By Carrie E. Reed
Sino-Platonic Papers, No.103 (2000)
Introduction: If a lord is aggressive and wants to rise in power, he will be forced to employ his own people. Then the people will love me, instead, with the love of parents. They will find my scent like that of the iris and epidendrum. They will turn from their lord and look upon him as if he were tattooed, as if he were their sworn enemy. (Xun Qing [ca. 313-ca 238 B.C.E.])
The aim of this paper is twofold. First, I hope to provide a brief introduction to the various modes of tattoo as represented in several types of early Chinese texts.
These include early prose works such as the Shang shu (Hallowed Documents), historical works such as the Shiji (Records of the Historian) and later dynastic histories, dynastic penal codes, zhiguai (records of the anomalous) and biji (noteform narrative) works and so on. This paper does not aim to provide a comprehensive or a chronological history of tattoo in China; rather, through focusing on certain representative passages from selected Chinese textual sources, it will serve as a brief survey and as a starting point for more in-depth study of this largely neglected topic.
Secondly, this paper provides a complete translation into English of the twenty-five entries on tattoo found in the ninth-century miscellany, Youyang zazu (Miscellaneous Morsels from Youyang). The author of Youyang zazu, Duan Chengshi (c. 800-863), has a special place in this study because of his extraordinary interest in all types of tattoo, but particularly because of his meticulous description of Tang dynasty figurative and textual tattoo.