Lion Dance History

Lion dance traditions come from a long history in China. Legends and myths describe many stories about the origins of lion dance but none are confirmed in historical records. Lion dance is more than just an artistic performance but is believed to bring prosperity, good fortune, good luck, drive away evil spirits, and bring peace to the people.

The Legends

The Mythical Lion

This legend believes the origin of the Lion came from heaven. The Lion was a mischievous character and caused trouble by playing practical jokes on everyone. On one occasion, the Lion played a practical joke on the Jade Emperor. The Jade Emperor was not pleased and out of his anger decided to behead the lion. He then threw both the head and body of the Lion down to earth to perish. Kwan Yin (the goddess of mercy) discovered what had happened and felt sorry for the lion. She then sent down a long red ribbon that bounded the Lion’s head and body back together. This red ribbon was said to have the ability to ward off evil spirits and can be seen on lions today. Kwan Yin also adorned the lion with a mirror on its forehead, which is said to be used when confronting an evil spirit. When evil spirits approached the lion, they would see their own reflections and be frightened away.
After restoring the lion, Kwan Yin instructed the Lion to seek out the Ling Chi grass, a grass that would restore the Lion’s power, located in the garden of the Buddha. Before the Lion could eat the grass, the Lion had to follow the ritual of bowing. The Lion first bowed to the left representing Heaven, to the right representing Earth, and then to the center representing Man. The Lion finally approached the Ling Chi grass cautiously and ate it. The grass caused the Lion to fall asleep and when it awoke, the Lion’s powers were restored. The Lion then bowed again to Heaven, Earth, and Man as it returned to Heaven.

The King’s Dream

Another belief is that lion dance comes from the Tang Dynasty. Legend says that the emperor had a strange dream one night. In that dream, the emperor was saved by an odd creature that he had never seen before. The next day, the emperor describes this creature to his ministers. One minister explained to the emperor that the creature resembled an animal called a “lion,” which existed only in the western countries. The emperor wanted to see the “lion” and ordered a model of it to be created. As a result of the emperor’s dream, the lion became the symbol of good luck, good fortune, and prosperity.