History of Lion Dance

Lion dance can trace its origins back more than two thousand years ago to ancient China. There are several stories, myths, and legends about the origin of the lion and lion dance, depending on your country, region, or even village.

Nowadays, lion dance is performed year-round for a variety of occasions to usher in good luck and prosperity.  We perform at many events and venues, such as festivals, restaurants, grand openings, weddings, parades, banquets, private parties, community service events, and many more.

The Lion and the Goddess of Mercy (Guan Yin)

The story of the rebirth of the mythical lion (originating from heaven) is probably the most common version of the origin of lion dance. The lion created a great deal of trouble for everyone with his very mischievious character and fondness for practical jokes. On one occasion, he decided to play a practical joke on the Jade Emperor. The Jade Empoeror, angry after all the trouble that the lion had caused, killed the lion by cutting its head off and separating it from its body. He then threw both the lion's head and body down to the earth to rot.  Upon discovering the fate of the lion, Guan Yin (the goddess of mercy) felt sorry for the lion and decided to help him.  She used a long red ribbon to tie the lion's head back on and bring him back to life.  The red ribbon is still seen on lions' horns today, and both are said to have the ability to ward off evil spirits after having being gifted to the lion by Guan Yin for this purpose. 

The Lion and the Nian 

These fabled events of the lion and the Nian took place around 2697 BC during the reign of the legendary Yellow Emperor.  A strange creature one day appeared in the Yellow Emperor's villages and preyed on both men and beast.  The creature's name was Nian, which sounds like the Chinese word for "year".  It was so fast that not even the ox nor tiger could slay it.  The people turned in despair to the lion for help.  Rushing to meet the terrible foe, the lion "expanded his chest, raised his mighty head, shook his mane", and wounded the creature who "went running with his tail between his legs".  As the Nian fled, it turned and screamed, "Beware! I will return and take my revenge!"

As promised, the Nian returned a year later, but the lion was too busy guarding the emperor's gates to help the village.  The villagers hurriedly took some bamboo and cloth to make the image of the lion.  Two men crawled inside and made it run, prance, and roar.  Faced with this awesome creature, the Nian again turned and fled.  And so, on the eve of Chinese New Year, lions always dance to send menace and evil away for yet another year of luck and good tidings.

The Emperor and the Dream

One popular belief is that the lion dance finds its roots in the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-906).  Legend has it that the emperor had a strange dream one night.  In his dream, an odd creature he had never laid eyes on before saved his life and carried him to safety.  The next day, wondering what this creature was and what the dream meant, the emperor described the reverie to his ministers.  One of the ministers explained that the strange creature resembled an animal called a "lion", which did not exist in China at the time.  The emperor, wanting to see this "lion" while awake, ordered them to create a model of it, and because of his dream, the lion came to symbolize good luck, happiness, and prosperity.


Hong Luck Kung Fu Club

National Museum Singapore

Honolulu's Chinatown