LION DANCE-Chinese New Year- January -co-author Bryan Hsiang

Photo by Fikri Rasyid on Unsplash

During the Tang dynasty, anecdotal history states an Emperor had a nightmare with a happy ending after he was saved by a rare and strange beast, the lion. Asiatic lions roamed China long ago but they were rare and considered exotic. Since no real lions were to be found the Emperer was led to have his people bring back the good luck lion annually. Fantastical representations of lion puppets ended up looking more abstract and colorful like a mythical dragon combined with a phoenix.

Two other origin stories are: the Emperor of heaven chopped off the head of a mischievous lion and threw the body and head to earth; Kwan Yin -the Buddhist goddess of mercy- felt sorry for the lion’s fate. She resurrected him by reattaching his head and securing it with a red ribbon that would frighten away monsters and protect him from harm.

The third story recounts a monster called a nian(child eating demon)was terrifying a village. A real lion descended from the mountains and chased away the nian. Unfortunately, the following year the nian came back but no lion arrived to defend the village. After the prowling nian left to sleep, the clever villagers constructed a larger-than-life lion puppet to frighten the demon away and were never bothered by it again. Every year they repeated the lion dance to protect the village.

Lion dancing has a long had an intersection with kung-fu dating back to the days of the Ching dynasty. Martial artists planning an insurrection against that regime used the lion dance as a cryptic means of communication, exchanging notes and money hidden in the lettuce leaves; messengers in the parade crowd would “feed” the lion with messages and cash to fund rebellion.

Colors and designs of lions vary widely over regions and countries in Asia. Hok Shan is the contemporary style of lion dance in China and is a fusion of Northern and Southern styles. Whatever the style; all Lion dancing is very athletic, aerobic and strength building. Some of the dance moves are the same as kung fu martial arts moves. Sometimes the lion dance is mistaken for the dragon dance but the dragon puppet is much longer often requiring 10–11 people whereas the lion dance has one to three people under a shorter puppet.

Strength, courage, wisdom, and power are all represented in the Lion as it ushers in good luck for the New Year. In southern China it is two people in a costume of a Lion with a very large head. The dance is performed accompanied by clashing symbols and banging drums said to chase away evil spirits. The Lion Dance is believed to bring prosperity, good fortune, and luck to the audience.

Foot notes:
https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Lion_dance

https://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/201603/18/WS5a2b76faa310eefe3e9a05c7.html

https://www.chinahighlights.com/travelguide/special-report/chinese-new-year/new-year-lion-dance.htm

https://plumblossom.net/LionHistory.html

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Wallace Mohlenbrok

Wallace Mohlenbrok

Yoga Teacher 500 hour yoga alliance certified, an admirer of flowers and trees, peripatetic autodidact.