Social Question

NerdyKeith's avatar

Why do non Asian people get tattoos in Chinese?

Asked by NerdyKeith (5479points) March 24th, 2016

When I asked this question a few years ago on Yahoo, an Asian person actually responded. She told me, she had seen quite a lot of Chinese quote tattoos on white people. Ironically many of messages were not the intended meaning at all when correctly translated.

But I wonder what exactly is the facination with getting tattoos in the Chinese language?

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18 Answers

ibstubro's avatar

To answer that question I think you would have to first answer the question,
“What, exactly, is the fascination with getting tattoos?”

What drives a person to get ink the first place is obviously going to greatly influence the tattoo they choose.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

The chinese language looks artistic and makes for tattoos that are often unfortunate

elbanditoroso's avatar

It’s a more perplexing question than that, @NerdyKeith .

Why do they get tattoos written in a language that no one else can understand? If the tattoo is in Chinese and it means world peace, but no one knows what the symbols mean, then what’s the point?

Seek's avatar

What I imagine the people who get those tattoos imagine the tattoos will do for them:

“Hey, what does your tattoo mean?”

“Oh, this one? It means ‘fire heart’. I’m a Leo, and I’m also a poet. And I’m really embracing the Buddhist philosophy. It’s just so… Deep and earthy, you know? Like, we’re all one and stuff.”

“Wow. That’s really deep and poetic. You should come to my nude hot yoga class with me.”

Mimishu1995's avatar

FYI, in China and other countries using Chinese characters, people use English for various stuff. The English words makes no sense in various cases, and they don’t seem to care, because one of the aims is to decorate just like the tattoo you are talking about (don’t believe me? Just tour around Engrish.com)

Now you have the answer. People are often facinated by things they don’t know/understand.

Zaku's avatar

You know what would be a great Chinese tattoo?

中国书法看艺术。常使不幸的纹身

I’d definitely see a native writer to see if it’s accurate and can’t be shortened first, though.

Pachy's avatar

I imagine people who have Chinese characters embedded into their skin think it looks cooler than their native language.

Oh, did I mention—I really hate seeing tattoos on people.

LuckyGuy's avatar

There are several sites dedicated to missued (misspelled?) Chinese characters.
Hanzi Smatter is probably the best. Even if you can’t read Chinese or Japanese they translate the meaning for you. Some characters are written updise down. or swapped left to right. Some characters have double or triple meanings so they can be really off. Read a few. They are funny.
And tragic.

NerdyKeith's avatar

@LuckyGuy This is exactly why I would never get a tattoo in a language other than English. I’d probably consider having one in Celtic style lettering, but in English.

Feel sorry for that poor guy and his “Honey Fuck” tattoo lol

Coloma's avatar

I think it is because, as mentioned above, the writing looks artistic. I traveled in asia a few years ago and have always had a thing for ethnic decor. I had a pet portrait commissioned of my 18 yr. Chinese goose back in ‘08 and had the lettering characters for “goose” drawn into the picture. I think it would be a lot riskier to translate chinese to english, the infamous “engrish” that often becomes extremely lost in translation.

With Chiinese characters, unless someone can actually read chinese script the artistic value is still there.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

@Seek nailed it. we are all one man… whoa… like whoa…. lol

canidmajor's avatar

Tough room. Maybe we should find someone who actually sports one and ask?

As @Coloma said, the pictographs are, in and of themselves attractive. “With Chiinese characters, unless someone can actually read chinese script the artistic value is still there.”

None of mine are any kind of Asian characters, but I can appreciate the visual appeal.

SecondHandStoke's avatar

Why do Japanese girls wear shirts with randomly grouped Arabic letters?

So strange to see.

Jeruba's avatar

To look cool? To get attention? To express a sentiment or affiliation? To mystify people? To exhibit rebelliousness? I would imagine there’s more than one possible reason.

I worked with an older woman who had Chinese tattoos from wrist to elbow on both arms. I never dared to ask her what they meant. She had a dangerous look to her, and she was a mean stroke with an editorial pencil.

One night I wandered into a tattoo parlor in Harvard Square with a half-formed intention to walk out wearing some ink. I don’t know why; I was in a strange mood that night. I looked at some designs in catalogs, and then I remembered somebody saying, “Don’t pick something out of a book. Bring your own art, a design that really means something to you.” So I wandered out again. I’ll bet there are a lot of people who are permanently adorned with the effects of a vague (and maybe not altogether sober) impulse. Maybe they don’t all know the reason.

calgal1077's avatar

I think, yes, it looks somewhat artistic and it’s trendy, but I think to them, it’s just a symbol. It symbolizes to them whatever it is someone told them it means. I think it’s just the same reason people get any tattoo—because it symbolizes something to them. It is unfortunate that probably most of those people don’t do any research to make sure they get it right. But even if it’s wrong, they probably never learn that fact, so they just blissfully live with it as the symbol they intended. Because isn’t that what it’s all about? I mean, what it signifies to them personally?.

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