Lion dance (simplified Chinese: 舞狮; traditional Chinese: 舞獅; pinyin: wǔshī) is a form of traditional dance in Chinese culture and other Asian countries in which performers mimic a lion's movements in a lion costume. The lion dance is usually performed during the Chinese New Year and other Chinese traditional, cultural and religious festivals. It may also be performed at important occasions such as business opening events, special celebrations or wedding ceremonies, or may be used to honour special guests by the Chinese communities.
|Alternative Chinese name|
|Traditional Chinese||跳獅 or 弄獅|
|Vietnamese||múa lân / sư tử|
|Chữ Nôm||𦨂麟 / 獅子|
The Chinese lion dance is sometimes mistakenly referred to as dragon dance. An easy way to tell the difference is that a lion is normally operated by just two dancers, while a dragon is longer and needs many people. Also, in a lion dance, the performers' faces are only seen occasionally, since they are inside the lion. In a dragon dance, the performers' faces can be easily seen since the dragon is held on poles. Chinese lion dance fundamental movements can be found in most Chinese martial arts.
There are two main forms of the Chinese lion dance, the Northern Lion and the Southern Lion. Both forms are commonly found in China, but around the world especially in South East Asia, the Southern Lion predominates as it was spread by the Chinese diaspora communities who are historically mostly of Southern Chinese origin. The Southern Lion consists of three styles, Hok San, Fut San and Fut Hok (Fok Hok or Fo He). Versions of the lion dance are also found in Japan, Korea, Tibet and Vietnam. Another form of lion dance exists in Indonesian culture, but it may be of a different tradition and may be referred to as Singa Barong.
There has been an old tradition in China of dancers wearing masks to resemble animals or mythical beasts since antiquity, and performances described in ancient texts such as Shujing where wild beasts and phoenix danced may have been masked dances. In Qin Dynasty sources, dancers performing exorcism rituals were described as wearing bearskin mask, and it was also mentioned in Han Dynasty texts that "mime people" (象人) performed as fish, dragons, and phoenixes. However, lion is not native to China (a species found in Northeast China Panthera youngi had long become extinct), and the Lion Dance therefore has been suggested to have originated outside of China from countries such as India or Persia, and introduced via Cental Asia. According to ethnomusicologist Laurence Picken, the Chinese word for lion itself, shi (獅, written as 師 in the early periods), may have been derived from the Persian word šer. The earliest use of the word shizi meaning lion first appeared in Han Dynasty texts and had strong association with Central Asia (an even earlier but obsolete term for lion was suanni (狻麑 or 狻猊)), and lions were presented to the Han court by emissaries from Central Asia and the Parthian Empire. Detailed descriptions of Lion Dance appeared during the Tang Dynasty and it was already recognized by writers and poets then as a foreign dance, however, Lion dance may have been recorded in China as early as the third century AD where "lion acts" were referred to by a Three Kingdoms scholar Meng Kang (孟康) in a commentary on Hanshu. In the early periods it had association with Buddhism: it was recorded in a Northern Wei text, Description of Buddhist Temples in Luoyang (洛陽伽藍記), that a parade for a statue of Buddha of a temple was led by a lion to drive away evil spirits. One suggestion is therefore that the dance may have been developed from a local tradition that appropriated the Buddhist symbolism of lion.
There were different versions of the dance in the Tang Dynasty. In the Tang court, the lion dance was called the Great Peace Music (太平樂, Taiping yue) or the Lion Dance of the Five Directions (五方師子舞) where five large lions of different colours and expressing different moods were each led and manipulated on rope by two persons, and accompanied by 140 singers. In a later account, the 5 lions were described as each over 3 metres tall and each had 12 "lion lads", who may tease the lions with red whisks. Another version of the lion dance was described by the Tang poet Bai Juyi in his poem "Western Liang Arts" (西凉伎), where the dance was performed by two hu (胡, meaning here non-Han people from Central Asia) dancers who wore a lion costume made of a wooden head, a silk tail and furry body, with eyes gilded with gold and teeth plated with silver as well as ears that moved, a form that resembles today's Lion Dance. By the eighth century, this lion dance had reached Japan. During the Song Dynasty the lion dance was commonly performed in festivals and it was known as the Northern Lion during the Southern Song.
The Southern Lion is a later development in the south of China originating in the Guangdong province. There are a number of myths associated with the origin of the Southern Lion: one story relates that the dance originated as a celebration in a village where a mythical monster called Nian was successfully driven away; another has it that the Qianlong Emperor dreamt of an auspicious animal while on a tour of Southern China, and ordered that the image of the animal be recreated and used during festivals. However it is likely that the Southern Lion of Guangzhou is an adaptation of the Northern Lion to local myths and characteristics, perhaps during the Ming Dynasty.
The two main types of lion dance in China are the Northern and Southern Lions. There are however also a number of local forms of lion dance in different regions of China, and some of these lions may have significantly differences in appearance, for example the Green Lion (青獅, Qing Shi) popular with the Hokkien people and Taiwanese. Other ethnic minorities groups in China may also have their own lion dances, for examples the lion dance of the Muslim minority in Shenqiu County in Henan. Chinese lion dances usually involve two dancers but may also be performed by one. The larger lions manipulated by two persons may be referred to as great lions (太獅), and those manipulated by one person little lions (少獅). The performances may also be broadly divided into civil (文獅) and martial (武獅) styles. The civil style emphasizes the character and mimics and behaviour of the lion, while the martial style is focused on acrobatics and energetic movements.
There are related forms of dances with mask figures that represent mythical creatures such as the Qilin and Pixiu. The Qilin dance is most commonly performed by the Hakka people who were originally from northern China, but have largely settled in the south of China and southeast Asia in modern times.
Various forms of lion dance are also found widely in East Asian countries such as Japan, Korea, Vietnam, as well as among the communities in the Himalayan region.
Chinese Northern LionEdit
The Chinese Northern Lion (simplified Chinese: 北狮; traditional Chinese: 北獅; pinyin: Běi shī) Dance is often performed as a pair of male and female lions in the north of China. Northern lions may have a gold-painted wooden head, and shaggy orange and yellow hair with a red bow on its head to indicate a male lion, or a green bow (sometimes green hair) to represent a female. There are however regional variations of the lion.
Northern lions resemble Pekingese or Fu Dogs, and its movements are lifelike during a performance. Acrobatics are very common, with stunts like lifts, or balancing on a tiered platform or on a giant ball. Northern lions sometimes appear as a family, with two large "adult" lions and a pair of small "young lions". There are usually two performers in one adult lion, and one in the young lion. There may also be a "warrior" character who holds a spherical object and leads the lions.
The dance of the Northern Lion is generally more playful than the Southern Lion. Regions with well-known lion dance troupes include Xushui in Hebei province, and Ninghai in Ningbo. There are a number of variations of the lion dance performance, for example the Heavenly Tower Lion Dance (simplified Chinese: 天塔狮舞; traditional Chinese: 天塔獅舞; pinyin: Tiān tǎ shī wǔ) from Xiangfen County in Shanxi is a performance whereby a number of lions climb up a tall tower structure constructed out of wooden stools, and there are also high-wire acts involving lions
Chinese Southern LionEdit
The Chinese Southern Lion (simplified Chinese: 南狮; traditional Chinese: 南獅; pinyin: Nán shī) or Cantonese Lion dance originated from Guangdong. The Southern Lion has a single horn, and is associated with the legend of a mythical monster called Nian. The lion consists of a head which is traditionally constructed using papier-mâché over a bamboo frame covered with gauze, then painted and decorated, and a body made of durable layered cloth trimmed with fur. Newer lions however may be made with modern materials such as aluminium instead of bamboo and are lighter. Newer versions may also apply shinier modern material over the traditional lacquer such as sequin or laser sticker but they do not last as long as those with semi-dull lacquer.
There are two main styles of Guangdong or Cantonese Lion: the Fut San or Fo Shan (Chinese: 佛山; pinyin: Fúshān; literally: "Buddha Mountain"), and the Hok San or He Shan (simplified Chinese: 鹤山; traditional Chinese: 鶴山; pinyin: hèshān; literally: "Crane Mountain"), both named after their place of origin. Other minor styles include the Fut-Hok (a hybrid of Fut San and Hok San created in Singapore by Kong Chow Wui Koon in the 1960s), and the Jow Ga (performed by practitioners of Jow family style kung fu). The different lion types can be identified from the design of the lion head.
Fo Shan is the style many kung fu schools adopt. It requires power in moves and strength in posture. The lion becomes the representation of the kung fu school and only the most advanced students are allowed to perform. Traditionally, the Fo Shan lion has bristles instead of fur and is heavier than the modern ones now popularly used. It also has a very long tail and eyes that swivel left and right. On the back there are gold foiled rims and a gilded area where the troupe's name may be written. All the traditional style Fo Shan have pop-up teeth, tongue, and swiveling eyes. The underside of the tail is white; the designs of the tail are also more square and contain a diamond pattern going down the back, and often has bells attached to the tail. It has a high forehead, curved lips and a sharp horn on its head. Traditional Fo Shan lions are ornate in appearance, a number of regional styles however have developed around the world. The newer styles of Fo Shan lions replace all the bristles with fur and the tails are shorter. The eyes are fixed in place, and the tongue and teeth do not pop up. The tail is more curvy in design, does not have a diamond pattern, and lacks bells.
The He Shan style lion is known for its richness of expression, unique footwork, impressive-looking appearance and vigorous drumming style. The founder of this style is thought to be the "Canton Lion King" Feng Gengzhang (simplified Chinese: 冯庚长; traditional Chinese: 馮庚長; pinyin: Féng Gēngzhǎng) in the early 20th century. Feng was born in a village in He Shan county in Guangdong, and he was instructed in martial arts and lion dance by his father. Later, he also studied martial arts and Southern lion dance in Foshan before returning to his hometown and setting up his own training hall. He developed his unique version of lion dance, creating new techniques by studying and mimicking movement of cats, such as "catching mouse, playing, catching birds, high escape, lying low and rolling". He and his disciples also made changes to the lion head, its forehead is lower, its horn rounded and it has a duck beak mouth with flat lips. The body of the lion is also more powerful in structure with eye-catching colours. Together with new dance steps and agile footwork, a unique rhythm invented by Feng called the "Seven Star Drum", Feng created a new style of lion dancing that is high in entertainment value and visual appeal. In the early 1920s, the He Shan lion dance was performed when Sun Yat-Sen assumed office in Guangzhou, and created a stir. Around 1945, He Shan lion performers were often invited to perform in many places within China and Southeast Asia during celebratory festivals. The He Shan style became very popular in Singapore; the lion acquired the title of "Lion King of Kings", and has a "king" character (王) on its forehead. Further improvement had been made by the Singapore Hok San Association, for example making the lion more "cat-like" by shortening the tail of He Shan lion, and creating new drum beat for the dance.
Different colors are used to signify the age and character of the lions. The lion with white fur is considered to be the oldest of the lions, while the lion with golden yellow fur is the middle child. The black lion is considered the youngest lion, and the movement of this lion should be fast like a young child or a headstrong teenager. The colors may also represent the character of the lion: the golden lion represents liveliness, the red lion courage, and the green lion friendship. There are also three lion types that represent three historical characters recorded in the classic Romance of the Three Kingdoms who were blood oath brothers that swore to restore the Han dynasty:
- The Liu Bei (Cantonese: Lau Pei) lion is the eldest of the three brothers and has a yellow (actually imperial yellow as he became the first emperor of the Shu-Han Kingdom) based face with white beard and fur (to denote his wisdom). It sports a multi coloured tail (with white underside) signifying the colors of the five elements. Older Liu Bei lions also have black in the tail while the new ones do not. There are three coins on the collar. This lion is used by schools with an established Martial art master (Sifu) or organization and is known as the Rui Shi (simplified Chinese: 瑞狮; traditional Chinese: 瑞獅; pinyin: Ruì Shī; literally: "Auspicious Lion").
- The Guan Gong (Cantonese: Kwan Kung) lion has a red based face, black bristles, with a long black beard (as he was also known as the "Duke with the Beautiful Beard"). The tail is red and black with white trim and a white underside. He is known as the second brother and sports two coins on the collar. This Lion is known as the Xing Shi (simplified Chinese: 醒狮; traditional Chinese: 醒獅; pinyin: Xǐng Shī; literally: "Awakened Lion").
- The Zhang Fei (Cantonese: Cheung Fei) lion has a black based face with short black beard, small ears, and black bristles. The tail is black and white with white trim and a white underside. Traditionally this lion also had bells attached to the body. Being the youngest of the three brothers, there is only a single coin on the collar. This Lion is known as the Dou Shi (simplified Chinese: 斗狮; traditional Chinese: 鬥獅; pinyin: Dòu Shī; literally: "Fighting Lion") because Zhang Fei had a quick temper and loved to fight. This lion is used by clubs that were just starting out or by those wishing to make a challenge.
Later three more Lions were added to the group. The Green Faced Lion represented Zhao Yun or Zhao (Cantonese: Chiu) Zi Long. The Zhao Zi Long lion is a green lion with a green tail with black trim and a white underside, as well as a 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. The Yellow (yellow/orange) face and body with white beard represented Huang Zhong (Cantonese: Wong Tsung), he was given this color when Liu Bei rose to become Emperor. The Huang Joon has a full yellow tail with white trim. This lion is called the Righteous Lion. The white lion is known as Ma Chao (Cantonese: Ma Chiu), he was assigned this color because he always wore a white arm band in his 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 the funeral of a Master or an important head of a group, and in such cases the lion is usually burned right after use as it is symbolically inauspicious to be kept around. This lion is sometimes confused with the silver lion which sometimes has a whitish colouring. These three along with Guan Yu and Zhang Fei were known as the "Five Tiger Generals of Shun," each representing one of the colors of the five elements.
Green lion danceEdit
Green Lion (青狮) is the lion dance form associated with the province of Fujian and the Hokkien-speaking people. It is believed to have its origins in the anti-Manchu movements after the fall of the Ming dynasty in 1644. It is similar to the typical Chinese southern lion dance, except that it is mainly green in color and with distinct round flat mask.
Green lion, in the Hokkien language, sounds similar to Qing army (清师) and when fitted with blades, it symbolized the Manchurian army. Its ferocious look was a reminder of the devastation that occurred during the Qing conquest of Southern China. During training sessions, the Green lion is a moving target for trainees and became the physical manifestation of Manchurian aggressiveness to stimulate trainees. Contemporary Green Lion performance gives an idea how the training may have looked like.
After the fall of Qing dynasty in 1912, martial arts expert Mr. Gan De Yuan (干德源) is said to have organized a performance in Quanzhou where the Green Lion was dismembered to represent the overthrow of the Qing dynasty. From that point onwards, the Green Lion is used without the blades and function as a form of physical training. The performance of Green Lion fulfills cultural and ritual purposes.
The lion dance is known in Vietnam as the unicorn dance (Vietnamese: múa lân). Most lions in Vietnam resemble the Southern Lion – they are part of the Chinese Southern Lion tradition but have acquired local characteristics. There are however also distinct local forms that differ significantly in appearance and performance, for example the lion dances of the Tay and Nung minority people. A court version of the dance is performed at the Duyet Thi Duong Theatre within the ground of the royal palace in Huế.
The dance is performed primarily at traditional festivals such as Vietnamese lunar new year (Tết) and Mid-Autumn Festival (Tết trung thu), as well as during other occasions such as the opening of a new business. The dance is typically accompanied by martial artists and acrobatics. A feature of the Vietnamese unicorn dance is its dance partner Ông Địa or the spirit of the earth, depicted as a large bellied, broadly grinning man holding a palm-leaf fan similar to the Chinese 'Big Head Buddha' (大头佛). The good-hearted spirit, according to popular beliefs, has the power to summon the auspicious unicorn, and thus during the dance, takes the lead in clearing the path for the unicorn. The comical appearance of Ông Địa adds to the festive and merry-making nature of the dance.
Japan has a long tradition of the lion dance and the dance is known as shishi-mai (獅子舞) in Japanese. It is thought to have been imported from China during the Tang Dynasty, and became associated with celebration of Buddha's Birthday. The first lion dance recorded in Japan was at the inauguration ceremonies of Tōdai-ji in Nara in 752. The oldest surviving lion mask, made of paulownia wood with an articulated lower jaw, is also preserved in Tōdai-ji. The dance is commonly performed during the New Year to bring good luck and drive away evil spirits, and the lion dancers may be accompanied by flute and drum musicians. It is also performed at other festivals and celebrations. In some of these performances, the lions may bite people on the head to bring good luck.
The lion dance has been completely absorbed into Japanese tradition. There are many different lion dances in Japan and the style of dancing and design of the lion may differ by region – it is believed that as many as 9,000 variations of the dance exist in the country. The lion dance is also used in religious Shinto festivals as part of a performing art form called kagura. Shishi kagura may be found in different forms - for example the daikagura which is mainly acrobatic, the yamabushi kagura, a type of theatrical performance done by yamabushi ascetics, and also in bangaku and others. Various forms of shishi dances are also found in noh, kabuki (where the lion dances form a group of plays termed shakkyōmono), and bunraku theatres.
The Japanese lion consists of a wooden, lacquered head called a shishi-gashira (lit. Lion Head), often with a characteristic body of green dyed cloth with white designs. It can be manipulated by a single person, or by two or more persons, one of whom manipulates the head. The one-man variety is most often seen in eastern Japan. As with Chinese lions, the make of the head and designs on the body will differ from region to region, and even from school to school. The mask however may sometimes have horns appearing to be a deer (shika), and shishi written with different Kanji characters can mean beast, deer or wild boar, for example as in shishi-odori (鹿踊, lit. Deer Dance). Historically the word shishi may refer to any wild four-legged animal, and some of these dances with different beasts may therefore also be referred to as shishi-mai. The dance may also sometimes feature tigers (tora) or qilin (kirin).
In Okinawa, a similar dance exists, though the lion there is considered to be a legendary shisa. The heads, bodies and behavior of the shisa in the dance are quite different from the shishi on mainland Japan. Instead of dancing to the sounds of flutes and drums, the Okinawan shisa dance is often performed to folk songs played with the sanshin.
Lion dance was recorded in the Korean historical work Samguk Sagi as "Sanye" (狻猊, the old Chinese word for lion), one of the five poems on the dances of the Silla kingdom written by Choe Chiwon. It may have been recorded as early as the King Jinheung's reign in the 6th century during which a tune titled "The Lion's Talent" was composed that could be a reference to a lion dance. Two main traditions of lion dance survive in Korea, the saja-noreum, which is performed as an exorcism drama; and the sajach'um which is performed in association with masked dramas. In many of the traditional masked dance dramas, the lion dance appears as one part of a number of acts. Examples of these dramas are Ŭnyul t'alch'um, Pongsan t'alch'um (봉산탈춤), Suyong Yayu (수영야류), and T'ongyong Ogwangdae (통영오광대). The lion masks of Pongsan and Gangnyeong may feature rolling eyes and bells meant to frighten demons when they make a sound as the lion moves. There was also once a court version of the lion dance.
Lion dance as an exorcism ritual began to be performed in the New Year in Korea during the Goryeo dynasty. The best known of the Korean saja-noreum lion dances is the Bukcheong sajanoreum or lion mask play from Bukcheong. In this lion dance the lion with a large but comic lion mask and brown costume may be performed together with performers wearing other masks. The dancers may be accompanied by musicians playing a double-headed drum, an hourglass-shaped drum, a large gong, and a six-holed bamboo flute. The dance was originally performed every night of the first fifteen nights of the lunar New Year, where the dance troupe in lion masks and costumes visited every house in the villages of the Bukcheong region, and the lion dance is meant to expel evil spirits and attract good luck for the coming year. The eyes of the lion mask may be painted gold to expel negative spirits. It is also believed that children who sat on the back of the lion during such performances would enjoy good health and a long life.
In the Himalayan and Tibetan area, there is also a lion dance called the snow lion dance. This dance may be found in Tibet and also among Tibetan diaspora communities where it is called Senggeh Garcham, Nepal, and parts of Northeastern India – among the Monpa people in Arunachal Pradesh, in Sikkim where it is called Singhi Chham, and in some parts of Uttar Pradesh and Ladakh. The name seng ge and its related forms come from Sanskrit siṅha, and cham is a Buddhist ritual dance. The snow lion has white fur, and in Tibet, it may also have a green mane or green fringes, while in Sikkim, the mane may be blue.
The Snow Lion is regarded as an emblem of Tibet and the Snow Lion Dance is popular dance in Tibetan communities and it is performed during festivals such as during the ritual dance (cham) festival and the New Year. Ths snow lion represents the snowy mountain ranges and glaciers of Tibet and is considered highly auspicious, and it may also symbolize a number of characteristics, such as power and strength, and fearlessness and joy. The snow lion may have a long history in Tibet, but some local versions of the dance may also have been influenced by Chinese Lion Dance in the Sino-Tibetan borderland – for example, it was recording that the local chief in Songpan, Sichuan gave a lion costume to the Jamyang Zhépa II of the Amdo region in the 18th century. The snow lion dance may be performed as a secular dance, or as a ritual dance performed by bon po monks.
The Chinese lion dance is referred to as barongsai in Indonesia, often performed by Chinese Indonesian during Imlek. Indonesians however, have developed their own style of lion dances. The lion dance (Indonesian: barong) in Indonesia has different forms that are distinct to the local cultures in Indonesia, and it is not known if it has any relation to the Chinese lion. The best known lion dances are performed in Bali and Java.
The Reog dance of Ponorogo in Java involves a lion figure known as the singa barong. It is held on special occasions such as the Lebaran (Eid al-Fitr), City or Regency anniversary, or Independence day carnival. A single dancer, or warok, carries the heavy lion mask about 30 – 40 kg weight by his teeth. He is credited with exceptional strength. The warok may also carry an adolescent boy or girl on its head. When holding an adolescent boy or girl on his head, the Reog dancer holds the weight up to total 100 kilograms. The great mask that spans over 2.5 meters with genuine tiger or leopard skin and real peacock feathers. It has gained international recognition as the world's largest mask.
Music and instrumentsEdit
Musicians accompanying lion dance at Seattle's Chinatown-International District Night Market, Hing Hay Park (2010)
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The Chinese Lion Dance is performed accompanied by the music of beating of drums, cymbals, and gongs. Instruments synchronise to the lion dance movements and actions. Fut San, Hok San, Fut Hok, Chow Gar, etc. all play their beat differently. Each style plays a unique beat. Developments in electronic devices have allowed music to be played via phone/tablet/computer/mp3 player. This has contributed to the evolution of how people can play lion dance music - which eliminates the need to carry around instruments (which can be quite large).
The lion dance costumes used in these performances can only be custom made in specialty craft shops in rural parts of China and have to be imported at considerable expense for most foreign countries outside Asia. For groups in Western countries, this is made possible through funds raised through subscriptions and pledges made by members of local cultural and business societies. For countries like Malaysia with a substantial Chinese population, local expertise may be available in making the "lion" costumes and musical instruments without having to import them from China. Most modern Southern Lion dance costumes comes with a set of matching pants, however some practitioners use black kung fu pants to appear more traditional. Modern lion dance costumes are made to be very durable and some are waterproof.
Association with wushu/kung fuEdit
The Chinese lion dance has close relations to kung fu or Wǔshù (武術) and the dancers are usually martial art members of the local kung fu club or school. They practice in their club and some train hard to master the skill as one of the disciplines of the martial art. In general, it is seen that if a school has a capable troupe with many 'lions', it demonstrates the success of the school. It is also generally practised together with Dragon dance in some area.
During Chinese New Years and festivalsEdit
During the Chinese New Year, lion dance troupes from the Chinese martial art schools or Chinese guild and associations will visit the houses and shops of the Chinese community to perform the traditional custom of "cai qing" (採青), literally meaning "plucking the greens", whereby the lion plucks the auspicious green vegetables like lettuce either hung on a pole or placed on a table in front of the premises. The "greens" (qing) is tied together with a "red envelope" containing money and may also include auspicious fruit like oranges. In Chinese cǎi (採, pluck) also sounds like cài (菜, meaning vegetable) and cái (财, meaning fortune). The "lion" will dance and approach the "green" and "red envelope" like a curious cat, to "eat the green" and "spit" it out but keep the "red envelope" which is the reward for the lion troupe. The lion dance is believed to bring good luck and fortune to the business. During the Qing Dynasty, there may be additional hidden meanings in the performances, for example the green vegetables (qing) eaten by the lion may represent the Qing Manchus.
Different types of vegetables, fruits, foods or utensils with auspicious and good symbolic meanings; for instance pineapples, pomelos, bananas, oranges, sugar cane shoots, coconuts, beer, clay pots or even crabs can be used to be the "greens" (青) to be "plucked" to give different difficulty and challenge for the lion dance performers. But the difficulties of the challenge should comes with the bigger the rewards of the "red envelope" given.
In the old days, the lettuce was hung 5 to 6 metres above ground and only a well-trained martial artist could reach the money while dancing with a heavy lion head. These events became a public challenge. A large sum of money was rewarded, and the audience expected a good show. Sometimes, if lions from multiple martial arts schools approached the lettuce at the same time, the lions are supposed to fight to decide a winner. The lions had to fight with stylistic lion moves instead of chaotic street fighting styles. The audience would judge the quality of the martial art schools according to how the lions fought. Since the schools' reputation were at stake, the fights were usually fierce but civilized. The winner lion would then use creative methods and martial art skills to reach the high-hanging reward. Some lions may dance on bamboo stilts and some may step on human pyramids formed by fellow students of the school. The performers and the schools would gain praise and respect on top of the large monetary reward when they did well. The lion dance troupes are sometimes accompanied by various characters such as the Big Head Buddha,
During the 1950s-60s, in some areas with high population of Chinese and Asian communities especially the Chinatown in many foreign countries abroad China in the world, people who joined lion dance troupes were "gangster-like" and there was a lot of fighting between lion dance troupes and kung fu schools. Parents were afraid to let their children join lion dance troupes because of the "gangster" association with the members. During festivals and performances, when lion dance troupes met, there may be fights between groups. Some lifts and acrobatic tricks are designed for the lion to "fight" and knock over other rival lions. Performers even hid daggers in their shoes and clothes, which could be used to injure other lion dancers’ legs, or even attached a metal horn on their lion’s forehead, which could be used to slash other lion heads. The violence became so extreme that at one point the Hong Kong government banned lion dance completely. Now, as with many other countries, lion dance troupes must attain a permit from the government in order to perform lion dance. Although there is still a certain degree of competitiveness, troupes are a lot less violent and aggressive. Today, lion dance is a more sport-oriented activity. Lion dance is more for recreation than a way of living. But there are still plenty of troupes who still practice the traditional ways and taboos of the lion dance as it is practiced in the past.
In a traditional performance, when the dancing lion enters a village or township, it is supposed to pay its respects first at the local temple(s), then to the ancestors at the ancestral hall, and finally through the streets to bring happiness to all the people.
Evolution and competitionEdit
Lion dance has spread across the world due to the worldwide presence of the diaspora Chinese communities and immigrant settlers in many countries in the Americas, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, Pacific Polynesia, and in particular, in South East Asia where there is a large overseas Chinese presence.
The dance has evolved considerably since the early days when it was perform as a skill part of Chinese martial arts, and has grown into a more artistic art that takes into accounts the lion's expression and the natural movements, as well as the development of a more elaborate acrobatic styles and skills during performances. This maybe performed as a cultural performances or during competitions. This evolution and development has produced the modern form of lion dances and competition are held to find the best lion dance performances. The competition may be performed on a series of small circular platforms raised on poles, and is judged based on the skill and liveliness of the "lion" together with the creativity of the stunts and choreographed moves, as well as the difficulty of the acrobatics, and rhythmic and pulsating live instrumental accompaniment that can captivate the spectators and the judges of the competition.
International Lion Dance championships are held in many countries, for example in Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
The lion dance is seen as a representative part of Chinese culture in many overseas Chinese communities, and in some South East Asian countries, there were attempts to ban or discourage the dance in order to suppress the Chinese cultural identity in those countries. For example, in Malaysia, lion dance was criticized by a Malay politician in the 1970s as not Malaysian in style and suggested that it be changed to a tiger dance, and it was banned except at Chinese New Year until 1990. Lion dance became a matter of political and public debate about the national culture of the country. During the Suharto era in Indonesia, public expression of Chinese culture was also banned and barongsai (lion dance) procession was considered "provocative" and "an affront to Indonesian nationalism". This ban was however overturned after the collapse of the Suharto regime in 1998, nevertheless the occasional local banning of the lion dance still occurred.
In popular cultureEdit
In the 1960s and 1970s, during the era when the Hong Kong's Chinese classic and martial arts movies are very popular, kung fu movies including Jet Li's "Wong Fei Hung" has actually indirectly shows and indicates how lion dance was practised with the kung fu close co-relation and kung fu during that time. Those days, the lion dance was mostly practised and perform as Wushu or kung fu skills, with the challenge for the 'lion' built of chairs and tables stack up together for the 'lions' to perform its stunts and accomplish its challenge.
Several 1990s movies, including a remade version of "Wong Fei Hung", and the sequels of Once Upon a Time in China, involve plots centered on Lion Dancing, especially Once Upon a Time in China III and IV. The series main actor, Jet Li has performed as a lion dancer in several of his films, including Southern style lion dancing in Once Upon a Time in China III, Once Upon a Time in China and America and Northern style lion dancing in Shaolin Temple 2 and Shaolin Temple 3.
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