Hey guys! In those dark times, let's talk about tattoos, branding and blackness.
Today's character 黑 hēi has a simple, straightfoward meaning: black. Its origin however is a little more interesting. You see, the Chinese liked to brand criminal's faces, as one of the five punishments of ancient China.
Initially, the character was a pictogram depicting a person 人 having their face marked with black. Over time when scribes copied it, they wrongly assumed that it was an ideogram, where the bottom part was a flame 炎 that was burning under a chimney. As a result, the character was distorted with the bottom part taking on the flame radical 灬, which leads us to the contemporary form 黑. This process is known as character corruption and if you want to read more about it, please visit this wonderful and scientific (unlike mine) blog.
Having your face tattooed as a punishment was quite severe: according to Confucianism, the body is a sacred gift given to you by your parents and you need to avoid damaging it. Permanent branding, such as tattoos are seen as not only shameful for the individual, but also dishonouring their whole family.
Tattoo as a form of punishment was quite common throughout the ages.
- Two byzantine monks were accused of idolatry and the emperor ordered to have them branded on their faces with twelve lines of badly composed, if metrically correct, quantitative iambic verses.
- The Japanese used body (and face) tattoos to punish criminals. Criminals however didn't like to have ugly ass penal tattoos all over them so they covered them with fancy patterns, which resulted in the famous Yakuza tattoos. Guess who's having the last laugh now.
- 19th century British government branded criminals with their crimes.
- Auschwitz prisoners were branded with a serial number.
While using tattoos as punishment is still going on in the world, more and more people are embracing them as a form of art and tool to express their individuality. Let's keep it that way, it's way more positive. I mean negative. You know. It's not very good to be positive these days.