Tattooing History


Tattooing was popular among many ethnic minorities in China since ancient time. However, among the Han Chinese (the major ethnic group) Tattoo has been associated with barbaric, criminals, gangsters and bandits since at least Zhou Dynasty (1045 BC to 256 BC). Tattooing Chinese character "Prisoner" (囚) or other characters on convicted's or slave's face was a practice until the last dynasty Qing Dynasty (1644 to 1912).

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".

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 were 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).

Egypt and India Henna and Mehndi

Henna and Mehndi were popular in ancient India and ancient Egypt and still remain popular today in the Indian subcontinent, Middle East and North Africa.


Tattooing has been a part of Filipino life since pre-Hispanic colonisation of the Philippine Islands, tattooing in the Philippines to some were a form of rank and accomplishments, some believed that tattoos had magical qualities. The more famous tattooed indigenous peoples of the Philippines where among the area up North Luzon, especially among the Bontoc Igorot, Kalinga, and Ifugao peoples.

Filipino tattooing was first documented by the European Spanish explorers as they landed among the Islands in the late 16th century. Before European exploration it was a widespread tradition among the islands. Tattooing was set among the native groups of the Philippines, which sometimes tattooing was a sign of Rank and power in certain communities.


Pre-Christian Germanic, Celtic and other central and northern European tribes were often heavily tattooed, according to surviving accounts. The Picts were famously tattooed (or scarified) with elaborate dark blue woad (or possibly copper for the blue tone) designs. Julius Caesar described these tattoos in Book V of his Gallic Wars (54 BCE).

Ahmad ibn Fadlan also wrote of his encounter with the Scandinavian Rus' tribe in the early 10th century, describing them as tattooed from "fingernails to neck" with dark blue "tree patterns" and other. During the gradual process of Christianization in Europe, tattoos were often considered remaining elements of paganism and generally legally prohibited.

According to Robert Graves in his book The Greek Myths tattooing was common amongst certain religious groups in the ancient Mediterranean world, which may have contributed to the prohibition of tattooing in Leviticus. However, during the classic Greek period, tattooing was only common among slaves.

Japan Irezumi

Tattooing for spiritual and decorative purposes in Japan is thought to extend back to at least the Jōmon or Paleolithic period (approximately 10,000 BCE) and was widespread during various periods for both the Japanese and the native Ainu. Chinese visitors observed and remarked on the tattoos in Japan (300 BCE).

Between 1603 - 1868 Japanese tattooing was only practiced by the "ukiyo-e" (The floating world culture). generally firemen, manual workers and prostitutes wore tattoos which communicated their status. Between 1720 - 1870 Criminals were tattooed as a visible mark of punishment, this actually replaced having ears and noses removed. A criminal would often receive a single ring on their arm for each crime committed which easily conveyed their criminality. This practice was eventually abolished by the "Meji" government who banned the art of tattooing altogether, viewing it as barbaric and unrespectable, this subsequently forced a sub culture of criminals and outcasts, many of whom were the old Samurai warriors ("Ronin" - Master less). These people had no place in "decent society" and were frowned upon, they were kept separate and simply could not integrate into mainstream society because of their obvious visible tattoos, this forced them into criminal activities which ultimately formed the roots for the modern Japanese mafia - "Yakuza" for which tattoos in Japan have almost become synonymous.

Middle East

An archaic practice in the Middle East involved people cutting themselves and rubbing in ash during a period of mourning after an individual had died. It was a sign of respect for the dead and a symbol of reverence and a sense of the profound loss for the newly departed; and it is surmised that the ash that was rubbed into the self-inflicted wounds came from the actual funeral pyres that were used to cremate bodies. In essence, people were literally carrying with them a reminder of the recently deceased in the form of tattoos created by ash being rubbed into shallow wounds cut or slashed into the body, usually the forearms.


In Persian culture, tattooing, body painting, and body piercing has been around for thousands of years. The statues and stone carvings remained from Achaemenid Empire (550–330 B.C.) prove existence of body piercing and earrings on ancient Persian gods, kings, and even soldiers. The most famous literal document about Persian tattoo goes back to about 800 years ago when Rumi, the famous Persian poet, narrates a story about a man who proudly asks to get a lion tattoo but he changes his mind once he experiences the pain coming out of the tattoo needle.

Information courtesy of Wikipedia


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