Archive for the ‘China-heavy posts’ Category

This is not a Fu Dog | Pi Yao / Pi Xie / Pi Xiu / Kei Loon / Kirin / Qi Lin / Bi Shou / Chimera

In China-heavy posts, Home Page posts on May 17, 2009 at 5:26 pm

In a similar vein to the last post, where I went through actual dog breeds looking for the precursor to the dog-aspect of a Fu Dog, this post shows some of the mythical animals that can be listed or found online as Fu Dogs but are not. What? There are some creatures in myth that are not Fu Dogs? – yes, I know, amazing, and yet these creatures can be found on the internet labeled as Fu Dogs. Here are some of the many, many names they could be posted under:

Pi Yao / Pi Xie / Pi Xiu / Kei Loon / Kirin / Qi Lin / Bishou / Chimera

From here: “It’s easy to confuse the Pi Yao with the more commonly seen Fu Dogs or Chi Lin, and since they’re all symbolic animals, artists like to put their own spin on their physical appearances.”

From here: “In Chinese Feng Shui, a Pi Xiu is a mythical animal which is depicted with the head of a dragon and a dog or lion’s body often with hoofs, little wings and a tail.”

From here: “The Qi Lin is a mythical creature belonging to the Taoist Goddess of the West Xi Hwang Mu. Sometimes called a Chinese Unicorn, the Qi Lin has the head of a dragon, the body of a horse and the scales of the carp.”

From here: “There are lots of spin-offs to the name kei loon – qi lin, kirin (like the beer!), chi lin, and much much more.


Well, here is a caveat – some of the following images I found were listed as Fu Dogs, using one spelling or another, and some I found specifically as examples of the animals listed above. Rights belong to the pictures owners.  Pictures are from (please visit their links), in order from left to right top to bottom, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here,

Qilin-shaped_incense_burner_2_CAC 562px-QingQilin_preview piyao kirin kirin1 notafudog notafudog1 notafudog2 bishou - winged cat notafudog3 notafudog4 bishou - winged cat2


Now this little bit of research brings some clarity to some of the previous images I’ve wondered about and posted on Fu Dog Blog, and, to some of the images I’ve seen that claim to be Fu Dogs and I just can’t believe are Fu Dogs. Now I know. If the image has wings then it is not a Fu Dog. If the image has scales over its body it is not a Fu Dog. If the image has hooves or claws instead of paws then it is not a Fu Dog. If the image has a horn protuberance, or multiple horns coming from its head then it is not a Fu Dog. If it has the body of a dragon then it is not a Fu Dog. Per previous posts in this blog, a Fu Dog partakes in physical representations that are a merger of Persian Lion and Dog – nothing else.

What I have noticed is that those parties interested in selling an item will put any spin on the item that will put that item before the most people – therefore, if an entity is selling a Qi Lin (which is not so famous as a Fu Dog) then it would reach the most people to take the word Fu Dog out of a marketing campaign and replace it with Qi Lin – those who search for a Fu Dog will find the description matches and the history matches and think they have found a unique Fu Dog (called a Qi Lin) and will be happy and the seller makes a sell by pretending that the Qi Lin has the same history of a Fu Dog. I haven’t pursued too much what these alternative mythical creatures came from nor how they evolved any further than to know that they are not Fu Dogs, but do partake in the mythology of dragons and guardian animals – a close (mythically close, but not physically close enough) match for the Fu Dog.

Oh, the following are not Fu Dogs either; just for your information – (and are from here, here, here):

notafudog7 notafudog6 notafudog8


Fu Dog Ancestor | Dog Breeds

In China-heavy posts, Home Page posts on May 2, 2009 at 2:35 pm

I have covered the Guardian Lion aspect of Fu Dogs in previous posts (the historic interpretation originating from the Persian Lion and the subsequent stylizations that became prominent in Fu Dog representations) and am now going to briefly present some findings for the ‘dog’ origins for the Fu Dog.


First, let me present some dogs that are not the inspiration behind the merger of lion and dog – that is to say originally. Now that the breeds to be mentioned have been around for centuries artists have and do borrow from their features to create current Fu Dog images. The Shih Tzu is probably not a forbearer.

shihtzu1 shihtzu2 shihtzu3

The three images are from here, here, and here. This breed’s name (and this information is from wikipedia specifically, but can be found on almost any website that is discussing Shih Tzu history or origins) “translates as Lion Dog, so named because the dog was bred to resemble "the lion as depicted in traditional oriental art," such as the Chinese guardian lions.” Obviously, this means the dog breed came ‘after’ the Fu Dog was already established as a Chinese icon. Still, a pretty breed. I don’t really see too much of a resemblance to Fu Dogs, personally, but maybe if I squint and use my imagination it almost works. Please visit AKC – Shih Tzu for more information on the breeds specifics.


Another breed that is similar to the Shih Tzu and sometimes mentioned in the same breath as Fu Dogs is the Lhasa Apso. From Wikipedia, “The Lhasa Apso is called the Tibetan Lion Dog after its resemblance to the Snow Lion, however it is unknown whether the dog was bred to resemble the Snow Lion or if the artistic design was influenced by the features of the dog.” (I know I haven’t covered the Snow Lion yet, but, it is a Guardian Lion interpretation of the Fu Dog that is most prominent in Tibet – I’ll cover it in a post one of these days.) As the following images show, it has a look that is like that of the breed above.

lhasaapso1 lhasaapso2 lhasaapso3

The three images are from here, here, and here. Don’t the two breeds look similar? I would say so. Please visit AKC – Lhasa Apso for more information on the breeds specifics. I also have difficulty viewing the Lhasa Apso as a Fu Dog; again, maybe if I squint.


The next breed, the Tibetan Spaniel, is also probably not a precursor or inspiration for the Fu Dog. From Wikipedia, “Small monastery dogs, thought to be early representatives of the Tibetan Spaniel, loyally trailed behind their Lama masters and came to be regarded as "little Lions" owing their resemblance to the Chinese guardian lions, thus giving them great value and prestige.” I say they are probably not because they are named as ‘Tibetan’ and my readings lead me to believe that Fu Dogs evolved in China first as they traveled from India and, in the form of Snow Lions evolved slightly later in Tibet.

tibetanspaniel1 tibetanspaniel2 tibetanspaniel3

The above images are from here, here, and here. Still, maybe it’s the shorter hair, but, I think I can see a tiny bit of Fu Dog in the features and body styling of the Tibetan Spaniel. The ears kind of have the same ‘droop’ as some of the Fu Dogs I’ve seen, the tail is similar in it’s ‘puffiness’ and the snout or muzzle of the dog is vaguely in the proportion to the body as some Fu Dogs, and do I see a little bit of ‘wing’ action coming off the animals elbows – I think so. I might be imagining these similarities, forcing the comparison perhaps in a way I did not do for the first two breeds. Is this an example of an animal that has, over time, been bred for traits that have resulted in this Fu Dog-ness that I see; perhaps. Please visit AKC – Tibetan Spaniel for more information on the breeds specifics.


Since mentioning Tibet, another country with a Fu Dog interpretation, and a dog breed to match, is Japan – the breed is the Japanese Chin. However, this breed may not have originated in Japan, per Wikipedia, “The true origin of the Chin remains a matter of controversy. It is widely agreed that these dogs originated in China. Some maintain the ancestors of these dogs first appeared in Japan around the year 732, as gifts from the rulers of Korea, while others maintain that they were given as gifts to the Empress of Japan as early as the mid-6th century to 7th century, and even some saying they came to Japan as recently as around the year 1000.” (Korea also has a Fu Dog interpretation!) These dogs have similarities to the Tibetan Spaniel and may be more closely related (but that’s just my opinion). Since it is most probable they originated in China, I think it likely they have some Fu Dog history attached.

japanesechin1 japanesechin2 japanesechin3

The above images are from here, here, and here. I see a little resemblance to the previous breed and so too is there a little bit of Fu Dog present. In this case I think it may be likely that this breed was further bred to have traits that reinforce a Fu Dog look and probably not an inspiration for artists Fu Dog representations. I could be mistaken since Emperors and Empresses may have said to an artist “make a Fu Dog that has characteristics of little Fluffy-Flower or we’ll cut off your funding” – it’s possible I guess. Please visit AKC – Japanese Chin for more information on the breeds specifics.


Another breed with a long history in China is the Pekingese. Wikipedia points out “For centuries, they could be owned only by members of the Chinese Imperial Palace.” This is one of those dog breeds, that I’ll say is similar to the last one above, that it is possible could be a precursor to some of the features of the Fu Dog. The expense of having Fu Dog sculptures created could be afforded by the ruling class and that class very well could say to the artist, use the nose of Pitty-Pat and the muzzle or snout of Butterfly-Leaper, etc, etc.

pekingese1 pekingese2 Pekingese3

The above images are from here, here, and here. Like all of the breeds presented so far, there are many current ‘stylings’ that can be applied to the animals’ coats, so, with the hair flowing and present perhaps the resemblance to a Fu Dog is less than with the hair trimmed. I can see a look of Fu Dog ancestry in the breadth of the head, the snout or muzzle, the shape of the ears and fluffiness of the tail and somewhat the proportion of body to legs. Please visit AKC – Pekingese for more information on the breeds specifics.


The next breed is one that is much less hairy than those already shown. It is the Pug. Wikipedia has this to say: “This breed may also be referred to as a "Lion Dog" or "Foo (or Fu) Dog" due to its resemblance to Chinese guardian lions (just like the Pekingese dog breed from China, of similar origin and resemblance, to Chinese guardian lions which are considered a guardian spirit).” I too see a slight resemblance to the Pekingese breed, perhaps the similarities would increase if the Pekingese were ever shorter haired.

pug1 pug2 pug3

The above images are from here, here, and here. It’s easier to imagine this short-haired breed having a ball underfoot like a Fu Dog (I wouldn’t be surprised to find a Pug decked out like a Fu Dog – I looked for one, certainly – the Pug sure is a ‘decorated’ breed; so many people play dress-up with it). The Pug also looks ready to be merged with a Persian Lion and have a mane attached, elbow featherings, a puffy tail – it looks a whole lot to me like a shaved down Fu Dog, except, that is, for the snout/muzzle – it is just too short, too pushed in toward the face. Still, the body shape/proportions, the toes, the wide head the ear shape – it’s so close. Please visit AKC – Pug for more information on the breeds specifics.


I think it is pretty obvious that, so far, all the breeds presented are small and short on stature (but big on personality and appeal – don’t get me wrong). It is possible, as I speculated about already, that the owners of these smaller dogs were also the ones with the funds to have Fu Dogs created and thus Fu Dogs were designed by their artists to purposefully to take features from these smaller breeds and incorporate them into the larger statuary. There are, however, two larger breeds I’ll present that have some Fu Dog associations reported.

The first of these larger dogs is a hairier breed, the Chow Chow. Wikipedia presents the following: “Chow Chow, or Chow, is a breed of dog that was first developed in Mongolia about 4,000 years ago and was later introduced into China, where it is referred to as Songshi Quan (Pinyin: sōngshī quǎn 鬆獅犬), which literally means "puffy-lion dog."” Similar to the first breed in this post, the Shih Tzu, this breed has the reference for being a Lion-Dog. The difference in this case is that the Chow Chow probably (just conjecture here) was interpreted as a lion-dog because it already had the descriptive elements of a Persian lion already – the mane, the big paws, the snarling lips-effect, the strong chest – and these elements weren’t subsequently bred into the Chow Chow like they most likely were for the Shih Tzu.

chow1 chow2 chow3

In the same fashion that I see elements of the Fu Dog in the earlier breeds discussed, I too see elements of the Fu Dog in the Chow Chow. Please visit AKC – Chow Chow for more information on the breeds specifics.


The last breed I’ll include today is the Shar Pei. From Wikipedia: “The ancestry of the Shar-Pei is uncertain. It may be a descendant of the Chow Chow, however, the only clear link between these is the blue-black tongue. However, pictures on pottery suggest the breed was present even in the Han Dynasty (206bc).” This breed, similar to the Pug, has an appearance that, for me, immediately looks ready to take on the trappings of Fu Dog stylistic representations.

Shar-Pei1 sharpei2 sharpei3

The wide face, the whole image almost speaks to me of a Persian Lion without the hairier aspects. It could be just me and the style of Fu Dog I’m drawn to, but I think this is a stripped-down Fu Dog. Please visit AKC – Shar Pei for more information on the breeds specifics.


Now, having looked at all these breeds, is there one that is definitely the ancestral parent of the ‘dog’ portion of the Fu Dog? Not in my opinion – The Fu Dog has some parts of most of these breeds, either after the fact or bred directly to imitate the Fu Dog, or perhaps both where an artist uses and exaggerates features for their own purposes. I do think the historically older breeds are more likely to have had a hand in the later appearance of Fu Dogs, certainly. Probably those that could afford to have a Fu Dog created would have wanted it to look like one of their dogs (if they had dogs) and those artists who were making art for the masses may have incorporated some features of one of the larger or more commonly available breeds to appeal to those having that type of animal. So, I can definitively say, it’s up to you to pick your own breed as the ‘dog’ ancestor portion of the Chinese Fu Dog.

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!




Fu Dog Placement | Cub Placement | Ball Placement | Yin | Yang | Harmony | Balance

In China-heavy posts, Historical Slant postings on March 19, 2009 at 11:07 pm

This is the third 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). So, why does a Fu Dog’s cub or Fu Dog’s ball get placed under one or the other paw, and, why does the male/female pairing of Fu Dogs get placed on one or the other side of an entrance? In truth these are two very different questions. (Here is a picture of the pair at the gate to the Forbidden City, followed by a pair in front of a restaurant, from here):

Forbidden_City_Imperial_Guardian_Lions kowloonnew

The first question has quite a bit to do with the artist and that artist’s representational desire and freedom. Is the artist free to create a Fu Dog (pair) of his or her own design, or, are the elements of the design already prescribed by the commission on which the artist has been retained? If the elements are already decided upon, then what amount of freedom does the artist have, i.e. if there must be a cub and a ball, one with each of the pair, then has the artist been informed where to place them, and how, and with what detail? Then, subsequently, is the artist knowledgeable in the mythos and lore of the culture of the Fu Dogs being created and is that information going to be utilized in their creation, whether consciously or unconsciously, or is it going to be purposefully ignored or contorted/warped? For example, in the last post mention was made of the cub suckling from the female Fu Dog’s paw; is the artist aware of this myth- will the artist place the paw of the female on the cub’s belly instead of its mouth (as an unknowledgeable act or a purposeful twist)? (From here are a couple of artists carving Fu Dogs; are they following a myth-based subject representation, or just free-wheeling it?):


The second question, of eventual placement of the finished Fu Dog pair, depends not only upon the artist’s freedom and control of the final product, but also on the knowledge of the owner/possessor of the Fu Dog pair and their willingness to place the pieces according to proscribed lore. Obviously if the artist is creating a Fu Dog pair for commission or for public sale then the placement of them, left or right, may be suggested by the artist to the completed piece’s owner but the artist in no way can control whether the new owner will concur and place them as suggested. If the owner of the Fu Dogs is the artist or if the owner does not know the artist and does not get suggestions on placement, then that owner’s knowledge and willingness and ability to place the pair appropriate to ascribed ‘positioning’, and according to the Fu Dogs as designed and in hand, becomes paramount. (In this photo, would this person be able to guide you in suggested Fu Dog placement, from here):


Alright, with the ‘free will’ discussion dispatched, let’s get down to what I’ve learned of Fu Dog Cub and Ball placement first (followed by placement of the male and female Fu Dogs as a pair). This post is definitely built upon information presented in the first of these four posts as well as the second (the post previous to this one) so please click on their respective links if you’d like to read them now. I think, once again, the early evolution of where to place a Fu Dog cub or ball is rooted in the harmony and balance, as expressed and embraced by the Chinese of those eras, of Yin and Yang. Considering a knowledgeable artist, very well aware of Yin and Yang methodology in representation, who is choosing to follow said methodology (whether by commission instruction or their own interests), a decision does have to be finalized for either the cub or the ball: which one is Yin and which one is Yang?

Can the decision be made arbitrarily – yes; however, let’s try to be specific in one example of reasoning that leads to a well-founded choice. In all cases I have so far found, femaleness and femininity is Yin, maleness and masculinity is Yang. Such an early society valued male children above female ones, so, the cub should be interpreted as Male/Yang which therefore forces the definition of “Female/Yin” upon the cub’s ‘parent’ Fu Dog (maintaining harmony and balance of Yin and Yang), and, thus, the opposite Fu Dog, now identifiable as a Male Fu Dog, must have a Yin ball (necessary to keep harmony – one side has large Yin and small Yang so the other must balance and have large Yang and small Yin). Part 1 done, now for Part 2; which paw? The nuances of interpretation now play a tremendous role in this next decision and necessitates a discussion of placement of the female-and-cub Fu Dog and the male-and-ball Fu Dog to either side of an entrance (what is fantastic about the simplicity of Yin and Yang is its complexity – another example of the ‘one has the seed of the other’ concept). I have read (and now cannot find the reference – I’ll keep looking) that the cub and the ball should be on the inside edges of either side of the doorway that the Fu Dogs are placed to guard; this keeps the evil out and the good in (if reversed, if the cub and ball are on the outside paw of the Fu Dogs, then the Fu Dogs cannot effectively guard the entrance since their attention is away from the door). So, if the Male Fu Dog is placed to the right of the door (as you are facing the door, outside looking in) then the ball should be under the Fu Dog’s right paw and the Female should be placed to the left of the door with the cub underneath its left paw. This would be a single possible example, completed. (Here is an image that contradicts this, just to show I don’t have all the answers, followed by an image set as described, with a close up of the Female Fu Dog, from here):

gatepair - ehh pairgate-small pairgate-female

Remember, in the last post, that there was some conflict in designating left or right as either Yin or Yang? Here is the best description I’ve found of how variably the idea of Yin and Yang being either Left or Right, can be presented, validly: “…your weight should be constantly variable but not completely one sided, i.e., when the right foot is forward and your weight is on that foot, there should be a distribution of 70% of weight on that foot, at that point your right foot is termed yang and opposingly your left foot will be 30% weighted and termed Yin.  Now try standing in this stance; one foot in front of the other and feel what I’m talking about, now transfer your weight from your right foot to your left foot, you now have a yang left foot and conversely a yin right foot.”  This can, perhaps, come into play with the placement of the Male and Female Fu Dogs and their cub and ball devices. If left is Yin then it could be acceptable to place the Female Fu Dog on the left since the Female is Yin (and thus the Male on the right – which is what we’ve done with the above example). However, it could be another, proper, consideration to place the male on the left (remembering to place the ball now underneath his left foot – at the inside edge of the entry) so that there is strong Yang on the Yin side, for harmony (and vice versus for the Female Fu dog). As well, this site here, provides this interesting quote that we can apply toward such a placement scenario: “Although it is correct to see yin as feminine and yang as masculine, everything in the world is really a mixture of the two, which means that female beings may actually be mostly yang and male beings may actually be mostly yin. Because of that, things that we might expect to be female or male because they clearly represent yin or yang, may turn out to be the opposite instead.” So, per the quote, perhaps the Male Fu Dog on the left is properly ‘more Yin’ – consequently the ball could then be considered Yin, as above, or, to harmonize with a more Yin Male, the ball could be a Yang device (which is done quite often). (Below is another image, from here, that has the odd Fu Dog placement ‘between’ a pair of double doors – are the Fu Dogs protecting the center person/image?)"


Is that the only interpretation? Of course not; the female and the cub could be considered a single entire entity, all Yin, and the male and the ball similarly could be considered together as a single Yang. In such a case it wouldn’t matter, in terms of left or right for the Fu Dog, which paw the cub or ball was underneath; what might matter more is the direction the door faces on which either side they might be placed and how that direction corresponds to Yin and Yang for entrance and exit and best effect for balance and harmony. For example, if the entry faces North (the Yin Direction) and walking into the structure (movement ‘in’ can be considered a Yin movement, here) then the Fu Dogs may need to both take on more Yang devices, so, in this case, the ball may be Yang as well as the cub as well as the Male and Female Fu Dogs. Such a discussion of placement and harmony leads toward the Chinese art/science of Feng Shui, which is (defined here as): “Feng Shui ( pronounced fong sway ) is an ancient science based on the belief that everything in the universe is either positive or negative energy. ( Yin and Yang ) This energy is called Chi, and the science/art of Feng Shui is the use and arrangement of positive objects to counteract the negative objects in your environment.” Here is a link having 10 symbols of Feng Shui, listing Fu Dogs as number nine – they may or may not be in a particular order. Incidentally, Feng Shui also places the Male Fu Dog sometimes on the left of the door, sometimes on the right (and the Female vice versus); it just depends on which reference you’re reading. (Here is a feng shui device called a Ba Gua mirror – there are many variations; I chose this one for its central Fu Dog image):


Quite honestly, I am enamored of the cycle of Yin turning into Yang and back again, presented here as: “Thus the two opposites of yin and yang do not exist as an entity in a still and unconcerned state. They constantly interact with each other, hence the alteration and development of an object.” Such a realization causes the initial placement of all Fu Dogs to have great meaning – but then, after months or days or years, the cycle of Yin and Yang cause the meanings to change and then change again. Perhaps this change is merely perceptual in nature, that of the viewer, and I’m ok with that. (Here is an image that incorporates the quadrants of the Ba Gua with Yin and Yang ‘flow’):

bagua yinyang

Now, after three posts, the creation of Male and Female Fu Dogs has been presented, the discussion of how and why and what the cub and the ball underfoot means for each Fu Dog, and the interpretation and knowledge necessary for proper balanced, harmonious placement of the pair has been explored (at least one understanding for all the mentioned topics, anyway). Next will come an investigation of the other attributes of the Fu Dog: bells, tassels, curled manes, facial features, postures, and the like.




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.