|Second only to the
greatness, these dog-like lions, known as fu-dogs, are entrenched in
the traditions of Asian culture. Originally brought into Asia as gifts to
emperors, lions were elevated to a divine status with the introduction of
Buddhism in ancient China. Acting as guardians, fu dogs protected temples,
official buildings and homes.
|Chinese guardian lions are also called Fu (Foo)
Lions, lions of Buddha, or sometimes stone lions (石獅, Pinyin: Shíshī). In
pre-modern China, it was believed that guardian lions have powerful mythic
Therefore, they traditionally stood in front of Chinese
Imperial palaces, temples, emperors' tombs, government offices, and the
homes of government officials and the wealthy from the
Dynasty (206 BD -220 AD), until the end of the empire in 1911.
Nowadays, pairs of Chinese guardian lions are still
common decorative and symbolic elements at the entrances to restaurants,
hotels, supermarkets and other structures, with one sitting on each side of
Stone lions are not only common in China but also in other
places around the world where the Chinese people have immigrated and
settled, especially in local Chinatowns.
Male Lion in the
forbidden City in Beijing, China
|The lions are traditionally carved from decorative
stone, such as marble and granite or cast in bronze or iron. Because of the
high cost of these materials and the labor required to produce them, private
use of Imperial guardian lions was traditionally reserved for wealthy or
elite families. Indeed, a traditional symbol of a family's wealth or social
status was the placement of Imperial guardian lions in front of the family
Lions of Fo are always created in pairs, with the
male playing with a ball or globe and the female with a cub. The male sits on
the left and the female on the right.
The male lion has his right paw on a ball or globe, which
represents the "Flower of life" The female is essentially identical, but has
a single cub under her left paw, representing the cycle of life.
Symbolically, the female fu lion protects those dwelling inside, while the
male guards the structure. Sometimes the female has her mouth closed, and
the male open. This symbolizes the enunciation of the sacred word "om".
However, Japanese adaptations state that the male is
inhaling, representing life, while the female exhales, representing death.
Other styles have both lions with a single large pearl in each of their
partially opened mouths. The pearl is carved so that it can roll about in
the lion's mouth but sized just large enough so that it can never be
There are various styles of imperial guardian lions
reflecting influences from different time periods, imperial dynasties, and
regions of China. These styles vary in their artistic detail and adornment
as well as in the depiction of the lions from fierce to serene.
Beijing Dragon in the forbidden City