Many people living in Western civilizations seem to have a certain fondness for Eastern-styled tattoos, and it is very common to see someone walk down the street with a tattoo of Japanese or Chinese characters on an arm or ankle or even the lower back. Tattooing is something frowned upon in Chinese society, especially given the fact that, for a long time, tattoos were a way of punishing and identifying criminals.
There is something inherently appealing in having words from a beautiful written language that we do not understand being tattooed onto our skin. As if, in the part of the world where Chinese writing is much less familiar, it is almost like a secret that only we know because we chose to have it inked into our skin. Words and phrases are largely popular, especially words like "love", "loyalty", "good fortune", "happiness" or any number of meaningful ideas.
But when picking out a tattoo in a language you do not read yourself, it is unbelievably important to make sure you know the meaning of what is being inked into your skin. And while it is first and foremost important that the tattoo has meaning for you, it should also be important to make sure the tattoo says exactly what you think it does.
Double checking with a native speaker of Chinese is a good idea, just to be on the safe side. They will be the best to ask to make sure that what you're planning on getting done doesn't have some sort of double-meaning that may not seem obvious to a non-native Chinese speaker.
Other popular tattoos involve Chinese symbols, such as the yin yang and the dragon. Some people are also keen on getting tattoos of their Chinese animal sign, such as the tiger, ox, sheep, or monkey, all of which are based on the year that the person is born.
Chinese dragons also make a popular tattoo design. In stories, dragons are reclusive but powerful and often hold quantities knowledge and understanding of a magnitude that most of us can only dream of. They also live very long lives and seem, at the base of it, to be even more cranky than any of us in the morning after a very bad night's sleep.
The yin yang, another popular tattoo design, signifies the balance in opposites -- they cannot do without each other--The white and black, each feeding into each other and maintaining equality through difference. While the dots on each side are set in the opposite color, reminding us that light is not light without dark and dark is not dark without light.
There are many Chinese symbols and idioms one can use for tattoos to express various meaningful ideas. But choose them wisely: it may look good now, but after spending all that time and money and realizing that what you thought meant something meaningful is actually ridiculous given the font and context, it may be worth the research upfront. If not, it might be a good idea to read about tattoo removal.