A man shows off his fully-inked body during a tattoo convention in Shanghai, China. Photo: Johannes Eisele / AFP
The order was issued in August as part of a new campaign by authorities in the northwestern Chinese city of Lanzhou. Transport officials cited concerns from various passengers who apparently expressed fear and discomfort when riding with a tattooed driver.
“Large tattoos on drivers may cause distress to passengers who are women and children,” an official order reads. “Tattooed drivers should remove them through surgical procedures to the greatest extent possible.”
This stirred up intense social discussion and revived the debate over tattoos in East Asia which for decades been negatively associated with organized crime syndicates.
Chinese tattoo artist Swan Chan slammed the Lanzhou government’s decision.
“This narrow-minded, draconian order is setting things back in China by a couple of centuries,” Chan told VICE News. “Tattoos are so common nowadays. Instead of cracking down on tattooed people, how about the government do a better job at cracking down on corruption and bigotry?”
Tattooed taxi drivers have spoken up against it too.
“I understand that our leaders want to present our industry in a more positive light but the government’s order is simply discriminatory. Our tattoos don’t turn us into bad guys and criminals,” one Lanzhou taxi driver told The New York Times, adding that removing tattoos is not only expensive but also a painful process.
“The purpose of telling us to remove our tattoos is so that our passengers don’t see them. Covering them up achieves the same result.”
The debate also made its way onto Chinese social media, with many users on the microblogging site Weibo expressing sympathy for the Lanzhou taxi drivers.
“Are people still discriminating against tattoos in this day and age,” asked one Weibo user.
Another doubted the claims by the transport authorities, writing: “If a female passenger really doesn’t feel comfortable getting into a car with a tattooed driver, she is free to choose not to. It’s unfair to penalize these drivers who are only making an honest living — and disguising such decisions.”