India | Guardian Lion | Harmony | Balance | Yin | Yang | Fu Dog Pair | Oracle Bones

In China-heavy posts, Historical Slant postings, India-heavy posts on March 12, 2009 at 11:04 pm

This is the first of four posts whose purpose is discussed here (please read that post for a brief background on why this post covers the content that it does). When I wonder about Fu Dogs being traditionally in pairs I think back to their source material and imagery to see if that has always been true. In ancient India, the Guardian Lion is normally presented in pairs of two or more. Any representation of pairs of Guardian Lions usually resulted in lions that were identical – (I specifically am being vague because, well, it is ancient history and what I could find may not be typical if I were living in India, for example). However, the Guardian Lions in ancient India weren’t always presented at doorways – per the Stupa gateways pictured earlier, as well as this one below showing four Guardian lions on each support (similar in timeframe to the “Lion Capital from Sarnath” I posted about earlier in the India post)(please let me know if you know it’s location):

stupa gate

Another good example of Guardian Lions in India is this picture taken by Michael Hudson showing four of them guarding a central ‘something’ – it probably is a treasure of Buddha or the like; forgive me for not knowing, and let me know if you do. This image is showing the Kalisa Temple at Ellora cave and, since I have clipped this image before hearing from him if I could use it here, I may have to remove it if he objects – but for now:


(I really like the image.) What I’m getting at with the above is that the Guardian Lion as presented in ancient India did not have accessories, nor was there the need to present an obvious pairing of male and female. There is no ball, no cub, no defining information whether the Guardian Lion presented is male or female (but if I could see them in person maybe there is genitalia). The presentation of the ancestors of Fu Dogs is not the male/female presentation that evolved in Chinese cultural presentations. It seems like such a natural thing, to have two identical Guardian Lions standing watch on the left and right sides of a doorway – what forces compelled early artists to create this ‘schism’ and present a male Fu Dog image and a female Fu Dog image?


This led me to look into Chinese culture for any reasons I could discover behind having a pair of Fu Dogs, male and female. I found that the ancient Chinese had a penchant for balanced interpretations through the principle of Yin and Yang. This give and take, the cycle that produces balance and harmony, requires two participants, complementary to be sure, and opposite. These principles and ideas, even if then only in their infancy, can be dated back to inscriptions made on “oracle bones” (reference here, a fantastic yin yang source) from the 14th century B.C. The below picture, from here, is a sample of oracle bones:



(From a conversation thread here about the origins of yin yang): “I seem to remember that the yin-yang symbol appears on bronzes of the Shang dynasty—perhaps earlier as an artistic motif on pottery. At any rate, it considerably antedates the Tang or Song eras”– that’s long before Fu Dogs. Yin yang has since evolved a famous image (which may have been the result of the Chinese characters for correspondence, a fish and a bird, intertwining (same reference as the last quote):(This following image is from the first referenced page)



The overall precept of Yin and Yang (quoted from here – an explanation of how each ‘principle’ is cyclic in nature, one turning into it’s opposite and back again) “… represent all the opposite principles one finds in the universe. Under yang are the principles of maleness, the sun, creation, heat, light, Heaven, dominance, and so on, and under yin are the principles of femaleness, the moon, completion, cold, darkness, material forms, submission, and so on.” From here is a wonderfully rich resource on Yin and Yang, where the following images came from (please visit them):

yinyangday yinyanqualities yinyanqualities2


So, by the time Fu Dogs made their advent into Chinese culture (via an imported religion and an animal that didn’t exist in China), the ideas of balance and harmony were already well developed and in play. It makes perfect sense, and I’ll say is reasonable, that they would interpret the Guardian Lion, when presented as a pair that are guarding some edifice opening, as one lion being yin and one being yang – thus one male and the other female. (I really spent some time reading about yin and yang history; it’s fascinating stuff, really! It’s a shame I didn’t reference all the items I read.)

I admit, I’m making a jump intellectually in ascribing the Chinese fascination/philosophy with Yin Yang and balance to the appearance of male and female Fu Dog pairs. I didn’t really find that said anywhere explicitly, but, part of looking up this stuff is making just that kind of association, so, I’m taking that liberty. The purpose here was to try to expose (for my own curiosity and knowledge) one manner in which Fu Dogs could have become differentiated, become male and female, as they traveled and were interpreted and stylized by their adoptive civilizations.

There are also cultures other than the Chinese (and sometimes even the Chinese) who do not seem to find it necessary to follow the male/female pairing notion (and those cultures will have their own post at some future date, most hopefully). For example, one website, here, in presenting a ‘Peking version’ of Fu Dogs, reads: “The Peking version represent the same larger statues found in China in the town square of Beijing. They are each shown frolicking with a ball or “chu” – This is the image (with the referenced pairing to the right):

  FooDogStatuary FooDog2

These two playful Fu Dogs above are not obviously male and female, so, the idea that an artist would only present Fu Dogs as a male/female pair isn’t exclusive; two “apparently same-sex” Fu Dogs can be presented in some settings – however they are always mirror images of each other. In fact it is rarely obvious, when Fu Dogs are presented in pairs, which one might be the male and which one might be the female (unless, as an upcoming post presents and explores, one is imaged with a cub or other signifying object or pose). If a person is well versed in yin and yang understanding, the placement of the Fu Dogs may shed some light on which might be the male or female of the pair – but only if the person placing the pair is also well versed in yin and yang (and this placement issue is also presented in an upcoming post).


This posting does not preclude a future post dealing with the phenomenon of ‘single’ Fu Dog entities and what they may mean and embody to those who produce and adore them. If these following Fu Dog images had a mirror image mate (which I could easily create by copying and flipping the pictures, but I won’t since these images were found as ‘solo’ Fu Dog images) would you be confidently able to say which was male or female, whether presenting two even demands that one be male and one be female? Being only a single Fu Dog, is it important to know if that single Fu Dog is male or female? The images came from, in order, here, here, and here.

HG130697 set-2-image110






  1. im doing a school projects on oracle bones and this was really helpful.

  2. i’ve been collecting foo dogs for a couple of years now, and i found a very unusual pair recently which i’m trying to research – without much luck. would you mind taking a look at some photos i posted at the following link, and telling me whether you have any insight into their place of origin, age, or anything at all about them?

    the photos can be viewed here: http://flic.kr/s/aHsjEwjyCF

    thank you very much.

    pete veilleux
    oakland, ca

  3. Sorry for the delay – I like the pictures you’ve posted – They strike me as korean – I have another blog (blogspot) in which I picture a found image of a korean fu dog (a Haechi) – here is the blog post (http://fudogblog.blogspot.com/2009/10/fu-dog-day-43.html) and if you can’t view that page or for some reason the link isn’t working, here is the link to the original page (http://soyoumustspeakkorean.blogspot.com/2009/07/haechi-new-symbol-for-soul-of-asia.html) – I say it looks korean based on the shape and the intense ‘all-over’ carving that seems apparent on the images you pasted – if you don’t look up those pages then do a search for “haechi” and see if some of the images don’t look similar. Thanks and keep collecting!!

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