Chinese tattoos in Vancouver

Chinese character tattoos are apparently pretty popular in Vancouver. Here are the ones I saw on people during the eight months we were there. Clicking on individual characters below will open a dictionary list of associated words.

I saw 成 (chéng) on a woman’s neck in the airport. With just a single character and no context, I guess it could theoretically mean all sorts of things; 成 is part of the words for grow, change, become, succeed… She had sort of the trendy hippie/new-agey/alternative thing going on, so I’m guessing she meant change or becoming.

勇敢 (yÇ’nggÇŽn / brave, courageous) on a guy’s neck on the Seabus.

There was more than one 爱 (ài / love), of course. For some reason both times I saw this it was also on people’s necks.

力 (lì / strength), predictably, was on a guy’s shoulder.

生 (shÄ“ng / life, birth, to be born) was on a guy’s hand on the bus. From overhearing his conversation it was obvious he was some kind of an evangelical Christian, so I wonder if he was going for life or born again or something, maybe with another tattoo that I didn’t see.

Come to thing of it, I’ve also seen 爱、力 and 生 on coffee mugs at the supermarket.

No doubt cultural influence still flows mostly from the West to China rather than vice versa, but I think it’s interesting how these mundane examples suggest that cultural influence from China is at least trickling in our direction.

5 thoughts on “Chinese tattoos in Vancouver”

  1. Joel,

    You might be amazed at how many American kids now sport Hanzi and Kanji tattoos. I see them all the time. Some are very funny because many tattoo artists don’t speak Chinese or Japanese so they just do what a customer wants. Some tattoos make no sense at all because they were chosen for how they look or what someone thinks a character means as opposed to what the character actually symbolizes. Thanks for doing this blog.


  2. zoiks, There are also the 十二生肖 tattoo’d on folk, and you’re right about context! It looks downright ridiculous to see 鸡 on someone’s shoulder!

  3. Hi there. My partner and I are engaged to be married, and are planning on getting the character for dragon on his arm, and the character for phoenix on my arm. Does anyone know any reputable tattoo artists in Vancouver that are familiar with tattooing Chinese characters?
    We’re asking because we’ve read some horror stories about incorrectly inked Chinese characters.

    Any information would be helpful. Thanks!

  4. I don’t know of anywhere in Vancouver (I’m the only one of us four siblings that doesn’t have a tattoo), but whatever you do, make sure you triple check the Chinese characters with Chinese people you trust who understand what meaning you’re trying to go for, and make sure the tattoo artist understands Chinese characters. They aren’t just pictures you can copy; it’s always obvious when the artist is just imitating the shape of the character without understanding the strokes and radicals and composition. Here’s a fine list of (mostly) bad results.

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