Tattooist He Wenqian works at his studio. Provided to China Daily
Like most Chinese tattooists, He is self-taught. He developed an interest when inking doodles on willing friends at age 9.
"I was lucky enough to have buddies who let me experiment on their skin with sewing needles dipped in ink," he recalls.
"Then, in the early '90s, tattooed eyebrows became popular and I started using a machine."
That device wasn't a professional tattoo needle but rather a permanent makeup pen powered by an AC adapter.
"Things were slow when China's tattoo business became an industry at the end of the '90s," He recalls.
"Artists weren't experienced and had to teach themselves."
He opened his Beijing studio in 2002, after art school.
The industry now employs more than 1 million artists, and that number is expected to grow, the China Association of Tattoo Artists reports. The figure includes cosmetic artists, who tattoo eyeliner, lipstick and blush.
The Internet has contributed greatly to tattoos' social accepibility. Studios like He's are active on China's social networks, such as Sina Weibo, Douban and Renren.
But the government hasn't yet acknowledged, let alone regulated, the industry, He says.
"Tattooists must rely on their own knowledge of hygiene and safety," He explains.
But authorities will likely develop laws as the sector grows with tattoos' popularity.
"Some youth still hide their tattoos from their parents and teachers," He says.
"But young people's minds will continue to open in pace with the economy."
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