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Nina

Any help with the Seal Script characters?

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WRMCNAIR

Kent: Pardon my ignorance of forum protocol. I followed your discussion of seal forms. My interest is primarily in seal carving - manipulating forms with at least some vague notion of the etymological house of mirrors these graphs float around in, but (alas) with almost no understanding of the Chinese language.

With language skill lacking, where & how can I obtain a copy of the Shuowen (or other good compilation of archaic forms)?

Russell

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kentsuarez

Are you interested in reading about seals and seal carving in English, or rather, in how to look up the various graphic forms of a particular character in order to carve it (or otherwise use it in art, as one can also mold them in clay, paint them, etc.)? The resources will be different in each case. I assume from your message that it is the latter. I have a dictionary in which you can look characters up by their so-called "radical", a key graphic component used to index them so you can look them up in a dictionary even if you don't know the pronunciation. It then gives the seal form, as well as various examples of carved seal forms. The two differ, since the tall seal forms of the Warring States Qin state to the Qin dynasty are not necessarily suited to the shape of the seal face. As early as this period, you'll find examples of carved seals in which the graphs have been squared somewhat, and sometimes simplified. But the bigger shift comes in the Han dynasty, when the squaring was more pronounced, and there was an effort to thicken the lines, and add or omit or bend strokes to fill all the available surface. This is known as the classic Han carved seal style. My book has multiple examples of this style for each graph. There are multiple examples because the artist has freedom to decide how to modify the forms to fit the seal. I will look up the name of this book when I get home and edit this message to include it and its publisher info.

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WRMCNAIR

Your assumption is correct. I'm actually involved in carving these things and incorporating "chops" into other art works... I have a book I bought in China a few months ago similar to the one you describe (ISBN 7-5305-1004-5) that's pretty usefull, but it only offers 3 or 4 examples (I suppose "classic (Qin(?))small seal" (is that a meaningful label?), a squared-off version, "bronze characters", and some "oracle bone characters"). It only has 3330 entries.

I'm actually in the process of expanding my knowledge of the language itself, but without a program, and not very diligently at that. I'm mostly interested in the visual aspect but realize it's rather difficult to tease the images out of the language without understanding it...

Thanks for the response!

Russell

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WRMCNAIR

K.S.: By the way, I took your advice and purchased "The Composition of Common Chinese Characters - An Illustrated account" which is very interesting (the cartoons are rather curious, though) & ordered "Chinese Writing (Qiu Xigui)....

Russell

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kentsuarez

Russell wrote: "I have a book I bought in China a few months ago similar to the one you describe (ISBN 7-5305-1004-5) that's pretty usefull, but it only offers 3 or 4 examples (I suppose "classic (Qin(?))small seal" (is that a meaningful label?), a squared-off version, "bronze characters", and some "oracle bone characters"). It only has 3330 entries."

Yes, the standard form of small seal characters which everyone thinks of is the form imposed as the national, formal standard in the Qin dynasty, when China was first unified. It is the form you'll see listed as "seal" in dictionaries like Shuowen. But from your description above, I'm guessing that the "squared off version" is most likely clerical script, since books listing OB, bronze and seal usually add a clerical version, and then of course the modern standard kai or kaishu character. THere are many websites introducing these; for a quick pic, see for example http://www.mmtaylor.net/Literacy_Book/DOCS/03.html.

The carved seal style evolved over time. For example, at http://www.china-tour.cn/discoverynews.asp?NewsID=367, the first exapmle shows a late Warring States to Qin style; while at

http://www.chinavoc.com/shop/scripts/prodList.asp?idCategory=16

the 2nd and 4th examples at the top are classic Han style carving, as is the second at http://sealcarving.forperfect.com/stamp01.php, and most of the examples at http://home2.pacific.net.sg/~tansoofang/history.html, except for the few purportedly Yin (Shang dyn) seals, which I should mention were not excavated by archaeologists; their origin cannot be confirmed!

The squared carved seal forms are often called Han seal forms, as they were popular for carving on seals in the Han dynasty. They are a derivative of the Qin seal characters, but the style is obviously different. Han seal characters written with brush and carved into stelae are very close to the classic Qin seal forms, even though they are carved, because the stele was a very formal medium, and space was not limited.

Most of the carved seal characters nowadays are in the Han carved seal style, although a few, often if there are only two characters involved on a square seal, will use the tall, elegant, curved Qin seal style. Some combine the influences of the two, e.g., http://www.tourroundchina.com/seal.htm

The book I mentioned is specific to *carved* Han seal variations. I'm still looking for it, will add details shortly. But for artistic purposes in general, the normal Qin seal graphs are a nice start.

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kentsuarez

WRMCNAIR, for artistic and seal-carving purposes, Shuowen will not be helpful. All SW has is a single seal character, followed by 19th century block-printed analyses, in modern script. The indices are very hard to use even IF you are proficient in Chinese. You'll be wasting your money.

Instead, you want something like this: 印譜大字典, 527pp HC.

For my surname 蘇 su1 for example, it gives the modern kaishu graph, then the seal graph from Shuowen, followed by 5 examples of carved seal layouts, 5 bronze script examples, and 7 actual seal impressions in a variety of styles. I think this will be of much more use to you for artistic inspiration. The index is bushou only, without specific page or index numbers by graph, so you have to go to the page where the bushou begins then flip through till you see your graph.

Bizarrely, it has no publisher info anywhere! The torn, glued-in tag in the back, however, says 中和筆莊 zhong1he2bi3zhuang1, 高雄市建國三路145號 which in Taiwan's crappy romanization would probably be Chungho Bichuang, Kaohsiung City, Chienkuo Three Rd., #145. The binding is light beige, with gold lettering in brush-written clerical script.

Does anyone else have better publisher info on this book?

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WRMCNAIR

Kent: Thanks for the links. Some of them I had already found, but the Shixiang Fan site had lots of usefull images.

Your index of forms sounds very interesting but unlikley to be obtainable.

If I took a piece of known text in modern Chinese and simply substituted archaic forms graph per graph, would the result be meaningful, or can you even generalize the outcome of such a blind mechanical method?

Russell

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kentsuarez

"If I took a piece of known text in modern Chinese and simply substituted archaic forms graph per graph, would the result be meaningful, or can you even generalize the outcome of such a blind mechanical method? "

Russell

There are already fonts available for this purpose, btw, including a couple of small seal fonts. Don't know why I didn't think of mentioning this as a resource previously.

Yes, it's meaningful; the question is really one of legibility. It is already customary to write some commercial signs, store names etc. in older fonts. Usually, this is limited to clerical, as its very close relationship to the modern kai (kaishu) script means that it is quite legible, and sometimes the clerical style is applied to modern structures to make up for any lack of legibiilty. (As folks who've studied Han stelae as calligraphy models can tell you, if folks went back to the real Han dyn. clerical sources, they'd find that the structures are sometimes hard to understand.)

It's also common to occasionally use a small amount of seal script for this purpose, in hotel logos, library names, greeting cards, holiday-related decorations, and so on. You'll see people pausing, trying to decipher it, with mixed success depending on how close the structure of the particular characters are to that of kaishu. And people vary in their ability to read it. Of course, people learn to read the ones they see more often, such as New Year's greetings.

You can also find, in calligraphy shops, books which convert modern spring couplets and auspicious phrases into older scripts. I even have one with oracle bone (OB) writing like this. However, extremely few people would be able to actually read the result!!!

There is also a related issue, which is that sometimes more than one modern graph may share the same ancestor, typically with each one adding a different semantic component, or perhaps with one form not adding anything. Thus, if you go back to the authentic ancestor, it is harder for people to read, and easy for them to misunderstand as being a different graph. Sometimes you can add an archaic form of the relevant semantic (or phonetic, as the case might be), and increase legibility by creating an artificial graph, authentic in flavor but not in structure.

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