Tattoos have been around for nearly a millennium in China. Perhaps the most famous one graced the back of Yue Fei, a famous general in the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279 A.D.) whose back read: “Serve the country loyally.” Legend has it that his mother ordered the tattoo as inspiration. Under recent decades of Communist Party rule, however tattoos have been largely taboo. Soldiers and police officers must be ink-free. Sports stars rarely have them. And employers discriminate against those with tattoos, thinking they signal a criminal bent.
Only in the past few years have scores of tattoo parlors opened in China’s capital, often in back alleys and in private apartments. The industry is unregulated but flourishing, operating in a gray area that occupies a significant slice of Chinese life, neither legal nor illegal.
“I’m busy every day of the week from morning to night,” said Liu Yubo, who operates the Wumo People tattoo parlor. “People have to make an appointment a month in advance.”