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Shanghai Restricts Minors From Getting Tattoos, National Ban May Follow

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From March 1, minors are no longer allowed to get tattooed legally in Shanghai without their parents’ approval. In implementing the ban, the city has become the first in China to set a minimum legal age for those wanting to get inked.

However, a nationwide ban is under discussion.

During the ongoing political event known as the Two Sessions, where China’s political elites meet and discuss regulations, a representative named Ma Qi called for expanding the tattoo ban for minors across the country.

To put this in context: Most Western countries set the age limit for getting a tattoo at 18 or 16 (with parental consent). The minimum age to get a tattoo in China’s East Asia neighbor South Korea is also 18 (although the nation has a bizarre law stating that only medical professionals can work as tattoo artists).

Shanghai’s new tattoo regulation comes as part of a series of amendments to municipal regulations aimed at protecting underage citizens, such as prohibiting minors from plastic surgery, which is becoming alarmingly popular in the country.

china tattoo ban shanghai

A tattoo parlor in the touristic area Tianzifang in Shanghai

For some Shanghai-based tattoo artists, like X-Ink, the tattoo ban for minors will have little effect on how they operate their business.

“Even though there was no regulation before, if a minor came to my shop, I would directly say no and tell them to come back in a couple of years,” he said.

According to X-Ink, youth tattoos are a more serious problem in smaller cities, where safety standards are lower and cultural awareness around tattoos is weak.

He referred to a case in 2019 where a couple living in a county-level city in Zhejiang province successfully sued a tattoo parlor after their son was suspended from school due to his body art. 

X-Ink tells RADII he supports the new regulation in Shanghai:

“I think tattoos need to be regulated. Preventing minors from getting tattoos is common abroad; I already carry on my practice and supply my materials according to international standards.”

Many Chinese netizens seem to share his opinion. A hashtag related to the new law went viral on Weibo and had accumulated more than 270 million views at the time of writing.

One user commented, “I would set the age limit at 20,” while another wrote under the same post, “Minors shouldn’t get tattoos, but tattoos also shouldn’t lead to stigmatization!”

While tattoos are gaining popularity among Chinese youth, many still associate them with criminality and think that people with body art may face obstacles when looking for a job.

The Chinese government has paid increasing attention to tattoos in the past few years. Public figures such as athletes and artists have been asked to “set a good example,” with authorities calling for tattoos to be covered at music festivals and preventing actors with tattoos from appearing on TV.

In December 2021, China’s General Administration of Sport banned soccer players from getting new tattoos and asked them to consider removing pre-existing ones.

All images via Unsplash

Beatrice Tamagno
Beatrice is a graduate student in sociology at Fudan University in Shanghai. Her writings have appeared on SupChina and ChinaNauts, an online magazine she co-founded with fellow researchers from Fudan. When she is not researching gender in contemporary China, you will find her playing mahjong or binging Chinese TV shows.
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