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Lions at the Gate

The lion is known as the king of animals. The first lion was presented to China during the Eastern Han Dynasty by a king from the Western Regions.

The earliest stone lion was discovered in a Eastern Han Dynasty tomb in Ya'an, Sichuan Province. The stone lions in Liang Chao's Tomb in Jurong County, Jiangsu Province, are 1400 years old. Those in the Tangshun Tomb in Shengyang City, Shaanxi Province, were built by the Tang Empress, Wu Zetian, for her mother They are the most representative of all existing stone lions. During the Ming Dynasty stone lions were placed in front of palaces, government buildings, temples and even some rich family mansions to display power Later, stone lion designs were carved as decoration on important architectural features such as door lintels and eaves. Beijing now has many stone lions made during the Ming and Qing dynasties. These lions do not seem powerful and wild, but rather are kindly and gentle. on the well-known Lugou Bridge built in the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234), there are 140 engraved stone columns on each side. Each column has a lively stone lion on its top, and nine small stone lions are hidden under the big lion. It is difficult to make an accurate count of the stone lions in the Lugou Bridge. In 1961, however, archeologists numbered each one and calculated there are altogether 485 stone lions in the bridge. (Fig.3-20)

Juzhou City in CangZhou, Hebei Province, is 3l so known as the Iron Lion City. It preserves the largest iron lion in China, which is 6.10 meters long, 5.48 meters high and 3.15 meters wide. It was made of hundreds of 30cm to 50cm iron cubes and weighs about 40 tons. On the right side of its neck and on its teeth are the characters that indicate the time their on lion was cast. It appears strong and bold, with its head rising and facing the north, its mouth open, its eyes glaring angrily, and its four legs positioned separately, as if it had stopped suddenly On its stomach are cast the Diamond Sutra and the county chronicle of CangZhou. The lion is the largest cast animal in the early history of China, and is of great value for research into ancient Chinese metallurgy, sculpture and Buddhist history.

Among Chinese folk, the lion has become a symbol of bravery, power and good luck. Performance art also uses the figure of the lion to convey these sentiments. Folk artists created the lion dance in which the lion appears lovely and naughty, losing its dignity as the king of animals. Figures of the lion were not used exclusively by the royal families in imperial arts as were the dragon and the phoenix. They are popular among the people and are commonly seen in front of the gates of ordinary families' homes. (Fig.3-21)

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