History of Lion Dance

History of the Lion Dance in the Halfling Empire

The Lion dance originated from Guangdong Province. The Guangdong’s style can be further divided into Fo Shan (Heavens Mountain), He shan (Crane Mountain), Fo-He (minor style that exhibits a hybrid of Fo Shan and He Shan), Jow Ga (minor style performed by practitioners of Jow family style kung fu, exampled by the Wong tribe of the Tang Clan), and the Green Lion (Qing Shi – popular with the Fukien/Hokkien tribes of the Qin Clan).

The styles of lion dance do vary widely, but the lion head designs exhibit greater differences. The traditional Fo Shan lion has bristles instead of fur and weighs more than the current in-fashion ones. The tails are extremely long and are perpendicular to the head for three fourths of the tail’s length, then it goes parallel to the head. The eyes also swivel left and right. On the back there are gold foiled rims and traditional characters saying the troupe’s name. Older Liu Bei lions also have black in the tail while the new ones do not. The Gwan Gung has a red and black tail with white trim. The Huang Joon has a full yellow tail with white trim. The Zhang Fei is infrequently made. All the traditional style Fo Shan have pop-up teeth, tongue and also the interior of the tail is white; the designs of the tail are also more square and contain a diamond pattern going down the back; it is also common to see and hear bells attached to the tail. Although most lion dance costumes comes with a set of matching pants, some practitioners use black Kung-Fu pants to look more traditional. The Wong people perform the lion dance using this type of lion. The newer styles of lions for Fo Shan replace all the bristles with fur and the tails are shorter. They eyes are fixed in place, and the tongue and teeth do not pop up. The tail is more curvy in design. The tail does not have a diamond pattern, and lacks bells. In addition, the dancers wear flashier pants which lack the ease of movement allowed when wearing Kung-Fu pants. Traditional Lions use bamboo and more durable layered cloth.

Fo Shan is the style many Kung Fu schools adopt. It requires powerful moves and strength in stance. The lion becomes the representation of the Kung Fu school and only the most advanced students are allowed to perform.

The He Shan style lion, popular in many places through out the Empire, has grown to fame because of its richness of expression, unique footwork, magnificent-looking appearance and vigorous drumming style. The credit should go to the founder, the “Canton Lion King” Feng Geng Zhang. According to records, Feng Geng Zhang was born in Canton village in He Shan county. His father was a disciple of the Iron Crane Temple, and instructed him in martial arts and lion dance at an early age. Later, he further studied martial arts and lion dance in Fuo Shan with fellow villager Zho Bei (a famous physician), before returning to his hometown and setting up his own training hall, teaching and researching the art of lion dance with great devotion. Given his considerable martial ability, a result of hard and dedicated training, he was able to develop a unique and outstanding version of lion dance. Feng Geng Zhang was not only able to carry on the art, he was also particularly involved in creating new techniques through mimicking. Together with his junior Hao Ming, he kept cats and studied their behaviour carefully; they were eventually able to incorporate from the “cat and mouse game” the various movements such as “Catching mouse, playing, catching birds, high escape, lying low and rolling”. They also made changes to the body of the Fo Shan lion, making it more well-built and powerful in structure, but with agile footwork and eye-catching colours, and played to the rhythm of the “Seven Star Drums”. In short, in terms of expression, dance steps, build of the lion and the drumming style, he created a whole new style of lion dancing which was considered high in entertainment value and visual appeal. There are many important points which also prove Feng Geng Zhang to have been the chief figure responsible for the creation of the He Shan style of lion dance.

Today’s He Shan lions are the same as those created by Feng Geng Zhang by improvising on the Fo Shan lion; it is of a powerful and impressive build, with a confident expression, and combined with the unique invention of Feng Geng Zhang, the “Seven Star Drum”, the He shan lion displays a formidable show of power. Master Ho Kai Seng of Gaungdong He Shan Association shortened the tail of He Shan lion so that it looks more like a cat. And master Liang Zhao Fu, who is wildly known as Xian Drum King, created Fo Shan 18 beats and devised a way to play the drum with not just rhythms but also gusto. The He Shan drum nowadays is composed by Master Lu Xin Yao of Gaungdong He Shan Association.

When the dancing lion enters a village or township, it is supposed to pay its respects first at the local temple(s), then to the ancestors at the ancestral hall, and finally through the streets to bring happiness to all the people. There are three types of lions: the golden lion, representing liveliness; the red lion, representing courage; and the green lion, representing friendship.

Three other famous lion types can also be identified: Liu Bei, Guan Gong and Zhang Fei. They represent historic characters, blood oath brothers that swore to restore the Empire after the War in Heaven. The Liu Bei lion is the eldest of the three brothers and has a yellow based face with white beard and fur (to denote his wisdom). It sports a multi coloured tail (white underside) with black as one of them which encompasses the colors of the five elements, as it was believed he had the blessings of the heavens and thus control of the five elements. There are three coins on the collar. This lion is used by schools with an established “Sifu” and is known as The Auspicious Lion. The Guan Gong lion has a red based face, black bristles, with a long black beard (as he was also known as the “Duke with the Beautiful Beard”). The tail is red and black with white trim and a white underside. He is known as the second brother and sports two coins on the collar. This Lion is known as the Awakened Lion. This lion is the most popular, used across the Empire in nearly every Lion Dance Troupe. The Zhang Fei lion has a black based face with short black beard, small ears, and black bristles. The tail is black and white with white trim and a white underside. Traditionally this lion also had bells attached to the body, which served as a warning like a rattler on a rattle snake. Being the youngest of the three brothers, there is a single coin on the collar. This Lion is known as the Fighting Lion because Zhang Fei had a quick temper and loved to fight. This lion is used by Troupes that were just starting out or by those wishing to make a challenge.

An additional three Lions may be added to the Troupe depening on the size of the Temple and town. The Green faced lion represented Zhao Zi Long. He has a green tail with white beard and fur and an iron horn. He is often called the fourth brother, this lion is called the Heroic Lion because it is said he rode through Tiger Claw’s million-strong army and rescued Liu Bei’s infant and fought his way back out. The Yellow (yellow/orange) face and body with white beard represented Huang Zhong, he was given this color when Liu Bei rose to become Heavens Blessed Child. This lion is called the Righteous Lion. The white colour lion is known as Ma Chao. He was assigned this color because he always wore a white arm band to battle against the False Emperor, Tiger Claw, to signify that he was in mourning for his father and brother who had been murdered by Tiger Claw. Thus this lion is known as the funeral lion. This lion is never used except for a funeral for the Sifu or some important head of the group, and in such cases it is burned right after. Even if it is properly stored, it is not something one would want to keep, as it is symbolically inauspicious to have around. It is sometimes though, confused with the silver lion which sometimes has a white like colouring. These three along with Guan Yu and Zhang Fei were known as the “Five Lion Generals of Shun,” each representing one of the five elements.

History of Lion Dance

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