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Chinese Guardian Lions - Take Home Feng Shui


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Fig. 1: A Chinese blue porcelain pair of guardian lion figures dating from the Qing dynasty. Dimensions are: 12 inches tall X 6 inches wide.


Like many animals, the lion has multiple meanings in different cultures. In the west, the wild lion is referred to as “king” of the jungle; associated with royalty and nobility. In China, these qualities led the lion to become a protective guardian figure. 

The symbol of the lion is believed to have reached China at some point during the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD), through Buddhist missionaries who were traveling on the Silk Road from India. These missionaries introduced the image of the lion to the Chinese through their teachings and it eventually reached the Forbidden City and the emperor. Since the first lion was not shown in China until years after the image had become popular, the majority of artists had to make use of descriptions and their own imagination, leading to a stylized image.

Guardian lions, or ‘shi,’ such as the two that are up for auction in our December 2019 auction, typically appear in pairs: a female and a male, meant to represent yin and yang, respectively. Traditionally found in the front of homes or buildings, these lions are meant to protect the area by keeping out negative energies, according to the precepts feng-shui, an ancient form of Chinese natural science. As feng-shui relies on terrain and geomancy to create a prosperous and harmonious home environment, the physical presence of the lions as well as their symbolic value changes the lay-out of the home and its access to negative or positive forces.1

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Fig. 2: Detail of male guardian lion.

The male lion protects the outside of the building as well as the building itself, representing power and supremacy. To identify the male of the pair, look to the paws: the male has his right paw on a sphere. The ball either represents the world or a god,2 and could either be simple or carved with spherical patterns.

The female of the pair represents compassion and support and is said to protect what is inside the building, material belongings as well as people. She is identified by the lion cub that is seen under her paw, a representation of the circle of life.3

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Fig. 3: Detail of female guardian lion.


Originally these lions were only used in transitional areas, (bridges, temples, government buildings, universities, etc).4 Now, however, they are displayed more liberally with small versions of the traditional lions being used for home decoration.

The lions in our December 2019 Fine Asian Art and Antiques auction are glazed blue porcelain. The color blue is meant to symbolize healing, relaxation, trust, and calmness.5 While the female does not have her paw on her cub, as it seems to be climbing her leg, the significance remains the same. The sphere of the male is also only a simple sphere with no patterns.

These Chinese guardian lions are meant to protect a home or establishment. If one wants to stick with tradition, the male lion would be placed on the right while the female is on the left. Why not take these guardians home and add a little feng shui to your life?



Literature Consulted

1.  Eitel, Ernest J. Feng-Shui or, The Rudiments of Natural Science in China. London: Trubner and Co. , 1878. https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=m2lbAAAAcAAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PA1&dq=history of chinese feng shui &ots=jVsN1Vx4YS&sig=QlpOEa1BD5wqEbRXnvfevDYTDaA#v=onepage&q=history of chinese feng shui&f=false.

2. Katz, E.A. & Jin, BY. Math Intelligencer (2016) 38: 61. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00283-016-9663-0

3. Katz, E.A. & Jin, BY. Math Intelligencer (2016) 38: 61. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00283-016-9663-0

4.  Hulsbosch, Marianne, Elizabeth Bedford, and Martha Chaiklin. Asian Material Culture. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2009. https://books.google.com/books?id=PcvA373XEJwC&pg=PA109&f=false#v=onepage&q&f=false.

5.  Gehrmann, Valeska. “___ Symbolism of Colors, Associations of The Five Elements in Chinese Beliefs and Feng Shui.” Symbolism of colors - Chinese Customs. Accessed October 28, 2019.

https://www.nationsonline.org/oneworld/Chinese_Customs/colours.htm.

6. Johanne, I. “Foo Dogs / Fu Dogs – Chinese Guardian Lions” Good Luck Symbols. 15 June 2019,

https://goodlucksymbols.com/foo-dogs/



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About the Author

Alison Eubanks joined Oakridge in the fall of 2019. She received her Master's degree in Museum Studies from the University of Leicester, during which time she developed practical experience working with historic collections at the Hampton Court Palaces in England.  




Tue, Nov 5, 2019 1:02 PM

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