ORIGINS OF THE LION DANCE
José L. MELERO
A LION SAVES AN EMPEROR
The lion dance was originated during the Ching dynasty (618-906 B.C). The legend tells that after a battle, the emperor had a dream about a strange animal which was bigger than a dog but smaller than a horse. Its appearance and brave behavior were similar to a tiger but somehow different. This creature used some kind of tricks and games and also aggressive movements to save the emperor’s life.
The following morning the emperor described his dream to his ministers and advisers; one of them told the emperor that that strange animal looked like a creature from the western lands: a lion. That same day, after a battle that the emperor had won, he had the same dream again. He told the dream to his ministers again. They told him that it was a gift from gods. A present given to him and which would let him get everything he wanted to.
From the day that strange animal saved the emperor’s life and he defeated all his enemies, the lion became a symbol of good luck all around China. Chinese people created new choreographies or dances to chase away bad spirits and bring good luck.
Nowadays, the lion dance is the most important ceremony in the opening of Chinese events as well as a ritual during the Chinese New Year. They use it to have good luck in business.
Lion dancers are kung-Fu students who must develop a strong resistance in order to be able to hold the heavy lion’s head as well as to be able to perform the different positions and movements in the lion’s tail. Moreover, lion dances are often very long, which means that dancers must be in very good physical condition.
LION DANCE AND REVOLUTION
Another reason why the different kung-Fu styles practiced the lion dance is because the lion dance gained a great fame during the Ching dynasty, when Chinese patriots encouraged rebellions against the Ching governors. The lion dance was interpreted by Chinese people under the appearance of a celebration, but the truth was that it was where the revolutionary martial artists exchanged information and collected money for several revolutionary groups. During the celebration, the dancing lion ate lettuce as part of the dance. The money and the information were hidden between the lettuce leaves.
During the revolutionary days the dancer holding the lion’s head could shout CHOI-CHING (catch the Ching) to point out that he was someone who could receive secret messages. However, any of the Ching spies could also know the intentions of the dancer who had shouted that war cry (Choi- Ching). For that reason, the Ching sound was replaced by Chiang (green, like lettuce and money) and so, Choi-Chiang became the new password (catch the green); Choi-Chiang is nowadays used as a traditional expression.