Chinese Seal. Picture taken at the Shanghai Bowuguan (Shanghai Museum)
…or no, actually, sealed with a seal. Most likely one of the most popular souvenirs, next to fans, calligraphy scrolls, waving-Mao watches, and pirated DVD’s with Chinglish descriptions, Chinese seals (印鉴 yìnjiàn or 印章 yìnzhāng) are essentially name stamps, often indicating a personal name, office, or studio, used by artists, officials, and writers to sign any piece of writing, document, or artwork. They fulfill the function of a signature, finger print, or modern day e-signature, but are, in my opinion, aesthetically much more pleasing. And while in the West seals are often associated with medieval times and fancy rings (or cute baby animals, but that’s not the point), Chinese seals are usually made out of stone, jade, or even wood, and range in shape from rectangles and squares, to crazy elaborate forms. They come in two general types: zhūwén 朱文(red characters) and báiwén 白文 (white characters). In red character seals (for example the stamp at the top left of the photograph) the area surrounding the characters is carved out, allowing the characters themselves to get covered with seal paste (ink) and leave an imprint. White character seals are the exact opposite (top right). The characters themselves are carved out, and the seal paste covers the surrounding areas, leaving the characters blank when a print is made.