“Lion King” Wu Xiaobo Disseminates Tradition
On the morning of November 9, literary enthusiasts from the Yiwu Literary Union, Writers Association, Ancient and Modern Literature Research Institute, and the Fotang Writers, among others gathered in the village of Sanfeng, Datian Town, Wuyi, to visit the lion-themed Folk Museum—locally known as Lion Museum—founded by Wu Xiaobo, the Lion King of Mid-Zhejiang.
The Lion Museum is located on a five-story reinforced concrete building near the bus station of Sanfeng. Upon entering the yard, stone lions stand next to the wall. Wu Xiaobo shares that the row of lions at the entrance is only the tip of the iceberg of the entire Lion Museum. Starting from his family adornments factory, he has collected over 5,000 lion effigies and statues and exhibited them on the fourth and fifth floors of the building.
Moving up to the fourth floor, the main hall of the museum shows three characters—尚德堂 (Shàngdé Táng; lit. Esteem the Virtuous Hall)—naming the atrium, where lions made of wood, stone, and ceramic can be seen everywhere. There is also a number of wooden cabinets containing a myriad of lions in different sizes. “Without these cabinets, so many lions couldn't be stored here,” Wu explained. The items displayed might seem a bit chaotic, but the basic order can still be identified in different sections, including an Introduction to Lion City, the Tea Garden Stone Lion, Dongyang Woodcarvings, Brick Lions, and an Overview of Lions in China.
Wu illustrated that he is a native of Chun'an, historically known as the City of the Lion, therefore, the section about the Lion City occupies a prominent position of the exhibition. “Effigies and sculpture of lions made with different materials abound in each region of China. The Chinese folk tradition related to the symbolism of lions has far-reaching influence, including similarities in Japan, South Korea, and Southeast Asia. I've compiled a large quantity of materials and will gradually enrich the exhibition,” said Wu.
The appearance of the lion statue confirmed the records of the Book of the Later Han, even though lion sculptures were not present in the imperial mausolea's pathways of the Eastern Han Dynasty, while qilin and pixiu were common. “It was during the Three Kingdoms, Jin and Northern and Southern Dynasties that along the blossoming of Buddhism, the image of the lion had increasingly appeared in mausolea's pathways and Buddhist relievos. Representative items of this period are the stone lions of the imperial mausolea in Nanjing, Jiangsu. The image of the lion in the relievos of Buddhist caves is based on the representative item of the monument of the Western Wei Dynasty in Cave 133 of the Maiji Mountain Grottoes.
At present, the stone lions exhibited in the Lion Museum that Wu regards as treasures are primarily stone lions of the Tang Dynasty, of which he is particularly fond.
Among the large number of items, most of the lions appear in the form of woodcarvings. “A major application of woodcarvings used to be in the decoration of wooden beds. And the most intriguing part for me is the lion-head-shaped carved chapiter [of the bed columns].”
Wu believes that he initially fell in love with this kind of chapiter, which led to his passion for lion effigies and sculptures: “The lion encompasses auspicious symbolism and abundant cultural connotation. It's something I'm deeply in love with.” The lioness symbolizes the extension of the offspring, and the lion symbolizes social peace. “In people's lives, everyone hopes to use the lion's mighty power to demolish evil spirits and protect their people. This is a psychological manifestation of a collective appeal for peace,” he went on saying.
For the future, Wu intends to do something concrete. He will promote the Lion Museum to society and open it to the public free of charge. (By Wang Zhijian, translated by Marco Lovisetto, edited by Mariam Ayad)