From taboo to mod­ern art

Get­ting a tat­too is no longer as­so­ci­ated with tri­ads and the vi­o­lent un­der­world as more young­sters are seek­ing to get inked

China Daily (Canada) - - SHANGHAI - By WANG ZHENGHUA and LI XUEQING in Shang­hai


To many Chi­nese peo­ple, hav­ing tat­toos is syn­ony­mous with gang­ster­ism. It is a stereo­type per­pet­u­ated by movies and tele­vi­sion shows that de­pict hooli­gans inked with il­lus­tra­tions of dragons and skulls, but it seems per­cep­tion has been slowly chang­ing over the years.

A grow­ing num­ber of young peo­ple in China have now started to sport tat­toos, em­brac­ing it as a fash­ion style and an artis­tic re­flec­tion of their iden­tity.

“We re­ceive peo­ple from all walks of life, in­clud­ing peo­ple in jobs where a tat­too is con­sid­ered taboo, such as po­lice­women and kinder­garten teach­ers,” said Shen Weiguo, owner of Shang­hai Can­g­long Tat­too stu­dio.

Huang Xiaodi, a 27-year-old who runs a cater­ing busi­ness in Shang­hai, has the il­lus­tra­tion of a heart em­braced by wings tat­tooed on the back of her left shoul­der so that she can choose when to show it off. She said that her tat­too rep­re­sents her re­luc­tance to open up to peo­ple, though she de­sires to be stronger.

Huang had al­ways wanted a tat­too but did not ac­tu­ally de­cide on the art­work un­til she was 20 and was study­ing in Paris. It was only three years af­ter she was inked that her mother found out dur­ing a visit to France. Though the lat­ter never had a good im­pres­sion about the art form, she did not get an­gry, partly be­cause she saw a lot of French peo­ple with tat­toos.

“She just told me not to get another one,” said Huang, who still wants to get inked again. “It’s my body and my de­ci­sion.”

Artist Zhuo Dant­ing at­tributes the greater ac­cep­tance of tat­too as mod­ern art to the progress of so­ci­ety and the in­flu­ence of celebri­ties. Dubbed by CNN as China’s “first lady of tat­too”, the 32-year-old lead­ing tat­tooist is one of the most rec­og­niz­able in­hab­i­tants of the city thanks to her flu­o­res­cent- green, floppy mo­hawk-style hair and heav­ily-inked body.

A dropout of Harbin Nor­mal Univer­sity’s vis­ual arts depart­ment, Zhuo fin­ished her ap­pren­tice­ship as a tat­too de­signer at one of the few tat­too stu­dios in Harbin, the cap­i­tal city of Hei­longjiang province in North­east China, and be­came a full-fledged artist when she opened her first stu­dio soon af­ter. In 2006, she moved to Shang­hai where she quickly be­came the face of the city’s tat­too com­mu­nity.

“Peo­ple used to as­so­ciate tat­toos with gang­sters and thugs. Now they think of F1 driv­ers, NBA stars, football play­ers, ac­tors and mu­si­cians,” said Zhuo, the owner and chief de­signer of Shang­hai Tat­too.

One such celebrity who fits

Zhuo Dant­ing, the bill is Hol­ly­wood ac­tor Johnny Depp, best known for his role as Cap­tain Jack Spar­row in the Pi­rates of the Caribbean film se­ries. Dur­ing a press event in Bei­jing last year, Depp showed off one of his tat­toos on his arm — a Wind Over Heaven sign from a Chi­nese book called Book of Changes.

Half of the cus­tomers at Shang­hai Tat­too are ex­pats while the rest are Chi­nese. Zhuo said that there are times when a man­ager or a boss, usu­ally a for­eigner, would lead a group of his Chi­nese em­ploy­ees to the stu­dio to get inked.

“The boss gets a big­ger-sized tat­too while the work­ers all get small ones,” Zhuo said. “It’s no longer just gang­sters who get them. Peo­ple now see tat­toos as a fash­ion state­ment.”

Zhuo said that it is im­por­tant to de­ter­mine the right lo­ca­tion on one’s body be­fore get­ting a tat­too. She re­called how some white col­lar work­ers used to voice their con­cern about get­ting tat­toos, only to re­al­ize that their bosses cover theirs up with cloth­ing in the of­fice.

The wrists and an­kles are small ar­eas that of­fer many ways to sig­nify fem­i­nine charm. Zhuo said that a tat­too on the wrist tends to be small and fairly sim­ple, and can be cov­ered with bracelets or a watch when at work. An­kle tat­toos are rel­a­tively easy to con­ceal and they can be quite beau­ti­ful as they of­ten look like an­klets.

The shoul­der is another ex­tremely pop­u­lar spot for women since tat­toos on this part of the body can be easily cov­ered up dur­ing of­fice hours. Al­ter­na­tively, it can be re­vealed by wear­ing a strap­less or sleeve­less top to show it off.

A woman’s waist is a very ap­peal­ing body part, as evinced by a past trend where women would draw at­ten­tion to this area by wear­ing jew­elry such as waist chains and belly­but­ton rings. The small of the back, too, is a good op­tion for tat­toos, said Zhuo.

Other con­ven­tional ar­eas where peo­ple can get tat­toos in­clude the neck, arm, chest, leg and ribcage. Zhuo said that the half-sleeve de­sign, where the tat­toos cover the top half of the arm, is one of the most pop­u­lar de­signs among men all over the world as it is per­ceived to rep­re­sent in­ner strength and tough­ness.

She also noted that more peo­ple in China are get­ting bolder with their tat­too mo­tifs and are opt­ing to ink them in more con­spic­u­ous places.

“This sum­mer, you will prob­a­bly see more girls with tat­toos in places like their wrists, an­kles, shoul­der blades, up­per chest, and on each flank of or around the waist. Those are all very pop­u­lar places to bear per­ma­nent ink these days,” said Zhuo.

It is hard to de­ter­mine the pop­u­lar­ity of tat­too de­signs be­cause much of it de­pends on per­sonal pref­er­ences. Zhuo said that more peo­ple are now opt­ing to push the en­ve­lope on de­sign, color and the choice of where to get that tat­too inked.

She added that pur­su­ing a “fash­ion­able” de­sign is the wrong mind­set be­cause the per­fect ink to get should be unique, some­thing of beauty and an en­hance­ment to con­fi­dence that helps one stand out in the crowd.

It’s no longer just gang­sters who get them. Peo­ple now see tat­toos as a fash­ion state­ment.”


owner of Shang­hai


Body of art: Zhuo Dant­ing is widely rec­og­nized as one of Shang­hai's lead­ing tat­too artists.

Some of the pop­u­lar choices of tat­toos these days in­clude por­traits of loved ones and in­spi­ra­tional fig­ures.

Zhuo says that peo­ple are push­ing the en­ve­lope by get­ting bolder de­signs in more con­spic­u­ous spots.

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