Asian street gangs, as well as other street gangs, use marks, scars and tattoos (indicators) to show other members as well as non-members that they are "down for the gang" and involved in criminal activity. These marks, scars, and tattoos, can be intimidating to victims as well as the general public.

These indicators are important to law enforcement. The majority of subjects contacted with these Asian gang indicators are gang members, or they are involved in criminal activity. The most common type of mark found is the cigarette burn. ۩This type of marking will not identify the subject to a particular gang, however, it can help you to connect the person to an Asian gang.

The list of marks, scars and tattoos are the ones most common to the Orange County area of California. They may have other meanings elsewhere in the state, as well as other parts of the United States, but they are still very good indicators.


Without a doubt, the cigarette burn marks are the most common form of marking found on Asian gang members.  These burn marks may be found in groups of two or more, by themselves or in the form of a design. They are usually found on the back of the hand or on the forearm.

Burn marks at one time indicated if a gang member was active or inactive. They also show bravery or pain, which they have caused the family.

The cigarette burn mark is made by pressing a lit cigarette against the skin for a period of time.  Gang members will burn the upper forearm in an attempt to hide it from parents and law enforcement.


The cigarette burn marks are often found in the shape of a triangle, formed by three burn marks.  The meaning of the three (3) dots is "my crazy life" and indicates they don't care about anything. In the Vietnamese language it translates to "toi o can gi ca".


Five cigarette burn marks, forming five (5) dots are also common. They are found in the design found on dice and stand for "a group of close friends" (one person protected by the group).  In Vietnamese it translates to "tu hai giai nuynh de".


The original nine "Nip Family" gang members have nine burn marks that stand for the original nine brothers (members). The burn marks are formed in two lines on the forearm.


A quarter burn is commonly found on Filipino gang members. It is done by heating a quarter and then placing the hot quarter on the skin. The quarter is pressed into the skin and, depending on how long it is left, depends on how well you can see President Washington's head. The burn marks are usually found on the hands, forearms and legs.


The cross burn is made by a series or cigarette burn marks. It has been found on "Natoma Boyz" and usually on the back or the hand. The cross burn marks have been found on other gang members and may stand for religious beliefs.

The cross burn and the quarter burn show more extensive pain and are usually more common for the harder core gang members. With all burn marks you will hear various stories as to how they happened or the true meaning.


Asian gang members, or associates, will scratch their gang initials, names or gang emblems into their skin. This is done by a small scraping tool or finger nails. Once the scratches scab and fall off, the initials or emblem is able to be read.

The scratches are common with female gang members or girlfriends of gang members. Younger male gang members, or wannabe's will also mark themselves in this fashion.


Slash marks are also common with female Asian gang members. They are done by cutting or slashing the skin. They will usually tell you it's for a boyfriend or for the pain they have caused their family.


This is a common marks found on Asians. It is a medical practice used in the Asian culture to bring the bad blood to the surface. It is believed that this will cure the medical problem. It is commonly mistaken as child abuse in the schools and hospitals.

Other forms of this practice include pinching the skin between the eyes to cure headache, rubbing a coin on the neck, or pinching the skin of the neck, which is also believed to bring the bad blood to the surface. When found on the neck, it can be mistaken as sexual activity.


The four (4) T's (TTTT) tattoo is normally found on hard-core gang members, who have done prison time or youth authority time. It is believed that this is an Asian prison type gang, however, this has not been confirmed.

The tattoo is usually done in Gothic style script, but, has been observed in other writing styles. It is usually found on the back of the neck, the back torso, the front torso and on the arms. It has also been seen on fingers, legs and hands.

The four T's have meaning:


A fifth T is sometimes included (THO), which means REVENGE.


The Black Panther tattoo is a sign of power and can be intimidating to the general Asian public. It has been a common tattoo for Asian gang members.

Some of the panthers will have a single red nail on the paw. This shows a willingness to kill, or could indicate they have already killed. It has been found on the arms, chest and shoulders and with the four T's.


Like the Panther, the tiger is also a sign of power or strength. It has been found on the arm, chest, back and shoulders. It has not been consistently found on any particular gang.


This is a very common Asian tattoo, not only with gang members, but also with non-gang members. Dragons are a sign of power and can indicate martial art skills. The dragon is also in the Asian culture. The tattoo has been found on Black Dragon gang members, but not exclusive to them.


These are common with the Wah-Ching and Viet-Ching. The tattoos can be very colorful, or simple with only black ink used. The eagle tattoo has been observed with extended claws, items hanging from the beaks and with extended wings. A red claw has also been observed and seems to be more common with hard core members.


The King Cobra snake is found only in Southeast Asia and is a common tattoo for the "King Cobra Boyz", a Laotian gang from the Fresno (CA) area.


The tear drop indicates jail time and is usually found on the harder core gang members or criminals.

Note: Tear drop tattoos are not used exclusively by Asian gang members.  The open and closed tear drops are also used by White, Hispanic, and Black gang members.  

The open tear drop is supposed to indicate that the wearer has killed someone.  

The closed tear drop is supposed to indicate that the wearer has lost a family member, a fellow gang member or close friend. 

It should be noted that the original meanings of the tear drop tattoos have changed over time and the meaning may or may not be opposite from what you think it is.


The dots are usually in groups of three or five small dot tattoos.  The most common locations are the web of the hands, the wrist and elbows.  They have the same meaning as the cigarette burn marks.

NOTE: The use of "dots" as a tattoo is not used exclusively by Asian gangs. A tattoo of three dots in a triangle, usually found between the thumb and forefinger, has several meanings. The dots may stand for "mi vida loca" ("my crazy life"). They may also be referred to as "party dots." And finally, they may represent a gang known as Los Vatos Locos (The Crazy Dudes or Guys) gang. Only the person wearing the dots knows what they mean to him or her.

Along with the pachuco cross, the number 187, and the slang tattoo "Thug Life", the three dots is a popular "generic" tattoo, particularly among Latino teenagers, and has no direct connection to gangs.




Robert Walker

This page was last updated on 03/13/2014

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