Friday, March 16, 2012

Chinese Guardian Lions

As I was taking photos of the orchids for Wednesday's post, I realized there was a new addition to the decor on the cabinet in our front entryway and it might be a good topic to post about. 
These porcelain figurines are known as Chinese Guardian Lions or Imperial Guardian Lions.  Westerners often call them "Foo Dogs".  Historically, these statues stood at the entrances of the Chinese Imperial palaces, Imperial tombs, government offices, temples, and the homes of government officials and the wealthy.  They date to the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) and were believed to have powerful mythic protective benefits.  I first saw a pair of these statues at one of the antique shops I frequent downtown.  Although they were not for sale, the owner did tell me what they were called and my search began for something similar to put in our entry way (this was before I even had the cabinet).  I also read a lot on the internet about their history and learned a great deal about the the beliefs attached to these Lions and their importance in Chinese spiritual life.

The Lions are always presented as a pair which is to symbolize "yin" (the female) and "yang" (the male).  In truly authentic Lions, the male will have its right front paw on an embroidered ball called a "xiù qiú".  The ball might be carved with a geometric pattern called the "Flower of Life".    The male is believed to guard the structure.  The female will have a cub under her left paw to represent the cycle of life.  The female lion is thought to protect those dwelling inside the structure.  Some statues will have the female with her mouth closed and the male with his open to symbolize the enunciation of the sacred word "om".  

The lions are traditionally carved from decorative stone, such as marble and granite or cast in bronze or iron.  The placement of the guardian lions in front of a residence was a symbol of a family's wealth or social status because of the high cost of the materials and labor required to produce them.  

According to feng shui, the lions must be placed correctly in order to ensure their beneficial effect. When looking at the entrance from outside the building, facing the lions, the male lion with the ball is on the right, and the female with the cub is on the left.

I have seen many of these guardian lions around Bankgok at the entrances to hotels, restaurants, and other buildings.  Since they are outside and exposed to the elements they are usually made of stone and tend to be one color (white).  However, some of the lions that are used solely for interior decorative purposes can be quite eye catching (and expensive).  Here are a few fancier lions...
The top pair of lions are offered for sale at $3,200 USD.  All of the others are priced between $500-$1500 USD.  Rest assured, I paid no where near those amounts for mine (as you probably can tell - they certainly aren't authentic) but they are just what I wanted for the entry.  

Have a great Friday!

1 comment:

Mare Cromwell said...

Hi Kristen,
I really like this post about the 'foo dogs.'

If there are any particular sources on the web that you might remember in your research about them... I'm interested in learning more about their mythical powers and what the Chinese believed about them. I had a dream about them recently and am most curious.