We’ve all heard the urban legend about the American girl who wanted to get the Chinese character “love” tattooed to her back and ended up with “whore” instead. But now, with more and more Chinese getting tattoos of English phrases without necessarily knowing what they mean, it turns out that the trend has turned the other way.
Tattoos, traditionally unpopular in China, are finally gaining something of the cache that they hold in the West and tattoo parlors have begun opening up in back alleys across China’s major cities. Just as English-speakers love the exotic look of Chinese characters, meaningful or not, Chinese kids are getting English words tattooed to their bodies just for their appearance.
According to an article in McClatchy, a lot of the popular English-language tattoos are Christian-themed, such as “Jesus,” “Church,” “PrayGod,” or “SaintSinner” – with the n spelled backward.
Tattoos like those are more popular with the under-30 crowd, while older Chinese tattooies still prefer traditional designs like dragons or tigers.
But foreign language tattoos in China still aren’t nearly as ubiquitous as they are in North America. According to Xinhua, up to 35% of NBA stars have a Chinese-themed tattoo, and plenty of them are completely nonsensical. Toronto Raptors player Shawn Marion apparently intended to have his pseudonym “The Matrix” tattooed in Chinese, but ended up with the phrase “Demon Bird Camphor” instead.
The blog Hanzi Smatter keeps a great record of embarrassingly translated Chinese tattoos – our personal favorite is “Crazy Diarrhea.”
So far, the English tattoos aren’t that bad. But given some of the awful Chinglish T-shirts we see around, we’re aware it could be getting much much worse…
And in case you’ve suddenly gained an interest in adding some body art (hopefully in a language you actually know), Smart Shanghai has compiled a great list of Shanghai’s tattoo parlors. Happy inking!
Photo by RankMyTattoos.com.