|Fu Lion Dogs|
Artist's Rendering of Fu Dog
khmer Statue of Narasimha
|First Sighting||206 BC|
|Last Sighting||7th century AD|
|Country||China, Southeast Asia, India|
|Habitat||Mountains and Gir Forest India, the only place in the world where Asian Lions remain|
Fu Lions or Fu Dogs, traditionally known in Chinese simply as Shi (Chinese: 獅; pinyin: shī; literally "lion"), and often called "Foo Dogs" in the West, are a common representation of the lion in pre-modern China. Statues of guardian lions have traditionally stood in front of Chinese Imperial palaces, Imperial tombs, government offices, temples, and the homes of government officials and the wealthy, from the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220), and were believed to have powerful mythic protective benefits. They are also used in other artistic contexts, for example on door-knockers, and in pottery. Pairs of guardian lion statues are still common decorative and symbolic elements at the entrances to restaurants, hotels, supermarkets and other structures, with one sitting on each side of the entrance, in China and in other places around the world where the Chinese people have immigrated and settled, especially in local Chinatowns.
The lions are usually depicted in pairs. When used as statues, the pair would consist of a male resting his paw upon an embroidered ball (in imperial contexts, representing supremacy over the world) and a female reassuring a playful cub that is on its back (representing nurture).
The lions are traditionally carved from decorative stone, such as marble and granite or cast in bronze or iron. Because of the high cost of these materials and the labor required to produce them, private use of guardian lions was traditionally reserved for wealthy or elite families. Indeed, a traditional symbol of a family's wealth or social status was the placement of guardian lions in front of the family home. However, in modern times less expensive lions, mass-produced in concrete and resin, have become available and their use is therefore no longer restricted to the elite.
The lions are always presented in pairs, a manifestation of yin and yang, the female representing yin and the male yang. The male lion has its right front paw on an embroidered ball called a "xiù qiú" (绣球), which is sometimes carved with a geometric pattern known in the West as the "Flower of life" The female is essentially identical, but has a cub under the closer (left) paw to the male, representing the cycle of life. Symbolically, the female fu lion protects those dwelling inside, while the male guards the structure. Sometimes the female has her mouth closed, and the male open. This symbolizes the enunciation of the sacred word "om". However, Japanese adaptions state that the male is inhaling, representing life, while the female exhales, representing death. Other styles have both lions with a single large pearl in each of their partially opened mouths. The pearl is carved so that it can roll about in the lion's mouth but sized just large enough so that it can never be removed.
According to feng shui, correct placement of the lions is important to ensure their beneficial effect. When looking out of a building through the entrance to be guarded, looking in the same direction as the lions, the male is placed on the left and the female on the right. So when looking at the entrance from outside the building, facing the lions, the male lion with the ball is on the right, and the female with the cub is on the left.
Chinese lions are intended to reflect the emotion of the animal as opposed to the reality of the lion. This is in distinct oposition to the traditional English lion which is a lifelike dipection of the animal. The claws, teeth and eyes of the Chinese lion represent power. Few if any mescles are visible in the Chinese lion whereas the English lion shows its power through its life like characteristics rather than through stylized representation.
Buddhism and Narasimha
Fu dogs have been found in religious art as early as 208 BC. Gradually they were incorporated as guardians of the Chinese Imperial dharm. Lions seemed appropriately regal beasts to guard the emperor's gates and have been used as such since. There are various styles of guardian lions reflecting influences from different time periods, imperial dynasties, and regions of China. These styles vary in their artistic detail and adornment as well as in the depiction of the lions from fierce to serene. Narasimha (Sanskrit: नरसिंह; Narasiṃha), also spelt Nrusimha (नृसिंह; Nṛsiṃha), Narasingh, Narsingh and Narasingha, is an avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu and one of Hinduism's most popular deities, as evidenced in early epics, iconography, and temple and festival worship for over a millennium. The adoption of Buddha as one of the avatars of Vishnu under Bhagavatism was a catalyzing factor in assimilation during the Gupta period between 330 and 550 CE. Mahayana Buddhism is sometimes called Buddha-Bhagavatism.
In India, a panel dating to third-fourth century AD shows a full theriomorphic squatting lion with two extra human arms behind his shoulders holding Vaishnav emblems. This lion, flanked by five heroes (virs), often has been identified as an early depiction of Narasimha. Standing cult images of Narasimha from the early Gupta period, survive from temples at Tigowa and Eran. These sculptures are two-armed, long maned, frontal, wearing only a lower garment, and with no demon-figure of Hiranyakashipu. Images representing the narrative of Narasimha slaying the demon Hiranyakasipu survive from slightly later Gupta-period temples: one at Madhia and one from a temple-doorway now set into the Kumra-math at Nachna, both dated to the late fifth or early sixth century A.D.
Although the form of the Chinese guardian lion was quite varied during its early history in China, the appearance, pose, and accessories of the lions eventually became standardized and formalized during the Ming and Qing dynasties into more or less its present form.
Komainu in Japanese Buddhism
Meant to ward off evil spirits, modern komainu statues are almost identical, but one has the mouth open, the other closed. This is a very common characteristic in religious statue pairs at both temples and shrines. This pattern is however Buddhist in origin (see the article about the Niō, human-form guardians of Buddhist temples) and has a symbolic meaning. The open mouth is pronouncing the first letter of the Sanskrit alphabet, which is pronounced "a", while the closed one is uttering the last letter, which is pronounced "um", to represent the beginning and the end of all things. Together they form the sound Om, or ॐ;, a syllable sacred in several religions like Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. Komainu strongly resemble Chinese guardian lions and in fact originate from Tang dynasty China. The Chinese guardian lions are believed to have been influenced by lion pelts and lion depictions introduced through trade from either the Middle East or India, countries where the lion existed and was a symbol of strength. During its transportation along the Silkroad, however, the symbol changed, acquiring a distinctive look. The first lion statue in India appears around the 3rd century BC on top of a column erected by King Ashoka.
Shisa (シーサー Shīsā?, Okinawan: siisaa,) is a traditional Ryukyuan decoration, often in pairs, resembling a cross between a lion and a dog, from Okinawan mythology. People place pairs of shisa on their rooftops or flanking the gates to their houses. Shisa are wards, believed to protect from some evils. When in pairs, the left shisa traditionally has a closed mouth, the right one an open mouth.
When a Chinese emissary returned from a voyage to the court at Shuri Castle, he brought a gift for the king, a necklace decorated with a figurine of a shisa-dog. The king found it charming and wore it underneath his clothes. At the Naha Port bay, the village of Madanbashi was often terrorized by a sea dragon who ate the villagers and destroyed their property. One day, the king was visiting the village, and one of these attacks happened; all the people ran and hid. The local noro had been told in a dream to instruct the king when he visited to stand on the beach and lift up his figurine towards the dragon; she sent the boy, Chiga, to tell him the message. He faced the monster with the figurine held high, and immediately a giant roar sounded all through the village, a roar so deep and powerful that it even shook the dragon. A massive boulder then fell from heaven and crushed the dragon's tail. He couldn't move, and eventually died.
This boulder and the dragon's body became covered with plants and surrounded by trees, and can still be seen today. It is the "Gana-mui Woods" near Naha Ohashi bridge. The townspeople built a large stone shisa to protect it from the dragon's spirit and other threats.
Creation of the name "Fu Dog"
Foo Dogs are the ancient sacred dogs of Asia who guard Buddhist temples. The association between these dogs and Buddha is one of great significance. Foo Dogs have the appearance of a lion. The lion in Buddhist religion is seen as sacred, and has sometimes been offered to Buddha as a sacrifice. The name given to these guardians originates from China. The Chinese word for Buddha is Fo, which led to the original title– “Dog of Fo”. There have been other theories that the name developed from the city of Foochow; however, there is no actual proof of this. Another name given to the beast is “Lion of Korea”. This, of course, is due to the creatures close appearance to a Lion.
Foo Dogs can be traced as early as the Han Dynasty. Their first appearance was in Chinese art, which dates back to approximately 208 BC to about 221 AD. Foo Dogs vanished for nearly 400 years after their first appearance. They later returned in the T’ang Dynasty that was in power from 618 to 917 AD. Foo Dogs were popular because of their meaning. The Lion is a creature of the feline race that is known as the proud master of all cats. Its introduction into Chinese art coincided with Buddhism. The Foo Dog was the protector of sacred buildings and a defender of law. The dogs were commonly placed at business institutions, temple gates, home entrances, and estates. It was also not uncommon to see these sacred dogs guarding tombs or placed in front of government buildings to scare evil spirits. Through out the ages, Foo Dogs were frequently given as gifts to the Emperor. They would be presented in sculptures or in the form of artwork.
Foo Dog artwork varies. Buddha was sometimes depicted on the back of the great beast, but Foo Dogs are more often displayed in a powerful guarding position. The creature is usually presented holding a spear in its paw. This was the representation of the peace and serenity the animal would maintain for the sanctuary it was guarding; thus discouraging any wrong doers and demon spirits from entering the place of tranquility. The Foo Dog comes in many shapes, sizes, different materials, and colors. Their faces have a mischievous and almost devilish look about them; and their eyes are normally wide open with a tiny speck in the middle. This threatening appearance is what gives the idea that they guard against evil spirits. It is important to point out that the Foo Dog is also known as the Celestial Dog, and the Happiness Dog. The animal is a symbol of energy and value, and is often displayed in a male/female pair. The male plays with a ball that symbolizes the Earth, while the female holds a cub.
The Foo Dog is embodied in rich Chinese history and tradition. They are still very popular today, not only in China, but also in other parts of the world. They are fantastic dogs not only infused with artwork – but with meaning.
On August 15, 2013, the zoo in the People's Park of Luohe, in the central province of Henan, replaced exotic exhibits with common species, according to the state-run Beijing Youth Daily. It quoted a mother who was visiting the zoo to show her son the different sounds animals made - but he pointed out that the animal in the cage labelled African lion was barking.
Apparently, officials in Louhe city zoo in central Henan province hoped no one would notice when they decided to make the switch and send the enclosure's regular resident, an African lion, away to a breeding center.
Turns out it was no Fu Lion, but just a Tibetan mastiff, a large, hairy breed of dog — which, for what it's worth, more closely resembles the king of the jungle than does perhaps any other domestic canine.
"One family surnamed Liu took their six-year-old son to the zoo in People's Park," reported the local Dahe Daily newspaper.
"On the way, Mrs. Liu was teaching her son all the sounds that the different animals make. But when they arrived, her son said the lion was barking like a dog." Mrs. Liu told the Beijing Youth Daily: "The zoo is absolutely trying to cheat us. They are trying to disguise dogs as lions."
And, the dog-for-cat swap wasn't the only attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of zoo patrons: There was also a domestic dog housed in the wolf pen, and a white fox was found pacing the leopard exhibit.
The most notable account of Fu Lions was by the medieval explorer Marco Polo (1254 AD – 1324 AD). Marco Polo made vivid accounts of "wolf lions", dragons and even unicorns. However, the credibility of Polo's depictions of Asia are vastly questionable. Skeptics have wondered if Marco Polo actually went to China or if he perhaps wrote his book based on hearsay. While Polo describes paper money and the burning of coal, he fails to mention the Great Wall of China, Chinese characters, chopsticks, or footbinding.