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The Qianlong Emperor's Three-connected Seals

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Period: Qianlong reign (1736-1795), Qing dynasty (1644-1911)
Date: datable to the first four years of the Jiaqing reign (1796-1799), Qing dynasty (1644-1911)
Dimensions: left: square shape, height: 1 cm, side length: 2.6 cm; middle: elliptical shape, height: 1 cm, long diameter: 3 cm, short diameter: 2.3 cm; right: square shape, height: 1 cm, side length: 2.6 cm

This set of seals is carved out of one piece of honey-colored stone after the Jiaqing reign when the former emperor retired. The three seals have different scripts and compositions.   
  The left seal has four characters in seal script (zhuan shu) in relief, reading "Qianlong Emperor's brushwork" (Qianlong chen han). The characters are in the common order-in two columns from the top right.   
  The middle one bears two characters in relief. The word "le tian" is from the Book of Changes (Zhou yi), meaning people should be guided by heaven. Flanking the characters are dragon patterns. Integrating characters and pictorial design recalls the style of the Han dynasty (206 B.C.-220 A.D.).   The right seal with incised characters reads "Be pure, be of one [mind]" or "weijing weiyi". This is a quotation from the Book of Documents (Shang shu), in which the Sage Emperor Yao gives to Yu, whom he had chosen to be his successor, advice on how to rule people and spread the "true way". The artist used a Han dynasty style that was popular among private scholars. The four characters are to be read in a circular fashion from the upper right; the two characters wei are in diagonal corners. This design creates an elegant and harmonious effect.   
  The Qianlong Emperor as well as later emperors all loved this set of seals. In 1924, when the last emperor Puyi was expelled from the imperial palace, he took it with him. Puyi kept it until 1950 when he returned this precious artifact to the Palace Museum.

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