Saturday Art: Fu Shi Protection
*Rabbit, Rabbit, since this is the first day of the month. No fu rabbit.*
(Picture courtesy of Bridget Coila at wikipedia commons.)
Doing the research on the Fu or Foo Shi, I did discover that for a lifetime I have had it wrong. When I received Fu, my ceramic figure that has come with me through a life of moves, I thought as many westerners do that this was a Fu Dog.
The confusion may well be because the stylized figure looks a bit like the Chow, a dog, and even somewhat like the Pekingese dog from China. However, it originated and became a quite prevalent decoration when lions were brought to China during an early dynasty.
Guardian lions are referred to numerous manner depending on language and context. In Chinese they are traditionally called simply shi(?, Pinyin: sh?) meaning lion, and the word shi itself is thought to be derived from the Persian word šer. Lions were first presented to theHan court by emissaries from Central Asia and Persia, and by the sixth century AD they were already popularly depicted as guardian figures.
The lions are always presented in pairs, a manifestation of yin and yang, the female representing yin and the male yang. The male lion has its right front paw on an embroidered ball called a “xiù qiú” (??), which is sometimes carved with a geometric pattern resembling the figure called “Flower of Life” in the New Age movement. The female is essentially identical, but has a cub under the closer (left) paw to the male, representing the cycle of life. Symbolically, the female fu lion protects those dwelling inside, while the male guards the structure. Sometimes the female has her mouth closed, and the male open. This symbolizes the enunciation of the sacred word “om”. However, Japanese adaptions state that the male is inhaling, representing life, while the female exhales, representing death
The Asiatic lions were once quite common throughout its historic range inSouthwest and Central Asia and are believed to be the ones depicted by the guardian lions in Chinese culture. With increased trade during the Han dynasty and cultural exchanges through the Silk road, lions were introduced into China from the ancient states of Central Asia by peoples of Sogdiana,Samarkand, and the Yuezhi (??) in the form of pelts and live tribute, along with stories about them from Buddhist priests and travelers of the time. This exchange can be seen in that the Chinese word for lion is “Shi” (?, later ?/?), which shares the same etymological roots as “Shiar” (???), the Persian language name for the animal.
Several instances of lions as imperial tributes from Central Asia was recorded in the document Book of the Later Han (???) written from 25-220 CE. On one particular event, on the eleventh lunar month of 87 CE, “… an envoy from Parthia offered as tribute a lion and an ostrich” to the Han court. Indeed the lion was associated by the Han Chinese to earlier venerated creatures of the ancient Chinese, most notably by the monk Huilin (??) who stated that “the mythic suanni (??) is actually the lion, coming from the Western Regions” (??????????).
The Buddhist version of the Lion was originally introduced to Han China as the protector of dharma and these lions have been found in religious art as early as 208 BC. Gradually they were incorporated as guardians of the Chinese Imperial dharm. Lions seemed appropriately regal beasts to guard the emperor’s gates and have been used as such since.
My Fu Shi, now properly called, has done an impressive job of keeping me safe. I hope she’s feeling more appreciated now since we have learned she’s a lion. Of course, no shame in being one of nature’s most noble creations, a wonderful dog, but she’s known now for what she is.
(Picture courtesy of Gayle Karen at wikipedia commons.)