Sitting within sight as I write is my Chinese chop. It is a square piece of carved tan marble four inches tall and a little over an inch wide. The upper half is an intricately carved stylized dragon. Its bottom is a stamp of my initials, TG3 (for Thomas L. Glenn III, my payroll signature), as I scribbled them during my many years working and living in Asia. The initials look like a cursive Chinese character. My knowledge of Chinese obviously helped me shape my initials, even though I don’t remember doing it.
The word for this implement, “chop,” in English comes from the Hindi chaap, meaning stamp, imprint, seal or brand, or instrument for stamping. We use “chop” both as a noun and a verb, as a name for the object itself and to describe the act of stamping or sealing a document.
The chop—or seal—is used in China to sign documents and artwork. In looking into the history of the chop, I found out that its use goes back to the beginning of Chinese antiquity. According to the ThoughtCo website, “There are three Mandarin Chinese names for the Chinese chop or seal. The seal is most commonly called 印鑑 (yìn jiàn) or 印章 (yìnzhāng). It is also sometimes called 圖章 / 图章 (túzhāng).”
The same source reports that the Chinese normally use red ink to sign documents with a chop, but I usually use black. I don’t use the chop for official documents—chops are not accepted in the place of signatures in the U.S.—but I often chop letters to friends and family.
The chop is one of many links I have to my youthful years operating in Asia. It, along with my ceramic temple dog, porcelain elephants, and decorative garden seats, keep alive in my memory those happy and terrible days.