Not a Dragon, Not a Dog: A Guardian Lion

Jennifer Siron, Senior Librarian, Volunteer Engagement,
Double lions from Lunar New Year Love Story by Gene Luen Yang with art by LeUyen Pham
From Lunar New Year Love Story by Gene Luen Yang, illustrated by LeUyen Pham. Text copyright © 2024 by Humble Comics LLC. Illustrations © 2024 by LeUyen Pham. Reprinted by permission of First Second, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press, a division of Holtzbrinck Publishing Holdings Limited Partnership. All Rights Reserved.

Curious about the guardian lion? The guardian lion, also known as Komainu, Shishi, or Fu Lion, symbolizes prosperity, success, and guardianship. These mythical guardian lions have special protective powers and can be found as statues protecting buildings from harmful spiritual influences and harmful people that might be a threat. Pictured below is a lion in front of Y. C. Hong's attorney's office. You Chung (Y.C.) Hong (1898–1977) was a community booster, social activist, and immigration lawyer based in Chinatown in Los Angeles.

You Chung Hong attorney's office, Old Chinatown
Guardian Lion in front of You Chung Hong’s Office, [circa 1939]. Herman J Schultheis Collection

These lions commonly come in pairs when they are in front of buildings. Sometimes, one has its mouth open, and the other is closed. Sometimes, they are found with a ball underneath their feet. They are traditionally carved from marble or granite or cast in bronze or iron. They have culturally different meanings depending on the country of origin. Komainu is Japanese in origin. Shishi or fu lion are Chinese in origin. Guardian lions can be found throughout Asia, in countries such as Japan, Korea, Philippines, Tibet, Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, etc.

—To celebrate Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, there will be an AAPI cultural festival happening at the Central Library. Part of the artwork displayed in the banner, the postcards, and other promotional materials include a yellow lion with a red heart. The guardian lion artwork that promotes this festival is taken from the graphic novel Lunar New Year Love Story by Gene Luen Yang with art by LeUyen Pham. The book tells the story of Valentina Tran, named after Valentine's Day, which used to be her favorite holiday and is cursed to be unlucky in love by Saint Valentine himself. Val is ready to give in to her fate, until one Lunar New Year festival, a mysterious lion dancer hands her a paper heart and zing! Check out this heartwarming rom-com about fate, family, and falling in love.