Human-body embroidery dangerously draws teenage followers in China

By Jiang Jie Source:Global Times Published: 2017/6/27 18:28:40

Doctors warn that unsterilized needles can inject bacteria into the body, and can even cause sepsis in the worst case. Photo: Li Hao/GT

The silver sewing needle is not typically used to prick and pierce human skin, which is far more resilient than cloth. You Ling (pseudonym) had to push harder, yet still gently, to make the needle break through his skin, with a red thread trailing it. As he continued stitching, the thread silently crawled across his hand, forming a string of arrows.

You Ling posted the photos of his embroidered hand on Sina Weibo on February 10, 2015.

"I've found something interesting and I just can't stop," wrote You Ling, hashtagging his post "human-body embroidery."

Two years have passed, and You Ling remains the same comic-drawing teenager, still prone to dozing off in class. Judging from his Sina Weibo, his passions turned to baking, but the dark art of human-body embroidery continues to lure young people in China.

Rebellious minds

The so-called human-body embroidery game is nothing new to many cosplayers and manga lovers. It allegedly originated from the character Juzo Suzuya from the Japanese dark fantasy Tokyo Ghoul. In the manga, Suzuya engages in this self-stitching habit using red thread, which he explains is a form of "body modification."

Some cosplayers use red marker to draw stitches on their bodies, but many have gone to the extreme length of piercing their bodies with real needle and thread, exactly as the non-human Suzuya does in Tokyo Ghoul.

Juzo Suzuya from the Japanese dark fantasy Tokyo Ghoul Photo: Internet

Teenagers are very impressionable - more open than others to extreme behavior like human-body embroidery. It is not known who first started the trend among non-cosplayers, yet thousands have gathered in online forums and chat rooms to discuss the habit.

Tens of thousands of posts can be found in online forums, some apparently teaching newcomers how to sew and tie knots in their skin while minimizing pain. Many carefully record the "creation" process, complete with photos to illustrate their posts. This exhibition is praised and encouraged by other members of the forum.

"It is so heart-warming," commented one user on a photo of a wrist embroidered with black thread.

In one QQ chat room about human-body embroidery, chat statistics indicate that 41 percent of the 96 members were born after 2000.

On Sina Weibo, many photos like You Ling's are also available, as the Weibo users - mostly born after 1995 - proudly show off embroidery on their hands and forearms. Some even sew on their mouths. 

Will it be painful? 

In response to questions about whether or not it hurts, they all claim it's not painful at all.

"If you find the right place to prick your needle," they promise, it will not hurt. But "it will be painful if you do it the wrong way."

You Ling assured one curious Weibo user who commented in his post that "the key is to be patient. If you are in a hurry, your shaky hands will mess it up. It will be ugly."

It is more common to do the "human-body embroidery" on the palm than on the back of the hand and the stitches will not leave marks on the body unless one pushes too hard under the skin, according to a 21-year-old "human-body embroidery" lover who referred to herself as B.

B told People's Daily Online that her "embroidery" product could stay on her hands for as long as two weeks and it would not easily fall off if one avoids hard manual work.

Almost all the human-body embroidery enthusiasts contacted by the People's Daily Online for this story turned down interview requests. QQ chat rooms rejected requests to join. As for online forums on Baidu, all have been shut down by Baidu for containing "harmful information."

Another enthusiast, who was willing to talk in anonymity, told People's Daily Online that she sees the human-body embroidery as an ordinary hobby and that she would sew on her hands when she is "in the right mood." She added that the embroidery would soon fall off the skin after a few days.

Some posts in online forums teach newcomers how to make human-body embroidery with needles. Photo: Li Hao/GT

Dangerous for body and soul

"The so-called human-body embroidery is an extension of traditional tattoos, which carry more distinctive characteristics. Some may be simply imitating the trend for the sake of fashion, while the so-called game may be sexually suggestive to others, as it can imply sadomasochism," sexologist Peng Xiaohui told the People's Daily Online.

Peng noted that almost all teenagers go through some form of rebellion during puberty, and often imagine that weird and dangerous behaviors will win them recognition from their peers.

"From a global perspective, many young people are having a hard time adjusting to the rapid development of society. A new wave of decadence is on its way, and it will have a greater impact on society than almost any other ideological issue," Zhang Kan, former president of the Chinese Psychological Society, commented on his Sina Weibo.

However, even tattoos can jeopardize one's health if the equipment is not hygienic. The prognosis is undoubtedly even worse for human-body embroidery, Peng added.

Doctors warn that unsterilized needles can introduce bacteria into the body, and can even result in sepsis in the worst cases.

In one post, a Web users simply used toilet paper to "wipe the needle clean," and even that is better than many tutorials in which the word hygiene is not mentioned at all, focusing wholly on the delicate needlework.

"This is not about showing off or trying to be cool. I hope people who do not understand or like what we are doing can stop criticizing us. You can look away if you don't like what you see," noted the 20-year-old anonymous enthusiast.

Newspaper headline: Dark passion


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