Published Mar 20 2013, by

Imperial Ancestral Seal


The Yongzheng emperor was a conscientious but mistrustful ruler whose administrative policies greatly influenced the government of his son and successor, the Qianlong emperor (reigned 1736–1795). Yongzheng’s far-flung administration, covering the expanse of China from the walled capital of the Forbidden City in Beijing, was a multifaceted organization steeped in the bureaucratic traditions of the preceding Ming dynasty (1368–1644). At the core of this imperial administration was a complex record-keeping system requiring multiple checks and balances, and official state documents were finalized through the use of ornate imperial seals.

This imperial ancestral seal is carved out of a single pebble of white neph­rite from Khotan. In traditional fashion, the exterior panels of the square base have been left undecorated to enhance the smooth sheen of the exceptional quality of the stone. The top is conventionally crowned by an ornate carving of a highly stylized double dragon, a symbol of imperial power, pierced through its midsection with a hole for a traditional silk tassel, here missing. The base is inscribed, in Chinese seal script, with a four-character seal, Yangxin shi bao (Treasure of the Chamber of the Cultivating Mind), a direct reference to the Yangxin Dian (Hall of the Cultivating Mind), which housed the formal residential quarters for the emperors of the Qing dynasty (1644–1911). Honor­ific seals such as this type were used, among other things, to document official inventories and, when not in use, were neatly lined up in rows on gvbstands or cabinets in special rooms in the Forbidden City.