Chinese characters are the oldest writing system still in use today. Many other East Asian languages have adopted the Chinese “Han characters,” including their use in Japanese Kanji writing. Both traditional and simplified characters have become commonly used in Chinese calligraphy tattoos.
“Calligraphy is an art form that uses ink and a brush to express the very souls of words on paper.” ― Kaoru AkagawaIn China, calligraphy is among the most admired arts. The appreciation of this art form has spread around the world, and Chinese lettering tattoos have become popular tattoos in the West. It requires a skilled hand to transform lettering and logograms into artful displays. It also requires an intimate knowledge of language. An advanced literary vocabulary may include as much as 6,000 characters, and the writing system itself includes tens of thousands. Each character has several variants. Asian tattoo artists can choose between variants to change the meaning or aesthetics.
Why People Get Chinese Script TattoosIn the West, Chinese script tattoos are sometimes criticized when worn by people who don’t speak the language. The idea is that those who don’t speak an Asian language cannot understand or appreciate the meaning of the characters. However, there are a number of reasons people choose Chinese lettering tattoos.
HistoricallyPrior to the year 180 BC, Chinese calligraphy tattoos were one of the Five Punishments. Criminals would have tattoos branding their face, with characters displaying their crime. While this practice was abolished during the Western Han dynasty, it is a popular theme in popular culture. The Scarlet Letter, written in 1850 for instance, was a story where adulterers had to wear a bright red “A” to display their crime. It has inspired a number of other movies and books from Kafka’s The Penal Colony, to Easy A.
TodayOver time, the association of tattoos with criminality faded. In the modern world, people choose to get Asian calligraphy tattoos for a number of reasons including: