Types of Lion
The Southern Lion is deemed more symbolic, as in Chinese culture the lion represents strength, courage, energy, wisdom, prosperity and good luck. Ceremonially it is used to exorcise evil spirits. The southern lions are very colourful and have a distinctive head with a mirror on the forehead, and a single horn in the centre.
There are three types of lions which are represented by their colouring:
Golden lion, representing liveliness,
Red lion, representing courage,
Green lion, representing friendship.
There are three other famous types of lions known as Liu Bei, Gwan Gung and Zhang Fei, which are most commonly used in performances by various southern kung fu schools and traditional lion dance troupes. They are representatives of the historical characters in the popular Chinese novel of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, where these three characters were blood oath brothers that swore to restore the Han Dynasty.
The three heroes of the ‘Three Kingdom’ era:
Liu Bei lion is the eldest of the three heroes. It has a yellow face with white beard and fur (to denote his wisdom) and sports a multi colouredrainbow tail. Known as the Auspicious Lion it is used by kung fu schools with an established Sifu (teacher) o organisation.
Guan Gong lion is the second hero. It has a red face, black fur, a long black beard. The tail is red with black trim and it sports two coins on the collar. This Lion is known as the Awakened Lion and is generally used by most Chinese kung fu schools.
The third lion Zhang Fei lion has a black face with short black beard, cauliflower/rugged ears, black fur and the tail is black with white trim. Traditionally this lion also has bells attached to the body, which served as a warning, like a rattler on a rattle snake and is known as Fighting Lion because Zhang Fei had a quick temper and loved to fight. He is the youngest of the three heroes and this lion is customarily used by kung fu schools that were just starting out.
Later an additional three Lions were added to the group:
Green faced lion represented Zhao Yun or Zhao (Cantonese: Chiu) Zi Long. He has a green tail with white beard and fur and an iron horn. He is often called the fourth brother, this lion is called the “Heroic Lion” because it is said he rode through Cao Cao’s million man army and rescued Liu Bei’s infant and fought his way back out.
White colour lion is known as Ma Chao (Cantonese: Ma Chiu), he was assigned this colour because he always wore a white arm band to battle against the Emperor of Wei, Cao Cao, to signify that he was in mourning for his father and brother who had been murdered by Cao Cao.
Thus this lion was known as the “Funeral Lion”. This lion is never used except for a funeral for the Sifu or some important head of the group, and in such cases it is usually burned right after. Even if it is properly stored, it is not something one would want to keep, as it is symbolically inauspicious to have around.
It is sometimes though, confused with the silver lion which sometimes has a white like colouring.
The above three along with Guan Yu and Zhang Fei were known as the “Five Tiger Generals of Shu” each representing one of the colours of the five elements.
Lions of North/South divide:
The Northern Lion was exclusively used for entertainment in the imperial court but nowadays the northern lions are a firm favourite with the travelling Chinese State Circus. This type of lion usually has red, orange and yellow shaggy fur, with a golden head. Each lion has a silk bow tied to its head and this is how you can tell the lions gender: red for males and green for females. Usually appearing in pairs, the lions mimic the actions of Pekingese Dogs (also known as Fu (Foo) Dogs). How they move is very lifelike and typically this style of lion dance is known for its acrobatic and sometimes dangerous stunts: high lifts and balancing acts.