Fu Dog Ball | Fu Dog Cub | Flower of Life | Milk Paw

In China-heavy posts, Historical Slant postings on March 14, 2009 at 12:37 pm

This is the second 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). After some extending reading, I think the idea of having an object under the paw evolved from the same misconceived idea (entirely separate from the ideas of Yin and Yang, which I’ll get to in a moment). The initial idea revolves around the unknown quantity that was the Asian/Persian Lion – the Chinese had no knowledge of that animal and so, when nothing is understood, strange stories can and do evolve about physical or mystical traits. In this case the myth is that Lions give milk from their paws – why this arose I have no idea.

One reference, here, indicates that the milk has magic properties and the indigenous peoples would leave out yarn balls in the hope that the large cats would play with them and deposit their milk into the yarn which could then be harvested/gathered; for what purpose I can only imagine. Another reference here indicates people would leave out hollow balls with the same hope, that the lions would play with them and leave some milk inside (though how the milk stayed in the ball while it was played with must be one of those unsolved mysteries you hear about).

Here is a picture of the male Fu Dog having a hollow ball (the link is has a great photo-collection of stone lions in the orient; I highly recommend exploring the links in that website):


From this reference, here, folk legend has it that the female Fu Dog has her paw on her cub because the cub is suckling, is drawing milk from it’s mother’s paw. Pretty cool – it is one of only two references I have found so far that makes such a statement (here is the second); I think it likely true since many many pictures of female Fu Dogs do show the paw and mouth of the cub somehow connected. This connection of milk coming from a Fu Dog’s paw nicely ties together a lot of imagery and has the ‘grass roots’ sensationalism that artists, I think, would connect/resonate with in presenting imagery that would ‘sell’ with the intended audience.

(From the same website as the above image, the female mate of the male Fu Dog image above, with suckling cub):


Here are a couple of more pictures of both Fu Dogs together, showing the ball and the cub, the first from here, the second from here:

 giltpair stonepair

Of course, it is not always true that the female’s cub is always in the suckling position. I tend towards the belief that these artists are unaware of the folk legend and/or have decided purposefully to present the Fu Dog cub upright – though in some cases even the upright Fu Dog cub looks to be attempting to suckle. However, some artists who know the lore may have ignored the legend, again purposefully, in order to portray a more Yin or Yang aspect of their cultural interpretation, to emphasize meanings behind ideas such as ‘the female protects those of the dwelling’ by having the cub safely underfoot.

Here are some images showing the cub not obviously suckling (the first from here, the second from here):

  not suckling2 not suckling1

These images and the text presented so far merely show the ball and the cub with their ‘parent’ Fu Dog. But what, I want to know, does the ball and the cub represent, beyond the mere folkloric embodiment of taking advantage of the milk coming from the lion’s (Fu Dog’s) paw? Is there more to it than that? I wasn’t certain and am glad I looked – there is a lot of talk about just this representation, what the ball means, what paw it’s under, what the design on the ball represents and what the cub represents, what paw it’s under (as well as where and how to place the pair at some establishment’s entrance, an upcoming post).

The cub is the easier to present (and shorter) so I’ll address it first. As mentioned already above, the main idea behind the cub is the idea of the female Fu Dog ‘protecting those in the dwelling’ or having ‘thriving offspring’ – this is the Yin in which the seed of Yang exists. Such an interpretation is so prevalent that I won’t post a reference. Some on-line references present the cub as a stand in for some Yang oriented device or definition – as the seed of Yang within Yin – suffice it to say, in my opinion, the cub is part of that projection of Yang philosophy. I was unable to find mention of the sex of the cub; my belief is that, since the culture of the time (we’re talking about ancient China) was one of patriarchy where a male child is desired above a female one, the cub is male (most likely). I’ll get to the placement of the cub (left/right paw) at the time I cover placement of the ball of the male Fu Dog (probably in the next post), since they are interconnected.

The ball for the male Fu Dog, on the other hand (or paw, hehheh), is more interesting, and more convoluted, and more involved in its potential meaning and reason. One of my favorite ideas, found here, in defining a lion, says: “The male has a paw on a brocaded ball which represents the jewel of the law, a pearl, or an egg enclosing a cub.” Is the ball perhaps an egg? This could be true because of the common belief that Dragons grew in eggs (here is a great reference beginning, “Dragons were believed to lay eggs …”). One reference in support, here, mentions: “In Chinese legend it is said that the lion was the ninth son of the dragon and was the best employable guard”; so, this myth could be a foundation for such an interpretation of the ball/egg scenario. The following picture is posted, mostly humorously, because the lion is definitely not a Fu Dog, obviously an Asian/Persian Lion, and has his paw on obviously a ball that has no adornment and is very egg-like – it came from here, and I liked it; enjoy:

 lion ball

There are also quite a number (too many to mention really but feel free to do some reading on your own) of interpretations that the ball is a stand in for the earth, for the moon, for power, for treasure, for control over a domain; that the ball is in some fashion an object or idea that is beyond the control of mortal man, but, for the male Fu Dog, is symbolically tamed and thus placed at the disposal of his owner or those he protects and influences. Such varied interpretations lend themselves to a wide array of artistic representations (as is easily seen in many of the images posted above). In some sense the ball could be said to be to be the seed of Yin within Yang in the same way the cub is the seed of Yang within Yin. However, some interpretations project the ball having Yang aspects (I won’t argue, but I do think my projection of the ball as a Yin device is not too far off, on the whole).

The ball, unlike the above brass lion with a smooth egg-like ball, is rarely (in Chinese images) unadorned. Various other countries also put their own markings on the ball, and as I post about the Fu Dog in those countries (having Fu Dogs with balls) I’ll get to those design interpretations. In some Chinese lore, the image on the ball is interpreted to be the ‘flower of life’ which is an artistic representation of overlapping spheres that moves from the egg of life to the seed of life to the flower of life proper (the following images, in order left to right, from egg, to seed, to flower, are from here):

    eggoflifeseedfolife flowerof life

There is also, on the web, lots of resources for the patterns above, and not at all exclusive to China (in fact that is one of the debates; it’s origins are obscured). Of interest to me is the tremendous number of male Fu Dog paws that are placed on a ball that have a pattern which is, if not explicitly exactly one of the above, as closely similar to one of the above patterns as can be achieved in the medium and size that the piece is created – or – which includes an aspect of the overall pattern. Such occurrences seems to be more than coincidence can explain. One interesting referece page, here, approaches the patterning on the ball through its mathematical slant, per: “The aim of this paper is to survey the different ball patterns from the point of view of structural morphology.” Below is the one image from that page.


I have tried to share, to date on this blog, images that have a variety of Fu Dog ball patterns – believe me I’ve looked at a lot of images. There are quite a few out there following this above stylization (or abstraction thereof) and so I lean towards believing that many artists, in their efforts to imbue the Fu Dog with as much meaning and depth and relevance as possible for their audience (and to make their own investment in time and effort worthwhile), would most definitely use this reference on the ball. It would add style, panache, mystery, and a winking nod to those ‘in the know’ about the ‘flower.’

It is not mandatory, certainly, for an artist to follow this patterning as a rule (though it does seem to be an ‘understood’) and some artists, whether purposeful or not, present the ball in a manner more to their liking. See the red Fu Dog male pictured above – the ball is practically a ‘sun’ with a blue corona; I do think that the red pair above (having the ‘sitting cub’ and the ‘sun-like’ ball) are more representative of a non-Chinese aesthetic.

So, the previous post dealt with my observations of how/why, from India to China, a pair of non-differentiated Guardian lions became a pair of male and female Guardian Lions. This post presents those objects that give the Fu Dog a male and female aspect, visibly, through use of the ball and the cub, and addresses (even if only my own opinion) one interpretation of how/why each object evolved as well as what each may mean symbolically.



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