Tattoos that depict symbols make a cool design option for guys who don’t want an over-the-top, flashy look. If you desire something simple, yet more mysterious and exotic you’ve found it!
When it comes to meaningful and motivational depictions, Chinese symbols simply fit the bill.
Since this distinct script is detailed and pictorial, the is result is rather elegant and minimalistic.
While popular in American, strangely enough, Chinese people rarely get character tattoos. Instead, the trend in China gravitates toward English text. Then why get one as a Westerner? Since the Chinese language embodies ancient knowledge of its rich culture, combining it with modern tattoo principles creates unique skin art.
Each symbol tells a tale of folklore and intriguing history. Additionally, each character with its flowing lines and graceful curves makes for crisp ink designs that stand the test of time. Most Chinese words consist of several characters (one per syllable).
Hanzi is the official written language for Taiwan, Macau, Hong Kong and for Chinese communities outside the mainland. In order to qualify as literate, you only need to know 4,000 out of the 47,000 Hanzi characters. That’s still a lot and a good reason for consulting a reputable source for tattoo designs.
Standard and Mandarin often count as traditional Chinese. While outsiders use the terms interchangeably, they’re not quite the same thing. The former is based on a street version of the Beijing dialect, and the latter is the formal language based on dialects in northern China.
Since this language is so intricate, a simplified version has been introduced to increase cultural literacy. This variety is mostly used in Singapore, Malaysia and the mainland of China. It merely means that simplified Chinese characters have fewer strokes than their traditional counter parts.
How to Choose
Now that you narrowed down the technical aspect, how do you pick a design? Here are some of the most used symbols: family, fire, love, luck, peace, soldier and strength. Choose the meaning first (even if it’s not on this list) and take it from there.
Whatever form you choose, research symbols meticulously. Since these characters have so many varieties, this assures that you don’t end up with a meaningless or even embarrassing tattoo. Get the work done at a reputable shop from someone who specializes in Chinese symbol tattoos and is able to replicate a design flawlessly. That’s because one wrong swoop can render the meaning useless.
This large back piece is a great example of how Chinese characters can be incorporated into an interesting tattoo. In the characters themselves, the black ink is fully saturated, helping the symbols to stand out on the wearer’s pale skin tone, while stylistic flourishes at the top use lighter tones to perfectly recreate the effect of ink applied to paper. This variation in tones as well as the limited use of red ink in the portion at the top, adds to the overall composition and works to create a more interesting and dynamic tattoo, helping this tattoo to stand out from similar designs.
While many of the tattoos that use Chinese characters attempt to mimic the look of handwritten calligraphy, this piece uses a more sterile and rigid script that is reminiscent of fonts from a word processor. The black ink is fully saturated which helps complete the effect of the characters being mechanically printed onto the wearer’s skin. The large size and bold placement ensure that everyone who sees this tattoo will know the importance of the message to the wearer.
This is an interesting piece that serves as a good example of how Chinese characters can be incorporated into a tattoo without necessarily being the sole focus of the design. The ink in the Chinese symbol is fully saturated, creating a stark contrast with the subtle use of white ink for a highlight around the character, as well as the lighter tones in the wings of the dragon. The dragon is also an interesting element in this design: in Chinese culture, these mythical beasts are symbols of power, strength, and luck and this stylized version completes this tattoo and serves as an example of the wide variety of depictions of these legendary creatures.
This is an interesting tattoo that has Chinese characters at its center and incorporates some geometric elements to complete the design. The black ink used in the symbols is fully saturated and helps these dramatic characters to stand out on the wearer’s pale skin tone. The stark black ink also increases the contrast between the Chinese characters and the subtle geometric shapes in the background of the piece. The incorporation of these shapes improves the overall composition of the tattoo and helps to balance out the form of the design and at the same time adds a layer of depth to the piece thanks to the lighter tones and restrained application.
This is an interesting black and gray piece that incorporates Chinese characters into a more macabre tattoo. The use of gray wash shading is consistent and well-applied here, creating a background that provides enough contrast to keep the black symbols from disappearing and at the same time allowing the lighter tones and white in the skull to pop. A level of texture in the skull is also created thanks to this well-applied shading. The line work in this ghoulish soldier’s helmet is clean and consistent helping to complete this unique tattoo.
Here is another great example of a black and gray tattoo that incorporates other traditional Chinese elements into an interesting design. The black ink in the characters is fully saturated, increasing contrast, not only with the wearer’s pale skin tone but also with the lighter gray tones of the bamboo. In China, bamboo is a symbol of beauty and traditionally represents modesty, loyalty, and moral integrity, all important features of Chinese culture. Here, the artist uses expert tone gradation to give the bamboo plant the feeling of hand-painted calligraphy, with the ink bleeding into the paper, creating darker areas as well as portions that are almost translucent.
In this piece, the artist uses black and gray ink to create an interesting design that gives the impression of the characters being carved into stone. The variation in grayscale tones and deliberately inconsistent application give the tattoo the texture of stone, which is completed with the use of fine lines to mimic cracks in the rock. The Chinese characters are created using fully saturated black ink to help them stand out against the gray wash in the rest of the tattoo. The placement on the leg is sure to be seen often, allowing the wearer to show off their appreciation of Chinese culture for all to see.
This is another image that uses black ink to great effect in creating the impression of the brush strokes that are specific to handwritten calligraphy. The artist expertly recreates this effect by breaking up the shapes of the characters, as well as the circle around them, mimicking the shape and application of the Xuan brushes used in this traditional art form. The incorporation of birds—harbingers of joy in Chinese belief— is an interesting addition and works well in this piece to break up the simple composition and add movement to help create a more dynamic tattoo.
Chinese Symbol Tattoo FAQ’s
What does Nicki Minaj’s tattoo mean?
Chinese characters make for great tattoos thanks to the variety of styles they can be incorporated into and the endless meanings that can be conveyed through their use. Many celebrities choose these interesting symbols for their tattoos as well, Niki Minaj included. Her tattoo, on her outside bicep, is made up of six Chinese characters and is translated as “God is always with you”. It is a clean, black piece and a good example of the style.