Chinese tattoos that include authentic characters and symbols can form the basis of beautiful designs which carry a deep and personal meaning.

But due to the complex nature of Chinese writing it’s extremely easy to end up with a permanent embarrassment trapped under your skin unless you take a few basic precautions. So to help you avoid these Chinese tattoo disasters, here are the top five mistakes to look out for;

1) Mistranslation

Chinese writing is very complex and carries many subtle meanings. It’s extremely easy to end up with something unexpected written all over your skin. Here are two classic example of these “misunderstandings” that I’ve heard about recently;

a) A woman wanted a Chinese writing tattoo, but she knew about the dangers of mistranslation. So she went in to a local Chinese restaurant and asked one of the waiters to write out the Chinese characters for the word “free”. He duly obliged and she took the design to a tattoo artist who provided her with the tattoo of her dreams.

Unfortunately, he didn’t understand what the design meant and the word “free” has two meanings in English. It can mean freedom, which was the meaning that the lady wanted, or it can mean free of charge.

And you can guess which version the waiter translated into Chinese symbols!

So she ended up with the words “free of charge” tattooed on her skin. And when she discovered the mistake it cost her almost $1,000 to get the tattoo removed.

An expensive misunderstanding!

b) A women with a Chinese tattoo was under the impression that the symbols said “love birds”. Wrong! Due to a mistranslation it meant one of three things, that she loves birds, that she is a bird lover, or that she loves the male reproductive organ.

A slightly extreme example, but it shows you the mistakes that can happen and the amount of embarrassment that they can cause.

2) Poor Quality Designs

Chinese writing is extremely complicated so the design of your tattoo has to be precise otherwise the meaning will be lost. One slight alteration or a missed stroke can completely change the meaning of the design.

Unfortunately, due to a combination of poor quality tattoo designs and western artists who try to add their own style to the Chinese characters, thousands of people end up with Chinese tattoos that are incorrect and meaningless.

3) Not Knowing What They Mean

I know this might sound unbelievable, but you’d be amazed at the number of people walking around who don’t know the meaning of their Chinese tattoo.

But tattooing is a form of self expression, and if you don’t know what your design means it becomes rather pointless. So if you plan to get a Chinese character tattoo, make sure that you know what it means before the treatment begins.

4) Misalignment

Chinese characters become meaningless if they are applied upside down or back to front. But this mistake is often made by tattoo artists who don’t understand the symbols that they are using. Once they lose track of which way round the designs should be used, it’s just luck whether your design is applied correctly.

End result? Another meaningless embarrassment.

5) Standard Tattoo Parlour Designs

Most tattoo studios offer hundreds of Chinese symbol designs to choose from. The different options fill binders and walls in tattoo parlours all over the world. Unfortunately, many of these designs have been wrongly translated or have missing strokes which renders them meaningless. And even if the design that you choose is correct, there will be thousands of people around the world with the same design.

If you want a Chinese writing tattoo that enhances your individuality it’s important to avoid these standard designs and get a native Chinese speaker to create a custom design which will express your own personal values.

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