VSA UCI Gio Nam Mua Lan (Southern Wind Lion Dance) of Orange County

Southern Wind Lion Dance of Vietnamese Student Association at UC Irvine

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The Chinese lion dance dates back 2,000 years. An early form of the lion dance was recorded in the early Ch'in and Han Dynasties in the third century B.C.  There are many legends as to how lion dancing began...

the Lion and the Nien

The fabled events took place around 2697 B.C., during the reign of the legendary Yellow Emperor. One day, the story goes, a strange creature appeared and preyed on men and beasts. His name was Nien (which sounds like the Chinese word meaning "year"). He was so fast, so fierce that not even the ox or the tiger could slay him. In despair, the people turned to the lion for help. Rushing to meet the terrible foe, the lion "expanded his chest, raised his mighty head, shook his mane" and wounded the creature, who "went running off with his tail between the legs." As the Nien fled, he turned and screamed, "Beware! I will return and take my revenge!"

A year later, the Nien did return. By then, the lion was so busy with his new job, guarding the emperor's gate, that he could not help. So the villagers hurriedly took some bamboo and cloth and made an image of the lion. Two men crawled inside and made it run and prance and roar. Faced with this awesome creature, the Nien again ran away. And so on the eve of the Chinese New Year, lions always dance, sending menace and evil away for yet another year.

the King and the Dream

A popular belief is that the lion dance finds its roots in the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-906). Legend has it that the emperor had a strange dream one night. In his dream, an odd creature he had never laid eyes upon before saved his life and carried him to safety. The next day, wondering what this creature was and what the dream meant, the emperor described his reverie to his ministers. One of the ministers explained that the strange creature resembled an animal called a "lion", which did not exist in China at the time. The emperor, wanting to see this "lion" while awake, ordered them to create a model of it, and because of his dream, the lion came to symbolize good luck, happiness, and prosperity.

the Lion and the Goddess of Mercy

Probably, the most credible version of the origin of the lion dance is this of a mythical lion originating in heaven was reborn. Being very mischievous and having a fondness for practical jokes, he created a great deal of trouble for everyone. On one occasion, he decided to play a practical joke on the Jade Emperor. Angered at the trouble the lion caused, the Jade Emperor killed the lion by cutting the lion's head off and separating it from its body. He then threw both the head and the body of the lion down to the earth to rot. Upon discovering the fate of the lion, Kwan Yin (the goddess of mercy) felt sorry for the lion and decided to help him. Using a long red ribbon, she tied the lion's head back on and brought him back to life. This red ribbon is still seen today, and is said to have the ability to ward off the evil spirits. Kwan Yin also adorned the lion with a horn and mirror to drive away evil spirits.

Military Strategy

The Emperor Wen from the province of Song, during the North and South Dynasties (AD 420 - 589) invaded the territory of Lin-yi. His governor, Tan He was in a dilemma as to how his army could defeat the strong platoon of Lin-yi's General Fan Yan whose army rode elephants. Tan He struck on a brilliant plan - he would dress his army with cloth and rope to look like monstrous lions to frighten the elephants. The plan worked and from then on, the lion dance was performed in the military, gradually becoming part of civilian life.