Tattoos Culture of Li Ethnic Group

No Tattoos, But More Beautiful

Li women once had a custom of tattooing in the past. From the age of 12 or 13, the Li girls start to tattoo themselves, which will be basically finished before marriage. Only a few are crowned with success after marriage. It is very much painful to get the tattoos, which is generally conducted in stages, in order to lighten the agony and lower the probability that the wound get infected. The middle-aged and old women in the family or the stockaded village will do the tattooing. They firstly draw patterns on the girl’s body, mainly on the face, neck, chest, four limbs, and some also on the belly and back. Then they pat the needles on the outlines of the patterns with small bamboo sticks. Wipe the blood water away while hitting, and apply the mixture of charcoal ashes and oil. The blue and green patterns will appear after the wound has fully recovered and taken off the scab and will never fade. Similar to feet binding, waist binding, and knocking off teeth, the tattoos are the “damaging decorations” to the body. For different branches of Li people, the tattoo patterns may differ widely, because the different clans are distinguished based on that. “If you do not tattoo, the ancestors will not admit you.” Without tattoos, the women will be difficult to get married in their life and become wild ghosts after death.

The tattoo patterns generally take the geometric shapes. For the Run branch of Li nationality with the most complex tattoo patterns, the curves and straight lines are the majority ones. The Meifu branch of Li woman tattoos stars and square lines on the face, neck and chest, as well as the distorted frog’s lines in four limbs. For the “Qi” branch, the tattoos are generally straight lines and parallel lines. The Sai branch does not make a tattoo.

After the People’s Republic of China is founded, the Li women have abandoned the old custom of tattooing gradually. Since they have kept the natural beauty of the face and skin, they look much more charming and elegant. In the nowadays Li people inhabited regions, once in a while, people can see the historical mark of tattooing on the old women’s bodies. Li people all live in the subtropical mountainous areas, and the obese body is obviously not suitable for the climate there. So the girls all have slender figures, moving lightly. Especially when wearing the bright-colored skirt made of Li brocade, close-fitting jacket and glistening ornaments, they not only show their curve beauty, but also present the musical beauty of the jingling ornaments. The young girls of the Li nationality have shining eyes, white teeth, thin lips, and wide mouths. In the coconut woods of the Hainan Island, on the sandy beach of the South China Sea, they are always so magnificent and dazzling.