Chinese lions meaning: The Chinese Dragon

It is impossible to spend some time in China without becoming familiar with these stone, sometimes bronze lions. Indeed, there are so many of them that they tend to blend in with the scenery. These creatures are not only of historical interest or distinctive aspect of Chinese culture, but also works of art in themselves. Each one being a variation of the theme unique to the stonecutter who chiseled it out of the rock. In this article, we hope to help you in your appreciation of these creatures, and perhaps lead you to take a closer look the next time you come across one ! 🈴 🦁

"Chinese Lions", "Chinese guardian Lions" or "fu Dogs".


Meanings, symbols and how to recognize them.

Stone Lion history:

The stone lion is traditionally carved in stone. Common in Chinese architecture, such as imperial palace, temple, Buddha pagoda, bridge, mausoleum, mansion, gardens and so on. The lion indicates security and luck in China πŸ”±. There is a stone lion rite called "Kaiguan", which means to give light to the stone lion's eyes. If the stone lion has not received the rite, it is only a work of art and not a mascot in Chinese minds. The paired stone lions should stand symmetrically in front of the building. The male stone lion stands on the left hand, and the female stone lion stands on the right hand.

Generally, the stone lion refers to the paired lions outside the door; however, their appearance turns out to be that of lions we do not know. Perhaps most people in the central plains of ancient China had never seen the real lion. There is another saying that the lions in the ancient western region are different from those in Africa β™ŒοΈ.

These stylized guardian lions, known in Chinese as "Shi" or "Shishi" (ηŸ³η…), sometimes as "Fu Dogs", "Foo Dogs" in English, originated not in China, but in Persia. Presented as gifts to the Han court by Persian diplomats in the 6th century CE, they had become popular as guardian representations for the rich and powerful. The image of the lion has been particularly well regarded in China because of its associations with Buddhism in which it is considered the protector of spiritual teaching, or "dharma. For a time, representations of guardian lions were in a state of considerable evolution in terms of their stylized appearances, their poses, and the things with which they were associated πŸ™.

It was not until much later, during the Ming and Qing dynasties, that the imagery associated with guardian lions settled into its current form with two lions, one male and one female, at the entrance to the places they protect.

The male Lion:

The symbolism of the lions begins with their sex, a male and a female, reflecting the long Chinese Taoist tradition of yin and yang, familiar in the West where the white and black forms of the "tadpole" intertwine with their oppositely colored eyes. The male lion, symbol of the Yang. He usually has one paw resting on a ball. It may be surprising to know that the ball is actually meant to be embroidered and not, as one might expect, representative of a weapon or other male accessory 🏹.

The embroidered ball itself has a long history. Often made from discarded clothing as toys for children, their gifts became a symbol of friendship and affection. Even today in China, the throwing of an embroidered ball from a woman to her beloved in the hope that he will catch it to bring her luck is an aspect of courtship ➿

The male will tend to have an open mouth (the lion, not the lover), although the reasons for this are disputed. His primary function is the guarding of the structure itself in its solid materialism, and thus also other material aspects of the structure such as its solidity and general prosperity.

The female Lioness:

Just as the male lion is representative of the masculine attributes of yang, so the female is representative of the feminine power of yin. She is seen in the company of a cub, often held still under a protective paw, mirroring the male with his embroidered ball. This symbolizes her guardianship over those inside the building while the male guards the building itself. She is the power of life γŠ—οΈ

As the male lion tends to have an open mouth, the female is often depicted with her mouth closed. She is no less formidable than her male counterpart in representing her guardianship. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine a more formidable creature than a lioness protecting her cubs!

Both lions may have a bead in their mouths πŸ’ŽTraditionally, they were carved in such a way that they could move freely in the sculpture's mouth, but they were too large to escape through the teeth. The two lions together should be located in strict accordance with the practice and theory of "fengshui". When facing the lions from the outside, the male should be on the right, the female on the left, both looking outward into the world beyond their guard.

Cultural meanings:


The lion is said to have been introduced to China in the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) from the western region. In Chinese culture, the lion is a mythical figure rather than a real animal. With Kylin, the lion is considered the divine beast. After its introduction, the lion gradually became the mascot outside the door, because the Chinese believe that the lion can drive away evil spirits.

Another saying about why to take the stone lion as the gatekeeper is related to the pronunciation of the stone lion (Shishi) in Chinese. "Stone" sounds like 'Shi' in Chinese with the meaning of solid, and the second 'Shi' referring to the lion sounds like 'Si', with the meaning of 'thinking about'. Overall, the stone lion has the moral that it is difficult to start and maintain a business πŸ’Ή

Heritage as art:

The form of the lions may have stabilized in terms of common elements, but that still leaves a lot of room for the individual artist's interpretation in his or her representation. All of the images in this article are courtesy of the 100+ keepers at the hotel. Here we present a selection of their faces, so you can see the extraordinary range of inspiration that went into their creation. Once you've seen them, we hope you'll stop at the ones you pass on the street with a new appreciation, recognizing in them the ideas of the artists who created them rather than seeing "just another lion in stone."

China Highlights: Your gateway to Chinese cultural history
Taoism: Few nations on earth have a cultural heritage as rich and diverse as China's. Since 1959, China Highlights has specialized in opening this diversity to the interested visitor. Whatever your reasons for visiting the Middle Kingdom, China Highlights can tailor a tour to your specific needs.

The stone Lion galleryΒ 

To show the immense variation between individual lions, here are a few for you to examine. See the range of expressions, features and similarities. If some look similar to others, look again. Noses, eyes, mouths, teeth, stylized manes, each element makes each lion distinct from all its peers. Some with their heads turned to be seen in profile, some with their heads tilted in a quizzical fashion, some even with a cub on one shoulder. Find your favorite among them, or better yet, find your favorite in China itself by taking a closer look at this ancient Chinese traditional art form 🈯️.

Foo Dogs, meanings:

Foo dogs that are placed inside or outside a building are meant to protect your home or workplace from negative energy. It is said that these guardian lions will prevent anyone with malicious intent from entering your home. This could be, for example, jealous people or people who are trying to annoy you in any way. They may also be people who crush your dreams and plans. Their intentions may be good, but their negative concerns may set you back or, worse, cause you to abandon your dreams.
🦁Foo dogs are a reminder to keep all negative energy away from the house 🦁

Many offices, stores, hotels and restaurants may place these Chinese guardian lions outside on either side of the entrance. They are said to protect their business. They are meant to attract happy and satisfied customers and keep away troublemakers. Chinese Guardian Lions are a symbol of power and protection. They are found in every country where the Chinese have settled. Westerners have adopted this symbol of protection. They are now found in thousands of homes. Foo dogs are sold in all sizes to suit everyone's needs.

Why are they called "foo Dogs"?


Foo dogs can refer to the Chinese word Fó referring to Buddha or Fu which means blessing and prosperity. Fu is a very promising word in Chinese. It seems that some people thought that these stone lions looked like Chow Chow dogs and started calling them dogs instead of lions. This really caught on and they are widely known as Foo dogs or Fu dogs 🐢

Always have two Foo dogs!

Foo dogs should always be shown in pairs. You need a male and a female Foo dog. It's all about harmony and wholeness. It's about keeping the balance; the Yin and the Yang. The female and the male complement each other. Always keep the two together. Never place them in separate rooms. Traditionally πŸ‘ it is said that the male should be placed on the right side of the building and the female on the left side. The placement of the male and female is not an absolute rule. In so many places, opposite placements occur. Very often you will find the male on the left as you stand outside looking toward the building.

The conclusion must be that placement is not of absolute importance. The important thing is to always have a male and female working together for complete protection !

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