[FOUNTAIN]Adieu, tattoo taboo“You deserve a tattoo” is a curse in Korean. While some elders sometimes use the expression to teach a lesson to little children, it is not something you would say if you knew the origin.
In ancient China, five punishment methods were used that left a scar on the body. The first was to tattoo letters on the forehead, or sometimes on the cheek, with ink.
Those who received that punishment had to keep their heads bowed for the rest of their lives. Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China, was notorious for punishing his enemies with tattoos. When leaving permanent marks with ink became an established punishment, tattoos came to be known as a symbol of crime.
The tattoo was not taboo in China in the beginning. The origin of the tattoo goes back to the Yin Dynasty. The Chinese character for letter was derived from a Yin Dynasty hieroglyph of a tattooed man. When the Zhou Dynasty toppled and replaced the Yin Dynasty, the new dynasty disparaged all of the previous traditions as barbaric, including the tattoo.
In 1991, the frozen body of a hunter from 3300 B.C. was discovered in the Alps. The body displayed 58 tattoos, including a straight line and a cross. Tattoos can also be found on Egyptian mummies dating back to 2000 B.C., as well as Incan and Russian mummies. By the Bronze Age, tattoos were already a fashion item around the world.
The tattoo has been a universal cultural practice throughout mankind. It is used as a religious symbol, as a means of sexual seduction, as an expression of loyalty or as an icon for a certain group. According to Steve Gilbert, the author of “The Tattoo History Source Book,” the tattoo became taboo in the Western world when Ancient Romans used them to prevent criminals and slaves from running away.
After the World Tattoo Convention was held in Houston in 1976 and a Tattoo Expo was held on the Queen Mary, tattoos reemerged as a modern fashion code in the 1990s. The rock bands that appeared on MTV made tattoos fashionable, and the trend quickly caught on among athletes and celebrities. Some popular brands use their logos as tattoos. According to the American Dermatological Association, one out of four Americans has a tattoo today.
The tattoo trend once again proved wildly popular in the World Cup. The stadiums were filled with people with all kinds of tattoos on their faces and bodies, like a tattoo festival. While the conservative elders might grumble, the fashion-conscious generation is proud of them.
by Yi Jung-jae
The writer is a deputy business news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.