Tattoos have been around in China for thousands of years. Chinese tattoos date back so many years that many reference texts allow us to estimate that tattooing in China has been practiced since the dynasties Zhou and Qing.

Tattoos made in China have similar functions to most other tattoos in the world. Their main purpose is to represent a particular type of meaning, message, or form of communication that has meaning in someone's life, who is linked to its origin, culture or religion.

Even though the history of tattoos in China incorporates this same cultural basis and the same purpose commonly established with tattoos, the historical genesis of this practice differs from the history of tattoos of other nations of the world in terms of meaning, meaning and modern perspective.

origami panda tattoo


Despite the negative connotation of Chinese tattooing, there has always been tattooing in China. The Chinese word for tattoo is Ci Shen, which literally means "puncture the body".

The earliest Chinese tattoos were seen as a punishment - a sort of mark of disgrace. The criminals were tattooed on their faces and forced to live in exile. This practice is called Ci Pei in Chinese.

Even in modern China today, tattoos are seen to be related to the underworld and the triads in one way or another, although this attitude is slowly changing. Despite questionable attitudes towards tattooing, there is some evidence that tattooing and other forms of body art are emerging among young Chinese today.


One of the most fascinating and intriguing features of Chinese tattoos is the fact that the symbols used for tattoos are mainly from China and Japan, although these two countries were not generally considered to be the authors of the tattoos.

Historical texts reveal that tattoos in China have never been a cultural icon or something common to all Chinese people. It created a lot of fascination, intrigue and uniqueness, as almost all tattoos in China offer beautiful characters, symbolize deeper meanings, and represent many other values ​​and traditions than ordinary tattoos.

As China was never a society where tattoos were prevalent, the fact that the characters and symbols in its tattoos are unique makes the overall history of tattoos even more fascinating.

However, only a small number of indigenous Chinese have been able to practice tattooing properly without the respective influence of the social stigmas of tattoos in China that were once associated with crime or the lower class around the world.

indian ink tattoo

The main reason tattooing in China is an uncommon practice is mainly the historical association of tattoos with defamation of the body, as well as the fact that tattoos in China have been linked to negative connotations such as criminal history and other questionable activities.

This particular way of thinking is still present to some extent in modern China, where a segment of the population still associates tattoos with social stigmas directly related to criminals, gangs, the underworld and organized crime.


However, not all tattoos depicted in Chinese culture are linked to negative connotations widely popularized by common people and culture.

There are countless shapes and designs of Chinese tattoos which symbolize beautiful and very unique meanings worthy of attention and permanently displayed on an individual's body. As mentioned earlier, there are very few Chinese minority groups who still practice tattooing as part of their own cultural identity.

Some of these minority groups are the Drung (独龙族) and Dai (傣族) tribes found in mainland China, as well as the Li people and their descendants from Hainan Island.


Starting with the first Chinese tribe, the Drung peoples (also known as Derung or Dulong) and its tattoo history dates back to the Ming Dynasty, around 350 years ago.

The main actors in tattooing were the women present at that time within the Drung tribe who tattooed their faces as a reaction to attacks from other neighboring tribes who often denigrated the Drung tribe and frequently took the Drung women as slaves of their own. tribe.

The Drung women simply saw the power of tattoos stamped on their face as making them uglier and less likely to be taken as slaves or raped when confronted with neighboring tribes.

Drung women continue to tattoo their faces although they are no longer attacked by other tribes; they also have the tradition of tattooing their face as a sign of maturity.

original drung tattoo


The Dai minority tribe in mainland China has an ancient tradition of tattooing specific parts of their body, including their hands, arms, and back. According to Dai tradition, different patterns and different parts of the body have different meanings.

For example, some tattoo designs have protective power, others can enhance a person's attractiveness, others can enhance intelligence, still others can cure illnesses, etc. Getting a tattoo in ink is an extremely painful process. The overall meaning of male tattoos is considered to be a sign of virility, masculinity, and strength.

The most common Chinese tattoo designs used by the Dai people are large tattoos that depict dragons, beasts, or any other kind of ferocious animals.

This tattooing tradition within the Dai minority tribe is still practiced today with the aim of signifying strength, courage and determination.


In the Li community of Hainan Island in China, women are the most often tattooed. The Li people have at least 3000 years of tattoo history.

Since they don't have a written language of their own, the tattoos themselves are useful historical documents. In the past, tattoos were inked mainly for religious reasons.

More generally, tattoos within the Li tribe signify a rite of passage representing maturity and adulthood for women, where girls aged 13-15 are tattooed on the neck, throat, and face. After a few years, each girl is then tattooed on her arms and legs to represent herself as a more mature woman with greater responsibilities.

Only Li women who are married can get a tattoo on their hands, as this specific symbol represents the maturity associated with married women and their respective responsibilities as housewives. The designs for tattoos haven't changed much over the years.

Li culture


Chinese dragon tattoos are also very popular. The Chinese dragon is a long, serpent-like creature, usually with 5 claws and without wings.

Contrary to Western beliefs, the dragon in Chinese culture is a benevolent creature who protects against evil spirits. It symbolizes good luck, fertility, happiness and immortality.

In Chinese culture, it is believed that carrying the image of a dragon on oneself is considered very unlucky. The Chinese symbol of the dragon, on the other hand, is considered a lucky charm.

Sometimes a person is seen with a dragon tattoo combined with the Chinese character of the dragon. It always reminds me of those picture books that are used to teach children to read. Imagine an eagle tattoo with the English word "Eagle" underneath, that's a bit silly, right?

dragon tattoo


Another popular Chinese tattoo is the tiger tattoo. The tiger is one of the animals of the Chinese zodiac. It is the third animal in the 12-year cycle of the Chinese zodiac.

chinese tiger tattoo

Here are some supposed characteristics of people born in a tiger year:

  • Courageous
  • Autonomous
  • Amicable
  • Happy
  • Vain
  • Lack of attention and care


The phoenix (aka Firebird) is a creature from Chinese mythology (it also exists in Greek mythology). In Chinese culture, the phoenix is ​​known as Fenghuang and was used to represent the Empress.

phoenix tattoo

Chinese phoenix tattoos symbolize:

  • High virtue and grace.
  • The union of yin and yang.

A phoenix tattoo combined with a dragon symbolizes the union between husband and wife (yin and yang).


The Yin Yang tattoo is popular in the West and, again, it's easy to see why: the symbol is simple, yet spectacular and can easily be combined or incorporated into other tattoo designs.

Popular Yin Yang tattoo combinations:

  • Yin Yang + dragon and / or phoenix tattoo
  • Yin Yang + dolphin tattoo
  • Yin Yang + koi tattoo
yin yang dragon tattoo

The yin yang symbol is called Taijitu in Chinese and is a Taoist symbol.

The meaning of the yin yang symbol: yin and yang are the 2 opposite elements of the universe which together form a union (unity of opposites):

Yin: the black, feminine, passive part, night, water and earth.

Yang: the white, masculine, active part, by day, fire and air.

Yin and yang only exist in relation to each other, everything has 2 aspects. This is symbolized by the black point in the white part and the white point in the black part of Taijitu.


The main origin, culture and history of Chinese tattoos are directly represented by these three tribes who have captivated the positive essence of Chinese tattoos all over the world.

Even though the social connotations of tattoos with criminal links in China are still present to some extent today, the Western Hemisphere pays a lot of attention to the positive symbols represented by a wide variety of tattoos.

chinese warrior tattoo

This current trend based on the preference for Chinese tattoos comes into play due to the overall uniqueness and the overall combination of beautiful characters that symbolize many positive meanings of human life, soul and spirit.

Given the divided history of tattoos in China with criminal links and beautiful meanings on the other side, it is highly recommended to do extensive research on meaning, symbols and characters to ensure that tattooing represents positive ideals and not criminal links whenever it is planned to mark on one's skin a Chinese tattoo popularized by the Western media and the recent attention gained worldwide in terms Chinese tattoo motifs.

Think before youInk !

panda tattoo

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