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Stone Lions

This article was originally published on September 12, 2011, in the Shenzhen Daily.

Western-style lions: closed mouth and baby represent yin; open mouth and ball depict yang
As you walk around Shenzhen (and most Chinese cities) you may notice a pair of guardians flanking the entries to hotels, banks, and even some restaurants.

Usually, these are stone lions (though they may be other creatures, such as the mythical qilin). Some are Chinese in style, but a surprisingly large number are "western," resembling more realistic lions, rather than the incorrectly-named "foo dogs."

Though the lions may appear symmetrical at first glance, there are actually some interesting differences within the pairs.

The lion on the right (as you face them from outside) is generally male, often (if sitting up) with the "equipment" to prove it. He generally has his foot on a ball, and his mouth is open.

This is the "yang" from the Chinese concept of "yin-yang." He is male and active (note the open mouth), and he represents the world and the universe (the ball).

The other lion is female, lacking any obvious sexual apparatus. She usually has her foot on a baby lion (sometimes upside down), and often, though not always, her mouth is closed.

She is the "yin"--female, passive (closed mouth), and representing home and family.

Both Chinese-y lions have open mouths, but the male (right) has a ball under his foot; the female has a baby lion
There are many variations within these three pairs of opposites. Chinese-style pairs of lions, for instance, often both have their mouths open, with a "floating ball" inside. Some western pairs may be lying down, with nothing under the front paws. The only difference, then, might be the opened and closed mouths.

The next time you take a walk in the city, check out the lions!

If you're wondering where the lions are, I won't be providing GPS or map info--they're everywhere.

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