Microkhan by Brendan I. Koerner

Mark of the Least

November 9th, 2009 · No Comments

Want to ruin your chances of attending a Chinese university? Simply get tattooed:

At the National Entrance College Examination of 2009, Zhong was accepted into a major university in Chongqing. But after the physical examination, the university ultimately refused to accept him because of the wolf head on his chest. Zhong’s university dream was broken.

This strikes us as a terribly harsh penalty, especially considering that the supposed “crime” is one that Microkhan and millions of others have joyously committed. But the Chinese revulsion to Western-style tattoos likely stems from an age-old association between body art, “barbarism, and criminality” (PDF).

But if the mandarins of that Chongqing university were to look back through the ancient literature, they’d find that high-ranking members of Chinese society weren’t always so bent on preserving plain appearance:

Occasionally the records reveal a relatively open-minded soul, one willing to accept customs of other peoples as aberrant but not necessarily abhorrent. There is a passage in the Zhanguo ce (Intrigues of the Warring States) in which the king argues that his people should not, out of principle, follow one superior custom, but that clothing and customs may be adopted according to the occasion. He mentions that the Ouyue people are characterized by disheveled hair, tattooed bodies, engraved arrns and with only the left shoulder covered; these things, he claims, appear strange merely because we are ignorant of them. Chinese should familiarize themselves with these customs and, if necessary, adopt them. The issue of whether one’s behavior is honorable or practical is more important than the consistent maintenance of one’s own familiar customs.

The whole paper on the history of Chinese tattooing is worth a read; we especially liked the passage about the “barbarians” who were hired to catch sea monsters, using their tattoos as camouflage.

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