Bell | Tassel | Ribbon | Harness | Mane | Expression | Posture

In China-heavy posts, Historical Slant postings on April 5, 2009 at 12:54 pm

This is the fourth (and last) 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). In looking at a Fu Dog statue, there are several items that come and go, that change oftentimes depending on the Fu Dog being looked at – whether the Fu Dog has a bell (or bells) around its neck. Many times there will be just one, but sometimes a whole ring. Then again, sometimes the bell is paired, or even replaced, with a tassel (or tassels). Depending on the Fu Dog, these items might be attached to a ribbon that is winding around the Fu Dogs head or mouth (the ribbon may even wind down to the fu dog’s ball and/or cub), or if not attached to a ribbon, then attached directly to a collar (more formally, a harness, though often the full harness may not be visible) that may or may not have elaborate decorations which the Fu Dog is wearing. Do these items have any meaning, behind the obvious decorative aspect – or are they purely aesthetic, with no meaning beyond what they are and how they are presented? So I looked around, here is what I found. Bear in mind that I am looking for a historical perspective for why these items may be paired with Fu Dogs.


The following bells are all from here and are shown only to illustrate that Chinese bells have a history that goes farther back than do Fu Dogs:

Warring_States_Bronze_Bell Warring_States_Decorated_Bronze_Bell_2 Han_Dynasty_Bell Song_Dynasty_906--1279AD_Bronze_Bell_1

The following images show a Fu Dog with bell or bells, in order left to right, from here, here, here, and here.

jade single bell stone standcub 1 bell jade 3 bell silver w ball 3 bells

The bells shown on the Fu Dogs are enclosed so a person doesn’t have to ring the bell. I tried to find a tie-in back to the bell as used in Buddhist tradition (which is the original foundation for the Fu Dog, in the form of the Stuppa guardian lion). The symbolic definition of a bell (a Dorje) ringing is enlightenment, an abrupt one that makes a change in human consciousness. Interestingly, which hand the bell is held in makes a subtle difference; the bell in the left hand represents the female aspect of wisdom while in the right male hand represents method – “Together, they represent the union of wisdom and method, or the attainment of enlightenment.” (Reference and quote from here.) I like that there is a left and right interpretation. It allows an easy transition to Yin and Yang harmony and balance, and so, a bell for each Fu Dog. Also, since the ringing symbolic definition takes a left and a right bell (wisdom and method) to create a third greater whole (enlightenment) I can appreciate the possible interpretation of a Fu Dog sculpture having three bells as representing these three ideals. Neat!

As well, I found that bells have a Feng Shui tradition of calm and good energy. This quote, from here, reads: “The sound of wind chimes, like the flow of water, brings the energy of good Chi into our awareness. This gentle sound corrects the negative effects of traffic sounds, harsh noise, and dull noise, and brings balance into our environment. In addition, the healing tones of the chimes release blockages in our bodies, minds, and spirits, bringing a sense of healing and peace into our lives. The sound of chimes reminds us at physical and mental levels to be calm and be well.” The website this quote came from also presents several bells with specific Feng Shui properties, the “Space Clearing” bell, the “Auspicious Energy” bell, the “Safe” bell, and the “Ornate Prosperity Coin” bell. It is therefore quite probable, in my opinion, that some Fu Dogs have bells that are being interpreted in this wholly Feng Shui oriented belief.



The following hats are ones with tassels. Wouldn’t you know, after years of seeing ancient Chinese paintings of people, all of whom seem to have hats with tassels, now I can’t find one – oh well. The hat pictures are from here, here, here, and here.

800px-Tudor_Bonnet tassel hat 250__1_moratr-board_detail

I did find one resource, here, talking about tassels of the Han Dynasty (202 B.C. – A.D. 221) thusly: “Hanging from the official headgear – an elongated morterboard-type hat – tassels made of varying numbers of colored jewels helped to distinguish rank. The hat of the emperor boasted twelve strings of white jade, while prices and dukes arrayed themselves in seven strings of blue jade. Ministers had to make do with 5 jade strings.” Another reference for the Qing Dynasty, here, mentions that tassels must be “of floss silk”, or “the red tassel… must be of cow’s hair” and “ the apex (of the hat) must be adorned with a tassel…” In Buddhism, the tassel is (sometimes) the equivalent of this (here) resource that mentions tassels and flywhisks: “Early Buddhism adopted the white yak-tail flywhisk as an emblem of the Buddha’s sovereignty and compassionate activity, and along with the umbrella it occurs as one of the two earliest Buddhist symbols of protection.”

For Fu Dogs I can see that the inclusion of a tassel could be either interpretation, or both; either a sign for protection or a sign of rank, or both. Only in the last of the following pictures is the tassel in the center (though I have seen some other images like that), and, the third one may be bells or tassels but I chose tassels. The second image is by Barry R Owens. They are from (left to right) here, here, here, and here. (As always on Fu Dog Blog, all images belong to their owners, rights and such reserved by them.)

fudog metal tassel fudog stone tassel harvard bell tassel stone lama_temple_guardian_lion_female



The ribbon sometimes seen around a Fu Dog is more mysterious for me. I have found this story, from here, that may explain one reason for it’s appearance. “One story tells of a great lion in heaven, who, like many cats, was curious and playful, always causing mischief. The Jade Emperor was perturbed by this and, due to the lion’s insubordination, had the lion’s head chopped off. He then threw the remains out of heaven, and down to Earth to rot. However, Kwan’Yin, the goddess of mercy, had seen the entire affair, and, feeling sorry for the mischievous lion, descended to Earth in order to help him. She tied his head back onto his body with an enchanted red ribbon. The ribbon, she said, would frighten away evil spirits and keep the lion safe from harm.”

One Buddhist-type reference I found about a ribbon is its use in creating a symbolic device called the Endless Knot; this quote is from here: “Auspicious Drawing-Also known as the Endless Knot, this picture includes a lattice-like drawing with ribbon threads and represents the intersection of religious principles and secular matters. The Auspicious Drawing also symbolizes the joining of wisdom and method, the "inseparability of emptiness", and upon enlightenment, the union of compassion with wisdom.” I like how the last is compatible with the bells definitions mentioned above and could be why sometimes it looks like the bells around a Fu Dogs neck are tied to a ribbon. Another reference, Williams, C.A.S. from the book “Chinese Symbolism and Art Motifs” has this to say about a possible ribbon interpretation: the ribbon "may symbolize the bond which Buddhists believe joins beings of all times, countries, religions and even species." The first image may or may not have ribbons dangling from their mouths, and is from here; I picked it because it may be a ribbon that is working as a harness. The second, having the scrolling ribbon, is from here. The third is from here; yes the red ribbon is cute, but you can just make out the carving of a ribbon running along the leg too!

bronze-foo-dogs gold pair ribbon ribbon stone



The harness, as seen and briefly mentioned above, sometimes can be seen or interpreted to be a ribbon. This reference (here) reads: “… classifies fu lions into two types, a simple unadorned depiction with just a harness and bells around its neck, and a more elaborate depiction with decorative tassels, bells, scarves, profuse manes and body hair. This more elaborate and ornate depiction is a result of Tibetan influence, where the lion was considered the most important Buddhist symbol and the companion of the Buddha. In this case, she claims, the harness around the lions neck symbolizes the "subjugation of strength and courage to the service of the Enlightened One, and to what Buddhists call the Buddha-nature." I’m of a nature to agree with that, and, I haven’t found any other better reference specifically addressing why a Fu Dog would have a harness (or, more seriously, a fancy collar – these harnesses are rarely if ever a harness in the modern sense of the word). There are also Fu Dogs that do not have harnesses – I don’t know what to make of those that are so free-wheeling, do you? The first two images purported to be Fu Dogs have no harness, the next a simple ribbonesque one, the fourth a more complex collar. It’s also easy to view some of the other Fu Dogs in this blog for some examples of thick and involved collar/harnesses. The images below are from, in order left to right, here, here, here and here.

no harness1 simple ribbon harness ivory bell harness



The mane is always open to interpretation, however, I did find several references to a Buddha tale involving snails that has been translated, and is somewhat fitting, for Fu Dog manes. From this one example, here, “According to legend, the snails seeing that the Buddha was sitting so long and still in the sun under the Bodhi tree in meditation gathered upon his head for his protection. Thus, the curls on the head of the Buddha are round and "snail like,” a depiction also used for fu lions.” The tale has some variation but, really, it’s about the Fu Dog’s mane being interpreted, through Buddhist imagery, to be snails.  I like it. I can definitely see it as a possible interpretation for many Fu Dog images. View the above images for examples that have and do not have ‘snail-shell-like’ manes.



The expression, whether open mouthed or not, depends on the interpretation given by the viewer and the intentions of the artist. Like placement of the cub and ball (covered in an earlier post), what is meant by a particular expression may be brought to the piece rather than come from the piece. The common snarling Fu Dog face may be nothing more than an incidental opening of the mouth, not in order to frighten away but in order to pronounce the sacred word ‘au’ or ‘ah.’ In such a case then the opposing Fu Dog would normally have a closed mouth and in tandem pronouncing the sacred word ‘um’ or ‘mmm’ – together producing ‘OM’ (reference here, here, and here). Of course, the artist may intentionally be creating a snarling, vicious, angry Fu Dog in order to scare away and thus guard an entrance and not be following a tradition that produces any reference to a sacred pronunciation. In that, and any case where you do not know the artists intentions, it can be solely up to you how you interpret the facial expression. Images that follow are from here, here, here, here, and here.

expression brown expression green expression white expression pair1 expression stone



Posture for a Fu Dog is usually seated, in a traditional guard position as inherited from the guardian lions from which they descend. Sometimes the posture can be standing, leaning on a large ball, squatted down on the front legs like a playful dog, and just lounging like a lion. This reference, here, has this to say, about which some of the playful postures can be inferred: “The lion does not seem to be so highly thought of by the Chinese as the tiger, probably because it is not so well known to them; and the fact that it is generally represented as playing with a ball, or chu, seems to show that they consider it as belonging more to the mythical class. The lion of the artist is by no means a formidable beast, despite its big eyes and fierce countenance. It is usually depicted with beautifully curled mane, disporting amidst peony flowers, or indulging in kitten like gambols with a sacred gem, as harmless as its pictorial brother in European heraldry, and offering even less resemblance to the real ‘monarch of the forests.” This gives me the idea that those images of Fu Dogs where they are playing are less about guardian images and more about the mythical interpretation given through folklore; a nice split between a utilitarian (Yang) use versus a playful (Yin) use.  The following images, showing various postures, are from here, here, here, and the last two from here. (Yes some of these images are not strictly Chinese in origin.)

pose std guard pose std play pose std play2 pose std crouch pose std growl crouch



So, I hope this post has been interesting and has pointed out how some of the features, postures, and accessories that adorn a Fu Dog may have come into play in ancient Fu Dogs and thus have carried forward into modern times. For the most part, a lot of Buddhist lore and symbols were brought forward, quite naturally since the Fu Dog (as guardian) came into being due to Buddhist influence, and even today are incorporated into Fu Dog imagery for newly created Fu Dogs. Certainly, artists bear the largest responsibility for producing Fu Dogs that fit the aesthetic and audience the piece is intended to please; it is as well their responsibility to mix or not the accessories and features of utilitarian ‘guard’ Fu Dogs and more playful ‘mythical’ Fu Dogs as they will. Thus if you are looking for a Fu Dog or Fu Dog pair for a specific purpose it might be up to you to interpret whether the piece meets your needs, regardless of the artists intentions – the artist may or may not be following a guardian-Buddhist-tradition of Fu Dog representation (fully or even partially), and may be mixing the two out of ignorance or for purposeful reasons. Definitely, if you haven’t, read the last three posts to get a fuller picture of the history of Fu Dogs. I’ll try to summarize all four of these lengthy posts in an upcoming one, as well as placing it in the About page. Thanks for reading!




  1. The bell (ling) is a homonym of (ling) command and ling spirit. Thus represented the ability to command spirits to disperse.

    Red ribbons must be thought of in two contexts, one is the color red and ribbon. One mythos is a buddhist monk used his red sash to tame the lion who was terrorizing a village, the lion later became a guardian of the people.

    The second mythos is Kwan Yin using it to tie the lions head back together after the Jade Emperor loped it off for his transgression. The lion thanked Kwan Yin and henceforth promised to do good. Red is the color of blood which is the life force hence yang, it also symbolized the color of the sun (power) and fire used to fight beast-all yang energy. Also red is a homonym for vast and great so it was thought it had the power to magnify. The word for ribbon also had a symbolic meaning. Just some FYI-good web page BTW.

  2. Thanks so much William – I appreciate your comment! I had not heard of the “taming of the lion by using the red sash” and that is fascinating and cool! I also am grateful for pointing me toward the dual interpretations (for the reason the ribbon is red and not just any random color as well as its ‘meaning through usage’). I have taken an extended break from posting images but haven’t abandoned my love of the topic – I’m sure after this brief respite I’ll be posting more; feel free to comment anytime. Thanks again!

  3. Greetings! I’m a long-time collector of Foo (Fu) Dogs and I have several in my collection who appear have SWORDS in their mouths. I’ve never been able to determine what this represents, if anything. Perhaps you can shed some light? LOVE the blog, btw – it’s been most informative, and the pictures are awesome!

  4. I once had someone ask about one they owned with a fish in the mouth (so it’s not so strange to find a sword) – though there may be others out there who have input (feel free), for the most part what I’ve come to find out is that objects in the mouth are either an artists desire (to meet a customer’s demand) or a regional device used to ‘tie’ a fu dog to a particular region. Thanks for the comment/question! If you find out anything different then let me know! Thanks!

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