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Chinese guardian lions, also termed stone lions, lion dogs, foo/fu lions/dogs, temple lions, temple dogs, shíshī ("stone lion") or tóngshī ("bronze lion"), are a traditional Chinese architectural motif in the form of large stone or metal statues of crouching leonine beasts typically placed in pairs at the entrance of important buildings, such as palaces, temples, and tombs, under the belief that they will protect their post from spiritual and physical harm. They traditionally come in pairs, one holding a ball under one paw and the other with a cub on its back. They are intended to resemble lions and referred to as such in Chinese and neighboring languages, but their stylized appearance has led Western observers to mistake them for dogs as well.
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In fiction, these statues are often portrayed as living creatures in their own right. The most common interpretations depict them as either magically animated Living Statues or as a type of celestial or divine beings. The second type in particular may more or less closely resemble the regular statues; some are simply fleshly versions of the real-life statuary, while others are simply large, magical lions or dogs. Regardless of type, they're commonly depicted as guardian entities that keep watch over specific places or, more occasionally, people, which they protect from harm and malign influences. The animated statue variant is usually a mindless construct built as a magical security system of sorts; the living variant, by contrast, is more commonly depicted as holy or divine beings, intelligent and righteous and fiercely opposed to evil and malign magic.

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These creatures tend to be freely appended to East Asian cultures, their Fantasy Counterpart Cultures and theme park versions thereof, including ones not actually based on China itself. In some cases this is justified, as the original artistic motif spread from China to most of its neighbors and statuary derived from the original stone lions is now fairly widespread — examples of these variants include the Japanese komainu, the Okinawan shisa, and the Myanmari chinthe, which share most of the same traits as the Chinese variant. In other cases, especially when the creatures are directly based on the Chinese style and version, it's more likely that the work's creators just didn't do their research.

For these creatures' usual home grounds, see Wutai and the Far East. Often overlaps with Panthera Awesome, Evil-Detecting Dog and sometimes Cats Are Magic. See also Bakeneko and Nekomata and Maneki Neko for the feline-like creatures prevalent in East Asian cultures, and King of Beasts for another positive portrayal of lions in fiction. Contrast Hellhound. For another mythical creature with similar origins, see the qilin or Kirin. See also Our Gargoyles Rock and Shedu and Lammasu for Western and Middle Eastern cases, respectively, of mythical creatures derived from statuary.

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Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Future Card Buddyfight: Ziun is a Beast Man based on horned komainu statues, with the horn also marking him as an Omni Lord. He also carries an orb in his right hand as a mark of said status, similar to how the male Chinese guardian lion statues hold a ball in the right paw. Despite the resemblance, the only actual protecting he does is helping to fight a Planet Eater.
  • Neko Musume Michikusa Nikki: Koma and her brother Shishimaru are lion-dogs tasked with guarding a local Buddhist temple. While Shishimaru is meek and timid, Koma is a brash tsundere towards the bakeneko protagonist Kurona.

    Films — Animation 
  • Mulan: A temple lion statue is used as a battering ram to try and enter the Imperial Palace to save the Emperor from Shan Yu.
  • Over the Moon: The Chinese moon goddess Chang'e has winged red and yellow stone lions at her command. They're the ones who rescue Fei Fei and Chin when the rocket malfunctions en route to the moon, and seemingly give them the ability to breathe in space.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Big Bird in Japan, a spin-off of Sesame Street featuring Big Bird and Barkley on vacation in Japan, shows the duo going to Sanjusangendo Temple, inhabited by 1000 Kannon Bodhisattva — and plenty of demons resembling lions or dogs to frighten away intruders, as Barkley discovers to his terror.
  • Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla: King Shisa (often Anglicized as "Caesar", much to audience confusion) is a Kaiju based on the Shisa, the Okinawan versions of these. He's a stony, lion-like guardian entity who is awakened from his slumber by a Miko to protect the world from Mechagodzilla. King Shisa's basis in Okinawan culture is heavily emphasized, and the movie explores — as much as a Showa era Godzilla movie can, anyway — the historical tension between Okinawa and the rest of Japan.

    Literature 
  • Bride of the Rat God: Christine's Pekingese dogs transform into a larger and more powerful dog-lion form at the climax to protect her from supernatural danger.
  • The Dresden Files: Mouse, Harry's gigantic shaggy dog, is a temple dog — a crossbreed between a mortal canine and Chinese guardian spirit called a foo dog, bred to guard Chinese temples. It's implied that his pedigree may be even more purely spirit than that; the wizard Ancient Mai describes him simply as a foo dog, a pair of vampires refer to him as an "ice demon" from "the land of dreams" (that is, Tibet), and in Ghost Story the archangel Uriel calls him "little cousin". Either way, he's a tremendously intelligent dog with the ability to perceive spirits and a strong protective streak. In Turn Coat, his angry growling at an accused wizard is considered enough to assume the latter's guilt. Temple dogs also bond to homes and other living spaces and draw their power from their threshold, a magical barrier created around a home by the memories and bonds of the people living there; Mouse is noted to have gained a significant upgrade in power when he moved from Harry's apartment to the Carpenter family's household.

    Live-Action TV 

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons: Foo dogs are Chaotic Good canines native to the Upper Planes; foo lions are larger, stronger, and rarer beings. The game later expanded this concept into a greater taxon of foo creatures, of which foo dogs and foo lions are simply the most common variants; in general, foo creatures are distinguished by their noble personalities and vaguely humanoid faces with flat noses and foreheads. They feed on inorganic material such as gems and precious metals, and their claws and fangs deal more damage to evil beings than non-evil ones. They can be summoned by and interact with any culture, as they're native to the outer planes and not bound to any specific part of the material world, but have an especially strong bond with the people of Far East civilizations such as Kara-Tur.
  • Exalted:
    • Lion dogs are lesser gods who resemble stocky hybrids of lions and mastiffs made out of living jade. They serve Heaven as guardians, watching over certain temples and tombs and things that the gods want protected for later use. However, many have turned Dirty Cop out of resentment and boredom, having realized how thankless their job is in the corrupt bureaucracy of Heaven.
    • Celestial lions are more powerful deities in the form of immense lions made of pure orichalcum. They serve a similar role as the lion dogs but with higher status, watching over the gates of Yu-Shan and of the gardens of the peaches of immortality and acting as Heaven's police force. When they need backup or numbers for a task, they often command squads of lion dogs as well. They're much more dedicated to their honor and do not generally fall into corruption, but have also been greatly disillusioned by Heaven's tarnished state and have for the most part become deeply cynical beings.
  • Pathfinder:
    • Foo creatures are spirits native to Nirvana that resemble regular animals with humanoid faces; every species of animal in existence has a foo counterpart, although dogs and lions are the most common. They can turn themselves into statues and back at will, and remain in a petrified state as long as they please.
    • Guardian beasts, introduced in Second Edition, are a type of warden spirits bonded with a carved stone statue, which remains immobile during the day but animates after nightfall to patrol its assigned territory. Stone lions are by far the most common type of these beings, although the Tian-Min people create doglike statues instead and the holy sites of the vulpine goddess Daikitsu are protected by stone foxes. Regardless of type, these guardians are steadfastly honorable and dedicated to their wards, protecting them even if they become abandoned and ruined, and are known to give cryptic omens and warnings to those living in the buildings they protect.
  • Warhammer: Temple dogs of living stone are noted to be among the strange things found in the distant empire of Cathay.

    Toys 
  • LEGO Adventurers: In the Orient Expedition subtheme, Jun-Chi is clearly modeled after the traditional Chinese lion-dog statues, and it guards the passages of the Dragon Fortress in China. It's even referred to as "the giant monster lion-dog" in the online comics and "the legendary lion-dog of China" in the magazine comics.

    Video Games 
  • In Arknights the operators Aak and Hung are anthropomorphic versions of the Japanese Komainu, or a-un. Aak represents the more aggressive, lion-like a-gyo, and Hung represents the more defensive, dog-like un-gyu. Their names even make a-un when put together in their non-romanized forms.
  • Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time: Tranquility Falls, a world based on The Theme Park Version of medieval Japan, is home to temple lions of animated stone that keep watch over certain portions of the levels, pouncing forward when they see the player. Their front halves are heavily armored and impervious to damage, and they can only be taken out by waiting for them to turn around to go back to their posts after charging and hitting their softer backsides.
  • Digimon: Siesamon is based on the shisa, a variant from the Ryukyuan Islands. It's described as being extremely loyal and protective of its Tamer, as well as capable of standing against calamity and evil. It can evolve into Caturamon of the Deva, which also resembles the creature, and possess a strong sense of justice but a somewhat black-and-white sense of morality.
  • Dragon Quest: Foo Dogs first appear in Dragon Quest IV, working with Master Kung. They have a few palette swaps as well: Hot Dogs, which use fire spells, and the poisonous Abracadabradors.
  • Flight Rising: Technically they're dragons, but the Obelisk breed is clearly inspired by this creature. They were created from stone to protect others, and they certainly look the part of the guardian lion with their broad snouts and curly manes.
  • Guild Wars Factions has Temple Guardians, animated stone lions that protect the Canthan Tahnnakai Temple.
  • Pokémon: Three examples, all of them pure Fire-type
    • Growlithe and Arcanine, Pokémon resembling stout, maned, and tiger-striped beasts with both canine and feline traits, are based on Japanese iterations of the temple lion statues such as the shisa and komainu. They're noted to be very brave and extremely loyal to their trainer, and very territorial in the bargain; Growlithe in particular will fearlessly face down anyone threatening their territory or trainer, regardless of their strength or size. In earlier editions, which tend to be more cavalier about referring to real-life places and things, Arcanine is also described as being from China; later generations change this to "the East".
    • Pokémon Legends: Arceus introduces a Hisuian regional variant of Growlithe with a fluffier, rounder mane, making them look even more like the lion dog statues that originally inspired their design. Also alluding to this inspiration, Hisuian Growlithe are dual Fire/Rock typing (as opposed to the pure Fire-type regular Growlithe).
    • Entei, one of Johto's three Legendary Beasts, is the same way. Designer Muneo Saitō didn't want it to be a clearly defined animal, though its design drew much inspiration from lions; he settled on giving it a silhouette that could resemble a dog or a cat.
  • Shin Megami Tensei: The Shiisaa (pictured above) has been a recurring monster that the party can recruit. They resemble both dogs and lions and are described as holy beings said to protect against ill luck and evil spirits. Barong, a Balinese mythology figure and the eternal enemy of the Wicked Witch Rangda, is also reminiscent of a lion dog.
  • Spectrobes: The Series Mascot is Komainu, whose name is the Japanese name for stone guardian dogs. It is associated with the element of fire and described as easy-going, and has the thick lips and curly fur typically seen on komainu statues. Its evolutions, Komanoto and Komadoros, are more fierce-looking.
  • Super Mario Odyssey: The Jaxis from the Sand Kingdom resemble an Egyptian-themed version of this, being statues of lion-like beings with teeth permanently bared in a snarl and "wearing" loosely pharaonic headdresses. You'll only find one that moves and talks, but that one refers to the statues as his family.
  • Tokyo Afterschool Summoners: Agyo, who was semi-accidentally summoned to Tokyo-23 and is searching for a replacement for his recently deceased grandfather so that the shrine he is dedicated to protecting would have the proper duo of guardians.
  • Touhou Tenkuushou ~ Hidden Star in Four Seasons: Aunn Komano is the Hakurei Shrine's komainu statue, brought to life in a Little Bit Beastly form by the overflow of seasonal energy in the game's plot.
  • World of Warcraft: The Mists of Pandaria expansion introduced the Mogu species and their beast companions, the Quilen. The former, named after the "mogwai" of Chinese folklore, are humanoids with stone lion-like heads; the latter look exactly like the traditional stone lions, with a stocky, mastiff-like body and long, curly mane (though they are named after a different creature, the qilin or kirin). They fit very well into the China-esque culture of Pandaria. Unlike traditional portrayals of lion dogs, however, they're hateful and arrogant beings who used to rule Pandaria as harsh tyrants, although they were originally created by the Titans as wardens and guardians of the world before losing their way.
  • Yo-Kai Watch: The brothers Komasan and Komajiro are the spirits of lion-dog statues whose statues were destroyed, and who subsequently started wandering. Their evolved forms, Komane and Komiger (respectively), represent them coming into their full power as guardian lion-dogs.

    Western Animation 
  • American Dragon: Jake Long: Fu Dog is a 600-year-old talking shar pei that lives with the Long family, although he doesn't display any particularly unusual or supernatural traits beyond that.
  • Gargoyles: In the "Time Dancer" arc of the graphic novel continuation, Brooklyn acquires a gargoyle beast named Fu Dog from the Xanadu Clan, in China. Apparently, gargoyle beasts served as the inspiration for the statues that we're familiar with.

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