Lions may not be one of the four mythological creatures in Chinese culture, but it is considered an important creature in Chinese mythology. Like the dragon and phoenix, you’ll find them incorporated in Chinese architecture. You’ll usually find their statues standing guard at the doors of many Chinese buildings.
In Chinese New Year, a dance known as the Lion dance is normally performed in honor of the creature. The dance involves the synchronized sound of beating drums, gongs, and cymbals accompanied by dance movements and actions. To fully understand the importance of this dance in Chinese culture, in this post, we will cover its history, meaning, and the different types. As a bonus, we’ll also cover steps you can follow to create your lion dance costume.
what is the Chinese lion dance?
Lion dance, also known as “Tai Ping Yue” in ancient times, is an excellent folk art form in China. It has variations known as the Northern Lion and the Southern Lion, with the Southern Lion also called the Awakening Lion.
The lion is made of colorful cloth strips and is usually performed by two people working together, with one person controlling the lion’s head and the other controlling the lion’s tail.
Performers dress up as dogs or other mythical creatures (such as Pixiu or lions) and perform various dynamic movements to symbolize festivity and auspiciousness. During the performance, the lion dancers showcase martial arts techniques, displaying a strong and masculine presence.
Lion dance is considered a propitious symbol to ward off evil and bring good fortune. It is an integral part of festivals and major events, enjoying enduring popularity and being passed down through generations.
Lion dance activities have also spread widely in overseas Chinese communities. Wherever there are Chinese people, there is lion dance, serving as an important ritual to showcase the strength of the Chinese nation and uphold the spirit of China. It acts as a cultural bridge for overseas compatriots to reconnect with their roots, holding profound cultural value and exerting a significant influence.
how to say lion dance in Chinese?
Lion dance is an excellent traditional folk art form in China, also known as “Tai Ping Yue” in ancient times. It is commonly performed during festive and joyous occasions and is referred to as “Lion Dance,” “shizi wu,””shizi Dance,””Shizi wu,””Wu shizi,””Lion Lantern,” or “Dance of the Lion.” The lion holds auspicious significance in the Chinese culture, symbolizing good luck and prosperity. Thus, lion dance performances embody the people’s aspirations for warding off calamities, seeking blessings, and bringing good fortune. With a long history, the predecessor of lion dance can be traced back to the “elephant dance” mentioned in the “Records of the Grand Historian.” Tang and Song poetry vividly describe lion dance performances.
what type of dance is the lion dance?
The Northern Lion, also known as the “Beishi,” was originally popular north of the Yangtze River, while the Southern Lion gained popularity in South China, Southeast Asia, and overseas. In recent years, there has been a fusion of the two styles, known as “Nan Shi Bei Wu,” which primarily uses the Southern Lion’s lion head and the Northern Lion’s footwork.
The Northern Lion closely resembles a real lion in appearance, with a relatively simple lion head and a golden-yellow fur covering its entire body. The pants and shoes of the lion dancers (usually two performers per lion) are covered in fur, making them look like lifelike lions even when not in motion. A lion head with a red knot represents a male lion, while a green knot represents a female lion. The Northern Lion emphasizes agile movements, distinguishing it from the Southern Lion’s focus on strength. During the dance, actions such as pouncing, tumbling, flipping, rolling, leaping, and scratching are prominent.
Typically, a pair of male and female lions perform together, led by a person dressed as a warrior. Sometimes, a pair of smaller lions accompanies a pair of larger lions, with the smaller lions playfully teasing the larger ones, creating a familial atmosphere. The Northern Lion performance is more akin to acrobatics. Musically, it is accompanied by instruments such as cymbals, gongs, and drums.
Hebei Province is the birthplace of the Northern Lion. The Lion Dance Association of Beili Village in Xushui County was established in 1925 and existed in the form of folk flower gatherings. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, it rapidly developed. The lion dance activities in Xushui mainly take place during the Spring Festival and spring temple fairs. During the performance, two individuals work together, with one wearing the lion head on top of their head and the other bending over, grasping the waist of the first performer while wearing a lion skin made of cow hair. Together, they form a large lion known as “Tai Shi.” Additionally, one person wears a lion head mask and a lion skin to portray a small lion known as “Shao Shi,” while the person who teases and attracts the lion using an embroidered ball is called the “Yin Shi Lang.” The role of the Yin Shi Lang is vital throughout the lion dance, requiring not only a heroic demeanor but also proficient martial arts skills to perform actions such as somersaulting over the lion, somersaulting onto a high table, and somersaulting down from a plum blossom pole. The coordination between the Yin Shi Lang and the lion forms a significant characteristic of the Northern-style lion dance. The distinctive features of the Xushui lion dance include exaggerated appearances, large round lion heads, lively eyes, appropriately moving mouths, displaying both majestic and amiable qualities. The performance imitates the actions of real lions, such as looking, standing, walking, running, jumping, rolling, sleeping, and shaking their fur, creating realistic movements. The dance also showcases high-level techniques such as performing on long benches, on plum blossom poles, jumping over poles, leaping across poles, demonstrating various unique poses, performing a 360-degree twist, standing and jumping on a single pole, performing somersaults from a higher level to a lower level, and somersaulting down from a pole.
The Xushui lion dance holds an important position in Chinese folk art performances. In 1953, it participated in the Chinese Folk Art Gala held in the capital city, Beijing, and represented the country on multiple international visits after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. It won first place in the lion dance competition at the “Fourth World Youth Festival” held in Bucharest, the capital of Romania. In October 2001, the Hebei Acrobatics Association officially designated Beili Village as the “Home of Acrobatic Lion Dance.” However, today the Xushui lion dance faces the challenge of inheritance due to expensive props and the difficulty of training new performers, requiring urgent rescue and support from relevant authorities.
The Southern Lion, also known as the “Xing Shi,” exhibits a more fierce appearance and emphasizes horse stances during its movements. The Southern Lion primarily relies on the performers’ actions to portray the majestic form of a lion, usually with two performers dancing as one lion. The lion head of the Southern Lion is designed based on opera masks, featuring vibrant colors and intricate craftsmanship. The eyelids and mouth of the lion head can be moved. Strictly speaking, the lion head of the Southern Lion does not closely resemble a lion, and some even consider it closer to a mythical beast. The lion head of the Southern Lion also has a single horn, which was traditionally made of iron to withstand the frequent clashes that occur during lion dances. Traditionally, the lion heads of the Southern Lion are categorized as “Liu Bei,” “Guan Yu,” and “Zhang Fei.” These three types differ not only in color and decorations but also in their dance styles, reflecting the personalities of the three historical figures. The red lion represents Guan Yu, symbolizing loyalty, victory, and wealth, as Guan Yu is revered as the God of Wealth among the Chinese. The yellow lion represents Liu Bei, embodying benevolence, righteousness, and royal elegance. The black lion represents Zhang Fei, representing domineering spirit and bravery. The black lion is usually reserved for competitions or challenging performances, while red and yellow lions are commonly seen at festive occasions.
The Southern Lion showcases a wide variety of movements, including starting postures, typical poses, vigorous actions, hesitant advances, scratching, welcoming treasures, paying respects, startling leaps, scrutinizing, deep slumbers, emerging from a cave, displaying power, crossing mountains, ascending platforms, and more. The performers abstractly express these forms through different horse stances and coordinated movements with the lion head. The focus of the Southern Lion dance is on capturing the essence and resemblance. The Southern Lion has various performance modes, including emerging from a cave, climbing mountains, patrolling mountains, collecting greenery, and entering caves. Among them, “collecting greenery” is the most common. It is believed that “collecting greenery” originally carried the meaning of “overthrowing the Qing Dynasty and restoring the Ming Dynasty.” Nowadays, it is mainly associated with vitality, prosperity, and symbolizing good luck. The term “greenery” sounds similar to “wealth” in Chinese. Fresh vegetables and lucky money (red envelopes) are hung up, and the lion dances around the “greenery” several times, showing hesitation before leaping up to devour the vegetables (referred to as “collecting greenery”). The lion then bites and chews the vegetables, imitating the satisfied expression of a well-fed lion (referred to as “drunk greenery”). Finally, the chewed vegetables are sprayed towards the audience as a gesture of blessing and good fortune (referred to as “wealth everywhere”). To increase entertainment value, various styles of “collecting greenery” are sometimes employed, such as “collecting sky greenery,” “collecting earth greenery,” “collecting water greenery,” etc., accompanied by various acrobatic movements such as lifting people onto shoulders, forming human pyramids, climbing bamboo poles, or crossing a series of high and low wooden poles.
During the Southern Lion dance, large gongs, drums, and cymbals are used for musical accompaniment. The movements of the lion correspond to the rhythm of the music. Sometimes, a person dressed as the “Great Buddha” with a sun hat leads the performance.
Before the lion dance, a “dotting of the eyes” ceremony is usually held. This ceremony is conducted by a guest of honor who applies cinnabar on the lion’s eyes and celestial palace, symbolizing the infusion of spirit and life.
Southern Lion Head
The lion head of the Southern Lion can generally be divided into He Shan-style lion and Fo Shan-style lion. The lion head of the Fo Shan-style lion is larger and rounder, with a wide and powerful forehead and a flat and wide mouth. The lion head of the He Shan-style lion, on the other hand, is flatter and longer, with a protruding mouth resembling a duck’s bill, hence it is also known as the “duckbill lion” by experts.
Traditionally, the lion heads of the Southern Lion are categorized as “Liu Bei Lion,” “Guan Gong Lion,” and “Zhang Fei Lion.” These three types of lion heads not only differ in color and decorations but also in their dance styles, reflecting the personalities of the three historical figures. For example, when dancing with the Zhang Fei Lion, the dance movements must be vigorous and domineering.
Southern Lion Dance Techniques
In lion dance performance, the Northern Lion focuses on realism, while the Southern Lion emphasizes symbolism. In Southern Lion performances, it is important to depict the lion as both majestic and powerful, as well as playful and humorous. Therefore, the lion should be able to realistically portray various expressions and movements such as happiness, anger, drunkenness, joy, fierceness, surprise, doubt, motion, stillness, and awakening. A successful performance not only showcases the performers’ exquisite skills and challenging movements but also allows the audience to perceive or understand the lion’s various thoughts and actions, humanizing the lion dance and infusing it with human emotions. This enables the audience to experience tension, surprise, joy, and immersion, leading to insights and enlightenment, uplifting their thoughts, and providing a beautiful artistic enjoyment. In lion dance performances, the portrayal of the lion’s expressions is crucial. So how can one master this skill? As an individual with limited knowledge, I should not make superficial comments on the lion’s expressions in Southern Lion performances. However, I aim to inspire discussions and continuous exploration, improvement, and development of lion dance art. I hope that experienced practitioners can provide their insights.
Here are some guidelines for expressing different lion emotions:
Happiness: Accompanied by light, fast, and joyful drum beats, the lion should show happiness by blinking its eyes, smiling, lightly shaking its head, or performing light jumps and various stances like the bow stance, horse stance, or raised knee stance.
Anger: Accompanied by heavy, fast drum beats, the lion should show anger by glaring, roaring, forcefully shaking its head, and performing powerful movements such as the horse stance or bow stance.
Drunkenness: Accompanied by light and slow drum beats, the lion should show drunkenness by half-closing its eyes, swaying its body, and performing various movements while maintaining a relaxed and playful demeanor. Various stances can be used in coordination.
Awakening: Accompanied by a combination of light and heavy, slow and fast drum beats, the lion should show the process of returning to a normal state. The lion’s eyes gradually open wider, and it stretches and yawns, coordinating with the drum beats. The opening and closing of the lion’s mouth should match the rhythm.
Motion: Adjust the expressions and movements according to the lion’s dynamic actions. This includes light, heavy, fast, slow, urgent, or relaxed drum beats. The lion should display different postures and movements corresponding to the drum beats’ rhythm.
Stillness: When the drum beats stop, the lion should remain motionless, with a calm gaze and a prominent quiet appearance. Stances such as the crouch stance, bow stance, or horse stance can be used.
Joy: Drum beats should be light, fast, and heavy. The lion should show joy and playfulness by shaking its head, blinking its eyes, and coordinating with the drum beats. Small jumps, Yangko steps, small running steps, and other footwork can be used.
Fierceness: Accompanied by heavy, fast, and urgent drum beats, the lion should display a strong and powerful demeanor. The eyes and mouth of the lion should open and close forcefully, and the lion’s head should shake vigorously. Stances such as forceful steps or sudden stops can be emphasized, especially in difficult movements such as leaping on high platforms.
Surprise: Accompanied by quick, fast, and heavy drum beats, the lion should show surprise by suddenly running or freezing in place, with its eyes wide open and its mouth either open or closed. The lion’s body should shake, particularly emphasizing the shaking of the hind legs. The bow stance or horse stance can be used.
Doubt: Accompanied by light and slow drum beats, the lion should show doubt by opening and closing its eyes and mouth, while the lion head turns slowly left and right or stretches forward and retracts. The lion should not move lightly but maintain a stance such as the bow stance, horse stance, or raised knee stance.
Search: Accompanied by a combination of light, heavy, fast, and slow drum beats, the lion should show the lion searching for something. The lion’s head stretches forward or retracts, and its eyes look into the distance. Various footwork and stances can be used.
Hope: Accompanied by light and fast drum beats, the lion should show hope by raising its head, opening its eyes, and slowly turning its head left and right, as if looking forward to something. Stances such as the bow stance, horse stance, raised knee stance, or shoulder sit can be used.
Probe: Accompanied by light, heavy, and urgent drum beats, the lion should show the lion probing or investigating, with its front paws or hind legs extending downward or stretching forward. The lion’s eyes and mouth should open and close, coordinating with the drum beats. Stances such as the bow stance, horse stance, or crouch stance can be used.
Annoyance: Accompanied by urgent and heavy drum beats, the lion should show annoyance and restlessness. The lion’s head should sway left and right, constantly stepping or turning, and its eyes should look around, with its mouth opening and closing.
Playfulness: Accompanied by light, fast drum beats, the lion should show leisure and playfulness. The lion’s eyes and mouth should open and close in coordination with the drum beats. The lion should playfully shake its head and body, with footwork such as small jumps, cross steps, step tapping, or cross Yangko steps.
Drama: Accompanied by a combination of light, heavy, fast, and slow drum beats, the lion should show the lion’s playfulness, teasing, and curiosity. The eyes and mouth should open and close in coordination with the drum beats. The lion should advance and retreat, extending its front paws or hind legs, mimicking capturing and leaping movements. The footwork can start with quick steps and sudden stops, followed by slow probing steps.
The accompaniment of lion drums, gongs, and cymbals is an important component to enhance the expression of the lion’s emotions. It plays a decisive role in achieving the best effects in terms of the lion’s appearance, completion of the routine, and coordination with the music. It should emphasize various types such as light, heavy, fast, slow, urgent, slow, and stops. Since the lion dance performers cannot communicate their movements inside the lion, most movements depend on the cues of the drums and gongs. Typically, beginners learn the rhythm of the drums and gongs first before they start learning the lion dance.
Southern Lion Competitions
Southern Lion competitions can be divided into High Chun Lion Art competitions and traditional lion dance competitions, with the former being more mainstream. Malaysia, mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, and the United States hold world-class lion dance championships annually. One notable international competition is the Genting World Lion Dance Championship held every two years in Malaysia.
hakka lion dance
Cat Head Lion, also known as Hakka Lion, is a traditional lion dance that originated from the Hakka community. It is a less common form of local traditional lion dance characterized by lion heads shaped like cats, resembling the mythical creatures Xie and Zhi. It has been passed down through generations and is believed to have the power to ward off evil spirits. During clan ceremonies, temple festivities, and festive occasions such as New Year celebrations and birthday blessings, the Hakka people in villages and water towns, particularly in Conghua, gather to play drums, gongs, suona horns, and perform the Cat Head Lion dance.
The making of Cat Head Lions involves various folk crafts such as clay sculpture, painting, and mounting. It requires a certain foundation in fine arts and involves five main processes: clay gathering, molding, papering, painting, and oiling.
The finished Cat Head Lions come in three sizes: large, medium, and small. The largest can carry a weight of over 100 kilograms, while the lion heads themselves weigh between 3 to 6 catties (approximately 1.5 to 3 kilograms). The performance of Cat Head Lion focuses on imitating the agility and expressions of cats, combined with lion dance movements. The routines mimic cat-like steps, horse steps, and qilin steps, infused with a sense of humor. With a history of over 300 years, it carries profound Hakka cultural significance and was recognized as a representative project of intangible cultural heritage at the provincial level in Guangdong Province in 2018.
During the Lantern Festival or other festive gatherings, Cat Head Lions are often invited to enhance the atmosphere. On the first and second day of the lunar year, Cat Head Lion troupes usually perform around the village gateways to drive away evil spirits and bring good luck. The appearance, movements, and drum music of Cat Head Lion differ from those of other lion dances. The lion heads are smaller in size compared to local lion heads, with two bundles of fresh green wheat straw inserted on top, symbolizing vitality.
In 1444 AD, Xiao Demao from Xingning settled in Nanba Village, bringing with him the unique skills of crafting dragon and lion figures that are characteristic of the Hakka people. This heritage has been passed down from generation to generation until today.
The Cat Head Lion of Heping County is distinct from both the Northern Lion and Southern Lion. Resembling a cat and a lion, the lion head bears a shiny “王” (king) character on its forehead. The lion’s face has sharp teeth, a high nose, large eyes, and prominent eyebrows. The entire lion head is adorned with colorful depictions of dragons, phoenixes, plum blossoms, orchids, bamboo, chrysanthemums, and the Eight Immortals’ magical instruments, as well as waves and floating clouds. This design showcases the Hakka people’s resilience and spirit in the face of natural challenges during their migrations.
famous lion dance
Fujian Linfang Lion Dance:
The Linfang Qing Lion is a type of Northern-style lion in Fujian province, commonly known as the “public lion.” It showcases agile and nimble movements and incorporates martial arts techniques. The lion’s head can even conceal weapons for defensive purposes. The performers, consisting of a lion head operator and a lion tail operator, demonstrate a variety of lifelike movements, imitating the postures of a majestic lion. The combination of strength and beauty in their performances represents the authentic traditional martial arts culture heritage of the Hakka people.
In 1989, the Linfang Lin family established the “Linfang Martial Arts Association,” which was the earliest martial arts association in Liancheng County. The association consists of 12 lion teams and 10 dragon teams. They have participated in various national, provincial, municipal, and county-level martial arts competitions, winning numerous awards.
Guangdong Yangjiang Lion Dance:
In Yangjiang, lion dance is referred to as “wushi,” where “wu” is pronounced as “meng” in the local dialect, and “shi” means lion. This naming convention is to avoid the pronunciation of “shi” as it sounds similar to “shu,” which is considered inauspicious. Lion dance, particularly during the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year), is a customary practice in Jiangcheng. It is believed that when the lion opens its mouth, shakes its head, and moves around in front of a household, it drives away evil spirits hiding in the corners. This performance is considered to bring prosperity to the household, and as a gesture of respect and solemnity, the lion dance performers are presented with red envelopes.
When people move into a new house, they often invite lion dance performers to enter and perform a ceremonial dance on each floor. Newlywed couples hoping for a male child may invite the lion to roll on their marital bed, symbolizing the wish for the birth of a son. Wealthy families and businesses often invite lion dance troupes for special performances. These performances take place in open spaces, attracting a large crowd. Lion dance performances are accompanied by various martial arts demonstrations. The highlight is the “cai qing” or “plucking the green.” The host suspends a red envelope and a vegetable (usually lettuce) using a bamboo pole. The lion, with the assistance of the performers, climbs up the human pyramid and grabs the red envelope and vegetable in its mouth. A more challenging version of “cai qing” involves using a coconut instead of vegetable leaves. The lion performers need to use their teeth to tear open the coconut and break it with their fists, showcasing their martial arts skills.
Today, lion dance activities in Jiangcheng are not limited to the Spring Festival. Businesses often invite lion dance troupes to perform during opening ceremonies, promotions, and other celebratory events. Lion dance teams have become a part of the advertising industry, and their skills have evolved beyond the description of “gold-plated eyes, silver-plated ears, and agile body movements” depicted by Tang poet Bai Juyi.
Wuhan Huangpi Lion Dance:
The “Jiang Lion” is a popular folk activity known as “Jiang Lionzi” during the Lantern Festival in Huangpi and Xiaogan, Hubei Province. The Huangpi Jiang Lion is especially well-known in Wuhan.
Jiang Lion activities vary in style across different villages in Huangpi and Xiaogan. Typically organized by the “wan” (a village’s administrative unit), each village holds its independent lion dance event. Before the lion dance, several strong men, usually bare-chested (nowadays, they often wear yellow or red jackets to promote civility), kneel in the main hall of the “headman” (the person who leads the lion dance). With the sound of drums and gongs, firecrackers are set off, creating a scene filled with smoke for about ten to several dozen minutes. Suddenly, the person with the red headband stands up, shaking and reciting words, as if claiming to be a deity who has just descended from heaven. Subsequently, they choose several “ma jiao” (also known as “jiang jun”), and the lion dance begins. Throughout the dance, the “ma jiao” accompany the lion, resembling celestial beings. They are bare-chested, shaking, and seemingly unaffected by the cold. At times, they pause to perform movements with wooden sticks or swords, or play with firecrackers without fear.
Every year from the 13th to the 16th day of the lunar New Year, Jiang Lion activities become active in the rural areas around Huangpi in Wuhan. During this time, many people from the city visit the countryside to witness the Jiang Lion dance. The Jiang Lion is also known as the “jiangjun lion” (the lion dancer is referred to as “jiangjun” or “ma jiao”), while lion dances in other parts of China are generally referred to as “xing shizi.” The Jiang Lion is unique as its jumps appear to resemble Tai Chi movements. The “ma jiao,” having undergone incense fumigation, are in a semi-conscious state, as if they are possessed by celestial beings. The lion dancers become extraordinary, and the performance takes on a ceremonial feel. The most exciting part is on the 15th night, when the lanterns are lit. The lion not only climbs onto tables but also bites candles and takes auspicious items from boiling diesel fuel. The lion will also visit every household, and the homeowners will present fireworks and firecrackers to welcome the lion. Meanwhile, an elder will explain the significance of the lanterns, praying for good weather in the coming year. This lively and unique spectacle cannot be seen anywhere else in the world and is a distinct cultural heritage of Huangpi, Hubei.
Changsha Lion Dance:
Hunan province, located in central China, is situated between the northern and southern branches of lion dance styles. Before the 1980s, Hunan only had folk Northern-style lion dance groups, but their skills did not reach the essence of the Northern-style lion dance. With the support and cultivation from major universities and government cultural departments, lion dance culture in Hunan has made remarkable progress. Huang Yisu, an international-level judge for dragon and lion dance, and former director of the Sports Teaching and Research Department at the University of South Central China, has turned dragon and lion dance into an academic discipline, offering professional courses and promoting Chinese traditional sports to the world. The folk group Xiang Yue Legend Lion Dance Troupe, led by famous director Zhou Jianqiang, has introduced the Southern-style lion dance techniques from Guangdong and combined them with local lion dance techniques. They not only inherited the high-altitude plum blossom pole dance of the Southern-style lion dance but also created new forms such as the Southern lion’s northern dance, drunken lion, and the majestic Southern-style gong and drum performances. They have received extensive acclaim from major media outlets in Hunan and have been appointed by the government to participate in international cultural and artistic exchange activities. Their commercial operations have not only helped lion dance culture take root and flourish in Hunan but also promoted Chinese traditional sports and culture nationwide and worldwide. As Zhou Jianqiang said, “What belongs to the nation belongs to the world, and what belongs to the world has us, the Chinese people.”
Zhejiang Xinchang Lion Dance:
Xinchang has abundant lion dance resources, and people there also use lion dance as a way to wish for a prosperous and auspicious year. As a result, there are numerous lion dance troupes in the county, and some well-known ones include Hongtang Lion Dance and Shangdao Lion Dance in Ruao Town, Xiaocheng Township’s Xiazhou Lion Dance, and Zhailing Black Mane Lion in Dashiju Town.
Shangdao Village has had lion dance activities since the Qing Dynasty during the Qianlong era (1736-1796 AD), and the tradition has continued uninterrupted to this day. A typical Shangdao lion dance troupe consists of 13-16 performers, including a music band of 3-5 members (who can rotate and alternate). The performance usually takes place on a threshing ground. One team member swings a colorful ball into the air, while two other members quickly get inside the lion’s costume—one handling the lion head and the other controlling the lion tail. Then, a fierce male lion leaps into the air, chasing the colorful ball, moving in sync with the beats of the drums and gongs. The lion shakes its head, sways its tail, and displays various lifelike movements, portraying a lively and humorous character. The lion dance troupe’s skilled performance and their mastery of lion dance techniques are immediately apparent.
In Hongtang Village, over 80% of the population knows how to perform lion dance. Lion dance in Hongtang is often combined with martial arts demonstrations. The performance consists of three parts: first, the lion dancers use a rope and embroidered ball to attract the lion’s attention and perform a simulated dance at the four corners; next, martial arts demonstrations take place, with performers showcasing various techniques using fists and weapons, such as stick fighting and swordplay, creating a dazzling display. Finally, they perform the “lion snatching the embroidered ball” routine, where the lion dancer uses the embroidered ball as bait to engage in combat with the lion. The entire performance is accompanied by percussion music throughout.
In Xiaocheng Township, Xiazhou Village, the lion dance begins with the sound of trombones and the rhythmic beats of “Jiji Feng” on gongs and drums. A lion head operator and a lion tail operator, as a duo, jump onto the stage. The lion alternates between energetic and tranquil movements, crouching, sitting, standing, walking, shaking its head, and looking around in all directions. The coordination between the head and tail movements is seamless, creating a lifelike performance. With the intense rhythm of the percussion instruments, the lion performs acrobatics such as “the lion climbing a bridge” and “the lion swallowing a staff.” The lion dancers display their extraordinary martial arts skills and captivate the audience.
In Dashiju Town, Zhailing Village, surrounded by mountains and known as “Little Liangshan,” the lions are different from those in other places. Their fur is entirely made of black rattan, hence they are called Black Mane Lions, symbolizing bravery, mightiness, and invincibility. The Zhailing Black Mane Lion Dance troupe consists of around 20 performers. The performance begins with the energetic sound of gongs and drums, accompanied by a loud and melodious leader’s bugle call. Young men dressed as warriors, holding embroidered balls, guide the lion’s entrance. One person controls the lion head, while another controls the lion tail. The ferocious Black Mane Lion leaps into the air, showcasing a series of high-difficulty movements and humorous characterizations, displaying the lion dancers’ martial arts skills. Once the lion grabs the embroidered ball, they switch to martial arts performances, with various “heroes of Little Liangshan” taking turns to showcase their skills, such as “Big Fish Fist,” “Small Fish Fist,” “One-legged techniques,” “Double-legged techniques,” “One-sided leg techniques,” “Flying Double-leg techniques,” “Reverse Spider,” and “Carp Crossing the Sand,” among others.
Bouyei Lion Dance:
The Bouyei ethnic group has traditional folk dances, including lion dance. It is performed during the New Year, housewarming celebrations, and funerals. The pinnacle of lion dance skills is the “stage-building” technique. This stage is built by stacking multiple layers of Eight Immortals tables, forming what is called a “one-incense stick” stage. The top table is placed upside down with its four legs pointing upwards, known as the “fighting table.” Once the stage is set, the “Sanzang” wears a mask and holds a horsehair brush, entertaining the lion while dancing on top of the stage. After reaching the top, the “Sanzang” performs a solo dance down from the stage, while two lion dancers support the lion costume from below, stepping on the upside-down tables, creating a whirlwind-like effect. This act is known as “stepping on the fighting table” and leaves the audience in awe of the performers’ highly coordinated and superb skills. After “stepping on the fighting table,” the lion dancers slowly rotate the stage while dancing down. Lastly, “Sun Wukong” wears a mask and effortlessly climbs up and down the stage, demonstrating incredible acrobatics, somersaults, and stunts, impressing the audience. Lion dance is a symbol of bravery for the Bouyei ethnic group.
Zhuang Lion Dance:
Widely popular in the Zhuang ethnic areas of Guangxi, particularly in Tianyang County, lion dance is an essential part of festive celebrations, symbolizing good luck and prosperity. The lion dance includes performances such as the high-platform lion dance, lion crossing the gold mountain, lion crossing the sky bridge, lion on the plum blossom pole, dual-lion playing with a ball, and sharp-knife lion techniques. These performances feature high-level difficulty, thrilling actions, including flips, rolls, jumps, leaps, climbs, runs, and pounces, which captivate the audience. The Zhuang Lion Dance Troupe from Tianyang County was specially invited by the organizing committee of the 11th Asian Games in 1990 to perform in Beijing’s amusement park, receiving widespread acclaim from both Chinese and international spectators.
lion dance costume
A lion dance costume typically consists of several key components:
Lion Head: The lion head is the most distinctive part of the costume. It is usually made of papier-mâché or other lightweight materials and is intricately designed and painted to resemble a lion. The lion head is worn over the performer’s head and features a movable mouth, eyes, and ears.
Lion Body: The lion body is a large, colorful fabric or silk cloth that covers the performers’ bodies. It represents the body of the lion and is often adorned with decorative patterns, symbols, or auspicious characters. The fabric is typically red, green, or gold, symbolizing good fortune and prosperity.
Lion Tail: The lion tail is an elongated cloth or feathered piece attached to the back of the lion body. It sways and moves along with the lion’s movements, adding to the visual spectacle of the dance.
Lion Legs: The lion legs are worn by the performers and are usually designed to resemble the legs of a lion. They are attached to the performers’ own legs and are maneuvered using handles or strings inside the costume. The lion legs mimic the movements of a walking or leaping lion.
Lion Feet: The lion feet are large shoes or slippers worn by the performers. They are often designed to resemble the paws of a lion and may have bells or other ornaments attached to them. The lion feet add sound effects to the dance as the performers stomp and dance to the beat of the drums and cymbals.
Accessories: Various accessories may be included in the lion dance costume, such as decorative tassels, ribbons, and ornaments. These embellishments enhance the visual appeal and overall festive atmosphere of the performance.
It’s important to note that the specific design and style of a lion dance costume can vary depending on regional traditions, cultural influences, and the preferences of the lion dance troupe. Different regions and countries may have their own unique variations and interpretations of the lion dance costume.
what is lion dance costume made of?
A lion dance costume is typically made of a combination of materials to achieve its unique look and functionality. Here are the commonly used materials for different parts of the costume:
Lion Head: what is lion dance head made of?The lion head is usually made of a lightweight frame, which can be constructed using bamboo, wire, or other flexible materials. The frame is then covered with layers of papier-mâché, fabric, or fiberglass to create the desired shape and texture. The outer surface is often painted with vibrant colors and adorned with decorative elements such as fur, feathers, sequins, and other embellishments.
Lion Body: The lion body is commonly made of fabric or silk, which is cut and sewn into the shape of the lion’s body. The fabric used is often brightly colored, such as red, green, or gold, symbolizing auspiciousness and good luck. It may feature intricate embroidery, patterns, or appliqués to enhance its visual appeal.
Lion Tail: The lion tail is typically made of cloth or feathers, which are attached to a flexible rod or frame. The tail’s length and design may vary depending on the regional lion dance style and artistic preferences. It is meant to sway and move dynamically during the performance.
Lion Legs: The lion legs are usually constructed using fabric or cloth to resemble the legs of a lion. They are often stuffed with padding or foam for shape and comfort. The legs may have flexible joints or wires to allow the performers to control their movements as they imitate the lion’s walking, leaping, and dancing actions.
Lion Feet: The lion feet are typically made of durable materials such as leather or synthetic materials. They are designed to resemble lion paws and are attached to the performers’ feet. The soles of the lion feet may have rubber or non-slip materials to ensure stability and safety during the dance.
Accessories: Various accessories used in lion dance costumes can be made of different materials, such as decorative tassels made of silk or nylon, ornamental trims made of ribbons or braids, and metallic accents like bells, coins, or medallions. These accessories add visual flair and sound effects to the performance.
Lions are typically made of colorful cloth strips. Usually, a lion consists of two performers, with one operating the lion’s head and the other handling the lion’s tail. The performers synchronize their movements with the rhythm of the drums and gongs, aiming to create an atmosphere of joy and auspiciousness. During the performance, the lion dancers also showcase their martial arts skills with various techniques, exuding a masculine energy. Lion dance has always been regarded as a symbol of good fortune, and it is a customary presence during significant festivals and events, passed down through generations.
It’s worth noting that the materials used may vary depending on the resources available, the budget of the lion dance troupe, and the artistic preferences of the costume makers. Additionally, modern lion dance costumes may incorporate lightweight and durable synthetic materials to improve durability and performance.
how heavy is a lion dance head?
The traditional style of the northern lion head weighs around 70-80 kilograms, and the lion skin weighs around 20-30 kilograms. The modern style lion head weighs around 10 kilograms.
For southern lions, the lion heads are categorized into four different sizes based on weight: Special Size lion head weighs 6.5 kilograms, Size 2 lion head weighs 4 kilograms, Size 3 lion head weighs 3.5 kilograms. As for the lion tail, traditionally it was around 4 meters long, but in recent times, it has mostly been shortened to approximately 2.8-3 meters for more agility during performances.
What instruments are in the Chinese lion dance music?
Lion dance is an excellent traditional folk art in China, also known as “Taiping Music” in ancient times. Performers dress up as dogs or other auspicious creatures (such as Pixiu or lions), and with various movements and forms, they seek to bring joy and auspiciousness. During the performance, lion dancers showcase their Southern-style martial arts skills through different techniques, exuding a strong masculine energy. Lion dance is considered an auspicious symbol for warding off evil and bringing good fortune, and it is an essential part of festive celebrations and significant events, enjoying a long-lasting tradition passed down through generations.
The musical instruments used in lion dance performances include large drums, gongs, small gongs, cymbals, and other percussion instruments commonly found in traditional Chinese music. Sometimes, instruments like the erhu (a two-stringed bowed instrument), suona (a double-reed horn), and flutes are also added. Chinese lion dance can be classified into “Beishi” (Northern Lion) and “Nansi” (Southern Lion), with distinct characteristics. The “Beishi” lion emphasizes its physical form, while the “Nansi” lion focuses on its resemblance to a living creature. This classification is widely accepted by experts, scholars, dancers, martial artists, and the general public. According to the book “Nanhai Lion Dance” written by Nanhai County in Guangdong province, it states: “There is no doubt that China’s lion dance (Southern Lion) originated from the yellow lion in the north. The exact origin of the Southern Lion is not documented and cannot be determined through historical records. However, it can generally be concluded that it spread to the Lingnan region (southern China) from the Central Plains after the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period.” The author believes that this perspective has its reasoning: before the unification of China by Emperor Qin Shi Huang, the Lingnan region remained in a primitive tribal society. The unification brought farming, textile, and other technologies, along with Central Plains culture, to the region. Later, during the Sui Dynasty in the tenth year of the Kaihuang era, Nanhai County was established, covering parts of present-day Guangzhou, Foshan, Sanshui, and Shunde.
Every time “the firecrackers burst to bid farewell to the old year,” traditional lion dance activities accompanied by the warm spring breeze and joyful drums and gongs take place in towns and villages across the vast land of China. It adds a festive atmosphere to the annual celebration of the Chinese New Year, spreading joy and happiness.
what does the lion dance symbolize in Chinese culture?
The lion dance carries the auspicious symbolism of welcoming blessings and prosperity. In traditional Chinese culture, it is believed that the lion dance can spread auspiciousness and uplift the spirits, bringing luck and warding off evil spirits. The lion dance is associated with various meanings, including:
Happiness and harmony: The lion dance, with its rhythmic movements and red decorations, symbolizes harmony, prosperity, and the opening of doors to welcome blessings. It is known as “Duanmen Zengfu,” attracting auspicious energies.
Purity and innocence: The lion dance is seen as a purifying force that cleanses the air, drives away evil spirits, and represents purity and cleanliness.
Peace and prosperity: The rhythmic movements of the lion dance convey unity and tranquility, symbolizing peace and joy, and representing prosperity and tranquility.
Courage and resilience: The lion dance embodies courage, urging people not to retreat in the face of difficulties, but to make steady progress and courageously promote a harmonious society.
Physical fitness: The challenging movements of the lion dance exercise the body’s strength, not only cultivating martial arts skills but also developing courage and expressive abilities.
Majesty and auspiciousness: In traditional Chinese customs, the lion dance is believed to have the power to expel evil spirits, showcasing one’s majesty. The lion dance symbolizes auspiciousness, blessings, and the wish for happiness and well-being. Hence, during festive occasions such as New Year celebrations and Spring Festivals, there is a tradition of playing drums, gongs, and performing lion dances to bring joy and celebration.
Career achievements: The Chinese word for “lion” sounds similar to the word for “teacher” (师). In ancient times, there were high-ranking officials with titles like “Taishi” (太师) and “Shaoshi” (少师), holding prestigious positions. The lion is associated with political status, signifying good fortune and success. It represents a festive and auspicious symbol.
Harvest blessings: In an agricultural society, the lion dance is also seen as a way to pray for a bountiful harvest and the abundance of crops, symbolizing farmers’ hopes and wishes for a prosperous future.
Display of strength: The lion dance’s dynamic and vigorous performance represents strength and courage. Through the lion dance, individuals can showcase their physical strength, skills, and bravery, serving as a display of their abilities.
Unity and cooperation: The lion dance usually requires a team of two or more performers, each contributing their specialized skills to create a successful performance.
This symbolizes the importance of unity, cooperation, and the power of collective effort.
In summary, the lion dance carries unique auspicious meanings, serving as a means to harmonize society and pray for peace and prosperity.
what do the lion dance colors mean?
Traditional lion dance colors are mainly based on the facial makeup of characters from the Three Kingdoms. Yellow represents the Liu Bei lion, symbolizing benevolence, righteousness, and royal nobility. Red represents the Guan Gong lion, symbolizing loyalty, victory, and wealth. Black represents the Zhang Fei lion, symbolizing bravery and dominance. There are also other colors, such as gold, representing magnificence, and purple, symbolizing auspiciousness.
White color represents purity and divinity, symbolizing the pureness of new snow and the divine light from above. Colorful lions represent the vibrant and diverse nature of the world. The “Green Lion” is a traditional folk art form and a recognized intangible cultural heritage project at the municipal level in Hangzhou. Unlike other lion dances, the distinctive feature of the Pingmen Green Lion is the color green. Throughout generations, the people of Pingmen have enjoyed watching the Green Lion dance. According to local elders, the color green in Pingmen symbolizes “auspiciousness, good fortune, and longevity.” During the Lantern Festival, the Green Lion is performed to bring joy and to pray for a peaceful and prosperous life.
Red: The red lion represents Guan Gong and symbolizes loyalty, righteousness, and victory. Guan Gong is often associated with wealth and is considered the god of wealth in Chinese culture.
Yellow: The yellow lion represents Liu Bei and symbolizes benevolence, righteousness, and royal nobility. It represents the idea of benefiting the people and carrying a regal aura.
Black: The black lion represents Zhang Fei and symbolizes dominance and bravery. Black lions are usually used in competitions or challenges, as they convey a sense of power and ferocity. For festive occasions, red and yellow lions are more commonly seen.
Lion Dance Movements:
There are various lion dance movements, including starting posture, regular stance, leaping, hesitating, scratching, welcoming treasure, saluting, jumping in surprise, inspecting, sleeping, coming out of a cave, displaying power, crossing mountains, and ascending a tower, among others. The performers use different stances and combine them with the movements of the lion’s head to create these abstract forms.
There are different performance styles, such as coming out of a cave, climbing a mountain, lion dance gatherings, picking greenery, and entering a cave. Among them, “picking greenery” is the most common. Originally, “picking greenery” had a meaning of “opposing the Qing Dynasty and restoring the Ming Dynasty.” Nowadays, it is more commonly associated with vitality and the symbol of flourishing business.
To enhance entertainment value, various techniques and actions are incorporated into the performance of “picking greenery.” This includes different ways of “picking greenery” (from the sky, from the ground, from the water, etc.) and the use of acrobatic movements.
Overall, the lion dance is a dynamic and vibrant cultural performance, showcasing various symbolic meanings and celebrating Chinese traditions.
What Is the Meaning of The Chinese Lion Dance?
The lion is a significant creature that holds a lot of symbolism in Chinese culture. They are seen to represent superiority, strength, and stability.
In Chinese mythology, during the reign of the Yellow Emperor, the Chinese people and animals were said to have been attacked by a monster called “Nien”. The monster was considered unbeatable, fiercer, and faster than even the best tigers and dogs. Out of despair, the people approached the lion for help. According to the mythology, the lion charged towards the Nien with bravery and managed to wound it. The monster ran but swore it would come back to avenge its wound.
About a year later when the Nien returned, the people no longer had the protection of the Lion. To protect themselves they created a “lion” out of cloth and bamboo and had two men crawl inside the costume and approach the monster. While approaching it, the fake lion roared and pranced, scaring the Nien away again.
That act becomes what is now known as the lion dance and is traditionally performed every year during the Chinese New Year. It can also be performed on other grand or important occasions like Chinese religious or cultural festivals, birthdays, weddings, or business openings. Based on Chinese mythology, the dance is believed to frighten away evil and bring about good luck.
There are two versions of the lion dance, that is, the North and South Chinese Lion Dance. The north Chinese lion dance is more acrobatic with very lifelike movements and stunts like balancing on a large ball or doing lifts. The dance is performed in pairs, where the male lion is identified with a red bow on its head and the female is represented with a green one. The south Chinese dance is less lifelike but displays more power in its performance, where the dancers use different steps and movements to represent the different temperaments of the lion. The south Chinese lion dance incorporates three lions, the green one symbolizing friendship, the golden lion as a sign of liveliness, and the red one representing courage.
History Of Chinese Lion Dance
Dancers wearing masks that resemble mythical beasts and animals have been one of the oldest traditions in China. Lions, however, are not native to China. The first mention of the Chinese word for lion, “shizi”, was during the Han dynasty. This was around the time the Parthian empire presented lions and other exotic animals as gifts and tribute to the Han court.
The first reference of the lion dance was during the Tang dynasty as a foreign dance. The dance was highly associated with Buddhism in the early periods, where it was performed during a parade for a Buddha statue, to ward off any evil spirits. During the Tang dynasty, there were different versions of the dance.
In the court, the dance was referred to as The Lion Dance of Five Directions. This dance involved five differently-colored lions representing different moods, controlled by two people using ropes and accompanied by 140 singers. A different version of the dance as described by a Tang Poet, Bai Juyi, involved two hu dancers wearing lion costumes made of a wooden head and silk body. This version closely resembles the lion dance performed today.
lion dance history
During the Tang Dynasty, lion dance performances were combined with the court music of the previous dynasty, creating the grand “Tai Ping Yue” or “Five Direction Lion Dance.” Lion dance became a large-scale court dance performance. The “Tai Ping Yue,” also known as the “Five Direction Lion Dance,” was said to have originated from countries such as Tianzhu (India) and the Lion Kingdom. Bai Juyi, a famous poet from the Tang Dynasty, described the lion dance in his poetry: “False-faced foreigner, false-faced lion, wooden head, silk tail, eyes plated with gold, teeth made of silver, swift movements, fur swaying with two ears.” This description shows the similarities between the lion dance of that time and what we see today.
During the Song Dynasty, lion dance remained a popular acrobatic performance. On major festivals, large-scale acrobatic shows organized by the royal court included lion dance segments. Meng Yuanlao, a scholar from the Southern Song Dynasty, recorded in the “Dreams of the Eastern Capital” that in the third month of the lunar calendar, the emperor watched various performances, including a competition and a show at the Baojin Tower. The lion dance was one of the opening acts, featuring lions and leopards entering the stage, sitting, advancing, retreating, and displaying swift movements. From the mention of “swift movements,” it can be seen that the lion dance of the Song Dynasty was already very close to the modern lion dance performance.
After the Song Dynasty, lion dance became even more popular. According to the “Wulin Jiushi” recorded during the Song Dynasty, the combination of lion dance and martial arts appeared with the “Leopard-Band of the Soldiers.” Originally performed by the military, it later became popular in the southern regions as migrants moved south during the Song and Jin dynasties, leading to the distinction between Southern Lion and Northern Lion.
In Chinese folklore, lion dance is believed to ward off evil spirits. Therefore, during joyous festivals such as New Year celebrations and Spring Festivals, lion dance performances accompanied by drumming and gong beating are favored to enhance the festivities. Lion dance has also gained popularity worldwide as Chinese communities have migrated overseas. It is widely performed in countries like Malaysia, Singapore, and in Chinatowns around the world. Overseas Chinese communities in Europe and America have also formed numerous lion dance troupes, celebrating the Spring Festival or other major festive occasions with lion dance performances.
As people’s love for lions grew, they were not satisfied with the static artistic depictions of lions on door pillars, eaves, stone railings, seals, and New Year paintings. They wanted to bring the lions to life. Thus, they created a dance that simulated the behaviors of lions, continuously improving and developing it into a unique art form of the Chinese nation.
origin of lion dance
There are several origin stories and historical accounts regarding the Chinese lion dance. Here are some of them:
Ancient Origins Theory:
Lion dance originated from the practice of “qu nü.” In ancient times, people invented “qu nü,” which gradually evolved into the modern lion dance. Qu nü lion dance was not only performed in villages but also entered people’s homes. It served the purpose of warding off evil spirits, bringing blessings, and offering prayers. In historical records, the “Xiang Ren” (象人) is mentioned in the “Han Shu Li Le Zhi” (Book of Han, Treatise on Ritual Music). According to interpretations from the Three Kingdoms period, “Xiang Ren” refers to performers portraying “fish, shrimp, and lions.”
Han Dynasty Origin:
According to legends, during the reign of Emperor Zhang of the Han Dynasty, the Great Yuezhi Kingdom presented a golden-haired lion as a tribute. It was said that anyone who could tame the lion would continue to receive tribute, but if unsuccessful, the tribute would cease. After failed attempts, the lion went on a rampage and was killed by palace servants. To deceive the envoy, the lion’s skin was removed, and two palace servants dressed up as the lion. This act fooled both the envoy and the emperor. The story spread, and lion dance performances became a symbol of national glory and auspiciousness.
Northern Wei Dynasty Origin:
During the Northern Wei Dynasty, the northern Xiongnu tribe attempted to assassinate the emperor by using a lion-shaped puppet made of wood and stone, covered in golden threads. Skilled performers were sent as envoys to present the lion as a tribute. However, their plot was foiled by a loyal minister who exposed their intentions. The emperor, impressed by the lion, ordered its replication, leading to the spread of lion dance in subsequent generations.
Tang Dynasty Origin:
According to a story in the “Yueguang Ji” (Records of the Moon Palace) during the Tang Dynasty, Emperor Tang Minghuang witnessed a vision of a colorful unicorn in his dream. Inspired by the vision, he instructed his courtiers to recreate the creature in the form of a lion and accompanied it with grand music and dance performances. This event led to the popularization of lion dance during the Tang Dynasty.
where did lion dance originated?
Origin in Foshan:
In ancient times, a mythical creature with a single horn appeared in Zhongyi Village, Zhongyi Township, Foshan City, Guangdong Province. This creature, known as the “Nian Shou” or “Year Beast,” caused damage to crops during the New Year period. To drive away the Year Beast, the villagers created a paper-mache model in the shape of the creature. They successfully scared away the beast, and in celebration, they named the dance “Lion Dance.” This tradition of lion dance performance during the Spring Festival and other festive occasions became popular in the region.
The Lion Awakening (Xing Shi) is an intangible cultural heritage that originated in Nanhai County (now Foshan) and belongs to the southern lion dance tradition in China. It evolved from the lion dance performed in the Tang Dynasty palace and spread to the Lingnan region as a result of the migration from the central plains after the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period. During the Song Dynasty, the lion dance spread from the military to the southern regions. Around the Song and Jin dynasties, the martial arts-inspired lion dance diverged into the northern lion and southern lion styles. In the Ming Dynasty, the Lion Awakening emerged in Guangdong, with its origins traced back to Nanhai County. It is now practiced and preserved among Chinese communities in Guangdong, Guangxi, and various Southeast Asian countries. In Guangdong, it is predominantly found in cities such as Foshan, Suixi, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen.
Origin from the XuShui:
The XuShui Lion Dance, originating in Xushui County, Hebei Province, is associated with the northern lion dance tradition. The North Li Village Lion Dance Association was established in 1925 and initially existed in the form of a folk flower fair. After 1949, it experienced rapid development.
The XuShui Lion Dance is primarily performed during the Chinese New Year and spring temple festivals. The performance involves two people working together: the front performer holds lion props on their head to portray the lion’s head, while the rear performer bends down, grasps the front performer’s waist, and wears a lion fur ornament to portray the lion’s body. The two performers collaborate to create a large lion known as the “Tai Shi” (Grand Lion). Additionally, there is another performer who wears a lion head mask, dons lion fur, and portrays a small lion known as the “Shao Shi” (Young Lion). The person who holds a embroidered ball to interact with the lion is referred to as the “Yin Shi Lang” (Lion Enticer).
The “Yin Shi Lang” plays an important role throughout the lion dance. They not only need to possess a heroic demeanor but also showcase impressive martial arts skills, such as performing movements like “front somersault over the lion,” “back somersault onto a high table,” and “jumping from a spinning pole.” The coordination between the “Yin Shi Lang” and the lion is a significant characteristic of the northern lion dance.
The XuShui Lion Dance is known for its exaggerated appearance. The lion’s head is large and round, with lively eyes and a well-proportioned open mouth. It exudes a majestic and powerful presence while also displaying an endearing charm. During performances, it mimics the real movements of a lion, including looking, standing, walking, running, jumping, rolling, sleeping, and shaking its fur. The performance is incredibly lifelike. Furthermore, the XuShui Lion Dance demonstrates high-level skills such as balancing on long benches, performing on plum blossom poles, jumping on poles, leaping over poles, showcasing intricate movements, twisting at 360 degrees, performing independent jumps on single poles, executing front somersaults from a two-level platform, and performing back somersaults from a platform, among other challenging techniques.
Origin from the Western Regions:
The lion dance is believed to have originated from the Western Regions (Central Asia) and was introduced to China along with Buddhism. Lions were considered the mount of Manjushri Bodhisattva. The dance became popular as it symbolized auspiciousness, brought good luck, and warded off evil spirits. It is said that during the Han Dynasty, a golden-haired lion was presented as a tribute from the Great Yuezhi Kingdom in the Western Regions.
when is the lion dance performed?
The lion dance is typically performed during festive occasions and celebrations. The specific dates and occasions may vary depending on regional customs and cultural traditions. Here are some common occasions when lion dance performances take place:
Chinese New Year: Lion dance is an integral part of the Chinese New Year celebrations. It is believed to bring good luck and ward off evil spirits for the upcoming year. The lion dance is often performed during the Spring Festival, which usually falls between late January and mid-February.
Lantern Festival: The Lantern Festival, celebrated on the 15th day of the Lunar New Year, marks the end of the Chinese New Year festivities. Lion dance performances are a common feature of lantern parades and other Lantern Festival events.
Temple Festivals: Many temples hold annual festivals to honor deities or celebrate important religious events. Lion dance performances are often included as part of the festivities to bring blessings and prosperity.
Weddings: Lion dance is sometimes performed at weddings as a way to bring good fortune, happiness, and drive away negative energy. It is usually done as part of the wedding procession or during the banquet.
Business Openings: When businesses open or have important events like anniversaries or expansions, lion dance performances are often invited to bring prosperity and good luck. The lion dance is believed to attract positive energy and customers.
Cultural and Community Events: Lion dance is also showcased during cultural and community events, such as street festivals, parades, and performances. These events aim to promote Chinese culture and traditions, and the lion dance adds a festive and vibrant element to the celebrations.
It’s important to note that the lion dance can be performed on various other occasions depending on local customs and specific cultural practices. The dates and frequency of lion dance performances can vary across different regions and communities.
what is a wedding lion dance?
A wedding lion dance is a traditional performance that is often included as part of the festivities during a wedding celebration, particularly in Chinese and Southeast Asian cultures. It is believed to bring good luck, happiness, and blessings to the newlyweds as they begin their journey together.
During a wedding lion dance, a pair of lion dancers, typically dressed in colorful lion costumes, perform a lively and energetic dance. The lions are usually operated by two performers, one as the head and the other as the tail. The dancers mimic the movements and behavior of a lion, incorporating elements of martial arts, acrobatics, and dance.
The lion dance performance at a wedding is accompanied by the beat of traditional Chinese drums, cymbals, and gongs, creating a festive atmosphere. The lion dancers move around the wedding venue, symbolically “blessing” the couple and their guests. The lions may interact with the couple, family members, or guests by playfully “interacting” with them, accepting red envelopes with money as a gesture of good wishes.
The lion dance at a wedding is seen as a way to bring joy, prosperity, and a harmonious start to the couple’s married life. It is also believed to ward off evil spirits and bring good fortune to the newlyweds. The performance is often considered a highlight of the wedding reception, adding excitement and cultural significance to the event.
Having a lion dance performance at a wedding adds joy and festivity. Two auspicious lions, symbolizing blessings and good fortune, are presented to the newlyweds. The golden lion represents wealth and prosperity, while the red lion brings good luck and auspiciousness. The combination of a golden and a red lion signifies the bestowing of wealth and auspiciousness. The two lions can first join the couple in welcoming the guests, offering them a unique form of greeting.
It’s important to note that the specific customs and traditions associated with a wedding lion dance may vary across different regions and cultural communities. The performance can be adapted to reflect the unique traditions and preferences of the couple and their families.
what is the lion dance Chinese new year?
The lion dance is an integral part of Chinese New Year celebrations. It is a traditional performance believed to bring good luck, fortune, and ward off evil spirits for the upcoming year. The lion dance is typically performed by a pair of dancers inside a lion costume, accompanied by the rhythmic beats of drums, cymbals, and gongs.
During Chinese New Year, the lion dance is performed in various settings, including homes, temples, and public spaces. The lion dancers mimic the movements of a lion, showcasing agility, strength, and coordination. The dance involves intricate choreography, acrobatic movements, and playful interactions between the lion and the performers.
The lion dance is often accompanied by other festive activities, such as firecrackers, red decorations, and the distribution of red envelopes containing money. It is believed that the loud noise of the firecrackers and the vibrant colors of the decorations scare away evil spirits, while the lion dance brings good fortune and blessings to the community.
The lion dance performance usually involves the “lettuce feeding” ritual, where the lion picks and “eats” lettuce leaves. This ritual symbolizes the lion’s blessing and the spreading of wealth and prosperity. It is common for businesses and households to invite lion dance troupes to perform in front of their premises to bring luck and prosperity for the new year.
The lion dance symbolizes bravery, auspiciousness, and the ability to ward off evil spirits. In traditional Chinese customs, it is believed that the lion dance has the power to drive away demons and showcase one’s might. The lion dance represents people’s hopes and wishes for a prosperous life in the coming year. In ancient times, it was regarded as a symbol of courage and strength, believed to have the ability to protect humans and animals from harm. As a result, the tradition of performing lion dances during the Spring Festival and other significant events gradually formed, with the intention of seeking good luck and safety in all endeavors.
Overall, the lion dance during Chinese New Year is a vibrant and auspicious cultural tradition that signifies the start of a prosperous and joyful year ahead.
why is lion dance important?
The lion dance holds significant importance for several reasons:
Cultural Tradition: The lion dance is deeply rooted in Chinese culture and has been passed down for generations. It represents an important aspect of Chinese heritage and serves as a way to preserve and celebrate traditional customs.
Symbol of Good Fortune: The lion is considered a symbol of good luck, prosperity, and auspiciousness in Chinese culture. The lion dance is believed to bring positive energy, blessings, and good fortune to the community or event where it is performed.
Warding off Evil Spirits: According to Chinese folklore, the lion dance has the power to scare away evil spirits and negative forces. It is believed that the loud drumming, cymbals, and vigorous movements of the lion can dispel bad luck, protect against misfortune, and bring about harmony and positive vibes.
Community Engagement: The lion dance often involves a team of performers working together in harmony. It fosters a sense of unity, teamwork, and community spirit as people come together to organize and participate in the dance. It is a way to bring people from different backgrounds and generations together, promoting social cohesion and cultural exchange.
Celebration and Festivities: The lion dance is commonly performed during festive occasions such as Chinese New Year, weddings, business openings, and other celebrations. It adds excitement, joy, and entertainment to the festivities, creating a lively and festive atmosphere.
Physical and Mental Skills: Performing the lion dance requires physical agility, coordination, and discipline. The dancers must synchronize their movements, mimic the lion’s behavior, and perform intricate acrobatic stunts. It promotes physical fitness, mental concentration, and artistic expression among the performers.
Overall, the lion dance holds cultural, spiritual, and social significance, bringing joy, blessings, and a sense of community to those who witness and participate in this vibrant tradition.
what is the story of the lion dance?
According to legend, in the 23rd year of the Yuanjia reign of Emperor Wen of the Song Dynasty (466 AD), the regional governor of Jiaozhou, Xie Hezhi, was ordered to attack the kingdom of Linyi. The king of Linyi, Fan Yanghuan, deployed an army of elephants in the battle. The soldiers, armed with long spears, rode on the backs of these tall and large elephants, making it difficult for the enemy, who only had short weapons, to approach them. The soldiers of the Song army suffered great losses as a result.
Later, General Zong Que, the Vanguard Commander, came up with a plan. He believed that just like other animals, elephants would also fear lions. So, overnight, they created many fake lions using materials like fabric and hemp. These “lions” were painted in various colors and had exaggeratedly large mouths. Each “lion” was carried by two warriors.
When the elephants saw the fake lions, they were terrified and started running in panic. Zong Que took advantage of the situation and commanded his soldiers to unleash a volley of arrows. The startled elephants ran wildly in all directions, many of them falling into pits and both the soldiers and elephants were captured alive.
From then on, the lion dance became popular first within the army and then spread to the civilian population. The Tang Dynasty poet Bai Juyi described a similar lion dance in his poem “The Western Liang Envoy,” stating, “False-faced Hu people, false-faced lions, wooden heads with silk tails; Eyes gilded with gold, teeth affixed with silver, leaping up with fur coats and swaying double ears…” This indicates that a form of lion dance similar to the modern one existed during the Tang Dynasty.
why is lion dance performed?
Question One: Why is lion dance performed during the Lantern Festival? Lion dance is an excellent traditional folk art in China. During the Lantern Festival or important celebrations, lion dance troupes often come to liven up the festivities. This custom originated during the Three Kingdoms period and gained popularity during the Southern and Northern Dynasties, spanning over a thousand years. According to legends, it was originally introduced from the Western Regions, and lions were considered the mounts of Bodhisattva Manjusri. With the introduction of Buddhism to China, lion dance activities also became part of the culture. Lions were brought to China as tribute by Zhang Qian, who was sent by Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty on a mission to the Western Regions. The techniques of lion dance were said to be derived from the “Jia Mian Xi” (mask drama) of the Western Liang Dynasty. Some also believe that lion dance originated in the military during the 5th century and later spread to the folk. Both theories have their justifications, and it is difficult to determine their accuracy today. However, during the Tang Dynasty, lion dance had already become a popular activity in the palace, military, and among the common people. In the Tang Dynasty poem “Xiliang Ji” by Bai Juyi, there is a vivid depiction of lion dance: “Huo Ren Hu Ren Hu Shi Zi, Ke Mu Wei Tou Si Zuo Wei, Jin Du Yan Jing Yin Tie Chi, Fen Xun Mao Yi Bai Shuang Er.” This description reflects the lion dance as it was during that time.
Question Two: Why do we perform lion dance during the Chinese New Year? Lion dance is a traditional custom during the Chinese New Year, symbolizing joy and celebration. As you may have noticed, the lions seen during this time are usually red. It is a cultural symbol representing happiness and good fortune.
Question Three: Why do lion dances use green vegetables? The practice of “cai qing” (采青), which involves using green vegetables, originally had a meaning related to the desire to restore the Ming Dynasty and overthrow the Qing Dynasty. Nowadays, it is mainly used as a symbolic act representing vitality and prosperity. The “青” used in “cai qing” refers to the use of lettuce. The lettuce and lucky money (red envelopes) are hung up, and the lion dances in front of them, hesitating before leaping up and “eating” the lettuce, followed by “chewing” and spitting it out, and then expressing greetings to everyone. In order to increase entertainment value, “cai qing” sometimes includes special techniques, such as shoulder stands (the lion head dancer stands on the shoulders of the lion tail dancer), human pyramids, pole climbing (climbing up a bamboo pole), or passing through a plum blossom pillar (passing through a long wooden pole with varying heights).
Question Four: Why do people perform lion dance during business openings? Lion dance is often seen in various business opening ceremonies. On one hand, it represents festivity, and on the other hand, it embodies the symbolic meaning that people worship the lion. The following explanations can be considered: Lion dance has a long history and is a cultural exchange between China and the Western Regions. Nearly 1,900 years ago, Persia conducted bilateral trade with China through the Silk Road, which also promoted cultural exchanges between the two countries. Persian envoys brought animals, including lions, to China. Although lions were not native to the central plains of China, with subsequent friendly exchanges between ancient China and Western Asia, India, and other countries, more lions entered China’s territory. The lion’s majestic appearance earned it the title of “King of the Beasts,” and as lions did not pose a threat to China, the people developed an affinity for them, considering lions as symbols of courage and auspiciousness. People gradually incorporated the powerful image of lions into the lion dance to ward off evil and suppress negativity.
Question Five: Why do we perform lion dance? Lion dance is a traditional folk sports activity in China and has a history that dates back to the Southern and Northern Dynasties (the period when Buddhism flourished). The earliest record of lion dance can be found in the “Book of Han – Records of Ritual and Music.” It mentions “xiang ren,” which, according to the interpretation of Meng Kang from the Three Kingdoms period, refers to performers portraying fish, shrimp, and lions. This suggests that lion dances existed as early as the Three Kingdoms period. During the Southern and Northern Dynasties, lion dances also became popular among the common people. By the Tang Dynasty, lion dances had developed into large-scale performances involving hundreds of people, known as “Taiping Yue” or “Wufang Shizi Wu.” Lion dances were performed in palaces, military events, and among the general public. Bai Juyi’s poem “Xiliang Ji” vividly describes the lion dance of that time: “Jiamian Hu Ren Jiamian Shi Zi, Kemu Wei Tou Si Zuo Wei; Jin Du Yan Jing Yin Tie Chi, Fen Xun Mao Yi Bai Shuang Er.” This poem depicts the lion dance as it was during the Tang Dynasty.
Question Six: Why is it important to dot the eyes of the lion before the lion dance? Before the lion dance, a “dotting the eyes” ceremony is usually held. It is performed by the main guest of honor who applies cinnabar to the eyes of the lion, symbolizing the infusion of life.
lion dance taboo
During the Chinese New Year, lion dance troupes contribute to the festive atmosphere. However, there are also many taboos associated with lion dance performances. In the past, unintentionally violating these taboos could result in being expelled or causing disputes.
Prohibition of not paying respects to deities
In Hakka tradition, which follows a polytheistic belief system, each village and household has its own protective deities. When a lion dance troupe passes by a shrine, it is necessary to pay respects to the deities. Failure to do so is seen as disrespectful and looking down upon the local residents. Consequently, the villagers may refuse to financially support the lion dance troupe.
Prohibition of performing at new houses before ancestral houses
According to traditional customs, if a lion dance performance is held at a new house before the ancestral house, it is believed that the descendants of that family will not be able to invite a lion dance troupe. This rule is related to the Hakka reverence for ancestors.
Prohibition of entering the courtyard from the right side
In traditional customs, the right side is considered small and the left side is considered large. The main entrance of a courtyard is usually located on the left side, symbolizing the arrival of dragons and lions, which signifies prosperity. Therefore, a lion dance troupe must enter the courtyard from the left side, representing the auspicious presence of dragons and lions. Additionally, the lion dance troupe must perform a “T-shaped step” and strike a Ding drum before entering the courtyard to pay respects, symbolizing blessings for prosperity and success in the new year.
Prohibition of sitting opposite the courtyard
In traditional customs, members of the lion dance troupe are prohibited from sitting opposite the courtyard. It is believed that women in the courtyard typically watch the lion dance from under the eaves, while the lion dance troupe members sit facing away from the eaves. If they sit facing each other, it would be seen as disrespectful and might be met with indifference.
Prohibition of disrupting the drum beats
Traditional drumming during the lion dance consists of fast beats, slow beats, lion drumming, and dragon drumming. Disrupting the rhythm by drumming randomly is considered disrespectful to the host and can result in being expelled.
Prohibition of blowing out the shrine and lanterns
In the presence of shrines and lanterns, each lantern represents a new member of the family. The brighter the lanterns, the more prosperous the family’s future. Accidentally blowing out the lanterns is considered a mistake. The consequence can range from apologizing to being expelled from the premises.
When a lion dance troupe encounters another lion from the same courtyard or a lion dance troupe that arrived earlier, they must bow three times to show respect and courtesy.
Chinese lion dance vs dragon dance
The Chinese lion dance and dragon dance are both traditional cultural performances often seen during festive occasions and celebrations in Chinese communities. While they share some similarities, they are distinct in terms of appearance, performance style, and symbolism.
Chinese Lion Dance:
Appearance: The lion dance involves performers dressed in a lion costume, typically made of colorful fabric, with a lion’s head and a long lion tail. The lion costume can be operated by two or more people, with one person controlling the lion’s head and another manipulating the tail.
Performance Style: The lion dance emphasizes agile and lively movements, imitating the behavior and characteristics of a lion. The performers showcase various actions such as leaping, rolling, and scratching. The dance is accompanied by the rhythmic beat of drums, cymbals, and gongs.
Symbolism: The lion is considered a symbol of power, courage, and good luck in Chinese culture. The lion dance is believed to ward off evil spirits and bring blessings, prosperity, and good fortune to the community. It is often performed during festive occasions, business openings, and other important events.
Chinese Dragon Dance:
Appearance: The dragon dance features a long dragon-like creature made of a series of connected sections held up by a team of performers. The dragon is typically made of colorful fabric, with a dragon’s head at the front and a long body trailing behind. The length of the dragon can vary, ranging from a few meters to dozens of meters.
Performance Style: The dragon dance involves coordinated movements of the performers, who manipulate the dragon’s body with poles or sticks. The dragon undulates, twists, and turns, simulating the movements of a mythical dragon. The dance requires synchronized teamwork and agility. The dragon dance is accompanied by the sounds of drums, cymbals, and other traditional instruments.
Symbolism: The dragon holds a special place in Chinese culture and is considered a symbol of power, wisdom, and auspiciousness. The dragon dance is believed to bring good luck, prosperity, and abundant rainfall for a bountiful harvest. It is commonly performed during Chinese New Year celebrations and other festive events.
While both the lion dance and dragon dance are vibrant and captivating performances, the lion dance focuses more on individual movements and agility, while the dragon dance emphasizes teamwork and the dynamic movements of the dragon’s body. Both dances have deep cultural and symbolic significance in Chinese traditions and are cherished forms of artistic expression.
Chinese lion dance vs japanese lion dance
The Chinese lion dance and the Japanese lion dance, known as “Shishi-mai,” are traditional cultural performances with some similarities but also distinct characteristics due to their respective cultural influences.
Chinese Lion Dance:
Appearance: In the Chinese lion dance, performers wear a lion costume made of colorful fabric, with a lion’s head and a long lion tail. The lion costume is operated by two or more people, with one person controlling the lion’s head and another manipulating the tail. The lion’s appearance may vary depending on regional styles.
Performance Style: The Chinese lion dance is characterized by agile and lively movements, imitating the behavior and characteristics of a lion. Performers showcase various actions such as leaping, rolling, and scratching. The dance is accompanied by the rhythmic beat of drums, cymbals, and gongs.
Symbolism: The Chinese lion dance symbolizes power, courage, and good luck. It is believed to ward off evil spirits and bring blessings, prosperity, and good fortune. It is commonly performed during festive occasions, business openings, and other important events in Chinese communities.
Japanese Lion Dance (Shishi-mai):
Appearance: The Japanese lion dance features a lion-like creature known as “Shishi” in Japanese. The costume typically consists of a wooden or lacquered headpiece resembling a lion, with a flowing mane and a colorful body robe. The lion’s head is often designed with a fierce expression and is larger in proportion to the body.
Performance Style: The Shishi-mai dance involves skilled performers who manipulate the lion head and body to convey various movements. The dance incorporates stylized and rhythmic steps, jumps, and gestures. The performers may also interact with objects such as a ball or a small wooden lion mask.
Symbolism: In Japan, the lion dance is associated with warding off evil spirits and bringing good luck and fortune. It is often performed during traditional festivals, ceremonies, and celebratory events. The Shishi-mai dance is deeply rooted in Japanese folklore and has regional variations across different parts of the country.
While both the Chinese lion dance and the Japanese lion dance share some similarities in terms of their purpose of bringing good luck and warding off evil, they have distinct aesthetics, performance styles, and cultural significance due to their respective historical and cultural contexts.
Chinese lion dance vs yang dance
The Chinese lion dance and yang dance are two distinct traditional dance forms in China. Here’s a comparison between the two:
Chinese Lion Dance:
Symbolism: The lion dance is often associated with auspiciousness, good luck, and warding off evil spirits. It is performed during festive occasions, such as Chinese New Year and other important celebrations.
Performance: The lion dance involves performers dressed in a lion costume, with two people typically controlling the lion’s movements. One person operates the lion’s head, while the other controls the lion’s body and tail. The dance is accompanied by lively music, drumming, and cymbals.
Characteristics: The lion dance emphasizes the agile and vibrant movements of the lion, including leaping, rolling, and playful interactions with props. It often incorporates acrobatic elements, showcasing the skill and coordination of the performers.
Yang Dance (Yangge):
Origin: Yangge is a traditional folk dance that originated in northern China and is commonly performed during festive occasions, such as the Lantern Festival and weddings.
Group Performance: Yangge is typically performed by a group of dancers, often in colorful costumes, forming a circle or line formation. The dancers move in synchronized patterns, often involving simple steps, clapping, and waving handkerchiefs.
Social and Celebratory: Yangge has a social aspect, as it is often performed as a community activity, with people of all ages participating. It is considered a joyful and celebratory dance, expressing happiness, prosperity, and unity.
In summary, while both the Chinese lion dance and yang dance are traditional dances in China, they differ in terms of symbolism, performance style, and context. The lion dance focuses on the portrayal of a lion, incorporating lively and acrobatic movements, while yang dance is a folk dance performed in groups, emphasizing synchronization and community celebration.
Chinese lion dance vs stone lion
The Chinese lion dance and stone lion (also known as guardian lion or foo dog) are two distinct elements of Chinese culture. Here’s a comparison between the two:
Chinese Lion Dance:
Performance: The lion dance is a traditional dance performed during festive occasions, such as Chinese New Year and other important celebrations. It involves performers dressed in a lion costume, mimicking the movements and behavior of a lion.
Symbolism: The lion dance is believed to bring good luck, fortune, and ward off evil spirits. It is often performed to bless and bring prosperity to businesses, homes, and communities.
Movements: The lion dance incorporates agile and acrobatic movements, including leaping, rolling, and playful interactions with props. It requires coordination and skill from the performers who manipulate the lion’s head, body, and tail.
Symbolism: Stone lions, also known as guardian lions or foo dogs, are traditional decorative statues often placed at the entrances of buildings, temples, and other important sites. They are believed to protect and ward off evil spirits.
Appearance: Stone lions are typically made of stone or other materials and are carved in a stylized manner. They are depicted as majestic and fierce creatures, often with intricate details and symbolic elements.
Placement: Stone lions are placed at the entrances or gateways as a form of protection and to symbolize strength and authority. They are believed to bring good luck and prosperity to the place they guard.
In summary, the Chinese lion dance is a dynamic and lively performance symbolizing good fortune and warding off evil spirits. It involves performers dressed as lions, showcasing acrobatic movements. On the other hand, stone lions are static decorative statues placed at entrances for protection and to symbolize strength and authority. They are considered guardians and bringers of good luck. Both the lion dance and stone lions hold significant cultural and symbolic meanings in Chinese tradition.
How To Make a Chinese Lion Dance Costume?
The lion dance costume can vary. Some are elaborate with large 3D heads and wide-open mouths and eyes. But you don’t need a complex costume for it to serve its purpose. Here are simple steps you can follow to make your own simple lion dance costume:
What you’ll need:
Step 1: Make the head of the lion
Start by printing out the face of a traditional lion dance costume face, so you have an idea of how it looks and what to include. Trace the outline of the lion’s face on one cardboard, ensure it’s 3 x 2 Ft. Cut out the shape of the outline, then use the other colored cardboards to cut out the eyes mouth, tongue, and nose. Finally, glue them onto the outline of the face, to complete the lion’s face.
Step 2: Create the body of the lion.
First, you need to determine the size of the body and how much material you’ll need. To do that, line up the dancers in the position they’ll be in when wearing the costume. Drape a cloth over them. Cut out the required size and use the gold fringe to hem it. You can do that using the hot glue gun to attach the fringe to the sides and back part of the clothe at its edges. Avoid the front end since that’s where the head will go.
Step 3: Attach the head and the body
Using the hot glue, attach the fabric to the top of the lion’s face. That way, when the dancer at the front holds up the face, the cloth will cover his/her head and body. And just like that, the costume is ready for use!
Even today, lions continue to hold an important place in Chinese tradition. Stone lions are still seen as a symbol of prosperity strength and power, which is why you will still find them guarding many Chinese buildings. The lion dance has also over time spread across the world to many countries including those in Africa, Europe, and the Pacific region, thanks to Chinese immigration.