By Hart Hugert Hagerty, Bridget O'Donnell and Raemin Zhang
Western celebs, Chinese tats: a match made in heaven. When it comes to the tattoos of famous foreigners, the allure of the Hanzi has proven irresistible. Here's a look at some of the Chinese tats celebrities have gotten over the years. Perhaps some of them should've consulted Google Translate first?
1. Justin Bieber
While Justin Bieber is no stranger to hurting the feelings of the Chinese people, the generic Chinese symbol for song, 曲 (qū), appearing on his left arm should hopefully offend no one... unless you count the Biebs himself! The character has multiple translations, and can also happen to mean bent, crooked or wrong. Oh, Baby.
The tat is just one of the 56 permanent symbols and drawings decorating the Canadian heartthrob's body, which range from the meaningful (tiny treble cleff behind his ear), to the regrettable (Selena Gomez Angel on his wrist), to the downright weird (eyeball of his mom on the inside of his left arm). Is it too late now to say Sorry... for all those unfortunate body ink decisions?
2. Nicki Minaj
The 'Anaconda' rapper's first and only tattoo reads 上帝與你常在 (Shàngdì yǔ nǐ cháng zài), or "God is always with you." Minaj, who paid for the ink herself at the age of 16, originally intended to get the tattoo on the back of her neck, but decided to get it on her upper left arm instead after fearing that the neck tattoo would be too painful. Upon seeing the tat, her parents threatened to disown her. The baddest bitch in the game regrets the tattoo but says she'd be open to giving the neck tattoo a second chance, having once told Billboard that she might get single Chinese character there to complement her arm ink.
3. Chris Evans
The hottest Captain America there ever was, Chris Evans etched 氏 (shì) onto his right bicep, believing that it represented 'family.' Sadly for him, the not-so-Fantastic choice in character literally translated to 'surname' or 'maiden name.' Luckily this tattoo mishap seems to have been Avenged, with Evans recently appearing in a Gucci ad sans this unfortunate tattoo.
4. Kiefer Sutherland
Jack Bauer’s alter ego has the Chinese symbol for power, 力 (lì), on his right shoulder. If there was ever any doubt as to his bionic Bauer power, the volatile actor who has done time for DUI and once head-butted a fashion designer at a Manhattan party, also has ‘I Trust You To Kill Me’ marked in Icelandic runes on his right forearm, while his buff biceps are stenciled with barbwire, a crest and sword and the Sutherland clan armband.
5. Julia Roberts
Nothing says ‘love’ like matching tats. Once engaged to Sutherland, America’s sweetheart reportedly had an identical 力 tattoo (with the addition of a twee heart) on her left shoulder blade. The engagement didn't survive — Roberts broke things off three days before the wedding after discovering Sutherland was sleeping with a stripper. It appears the tattoo didn't either, as recent photos suggest the actress had it removed. The experience didn’t put her off Chinese tats altogether – she has a dragon tramp stamp encircled by the names of her three children with current husband Danny Moder.
6. Angelina Jolie
Angie’s Chinese tats were doomed from the get-go. Her first was 死 (sǐ), meaning 'death.' Then she and ex-husband Johnny Lee Miller both got 勇 (yǒng), meaning ‘courage.’ Since then Jolie has forgone characters for Chinese dragons. She used to have a dragon tramp stamp, now covered up by a big Bengal tiger done in Thailand. Her second dragon was supposedly tattooed on her pelvic area while drunk in Amsterdam. That dragon has now been smothered by a fat black cross and the text “What nourishes me, destroys me” in Latin. The last of her dragon tattoos, which once appeared on her left bicep, had ex-husband number two Billy Bob Thornton’s name branded beneath it. When they split, she promptly removed his name and told the press, “I’ll never be stupid enough to have a man’s name tattooed on me again.” (No dragon for you then, Bradley). Jolie eventually removed the dragon altogether, replacing it with the longitudes and latitudes of the birth places of her six children.
The divas’ diva and Caps Lock-obssessed tweeter once vowed to have all her tats removed, including the Chinese character 力 (seems to be a favorite among Hollywood stars…) on her bicep, a black orchid below her bikini line and a bunch of flowers sprawling across her butt cheeks, (famously?) unveiled in her ‘If I Could Turn Back Time’ music video. Oh the irony…
8. Megan Fox
Token hot babe from Transformers also has a tattoo of 力, which is etched on her nape. It once shared the terrain of her skin with a tattoo of her idol, Marilyn Monroe (which was later removed). What teenage boys the world over would do to get their grubby little paws on those, eh?.
9. Justin Timberlake
A marionette dangles from a red-rope wreathed in flames on his wrist, a reminder of the scorching success of Nysnc’s puppet-themed album, No Strings Attached. As if a pyromaniac Pinocchio tat wasn’t dumb enough, he also hit an off-key note his 曲 tattoo, which as we mentioned before can either mean 'song' or 'bent/crooked/wrong.'
Reading 风土水 (fēng tǔ shuǐ), 罪 (zuì) and 溜冰 (liū bīng), the three separate tattoos translated to 'wind earth water,' 'crime/sin' and 'ice skating' respectively. Cry me a river, indeed.
10. Britney Spears
The former Mickey Mouse Clubber sports tats from both the Magic Kingdom and Middle Kingdom. A fairy flitters on her lower back, a butterfly perches on a vine on her left foot, and, channeling forest nymphs, she chose a small daisy to encircle her toe. To round out her enchanting ink collection, Britney paid for 奇 (qí), thinking it meant mysterious, and a tiny flower to be embossed on her pubic bone because ever since her ‘Hit Me Baby One More Time’ dropped, the action around her pubic area has remained utterly secretive… ?! It turns out her private bits aren’t so clandestine in after all (we’ve all seen them for one) and (qí) isn’t so mysterious - it means queer or odd. So rather apt after all.
11. MC Jin
The American rapper, songwriter and actor of Hong Kong and Hakka descent has branded himself with a neck tattoo of the character 靖 (Jìng), his hip-hop moninker.
12. Matthew Fox
Before he starred in TV show Lost, Fox already had his tattoo 鹰击长空 (yīng jī chángkōng), extracted from a poem written by Chairman Mao which loosely translates as “eagles fly up in the sky.” Writers of Lost were so enthralled by his ink job that, instead of covering it up, they decided to work it into the show’s plot. An entire episode was devoted to unraveling its meaning, which led to widespread derision among the show’s fans.
13. Mike Tyson
While serving a prison sentence in the ‘90s, Iron Mike read Chairman Mao’s work and developed a huge admiration for China’s Great Helmsman. After prison, Tyson got an oversized tattoo of Mao’s face on his arm, and reportedly remains an avid collector of his writings. In 2006, he visited Mao’s mausoleum in Beijing and later said of the experience, “I felt really insignificant next to the remains of Chairman Mao” - probably the only person Tyson has ever felt inferior to.
14. David Beckham
When Becks’ former team, LA Galaxy, traveled to Hong Kong, the fetching footballer wanted a souvenir. Her returned to the US with the Chinese parable, “Death and life have determined appointments / Riches and honors depend upon heaven” etched in traditional characters from his left nipple down to his groin. Heaven-sent riches would explain the whopping US$32.5 million deal old Golden Balls signed with the Galaxy when he left Real Madrid.
15. Stephen Baldwin
The youngest of the Baldwin brothers is more known for his tyrannical Christian preaching on reality TV show Celebrity Big Brother than his acting. One season, he famously read aloud the Bible to his housemates and claimed he’d rather see his daughter shot to death than renounce her faith. When simple English wasn’t enough to prove his undying religious zeal, he tattooed Chinese symbol for ‘believe’ between his shoulder blades. He later complemented it with a HM tat, which he got in exchange for a guest appearance on the hit Disney show Hannah Montana (starring none other than Miley Cyrus). His body is truly a temple.
16. Holly Valance
The Australian model/actress/singer/has-been has 爱 (ài) tattooed on the right side of her bikini line and a red number eight on her right ankle. She is currently married to UK real-estate billionaire Nick Candy who she once said “spoils her rotten.” She found true ai and her beau is loaded. Guess there could be something in lucky number eight after all.
17. Nick Carter
In the ‘90s, Nick Carter was the “cute one” of pop band the Backstreet Boys. Since then, though, he’s scrounged for fame with a limp solo career and lousy reality TV. Besides a burning desire for fame, Carter has always had the ocean in his heart and launched the Nick Carter Ocean Campaign to raise environmental awareness of the sea. Seeing himself as the protector of the all things blue and briny, he got tattoos of a shark and 海神 (hǎishén), the Chinese translation for Poseidon.
18. Allen Iverson
In 2009, Xinhua proudly proclaimed that at least 35 percent of NBA players had tattoos some sort of Chinese motif. Oddly enough, clean-cut Chinese players Yao Ming and Yi Jianlian remained unblemished during their time in the NBA.
Allen Iverson, one of the top scorers in NBA history and recent Hall of Fame inductee, has a big fat 忠 (zhōng) on the left side of his neck, which means loyalty. His tat also can also be read as 中心 (zhōngxīn), which means center, as in ‘center of the universe’ or ‘center of attention.’ We’re sure this former 76er’s star wouldn’t mind that interpretation, either.
19. Stephon Marbury
The former NBA player, three-time Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) champion and current Chinese green card holder has three Hanzi tattoos as a way to commemorate the remarkable success he's seen since arriving in the Middle Kingdom six years ago. The first, which appears on his left arm, reads 马布里 (mǎ bù lǐ), the transliteration of his name in Chinese. The second, 爱就是爱 (ài jiù shì ài), appears on his right torso and translates to 'Love is Love' — the slogan he's adopted and used frequently on social media. The final, 北京王朝 (běi jīng wáng cháo), appears on his left torso and literally means 'Dynasty of Beijing' — a nod to the three championships he's picked up with the Beijing Ducks.
20. Marcus Camby
Camby, who broke into the NBA in 1996, claimed, “I was one of the originators of the Chinese characters. When I was a rookie, I don’t remember a lot of people having them.” The former NBA-er chose 族 (zú), meaning clan, and 勉 (miǎn), meaning to urge or to strive for, tattoos on his left bicep because, “It seemed like a no-brainer. I want to be the best. And I have a lot of love for my family.” And why Chinese, exactly? “I was into a lot of Chinese flicks. A lot of kung fu movies.”
21. Chris Anderson
Memphis Grizzlies' Chris Anderson, aka Birdman, kicked off his career in 2000 playing for the Jiangsu Nangang Dragons in China, where he thought he inked himself with characters meaning ‘good’ and ‘bad.’ His 好 (hǎo) tattoo is all good, but 恶 (è) doesn’t translate so well, reading more like ‘nauseated.’ The dual meanings, however inaccurate, nicely sum up his character and performances – he was banned from the NBA for two years for drug violations in 2006.
22. Shawn Marion
Having once signed a 5-year US$39 million contract with the Dallas Mavericks, Shawn Marion is a very rich man with a very stupid tattoo. When he first entered the NBA, his bionic athleticism impressed sports critics so much they christened him ‘The Matrix.’ The now-retired forward had his nickname translated into Chinese and scribbled down his right leg. We have no idea who his translator is, but he ended up with the inky gibberish 魔鸟樟 (móniǎozhāng) which means ‘demon bird camphor.’
23. Kenyon Martin
The former All-Star power forward, who played 15 seasons in the NBA and a one season stint with the Xinjiang Flying Tigers, has 患得患失 (Huàn dé huàn shī) inscribed on his arm, which can mean 'not aggressive' or 'indecisive.' Yao Ming, explaining that many NBA players get Chinese tattoos with different meanings or just plain don't make sense, told China Daily: "Anybody who has seen Kenyon play knows he isn't like that."
24. Mike Miller
Denver Nuggets' Mike Miller, who was named the NBA Rookie of the Year in 2001, has the character for for 'life' or 'fate', 命 (mìng), etched onto his left forearm, according to the comprehensive NBA Tattoos Tumblr. When asked why he chose that at the launch of his energy drink brand in Hong Kong, Miller said: “I use that one because it’s what I live on as it’s my destiny to be what I am."
25. Marat Safin
The two time Grand Slam-winning, retired Russian tennis player, who once defeated Pete Sampras and Roger Federer, has 猴 (hóu), meaning 'monkey', inscribed on his upper right arm. Boring, yes, but we guess someone's gotta represent their Chinese astrology sign.
26. Fabio Cannavaro
The Italian former footballer and current Tianjin Quanjian manager reportedly has a tattoo written in traditional characters, 瑪丁娜 (Mǎ dīn gnà), in honor of his daughter Martina. Aw.
Nice tat (you idiot)
On the popular Hanzis Matter blog, which has been going since 2004, readers ask Tian, a Chinese-American guy moonlighting as a linguist, to decode their mysterious tattoos. Most enquirers lack foresight - 90 percent contact him after being inked up. Your average blog reads along the lines of, “Hi Tian! Fan of your blog! I got this tattoo and it’s supposed to mean [insert cheesy symbolism], but now I’m not so sure. What does it really mean? Thanks!” Tian frankly translates the twaddle or, in many cases, points out the Hanzi is mirrored or doesn’t even exist. Ah, there’s nothing quite like a good laugh at the folly of fools. Enjoy: www.hanzismatter.blogspot.com.
[Images via Teen, Wikia, Ranker, The Daily Beast, Vogue, InStyle, Daily Mail, Pinterest 1/2, Popcrush, Cracked, Steal Her Style, Youtube, ABC, The Guardian, NY Daily News, Celebrities Tattooed, Chinese Symbol Tattoos 1/2/3, NBA, The Masters of Chinese Language, The Useless Critic, Rolling Stone, Bleacher Report, Xinhua, Epoch Times, Tattoo Johnny, CNN]