From roar beginnings
Not being indigenous to China, lions were probably introduced along with Buddhism from West Asia via the Silk Road - as gifts to Chinese emperors to help secure trading rights. The first records of lion dancing date to the Han dynasty (206BC-AD220), but many tales surround its origins. One attributes the dance to a Tang emperor who dreamed of dancing beasts, then ordered courtiers to simulate what he had seen. Over time, what was initially entertainment for nobility spread, with commoners drawing from myth and imagination to create their own versions of the beast of good fortune. The southern-style dancing predominant in Guangdong and Hong Kong is characterised by strong, sharp movements of the south. Northern-style dancers tend to prefer a more flowing movement. Since the aim is to scare away evil spirits and to summon good luck, lion dances - accompanied by boisterous drums, gongs and cymbals - are popular at events from festivals to business openings and weddings. At Lunar New Year celebrations, lion dance troupes usually visit villages and shops, where they perform a customary plucking of greens (or vegetables, which sounds like the word for fortune). During the 1950s and 1960s, lion dancing acquired an unsavoury reputation because of fierce fighting that broke out between rival troupes, who were later required to obtain permits to perform. Today, the stain on the image has largely faded. Lion dancing was introduced as an extracurricular activity in schools in the 1990s.
Public contests have also become regular events, mainly organised by the Hong Kong Chinese Martial Arts Dragon and Lion Dance Association.