When it's a lion!
Amongst my favourite items to procure are antique Chinese Foo Dogs. I don't know why they appeal to me so much, maybe it's their fearsome expressions, beautiful symbolism or the fact that they are not dogs at all but are, in fact, lions.
The earliest records of 'foo dogs' date back thousands of years to the Han Dynasty (221 BCE - 200CE). Lions were not native to China and so it is thought that they came into China via the Silk Route from Persia and Central Asia. Their sheer magnificence and stature immediately captivated the Han Emperors and they were adopted by royalty as a symbol of protection and statues were placed in pairs guarding the entrances to temples and other holy sites.
Throughout the following Dynasties lions remained the guardians of the Liminal Space. the transition space between the physical and spiritual realm.
The appearance of 'Foo Dogs' has evolved into what we recognise today, a male and female, highly stylised. The male has a ball under his paw whilst the female has their cub under hers.
As trade opened up between China and the west in the 16th century, the art and culture of the east became more accessible to people. The temple lions bore no resemblance to earthly lions anymore and westerners fancied they looked much more like dogs and so the term 'Foo Dog' was born.