Chinese Seals, Yinzhang

The role of seals in the Chinese culture can hardly be underestimated. For the last 3,000 years they have been used in both official and private spheres. The earliest examples of seals come from the Shang dynasty (BCE 16-11 c.) from the archeological sites at Anyang.

However very little is known about their usage at this early stage, it is only starting from the Spring and Autumn period (BCE 722-481) that we begin to see an increased quantity of seals paired with textual references to them. According to a Han dynasty story, the first seal was given to the Yellow Emperor by a yellow dragon with a chart on its back.

Another story says that it was given to Emperor Yao by a phoenix as the emperor was sitting in a boat. In any case, the receipt of the seal signifies the conferral of the Mandate of Heaven. He who has the seal possesses the Mandate of Heaven, in other words, he has been given the right to rule the empire. So when Tang, the first ruler of the Shang dynasty overthrows the last tyrant of the previous Xia dynasty, he seizes the royal seal and thus establishes his power.

Chinese seal art is considered a precious jewel in Chinese art treasure house. People described it with the following words, within a square inch, things change in countless ways. It means that there is a great variety of seals in China. There are imperial jade seals of different colors, exquisitely carved jade seals, unusual copper seals etc., all of them are deeply treasured by Chinese collectors of different dynasties. Because of the cheap price, everybody can collect and play seals.

Chinese seals culture has a long history. It started in the Yin and Shang Dynasties, sprang up in Qin and Han Dynasties (221 B.C -220 A.D.) and became prosperous in the Ming and Qing Dynasty (1368 A.D.-1911 A.D.). Different people appreciate seals in different ways, it depends on their personal style.

Being a particular art form of China, Chinese seals have special symbols of expression Chinese calligraphy. It has special tools and techniques. At the beginning, seals carving was an action of appreciation of the beauty, but later some people (artistically accomplished) joined the seals carving and became the main part, thus made it a complete appreciation of the beauty. It is the combination of spirits and emotions of beauty appreciation of Chinese artists.

The charm of Chinese seals practically lies in the two processes cutting and carving.

Seal cutting lies in calligraphy. The two processes, cutting and carving have a lot to do with calligraphy and knife using skills. Mottoes (characters on seals) and calligraphy mix together naturally. Knife using skills are demonstrated because they are used to express the mottoes. The mottoes absorb the lingering charm of cutting and casting. While cutting mottoes, people pursue the charm of stones and the skill of using knives, while carving the seal, people pursue the charm of writing. Mottoes absorbed the style of calligraphy, boldly adopted the writing structure of official script and broke through the conventions of seal character.

The expressive force is enriched, delicate and possessed with extraordinary inner beauty. People who favors calligraphy stand for that all the seals should demonstrate calligraphy style, but those who pay special attention on the carving advocate that seals should focus on the charm of carving. A well made seal, the higher density of carving style, mottoes, knife using skills it contains, the purer its style is, the more powerful its form becomes, the stronger its influence is, the more concentrated its charm is and the longer it can be played with. Seals like this have uninterrupted flows of life.

There are four kinds of crafts for making Chinese seals

The first The characters are directly engraved onto the seals which have the delicate and succinct style.

The second Round sculpture is another frequently used method in making seals, the animals and characters engraved on the seals are so lifelike and vivid.

The third Relief sculpture is also used for making seals. The main content on this kind of seals is bats, cloud stripes and some other mascots. Seals made by this method are colorful and gorgeous.

The fourth Bo Yi is another technique, which combines the method of relief sculpture and bamboo engraving techniques into one. It is the mixture of all the Chinese traditional paintings.