Tattoo History 7: China’s Hainan Province’s Tattooed Li Women

The Li people live in Hainan Province, China’s most southern point. Tattoos in Hainan can be traced as far back as 3000 years ago. Hainan is often referred to as “The Tail of the Dragon”, as it is the most southern point of China, though also used to be called one of the eyeballs of China (along with Taiwan when it was a part of China) as it is an island province.

Li face tattoo 1980
Li woman’s face tattoo, taken in the 1980’s.

According to one German ethnologist (branch of anthropology that compares and analyzes the characteristics of different peoples and the relationship between them), Hans Stübel, the origin of their tattooing came from a story about a descendant of the original Li. This descendant of Li had a daughter whose mother died early in the child’s life. When this happened, a colourful native bird called the hoopoe fed the child with grains to keep her alive. In remembrance of this, the Li women tattoo themselves to look more like the birds, both in their colour and the patterns of their wings.

Li geometric tattoos of a Basaadung Li woman from 1930
More geometric face tattoos, specifically of a Basaadung Li woman from the 1930’s.

Others still believe that the women tattooed themselves in order to be recognized in the afterlife.

A more practical reason that these women tattooed themselves, particularly on their faces, is the fact that their villages would be attacked often by many of their neighbors. In order to appear unattractive to the invading men, the Li women tattooed quite intricate designs on their faces and down their necks. Making themselves appear less attractive protected them from violence and rape.

Li married and un married women with leg and hand tattoos from 1930
Married and unmarried women, all with leg tattoos, and some with hand tattoos. Taken in the 1930’s.

Later on in history though, these women saw the tattoos as an enhancement to their beauty. When a girl turned 13 or 14, an older woman would tattoo her, first on the nape of her neck, then her face and throat over the course of 5-7 days. Then, over the next 3 years, she would continue to be tattooed along her arms and legs. The only thing that interrupted this would be the death of a family member. Once a woman married, her hand would also be tattooed, marking her as a married woman.

Li old woman
More beautiful geometric face tattoos, taken in the 1980’s.

Like many ancient cultures, the Li used a bamboo rod, with rattan needles to hand tap the designs into the skin. The patterns used did vary from tribe to tribe, but all used motifs taken from nature, such as plants, animals, and totemic symbols passed down through generations.

Li progress tattoo
Geometric face tattoo in progress. The old tattooing the young.

Information taken from:

-Carrie E. Reed. “Tattoo in Early China.” Journal of the American Oriental Society, vol. 120, no. 3, 2000, pp. 360–376.Liu, H. (1939).

-“Hainan: The Island and the People.” The China Journal 29(5-6): 236-246; 302-314.

-McCabe, M. [and Q.Y. Wang] (2008). “Tattooed Women of Yunnan, China.” Skin and Ink Magazine (11): 64-74.

-Stϋbel, H. (1937). Die Li Stämme der Insel Hainan: Ein Betrag zur Volkskunde Sϋdchinas. Berlin: Klinkhardt & Bierman.
 

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Artist of the Month: Zhuo Dan Ting

Zhuo Dan Ting is the owner of Shanghai Tattoo as of January 2007 (located in Shanghai, China) where she tattoos people from all around the world. People seek out her art from far and wide, and are not disappointed with the results.

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Black and grey baby portrait.
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Realistic elephant half sleeve.
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Black and grey bio mechanical sleeve.

Zhuo Dan Ting has been an artist since an early age, where her father (an art teacher himself) and his friends would teach her new techniques. She went on to art school in Harbin after high school, but quickly moved onto something entirely different.

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Black and grey Asian leg sleeve featuring Fu Dog, peony, and great wall of China.
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Bio mechanical/ripped skin/ realism back piece!
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Bright dragon and flower half sleeve.
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Amazing realistic Greek Poseidon sleeve.

Ting found the subcultures of death metal and punk music, which is where she fell in love with tattoos. Ting started off tattooing her friends in Harbin’s underground music scene, where she quickly started making a name for herself in the tattoo world.

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Full black and grey realistic sleeve with monster, lightning, waves, etc.
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Ting doing her thing, tattooing a painful chest piece!
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Surrealist color sleeve with angel, skull, and watercolor.
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Color realism owl, skull, and eyeball half sleeve.

 

Ting does brilliant black and grey, photo realism, portrait art, and Asian styled pieces inspired by both Chinese and Japanese art. Along with making beautiful art, Ting was also the first woman in China to open her own tattoo shop, a big step for the Chinese tattoo community!

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Black and grey Monkey King half sleeve.
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Realistic color eye.
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Brilliant Japanese style peony flower.
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Realistic Japanese/Chinese style dragon sleeve.
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Realistic portrait.
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Terrifying zombie clown portrait.

If you’re in Shanghai, Shanghai Tattoo is the place to go!

Foo/Fu Dog Tattoos:

Foo, or Fu Dogs as they are known as in the West are Chinese lion guardians called Shi. These creatures are both guardians and good luck charms. When placed outside buildings they are meant to protect those inside from negative energy and to stop those with intent to harm from entering. These ancient symbols have been around since the Han Dynasty (206 BC- 220 AD).

foo Alex T. Frazer at Bravest Kids Tattoo, Manchester UK
American traditional Foo head by Alex T. Frazer at Bravest Kids Tattoo, Manchester UK.
foo Andy Pho at Skin Design Tattoos
Realistic Foo statue done by Andy Pho at Skin Designs Tattoos.
foo Danh Vu at Inkman Tattoo in Brooklyn NY
Huge rib piece with Foo and flowers by Danh Vu at Inkman Tattoo in Brooklyn, NY.

As a tattoo this creature is also meant to be protective. Keeping the wearer safe from harm. This creature is also tattooed to be a representation of the wearer’s strength, courage, and heroism.

foo David Hoang at Chronic Ink Tattoos, Toronto
Realistic stomach piece by David Hoang at Chronic Ink Tattoos in Toronto.
foo Tristen Zhang Chronic Ink Toronto
Back of neck foo by Tristen Zhang at Chronic Ink Tattoo in Toronto.
foo Hori Taka Kyoto, Japan
Brilliant Japanese backpiece by Hori Taka in Kyoto, Japan.

Foo dogs are firstly a Chinese tattoo, but are also associated with Japanese tattoo’s and can be incorporated into Japanese pieces. They are often also done as black and grey pieces, American traditional, and realism pieces.

foo Horiei Shinsu, Matsumoto City, Japan
Golden foo and daruma doll and flowers by Horiei Shinshu in Matsumoto City, Japan.
foo Jin Q Choi at Seoul INk Tattoo Studio
Foo and flower chest piece by Jin Q Choi at Seoul Ink Tattoo Studio.
Foo Kentzho Starbrade at Black Bamba Ink and Orc Tattoos
Black and grey foo by Kentzho Starbrade at Black Bamba Ink and Orc tattoos.
foo Steve Black at All of One Tattoo Studio
Forearm filler foo by Steve Black at All of One Tattoo Studio.
foo Sue Kidder Old Ironside Tattoo, Honolulu
Foo head chest piece by Sue Kidder at Old Ironside Tattoo, Honolulu.
foo Yan Jingdiao in China
Bright foo sleeve by Yan Jingdiao in China.

Foo dogs are often placed on hands, with the head fitting perfectly, lining up with the knuckles.

foo Anna Waychoff at Powerhouse Tattoo
Blue foo by Anna Waychoff at Powerhouse Tattoo.
foo Brian Donovan at Davidian Tattoo Studio
Red and blue foo head by Brian Donovan at Davidian Tattoo Studio.
Foo Nicolas Malagon Casas in Columbia
Black and grey foo with a third eye done by Nicolas Malagon Casas in Columbia.
foo @pandern8er at Main Street Tattoo Collective
Colourful hand foo by @pandern8er at Main Street Tattoo Collective in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Foo Dog’s make a brilliant and powerful tattoo for those seeking protection and good fortune.

 

Tiger Tattoos:

Tiger’s make a fantastic design and can be done in many different styles including Japanese, Chinese, Korean, American traditional, neo traditional, black and grey, photo realism, dotwork, geometric style, and watercolor.

tiger Adam Guy Hays
Neo traditional scalp tiger done by Adam Guy Hays at Red Rock Tattoo.

Tiger tattoos can also carry many different meanings. When done in an Asian style a tiger represents strength, courage, long life, and are also meant to ward off evil spirits, bad luck, and even disease. When done in a more Western style such as American traditional, black and grey, realism, etc.. the tiger is tattooed for its beauty, power, and intensity.

tiger Adrian Bascur
Watercolor space tiger done by Adrian Bascur in Chile.
tiger Alex Gotza
Huge neo traditional three-eyed tiger head by Alex Gotza done at Dirty Roses Tattoo Studio.
tiger Brian Flores
Beautiful neo traditional tiger head by Brian Flores in Spain.
tiger Sandra Dauksh
Photo realistic tiger head with flowers done by Sandra Daukshta at Home of Tattoos in Latvia.
tiger Mikey Holmes
American traditional tiger fighting a snake done by Mikey Holmes at coast to Coast Tattoo in Charlotte NC.
tiger Stefan Johnsson
Another American traditional tiger fighting a snake done by Stefan Johnsson at California Electric Tattoo Parlor in California.

Tigers are one of the biggest predators in the world, and are a solitary creature, so are often seen as symbols of strength and resilience. Tiger tattoos are often done just as a head, but can also be done as a full body. Generally tiger heads are done in a more Western design, with a full body tiger being done in an Asian style, though both can be done in any style.

tiger Apro Lee Seoul
Korean style blackwork tiger done by Apro Lee in Seoul South Korea.
tiger Eli Ferguson Ichi Tattoo
Japanese tiger done by Eli Ferguson at Ichi Tattoo in Tokyo.
Tiger Sean Cushnie Kapala
Unfinished Japanese backpiece done by Sean Cushnie at Kapala Tattoo in Winnipeg.
tiger Jakob Holst Rasmussen
Realistic black and grey tiger head by Jakob Holst Rasmussen done in Aarhus, Denmark.
tiger Mark Ostein
Geometric dotwork tiger head done by Mark Ostein at Wozen Studio in Lisbon.
Tiger Matt Jordan, Ship Shape Tattoo New Zealand
Realistic full back piece with skulls done by Matt Jordan at Ship Shape Tattoo in New Zealand.

What is your favorite style for a tiger tattoo?

Artist of the Month: Dust “Horitsuki” Wu

Horitsuki is a tattoo artist and owner of Galaxy Tattoo 3 in Hong Kong. He studied under Nicckuhori, the god son of the brilliant Horiyoshi III, in Singapore before finding his own style within Japanese traditional art, despite working in China.

He has gained recognition throughout Asia and Europe, travelling as a guest artist. He does all the classic Japanese designs such as hanya masks, snakes, koi fish, fu dogs, and flowers. However it is dragons that he is most famous for. He is nicknamed the Dragon King in Europe.

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Fu dog hand piece.
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Brilliant Hanya with a bold placement.
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Colourful chrysanthemum.
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Ghost lantern.
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Koi and cherry blossom sleeve.
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Koi and cat piece.
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Matching foot namakubi.
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Beautiful, bloody namakubi.
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Bold red Oni.
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Traditional smoking frog.
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Beautifully detailed Japanese tiger.
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Angry dragon head.
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Dragon head and claw.
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Dragon chest piece coming off of a sleeve.
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Gorgeous dragon back piece with flowers.

Horitsuki is the guy to see if you’re in Hong Kong.

Monkey King Tattoo

The Monkey King is a Chinese story based on a real monk who walked on foot from China to what is now India to recover the true Buddhist holy books. When he returned to China he translated the Sutras into Chinese, contributing to the development of Buddhism in China.

monkey king James Acrow
Monkey King full sleeve by James Acrow at Slow Down tattoo in Vancouver.

Monkey king is the story of this monk, mixed with Chinese legends, fairy tales, supernatural stories, and popular beliefs. Monkey King is a rebellious being, born out of rock that was fertilized by the grace of Heaven and Earth. He is very intelligent and has magical powers learned from a Taoist master. He can transform himself into different beings such as trees, birds, beasts, and insects. He can travel by riding on a cloud, and can shrink or grow by using a metal rod he steals from the Dragon King after fighting him in the ocean. The Monkey King is a mischievous character who fights many battles, travels to heaven, and comes back to earth. He is trapped under a mountain for 500 years, and after being freed, must travel with the monk to ensure his safety on his journey West to the Sutras, accompanied by a pig, a sea monster, and a horse.

monkey king Adam Sky Rose Gold's Tattoo, San Francisco
Monkey King Sleeve by Adam Sky at Rose Gold’s Tattoo in San Francisco. 
chronic ink 4
Amazing black and grey back piece done at Chronic Ink tattoo.
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Realistic Monkey King done at Chronic Ink tattoo.
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Incredibly detailed sleeve done at Chronic Ink tattoo.
chronic ink 1
Half sleeve Monkey king done at Chronic Ink tattoo.
chronic ink
Half sleeve Monkey king done at Chronic Ink tattoo.

There are various versions of the Monkey King story, and all are very interesting and amusing.

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