So, what’s the history of a traditional dance with a giant costume-that-doesn’t-really-look-like-a-lion?
Lion dance has been around for thousands of years. Way back in ancient China, the lion, much like the dragon, was only an animal that existed in myth. The lion dance costume was created to look like what people thought lions looked like. Before the Han Dynasty (202 BCE – 220 CE), only a few lions had actually reached the Central Plains from the western area of ancient China due to the Silk Road trade.
Some time before the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 CE), lion dance originated in China. There are many stories that explain the origins of lion dance. We at Yong Han Lion Dance pass on the following story down to our newer members:
In this story, there was a monster that would attack a village once a year, feasting on food and children. One day, a monk came into town and tamed the monster by tying a red ribbon around its horn. The red ribbon “awakened” the lion within, and the monster transformed into a village guardian. The new village guardian took on the form of the lion, and it now protected the village instead of wreaking havoc every year.
There are other versions of the lion dance origin story that say the gods cut off the monster’s head, but Guan Yin, the goddess of mercy, brings it back to life.