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Tattoo practice in Chinese ethnic minorities

Updated on September 4, 2017

Strong tattooing traditions existed among Chinese ethnic minorities, especially during the ancient days. It is most prevalent among the following three tribes:-

chinese tattoo
chinese tattoo | Source

Li Tattoos

The Li people of Hainan Island had a long standing tradition in tattooing, prevalent amongst the women. It is also seen as a transition rite at puberty.

At the age of 13 or 14, a Li girl will first be tattooed on the nape of the neck, the throat and on the face. The process would take about 4 to 5 days.

Her arms and legs would then be tattooed over a period of 3 years, leaving the hands untouched. Only their married women can have tattooed hands. Women from different tribes can be easily differentiated by tattoos unique to their own tribe.

Tattooing wrists with 3 blue circular rings were common practice of the Li males, mainly for medicinal purposes.

Such traditional tattoos can hardly be seen in Hainan Island nowadays.

Chinese dragon tattoo
Chinese dragon tattoo | Source

Dulong Tattoos

During the Ming Dynasty (350 years ago), Dulong (also known as Drung) tribe were under frequent attacks from other neighbouring tribes and their women taken as slaves. Thinking that being ugly would save them from rape, these women tattooed their face.

This tradition has continued into modern times, although they are no longer under threat from neighbouring tribes. At the age of 12 or 13, all Dulong girls have their face tattooed as a sign of maturity.

Dai Tattoos

The Dai tribe had an ancient tradition of tattooing. Their females generally have tattoos on the back of their hands or arms. A small dot is quite often seen between the eyebrows. A dragon, a tiger or some other ferocious beast are common tattoos of their males, seen as a sign of strength and virility.

Tattoos are given at the age of 14 or 15 as a rite of passage into adulthood.

The Dai are proud of their body art and still practise tattooing to this day.

Although tattooing is widespread among the Chinese minorities, it is not generally accepted by the Han Chinese community, viewing it as a barbaric act. Tattooing in ancient China, in fact, was punishment for serious crimes and was only abolished during the Qing Dynasty.

© 2011 pinkytoky

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