In China, besides dragon dance, the lion dance is another popular recreation for the Chinese during their new year season. However, the lion dances of Northern China and Southern China have great differences in that of their appearance and the art of demonstration.
The 'Lion' which popularly exists in the Chinese culture and custom, is seemingly incredible because China does not have lions and the description of lions by the Chinese nobles derived from their imaginations. Chinese temples all over China and overseas had these imaginative lion sculptures placed in the frontages. These lions were far from the true likeness of a real lion because the real ones have no horns. The traditions of the lion dance had a long history in China. These were recorded over thousands of years ago. In the Tang dynasty, the lion dance was performed in a group of five lions of different colours. Each lion was followed by twelve men dressed in colourful costumes, with a red band round the forehead and a red coloured brush in hand. These people were called 'lion-men' and they danced in tempo to the musical pieces called 'Tai-pin' melody.
This 'Tai-pin' melody was composed as early as (951-960 A.D.) during the Chow dynasty. it was recorded that the lion dance was accompanied by 140 people singing the melody and 64 dancers. Lion dance at the time was a grand occasion and it was of course different from the lion dance now.
Lion dance was initially a noble entertainment which gradually spread to the army and finally to the civilians.
There are many different sayings about the origin of the lion dance but none with any real historical records. One saying quoted that 'Many years ago there was a lion which appeared in a small village and it caused harm to the people and domestic animals. There was a Kung-Fu expert who learnt of this and went into the forested mountain to figh t with the lion. He fought with the lion on three occasions but was unable to capture it. So he called up some of the villagers and trained them in Kung-Fu with the intention to kill the lion. A few months later, they went up to the mountain again and finally they killed the lion. The villagers, in order to celebrate this occasion, followed the steps of those who fought with the lion and thus the 'lion dance' was composed. Another saying was that 'the emperor of China of the Ching of the Ching Dynasty had seen a lion dance in one of his dreams and he ordered the guards of the palace to dance in accordance with what he had seen after he woke up. Of course the above two sayings were just legends.
In China, the lion dance differed in various places, especially the appearance. In Northern China, the body of the lion was full of hair except the head. It looked more like the real lion and they usually dance in pairs.
In Southern China, the lion looked far removed from the real lion because it was made of multi-coloured pieces of linen. They definitely dance individually and never in pairs.