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Chinese Tattoo Designs - A Warning

Mar 10, 2008
In recent years Chinese tattoos have become extremely popular. The authentic characters are fully of history and mystery, especially if you come from a non-Chinese culture. And it's easy to appreciate the beauty and artistry of Chinese calligraphy whether or not you understand the subtle meanings that it conveys.

But it's so easy to let all that excitement blind you to the dangers of getting an impulsive Chinese tattoo, as these two stories illustrate;

Chinese Tattoo Mistake 1

In 2002 a newspaper reported that 18 year old hairdresser Lee Becks paid 90 to get a Chinese characters tattooed onto his upper arm. He was really pleased with his new tattoo and thought that the mandarin letters meant "Love, honour and obey".

But when he visited his local Chinese take-away a young Chinese woman reluctantly told him that his new design really meant "At the end of day, this is an ugly boy".

So the next day he went back to the tattoo studio, only to discover that the artist had shut up shop and was nowhere to be found. To make matters worse, when he uncovered the design at a nightclub, it attracted a group of Chinese girls who thought it was a great joke. After that, he made sure that his new Chinese tattoo was kept covered until he could afford the 600 for laser removal treatment.

Chinese Tattoo Mistake 2

In 2004, Joanne Raine, a 19 year old from Darlington spent 80 getting her boyfriend's nickname "Roo" tattooed on her stomach. She was delighted with the design, which was a symbol of her commitment and undying love.

Then her problems began with a visit to her local Chinese take-away. When she revealed her new tattoo, an embarrassed member of staff told her that the design meant "Supermarket". She subsequently split up with her boyfriend and can't afford to have the design removed.

So to make sure that you avoid a real horror show under your skin, take great care when planning your new Chinese tattoo.

The most important thing is to consult a native speaker. Make sure that they actually grew up in the country and are fluent in the language. Third or fourth generation Chinese Americans or Chinese Europeans won't have such a thorough understanding of the language. And just to make sure, get a second and third opinion if possible. Somebody else may be able to suggest a better option.

Once you find someone you trust, avoid the temptation to show them a design that you like and ask them what it means. They may agree with you just to make things easy, when it would be better to use different characters.

Make sure that you explain to them the underlying meaning or message that you want the design to convey. Someone who understands the language may be able to suggest another design that is more appropriate. In many cases there may be an idiom which is more suitable than a direct translation.

The Chinese language is packed full of great sounding four character idioms which can't be directly translated into English but are able to convey almost any concept or idea. However, if you go for this option, it's even more impressive if you can learn the translation, transliteration and pronunciation in Chinese. After all, nearly every non-Chinese person that you meet will ask what it means.

If you want to have your name translated into a Chinese tattoo, please be aware that different speakers may provide different translations depending upon their local dialect.

Certain western names can't be directly translated into Chinese. So consider adopting a real Chinese name just as many Chinese people adopt Westernized names. Get a Chinese person that you know to suggest a few names and choose the one that you like best. Just make sure that you cross check what it means with other Chinese speakers.

Once you've decided upon the characters that you want, get a native speaker who is good at calligraphy to write out your design. Get them to make a few sketches of the design which you can take to your tattoo artist.

Make sure that your artist understands the Chinese language and has experience of turning Chinese calligraphy into tattoos. Finally, discuss the type of font that you want your artist to use. As with all languages some fonts are better than others. Do you want modern handwriting or the elegance of classic Chinese calligraphy brush strokes?

Take your time, find the right design, get the right people to help and your Chinese tattoo will be a source of pride for the rest of your life.
About the Author
For more information about selecting chinese tattoo designs visit Gustavo Gomez's site at SuperTattooDesigns.com
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