The Chinese Stone Lions

clip image002 thumb4 The Chinese Stone LionsLion is a special animal to Chinese people. A pair of stone lions, a male and a female, can often be seen in front of the gates of traditional buildings. The male lion is on the left with his right paw resting on a ball, and the female on the right with her left paw fondling a cub.

The lion was regarded as the king in the animal world so its images represented power and prestige. The ball played by the male lion symbolized the unity of the empire, and the cub with the female thriving offspring.

The stone lions were also used to indicate the ranks of officials by the number of lumps representing the curly hair on the head of the lion. The houses of first grade officials had lions with 13 lumps and the number of lumps decreased by one as the rank of the official went down each grade. Officials below the seventh grade were not allowed to have stone lions in front of their houses.

It is interesting to note that China had no lions originally. It is believed that when Emperor Zhang of the Eastern Han reigned in A.D. 87, the King of Parthia presented a lion to him. Another lion was given by a Central Asian country known as Yuezhi in the next year. The earliest stone lions were sculpted at the beginning of the Eastern Han Dynasty (A.D. 25-220) with the introduction of Buddhism into ancient China. It is said, Sakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism, was seen after birth “to point to Heaven with one hand and to Earth with another, roaring like a lion.” In the Buddhist faith, the lion is considered a divine animal of nobleness and dignity, which can protect the Truth and keep off evils.

It was also popular to decorate bridges with sculpted-stone lions for the same reason. The best known of this is the Lugouqiao (also as Marco Polo Bridge), built from 1189 to 1192. The stone lions on the posts of the bridge are most famous. It is said there are 485 lions in all, but there may be 498 or 501. A famous proverb says “the lions on the Lugouqiao are uncountable.”

image thumb2 The Chinese Stone Lions

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Cricket Fighting

clip image002 thumb3 Cricket FightingThe cricket culture in China dates back 2000 years and encompasses singing insects and fighting crickets. During the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 A.D.) the crickets were respected for their powerful ability to “sing”. It was during this time that they started being captured and kept in cages so their songs could be heard all the time. In the Song Dynasty (960 – 1279 A.D), cricket fighting flourished as a popular sport.

In the fighting season of autumn, the little warrior is the center of attention of thousands of Chinese. Talk to a cricket lover and he will launch into an excited recital of the pleasure his little pets give him. The fans come from all walks of life and are virtually all male. Excited by the prospects of some thrilling fights, they arrive at the arena, carrying their insect protégés in small boxes.

clip image004 thumb1 Cricket FightingCrickets can be very aggressive. Whenever two of them meet in a confined space, a fight breaks out. The fights take place on a table which is covered by a piece of rough paper and surrounded by glass. The duel is short and fierce.

The contest ends when one cricket is hurt or gives up and backs away. The winner then performs a unique ritual. It chirps loudly, fluttering its beautiful gossamer-like wings. The poor loser, and perhaps its human trainer, hangs its head and limps slowly away.

Cricket fighting was so popular that China actually produced a Cricket Minister, Jia Shidao who reigned as a prime minister from 1213 to 1275. However, he was accused of not managing his responsibilities because he was obsessed with the cricket-fighting cult. Then from 1427 to 1464, a Cricket Emperor, Ming Xuanzong ruled in favor of cricket fighting, making his palace a major tribute to this insect. Literally thousands of crickets were sent to the capital every year to discover their financial fate. Amazingly, there are hundreds of documented stories of people committing suicide because of a losing or injured cricket.

Because people enjoyed the excitement of placing bets on their favorite fighters, the government tried to clamp down on cricket fighting. But traditions die hard and cricket fighting is making a comeback with a chirp of victory.

image thumb1 Cricket Fighting

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Tiger in Folk Art (2)

clip image002 thumb2 Tiger in Folk Art (2)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. Continue reading

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