Life with the Lions


It seemed quite appropriate to carry on a web site called Simbacom a section on lions.

In the same way I have been “collecting” lampposts around the world, it seemed a good idea to similarly collect statues of lions. China, of course, is the one place you find stone lions in abundance, but the noble beast is also to be found in just about every other principal city too.

Chinese guardian lions are known as Shishi lions (石獅) - literally "stone lion" -  or Imperial guardian lions. They traditionally stand in front of Chinese Imperial palaces, tombs, government offices, temples, and the homes of government officials.

Pairs of guardian lions are also to be found at the entrances to restaurants, hotels, supermarkets and other structures, with one sitting on each side of the entrance, in China and in other places around the world where the Chinese people have emigrated.

The lions are traditionally carved from decorative stone, such as marble and granite or cast in bronze or iron. They are always presented in pairs (a manifestation of yin and yang, the female representing yin and the male yang).

The male lion has its right front paw on an embroidered ball called a "xiù qiú" (绣球), which is sometimes carved with a geometric pattern known in the West as the "Flower of life" The female is essentially identical, but has a cub under the closer (left) paw to the male, representing the cycle of life.

Symbolically, the female lion protects those dwelling inside, while the male guards the structure. Sometimes the female has her mouth closed, and the male open. Other styles have both lions with a single large pearl in each of their partially opened mouths. The pearl is carved so that it can roll about in the lion's mouth but sized just large enough so that it can never be removed.

According to feng shui, correct placement of the lions is important to ensure their beneficial effect. When looking out of a building through the entrance to be guarded, looking in the same direction as the lions, the male is placed on the left and the female on the right. So when looking at the entrance from outside the building, facing the lions, the male lion with the ball is on the right, and the female with the cub is on the left.

Also to be found across China are pairs of Pi Xiu (貔貅) – a mythical hybrid creature resembling a winged lion with the head of a Chinese dragon which is considered to be a very powerful protector to practitioners of Feng Shui. It has a voracious appetite towards only gold and silver. Its fat body indicates a full stomach loaded with unlimited amounts of good fortune.

There are two different types of Pi Xiu. Ones with two horns are called Pi Ya (辟邪) and the one with one horn is called Tian Lu (天祿). The latter prevents wealth from flowing away from its owner, while Pi Ya wards off evil.

Take a browse through some of these pages and see if you too find them delightful. And if you have any pictures of lions in your home town, please feel free to share them with us.

Hong Kong