On New Year's Day, two bronze lions in front of HSBC headquarters in Hong Kong were sprayed with red paint and set ablaze by anti-government protesters furious at the bank for closing the Spark Alliance account, which reportedly raised funds for the protests.
The lions, which have guarded HSBC for almost 85 years, are currently covered as restoration takes place.
Perhaps the European managers of The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation took a leaf from Chinese architectural tradition when they commissioned the guardian lions in the early 20th century.
Many Chinese-owned buildings, modern and classical, feature stylized lions, one male and one female, at their main entrances. But how did the ancient Chinese know about lions?
Historically, the natural habitat of lions spanned Africa, the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent.
The Chinese probably first learned of the animals in the Han period (206BC " AD220) when the empire expanded westward into Central Asia, or maybe Chinese merchants came across them on their travels.
Records show that Central Asian states transported lions to the Han capital, where they were presented to the Chinese emperor as tributary gifts.
The Dongguan Hall's Records of the Han, revised several times during the Eastern Han dynasty (AD25"220), contains the first unambiguous description of a lion in Chinese:
"The shizi (lion) resembles a tiger and is yellow in color. It has a mane and the tuft at the end of its tail is as big as a dou (a measuring scoop)."
Lions entered popular Chinese imagination with the spread of Buddhism. The lion figured prominently in the religion, which originated in the Indian subcontinent. Its founder, Gautama Buddha, is known as the "lion of the Shakyas (Gautama's royal clan)" and the "sage lion."
The Lotus Sutra depicts the Buddha and his disciples with the power of a "lion's ferocity" and strolling about "fearlessly like the lion king."
Buddhist sermons are metaphorically referred to as "the lion's roar." The lion became seen as a protector of the dharma, or Buddhist law, and a talisman to ward off evil.
In time, they were installed as guardian spirits in front of public buildings and private houses, a practice that spread to Vietnam, Korea and parts of Japan. Miniaturized versions are popular tourist souvenirs.
The lion was also seen as a creature of strength and symbol of royalty in the Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms of pre-Islamic Southeast Asia.
Legend has it Singapore was so named because a prince from a nearby kingdom saw a magnificent beast on the island with a red body and a black head.
His chief minister said it was a lion and so the prince named the island Singapura, "Lion City" in Sanskrit.
Given that wild lions never ventured beyond India, the chief minister was either mistaken or stoking his master's ego.
It was just as well; it is more likely the prince saw a wild boar, but "Hog City" doesn't have quite the same ring to it.
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