Stone lion is carved out of stone, which is the common ornament in Chinese traditional architecture, such as imperial palace, temple, Buddha pagoda, bridge, mausoleum, mansion, gardens and so on. Lion indicates safety and luck in China. There is a rite to stone lion called Kaiguan, which means give light to the stone lion’s eyes. If the stone lion didn’t receive the rite, it’s only an artwork not a mascot in Chinese minds. The paired stone lions should stand symmetrically in front of the building. The male stone lion stands at the left hand, and the female stone lion should stand at the right hand.
Generally, stone lion refers to the paired lions outside the gate; however, their appearances turn out to be the lions we are not familiar with. Maybe the most people in central plains of ancient China had never seen the real lion. There is another saying that the lions of ancient Western Region are distinctive from the ones of Africa.
It is said that the lion was introduced into China in Han Dynasty (206B.C. -220 A .D.) from the Western Region. In Chinese culture, lion is a mythical figure rather than real animal. Together with Kylin, lion is regarded as the divine beast. After its introduction, lion gradually became the mascot outside the gate, for Chinese people think that lion can drive away the evil spirits.
Another saying of why take stone lion as the gate keeper is related to the pronunciation of stone lion (Shishi) in Chinese. Stone sounds like ‘Shi' in Chinese with the meaning of solid, and the second ‘Shi' referring to lion sounds similar to ‘Si', with the meaning of ‘to think about'. As the whole, stone lion has the moral that it is difficult to start and keep a business.
Stone Lions in Different Dynasties
The appearances of different dynasties stones lions are distinctive. The ones of Han and Tang Dynasties are strong and intrepid; the thin but powerful ones are from Yuan Dynasty. As to the stone lions of Ming and Qing Dynasties, they appeared more meek and gentle. Besides, stone lions have the obvious local features. As a whole, the lions from the northern China are more decent and simple-carved, while the lions from the South are more vivid and alive with many matching accessory sculptures. The stone lion usually is carved based on Xumizuo, a kind of architectural ornament frequently used as the base for decent building or carving. Most of lions have curly hairs.
Related to Yin and Yang Philosophy
The location of the stone lion is settled in China. Generally, it should be a pair of lions with female in the right hand side and male the left according to Chinese traditional Yin and Yang philosophy. The female lion is usually carved to have a child lion between her paws, while the male lion is playing a ball with one paw. When people enter the building, the male lion should be at the left hand side and the female at the right.
However, there are the exceptions, such as the stone lions outside the Temple of Guan Yu in Jiayu Pass and the stone lions standing in front of the Confucian Temple in Qufu, Shandong Province. One can see the famous stone lions before the Tian'anmen Rostrum, the Altar of Land and Grain in Zhongshan Park and Peking University as well as Lugou Bridge in Beijing.