Tattoos scar generation of Chinese women Today

HAINAN ISLAND, China, April 9 (Reuters Life!) - The tattooed women of China are a dying breed.

A coming-of-age ritual that guaranteed marriage, tattooing for the women of the Li tribe, who live in remote areas of the southern resort island of Hainan, has now become an undesirable, ugly practice that limits chances for success in modern times.

For the Li, whose history spans more than 2,000 years, the tattoos were talismans against evil, a way to make their women ugly to foreign kidnappers but beautiful to their own kin.

Marriage was unthinkable before the girl's entire body had been covered in a series of intricate geometric lines and dots in a painful and painstaking process that involved piercing the skin with thorns and then rubbing soot and water into the wounds.

The ritual would take a whole week -- one day for each part of the body, starting from the face.

Patterns were passed down through generations, and similar designs were woven into homespun textiles.

But the practice was stopped in the 1960s when the Li women began to discover that their prized body art was actually ostracizing them from society.

Fu Renmei is one of the last generation of Li women to be tattooed. She went through the ritual aged 13.

"I was happy! Why? Before, if you didn't have tattoos then your boyfriend would not marry you. My grandmother told me that girls who didn't tattoo would be kidnapped. If you are tattooed you will look ugly so you will be safe," she said.

Fu Wenying, 58, was the first among her girl friends to get tattooed, and consequently was the first to get married. Memories of her tattooing ceremony are still painfully fresh.

"I would never go back and do it again, it was too painful. I would not want to go through that again," she said.

Her daughter, Fu Yingwu, says she would never consider getting a tattoo, since in today's China, they are an obstacle to getting a good job, especially in a resort in Hainan.

"I would never want to tattoo because now everyone likes white, unblemished skin. Why would I want to look like an old person with dark skin?," Fu said.

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