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Goddess of Mercy Temple, Georgetown, Penang - Lion Dances

Wushi, or the lion dance, mimics a lion's movements by two hidden but agile and strong acrobats, usually trained in a martial arts (or wushu) school. The lion costume has a red sash across its horn at the front. A popular cultural icon in East Asia, stretching from Korea and Japan to Indonesia and Thailand, they are present at festivals like the Lunar New Year and the Mooncake Festival to enhance good luck, good business and positive vibes. I captured these images here at the Goddess of Mercy temple (Kuan Im Teng in Fujian, one of the main dialects in Penang) in the colonial quarter of Georgetown, Penang, a venerable Taoist-Buddhist-Confucian institution of more than a hundred years popular with Western tourists and sitting in the midst of the declared UNESCO heritage belt.

Northern Chinese lions, originally from Ninghai in Ningbo in northern China, in such dances can be compared to a pair of Pekingese or Fu dogs, and they have shaggy orange and yellow fur, with a red bow to indicate the male an a green one to represent the female. Southern Chinese lions started their tradition in Guangzhou (old Canton), the bustling metropolis of the south, and have a variety of schools, ranging from Buddha Mountain to Crane Style and Green Lion. Watch the details of the lion heads and one appreciates the differences in requirement, meaning and colour. Korean and Japanese lion costumes depart significantly from those on the China mainland.
The lion dances are accompanied by the beating of cymbals, drums and gongs, which often require such a musician's group to follow behind the prancing lions. Businesses engage such troupes as well to amplify prosperity luck and invite such lions to pluck a leafy vegetable like lettuce, often tied at the top of a pole, as part of the procedure - once the lion successfully does that, a red packet containing the relevant currency of the day is provided as a reward. Dance competitions are held in most of east and south-east Asia to find the most talented young people to animate such lion dances; in the UK, Australia, New Zealand the United States, such talent can come from Europeans who have passion to seriously learn up wushu.


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