Chinese Lions

06 Dec

Lions are pretty uncommon in most of east Asia. The Asiatic lion ranged from the Middle East to western Tibet, although today they are confined to the dry, deciduous Gir Forest of India. They were found in Greece and Italy, but never really got over the Himalayas until the Silk Road came about.

The sudden increase in trade between China and the Persian states began with the Han Dynasty around 206 BC. In addition to normal goods, the caravans brought lions with them. Mostly as stories, but also occasionally as tribute. In 87 CE an envoy from Parthia brought a lion and ostrich with them to the Han court. They even brought the name with them. The Persian “shiar” turned into the Chinese “shi”.

sì shì sì, shí shì shí, shí sì shì shí sì, sì shí shì sì shí, sì shí sì zhī shí shī zǐ shì sǐ de

A big lion theme comes in the form of shishi or stone lions, are a common imperial and temple motif in Asia, especially China. Traditionally, they stand in pairs, a male and female, holding a globe and cub, respectively, and guard the inhabitants within. It’s been this way since the Han Dynasty and has spread to Japan and Southeast Asia as well. A number of temple dog breeds, such as lhasa apso or chow chows, have taken on the lion’s role and are colloquially known as lion dogs. Tibet also has a similar mythical creature, the snow lion, which embodies the Buddhist idea of joy and fearlessness. It doesn’t stand outside temples though, instead it lives in the mountain peaks.

Sources: Wikipedia

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Posted by on December 6, 2011 in History, Natural History


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