Seal (East Asia)

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A seal, in an East Asian context, is a general name for printing stamps and impressions thereof that are used in lieu of signatures in personal documents, office paperwork, contracts, art, or any item requiring acknowledgment or authorship. China, Japan, Taiwan, Korea, and Vietnam currently use a mixture of seals and hand signatures, and increasingly, electronic signatures.

Chinese seals are typically made of stone, sometimes of metals, wood, bamboo, plastic, or ivory, and are typically used with red ink or cinnabar paste (). The word 印 ("yìn" in Mandarin, "in" in Japanese and Korean, pronounced the same) specifically refers to the imprint created by the seal, as well as appearing in combination with other ideographs in words related to any printing, as in the Japanese word "insatsu". The colloquial name chop, when referring to these kinds of seals, was adapted from the Malay word cap during the colonization of the Straits Settlements, and is still used to refer to rubber stamps.


In the past, fingerprints and handprints were used in East Asia for this function, being first impressed in clay, then printed on paper. This has been recorded since the 3rd century BCE in China – continuing for at least a millennium, and by the 8th century CE had spread to Japan. See history of fingerprints for details and reference. An important contrast with seals is that...
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