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Chinese Dragon and Lion

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Carved Dragons
Carved Dragons

Chinese people consider themselves descendents of dragon, which is in fact, a fictitious animal combining some features of a deer, fish, tiger, lion, horse, ox, donkey, snake and vulture. The divine artificial animal is always associated with clouds, thunderbolts and rainfalls. It can walk on the land, swim in the sea and fly in the air and is the deity of wind and rain. People believe it is mascot and embodiment of power, dignity, luck, strength and success. The emperors proclaimed they were incarnations of the real dragons to assure their superior authority. The totem is so deeply rooted in Chinese mind that it can be found almost everywhere in people's life.

The dragon dance is an important festive tradition in China. It was originally performed to please the dragon, who is the deity of water, to ask for rain during drought years. Gradually it became an  entertainment and dance form in festive occasions, usually during the Spring Festival and Lantern Festival. The dragons, usually ranging from several meters to more than 100 meters long, are mainly made of bamboo, wood, rattan, cloth and paper, etc. There are poles attached to the belly of the dragon. During the performance, performers hold the poles and raise the dragon, starting the grand dance with the beats of roaring drums. Sometimes a man raises a pearl and entices the dragon to follow his rhythm.

A Statue of A Lion in Forbidden City

A Statue of A Lion in Forbidden City

The lion is not an indigenous animal of China. However, it 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 Lion dance is another important tradition in China, usually performed with the dragon dance on auspicious occasions. A good performance is believed to bring luck and happiness. Lion dance needs more Martial (Kung Fu) skills than dragon dance. There usually are two performers who play the lion. One, handling the head, leads the dance and shows the lion's emotions. The other plays the body and the tail. They hide themselves under a cloth hide attached with the head. The lion is accompanied by musicians playing a drum, a gong and cymbals, and a man who entices the lion, usually holding a fan or a giant ball called Qing.

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