The Chinese Chop
Brandon Sanderson’s fantasy novella, The Emperor’s Soul, utilizes the Chinese chop as a tool for magic. In his novella a skilled artisan can use a chop to rewrite the history of an object to change an object or to change a person. An ugly glass jar can become an intricately designed porcelain vase. A woman who is actually a peasant could suddenly believe she is an empress in hiding. So what is a Chinese chop?
A chop is the Asian equivalent of a stamp or seal, and chops are not unique to China. Ever see those movies about European royalty? There might be a scene where someone pours a dab of wax onto a letter to seal it, and then stamps the wax with the royal insignia of a Duke or King. That’s a chop, except there’s no wax. There’s special red ink, and the chop or stamp is made out of polished stone with someone’s name carved into the bottom in a pattern. Owning a chop is like having your own royal seal, except you don’t have to be royalty to own one. I own one in fact.
I took a trip with my family to China in 2003. There a tour guide took us to a shop where Chinese chops were being made. I got one for myself and my boyfriend (now husband). My siblings also each got one. My parents thought we were all very cute and amusing and mostly rolled their eyes at their overly Americanized kids who thought chops were cool.
The thing is they are cool. In China chops are used for official business purposes. Companies and some people can’t get by without one. That gives them a lot of power so it makes sense to me that Brandon Sanderson decided to use them as a vehicle for magic in his novella.
The chops I bought don’t have any special powers. They’re not official in anyway, but it was still cool to buy them. The chop I got my husband is carved to look like a dragon, and he now knows how to spell his name in Chinese. Sort of.
For a more in-depth look at the chop, check out the these links from throughouthistory.com and the NY Times. If you decide you actually want to purchase your own chop, here’s a link to the National Geographic store.