Foo Dogs, the Chinese Guardian Lions

Source: Unsplash

Did you know foo dogs are misnamed? They are not actually dogs at all. These imperial guardian lions can be traced back to the Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 211 CE). While these architectural elements have been made from bronze, marble, and even silver, it’s most commonly made out of stone. This is why it’s traditionally called shishi, which means “stone lion.” Their resemblance to the dog breeds, chow chows and shih tzus, is what led them to be called, “foo dogs.”

Source: Unsplash

The concept features highly stylized lions, one male with a ball and one female with a cub.  These lions were situated outside the home or building to protect it from harmful spiritual influences or people who they deemed as threats. Not only were their likeness made into statues, but door knockers as well.

They were commonly seen outside imperial Chinese palaces and tombs, and they spread to different parts of Asia like Japan, Korea, Tibet, Thailand, Burma, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Cambodia, Laos, Taiwan, and even Singapore.

Nowadays, you can still see large versions of the foo dogs placed outside the home, while others opt for the small versions inside their living space. They are often kept together in the same room with the female lion on the left and the male on the right. According to tradition, this ensures their beneficial effect.

Do you have any foo dogs on display?


Can’t get enough of dogs in general? Check out the cutest Chinese dog breeds here.

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