A Seal Carved by Deng Shiru

A Seal Carved by Deng Shiru

In China, seals can be divided into two types. One is cut with personal identity details, such as family names, titles or the name a scholar gives to a study room.

The other type is called xian zhang 闲章, referring to seals cut with poems, mottoes, idioms or good wishes and has no link to the owner's identity.

Xian zhang seals are more cherished by seal-cutting experts and collectors as their various forms of cutting styles and inspiring words are more meaningful.

One of the xian zhang seals displayed in the Shanghai Museum belonged to the renowned seal-cutting expert and calligrapher Deng Shiru who lived in Anhui Province during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

Very few of his seal cuttings were preserved and the one displayed in the Shanghai Museum is a national treasure.

The seal has a sentence with eight characters: "Yin Du Gu Wen Gan Wen Yi Yan" (淫读古文甘闻异言).

The sentence, meaning "being immersed in countless classic books and glad to hear different views," is a quote from an ancient book, "Lun Heng" (meaning "Critical Essays"), written by Wang Chong, a famous Chinese philosopher of the Eastern Han Dynasty (AD 25-220).

On the vertical side of the seal is engraved the quote's origin, the date of cutting and Deng's nickname.

Deng is famous for creating a new style of seal-cutting using a combination of xiao zhuan (small seal script) and wei bei (tablet script) calligraphy styles, thus fostering a new appreciation of the old styles.

His combination hugely influenced the art circles of the Qing Dynasty. The cutting style he developed subsequently became one of the two main seal-cutting schools in China.

As a postscript, the great grandson of Deng's great grandson is Deng Jiaxian, the most famous physics scientist in China, and a leading organizer and key contributor to the Chinese nuclear weapons programs.