Chinese culture, history, and folklore have been an inspiration for people around the world to get their different parts of the body inked. Whether it’s the calligraphy of Chinese symbols, sometimes misaligned or with wrong meanings, mythical creatures like dragons, phoenixes, and lions, or some other symbol, people enjoy getting tattoos of Chinese origin for the last two decades.
On the other hand, the public image of tattoos is not as positive in China. Tattoos have been looked down on for a long time, with older people associating them with criminal activity, gangsters, and prisoners. Even now, that the stigma is slowly breaking and tattoos are becoming like a norm, they can be seen on the youngsters more commonly than older citizens.
According to an interview published in the Los Angeles Times, with Beijing-based tattoo artist Ma Chao, tattoos are nearly seen as illegal, with Ma leaving school at the age of 14 to pursue his dream of becoming a tattoo artist. Today, he inks tattoo on the skin of the younger generation that requests it, but only if they are 100% sure that they want it.
But as Chinese tattoos are becoming widely popular in western countries in Europe and the Americas, and the stigma on the east is slowly breaking down, we decided to write this article and list the most popular Chinese tattoo ideas as well as the meaning behind the most popular symbols.
Finally, you can immerse yourself into the list of the most popular Chinese tattoo ideas we found on Instagram and other sources, and come up with an idea of your own that will flatter you greatly.
Meanings Behind Chinese Tattoos
In this section, we’ll look into some Chinese mythological symbology and their meanings, and see how they could flatter your body as a tattoo. Continue reading through this article, to find a type of tattoo that will suit you the best.
Chinese Calligraphy Tattoos And Meanings
Before diving into more complex designs such as dragon, phoenix, snake, and others, it’s a good idea to look into simpler examples of tattoos such as calligraphy, which is extremely popular in Western countries. Old Chinese symbols have history and tradition, and as such they make some wise words appear even deeper and more meaningful, especially when not everyone can understand them.
The Westerners enjoy getting tattoos with Japanese or Chinese calligraphy. The only problem, however, is that these symbols are often gotten wrong, sparking laugh from anyone who can understand those. That’s why it’s super important to get someone who knows the meanings behind the symbols to translate symbols you want to tattoo on yourself.
The Chinese symbols are elegant, exciting, and exotic, but you won’t find them much among China’s citizens for the aforementioned reasons. If anything, you’re more likely to find a Chinese person with a quote in English or some other language than Chinese on their arm.
Hanzi, the traditional Chinese characters are used in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, and other Chinese groups living outside of China. There are nearly 50,000 Hanzi characters, with the vast majority of them not being used commonly, or at all.
If you can’t rely on your tattoo artist or anyone creating the symbol idea for you, there is also a Simplified Chinese option that consists of characters in, as the name suggests, a simplified manner. The characters are easier to write because there are not as many strokes and they take less time. The Simplified Chinese characters were introduced to help fight illiteracy in China, and some people gladly embrace them for the tattoos.
There are different types of tattoos that you can make with the Hanzi characters. Sometimes it’s a single character that can mean a certain word like love, peace, strength, faith, courage, or gratitude. On the other hand, you can leave a name of a loved person, as long as you find a reliable translator to translate it impeccably.
Some other ideas to experiment with when it comes to Hanzi characters include a phrase or a quote from some novel, or a quote from a famous person, especially from Chinese history and tradition. Some of the popular names throughout Chinese history that had memorable quotes include Sun Tzu and Zhuge Liang who were both the military strategists of their time.
Still, be careful with the translations, as well as the tattoo artist who will perform the inking, as you never know when they could make a mistake and have the quote turn out to be not what you imagined initially. It’s always a good idea to be cautious.
One final idea with the Hanzi characters could be animal names. It’s no secret that the Chinese zodiac is unique and consists of animals. You could tattoo the name of the animal that marks your year of birth, or your beloved person’s one. Anything works, as long as you’re cautious to get the name of your zodiac right. It’s worth noting that different Chinese zodiacs have traits of their own, that’s why it’s important to resonate with the zodiac sign that you want to tattoo on yourself.
Chinese character tattoos help with a great number of ideas when it comes to getting tattoos. What’s more, they can be combined with other abstract symbols and be turned into both small tattoos and a large inking. It’s all up to you.
Dragons as mythological creatures exist in a great variety of cultures. However, western history and mythology don’t celebrate it as the Eastern does. That’s why many people are attracted by the slim, snake-like bodies of Chinese dragons, as well as a vibrant combination of colors that detail them.
But, what does the Chinese dragon mean? What message and symbolism does it give away? Let’s find out.
Dragons have long been thought of as bringers of luck, and only Chinese emperors were worth of them. It was believed that only the emperor and the gentry were allowed to possess the objects with dragons of them, and it brought them luck. That’s because only the nobles were able to identify with them.
They brought luck, power, courage, happiness, and strength, and while they looked like four-legged snakes with hawk-like claws, they were far different compared to Europe’s depiction of the medieval dragons. All the good traits of the dragons from the Eastern areas are exactly what inspires so many people to get the tattoo.
They were also considered water elementals in a way because their affiliation was mostly associated with lakes, seas, oceans, typhoons, and floods. One of the most popular Chinese legendary dragons is Loong, also known as Lung.
Koi fish were often thought to be native to Japan. But, while their popularity is quite prominent in Japan, the Koi fish initially came from China through invaders. They can be either red or black colored and have great positive symbolism.
Initially, they are connected to wealth, fortune, and success. Their symbolism is most frequently used by the traveling merchants, but today, many people tattoo Koi Fish to flaunt their success, or yet to summon it. The Koi fish is also connected to good luck, especially when it comes to work affairs, studies, and other purposes.
Additionally, the Koi fish is associated with perseverance, courage, and abundance. There’s a belief that the Koi fish is strong enough to swim upstream, particularly up the waterfalls. That just adds up to the symbolism of perseverance, courage, and strength.
Although Phoenix shares culture and origin with multiple cultures and nations, it was also present in Chinese mythology. In Sinospheric mythology, it’s known as Fenghuang, the immortal bird that is above all other birds in the world.
It remarkably resembles a peacock, except that it’s significantly larger, and covered in crimson flames. Phoenixes are associated with immortality because once they die, they are reborn from their flames and ashes. It is believed that these birds can live for hundreds to thousands of years before they burn to ashes and get reborn.
In most cases, they are associated with prosperity, courage, strength, immortality, reborn, perseverance, and other positive traits. It’s an inspiration for a tattoo.
Just like the dragon and phoenixes, turtles are considered sacred animals in Chinese mythology. According to Chinese mythology, turtles seem to be among the oldest animals in the world, which is why they are symbolic of wisdom, intelligence, deep thinking mind, experience, and tranquility.
That doesn’t surprise us because turtles always seem to be calm about everything and taking slow and steady steps to reach their goals. Turtles are a rare yet great idea for getting a new tattoo, especially if you want to hint at your spiritual energy, strength, endurance, wisdom, and prosperity.
Besides that, turtles, similarly to Koi Fish can provide meaning to fortune and wealth, which is why many people buy small turtle statues to hold at home. We’re certain that turtles are a great tattoo idea.
Chinese Tattoo Ideas To Look Into
We looked into the best Chinese tattoo designs for you to check out. You can either go with the same or similar design or come up with your own, with the ones we listed serving just like the idea for you to reach further. Let’s dig in.
Chinese Love Tattoo
It is believed that love is one of the strongest emotions in the world. Some people believe that tattooing it with Chinese symbols could spread and deepen it even more. Below, we included some tattoos that highlight the Hanzi symbol of love.
This neck tattoo looks lovely and elegant while featuring the exotic Hanzi symbol for love. It will look even better when it’s healed out. We also have to notice that it looks quite minimalistic, as people usually like to add some more symbols to it or make it more prominent in some other places.
Chinese Family Symbol Tattoo
One of the more popular Chinese symbols for tattoos also includes the family symbol. After all, the family is important for one’s personal development. The sign looks exotic yet sophisticated and looks great in any position, and combination with any other tattoo symbol.
This particular armband tattoo consists of several armband lines and the Hanzi symbol for “Family.” The armband tattoos that consist of solid lines usually refer to deceased loved ones, and possibly with this tattoo a family member. However, we may not know the full extent of this tattoo. Nevertheless, it looks stunning, bold and gives a great impression in combination with another symbol.
This is another Family symbol that appears to be on the forearm. It looks simple and minimalistic, but that doesn’t lessen its power and design. Even though it’s simpler, it looks just as stunning as the above symbol, and we’re sure it’ll look even better once it heals.
Chinese Tattoos For Women
Wolf tattoo in a combination with magnolia flowers looks like a great sleeve tattoo idea for women. It looks sophisticated, elegant, daring, and bold, yet delicate at the same time thanks to the baby pink magnolia flowers.
The wolves are often symbols of courage, strength, and loneliness. But, don’t forget that wolves often go in packs, so it can be the symbol for family, love, gratitude, and other meanings. We find this tattoo to look great on the arm and bicep, but it could also look great on the thigh or even as a back tattoo.
This tattoo of flowers, lanterns and a knot looks delicate, sensitive, and feminine. It also feels elegant and vibrant, even though there are no particular colors painted. Lanterns are often present during the Lunar New Year celebrations which took place recently, so this looks like a great tattoo idea for ladies who want to ink the memorable event on their body.
It is a great idea for a smaller tattoo, but it wouldn’t hurt if it was bigger too.
This is another magnolia flower tattoo that is significant to Chinese symbolism. This one looks particularly vibrant and detailed, thanks to the carefully planned and applied paints. The tattoo is a great idea for the triceps and forearms, but it will look great on other parts too.
This calligraphy tattoo adds up to the sex appeal to the one that wears it, as well as courage and boldness. We believe that this tattoo isn’t for everyone unless they dare to be brave and take the risks. This type of tattoo is also considered quite minimalistic, given its black ink calligraphy, but also adds more detail and accent to your curves.
Chinese Dragon Tattoos
Chinese dragon tattoos are among the most popular ones. That’s why we carefully picked the most beautiful, boldest, and creative dragon tattoos inspired by Chinese mythology and folklore.
This dragon bicep tattoo is done to be dark and appear dangerous. But, it doesn’t only have to hint at that. Even though the ink is made in a way to look like it’s dark, this dragon was inked with great attention to detail. This type of dragon tattoo is widely available at nearly all tattoo studios. Additionally, this is a great idea for any position in the body and more often than not, it can easily be turned into a sleeve tattoo.
This tattoo combines the dragons and plum blossom, which we find quite innovative, especially if you’re aiming to get creative with a feminine type of tattoo. This particular type looks great on the back and spine. We believe that it could fit well with other designs too, such as armband, sleeve, thigh, or side tattoo. What do you think?
This dragon tattoo is colorful, and that’s what we like about it. While the flowers hint that it’s more elegant and feminine, anyone who feels like combining dragons with flowers can do it. The reason dragon is blue is likely because dragons in Chinese mythology are associated with lakes, seas, rivers, and water in particular. It has a snake-like body that looks as if it’s carefully lingering on the skin. If you feel noble and want to attract good fortune and luck, this type of tattoo is great for you.
This red dragon tattoo can easily be combined with many different tattoo symbols. The dragon itself is impeccably detailed and makes the person more daring and confident.
This is another Chinese dragon tattoo with great attention to details when it comes to the face of the dragon, spiral, snake-like body, scales, and of course flowers that add more elegance and femininity to the dragon itself.
Traditional Chinese Tattoos
This half sleeve and shoulder tattoo feature multiple symbols like the salmon or Koi fish, storm, flowers, and other symbols that sit perfectly well together. We don’t doubt that this person will try to extend their tattoo with other symbols from Chinese folklore.
This elegant Hanzi calligraphy looks attractive to anyone who wants to get it. Perhaps, you can use this design as an inspiration to the design of your own, and the best part is that you can combine other symbols with the Chinese symbols you want to ink on your body.
This sleeve tattoo features two Chinese sacred mythological animals, the phoenix, dragon, and the raging storm that surrounds them. In some tales, dragons and phoenixes are displayed as mortal enemies, especially in fantasy. This tattoo could be a representation of conflict, or yet clash of your different thoughts and strengths.
The tattoos of concubines and other Chinese maidens from history are oftentimes an inspiration for tattoos. This particular design is no exception. It would look perfect on a back tattoo design, or yet, even the sleeve tattoo design with this symbol would look great.
The back shoulder tattoo we just feature is a great inspiration to people who celebrate the Lunar New Year, as well as other Chinese traditional manifestations. The festival of light is also one of the important festivals in China, and it’s thoroughly celebrated in many other countries. This design is a great base for a more prominent Chinese symbol.
This or another calligraphy symbol could serve as a great inspiration for a new tattoo featuring calligraphy and the Hanzi symbols.
Chinese lions are also an important trademark of the Lunar New Year festivals, and this cute little lion is adorable. It looks like it could be a decoration for a Christmas tree, but it’s also an inspiration for many other cute tattoo designs.
Chinese Tattoo Sleeves
We’d also like to feature some Chinese tattoo sleeve ideas that you could be interested in. Usually, they feature multiple Chinese symbols, but also combine symbols from other cultures, or simple elements like fish, butterflies, and flowers.
Frequently Asked Questions About Chinese Tattoos
If there are any questions you wanted to ask before getting a Chinese-inspired tattoo, maybe you find your answer here.
Q: Do people get tattoos in China?
A: The tattoo culture just began growing in China recently. That’s because tattoos are quite stigmatized there, and often thought of and compared to criminal activities and gangs. Even today when they’re more widely accepted, it’s more popular to tattoo western symbols.
Q: Where to get the best Chinese calligraphy tattoos?
A: It’s of utmost importance to talk to your tattoo artist about whether they can ink Chinese Hanzi calligraphy on your body and whether they have experience with that. Additionally, it’s important to look into translators who can accurately translate the symbols you’re looking for before you get your tattoo.
Q: What do Chinese tattoos mean?
A: Chinese tattoos have different meanings behind them. The most popular forms of tattoos include traditional Chinese calligraphy, symbols with names, animals, quotes, or just simple meanings. The most popular symbols associated with Chinese culture include the four sacred animals Dragon, Tiger, Phoenix, and Turtle, as well as the magnolia flower that’s an extremely popular Chinese tattoo idea.