origin: unknown; T'ang Dynasty (618-906 A.D.), Chinese word for lion: shi resembles Persian: shir
舞狮; wǔshī; Traditional Chinese dance with costumed performers made to look like fanciful lions -- used to ward off evil spirits as well as bring good luck, especially at Chinese New Year. The origin is mysterious, as lions are not animals native to China and several tales attempt to explain reasons behind the concept, though no singular explanation is known as fact.
Dances are usually divided into Wenshi (civil lion) & Wushi (martial lion). Wenshi depicts docility and humor: scratching, frolicking, or sleeping (sometimes seen with "The Laughing Monk" who is said to have tamed the beast). Wushi portrays the power of the lion: jumping, balancing, and tumbling acrobatics.
A tradition starting with Buddhist temples until Manchurians took over China in 1644 when practitioners were killed, scattered, and their temples destroyed along with much irrecoverable ancient knowledge. Survivors could not safely be open about their beliefs, but opened martial arts schools throughout the country. Lion Dancing became associated with Kung Fu schools instead -- keeping their auspicious abilities for a very desirous population while avoiding religious prosecution.