Stone Lions - Emblems of Power

It would be a quite curious thing to notice so many stone lions all over China, for the country is not the habitat of lions. According to historical record, it is during the Eastern Han Dynasty (25 - A.D. 220) that the first lion was brought into China. It was a present from the king of Parthia to the Han Emperor. But the stone lions came to China some decades earlier than the real one: it was introduced into the country along with Buddhism.

The lion is regarded in Buddhism as a divine animal of might and nobleness, capable of warding off evil spirits. Under such influence, ancient Chinese consider it as the monarch of all animals, and stone lions were carved outside the buildings of royal family and court officials to represent their dignity and prestige.

Traditionally, there are often a pair of lions standing in front of the gates of buildings. On the left is always a male lion with its right paw resting on a ball, while on the right is a female, with its left paw fondling a small cub. The symbolization of these two lions are different: the male playing with a ball indicates the sense of dignity, and the female with a cub symbolizes thriving offspring.

The stone lions were also used to indicate the ranks of officials by the number of lumps representing the curly hair on the head of the lion. The houses of first grade officials had lions with 13 lumps and the number of lumps decreased by one as the rank of the official went down each grade. Officials below the seventh grade were not allowed to have stone lions in front of their houses.

Nowadays, you can see stone lions not only in front of the gates of traditional buildings such as palace halls and court offices, but also many modern mansions. One thing you might find interesting is that most Chinese banks like to carve stone lions at the gates of their buildings. What they are hoping is that those lions can keep away anything bad and bring prosperity to their business.