The “lions-keepers” (石獅 / “Stone Lions”), sometimes called “Fu dogs” (福 獅) in the West, are a common representation of the lion in pre-modern China, symbols of protection in the philosophy ” Feng Shui “( 風水), reputed to attract happiness and fortune.
It is also a protective animal of “Dharma” (法 / “Buddhist Law”) and sacred buildings, symbolizing peace and prosperity.
Presented in pairs, they sit at the entrance of palaces and imperial tombs, temples, houses of officials (rich dignitaries, nobles or “mandarins” [官]) of the “Han dynasty” (漢朝), serving for the latter, to testify to the social status of the residents.
Nowadays, lion-guardian couples are also used ornamentally at the entrance to restaurants, hotels, supermarkets and other buildings.
Lions are traditionally carved in marble and granite or cast in bronze or iron. Because of the high cost of these materials and the labor required to produce them, the private use of lions-keepers was once reserved for wealthy or elite families.
They respectively symbolize the manifestation of “yin” (陰) and “yang” (陽), one for feminine essence and the other for masculine essence. The male lion has its right front paw on an embroidered ball called “Xiu Qiu” (繡球), which is sometimes carved with a geometric pattern known in the West as the “Flower of Life,” and the female has a lion cub under her left paw, representing the life cycle.
Guardian lions are called in different ways depending on the language or context. The first representations of the lion in China appeared at the Han court through cultural exchanges between Central Asia and Persia, already popular for their symbolic protective figures.
Today, the names given to them differ according to the material in which they are made, but also in relation to the symbolism that is given to them, according to the place where they are enthroned.
In China, the term “ShiShi” (石獅) is used to describe lions carved in stone or “TongShi” (銅 獅) for those made of bronze, usually found at the entrance of palaces.
It is also known as “RuiShi” (瑞 獅 / “auspicious Lions”), a less common term referring to the “Snow Lion”, a legendary animal embodying the values of courage and liveliness in Tibet. There is also the “lion of good fortune”, better known as “Dog Fu” (福 獅) in the West, used ornamentally, especially on roofs and other architectural elements. The “FoShi” (佛 獅 / “Lion of Buddha”) refers to the lions used in religious iconography, protectors of the Buddha, embodying the force of Dharma in Asia.
In Japan, these same lions are better known as “ShiShi” (獅子 / “lions”), “Kara shisi” (唐 狮子 / literally “Lions Tang” or “Chinese Lions”) or “Koma Inu” (狛 犬 / “dogs of Korea) introduced to Japan by the kingdom of” Koryo “(高麗 / ancient Japanese term for designate the Kingdom of Korea).
In the same way as in China, there are the Koma Inu at the entrance to many “Shinto shrines” (神社 / “Jinja”), Buddhist temples, noble residences or even private homes.
They are divided into two categories: the first, appeared during the “Edo period” (江 戸 時代), is called “SanDo Koma Inu” (参 道 狛 犬), and the second, much older, called “JinNai Koma Inu” (陣 内 狛 犬).
Designed to ward off evil spirits, these statues resemble those of Chinese lions, some details close, but retain the symbolism and characteristics of the latter. Indeed, the male has the mouth open, while the female keeps it closed. This trend, however, not being of Buddhist origin, has a symbolic attached to the first and last sound of the Sanskrit alphabet.
The statue with the open mouth symbolizes the sound “Ah” (阿 形 / “A-Gyo” / first syllable in Sanskrit), while the one with the mouth closed symbolizes the sound “Hum” (吽 形 / “Un-Gyo” / last syllable in Sanskrit), both representing the “beginning and end of all things”. Jointly called “A-one” (阿 吽), they form the sound “Öm” (唵 /), sacred syllable in several religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.
According to feng shui, the importance of placing lions-keepers in a space is important so that they grant their beneficial effects. Thus, the male lion must be on the right, while the female, on the left, whose claws, teeth and eyes represent power.
As early as 208 BC, the Buddhist version of Leo was adopted in China as a protector of “dharma” and was declined in religious art.
Gradually, they were incorporated into Chinese architecture to embody the concepts of power and authority by being placed at the entrance of the imperial buildings and those of temples.
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