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China's Tattoo Crackdown: Celebrity, Subversion And A Twist Of Patriotism

A new regulation in China is cracking down hard on tattoos. The law is ostensibly about minors, but some argue that it's going too far and actively erasing the glorious Chinese past.

Hong Kong Tattoo Show 2021​

Hong Kong Tattoo Show 2021

Chung Kin Wah

For those who get tattoos to be noticed, the Chinese government has noticed.

In June, China's State Council released new measures targeting the showcasing of tattoos in public media, forbidding publications, films and television programs from encouraging or abetting minors to get tattoos. This new regulation also prohibits any enterprise, organization or individual from providing tattooing services to minors.

The country's Children's Welfare Department later announced that minors cannot be tattooed, even with the consent of their parents. The regulations also state that anyone who gets a tattoo for a minor in violation of the law, or who breaks the law on promoting tattoo awareness, will face prosecution.

The Chinese government had already banned entertainment artists with tattoos from appearing on TV shows back in 2018, describing them as people who were "alienated from the Party and the country."

The national football team was also banned from having tattoos in December 2021. Those who already had tattoos were required to have them removed. In exceptional cases, players must cover their tattoos during training and matches with the consent of the team, as in the case of the China Cup at the end of March 2018, when some national football players had their arms taped and wore long-sleeved jerseys to cover their tattoos.

Previous crackdowns on tattoos

In January 2018, the Director-General of the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) issued a directive on the four principles that should govern the invitation of guests to Chinese radio and television, one of which was not to use artists with tattoos for public programs.

Tattoos and piercings are all 'subcultures.'

Following this directive, China’s massive entertainment industry was forced to conduct self-censorship to prevent sudden crackdowns on their shows. In 2018, one of the country's most popular hip-hop singers was withdrawn from a TV competition shortly after releasing a song which included a lyrical reference to tattoos.

And a guest on a family variety show was blurred out because he had a large tattoo on his body. Some online commentators questioned the fact that their favorite TV programs were being obscured, while others said that the Chinese government's repeated restrictions were unnecessary and that censorship was ruining the quality of television. One related example was the Chinese government's restrictions last year that male artists not behave in a "feminine" manner, with one program forced to block out the ears of male artists wearing earrings.

Chinese footballer Zhang Linpeng\u200b has been told to cover his tattoos

Chinese footballer Zhang Linpeng has been told to cover his tattoos


Why subcultures aren't tolerated in China

Many members of the public agreed on regulating tattooing for younger people, but there are also those contesting the ban on tattoos itself, stating that tattooing has always been part of Chinese traditional culture and passed down through history.

As they see it, if tattoos did not allow someone to join the army or become a leader in ancient China, many ancient heroes with patriotic tattoos would have been banned. This is an ironic comment on the Chinese government's intention to erase history and prohibit Chinese people from expressing "patriotic" sentiments through tattoos.

Nevertheless, the mentality behind maintaining this regulation is very clear. As one person commented on social media: "Tattoos and piercings are all 'subcultures', and subcultural behavior often implies a challenge to the dominant culture. For the Chinese Communist Party, which demands unity of thought, there is a reason why subcultures are not tolerated."

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U.S., France, Israel: How Three Model Democracies Are Coming Unglued

France, Israel, United States: these three democracies all face their own distinct problems. But these problems are revealing disturbing cracks in society that pose a real danger to hard-earned progress that won't be easily regained.

Image of a crowd of protestors holding Israeli flags and a woman speaking into a megaphone

Israeli anti-government protesters take to the streets in Tel-Aviv, after Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired Defence Minister Yoav Galant.

Dominique Moïsi

"I'd rather be a Russian than a Democrat," reads the t-shirt of a Republican Party supporter in the U.S.

"We need to bring the French economy to its knees," announces the leader of the French union Confédération Générale du Travail.

"Let's end the power of the Supreme Court filled with leftist and pro-Palestinian Ashkenazis," say Israeli government cabinet ministers pushing extreme judicial reforms

The United States, France, Israel: three countries, three continents, three situations that have nothing to do with each other. But each country appears to be on the edge of a nervous breakdown of what seemed like solid democracies.

How can we explain these political excesses, irrational proclamations, even suicidal tendencies?

The answer seems simple: in the United States, in France, in Israel — far from an exhaustive list — democracy is facing the challenge of society's ever-greater polarization. We can manage the competition of ideas and opposing interests. But how to respond to rage, even hatred, borne of a sense of injustice and humiliation?

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