Performing the Lion Dance for Chinese New Year

Happy New Year friends!

It’s the year of the dog which means a year of loyalty, justice and intelligence — all of the positive attribute’s of a man’s best friend.

To celebrate the new year, my family enjoyed some rice cake and some candies, but today, we experienced the real excitement from the new year. As part of the Ngo Cho Kun kung fu group, a few of my siblings and I performed in the Chinese parade in Vancouver’s Chinatown. I’ve participated in the parade before, walking alongside my kung fu group, but this will be my first time actually performing in it and I am both excited and nervous. Our group will be performing the lion dance as well as a few weapon forms.

What is the Lion Dance?

We’ve all seen the Chinese dragon and lion dances performed at the Chinese New Year parade before. I love watching the mythical creature shake its head wildly as it dances through the parade and teasing the audience. The dance is performed in a lion (or dragon) costume manned by two people and steps to the beat of accompanied music, such as the banging drums or clashing cymbals. It takes a lot of strength and training to perform the dance, I tried it for the first time in practice and I couldn’t even last 5 minutes.

Origin of the lion dance

History is filled with legends and myths across all nations. Every culture has their own tales of mythical creatures and adventures. Like the Chinese dragon, the lion was also once a myth that people had only heard about. It is interesting to think of how a creature not native to China became such a huge part of Chinese culture and tradition. After doing some research, I found that there are a number of tales explaining the origins of this creature. Some think that the lion dates back to the Ch’in and Han dynasties (c. 300BC), however it is unclear how the tales of the lion began.

Myth 1

One legend tells of a beast who feasted on children. Then one day, a monk came along and wrapped a red ribbon around the lion, taming the beast.

Myth 2

Another story reveals the lion as curious and playful that caused mischief. One day the Jade Emperor fed up with the lion’s insubordination, had the lion’s head chopped off. He then threw the lion down to Earth. Kwan’Yin, the goddess of mercy, had witnessed what had happened and pitied the lion. She descended to Earth and tied the lion’s head to its body with an enchanted red ribbon. The red ribbon would frighten away evil spirits and keep the lion safe from harm.

Myth 3

Perhaps, the most realistic tale is a mix of the two above. The Jade Emperor was gifted the lion, but could not tame the creature. At the emperor’s bidding, many people came to try to tame the beast, but all failed. In the end, it was a wise monk who managed to pacify the beast. Proud of his newly tamed pet, the emperor displayed the lion around the country. Stories were then spread about the beast and the lion became less real and more mythical with every telling.

Ngo Cho Kun Green King Lion Dance

The Green King Lion from the Ngo Cho Kun kung fu style originated in the Fujian province back in the 1700s during the Qing dynasty. At the time, China was under the power of the Manchus. This dance is a demonstration introduced by kung fu fighters to show their struggle against the Qing dynasty. The Manchus came into power during the time when Li Zicheng had taken the capital. Desperate for assistance, officials from the Ming dynasty begged the Manchus to help overthrow Li Zicheng. However, the Manchus took advantage of the opportunity presented to them and seized control of the capital and began their reign over China and establishing their own dynasty, the Qing dynasty in China.

Throughout the Qing dynasty, the popularity of kung fu was ignited by the people’s antipathy towards the Manchu government. Much of the symbolism from the Green King Lion dance was created with the feelings of resistance and rebellion.

Past symbolism of the green lion

The colour green was a symbol of the constabulary of the Qing, which was very oppressive and brutal in enforcing the Qing rule. The Chinese character for “king” is written on the lion’s forehead. This is to represent the emperor. The white fangs demonstrate the brutality of the Qing and the white eyebrows show the seniority of the emperor.

The kung fu warriors are also a representation as the resistance against the Qing. They perform the dance with aggressive movements showing their dissatisfaction of the Manchu government.

Today’s symbolism of the green lion

The meaning of the green lion has changed since the fall of the Qing dynasty. Today, the colour green represents prosperity, the red beard means good luck and long life, the white sharp fangs are meant to ward off evil and the kung fu warriors act to guide the lion.

Together, the lion and dragon dance are performed during the New Year to welcome the New Year with prosperity, good health and luck.

Chinese New Year Parade

This Sunday was the 45th Chinese New Year parade in Vancouver on Sunday, February 18th, 2018 and has become Chinatown’s signature event. It was an honour performing in the parade as part of the Kong Han Kung Fu society.

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