David Beckham is covered with them, but next time he visits China he might have to keep his tattoos hidden from view.
That’s because the government is banning public displays of body ink.
The edict came to light in advance of the Strawberry Music Festival in Hangzhou, scheduled for mid-April. Organisers notified performers that a “recent directive” requires them to cover their tattoos on stage, recommending long sleeves, stickers and headscarves to disguise the outlawed designs.
“I wonder if China still has a place for rock music. Sooner or later we will all be required to sing the same song,” the organiser lamented.
In January, as part of wider crackdown on hip-hop culture, the media regulator said tattooed performers could no longer appear on television.
Historically tattoos have been associated with crime in China: in early dynasties criminals were marked with a description of their misdemeanours and according to Confucian principles, damaging the skin is unfilial because the body is a gift from one’s parents.
For the current Chinese government perhaps the only positive story about a tattoo concerns Yue Fei, a general in the Song Dynasty. He had the words “serve the country with the utmost loyalty” inscribed across his back.
The Chinese Association of Tattoo Artists estimates there are some 200,000 people creating body art across the country. Most work in bigger cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, where young people have more cash and want to express themselves. Young women in particular have taken to getting inked – often opting for inspirational expressions or images that display their hopes and dreams.
One teacher that WiC knows in Beijing had a yacht painted above her ankle because she loves the sea and hopes to be able to sail round the Mediterranean one day.
It’s hardly subversive stuff, yet the authorities seem to disagree. The Chinese Football Association likewise made players hide tattooed arms under bandages in an international match last month. Now there is talk about the order extending into the domestic football league.
“Players who dye hair or have tattoos would be banned from playing on my team,” said Xu Genbao, the former coach of Shanghai SIPG.
Several member of the national men’s team have tattoos, including the goalkeeper Zeng Cheng, the midfielder He Chao and the striker Wei Shihao
Needless to say, the new rules have annoyed many netizens. Football fans have said that the bosses of the national team should be more focused on fostering a winning team (China lost 6-0 to Wales in a recent outing).
“Interfering in people personal lives isn’t going to help build morale,” said one angry fan.
“Beckham, Messi, Ibrahimovic: tattoos never stopped these players doing alright,” added another.
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