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Kinds of Chinese Chop Carving

A Chinese chop is a carved stamp or seal that is used in place of a handwritten signature, and it's a vital and necessary tool in business across China as well as the rest of Asia. It may seem simple enough but the chop system is actually a complex cultural phenomenon with more to it than meets the eye.

How They Are Used

First of all, there are several different kinds of chops based on how they are being used.

You'll find the widest range of seal uses in the business world. Not only is there a main chop that represents the legal authority of the company but there are many others that are used specifically on invoices, bank transactions, tax documents and sales contracts. With separate chops for these purposes in each department, a business may have a large collection of seals at its disposal.

Artists also have their own seals that they use to identify themselves on their works of art. Add the various types of personal name and family chops, and you can see how wide their usage is.

Design and Style

Even across this range of purposes, there are further variations on how these Chinese chops are actually carved.

In terms of design, there are two fundamental options for a chop: carved in relief so that the characters are inked on white background (known as the Yang style), or the reverse where the characters are carved into the stone, leaving the background to pick up the ink with white lettering (the Yin style).

Given their relatively small size, only a few characters will fit on a chop. For personal use, this would usually just be someone's name and may include decorative symbols. Business chops would reference the company, or may have employee titles or department names instead. Chops used by artists to mark their work would more likely have a creative flair to the characters.

The body or handle of the chop can be a simple cylinder or rectangular block, or it can be quite decorative and fully carved with intricate designs.

What Chops are Made From

The materials that go into making a chop are diverse, and you can find seals carved in stone, metal, ivory, bamboo, other woods or even plastic. The more traditional approach is stone, which makes them very durable to be used for many years. Soapstone and jade are the most common stone seal materials though some of the oldest chops found were made of bronze.

The "ink" used with Chinese chops is more like a paste, and it is typically red. Some varieties are made with a paste of vermillion and fine silk strands, and some use plant fiber instead of the silk. In either case, it creates a dark stamped impression that can take several minutes to fully dry.

Between use, style and material, you'll find that there is a multitude of different kinds of Chinese chops out there, even though they have such a simple purpose.