Skip to main content

Lion Head Ceremonial Mask

Curated Submission
Hong Kong
DIMENSIONS in centimetres
375 x 82 x 82
Materials & techniques
Bamboo, paper, rayon, rabbit fur, squirrel fur, horsehair, wire
Shon Yee Benevolent Association
Delta Museum and Archives Society DE1986.38
For Chinese settlers to Canada, traditional holidays were important for sharing and maintaining ties to communal and cultural identity between generations. The lion head mask was used in the lion dance, a custom that had deep roots in the culture and traditions of Guangdong, China. Many of the immigrants who worked in the gold fields and on the railways of British Columbia in the 1800s came from this region of China, and they brought this tradition with them. Celebrating prosperity and fortune, the lion dance continues today, owing to the large, stable Chinese communities of Richmond, Victoria, and Vancouver.
The dance was traditionally used to convey the community’s ability to defend itself, and beneath the costume, actors used martial arts moves to demonstrate their prowess. During the performance the lion would “eat” lettuce, representing fortune – the act signified the hope of prosperity for the community. The lettuce was placed about 4.5 metres above the ground, and only the most proficient martial arts experts from the community could wield the lion head costume and simultaneously reach the lettuce. Occasionally, rival schools would compete for the prize, and the community would decide which school offered superior training. The winning school could expect an increase in students over the coming year.
Today the lion dance remains an essential part of Lunar New Year celebrations throughout the Lower Mainland of British Columbia. The competition is now based on the dancers’ ability to emulate the fluid movements of a lion. The lion dance has become a recognizable and cherished icon of the Chinese community, for both community members and those outside the culture.
Submit a related artifact
Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to Pinterest Email More...

Main sponsors

  • Logo of the Imperial Oil Foundation with accompanying characteristic oval 'Esso' symbol.

Institutional partners