Guardian lions (also known as lion-dogs or foo dogs) are traditional symbols of power and protection found guarding not only temples but also institutions of consequence in China, including banks, government offices, and hotels. They are generally known in Chinese as 'stone lions' (石狮 shíshī or 石狮子 shí-shīzi).
The lions come in pairs, one male and one female. Viewed from the outside, the female is usually on the left and the male on the right. Conventionally, the male has his paw on a ball and the female has hers on a lion cub, but there are many variations on this theme, as well as cases where the two lions are not differentiated. With non-traditional lions, which tend to be Western-style or naturalistic, there is a convention that the male should have his mouth open while the female has hers shut. For detailed information on the history and characteristics of stone lions, see the Wikipedia article on Guardian lions.
This kind of Chinese-style guardian lion or something similar to it is also found in the cultures of Tibet Korea, Vietnam, and Mongolia. The Japanese adopted guardian lions too, but instead of a male and female lion they now have a lion and a dog (known as koma-inu). The lion has its mouth open roaring and the "dog" has its mouth shut. In one interpretation, this represents the Buddhist 'aum', where the mouth is open for 'a' and closed for 'um'. In Okinawa, guardian lions (known as shiisaa) are a common and familiar sight.
This is a small collection of photos of stone lions that I've taken, mainly in South China. They are not necessarily famous specimens; they are simply a few of the examples that I've come across.
Guardian Lions in Hainan (1) Haikou and Sanya
Guardian Lions in Hainan (2) Qionghai and Haikou
Guardian Lions in Hainan (3) Haikou
Some Slightly Different Guardian Lions Tibetan, Vietnamese, MingSome Western-influenced Guardian Lions in China
Links to sites about guardian lions on the Internet.