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March 9, 2021

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Precious ancient seals have a human story to tell

A grand seals exhibition at Shanghai Han Tianheng Art Museum tells the story of their history and development. More than 70 percent of the exhibits are shown in public for the first time.

The exhibition features seals, albums and materials not only collected by the museum, but also 580 items on loan from the Xiling Seal Engraver’s Society and Henan Seal Society, both renowned seal societies in China, and private collectors from home and abroad.

Seals have accompanied human development and were important tokens or certificates during social communication. Apart from their practical use, China’s seals have value as art.

The first seal in China was thought to have been made 3,000 years ago in the Shang Dynasty (16th-11th centuries BC).

One highlight of the exhibition is a seal made of gold during the Three Kingdoms Period (AD 220-280) with a tortoise on top. In ancient times, there was a strict rule of seal usage as seals represented the dignity of a man, and only high-level officials could use one.

After paper was widely used in the Southern and Northern Dynasties (AD 420-581), seals were used more often on paper rather than bamboo or wood slips, which gave birth to the inkpad and drove the development of seal.

With scholars blooming during the mid- and late Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), another peak of seal carving in the Ming and Qing dynasties appeared.

The seals were practical in the past, but no longer had that function in the mid-Ming Dynasty after scholars could make a seal of their own instead of asking professionals to make one. Since then, seals weren’t limited to owners’ names, but included poems to express self-ambition as well.

Such trends passed down to the Qing Dynasty with a variety of styles popping up, reaching another peak of Chinese seal-cutting. On display are 116 seals made during the period, covering artists including Wen Peng, He Zhen, Deng Shiru, Wu Xizai and Wu Changshuo.

Date: Through May 5 (closed on

Mondays), 9am-5pm

Venue: Han Tianheng Art Museum

Address: 70 Bole Road, Jiading District


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