Zhuo Dan Ting is a tattoo artist and owner of Shanghai Tattoo Studio.
After graduating from high school, Ting accepted a place in Harbin Normal University’s Art School. Ting found herself pulled to the underground, where she fell in love with brutal death metal and DIY street punk fashion. There, art was not done in pencil and paper, but in needle and flesh. Many of the characters in that world wore tattoos—and after seven hours, a pack of cigarettes, and a lot of blood, Ting did too. Ting had made a name for herself doing tattoos for her friends in Harbin’s underground music scene: every work was original, developed through tireless discussions and drafts. Afterward, she had left university to study tattooing full time.
Interview by Dominique Musorrafiti
This is a selected interview from
Planet China Vol. 02 issue
celebrating International Women’s Day 2018
China-underground: How did you get started with tattooing, what fascinated you?
Zhuo Dan Ting: First time I saw tattooing I fell in love with it, was something new that I had never seen before, another form of art, another form of expressing art. I loved the fact that you could wear art on your skin, see it every day of your life.
The past years have cemented Ting’s status as China’s Queen of Tattoos, with customers flying from all corners of the globe.
Have you always had clear your career as a tattoo artist since your childhood?
I knew I loved art as a child but never considered doing it for a living. As a child, I really didn’t think too much as what my career would be, was busy being a kid I suppose.
Zhuo Dan Ting at school found interest for the dry-erase markers ingenious hand-held capsules of ink. Most of her class time devoted to art.
How long have you been working as a tattoo artist? What was your first tattoo?
I started tattooing in 2001. The very first tattoo I did was a tribal phoenix on the lower back of a woman. Actually did a matching for the ladies husband but on his upper back. So the first tattoo was actually two of the same.
When she was a child Ting’s father, an art teacher, was quite impressed, and bring her round his artist friends late at night to teach Ting their techniques.
Did you face any difficulties, as a woman in this industry, at the beginning of your activity?
I did but really didn’t pay attention much as I was pretty focused on the art. It was till later when I realized the struggle I had been dealing with which is my societies views on women and what they should look like and be doing for a living. I guess a woman with tattoos in view (neck, arms) and big green mohawk wasn’t ideal then. Got treated like shit by many many people in those days, but luckily I had thick skin and an agenda of art to focus on.
“Zhuo, who got her first tattoo at 16 and has inked both her parents, is originally from Harbin.” Japan Times
What’s the strangest thing you’ve been asked to tattoo?
Strangest thing… I had tattooed a portrait of a woman’s husbands penis one time. Was pretty interesting actually as I didn’t want to see any pictures of it, so we went through kind of an interview describing the details, had drawn it up off of the description. Funny thing too was my father had come and visited me later that day and had found these drawings of a penis in my studio which was very embarrassing and awkward when trying to explain myself haha.
Do you think there are still stigmatized and taboos on tattoos in China?
It’s getting better but yes of course. People especially the older generations tend to group tattoos with being bad, the shamed one in the family. In the city of Shanghai maybe not to bad these days as its heavily influenced by more western culture. More countryside cities in China the judgment is a bit harsher, some and or most people never even seen a tattoo especially a heavily tattooed person.
In your opinion, are there differences in the culture of tattoos in China compared to the West?
Yes most definitely! To the best of my knowledge mainstream tattoos have been around way longer in the west than China which has had more time to be excepted. I mean when I opened Shanghai Tattoo back in 2007 there were only a handful of shops here, in a city of 20 something million people. Elsewhere in the world, western countries had hundreds in their cities I’m assuming at that time with far less population, that is a huge difference. Also, style of tattoos are a lot different as well as far as Asian traditional, American traditional, etc., there are many differences of time, art, styles, and such.
How much has the perception of tattoos changed in China compared to when you started?
Its changed a lot these days, seems people are getting more and more tattoos in China, the younger generation especially. I think with more athletes, movie stars, pop stars being more tattooed it is breaking that barrier of being a bad person Chinese culture holds. Now tattoos are being associated with being rich, famous, successful which younger generations are embracing.
Since China has one of the highest C-section rates in the world, has the number of women asking for tattoos to hide C-section scar increased over the years?
Yes, I have had many inquiries over my carrier, and covered many birth scars. Pretty much has been solid steady for the time I have been tattooing, not really increasing, staying consistent.
Photos courtesy of Zhuo Dan Ting
Also published on Medium.