Chinese seals have been used for centuries to create impressions with ink. These impressions, often consisting of names or symbols, are used as signatures or marks of authorship in everyday transactions and are deeply engrained in Chinese culture.
Made with stone, ivory, plastic, bamboo, or even metal, the seals are specially carved by artisans or seal makers. Seals can also be carved on more affordable soapstone. Some people even make their own.
Unlike using a handwritten signature, which is easy to forge, a seal imprint can serve as identification because only the seal’s owner will have access to that unique imprint. Today, they are often used with another form of identification, but still have deeply symbolic meaning.
Usually engraved by hand, the most important part of a Chinese chop is the portion that becomes the stamping surface. Some chops are also embellished with elaborate sculptures or engravings over the decorative top surface of the chop.
In China, most everyone has at least one seal with their personal name on it, while some people have various sets of seals, used for different purposes. Seals can be used on everything from letters to checks and bank identification. To this day, the seal validates a person’s identity, along with newer forms of I.D., in everything from government affairs to personal correspondence.
You’ll often notice a seal mark on Chinese artwork and paintings, the distinguishing imprint of the author or artist and the enduring proof of authenticity. Owners of the artwork also imprint their collections with their seal mark as a mark of appreciation.
Official Government Seals
The emperors of China and their families once made square-shaped seals from jade, hardwood, or precious metal. The seals typically did not bear names, but official titles. Famous seals of the past include the Heirloom Seal of the Realm, used by the first Chinese emperor to legitimize his throne under heaven.
Traditional square seals are still made and used by China officials, both for symbolic and personal reasons. As a ceremonial act, the President of the Republic of China is known to receive the Seal of the Republic of China and the Seal of Honor during the inaugural ceremony.
Personal seals can take many different forms. They can be engraved with a person’s name, whether it is a family name, style name, or a combination of a personal name and a place of origin. This seal type is frequently used in letters.
Rather than using a name, a personal seal can also contain a preferred philosophy, message, or symbol. Shapes or animals, sayings or proverbs, and good luck talismans are favorites for this type of seal, used for well wishing, letter sealing, or as a protective symbol.
Finally, a seal can contain the name of a private business or studio. Companies can create their own seals, as can artists with pen names. These seals can be used to denote ownership and appreciation of books and artwork, as well as the substitute for a signature.
The chop itself can be a cheap novelty souvenir or a well-made treasure. Regardless of its craftsmanship, every seal comes with a plastic or ceramic container of seal paste, which it needs to become of use.
Silk based pastes are thick, oil, and bright red in appearance. Plant based pastes have spongy textures and are darker red in appearance. These also tend to dry out more quickly. Both types contain substances like cinnabar mixed in for texture and color.
Chops are applied with pressure onto the paste, then pressed into the printing surface. Plant based seals require less pressure than the silk based seals.
Chops as Artwork
Because of the history, tradition, and craftsmanship involved with Chinese chops, they are a highly venerated part of society. Chop engravers are well respected, and fine art exhibitions and classes have a special place for Chinese chops. Chops are also used in different ways in Japan and Korea.
Mrs. Lin’s Kitchen Good Luck and Zodiac Chops
Now you can boast a Chinese chop of your own, or buy one as a very special cultural gift for a friend. We’ve searched far and wide for the most auspicious Chinese symbols carved on our Good Luck chops. These chops seal your imprint of happiness, tranquility, longevity, love, beauty, and more to distinguish your correspondences in a unique way.
We also carry Zodiac chops, made from carved soapstone and including a porcelain container of ink for all twelve of the Chinese zodiac personalities. To ensure your Good Luck or Zodiac chop lasts a lifetime, we even carry refills of Engraved Dragon Ink and Red Calligraphy Ink.