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Hong Kong Protesters Use Tattoos to Support Movement


In this Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019, photo, tattoo artist Mike Chan applies ink to the leg of a client who goes by the single name "Mary" in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong Protesters Use Tattoos to Support Movement
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Mike Chan uses a tattoo needle to draw the image of a Hong Kong protester wearing a protective head covering on a young woman’s leg.

The young woman getting the tattoo only gave her first name, Mary. She told the Associated Press she chose the spot because she could easily cover it up. It is the first tattoo she has ever gotten. She was afraid that her co-workers would find out.

“I am actually just a peaceful protester. I really want to go to the front line, but I don’t have the courage yet to stand and fight against the government at the front because I’m very frightened,” she said.

Hong Kong’s protest movement began in June in opposition to a proposed law that would have sent suspects to stand trial in mainland China. Later, the protests expanded to include issues such as the desire for full democracy and distrust of the police.

Demonstrations have often ended in violence. Some protesters wearing eye protection and breathing devices throw firebombs and other objects at police. Police answer by using chemicals like tear gas and pepper spray, which make it hard to see and breathe, as well as water cannons.

Many protesters have sought to hide their identities with face coverings to avoid being identified, out of fear of arrest. But some people, like Mary, are using skin and ink to show their support.

In this Wednesday, October 23, 2019 photo, a client who goes by the single name "Mary" chooses a tattoo image depicting protective gear-wearing protesters from a computer display in Hong Kong.
In this Wednesday, October 23, 2019 photo, a client who goes by the single name "Mary" chooses a tattoo image depicting protective gear-wearing protesters from a computer display in Hong Kong.


Mary said she had been thinking about getting a protest tattoo for about two months. She hoped it would lead her friends to get them, too.

Mike Chan has been working as a tattoo artist for two years. He said demand increased greatly after he started doing the protest tattoos for free in July, though it has decreased more recently.

Chan said, “I do these resistance tattoos free of charge because I see this as part of protesting.” He compared himself to supporters handing out free water bottles during demonstrations in Hong Kong’s summer heat.

He offers several different images of a person wearing head and eye protection for free and has done about 70 of them.

“I want to give them a choice, not just like a stamp that’s all the same,” he said.

He charges for other protest-related tattoos, such as expressions like “Free Hong Kong” and “Fight for freedom” in special writing, because they take more time.

Tattoos in Hong Kong used to be seen in a negative way. People with tattoos were usually believed to be members of criminal organizations. But Chan and Mary say tattoos have been more accepted as an art form in recent years.

After about half an hour, Chan is finished and Mary shows off her leg. Even though it is permanent, Mary said she would never regret it.

“Because of what has happened over the past few months, you actually can’t speak out much or do anything much,” she said. “This is the only thing that you can do to remember this for the rest of your life.”

I’m Pete Musto.

Kelvin Chan reported this for the Associated Press. Pete Musto adapted it for VOA Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.

We want to hear from you. How do people show support for protest movements in your country? Write to us in the Comments Section or on our Facebook page.

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Words in This Story

tattoon. a picture or word that is made by making lines on a person's skin by using a needle and ink

needlen. a very thin, pointed steel tube that is pushed through the skin so that something can be put into your body or so that blood or other fluids can be taken from it

couragen. the ability to do something that you know is difficult or dangerous

cannon(s) – n. a large automatic gun

inkn. colored liquid that is used for writing or printing

stampn. an sign of something

negativeadj. harmful or bad

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