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Loosening Rules, China Allows Facial and Neck Tattoos to Join Army

Michael Wines

Seeking to broaden its appeal to China’s better-educated and perhaps more hip youth, the People’s Liberation Army has dropped a longtime bar to enlisting in the service: now, recruits can sport tattoos on their faces and necks.

An artist paints tattoo on a Chinese man at the 12th China Hairdressing and Beauty Exhibition 2006 on July 7, 2006 in Beijing, China.
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Moreover, enlistees may be chubbier or thinner than the rules had previously allowed.

The Defense Ministry announced the changes on Wednesday, five days after China’s legislature, the National People’s Congress, approved a relaxation of the rules for military service.

Recruits with facial or neck tattoos will now qualify for service if the decorations are no larger than two centimeters wide, or about 0.8 inches. The new weight rules permit a recruit to weigh as much as 25 percent more or 15 percent less than the army’s standard, as opposed to 20 and 10 percent in the past.

The ministry also began an effort to lure more university students to the military, offering them a 6,000 renminbi discount on annual tuition — around $944 — if they take a break from their studies to enlist.

Although military service is technically compulsory, the draft is seldom needed because there are more than enough volunteers to fill the ranks of the 2.3-million member force.

The newly relaxed rules seek to attract better-educated recruits for a military that increasingly relies on technically sophisticated weaponry.

Tattoos, in particular, were once scorned, but they have become faddish among the savvier urban youth that the People’s Liberation Army hopes to attract.

There is a precedent: China’s most famous tattoo belonged to a Southern Song dynasty general, Yue Fei, who served in the 12th century. Folklore states that he once quit the army and returned home after his field marshal deserted, only to be berated by his mother for turning his back on his country.

On that back, she then tattooed the words, “loyalty to the nation.” Yue Fei returned to battle and became one of the nation’s most celebrated warriors before being framed by a rival and executed.