Facts about Foo Dogs
If you've visited us in Yorkshire recently you'll have noticed that the entrance to our main showroom is now proudly guarded by the pair of imposing, fierce looking stone temple lions shown below. In Chinese these are know as 'shi', meaning lion or 'shishi' meaning stone lion. However, they are also often referred to in western cultures as 'foo dogs' or 'fu dogs'. It seems that some in the west thought the lions bore a resemblance to Chow Chow or Shih Tzu dogs, hence the alternative name.
These symbolic, protective statues are thought to protect a building from any evil spiritual influences and from anyone that might pose a threat. The guardian lions go back a long time and have been used in China since the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD). They were originally used to protect imperial Chinese palaces and tombs. Traditionally carved from stone, such as marble and granite, and later cast in bronze or iron, they were a symbol of a family's wealth or social status due to the cost of labour and materials needed to produce them. They can be seen standing guard in front of palaces, temples and the homes of the elite, often over a metre in size and weighing hundreds of kilos. The lions are normally beautifully carved, with open mouths and bearing their teeth as if in mid roar.
Foo dogs are always presented as a pair, one female and one male. The gender can be determined by examining what’s beneath their paws. The female represents 'yin' and is the protector of the people inside a building. She holds a lion cub beneath her paw, denoting compassion or nurture. The male represents 'yang', protecting the building itself, and holds a decorative ball beneath his paw. The pair or normally shown together, either side of an entrance or doorway, with the female positioned on the left and the male on the right.
Foo dogs are popular in Chinese Buddhism and are a reminder to keep all negative energy away from the home or workplace. In modern day China you will find many homes or businesses displaying a pair, either indoors or outside, in varying shapes and sizes. After becoming popular in China the lions spread to other parts of Asia including Japan, Korea, Thailand and Vietnam, and indeed anywhere else in the world where the Chinese have settled.
According to Feng Shui, foo dogs are best placed where they are sure to be noticed. If you don't have room for a large pair outdoors then place smaller ones, such as those shown here, on a console in a hallway, at either end of a mantelpiece, or make them a focal point on a bookcase or cabinet used as decorative bookends.