Chapter 1: Introduction to Tattoos (Part 2) - The Origin of Tattoos in China

Chapter 1: Introduction to Tattoos (Part 2) - The Origin of Tattoos in China

Table Of Contents

3.The Origin of Tattoos in China
4.The Development of Tattoos Among Chinese Ethnic Minorities
Dai Ethnic
Li Ethnic
Derung Ethnic
Gaoshan Ethnic
Jino Ethnic
Wa Ethnic

3.The Origin of Tattoos in China

As a part of China's mysterious culture, as early as the Shang and Yin dynasties' sacrificial ceremonies, people would apply pigments to their bodies, representing the incarnations of gods and spirits. It's a perfect blend of individual expression and art. Historically, people viewed this profound art from religious or worshipful perspectives. Today, tattoos have gradually separated from religious and underworld connotations, and people have started to appreciate this magnificent art. Tattoos have become a fashionable trend, proudly displayed for all to see. Tattoos in China existed in ancient societies as early as the Neolithic Age. From painted pottery cultures to the Sanxingdui site, from the southeast Wuyue to the southwest barbarians, the distribution area of ancient tattooing was actually quite extensive. Although the choice of patterns and reasons for tattooing varied, these tattoos did not seem to have a derogatory nature in terms of social class.

Records indicate that during the Zhou Dynasty (1111-771 BC and 770-256 BC), there were already records about tattoos in China. About 3,500 years ago, during the Shang and Zhou periods, tattooing was used as a form of punishment, referred to as [zong] or [mo punishment]. Ancient texts such as the "Shang Shu" and "Yao Dian" mention the "five punishments of mo punishment."

Mo (qing): An ancient punishment where words were tattooed on a person's face with ink. Later, it was also applied to soldiers to prevent them from escaping. For example, the term "Qing Tou" referred to prisoners who were tattooed.

An ancient Chinese official tattooed the face of a man tied to a scaffold as a form of mo punishment

From the Western Zhou period onwards, the use of the mo punishment was widespread. The initial laws of the Zhou stipulated "500 mo crimes," indicating there were as many as 500 offenses that could result in this punishment. The "Shang Shu, Lu Xing" also mentions "a thousand mo punishments." This shows that the punishments at that time were very severe, and people could easily be tattooed for minor offenses. During the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods, various states frequently used tattooed prisoners for various hard labor tasks. When Shang Yang reformed the laws of the Qin state, he used severe punishments. On one occasion, when the crown prince broke the law and couldn't be punished directly, Shang Yang had the prince's tutor, Gongsun Jia, tattooed as a warning. In 213 BC, during the 34th year of Emperor Qin Shi Huang's reign, Prime Minister Li Si proposed burning Confucian books like the "Poetry" and "Book." Those who didn't burn these books within 30 days after the order was issued were to be tattooed and made "city dawn."

The method of implementing the mo punishment was to cut the person's skin with a knife and then apply ink to the cut. The "Shang Shu, Lu Xing" mentions "mo avoids doubt and pardons," after which Kong An's biography states: "Cut its forehead and dye it, called mo punishment." The "Zhou Ritual, Punishment" section mentions "500 mo crimes," and Zheng Xuan's note states: "Mo, tattooing, first cut its face, and then block it with ink. It means cutting the forehead into a sore, blocking the sore hole with ink to change the color." The "Li Ji, Wen Wang World Son" note states that the mo punishment, like the yao and yue punishments, "all use knives and saws to cut and stab the human body." All other books that mention the mo punishment say that a knife was used.

These explanations show that when the mo punishment was first established as a punishment, a knife was used, not the needle that was used in later times. The facial nerves of a person are extremely sensitive, and the pain that a criminal would feel when being tattooed can only be imagined. Due to wound infections, some criminals would also die from being tattooed.

At the beginning of the Han Dynasty, the criminal law followed the Qin system and still used the tattooing punishment. The "Han Book, Criminal Law" stipulated "500 mo crimes," the same number as in the early Zhou period. In 167 BC, Emperor Wen of the Han Dynasty, Liu Heng, issued a decree to abolish corporal punishment, stipulating that those who should be tattooed were "shaved and plucked as city dawn in spring." Some people say that the Xiongnu's regulations were their custom, just using ink to show on the face, symbolically representing tattooing, and not really cutting and stabbing the flesh with a knife. This should be distinguished from tattooing as a punishment.


After the Han Dynasty, with the restoration of some corporal punishments, tattooing was also readopted. During the Jin Dynasty, it was stipulated that if slaves ran away, after being caught, they would be tattooed above both eyes and added with copper

-green color; if they ran away a second time, they would be tattooed on both cheeks; if they ran away a third time, they would be tattooed below both eyes.

The above three places, when implemented, all had to make the tattoo mark one inch and five points long and five points wide. This kind of tattoo mark can be deeply imprinted on a person's bones. During the Tang Dynasty's Zhenyuan period, Duan Chengshi (803-863, a famous Tang Dynasty novelist) passed through a place called Huangkeng. His entourage picked up the skull of a dead person, intending to use it for medicine. He saw a piece of bone with the words "runaway slave" on it, the color like light ink. Duan Chengshi judged that this was the skull of a person who had been tattooed in ancient times, and it might be the remains of a runaway slave from the Jin Dynasty. The cruelty of the tattooing punishment can be seen from this.

The Tang Dynasty notes "Youyang Zazu" is a collection that preserves a large amount of historical data, anecdotes, and folk customs from the Tang Dynasty. It records a note about tattooing. There were many tattooed teenagers in Chang'an City. The Jingzhao Yin (official name of Chang'an) Xue Gong (a person's name) couldn't bear their worries. He secretly reported to the emperor and suddenly teamed up with various neighborhood chiefs, leading two thousand soldiers to arrest them, catching three thousand people. There was no time for individual trials at the time, so everyone was beaten to death with a board. Among them, a man named Wang Linu had the finest tattoos, with his whole body covered in landscapes, birds, beasts, figures, flowers, and various patterns, colorful. But he also couldn't escape death. (It can be seen that the level of manual tattooing at that time was already very exquisite.)

"Water Margin" was written at the end of the Yuan Dynasty and the beginning of the Ming Dynasty, authored by Shi Nai'an and edited by Luo Guanzhong. It has many versions, is widely circulated, and is well-known. It has had a profound impact on Chinese and even East Asian narrative literature. Among the thirty-six heavenly spirits in "Water Margin," most have been in prison, and each person's face is tattooed with words like [tattoo match]. Among them, the prodigal son Yan Qing is even tattooed with a full body of peony flowers. It can be seen that the tattooing technology at that time had already reached a considerable level.

During the Southern Song Dynasty, Yue Fei's mother, Madam Yao, tattooed the words "Jing Zhong Bao Guo" (Loyalty to the Country) on Yue Fei's back to encourage him to fight bravely against the enemy. From this, it can be seen that during the Song and Yuan periods, tattooing was a socially recognized heroic act and something that young heroes were willing to do. Before the Qin Dynasty, there were roughly three types of tattooing.

The first was tattooing behavior focused on aesthetics or bravery. The second was "strong man tattooing" related to military control. On those with military merits, the

words "loyal heart to the country" were tattooed on their arms, probably inspired by Yue Fei. At the turn of the two Songs, there were many soldiers who were tattooed to show their loyalty, and some were even regarded as symbols of loyalty.

The third was the mo punishment as a criminal law. After the Tang and Song Dynasties, the tattooing technology improved a lot compared to its application in criminal law, but similar behaviors motivated by individual consciousness also began to take the stage in history.

4.The Development of Tattoos Among Chinese Ethnic Minorities

Various ethnic groups in China have had tattoos, but not many remain today. The main ones include the Li, Gaoshan, Zhuang, Bouyei, Dai, Yi, Derung, Jino, Jingpo, Wa, De'ang, Blang, and Luoba in the southern (South China and Southwest) regions, and the Qiang and Tujia in the northwest region. Among them, the tattoo customs of the Li, Gaoshan, Dai, and Derung are the most prominent.

Dai Ethnic

(1) Introduction to Dai Ethnic Tattooing

Among the various ethnic groups in Xishuangbanna, mainly the Dai and Bulang men have the custom of tattooing. They tattoo various patterns on their legs, chest, back, and arms with needles, and then apply indigo or bile to make it blue and permanent, which is a very painful process. According to the modern book

A tattoo artist tattooing a man with a spiked branch covered in tattoo ink

"Cheli", tattoo patterns can be broadly divided into four categories: animals, such as elephants, tigers, leopards, dragons, horses, deer, monkeys, etc.; patterns like clouds, squares, circles, flowers, etc.; text, such as Dai Buddhist mantras and sutras; and others, such as curves, straight lines, geometric shapes, etc. There are different opinions on why people get tattoos, not only among scholars but also among those who get tattooed. In fact, tattooing as a custom has a history of development and evolution. Before the Tang Dynasty, ancient Chinese texts mentioned that the Yue people "revered witches and ghosts" and "feared ghosts and gods". The tattooing of various ethnic groups, including the Dai, originated from the Yue people's "hair cutting and tattooing". The earliest reason, as mentioned in the book "Huainanzi", is that "land matters are observed, and water matters are numerous, so people are tattooed to resemble scale insects", that is, "to resemble the shape of a flood dragon, so as to enter the water without being harmed by the flood dragon". This is a primitive mentality of biomimicry, seeking to live in harmony with nature.

In some ancient books from the Tang and Song Dynasties, tattooed barbarians

A Da women has a tattoo on her face

were divided into several types: "embroidered foot barbarians", "embroidered face barbarians", and "carved title barbarians". During the Ming Dynasty, the "Baiyi Biography" stated: "Those who do not tattoo their feet are laughed at by the crowd, saying they are women, not of the Baiyi ethnicity". This indicates that at that time, society had entered a patriarchal stage, and tattooing was a way to distinguish between men and women and different ethnic groups. The Dai text and Buddhist inscriptions in tattoo patterns developed after the introduction of Buddhism and the creation of written language. According to Dai legend, the patterns were drawn by the Buddha to help young monks concentrate on listening to the sutras and achieve enlightenment. This may be to show that a man has received education in a Buddhist temple and has transformed from an "uneducated person" to a "knowledgeable person". Some scholars and tattooed people say that tattooing is to win the love of women, which may not be unreasonable.

As a cultural phenomenon, tattooing can be traced back to the ancestors of the Dai people who believed in ghosts and gods and were afraid of harmful animals or

imaginary "monsters" during activities such as hunting in the mountains and fishing in the rivers.

Later, the ancestors who believed in witchcraft thought that although dragons were evil and tigers were poisonous, they would not harm their cubs. Having fish scale patterns and fierce animal patterns, as well as later Buddhist inscriptions, on the body could make oneself a "dragon child" or "tiger child" and seek the protection of gods and Buddhas. Tattooing was a strategy adopted by ancient people to adapt to a special environment and seek harmony with nature with a simple mentality.

Tattooing, called "sha mo" in Dai language, is based on the traditional aesthetic concept of the Dai people that "men should get tattoos, the more the better; women should be beautiful by applying powder, the whiter the better". Under the influence of religious and aesthetic ideas, boys who become monks in Buddhist temples can get tattoos after they turn eleven.

The person getting tattooed, under the arrangement of their parents, invites a skilled tattoo master, Bo Hu. Bo Hu is often a "Kang Lang" who has returned to secular life from being a "second Buddha". In addition to being proficient in Dai language, they must also have knowledge of witchcraft and medicine. Bo Hu lets the person getting tattooed choose the patterns they like or need from the tattoo pattern samples, and then the tattooing ceremony is held on the selected day. Some are drawn by respected local senior monks or Hu Ba, and then the tattoo master follows the drawings and inscriptions to tattoo. The specific date for tattooing is usually chosen to be the Dragon Boat Festival in May.

Before tattooing, the pattern is drawn on the skin with ink or indigo. During the tattooing process, the tattoo master uses a needle dipped in pigment to pierce the skin of the person being tattooed, leaving the pigment in the skin and forming a permanent mark. The needle is used to pierce along the inked pattern, allowing

the pigment to penetrate the skin. Once the wound heals, it becomes a permanent pattern. Most tattoo patterns are agricultural tools like plows and harrows, and animals like cattle, horses, dogs, fish, birds, centipedes, roosters, etc. Some are various symbols and patterns of plum blossoms and azaleas. Some people even tattoo their own names directly.

During the tattooing process, an altar is usually set up in the home of Bo Hu, but sometimes it is set up in the home of the person getting tattooed or on a secluded island surrounded by water.

Before tattooing, a sacrificial ceremony is held to pray for the blessings of gods and Buddhas. Then the health and birth time of the person getting tattooed are inquired about to determine the tattooing measures, whether to complete the tattooing in one session or several sessions. After hanging up the portrait of the tattoo ancestor "Bo Hu Wu Bu Cha" (this portrait was burned during the Cultural Revolution. According to the description of the elderly, Bo Hu Wu Bu Cha is a demon with upright hair and beard, round eyes, holding a talisman, with a pair of tusks, and covered with dense hair), a bamboo table is set up, covered with a new white cloth, a paper umbrella is inserted, and a piece of cloth, bananas, sugarcane, and candles are placed.

The tattooing begins with the tattoo master "Bo Hu" using a tattooing tool made of iron or copper, called "mei mo" by the Dai people, with a square lead block at the top and a needle for tattooing. There are various forms of needle arrangements for different patterns or texts. Types of tattooing include scale tattooing (fish scale pattern), fern tattooing (young fern tip pattern), letter tattooing (Dai alphabet pattern), shape tattooing (various animal patterns), etc. During tattooi

ng, very fine soot or indigo leaf juice is usually used as pigment, mixed with animal bile with cooling and disinfecting effects.

If the person getting tattooed requests, other plant or mineral pigments can be used to create green, red, and other colored patterns. To reduce the pain of the person getting tattooed, they can drink a certain amount of opium water as an anesthetic before tattooing. There are two types of tattooing: whole body and partial. It is up to the person getting tattooed to decide. Generally, those who get tattoos all over their body need several sessions to complete. After the pattern is tattooed, to make the pattern clear, Bo Hu will wipe it again with different pigments, and then wipe off the pigment with disinfectant or diluted animal bile, and the tattooing is over. After the anesthesia, the person getting tattooed will have red and swollen skin all over their body, and it will be painful and itchy. It will take at least a month to recover and leave a permanent pattern. Those who give up halfway due to lack of willpower will be ridiculed for life, and even in hot weather, they dare not take off their clothes. Those who are determined to complete the tattooing must put up a sign on their door within a month before they recover, prohibiting strangers from entering their home, avoiding food that has been bitten by others, rats, and avoiding dog meat, mutton, etc.

After the person getting tattooed recovers, they become a true Dai man and will be respected by their people wherever they go. However, although they have gained some divine power, they must still abide by the taboos of not killing, not stealing, not having extramarital sexual relations, not lying, not cheating people of money, and not passing under the skirts of drying women and under bridges.

Tattooing is a traditional custom of the Dai people and is part of the Pali culture. It is inherited from the ancient customs of the Baiyue ethnic group and is an important symbol of ethnic identification. Tattooing is a cruel primitive art, and one has to endure great pain during the tattooing process. Dai tattooing is combined with religious witchcraft, and various tattooing methods have been derived, such as tattooing, piercing, writing, and ink, that is, piercing the skin to leave marks or patterns:

Inlaying, that is, cutting the skin open and embedding metal plates or gems with patterns into the body, and waiting for the skin to grow and seal the opening: there are also patterns carved on metal plates or drawn on paper, wrapped in cloth, tied with ropes and hung around the neck or worn on the arm or hung around the waist; there are also patterns drawn on cloth, sewn into bags and hung on the shoulder; if there is a war, the patterns are drawn on pieces of white "divine clothes", and worn when going to war, seeking the protection of gods and spirits, etc. Tattooing is combined with witchcraft, and it was widely believed in the past that it had the magical effects of "turning bad luck into good luck" and "being invulnerable to swords and guns".

(2) Formation of Dai Ethnic Tattooing

The Dai people in Xishuangbanna are mainly of the Dai Le branch, with other branches like Dai Ya and Dai Ne. They, along with the Zhuang, Dong, Shui, and Buyi ethnic groups in southern China, are descendants of the ancient Baiyue ethnic group. The cultural arts of the Dai people are diverse, with a long history and rich heritage. Due to their unique location and the influence and integration of Han culture, Southeast Asian culture, and Indian culture, they have gradually formed a distinctive ethnic style.

For the ancestors of the Dai people, everything in nature carried a sense of mystery. When complex and unpredictable natural disasters threatened their lives, apart from instinctively avoiding them, the only thing they could turn to for help were the deities they imagined. In order to seek the protection of the gods, they

not only offered the food they could obtain to the gods but also expressed their reverence and devotion to the gods in what they believed to be the most sincere ways - through music, dance, and practices like "hair cutting and tattooing". This led to the unique custom of tattooing.

(3) Dai Ethnic Tattoo Legend

In China, tattooing is the most iconic cultural symbol of the ancient Baiyue ethnic group. The ancestors of the Dai people had Baiyue customs such as dyeing teeth, tattooing, and embroidering feet. Historical records mention "golden teeth Baiyue... men with tattoos", and there's a popular saying among the people: "Even a frog's leg has patterns, how can a man's leg not have any?" Tattooing in the Dai language is called "Sha Mo", which means engraving patterns on the torso and limbs of men. It's an ancient custom of the Dai people with profound cultural significance, and thus, various versions of legends and stories have been passed down. One of them goes as follows:

In ancient times, there was a water monster called "Pi E" in the waters where the Dai people lived. Fishermen who caught fish and shrimp were often attacked by it, making people afraid to go into the water. A poor man named Ai Pi Jie, in order to support his sickly old mother, braved the dangers and went fishing in the river. By chance, he caught a carp that was actually the transformed young daughter of the Dragon King. The Dragon King quickly sent a minister to the shore to rescue his daughter. When Ai Pi Jie learned that the carp was the Dragon Princess, he promised to personally return her to the Dragon Palace. Before taking him underwater, the minister drew some unique patterns on Ai Pi Jie's waist and body. The water monster "Pi E", upon seeing Ai Pi Jie's body covered in patterns, fled in panic. When Ai Pi Jie returned home, he told the villagers about this, and they began to engrave patterns on their bodies to avoid the harm of "Pi E". This is how the custom of tattooing was passed down. This legend is very similar to the account in the "Han Book · Geography": "Cutting hair and tattooing to avoid the water dragons."

(4) Characteristics of Dai Ethnic Tattoos

Tattooing is a significant feature of Dai men, serving as a "racial certificate" and "identity card". Not having a tattoo is considered a betrayal of the Dai ethnicity. Those without tattoos are no longer recognized as descendants of the Dai and face societal discrimination, especially from women. A Dai proverb says: "Even the legs of a stone clam and frog have patterns; how can a man's leg not have them?" Another saying goes: "Those with tattoos are men, those without are women; those with tattoos are brave, those without are plain water-born." For Dai men, having a tattoo is a symbol of masculinity and bravery, highly favored by women. Those without tattoos are seen as "gender-indistinguishable water buffaloes" and might even struggle to find a wife. Therefore, in the past, every Dai man had tattoos, usually done between the ages of 12 and 30.

Dai tattoos have become a way in which primitive religion and Theravada Buddhism coexist and develop together. Tattooing is not just a method of primitive witchcraft for protection but has also become a way to worship Buddha, promote Buddhist teachings, and use Buddhist rituals, talismans, and amulets for protection.

For instance, it's believed that having the "Pa Ya She Hong" tiger pattern tattoo can protect the body, making it impervious to "knives and guns". A peacock pattern, "Nuo Yong", is considered beautiful. Having the Buddhist scripture title "Araham" tattooed ensures Buddha's protection, again making one impervious to "knives and guns". Tattoos on the chest and back with Pali, Dai, Burmese, and Siamese letters or complete Buddhist scriptures and spells ensure that "guns won't hit". There are numerous tattoo designs, not just for aesthetics but mainly for protection against evil, serving as a talisman in people's imaginations.

The Dai people of Xishuangbanna simultaneously believe in both primitive religions and Theravada Buddhism, so their tattoo designs reflect this dual religious culture. The variety of tattoo designs is vast, and the types of patterns expressing the content of the tattoos are also rich. Summarized, they include the following forms:

  • Linear patterns, which encompass straight lines, curved lines, and water wave lines.
  • Geometric patterns, which include circles, ellipses, cloud patterns, triangles, and squares.
  • Animal and plant motifs, which feature tigers, leopards, deer, elephants, lions, dragons, snakes, cats, rabbits, peacocks, golden roosters, phoenixes, as well as leaves and flowers of trees or grass.
  • Texts, which consist of Pali script, Dai script, Burmese script, Siamese script, and other letters or phrases from Buddhist scriptures, spells, and talismans.
  • Other designs include human figures, half-human half-animal figures, pagoda patterns, and tool patterns.

Dai tattoos are a precious legacy of the ancient Baiyue culture's dragon and snake totems. The "Han Book · Geography Records" states that the Yue people, who often lived near water, cut their hair and tattooed their bodies to resemble dragon offspring, thus avoiding harm. This suggests that venerating the dragon and snake as ancestors and recognizing oneself as their descendants is linked to both ancestor worship and snake totem worship, typical of ancient Baiyue culture. To this day, the Dai people have myths and legends about snakes being their ancestors and humans transforming into snakes.

Tattooing is the key to unlocking the mysteries of ancient Dai society and culture. The ancient Dai people, due to their limited understanding of the objective world, often interpreted many natural phenomena with a sense of mystery. For example, the Dai "Hu La" culture, which encompasses a vast array of knowledge, is seen as both profound and mysterious. Among this knowledge, some are scientific, while others, like witchcraft, divination, and geomancy, are mixed with astronomy and arithmetic. Those who possess some "Hu La" knowledge are called "Mo Hu La", and tattoo masters, "Bo Hu", are among them.

Among the various tattoo styles by Bo Hu, one consists of patterns and spells, called "Yan" in Dai language. "Yan" can be tattooed on the body, drawn on paper, engraved on copper plates or bracelets, or even embedded under the skin using gold or silver sheets. Some "Yan" drawn on paper can be burned and consumed. It's believed that those possessing "Yan" have extraordinary senses and powers. Moreover, there's a type of white short coat with patterns, spells, or scriptures called "Se Yan", which is the aforementioned "divine clothing". "Se Yan" is believed to have even greater powers than "Yan", including being impervious to weapons. Tattoos and the spells within them are sacred and revered among the Dai people. Those who understand them know their taboos and never explain them to others. Tattoos, while seemingly decorative, carry ancient mysterious imprints and the colors of primitive religion, serving as the golden key to the mysteries of ancient Dai culture.

Through the rich and vivid information conveyed by tattoo patterns and symbols, one can interpret the Dai ancestors' views on the universe, life, values, ethics, thought processes, and aesthetic preferences.

Li Ethnic

(1) Introduction to the Tattoos of the Li Ethnic Group

The Li people are the indigenous inhabitants of Hainan Island and have a history on the island that spans at least three thousand years. They possess a unique and original culture. However, under the impact of modern civilization, many of the Li's distinctive cultural assets are under pressure to be passed down, with many invaluable skills and cultural forms on the brink of being lost. The urgent need to protect the brilliant and original culture of the Li cannot be overstated. Tattooing is a unique custom of the Hainan Li people and is a rare original cultural phenomenon among the world's ethnic groups. In the Li language, tattooing is called "Da Deng" or "Mo Ou". In Hainanese, it's referred to as "Xiu Mian" and "Shu Mian". In the Western language, it's called "Da Du", and it's a traditional custom of the Li people.

The tattooing custom of the Li people has been a tradition since ancient times because they see tattoos as a symbol of their ethnicity. If they don't get tattooed with the specific mark of their family or lineage during their lifetime, after death, the ancestors might find it hard to recognize them among the multitude of descendants. If the "ancestors don't recognize their descendants, they will forever be wild ghosts" (as mentioned in "Hai Cha Yu Lu"). Furthermore, in ancient times, there were often tragic incidents of inter-ethnic conflicts where captured women were taken as spoils of war. Due to various reasons, women, upon reaching adulthood, had to get tattooed for easy identification and to avoid being taken as captives. Hence, "Li men and women get tattooed when they come of age". Not only are there specific designs and patterns for tattooing, but even the age at which the tattoo is applied is regulated. Each clan follows the tattoo patterns passed down from their ancestors, and they must not borrow or mix patterns for identification purposes. For example, Li women use geometric patterns made up of spring source designs or grain patterns, while Run Li use tree leaf patterns or square-shaped designs.

Frogs are one of the most revered animals among the Li ethnic group. Tattoos of the Li often feature frogs as the main design. Once Li girls grow to the age of eleven or twelve, and up to fourteen or fifteen, they must, without exception, receive tattoos based on the unique symbols passed down from their ancestors. If, for some reason, they fail to get tattooed on time and unfortunately pass away, their bodies must still be marked with these ancestral symbols using charcoal at the designated tattoo spots before being placed in a coffin. Otherwise, they are not eligible to be buried in the collective Li burial grounds.

The tattooing process for the Li typically begins with the tattoo artist sketching the design on the recipient's skin using a twig or chicken feather dipped in dye. Once the design is drawn, the tattooing begins. Some skilled tattoo artists might skip the sketching and tattoo directly. During the tattooing, the artist uses a rattan needle in one hand and a tapping stick in the other, puncturing the skin along the drawn design. Once the skin is pierced and any blood is wiped away, dye is immediately applied to the wound. Once the wound heals and scabs fall off, a permanent blue pattern emerges. For clearer designs, the process might be repeated two or three times. Tattooing is often done during the dry season when farming work is minimal or during festivals. The weather is typically dry and cool, ensuring wounds don't get infected and heal easily. It also ensures people don't miss out on work. Li women start getting tattoos from ages 6 to 20, with the majority starting between 10 to 15.

According to incomplete statistics, 40% of women begin their tattoos at 13 or 14, and nearly 20% start between 16 to 18. Very few start after the age of 20. However, regardless of the age they start, most women complete their tattoos before marriage. There's no specific place for Li women to get tattooed; it's usually done in the "Long Gui" where the woman resides or at home. During the tattooing process, aside from female relatives or friends, others are not allowed to watch. In some areas, tattooing is done in front of the house, without avoiding outsiders or male onlookers.

There's a specific order to the tattooing process: face, back, chest, legs, and hands. The designs, rich in circles and curves, are characteristic of the Li tattoos. The process of tattooing from face to foot is done in stages over several years, allowing for pain mitigation or reduction.

(2) Li Ethnic Group's Tattoo Legends

A story is passed down among the villages: In ancient times, when floods raged, a brother and sister took refuge inside a large pumpkin and drifted to Hainan Island. The two searched the island for other inhabitants but found none. To continue their lineage, the sister tattooed her face so her brother wouldn't recognize her, and they became a couple. This story is very similar to the Li's creation song.

Tattooing is considered a pure act. It requires choosing an auspicious day and observing certain taboos. It's typically done in the autumn and on specific days, such as the Dragon, Pig, or Ox days. However, tattoos shouldn't be done on the Insect day, as it's believed that one would be bitten and the tattoo would fester. Different branches of the Li have their unique tattooing methods.

The ancient and unique beauty of tattoos is gradually fading. Young women

almost no longer get tattoos, and the art is on the brink of being lost, only to be reminisced about in history.

The total population of the Li ethnic group is about 1.24 million, with the vast majority living on Hainan Island, the southernmost point of China. They have five branches, and women from each branch get tattoos based on ancestral designs. These designs differ from one branch to another, serving as symbols of different clans and tribes within the Li. Li young men can identify a woman's lineage and determine marriage compatibility by looking at her tattoo design. Fu Cechao, an expert on the protection of intangible cultural heritage in Hainan Province, stated that there are around 2,000 tattooed women still alive. The oldest among them is over 90, and the youngest is around 70. Once they pass away, the history of tattooed Li women will come to an end.

Derung Ethnic

Located to the north of the Tibet Autonomous Region and to the west of the Republic of Myanmar, the Gongshan Derung and Nu Autonomous County in Yunnan is the sole settlement area for the Derung, one of China's ethnic minorities with a smaller population. Nestled beneath the Gaoligong Mountains

and along the Derung River, this community, which is isolated from the outside world for half a year due to heavy snowfall, has a total population of just over 6,000. They have a unique and ancient facial tattooing custom. When girls reach the age of twelve or thirteen, elder women skilled in tattooing use a bamboo stick dipped in soot water to draw the intended tattoo design on their faces. One hand holds a thorny old bramble aligned with the design on the face, while the other hand taps the bramble continuously with a small wooden stick, puncturing the face from top to bottom following the design. The punctured design is then rubbed with soot or a dark herbal juice, allowing the liquid to seep under the skin. After about a week,

once the skin has healed and scabbed over, a permanent indigo butterfly pattern remains on the face, never fading throughout their lifetime.

Until 1967, the facial tattooing custom of the Derung women was completely abolished. It is understood that currently, there are fewer than 40 tattooed Derung women alive. The oldest among them is over 100 years old, while the youngest is 53, with an average age of 73. As time progresses, these ancient and mysterious tattooed women will eventually fade into the annals of history.

The tattooing custom of the Derung people has ancient origins. In the "New Book of Tang," they were referred to as "Wenmian Pu." The "Unofficial History of the Nanzhao Kingdom" called them the "Embroidered Face Tribe." More records from the late Qing Dynasty and early Republic of China period, such as in the "Survey of the Northern Boundary of Yunnan," noted that women in the upper reaches of the Derung River "have tattooed patterns on their foreheads, noses, cheeks, and lips. They use the juice of green plants mixed with soot, rubbed into the skin to form a black color that cannot be washed off." In the lower reaches of the Derung River, "women have tattoos, with just a ring around the tip of the nose and two or three lines of varying lengths on the lower lip." Another record, "Current Status of the Undetermined Boundary in the Northern Section of Yunnan-Myanmar," mentions, "Women... have their entire faces punctured with small holes, smeared with black to form patterns for aesthetic purposes. Otherwise, they would certainly

be ridiculed."

There are two prevalent explanations for the Derung's tattooing tradition among the locals. The first is that the Derung tattooed their faces to prevent women from being abducted and enslaved by chieftains and slave owners from other ethnic groups. The second theory suggests that the tattooing custom is related to a totem that the Derung once worshipped but has since disappeared. The Derung believe that a person's soul, known as "Ah Xi," will eventually transform into various colored butterflies that fly to the human world and self-destruct. This ancient belief is reflected in their tattoos, where the entire face is designed to resemble a butterfly with outspread wings.

Gaoshan Ethnic

The Gaoshan people are a minority ethnic group in Taiwan Province. They primarily reside in the mountainous regions of Taiwan, the eastern coastal longitudinal valley plains, and on Orchid Island. The Taiwan authorities refer to them as "Mountain Compatriots." Within this group, there are various subgroups such as the Amis, Atayal, Paiwan, Bunun, Rukai, Puyuma, Tsou, Saisiyat, and

Yami people. According to local customs, Gaoshan men and women, starting from adolescence, undergo two to four tattooing sessions throughout their lives, a practice known as "tattooing" or "blue-green marking." This custom serves as a symbol of their adulthood, courtship, beauty, martial prowess, and even status. The Gaoshan people tattoo various patterns on their bodies as decorative adornments. Men from the northern tribes typically tattoo a short lattice pattern in the center of their foreheads, though there are slight variations among different communities. This custom is more prevalent among the northern tribes of Taiwan. Especially the Atayal and Saisiyat people, who consider facial tattoos as a mark of beauty. As a result, the Atayal are sometimes referred to as the "Tattooed Face Tribe." Gaoshan individuals often have tattoos on their faces, chests, backs, abdomens, legs, and hands. The designs include animals, plants, human heads, suns, and simple geometric patterns, with insects and snakes being particularly eye-catching. Additionally, men tattoo a "short lattice" pattern on their foreheads to signify headhunting, indicating their glorious combat achievements. Women, on the other hand, tattoo irregular circles, angles, lines, and dots on their thighs as symbols of their pursuit of happiness. Tattoos with slanted patterns and aged colors on a woman's face signify diligence, virtue, and nobility

Jino Ethnic

The Jino ethnic refer to themselves as "Jino," which means "descendants of the uncle" or "the ethnic group that respects the uncle." They are primarily located in Jino Township, Jinghong County, Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture, Yunnan Province, with others scattered in the mountainous areas surrounding Jino Township. According to the fifth national census in 2000, the Jino population was 20,899.

Both Jino men and women have tattoos. Women typically only tattoo their lower legs with patterns similar to the broad decorative designs on their clothing. Men,

on the other hand, tattoo their buttocks and legs with images of animals such as dragons and tigers, as well as stars, everyday items, and other designs. Their tattoos of dragons and tigers represent a form of worship towards these creatures, while the designs of everyday items might be related to concepts of wealth.

Tattooing is an ancient custom of the Jino people. It is the most direct form of body art, an adornment practice that evolved from decorative painting, carrying various meanings such as aesthetics, religious significance, coming-of-age ceremonies, and clan symbols. There are two types of tattoos: scar tattoos and ink tattoos. Scar tattoos involve creating symmetrical scars on the skin in specific shapes. Ink tattoos involve creating permanent designs. Typically, thorn-like bamboo, bone, or thorns are used to puncture the skin along pre-drawn lines. After bleeding, black or other colored dyes are applied. The designs and locations of tattoos vary based on the specific ethnic group, gender, and status.

Tattooing ceremonies generally take place when individuals are around 14 or 15 years old. During the tattooing process, the recipient often takes certain drugs with anesthetic properties. The tattoo artist first sketches the design on the skin using ink, then uses a needle dipped in pigment to puncture the skin, allowing the pigment to remain within, forming a permanent mark.

Wa Ethnic

The Wa people are a unique ethnic minority found only in Yunnan Province, mainly distributed in the southwestern counties of Cangyuan, Ximeng, Gengma, Shuangjiang, Zhenkang, Yongde, Lancang, and Menglian. There are currently

over 351,000 individuals.

Both Wa men and women commonly have tattoos. Men often have tattoos on the lower neck, chest, back, and limbs, depicting designs of birds, cattle, and tigers. The most common design for Wa men is the head of a bull, but other frequent patterns include triangles, cross dots, small islands, dragons, and tigers.

Women typically have tattoos of various floral designs on their lower neck, arms, and legs. The Wa people generally believe that tattooing is for aesthetic purposes. In addition to this, the Wa people have a fondness for drinking alcohol and chewing betel nuts. Chewing betel nuts often results in many having blackened teeth and red lips, which is considered beautiful. When drinking, they often use bamboo tubes. During festivals, weddings, funerals, hosting guests, or discussions, they always offer drinks according to traditional rituals, leading to the saying, "No ceremony is complete without alcohol."

Without a doubt, the Wa people's tattooing embodies a rich cultural content, revealing various overt and covert social functions. It forms a world that is both mysterious and bizarre, becoming a focus of anthropological research in an ancient yet novel domain.

Regarding the symbolism of the Wa's tattoo designs, Song Enchang mentioned in his book "Social Survey Research of Yunnan's Ethnic Minorities" that "Wa men in Cangyuan have tattoos, and the designs are mostly of flora and fauna." As time has passed, people have forgotten the true meaning behind these tattoos, and they have become purely aesthetic. The "Customs of Southwest Ethnic Minorities" records that "In the past, Wa men liked to get tattoos, with many having a bull's head on their chest, birds on their wrists, and landscapes on their legs, reflecting the Wa's reverence for nature.

The "History of Chinese Ethnic Minority Cultures" introduces the rock paintings of the Wa people, known as the "Cangyuan Cliff Paintings." There's also a type of design tattooed on the body, which is often found on the lower neck, chest, back, and limbs. Not only do men get tattoos, but many women also have them, primarily on their arms and ankles. Common designs include triangles, cross dots, birds, bull's heads, as well as dragons, snakes, and tigers. The content is incredibly diverse. The depictions of humans and animals in various poses are lively and intriguing, illustrating scenes of ancient Wa people engaged in hunting and agricultural labor.

The Wa people revere the bull as a totem. In their eyes, the bull symbolizes auspiciousness, sanctity, nobility, and solemnity. This reverence for the bull has given rise to a series of bull-related cultural phenomena among the Wa people.

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