The Legends of the Southern Lion

1. The Emperor's Dream

LION dancing originated during the Tang dynasty (618-906 AD). Legend has it that the emperor had a dream one night in which a strange looking animal saved his life. The next morning, the emperor described the dream to his ministers. One minister told the emperor that the strange animal resembled a creature from the West, a lion. Since the strange animal saved the emperor in his dream, the lion quickly became a symbol of good luck throughout China. It was believed that a dancing lion chased away evil spirits. Today, lion dancing is still the most important opening ceremony for Chinese events and businesses. It's also a necessary ritual for businesses during the time of the Chinese New Year, for lion dancing evokes good luck in the upcoming year. Lions are not native to China, which explains why the "lion" in the dance acquired characteristics of the Chinese dragon and phoenix.

Lion dancers are always kung-fu practitioners. First, lion dancing requires the dancers to develop strong stances, since the lion head is heavy and the tail position for the rear dancer is awkward. Lion dances can be lengthy, requiring the dancers to possess excellent physical conditioning and stamina.

2. The Awakening Lion

There was an ancient tale about a wicked beast called "Nien" that came out in the New Year and killed innocent people. In order to defend themselves, people used bamboo rods and paper to make a fierce and colourful lion accompanied by the loud sounds of drums and cymbals to scare the beast away. As generations went by, people began using lion dancing for the New Year and festivals to celebrate as well as to appeal for peace.

3. The Lion From Heaven

Most cats are curious and playful, often causing a great deal of trouble for their mischievous activities. The great Lion who had originated in heaven, was no different. For years now, Lion had been causing a stir. Deities came from all over the heavens to complain to the Jade Emperor who ruled over them. The Emperor, thinking to himself, "Lion is always getting in trouble, always playing where he should not".

This wasn't the first time that Lion had been reported as insubordinate. As a matter of fact, the Jade Emperor could not himself remember the first defiant incident, and the Emperor knows everything. The Emperor started to shake his head and thought "This was going to be the last time he ever wanted to hear about Lion's insubordination". "Well, today Lion would not get away with it," promised the Emperor. "Today will mark the end of that menace." And with that, Look-Wong went and called Lion forth, chopped off Lion's head, and threw his remains out of Heaven and down to Earth to rot. "There," he thought, "this was the end of that." And it would have been, too, had not for Kwan-Yin, the Goddess of Mercy, who had been watching the whole proceeding behind a silken cloud of mist. "Poor Lion," she thought, "doomed by his frisky nature. A bit playful, perhaps, but Lion had never did any real harm to anything or anybody." And with that, she flew from heaven, descending down to Earth to help the poor undone Lion.

After a long search, Kwan-Yin finally found Lion where he had landed with a thump, after falling to Earth. She tied his head back on to his body with an Enchanted Red Ribbon, which she had brought down with her. "The ribbon," she told Lion, who was very pleased to have regained his head, "is enchanted. It will not only hold you together, but will also frighten away evil spirits and will keep you safe from any harm." This made Lion very happy for he now knew that the power of the Enchanted Red Ribbon would now keep him safe. Of course, the Lion himself, had his own method of frightening away evil spirits. He had a mirror ingrained in his forehead which reflect the devil's image back at him. Once the devil sees how ugly he truly is, he knew, thereby, his sight is so bad it scares all of the evil spirits off. But the ribbon was much more powerful and with the two combined, no evil spirits could withstand the power that he is now blessed with.

Today, if you should look, you should notice and see that every Kung Fu School's and Lion Dance Troupe's Lion Heads are equipped with a mirror on it's forehead and a red ribbon tied around it's horn. Practically every Kung Fu school will have at least one Lion Head, for it is the very heart and soul of the school. He is the flag and banner of the school, because in the old days, the Lion spoke of the school's martial arts ability. Schools would perform the Lion dance at festivals to demonstrate how skillful their Kung-Fu abilities really are.