About Lion Dances

Chinese Lion Dance is a staple of traditional Chinese culture. With foundations in traditional Chinese martial arts, historically being performed by Shaolin monks and Kung Fu schools, the Lion Dance is performed as a ceremony to exorcise evil spirits and to bring good luck and fortune. It is performed all year round for many occasions, but is most commonly seen during Chinese New Year. Our team performs Southern style lion dance, the central aspect of which is the "Choy Cheng".

The 'Goal' - Choy Cheng ("Plucking the Greens" 採青)

When translated, the phrase Choy Cheng (採青) literally means "plucking the greens" - but this phrase has a deep symbolic meaning in Chinese. The "greens" (青; Cheng) are commonly symbolised by a lettuce - in Chinese, the word for "lettuce" is 菜 (Choy), which also sounds like the word for "wealth" (財). Therefore, since the lettuce symbolises wealth, by taking and spitting out the vegetable the lion is spreading wealth and good fortune to the person or business the dance is being performed for. Being hit by the greens is said to bring good luck and is seen as a blessing and/or guard against misfortune.

It is considered bad form to simply approach the greens and take it. Instead an elaborate story is portrayed as part of the dance.

The Lion Dance starts with a bowing routine to the audience, showing respect and the good nature of the lion. This can be followed by blessing doorways, bowing to the business owner/bride & groom etc., and some 'play' between the Buddha character and Lions depending on the situation.

The lion then 'spots' the greens, and while being guided by the Buddha character it has to "investigate" the greens - like a real animal investigating an unknown object, the lion will paw at it, smell it, taste it, and guard itself against potential predators. This is meant to convey the animalistic nature of the lion.

Having identified the greens as the goal, the lion finally captures the lettuce, ”chewing“ it and then spitting it onto the person or business the dance is being performed for, symbolising good luck. After this the lion and Buddha can roam the performance area, performing additional acrobatic stunts, interacting with the audience members and collecting the hongbao (紅包 red envelopes). Guests are encouraged to put money in the hongbao to reciprocate the good luck and blessings back unto the lion dance team.

There are a number of special types of Choy Cheng that can be performed.

Dei Cheng (Earth Greens 地青)

In this type of Choy Cheng, a puzzle is laid out and must be solved by the lion before it can capture the lettuce. These puzzles often come in the form of geographic obstacles such as mountains and rivers (represented by chairs, tables and blue cloth respectively), or animals such as snakes, crabs, centipedes and dragons. Another common puzzle requires the lion to arrange chopsticks or food (typically oranges or tangerines) to form auspicious Chinese characters (such as 福 and 財; prosperity and wealth).

Tin Cheng (Heavenly Greens 天青)

In these dances the lion is required to recover greens that have been placed high in the air. This can be from a hung from a doorway or ceiling, held from a long bamboo pole, or secured to the outside of a building. Typically the lion head performer must jump and land on the tail performer's shoulders or head to attain the height necessary to reach the greens - this requires exceptional coordination, skill and balance between the two lion dancers.

See Jee Gwo Kiew (Lion Crossing the Bridge 獅子過橋)

Here the lion finds a river (or other water feature) blocking its way to the greens. The lion must navigate a bridge (wooden benches or other mock bridge structure) or stepping stones (plant pots) to get to the greens, capture them, and return across the bridge. In some instances the bridge can be broken, which requires the lion to figure out an alternative method of crossing the bridge, or the greens are hung directly under the bridge which requires the lion to carefully lean over the edge of the bridge to collect the greens without falling into the water.

Animal Puzzles

Animal puzzles are popular in Dei Cheng 地青 performances. To solve these puzzles the lion will have to dissect a representation of the animal made out of an arrangement of food, chopsticks and martial arts weapons.

Duk seh zoh lou (Poisonous Snake Blocking the Road 毒蛇阻路)

The snake is a popular choice as an animal puzzle. The snake can represent an obstacle that blocks good fortune from entering a business or home. The word for snake in Cantonese (蛇; seh) sounds similar to the word for death (死; sei), so by removing the snake the lion removes whatever is killing the business.

The snake is comprised of a body, head, fangs and eyes. The body is normally represented by a spear or staff. The head is made from a lettuce, the eyes from oranges and the fangs from knives or similar weapons.

To solve the puzzle the lion must first blind the snake by "eating" its eyes, disarm it by removing its fangs, and then kill the snake by eating its head and body.

After the dissection the lion may spit out the staff or spear (as a bone it can't digest), which the Buddha can catch and either perform a Kung Fu sequence (while the lion sleeps) or fight the lion. The head, represented by the lettuce, is then eaten and spat onto the audience by the lion in the manner of the Choy Cheng.

Crab (蟹)

The crab is formed from a body, legs, claws and eyes. The greens are placed under a bowl, pan or bucket (usually green, and never red, as a red crab would indicate it has been cooked) to represent the body, chopsticks or pieces of bamboo are used for the legs, knives or other weapons for the claws, and oranges or tangerines for the eyes.

The crab is solved in a similar manner as the snake puzzle. The lion first blinds the crab, disarms it by removing its claws and legs one by one, and then kills it by "opening its shell" (tipping the bowl, pan or bucket over) to reveal the greens inside, which it then captures.