Chuc Mung Nam Moi Picture

"Chúc mừng năm mới; cung chúc tân xuân...!"

The Chinese Lion is a mythological creature of Buddhist lore whom can find its roots as far as the Han Dynasty (205 BCE to 220 CE). Legend has it that the Tang Dynasty emperor had a strange dream one night where an odd creature, in which he had never laid eyes upon before, saved his life and carried him to safety. The next morning, the emperor described his reverie to his ministers and advisers, wondering what this creature was and what the dream meant. One of the ministers explained that the strange creature resembled an African animal called a "Lion," which was not indigenous to China. The emperor, desiring to see this "Lion" while awake, ordered them to create a model of it in order to thank the creature for its heroic act.

In another legend, a monk had a dream in which there were many sorrows and evils plaguing the land. He prayed and asked the gods of heaven how he could prevent these evils from occurring and, in response, the gods told him that a Lion would protect them and fight back the evils. The Chinese people had never see a Lion before, but had heard stories that it was the king of all the other animals in Africa, so the monk combined all the lucky or magical animals he could think of and so made a lion: The Southern Chinese Lion exhibits a wide variety of colours and has a distinctive head with large eyes (of an eagle), a mirror on the forehead (as demons are scared of their own reflection), and a single horn at center of the head that tied with a red sash.

There's a tale where a Lion got too arrogant once and told the gods that it was more powerful than all of them combined. This, of course, caused the gods to get very angry and, as a punishment, they chopped off its horn (the source of its power) and told it to fight off a thousand evils without it. The Lion, of course, couldn't and people were dying because the Lion couldn't protect them. The Goddess of Mercy (Guan Yin) pitied it, so she tied its horn back on with a red sash. (It's denoted that a Lion with a sash is considered "tame.")

In China, besides Dragon Dance, the traditional Lion Dance is popular performance for three thousand years during the Lunar New Year (which is Nian in Chinese, or Tết in Vietnamese), the August Moon Festival, weddings, store openings, or other auspicious occasions. Lion performers are kung fu practitioners. Every kind of move has a specific musical rhythm. The music follows the moves of the Lion: the drum follows the Lion, the cymbals and the gong follow the drum player. The Lion came to symbolise good luck, happiness, prosperity, majesty, strength, wisdom, courage, and has the ability to ward away evil spirits. Each Lion possesses their own history, symbolism, and personality.

This is a playful, joyous Southern Chinese Lion, or Cantonese Lion, a young adult male, untamed (sans red sash). The phrase Chúc mừng năm mới; cung chúc tân xuân translates to "Happy (Lunar) New Year; gracious wishes of the new spring" in Vietnamese.

Check out clips of some beautiful, acrobatic, and very humourous Lion Dances:
- Sleeping/Awakening Lion Dance
- Gold Lion Dance on Jongs
- Black Lion Dance on Jongs
- Double Lions Dance on Jongs
- Drunken Lion Dance (Adorable!)
- Lion Eating the Snake Dance
- Lion Crosses Bridge Dance
Medium - 2B mechanical pencil.

© Diane N. Tran.
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