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10 Chinese Tattoo Ideas

Updated: Oct 2, 2023

Chinese tattoo ideas

Calligraphy Style

The most traditional and elegant look of written Chinese is formed with ink and calligraphy brush. Although an artist can’t tattoo your skin with a brush, a skilled Chinese calligraphy artist can make your stencil by hand and send you the digital version to print out and take to your tattoo artist. The end result can be a beautiful tattoo with a hand-written, traditional aesthetic.

Chinese calligraphy artist

Unique Style

If you want to stand out from the crowd, you can find a designer knowledgeable in Chinese to custom design Chinese characters in a unique style. Written Chinese lends itself to abundant potential for customization. Whatever you choose, it is advisable to refrain from simply copying and pasting characters from a computer. Though those characters may look elegant to you, to a Chinese person they appear similar to how Times New Roman font appears to you.

custom Chinese character styles

Traditional Chinese Characters

Traditional characters are the written style of Chinese for Taiwan and Hong Kong. Though some traditional characters and simplified characters are the same, most traditional characters are characterized by having more strokes. For example, the simplified character 惊 is written as 驚 in traditional writing. The simplified character has 11 strokes while the traditional one has 21. While this is not a problem if you are getting a large-sized tattoo, a small tattoo would pose a challenge for your tattoo artist to include all the strokes without it becoming too crowded. Thus, traditional Chinese characters are generally recommended only for larger-sized tattoos (depending on which characters are used).

Simplified Chinese Characters

In 1949, mainland China consolidated the strokes of many characters into what became known as “simplified Chinese characters.” Though most mainland Chinese people can still read many of the traditional characters, simplified characters are today’s standard in the mainland. That means that the majority of Chinese speakers in the world are accustomed to reading in simplified style. If you are concerned with Chinese speakers being able to easily read your tattoo, simplified will be the way to go. It is also advised to use simplified if you are getting a small tattoo. Fewer strokes in each character allows your artist to make the details of each character more prominent.

Horizontal Character Alignment

In most modern literature, Chinese characters are written from left to right. Aligning the Chinese characters of your tattoo horizontally allows for the most natural reading by a native speaker.

horizontal chinese tattoo

Vertical Character Alignment

In ancient times, Chinese was usually written vertically from top to bottom. Today, this alignment is still common in works of art, poetry, and memorials. Native speakers have no problem reading in this format. A vertical character alignment can also appear elegant because it further contrasts a difference between Chinese and Western languages.

vertical chinese tattoo

Unconventional Character Alignment

You might choose to use an unconventional character alignment to prevent individual characters being read together as one word. In modern Chinese, most words are made up of 2 or more characters. Characters lined up together are usually read as one word, phrase, or sentence. However, some people choose to combine multiple concepts in a tattoo while only using one Chinese character to represent each concept. For example, someone getting a “Live, Laugh, Love” tattoo might try to translate this to 生, 笑 ,爱. When the characters are placed together, though (生笑爱), a native speaker would try to read this as one word. To prevent this, it would be better to arrange them in a way that it isn’t aligned vertically or horizontally, or at least contains significant separation between the characters. An arrangement like the one in the photo below might serve as a better template for this kind of tattoo.

live, laugh, love Chinese tattoo right vs wrong

Chinese Idiom

Chinese idioms, known as 成语 chéng yǔ, are phrases usually comprised of four characters that often contain a deeper meaning than what the characters express literally. For example, the idiom 草船借箭 literally says “Grass boats catching arrows,” but the expression’s meaning is “to use your opponent’s own strategies against them.”

Many idioms like this come from Chinese idiom stories that have been passed down for many generations, and most Chinese people learn them as children. The “Grass boats catching arrows” story tells the tale of an emperor’s advisor who comes up with a clever strategy when they don’t have enough arrows for an upcoming battle. He arranges for many straw/grass boats to be made and then floated out into the river in front of the enemy on a foggy day. The enemy unleashes all their arrows which stick into the boat. The emperor’s advisor then orders the arrows to be retrieved from the boats and their army then uses the arrows against the enemy.

If you’re looking for a creative tattoo with a hidden meaning, you might consider reading some Chinese idiom stories from websites such as this one. You might just find one that resonates with one of your core principles. Not every idiom has a story, though, and there are thousands of profound, story-less idioms within the Chinese language that function almost like proverbs. Any major life principle that you hold dear likely has a Chinese idiom equivalent. You may just need help from a Chinese speaker to translate. You can also check out our list of Chinese idioms that make great tattoos.

Chinese Name

Want a tattoo of your name or your loved one’s name in Chinese? Foreign names can’t be written in Chinese letter by letter or sound by sound. But there are ways to translate foreign names into Chinese that usually sound somewhat similar to the original name. For help translating a name, you can check out our list of Chinese translations for 193 common English names, or contact us for help with a translation.

Chinese Zodiac

Some choose to commemorate their birth year with a tattoo of a number or roman numeral. Another creative way to do this is with a Chinese character representing the Chinese zodiac animal for that birth year. Each zodiac animal is associated with certain character traits, and some of the more superstitious people in China believe that those traits will be passed onto children born in those years. You can use this website to calculate your Chinese zodiac.

虎, hǔ, tiger

兔, tù, rabbit

龙, lóng , dragon

蛇, shé, snake

马, mǎ, horse

羊, yáng, sheep

猴, hóu, monkey

鸡, jī, chicken

狗, gǒu, dog

猪, zhū, pig

鼠, shǔ, rat / mouse

牛, niú, ox

Whether you want calligraphy style, custom style, simplified, traditional, horizontal, or vertical Chinese tattoos, Sen Chinese Tattoos can help design your stencil. Contact us today to get started on designing your dream tattoo!


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