Square or rounded emblem stamped on a document, painting, or piece of calligraphy to document authorship, ownership, or general appreciation. Seals and inscriptions have also been added to works of art over the course of centuries, as the work passes from collector to collector; thus, the study of seals can reveal the history of a work.
Making of seals by the literati first began in the late Yuan dynasty, and gradually became popular during the Ming dynasty with many different schools. It later gained status as one of the four arts of the literati, with the others being poetry, calligraphy and painting.
Seal carving was considered to be a gentleman's pastime in China, and many modern Chinese artists still carve their own seals. The emblems themselves may be carved in any hard material, most often stone or ivory. Impressions are always made in red ink.
Chicken-blood stone from Changhua in Zhejiang Province and tian-huang stone from Shoushan in Fujian Province are both excellent stones preferred by chop makers from the Ming and Qing dynasties. The former attracted the viewer with its bright coloring, while the latter had more gentle and warm nature. In order to increase the aesthetic beauty of the seal, the maker often carved a little embossment or skillfully carved the entire chop, to make appreciation of the seal more interesting.