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The Art of Chinese Seal Carving

By Amy Wong

Posted: 8th January 2015 10:37

What is a carved seal and why were they used?

Seal carving (篆刻 zhuànkè) is a traditional Chinese art that combines calligraphy with carving.  Traditionally, carved seals were used personally by Chinese emperors, nobles and officials to authenticate important documents.  After time, the art of seal carving grew into a trained skill carried out by artisans and craftsmen, and the seals created thought to reflect how cultured the makers were.  It then became popular for painters and calligraphers to use seals as signature of their work, and nowadays, people still choose to use seals as an alternative way to sign their name or to acknowledge ownership. 

The first materials for seals were found to be made from animal bones and can be traced back to over 3,000 years ago during the Shang Dynasty.  These days they are more commonly made out of carved stone, though they can also be made using copper, jade, marble, wood and even erasers for novice learners of the craft today.  The bottom surface is intricately crafted into a name or pattern using special tools, which can be stamped with ink in order to transfer the designs onto flat surfaces.  The art is still appreciated and carried out by skilled seal carvers today, coming in a variety of shapes, sizes and styles.

Why practice seal carving today?

Seal carving is great way to learn more about Chinese culture, tradition, calligraphy and writing.  For those learning the Chinese language already, it can be a fantastic opportunity to understand the artistic nature of how Chinese characters are built, their individual aesthetics as well as grouped together.  For artists, they can appreciate the high degree of skill required and thought that goes into the composition of the work: arrangement, density and spacing, are important aspects that affect the balance of the design, all within such a small surface area.

Cultural Events and Activities at Hutong School

Seal carving is just one example of the varied cultural events and activities that Hutong School arrange as part of their Intensive Chinese and Internship Programs in Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu.  By participating in our events which are included in your program, you will expand your entire experience of living in China.  With experts in the field invited to give our classes, you can also enjoy calligraphy, kung fu, tai chi, paper cutting and Chinese painting classes to name a few.  Along the way, you will meet other like-minded people from around the world and form friendships and memories to last a lifetime.  It may take many years to master seal carving or other traditional Chinese art practices, but we all have to start somewhere.

Discover more about Hutong School's unique and exciting programs in the Asia & Australasia 2015 iGap Travel Guide