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Nov 25, 2011
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The lion is not an indigenous animal of China. However, the lion is also an important Chinese totem, the symbol of power, majesty and courage, capable of warding off evil spirits. In Chinese legend it is said that the lion was the ninth son of the dragon and was the best employable guard, thus it was usually seen in front of royal palaces, offices and residences. The 485 lions guarding the famous Lugou Qiao (Marco Polo Bridge) are best known in China.
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 AD 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 (25 - 220 AD) 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 an 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."