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Tattoos in China

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Tattooing has been featured in one of the Five Classic Novels in Chinese literature, Water Margin, in which at least three of the 108 characters, Lu Zhi shen (鲁智深), Shi Jin (史進) and Yan Ching (燕青) are described as having tattoos covering nearly the whole of their bodies. Wu Song (武松) has tattoo on his face due to killing Xi Men Qing (西门庆) with vengeance. In addition, Chinese legend has it that the mother of Yue Fei (岳飛), the most famous general of the Song Dynasty, tattooed the words jing zhong bao guo (精忠報國) on his back with her sewing needle before he left to join the army, reminding him to "repay his country with pure loyalty".

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Marco Polo wrote of Quanzhou "Many come hither from Upper India to have their bodies painted with the needle in the way we have elsewhere described, there being many adepts at this craft in the city."

The traditional Han Chinese view especially Confucianism believes that the body is a gift of parents and continuation of the bloodline of the ancestors. Damaging the body is a grave offense. Tattooing and piercing (except women's ear piercing) are generally not accepted by the community. This view can be reflected by the fact that many Han Chinese was killed at the beginning of Qing Dynasty when they refuse to obey the Manchu government’s order that all Han Chinese men to shave their forehead (the Manchu hair style).

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Chinese Character Tattoos

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