Inked to compete

Former England captain David Beckham shows his tattoo to students at Peking University during a visit to Beijing in last year.

China's national football team once again failed to qualify for the FIFA World Cup this summer.

But fanatic Chinese fans who have stayed up all night-eyes glued to star-studded stadia in Brazil-have seen one sight that's very familiar.

Many top players like to show off their masculinity with tattoos in Chinese characters.

Their inked beliefs on their necks, arms-or wherever-can be entertaining or even a little bizarre for Chinese spectators cheering in front of TVs on the other side of the Earth.

Some of these are broken Chinese sentences that are difficult to understand at first sight. Some have mistakes ranging from grammatical errors to incorrect strokes.

"Tattoos written in Chinese characters have been popular in the Western world for many years because many Westerners have a strong curiosity about this remote land," says Wang Qingyuan, who leads the China Association of Tattoo Artists.

"And their funny mistakes have occurred for an equally long time."

According to Wang, encouraging slogans and Chinese proverbs are among the most popular, but he explains that literal translations lead to the errors.

[[{"fid":"199402","view_mode":"default","type":"media","link_text":null,"attributes":{"height":267,"width":410,"border":"0","class":"media-element file-default"}}]]

 Spain's Sergio Ramos (right) with teammate Jordi Alba during a news conference in Curitiba on June 14. Spanish defender Sergio Ramos has a tattoo that reads"狼" ("wolf") behind his left ear.

In many Westerners' perspective, Chinese characters resemble pictures, he says.

So, they often chose some single characters which look beautiful. But since few tattoo artists working overseas originally come from China, those who don't know the language can only copy shapes of characters.

Mistakes are therefore inevitable.

"And even artists who know Chinese may not be good at calligraphy, which will make their work look awkward," he says.

Another twist: Many artists inking Chinese character tattoos in Western countries are from Japan and will make a sentence according to their understanding of kanji, neglecting different meanings of the same word in two languages.

Plus, some artists deliberately write the characters on their brochures to avoid piracy by competition.

Apart from Chinese characters, the dragon, the phoenix, and the peony are also among the most commonly inked Chinese-themed images in Western tattoo shops.

But even "third-tier artists" in China could make better pieces on these themes than top Western ones, Wang says, smiling.

"When Chinese artists create works using Western themes, they will also make many funny mistakes," he says.

"Cultural differences lead to funny misunderstandings, but still they help spread the culture."

[[{"fid":"199403","view_mode":"default","type":"media","link_text":null,"attributes":{"height":267,"width":410,"border":"0","class":"media-element file-default"}}]]

Former German footballer Torsten Frings has"龙蛇吉勇羊" ("dragon snake fortune brave sheep") tattooed on his arm.

He also says that he has"酸甜鸭子7.99欧元" ("sweet-and-sour duck 7.99 euro") tattooed on his back.


[[{"fid":"199409","view_mode":"default","type":"media","link_text":null,"attributes":{"height":267,"width":410,"border":"0","class":"media-element file-default"}}]]


Ghanaian midfielder Kevin Prince Boateng has inked"家族,健康,爱,成功,信任" ("clan, health, love, success and trust") on his right side.

When he played against his half-brother Jerome, who represented Germany on the same field, their success brought great reputation to their big family.

[[{"fid":"199400","view_mode":"default","type":"media","link_text":null,"attributes":{"height":267,"width":410,"border":"0","class":"media-element file-default"}}]]

This is probably the last World Cup for 34-year-old Greek striker Theofanis Gekas.

Although he inked"寒冷杀人魔" ("cold-blood killing demon") on his right arm, he may have failed to live up to the title, missing the last penalty kick against Costa Rica. 

[[{"fid":"199395","view_mode":"default","type":"media","link_text":null,"attributes":{"height":267,"width":410,"border":"0","class":"media-element file-default"}}]]


"大壯吉家人信" ("strengt ortune, family and faith") have already revealed Croatian striker Mario Mandzukic's maxim, although some characters are improperly written.

Croatia's early elimination from this World Cup makes these words even more precious to comfort this top-level Balkan warrior

More about