- Language Tips
Wang Shuang has a cross on her upper right arm, an eye on her right wrist, a butterfly on her left wrist, a lotus on her lower back and a dragon coiled around the length of her right arm.
For her sixth tattoo, the 26-year-old had "My Baby M" inscribed above her left breast.
It was dedicated to her 2-year-old daughter Man.
Wang Shuang dedicates her latest tattoo to her 2-year-old daughter. [Geng Feifei / China Daily]
But how would the phrase come across to a stranger who saw the cursive script peeking out of Wang's top? Would they think it was the name of a lover, a tribute to an idol or some sort of code? To the majority of Chinese who can't read English, the words would definitely seem cryptic.
Yet such an air of mystery surrounding the language actually seals the deal for the growing number of young Chinese getting body ink.
"It's very trendy," said Wang, a Beijing shopping guide from Changchun, Jilin province. "A lot of people are getting tattoos in English."
Some of the country's most popular tattoo parlors - in Beijing, Shanghai and the provinces of Hebei and Guangdong - confirm that tattoos in English are among those most in demand.
Longyan, a Beijing tattoo chain with 330,000 followers on its micro blog, says up to 70 percent of its customers now ask for English tattoos, nearly double from a year ago.
Their favorite words? The name of a romantic partner in pinyin, a motto or a favorite poetic line.
"Most of the English tattoos we do are taken from an English song or novel," says Yang Yi, owner of Xianglongtang tattoo parlor in Zhongshan, Guangdong province.
On the back of her right shoulder one woman inked "Big Girls Don't Cry", a song by American contemporary artist Fergie. One man plastered "Love in a Fallen City", a novella by Chinese-American writer Eileen Chang, on the small of his back.
For others, only an entire stanza will do. One man carries 12 lines of verse, composed of 51 words and five punctuation marks, between his left underarm and waist.
English tattoos, studio owners say, became noticeably trendy in the past year just as body inking continued to gain social acceptability in China. Five months ago, the People's Liberation Army changed a long-standing policy to allow recruits with neck and facial tattoos (less than 2 centimeters in diameter) to join their ranks.
Acquiring a hint of the exotic comes at a price. English tattoos generally cost 30 percent more than Chinese characters of the same size, says the eponymous owner of Longyan studio.
"English tattoos aren't that easy to do," says Long, 34, a native of Harbin, Heilongjiang province, who opened his first tattoo shop in 2005.
In a country where English is very much a foreign language, how do tattoo parlors make sure they eliminate spelling or grammatical errors in their Roman alphabet-based artwork?
Some have employees who can speak English. Other times the owners have friends or relatives they consult. In the absence of a person who can help, everybody's just thankful for online translation sites and programs, like Baidu and Google Translate.
But that still doesn't prevent errors from occurring.
Wang originally wanted a Baidu-translated tattoo that reads: "My baby is a man".
Good thing there were English speakers at Longyan studio that night.
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