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History of Lion Dance

According to experts lion dance originated over 1500 years ago, the lion itself is not native to China. The first one was brought to China as a tribute during the reign of the Emperor Shun (126-145) of the Han dynasty. But China had no zoos, and very few people had actually seen a lion. So how did they go about imitating the lion in their dances?
"By looking at the animals around them" Chinese lion dance can be divided into two broad categories:
The Northern style imatates the dog and the Southern the cat. The Northern or Beijing version is short, stocky and furry, much like an oversized Pekinese. It is mainly used by Chinese Circuses & acrobats entertaining audiences with their humor and mannerisms.

There are two styles of Southern lion dance, one style is from Fujian and the other is from Guangdong (Canton). which is also the most popular. The Cantonese lion can be divided into two styles one is Foshan, which is very popular in Hong Kong and most Chinese communities around the World. The other is the Heshan, which is popular in Malaysia, Singapore and with competition teams.

Lion heads are constructed of papier-mache applied over a frame of wicker and rattan, some of the modern heads use aluminum and plastic in their construction. The heads are then painted different colours used to signfy different characters, but like women who wear make up so the heads have become more colourful. Here are the colours of the heads and which characters they signfy:

Yellow - Liu Bei
Red - Guan Gong
Black - Zhang Fei

(the above are all characters from "Romance of The Three Kingdoms").

Origin of Lion Dance

There are many stories about the origins of lion dance, here are the three most popular stories about the origin of lion dance:


A long time ago a fierce
creature (*Nian)appeared,
which terrefied the
No one could fight the
Nian, so in despair the
villagers asked the lion
to help. The lion attacked
the Nian and injuried it,
the Nian vowed to take
The Nian did return this
time the lion was unable
to help, so the people
constructed an imitation
lion out of bamboo & cloth.
2 men operated the lion while
the rest of the people banged
there pots & pans. When the
Nian saw the lion and heard
the commotion it ran away.
The Villagers carried on with
this tradition every year to
scare away evil.

*Nian in Chinese sounds
like Year.



During the Sung Dynasty
(420-479), the General Zhong
Yue led an army south to
quell the country of Lin Yi,
located somewhere around Laos
& Burma. The King of the
Country used an "elephant
formation" to stop the army's
advance. But the general had
an idea, having heard that all
beasts submit to the lion. He
ordered his subordinates to
construct imitation lions and
put them on the front line. As
soon as the elephants saw them
they scattered and Lin Yi
submitted to the Sung.


Legend has it that the Emperor
had a dream one night in which
he became separated from his
army and lost, with no food
or drink he began to panic.
He then saw a strange looking
animal that protected him and
guided him back to the palace.
the next morning, the Emperor
described the dream to his
ministers. One minister told
the Emperor that the strange
animal resembled a creature
from the West, the Lion.

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