For hundreds of years they have been sitting at important gates. Under their gaze, no evil intent shall endure. The guardian lions have kept their place in the traditions until today. In the west they are mainly found in front of Chinese restaurants. In our kung-fu school, however, they guard the anteroom and the ancestral altar.
The guardian lions (also: Peking lions or Fu dogs) belong to a part of Chinese culture, which everyone has probably already encountered. Probably of Buddhist origin, their roots go back to about 200 B.C. They have spread widely in the Asian world. In whole China, but also in Japan (especially on Okinawa), in Shanghai, Korea, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Tibet and Vietnam they are known (of course under different names).
In most cases the guard lions are represented in pairs, one of them with a ball, the other with a lion cub under the paw.
The representation of the two lions naturally varies from country to country and also in the course of time. However, in both the Ming and the Qing Dynasties, statues were created as described above, although of course with different details.
Traditionally, the lions were made of stone or metal, which made them extremely expensive. Accordingly, they only stood in front of temples, palaces and the houses of high officials. So those who could afford guard lions also sent a clear signal of wealth and prosperity.
Lions were brought to China from foreign countries. Probably the Chinese word for lion ‘Shi’ comes from the Persian ‘Ser’, which underlines this fact. Maybe they became known for trade and as brought gifts. For this reason many stone lions do not look so much like lions – the artists often had to rely on descriptions and drawings if they wanted to make an appropriate representation.
The first known written mention of lions is in the ‘Book of the Later Han’. This was written in the second half of the Han Dynasty from 20 to 225 AD. At that time, according to these writings, a subjugated empire brought a probably Asian lion as tribute.
Independently of this, the lion was introduced in the Han period as a guardian spirit and guardian of Dharma over Buddhism. It is very likely that the role of guardian lion stems from this background.
The lion is considered the animal that can ward off evil spirits. According to folklore, nothing bad, neither spirit nor man with bad intentions, can happen to the guardian lions. The lion also denies bad influences access. These can come from sharp corners, illness, large crowds, prominent objects such as street lamps or obelisks and various other things that are said to be unlucky. Lions are considered to be loyal and consistent and are equipped with the ability to distinguish right from wrong.
In the representation in pairs there is usually a clear division of responsibilities. On the right is the male animal, the ball under his paw. It symbolizes possession and external power. Correspondingly, it is also responsible for reacting in case of danger from the outside and for taking defensive action. The lioness, on the left, is responsible for the security of the inside. The boy between her claws symbolizes family and the power of the inner being. Her task is to fight against attacks inside and to guarantee safety. Together the two lions keep evil away.