Carved out of stone or marble, the stone lion is often used as a kind of decoration standing in front of traditional Chinese architectures, such as imperial palace, temple, Buddha pagoda, bridge, mausoleum, mansion, gardens and so on. Generally, the stone lion is made in pairs, with the male resting his paw upon the embroidered ball and the female restraining a playful cub that is on its back.
It is said that the lion was introduced into China in Han Dynasty (206BC - 220AD). With increased trade during that period and cultural exchanges through the Silk Road, lions were introduced into China from the ancient states of Central Asia. It is said the most people in central plains of ancient China had never seen the real lion; therefore, the stone lion’s appearance differs from the lions we are familiar with.
Stone lions of different dynasties were created in different appearances and poses. The ones of Han and Tang Dynasties are strong and intrepid, while the thin but powerful ones are from the Yuan Dynasty. As to the stone lions of Ming and Qing Dynasties, they appeared more meek and gentle.
Besides, stone lions feature variety of local styles. Generally, the lions from the North China are more decent and simple-carved, while the lions from the South are more vivid and alive with many matching accessory sculptures. The stone lion usually is carved based on Xumizuo, a kind of architectural ornament frequently used as the base for decent buildings and sculptures.
According to Feng Shui, correct placement of the stone lion is important to ensure their beneficial effect. The lions should be placed in front of the building with their backs towards the building. When looking out of a building through the entrance to be guarded, looking in the same direction as the lions, the male is placed on the left and the female on the right. So when looking at the entrance from outside the building, facing the lions, the male lion is on the right while the female is on the left.
In Chinese culture, lion is a mythical figure rather than a real animal. Together with Kylin, lion is regarded as the divine beast. It is believed that the lion can drive away the evil spirits. Besides, the lion is regarded as the king of the forests and of the other animals, so it has long been used as a symbol of power and grandeur. Hence stone lions were often placed at the gates of imperial palaces, official residences, monasteries and mausoleums.