Friday, March 20, 2009

Hayley: Post 2-The History of Chinese Tattoo

  • For a long time, tattooing in mainstream China was regarded as a bad thing. It was a practice that was seen as a defamation of the body, something undesirable.The literal translation of the Chinese word for tattooing, "Ci Shen", is," To Puncture the Body".
  • At some points in Chinese history, tattoos were used to mark criminals.Those found guilty of serious crimes would have tattoos etched on their faces before being banished to a distant land. This meant that, even if they made it back into society, everyone would still recognize them as being bad. This practice was called "Ci Pei" which means " Tattoo Banishment".
  • Many of the workers on the Great Wall of China, built over 2,000 years ago, were prisoners. All of them were tattooed on their faces with the wall character.
Tattooing was viewed differently in the minority groups in China:
  • In the Drung ethnic minority, female children were tattooed on their faces at 12 or 13 years of age as a sign of sexual maturity. An elderly lady would use a bamboo stick in water and ground charcoal to first mark the design. She would then use thorns to etch the design into the girls' skin as a series of dots. Charcoal was then rubbed into the wounds to provide pigment. This technique resulted in a dark blue tattoo between the brows and around the mouth.It was common to see a diamond or a butterfly design around the mouth. These tattoos were seen as a protection as during the Ming Dynasty The Drung group often came under attack. The tattoos aimed to make the women less attractive to their enemies and, when taken prisoner, decreased the risk of being sexually attacked.
  • In the Dai ethnic minority group in China, the men were tattooed on their muscles. This was seen as a sign of virility and strength. The tattoos were designed to accentuate and draw attention to their muscles. Dai women were tattooed on the backs of their hands, their arms or between the eyebrows. Dai children had designs pricked on their bodies when they were 5 or 6. The designs were marked at this age but not actually tattooed until they were14 or 15. This was a sign of reaching adulthood and marking the end of childhood. The Dai were free to design tattoos to suit themselves. Tigers, dragons and Chinese characters were popular choices. They were done in black and white, created with plant sap. These people used to live near the river and often came under attack by "monsters" aka crocodiles. It was believed that black and white tattoos kept the monsters at bay and this was the most sensible way of avoiding death and injury by these creatures.
  • Men from the Li group would tattoo three blue rings on their wrists for medicinal purposes. Li girls, at the age of 11, were first tattooed on the nape of the neck, the throat and the face. This was necessary as they would not be allowed to be married later if they were not tattooed. Over the next 3 years the girls would have their arms and legs tattooed. Hands were not tattooed until they were married.
Probably the most famous ancient Chinese tattoo is that of the legendary military leader Yue Fei. He led armies during the South Song Dynasty. During a battle with Northern China, his second in command deserted him and defected to the enemies side. This brought him great shame and forced him to quit the army and return home to his mother. His mother was annoyed and shamed by this event, and, never wanting him to forget, tattooed four characters on his back. One translation of these characters is "Serve China and be Loyal even in the face of Death". Another translation of these characters is "Absolute Loyalty and Devotion to the Mother Land". It is thought that his mother chose these words to both inspire and admonish him.
Traditional Chinese tattoos were bold and colorful. The designs were often based on an animal, creature, warrior or god. For example, those living in the jungle that were impressed by the leopard's speed or the tiger's power may have decorated themselves with the patterns and the colors to enhance their own body's appearance with the aesthetic values of the animal. The hope was that they would assume the animals' natural abilities for themselves.

History of Chinese Tattoos | Historical Chinese Tattoos
Tattoo in Chinese Minorities
Tattoos in Chinese Tribes | Chinese Tribal Tattoos
Yue Fei - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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1 comment:

  1. This is all really fascinating; I had no idea about Chinese tattoo. Thanks for enlightening me.