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Symbolism of Chinese Lions in chinese culture


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#1 General_Zhaoyun

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Posted 08 December 2005 - 10:19 AM

I've been somewhat puzzled by the symbolism of chinese lion in chinese culture. Well, if you notice chinese buildings such as palace, temples or even some houses, it's a traditional practice to lay a pair of stone lions (one male and one female) outside the buildings.

I was told by my parents that the lions were there to 'protect' the building acting as some sort of guard. But I also read somewhere that "lion" also refer to China, which seems to originate from Napoleon's saying that "China is a sleeping lion going to awake". I don't know whether that's correct.

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Does anyone know the symbolism of chinese lion? What does it actually mean and represent?

Edited by General_Zhaoyun, 08 December 2005 - 10:20 AM.

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#2 fcharton

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Posted 08 December 2005 - 10:48 AM

I was told by my parents that the lions were there to 'protect' the building acting as some sort of guard. But I also read somewhere that "lion" also refer to China, which seems to originate from Napoleon's saying that "China is a sleeping lion going to awake". I don't know whether that's correct.


Napoleon is said to have said something like this, but I think the actual word he used was giant (although I have read tiger and dragon too...), the quote was (more or less)

There lies a sleeping giant. Let the giant sleep, for when he awakens, the world will tremble...

I have never heard westerners compare china with a lion, so far (a dragon, a lot, though)

Francois

#3 Yun

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Posted 08 December 2005 - 11:25 AM

I have always heard that the lions were guardians. In earlier times from the Han to the Tang, stone lions (along with more fanciful beasts like the pixiu) were used as tomb guardians, with especially large examples outside the mausoleums of emperors, royalty or aristocracy. The earliest example unearthed, dated to 147 AD, is from the famous Eastern Han Wu family tombs and shrines in Shandong. In the Yuan and Ming, the practice extended to having stone lions as guardians for houses.

The "sleeping lion" idea seems totally unlikely to me - the practice of using stone lions in front of houses predates Napoleon by many centuries.

This is a Han dynasty example from the Forest of Steles in Xi'an:

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The stone 'lions' at the Liang dynasty imperial mausolems near Nanjing are actually pixiu, but probably had much influence on later lions:

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But probably the biggest influence on later stone lions was the lions at Shunling, the mausoleum of Wu Zetian's mother Lady Yang: http://www.jllib.cn/...nling/index.htm (warning - image-heavy)

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BTW, this entire site http://www.jllib.cn/...d/homepage.html is a priceless resource on Tang dynasty imperial mausoleum statues. Lots of pictures, although text is in Chinese only.

Edited by Yun, 08 December 2005 - 11:35 AM.

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#4 TMPikachu

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Posted 10 December 2005 - 12:35 AM

I've heard that the Han had mastiffs (large dogs, I think Scooby Doo is one) as guard animals. That could be one origin of guardian statues. They're rather doggish don't you think? Stocky builds and all.
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#5 naruwan

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Posted 10 December 2005 - 03:46 AM

Originally these beasts (especially Han dynasty and before) weren't refered to as lions.

They were just 避邪 (BiXie)

I think Lion is a Indian influence as Buddhism imports the Lion as the symbolism as ultimate achiever (refering to Buddhas)

There's this Buddhist term called 三世一切人獅子 (All Human Lions (Buddha) from past, present and future).

Even the Han word for Lion 獅 should be a Indian translation.

As Srilanka means Lion. 獅 is a barrowed word, therefore taken the sound of 師 and adding animal to its side to indicate it is an animal.
mudanin kata mudanin kata. kata siki-a kata siki-a. muhaiv ludun muhaiv ludun. kanta sipal tas-tas kanta sipal tas-tas. kanta sipal tunuh kanta sipal tunuh. sikavilun vini daingaz sikavilun vini daingaz.

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#6 Yun

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Posted 10 December 2005 - 12:53 PM

They were just 避邪 (BiXie)


Yep, otherwise known as Pixiu - a mythological beast on which we have a recent thread in the Philosophy, Religion, and Mythology section: http://www.chinahist...?showtopic=7619
Never thought that the Pixiu figures inside the home had the same root as the stone lions at the gate, eh?

The first lions in China were sent as gifts from Central Asian states in the Han and Age of Fragmentation, and they were then known as 師子. As Naruwan mentions, Sri Lanka was also known to China as 師子, because of its original name of Simhala which is derived from the Sanskrit Simha/Sinha/Singha, which means 'lion'.

獅 is a word that was created much later on.

Lions became really big in China from the Tang dynasty on, because of Persian and Central Asian cultural influence. That's when you start having the lion dance and also the use of statues of lions per se (rather than pixiu) in imperial mausolems.

Edited by Yun, 10 December 2005 - 01:02 PM.

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#7 Yun

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Posted 31 December 2005 - 01:01 AM

I've just found a book with important info on how lions became popular door guardians in the Yuan and Ming. Will share it when I have the time.

It might also answer MengTzu's question about the 十三太保 in another thread. According to this book, the guardian lions in front of first-grade (highest-ranking) officials' homes had 13 curls of hair on their head, and were known as the Grand Guardian with Thirteen (十三太保).

Edited by Yun, 31 December 2005 - 01:05 AM.

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#8 Yun

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Posted 22 January 2006 - 08:35 AM

Here's an article about the lion-dog guardians of Japanese shrines. It says that the lion-dogs are derived from the two stone lions that are used to guard Buddha statues and the gates of Buddhist temples. So it looks like the transition of stone lions from tomb guardians to house guardians in China also owes something to Buddhism.

http://www.kyohaku.g...oku/komainu.htm
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#9 lanjingling

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Posted 26 March 2006 - 10:30 PM

've learnt recently that the name Singapore came from a Malaysian word meaning City of Lion. Assuming that "sing" means lion (almost the same as in Thai , we have the famous Singha beer , the lion brand :P ), does someone know why in the chinese transcription "xinjiapo" , the word xin --> new , as been used instead of shi -->lion ? I understand it sounds a bit better, but the meaning is totally different. Was it because using "new" for a new city sounded more auspicious ? But the lion is also a very good symbol of protection.& did the word "xinjiapo" appeared before or after Sir Raffles arrived in the then village ? Has someone got a hint ?

#10 Yun

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Posted 27 March 2006 - 03:41 AM

Xinjiapo 新加坡 is a relatively recent transliteration of Singapore, which is itself derived from the original Sanskrit (not Malay) name Singapura (lion city). The earlier Chinese transliterations included Shilepo 石叻坡 or Xingjiapo 星家坡 (hence the alternative name Xingzhou 星州).

In Singapore, we also sometimes use the more fanciful name Shicheng 狮城 (lion city) to refer to the country. That would be a translation, rather than a transliteration. Shijiapo 狮加坡 makes no sense because 'singa' should be translated as 狮, and the 'jia' (ga) is hence redundant, while 坡 means 'slope' and not 'city'.
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#11 DaMo

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Posted 27 March 2006 - 05:25 AM

Singapore = Singha/Sinha/Simha (lion) + pura (city), both Sanskrit-derived words.

Sri Lanka's modern name, I think, comes from the legendary kingdom of Lanka. The name of the main Sri Lankan ethnicity, the Sinhalese, certainly comes from sinha or lion.

獅 is an Indo-Iranian loan word, I have heard. Probably originally from Iranic sources, though, not Indic. The Hindi and Farsi word for lion is sher.
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#12 lanjingling

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Posted 27 March 2006 - 07:52 AM

Xinjiapo 新加坡 is a relatively recent transliteration of Singapore, which is itself derived from the original Sanskrit (not Malay) name Singapura (lion city). The earlier Chinese transliterations included Shilepo 石叻坡 or Xingjiapo 星家坡 (hence the alternative name Xingzhou 星州).

In Singapore, we also sometimes use the more fanciful name Shicheng 狮城 (lion city) to refer to the country. That would be a translation, rather than a transliteration. Shijiapo 狮加坡 makes no sense because 'singa' should be translated as 狮, and the 'jia' (ga) is hence redundant, while 坡 means 'slope' and not 'city'.

Thank you very much (& thanks to DaMo too).A lot of interesting informations .
Anyway, I wasn't suggesting to simply replace "xin" with "shi", because "shijiapo" would of course be meaningless.But I didn't know about Shicheng (actually I've never been to Singapore); sounds great.

#13 Hang Li Po

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Posted 31 March 2006 - 03:21 AM

Singapore Original Name Singapura

(Bahasa Melayu/Bahasa Jawa (Java)/Sanskrit)

Singa = Lion

Pura = City

The name Singapore was derived from the Malay word singa (lion), which itself is derived from the Sanskrit word सिंह siMha of the same meaning, and the Malay word "pura", also derived from the Sanskrit word पुर pura (city) [1]. Hence, Singapore is also known as the Lion City. The naming is attributed to a minor prince named Sang Nila Utama, who according to lore, saw a lion as the first living creature on the island and decided to name it Singapura as a result.

Singapore developed from a small Malay fishing village to become a multicultural, major global city with cosmopolitan ideals. It has attracted controversy for some policies it has taken to achieve its development since independence in 1965.

Sang Nila Utama

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Sang Nila Utama

Here's the legend of how Singapura was founded:

Sang Nila Utama was a prince of Sumatra. Wanting to find a suitable place for a new city, he decided to visit the islands off the coast of Sumatra. He set sail from Palembang (a city in Sumatra) in a number of ships. He and his men reached Riau Island and were welcomed by the queen. A few days later, Sang Nila Utama went to a nearby island on a hunting trip.

While hunting, he spotted a deer and started chasing it. He came to a very large rock and decided to climb it. When he reached the top, he looked across the sea and saw another island with a sandy beach which had the appearance of a white sheet of cloth.

Asking one of his ministers what land it was, he was told that it was the island of Temasek. He then decided to visit Temasek. However, when his ship was out at sea, a great storm blew up and the ship was tossed about in the huge waves. The ship began to take water.

To prevent it from sinking, his men threw all the heavy things on board into the sea to lighten the ship. But still water kept entering the ship and Sang Nila Utama, on advice of a ship's officer, threw his heavy crown overboard. At once, the storm died down and he reached Temasek safely.

He landed at the mouth of the present-day Singapore River and went inland to hunt wild animals. Suddenly, he saw a strange animal with a red body, black head and a white breast. It was a fine-looking animal and moved with great speed as it disappeared into the jungle.

He asked his chief minister what animal it was, and was told that it probably was a lion. He was pleased with this as he believed it to be a good omen - a sign of good fortune coming his way. Thus, he decided to build his new city in Temasek. He and his men stayed on the island and founded a city.

He named this city "Singapura". "Singa" means lion and "pura" means city. The name thus means the Lion City. Sang Nila Utama ruled Singapura for 48 years and was buried on Bukit Larangan (present-day Fort Canning Hill). By that time, Singapura had developed into a great and famous city.

Edited by Hang Li Po, 31 March 2006 - 03:31 AM.

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#14 Hang Li Po

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Posted 31 March 2006 - 03:30 AM

Xinjiapo 新加坡 is a relatively recent transliteration of Singapore, which is itself derived from the original Sanskrit (not Malay) name Singapura (lion city). The earlier Chinese transliterations included Shilepo 石叻坡 or Xingjiapo 星家坡 (hence the alternative name Xingzhou 星州).

In Singapore, we also sometimes use the more fanciful name Shicheng 狮城 (lion city) to refer to the country. That would be a translation, rather than a transliteration. Shijiapo 狮加坡 makes no sense because 'singa' should be translated as 狮, and the 'jia' (ga) is hence redundant, while 坡 means 'slope' and not 'city'.


Example Ancient Malay Kingdom @ Place Use ''Pura''

- Inderpura Sultanate

- Jayapura , irian jaya (Indonesia)
TOO PHAT feat YASIN - ALHAMDULILLAH (ENGLISH VERSION)


#15 LionDancer

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Posted 01 October 2011 - 06:56 AM

I've been somewhat puzzled by the symbolism of chinese lion in chinese culture. Well, if you notice chinese buildings such as palace, temples or even some houses, it's a traditional practice to lay a pair of stone lions (one male and one female) outside the buildings.

I was told by my parents that the lions were there to 'protect' the building acting as some sort of guard. But I also read somewhere that "lion" also refer to China, which seems to originate from Napoleon's saying that "China is a sleeping lion going to awake". I don't know whether that's correct.

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Does anyone know the symbolism of chinese lion? What does it actually mean and represent?


Dredging up an old post-first I'd like to thank Yun for posting the link to the Sculptures of Tang Dynasty Tombs. I have examined the numerous pictures and noticed a difference to the stone lions of the Tang dynasty and what we see today that seems to take after the Ming/Qing dynasty style. It looks more like the Asiatic lions with the face slightly more enlongated.

As for the lion's meaning-Because of its rarity it soon became viewed as a sacred creature. With the introduction of Buddhism, came the concept of the lion as a guardian and auspicious creature as it was the mount for the Buddhist icon Manjusuri.

As a lion dancer and researcher to seperate fact and fiction and symbolism, there is a myth that talks about the nian (year) beast appeared at years end. The tiger and ox could not defeat it, the lion came and defeated it, but the beast vowed vegence and to return, sure enough the next year it did, but the lion could not as it was busy guarding the emperors gates, so the villages created a likeness of the lion (in another version they created a costume to look like the beast) and along w/pots, pans, drums and other percussion instruments chased the beast away. Anyway there are many angles to this story-one speculation is that the nian beast were actually bandits dressed up to steal and terrorize the villege. Take it for what wish.

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