Tattoos in China: Can you work as an English teacher with a tattoo?

2023-04-02 14:34

Are tattoos in China a taboo?You might think so at first.It’s not surprising that people believe it’s impossible to have a tattoo in China taking into account its rather conventional philosophy. How ...

Are tattoos in China a taboo?

You might think so at first.

It’s not surprising that people believe it’s impossible to have a tattoo in China taking into account its rather conventional philosophy. However, that’s not the case anymore.

Tattoo culture is developing all around the world, and China isn’t an exception. Influenced by the western world, Chinese people start to perceive tattoo as a specific way of self-expression.

More and more representatives of Chinese youth have ink on their bodies.

You can especially notice a lot of young men and women with tattoos on the streets of tier-1 cities. Being more open-minded, people there welcome tattoo culture eagerly.

Relation to ink on the human body is different in small cities and villages, though. But in general, it’s not as critical as it used to be.

So can you be a teacher in China if you have tattoos?

The answer is YES, but there are still some things you want to keep in mind.

City or rural area?

The first and most important factor is a place where you’re going to teach. We have already mentioned that cities are more tolerant of tattooed youth.

Shanghai is probably the city where tattoo culture is flourishing more than in any other place in China.

Thousands of tattoo parlors around the metropolis attract more and more people every day.

Thus, walking along Shanghai streets, citizens aren’t surprised anymore when they meet someone with a tattoo.

People in other metropolises like Beijing and Guangzhou are also getting used to tattoos in China gradually.

However, the situation is different in rural areas.

It’s more difficult for people there to keep up with modern trends. Consequently, their attitude towards tattoos is rather conservative.

School or university?

The educational institution also plays an important role when it comes to hiring a teacher with tattoos.

Of course, each school has its own rules and they can differ even from the ones established on the governmental level. However, it’s more likely that school management hires tattooed teachers eagerly if they have great professional and personal skills.

As for universities, it’s a bit more difficult for a tattooed person to get a position there. The level of an institution is higher, so do the requirements for its employees.

Even if you manage to get a job at the university, you’ll definitely have to cover your visible tattoos.


Speaking about these institutions, the situations might vary. On the one hand, you can cover your tattoos with clothes and children will never see them.

On the other hand, parents might not be happy with a foreign teacher with tattoos in China.

The reason is they will have to answer the questions of their kids about tattooed teachers. And that might be a problem for parents with a conventional worldview.

Thus, if you’re going to teach in a Chinese kindergarten, you need to discuss this issue with school management in advance.

Shoulder or arm?

Before starting to worry about tattoos in China, remember where your tattoo is.

If it is on a body part that is always covered with clothes, there’s nothing to worry about. You can even not mention it to your employer since nobody will ever see it.

In case you have ink on your arms or legs where clothes can’t cover it, you should discuss it with your superior.

You’ll likely be asked to cover your visible tattoos every time you come into the classroom. But some schools might not even pay attention to your inked body parts.

What kind of tattoos is a taboo in China?

The word “taboo” isn’t used in connection with tattoos in China anymore. It was once, and there were two main reasons for it:

  • Religion. People in China have believed in the sanctity of their bodies. The Confucian culture required them to return their bodies after death in the same state they got them at birth.

  • Crime. In China, as well as in many other countries all over the world, tattoos are often associated with crime.

Criminals in ancient China were marked with tattoos as an additional way of punishment so that everybody knew they were prisoners.

Nowadays, however, these beliefs are old-fashioned and don’t influence human life as strongly as they did before.

Young people with tattoos in China define them as a way of self-expression.

For some people, ink is also a special way to remember important events.

But if you ask us what symbols or pictures on your body might cause misunderstanding between you and Chinese people, we’d point out the following.

Number 4

In the Chinese language, this number sounds the same as the word ‘death’. No wonder people in China don’t like it.

Number 250

This is one number more that Chinese people don’t like. Although it isn’t associated with a tragic event, it sounds like an offensive word. So Chinese people avoid pronouncing it. And even in shops, you’ll never find anything at this price.

Negative words

By this, we mean words such as ‘death’, ‘break’, ‘poor’, etc. Chinese people usually avoid saying these words on holidays, especially New Year, not to provoke anything bad.

Thus, they might think that a person who has these words tattooed on his/ her body attracts bad luck.


As a rule, ghosts make no good, no matter what country we’re speaking about. As for Chinese, ghosts are the creatures they are afraid of.

It’s forbidden to tell ghost stories on holidays. It’s a bad idea to go outside at night since you can meet a ghost, especially during the Hungry Ghost Festival.

People also don’t swim during this festival as ghosts can take their souls while they’re in the water.

That’s why people set on fire paper lanterns and burn them at this event. By doing this, they frighten ghosts so they leave.

Thus, if you don’t have any tattoos yet, but are thinking about having one, avoid the abovementioned symbols. Or, at least, don’t have them on visible body parts.

What part of your body is not allowed to be tattooed?

While you’re a foreigner in China, none of the Chinese laws can forbid you to make tattoos where you like. Yet, you don’t want your tattoos to look shocking for other people.

So, tattoos on what body parts can embarrass your employer?


Seeing a person with a tattooed face is probably strange anywhere in the world. Despite the popularity of tattoo culture, ink on face still looks outrageous for the majority of people.

More often than not, a person with a tattooed face isn’t a good candidate for a teaching position anywhere in the world. China isn’t an exception, so it’s unlikely you’ll be able to get a job at a Chinese school with ink on your face.


This part of the body isn’t usually covered with clothes, especially during warm months. So it might be a problem for some educational institutions.

It might be easier for girls to hide their tattooed neck under the hair so nobody sees it.

But again, it’s a sensible decision to discuss this issue with school management. Sometimes, it might not be a reason for preventing you from your teaching career in China.

Hands and fingers

All the tattoos you have on these body parts are visible. Thus, you want to make sure your employer doesn’t mind an employee with ink that attracts attention.

With that said, tattoos in China aren’t as unusual as you think they are. And even teachers can have them.

The only thing you want to remember when going to teach in China with a tattoo is to clarify the rules with your school.

Just make sure school management finds tattoos fine and enjoy your teaching.