Visitors to China maybe amazed at the many souvenir shops where the service of "Seal Engraving" is readily available. Very often, the engraver claimed that the seal for a name will be finished in 15 minutes—less the time the visitors usually stay in a souvenir shop. And many foreign businessmen who are used to signing their name in a contract found with astonishment that their Chinese counterparts preferred to use seals.
To the Chinese, a seal was for many centuries a symbol of power. The emperor's seal was called "Xi'',and it gave authority to all his inferiors, and governments all issued orders under official seals. In other words, the seals stood for different levels of government corresponding powers. Nowadays, the central Chinese government offices use brass as a rule while local offices wood ones.
The art of seal engraving can be traced back to more than 3000 years to the Yin dynasty when the cutting of inscriptions on tortoise shells were the only way that the ideas of human being called be recorded. It developed rapidly in the Qin dynasty when people engraved their names on utensils and documents to claim ownership or for verification in social contact.
As we all know, traditional Chinese painting is a harmonious combination in the same picture of the arts of painting, calligraphy with engraving skills and the arts of arranging Chinese character into imaginative patterns in a very limited space. A master seal engraver must be able to write different styles of the Chinese scripts and arrange all the characters in a perfect balance. Like a master calligrapher, sometimes, he needs to exaggerate the thickness and thinness of a stroke, elaborately straighten or curve it, or even deliberately deform an ideogram to create an artistic effect.
The success of a seal is very much determined by the engraver's speed and strength of his wrist and finger movements, as well as the particular tool he uses. Also he should be very familiar with the various materials----jade, gold, brass, stone, wood and etc----so that he can apply his tool with the right exertion and rhythm.
A perfect seal is very much determined by the engraver's speed and strength of his wrist and finger movements, as well as the particular tool he uses. Also he should be very familiar with the various materials- jade, gold, brass, stone, wood and etc-so that he can apply his tool with the right exertion and rhythm.
Today, stone is the most widely used material in seal engraving. Among all the stones, Shoushan stones, which come from the northern outskirts of Shoushan County, Fuzhou City, are the most famous. The most valuable for engravers is Tianhuang Stone, a kind of Shoushan stone. It is said that the emperors of the Qing Dynasty used to put a piece of Tianhuang on the table for wealth and good luck when they held a ceremony to worship heaven.
Another precious stone is called Chicken Blood stone, which comes from Changhua County in Zhejiang Province. The " Chicken's blood" stone contains cinnabar which makes it look like blood splashed on the stone in a free pattern.
Nowadays, seals are still widely used, and the art of seal engraving has become more popular than ever before. More note-worthy is that many foreigners are now able to appreciate this art from which for a long time has been considered uniquely Chinese.