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秦以前,无论官,私印都称“玺”,秦统一六国后,规定皇帝的印独称“玺”,臣只称“印”。汉代也有诸侯王、王太后称为“玺”的。唐武则天时因觉得“玺”与“死”近音(也有说法是与“息”同音),遂改称为“宝”。唐至清沿旧制而“玺”“宝”并用。汉将军印称“章”。之后,印章根据历代人民的习惯有:“印章”、“印信”、“记”、“朱记”、“合同”、“关防”、“图章”、“符”、“契”、“押”、“戳子”等各种称呼。先秦及秦汉的印章多用作封发对象、简牍之用,把印盖于封泥之上,以防私拆,并作信验。而官印又象征权力。后筒简牍易为纸帛,封泥之用渐废。印章用朱色钤盖,除日常应用外,又多用于书画题识,遂成为我国特有的艺术品之一。古代多用铜、银、金、玉、琉璃等为印材,后有牙、角、木、水晶等,元代以后盛行石章。

古代印章的起源

  中国的雕刻文字,最古老的有殷的甲骨文,周的钟鼎文,秦的刻石等,凡在金铜玉石等素材上雕刻的文字通称“金石”。玺印即包括在“金石”里。玺印的起源或说商代,或说殷代,至今尚无定论。根据遗物和历史记载,至少在春秋战国时已出现,战国时代已普遍使用。起初只是作为商业上交流货物时的凭证。秦始皇统一中国后,印章范围扩大为证明当权者权益的法物,为当权者掌握,作为统治人民的工具。

  战国时期,主张合纵的名相苏秦佩戴过六国相印。近几年来,出土的文物又把印章的历史向前推进了数百年。也就是说,印章在周朝时就有了。

  传世的古代玺印,多数出于古城废墟、河流和古墓中。有的是战争中战败者流亡时所遗弃,也有在战争中殉职者遗弃在战场上的,而当时发动机惯例,凡在战场上虏获的印章必须上交,而官吏迁职、死后也须脱解印绶上交。其它有不少如官职连姓名的,以及吉语印、肖形印等一般是殉葬之物,而不是实品。其它在战国时代的陶器和标准量器上,以及有些诸侯国的金币上,都用印章盖上名称和记录上制造工匠的名姓或图记性质的符号,也被流传下来。

  古玺是先秦印章的通称。我们现在所能看到的一般最早的印章大多是战国古玺。这些古玺的许多文字,现在我们还不认识。朱文古玺大都配上宽边。印文笔画细如毫发,都出于铸

造。白文古玺大多加边栏,或在中间加一竖界格,文字有铸有凿。官玺的印文内容有“司马”、“司徒”等名称外,还有各种不规则的形状,内容还刻有吉语和生动的物图案。朱文古玺大多加边栏,或在中间加一竖界格,文字有铸有凿。官玺的印文内容有“司马”、“司徒”等名称外,还有各种不规则的形状,内容还刻有吉语和生动的物图案。

The first record of a seal in China is from 544 BC. Actual bronze seals survive from the 5th century BC, and the practice of sealing must be some centuries older. The emblematic characters cast on Shang Dynasty (1600-1046 BC) bronze vessels imply the use of something like a seal for impressing on the mold. The royal seal and other seals of high office were termed xi (璽); other seals of rank and appointment were yin (印). In the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907), it is said that Empress Consort Wu (武则天) disliked the fact that xi (璽) was close in sound to death (si, 死) or rest (xi, 息), so she changed the name of seals to treasure (bao, 宝). In subsequent centuries, both names were used. The imperial seal was traditionally large and square, often made of jade.

The most important of these seals was the Heirloom Seal of the Realm (傳國璽), which was created by the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang (秦始皇), and was seen as a legitimizing device embodying or symbolizing the Mandate of Heaven. The Heirloom Seal was passed down through several dynasties, but was lost by the beginning of the Ming Dynasty. Besides the Heirloom Seal, the Emperor also had a set of other imperial seals, and the number gradually increased over the years. In the Qing Dynasty, the Qianlong emperor selected a total of 25 seals for official use.

The private seals (印鑑, 圖章 or 印章) used in China, commonly square and reading merely “seal of so and so”, served as a confirmation of signature or a sign to be verified. They are made of stone, ivory, wood, or jade. Used by artists and collectors to mark their calligraphies, paintings and books, there is hardly a limit to their fanciful designs and phraseology. A man might own scores of seals, using his many sobriquets, especially those suggesting unworldly and rustic tastes. A seal is impressed in red ink—made of cinnabar in water and honey or suspended in sesame oil, hempseed oil, etc.—held ready on a pad of cotton or moss. The characters can be carved either in relief (阳雕), or in intaglio (阴刻). The former type appears in red (zhuwen, 朱文 or 阳文); while the latter appears in white (baiwen, 白文 or 阴文) against the inked ground.

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