls that take up smoking.

  • Pudding

    Short term thinking, and planning. I see it everyday. Holds true for tattoos also.

    I would like to mention that I know quite a few people with tattoos. None of which are cheats, gangsters, will mug you, rape you, etc. Some are rich, some are poor. Middle class, upper class. City dweller, country bumpkins. They are all good people.

    I just wanted to offset Wil’s comments. Which are his/her opinion but for the most part, I personally find mostly incorrect. However what’s true in my part of the world could be different from another part of the world.

  • Wil

    Please don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that they are “bad people”.No,no,no. What I am describing is not true of all who wear tattoos. Of course. I am generalizing too much from what i wrote. I am sorry for that. It’s just what I notice of some people I come across in my business. Actually, after I put my post up, I wanted to delete it because i felt it might offend some people. To thos, i would like to apologize. Please don’t be offended, because it is not personal to you. I am older , 63, like another poster commented from seeing various comments. I was like what I was describing when I was younger. I used to have long (not very) hair that my parents and other older people did not like. So I went through a similar phase of my life of doing what people my age was doing. :-) And yes, I consider myself a very conservative person too. So that is why I think the way I do I guess. But next time I shouldn’t generalize too much like I did. Sorry.

  • Pudding

    No worries. I just wanted to counter balance what was said. We all have our own opinions. In fact, I would tend to agree with you, in relation to China anyway. I see girls all the time with tattoos here where in I am. But from what I have heard, and seen, girls that have tattoos in China for the most part are involved with someone that probably is less than admirable. Not to say they are bad people. I honestly do not personally know anyone in China with a tattoo. But if a hot girl approached me and had a tattoo, I would be more suspect of her than a women without one. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t talk to her or I would actively ignore her, but I would be more cautious that I usually am.

  • John Kim

    Like adam carolla said, tattoos is just a way to buy yourself a personality. Why not just be an interesting person instead of trying to advertise to everyone how interesting you think you are. It’s just a cry for attention.

  • Pudding

    I could also say the same thing about cars. That BMW, Lambo, Porsche, etc is just a way to advertise how cool and interesting you are. Why don’t you actually be an interesting person instead of buying an over priced transportation device. It’s just a cry for attention.

    • Bored in Melbourne

      Pudding I sort of agree, I have driven a few BMWs, one was a company car of mine. Never been impressive just badge value. I do like German engineering though and my old VW Golf twin charger was an excellent piece of technology and less conformist than an iPhone.

      Lambo does call out look-at-me and my friend who is in the Ferrari club does have a lot of wanker mates. But whenever I get the chance to drive a Porsche I take up the offer, they are really a lot of fun and a well designed vehicle.

      But the point is that you won’t get a Tattoo with that quality engineering will you…

  • Pudding

    Well that post was more of a joke. I really like Adam Carolla, and I don’t take that comment to heart but I disagree. So I had to try to jab him where he has a soft spot. Cars. To be specific a BMW M Series of cars. But then again. I like cars too. So. Hell I guess that we are all wankers all around.

    Anyway. Engineering no. But you can get a tattoo with the same level of craftsmanship, detail, design, and beauty that a Porsche or an Audi R8 has. It may not have moving parts but it can be just as sexy.

  • yogeto

    why people would pay others to scar themselves…i will never know.
    and when you start sagging? holy shit. nasty.
    to each their own~

    • Laowaiink

      I never understood the whole “sagging” argument against tattoos. Yes, people sag when they get older, but are your wrists, forearms, shoulders, back, biceps, calf muscles, etc., going to sag? Perhaps if you’re pretty chunky when you are young and when you age, you get “wings” on your arms, or “thankles” on your legs, but even then the distortion isn’t going to be serious. It’s not like that “Goo” photo effects computer program. People sag on their faces, chest, and stomach. Avoid these areas and you’ll be fine.

      Has anyone personally seen a tattoo distorted by sagging?

      Now fading, that’s another issue entirely. Highly dense tattoos turn mushy over the decades unless they’re done well.

      • WanderingAmerican

        Looks like it’s just me and you, bruh.

  • Pudding

    I have so many scars already from just being a country kid that it wouldn’t matter if I “scarred” myself with ink..

    The same could be said about plastic surgery and the double flaps on the eye lids..

    I could go on, but really it’s to each their own..

  • Phil

    Jolin has a couple of small tattoos – maybe she inspired a generation? I just hope Chinese girls don’t end up like English girls though. It’s so depressing seeing a beautiful young girl walk past then see she’s got a pair of angel wings or a poem tattooed on her back!

  • Tie Ridge

    How stuped can you get. Yes to each his or her own. What a @^(# !*$. If you just take a look what comes out of prison’s you would have better sence. Hello these are the brainless people your mom ask you about ‘ if little Jonny jumped of the bridge would you do the same. Only the @#$%^& said yea. In the U.S. 4 Million tattos a year an another 1.5 trying to get them removed within a year.

    • Elijah

      Thank you for the exceptionally poorly written comment…..

      It really contributed everything anyone would ever need to know about tattooing, especially in china.

      Here’s a gold star for effort.

    • Mark

      Yes, there are in fact many people like this, who jump on trend bandwagons and regret it soon afterwards, or come out of prisons permanently branded with memories of their temporary incarceration.

      However, there are also many people who simply like tattoos, regardless of whether or not it’s trendy or fashionable or permanent. Untwist your knickers, buddy, it’s not your skin.

  • Tie Ridge

    Thanks Elija
    My like you said ( mama always told me that when you’re gonna get yerself a tattoo, you’s gots ta follow da rules}Wow no wonder people are so stuped. What’s that a prison joke? Women with tats are very tacky. It’s sure as hell not fashion more like loser vill. You rather date a foot ball player or basket ball player than a women. Firrst question I ask befor dating {do you SMOKE???? Do you have a tatto??? Either answer yes I say see ya and I’m not even cute. In 20 years these women with saggie skin and brest and yes f87ked up tats looking for a new husband or boy friend wont stand a chance. Tell them to laugh that one off wile thinking of messing there skin with INK.

    • Elijah

      1) For the love of GOD if you’re a native-English speaker than PLEASE do a quick spell check and grammar check, it’s almost physically painful to read your comments.

      2) You obviously don’t catch humour/sarcasm when you see it. Seeing as how I strive to keep my grammar and spelling as best I can, do you really think I would write “Mama always da rules” seriously? Do you think that maybe I was using incorrect grammar and spelling as a joke in order to make a valid point?

      3) The only woman I know with a tattoo is my wife and I share the same tattoo. Not only would she not give a close-minded clout like you a second’s notice, but she has no need to prove her worth to you, it’s beyond doubt.

      4) If you had bothered to read any of the actual advice written in the article and in the comments section, you’d find that even the people who support tattoos (me included) caution that it’s not a light decision to make. In fact all of it is about the dangers inherent to tattoos. It’s better to be prepared rather than just rely on the “Abstinence Only” approach.

      5) I mention this to so many people whereas it should be obvious…. What a person does with their own life is their personal freedom. It affects no one but themselves if they decide to get a tattoo or a piercing or any other body modification. If judgmental pricks want to call them names like a child, then they’ll have to rise above it and find mature people to be around. Simple.

      It’s obvious that you’re in no condition for an intelligent debate. You can’t even use the “Reply to the comment” button for example. So, I’m just going to cut you off here and say that there’s little either of us can say that will convince the other to change their minds.

  • China Shark Mike

    It’s ironic how people with no ink are always whining about people with ink yet you never hear a tattooed person putting down uninked people. To each their own, like the other poster said it ain’t your skin. I personally prefer them and they aren’t cries for attention. I have upper arm sleeves totalling my tat count at 17. Six of those I got here in China. Tattoos are rites of passages of life for me. The first 6 I had them done from a friend who died some 22 years ago. Times a changing and so are attitudes towards women with tattoos are also changing. My exgirlfriend hated my tattoos, couldn’t leave the house with her in a tanktop/sleeveless shirt. A lot of old school Chinese look down on tats yet I’m seeing more and more Chinese getting ink. Problem is that a lot of them tattoo areas you can’t cover up easily. {throat, forearms, hands}. None of my tats are below my elbows, {there will always be moments where you need to cover up}. Being a teacher I usually make it a point to wear half sleeve shirts {oversize} or long sleeves while I teach at my main teaching gig. I dated a girl with a wicked tramp stamp. It’s also ironic that even tattooed people critisize one another. My tiger’s head symbolizes my Chinese zodiac, Chinese characters are China Shark, Koi fish symbolizes my life in China. Whatever floats your boat I say.

    • Elijah

      I’m flabbergasted to see that once again, I agree with Mikey. Will wonders never cease?

      People with tattoos are usually the first ones to warn you and also the first ones to laugh at dumb tattoos.

      Whereas people who are against tattoos are just uniformly prejudiced.

      Good call dude.

      • Elijah

        Let me clarify, I said people who are against tattoos, not people who don’t have tattoos.

        Distinction that makes all the difference.

  • Ian G

    I dont have any tattoos, and I dont give a rats arse (spelled “arse” not “ass”) if anyone does.