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Lion dance costume.jpg
Southern Chinese lion dance portrays the Nian
Traditional Chinese 年獸
Simplified Chinese 年兽
Literal meaning 年 Year
年獸 Year beast

According to Chinese mythology, a Nian (simplified Chinese: 年兽; traditional Chinese: 年獸; pinyin: nián shòu) is a beast that lives under the sea or in the mountains. He was said to have the body of a bull and head of a lion. Once every year at the beginning of Chinese New Year, it comes out of hiding to feed, but during winter since food is sparse he would go to the village. He would eat the crops and sometimes the villagers, mostly children. Weaknesses of the Nian are purported to be a sensitivity to loud noises, fire, and a fear of the color red. The Chinese Lion dance (Chinese: 舞龍舞獅) is known to have originated from the legend of the Nian. The tradition has its origins in a story of a Nian's attack on a village. After the attack, the villagers discussed how to make the Nian leave them in peace. The traditions of firecrackers, red lanterns, and red robes found in many Lion Dance portrayals originate from the plan the villagers had in which drums, plates and empty bowls were hit, red robes were worn, and firecrackers were thrown, causing loud banging sounds that they hoped would intimidate the Nian. According to this same myth, captured by Hongjun Laozu, an ancient Taoist monk, and Nian became Hongjun Laozu's mount.


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