In Chinese legends, there are quite a few tales about how tigers saved human lives. One legend says in the ancient State of Chu, a man had an illegitimate child which he abandoned in a desolate field. A female tiger found the child and fed him with her won milk. Later, the child grew up to become a prime minister of the State of Chu.
Maybe the most famous man supposedly saved by a tiger is the great philosopher Confucius. It is said that Confucius was so ugly when he was born that his parents decided to leave him on a mountain. Again, it was a tiger who saved his life.
Tigers were worshipped not only by the majority of Han people, but also by more than a dozen minority ethnic groups. One example is the Yi nationality. Yi people have a tiger festival each year. On that day, all people dress up to look like tigers and hold all kinds of celebrations.
The worship of tiger can be found in most parts of China. The tiger theme used to be so popular that you could find many kinds of tiger objects in one household. You might see a tiger head made of cloth hanging on the gate, tiger paper-cuts on the window, tiger pillows and quilts on the bed, a tiger cake on the table and tiger caps, shoes and toys for children.
In the past, folk art works of tigers were usually made by women in the countryside. They made these for practical as well as aesthetic purposes. The skill was passed down from mother to daughter and a woman of talent would spread her skill to another village when she married a man from that place. Most of these women were illiterate and spent their entire lives in one small area in the countryside. So it is a wonder how the original patterns could have been passed down for generations and spread from the isolated village to all over China.