Addicted to novelty since 2001

What Does Your Tattoo Really Say?

Richard points to his favourite weblogs of 2004 (thanks for the honourable mention). Among them is Hanzi Smatter, a blog whose sole purpose is to identify the true meaning of kanji characters in Western culture. Mostly, he clarifies the meanings of tattoos (such as this one).

I’ve written before about impulse tattoo purchases, and this email from a tattoo artist confirms my suspicions:

I have been a tattoo artist for 8 yrs. and will tell you why. A kanji is the cheapest thing that you can get at the tattoo parlor. For the most part they require no thought and are chosen on impulse right before getting tattooed. Most of the people who get these tattoos don’t care what it is, they just want to be “cool”.

Richard also nails the feast-or-famine writings of Dave Pollard.

5 Responses to “What Does Your Tattoo Really Say?”

  1. Rachel T

    Ahh but they suceed in that momentary coolness longest enough to take the bite out of their first 10 years of regret. After that… they’re screwed.

  2. Richard

    I enjoy reading Hanzi Smatter, though with the tinge of guilt that comes from thinking I wanted a tattoo of my Chinese name on my shoulder, but also with the knowledge about Chinese characters I have from having studied the language for a bit.

    My initial Chinese name was a fairly meaningless transliteration of my first name. That’s why I encourage people who want a Chinese name to run it by someone who speaks the language, preferably a friend who knows your personality, so they can give you a meaningful name based on what they know about you. My current Chinese name has a neat story attached to it, and pretty much every (mainland) Chinese person who met me and then found out my name immediately understood the story behind without my having to tell them.

    I guess I look like a famous Canadian in China with the Chinese name of “Dashan”, which means “big mountain”. Since my Chinese skills are not even close to his, my Chinese teacher at the time jokingly gave me the name Xiaoshan, which means “small mountain”, so I went with it and added the family name Li (because it was easy to write), which I had in my original transliterated name, though a different character. (The original character wasn’t even a family name character.)

    That said, everybody needs a youthful indiscretion or two, and a tattoo in a place normally covered by clothing is probably not something worth regretting too much. Getting a Chinese-language tattoo makes sense if you know exactly what you’re getting into, have researched the character or phrase for potential meanings alternative to what you intend by running it by someone who knows the language thorougly. Hanzi Smatter is a fun weblog showing the people that put absolutely no thought or research into it, and it’s also a fun way to learn what Chinese characters mean, if not the best way to learn the language itself.

  3. David

    Hi i have got 3 tatto’s which i choose carefully with many consideration.

    Im currently working on a project on my back with my local artist, which consists of mountains covering my back with a greek warrior sitting on a pegasus flying in to attack a cerberus (greek mythology monster).. I was wondering if you could explain

  4. David

    What does this tatoo say about me?

    Thank you davie Lad

  5. jennyc

    Given the current popularity of Chinese tattoos you might be surprised to learn that for a long time tattooing in China was regarded as a ‘bad’ thing.
    The reason for this is because it violates the body. In fact the literal translation of the chinese words for tattooing, “Ci Shen”, is “to puncture the body”.
    Westerners may find it hard to understand this concept but it is very deep in our culture.
    A very famous Chinese novel mentions tattooing in the story of outlaws from the Mount Liang area of China. The backdrop for the story is 12th century China and concerns 108 tribesmen from an illegal tribal leader whose name was Song Jiang. 3 of of the main characters apparently had tattoos which covered their entire bodies.Their is not doubt that the amongst the most famous Chinese tattoo is that of the legendary Chinese military leader, Yueh Fei. He lead armies during a period of Chinese history known as the South Song Dynasty. The reason why history records is exploits is that he was incredibly unlucky as during a battle with some soldiers from northern China, his second in command deserted him and defected to the enemies side bring great shame upon him. He could not bear it and quit the army traveled back home to his mother’s house. I am not sure if he was expecting sympathy but he did not get it. HIs mom was very annoyed with him and told that his primary objective should be to protect China – even if other people let him down along the way.So that he would never forget this fact, she tattooed 4 Chinese characters on his back with a needle that she used to sew and repair clothes. The Characters do not have a direct equivalent in English but their meaning would have been clear in ancient Chinese times. They means “Serve China and be loyal even in the face of death”.
    There is a darker side to Chinese Tattoos as well. At some points in Chinese history Chinese tattoos were also used to mark criminals. Often outlaws who had been found guilty of terrible crimes would have to have tattoos etched on their faces before being banished to a distant land.
    This meant that even if they made it back into society years later everyone would still know they were a bad guy as the tattoos were as permanent as they are today. This was called “Ci Pei” which literally translated means “Tattoo Banishment”. Even today, some people still associate Chinese tattoos with mafia type ganster families.

Comments are closed.