Web Exclusives: PawPlus

June 7, 2006:

Crouching, Hidden, Homeless: The Princeton Fu Dogs

By Monica H. Wojcik ’07

I used to see them every Sunday, when my family went to Chinatown. A pair of lions flanked the Boston Chinatown gate, just outside of the Imperial Teahouse, where my mother would send me off to play by the fish tanks while she ordered dishes from her childhood in Taiwan. Each Sunday I would gaze longingly at the massive beasts, but I was forbidden to touch the lions. “Dirty,” said my parents, and my outstretched hand never touched smooth, cool stone.

So perhaps it was this repressed and unrequited lust that caused me to stop one day when a flicker of gray mane winked at me from behind a backhoe bucket. There, next to a parking lot at the south end of Princeton’s campus, were two stone lions, one male, one female. He faces north and she south, in a sea of wooden platform bits, dozer blades, whitewashed iron grating, assorted stone slabs, and an old gargoyle worn almost smooth, breathing fire down the business end of a tractor.

The lions themselves are carved from a half-ton pale dusky stone, each grimacing to reveal a small sphere rolling around between two rows of short canines. The ball moves when you push it (I did), but you can’t pull it out (I didn’t), and it is much smaller than the orbs choking the stone lions outside the Boston Chinatown gate that I would have given anything to touch. Seven rows of five whorls compose the mane, ranging in size from small ringlets flanking the face to great swirly domes. The eyebrows are fantastic, surging down over wide round eyes and whirling at the ends, like Father Time, the whorled brows flowing into the furrows of menacing foreheads. Both lions are on square stone pedestals and wear ornate stone collars, each with a stone ball hanging down in front like a charm and a straight tassel running down the back almost to the tail, which wraps around a hulking haunch and ends in the salt-plumed spray of Hokusai’s painting, “Wave.” A chain-link fence encloses all, with a gate that is open until 2:30 p.m. each day.

The lions reluctantly reign over the landscape operations yard of the grounds and buildings maintenance department. They are popularly known as Fu Dogs, and their provenance is more elusive than the Monkey King himself. The search for their pedigree leads me all over the Princeton campus, with connections to Florida, the Philippines, China. It is a story that spans decades, centuries perhaps. The Fu Dogs arrived on campus more than a decade ago hauled by a trailer – I imagine it was in the dead of night – to be planted in storage-yard purgatory and forgotten, while their former owner is thousands of miles away. Campus officials are left with no more than a series of conjectures regarding the Fu Dogs’ past, each supposing that another knows the answers.

“I’ve got zero history on them,” says Jim Consolloy, Princeton’s grounds manager since 1989, the man who can put his finger on any statue or tree within University borders. He pulls out a map of the area where the new Lewis Library will stand. Each tree is marked by a circle and described by diameter, species, and height: 36” (D) Maple 50’; 20” (D) White Pine 50’; 2” (D) Dogwood 15’. Eventually the Fu Dogs will appear on such plans: 40” Fu Dog 6’. Layer upon layer of white paper builds up on Consolloy’s desk as he pulls out different maps of the Princeton campus. He points to Bobst Hall, on Prospect Avenue, where until recently a garden was being planned: “We thought we had a home for them,” he explains, “but that whole area changed.” Placing half-ton stone creatures involves more than one sort of gravity: “You have to have some meaning behind it,” he says. He thinks that the Fu Dogs might do well near Jones Hall, which houses the East Asian Studies department: “two pieces of artwork guarding the entrance.” Cary Liu, the curator of Asian art for the University art museum, examined the stone pets but deemed them workshop-quality pieces constructed for market sale, probably not of significant value.

Fu Dogs are meant as guardians, hence there is an alternate term – “imperial guardian lions” – for the large leonine hulks that have been guarding Chinese Imperial palaces, emperor’s tombs, and large government buildings since the Han Dynasty, around 200 A.D. From Beijing, New Yorker correspondent Peter Hessler ’92 sends along a reference to “semi-mythical monsters, carved in stone, cast in bronze or fashioned in cloisonné” in Peking, a book published in 1920 by the sinologist Juliet Bredon. They originally came to China with the Buddhists as unmistakable lions, the protectors of Dharma. But by the Qing dynasty (1644), the lions had come to look more like Pekingese dogs, or “Dogs of Fo,” hence the term “Fu Dogs” commonly used today. The pair guarding the Princeton landscape operations yard is typical: The male has his right paw on the planet earth, while the female’s left paw nurses a cub. Nurses? It is said that the lions produce medicinal milk from their paws, Hessler notes.

The University acquired its pair in the mid-’90s, when an alumnus called and offered to donate them from his estate in nearby Lawrenceville. Bud Schmucki ’41, then the recording secretary in the Office of Development, called Consolloy and asked if he was interested in a pair of Fu Dogs. Consolloy agreed to put them in storage with other alumni donations of this sort: “We get benches, we get stone plaques that alumni send us with little engravings, quips,” he says. These objects stay in the landscape operations yard until the university architect’s office decides where to put them. A pickup with a large trailer hauled the Fu Dogs – a good ton of stone Fu – to the yard. And when the way to campus from Faculty Road was blocked by newborn tennis courts, the path was diverted to skirt the landscape operations yard. For the first time in more than 10 years the Fu Dogs were introduced to the public, unceremoniously.

They arrived on campus unceremoniously as well. “The guy was selling them and moving West,” Consolloy says. Rumor was that they came from the Marcos estate as Imeé Marcos ’79, eldest daughter of Ferdinand Marcos, attended Princeton, obtaining a degree in politics and religion. She lived off campus and was escorted around campus by her personal bodyguards. The family was exiled to Hawaii in 1986, and court records confirm that a residential property at 2659 Princeton Pike, owned by the Marcos family, was transferred at that time to the Philippine government. Today, there is no 2659 Princeton Pike. The numbers jump over it, in an unassuming neighborhood of small houses and smaller lawns. Were the Fu dogs left homeless by the decline of the Marcos dynasty? Schmucki confirms that they did, in fact, once belong to the Marcos estate, but that the donor was no Marcos. In Princeton, they are still homeless, the anonymous donor has gone West, and no one seems to know how he got them or where they will go next.

“Well, you know, maybe they’re going to use them as I used my lions,” Dick Kazmaier ’52 muses. Kazmaier has three pairs of personal Fu Dogs in his private office in Florida – at the corners of the room, the corners of his desk, and on the top corners of his computer monitor. They are of Staffordshire porcelain, metal, and reddish china, respectively, and all from his daughter, Cathy. “All that takes place in my room is either guarded or watched by lions,” he says. Kazmaier remembers a certain other pair of stone lions on the Princeton campus: those in front of the Carl Fields Center, formerly the Osborne Field House. Once reserved exclusively for the football team, where football players were fed to enhance their athletic prowess, Kazmaier remembers Osborne as “where we had our team meetings, with these guys [the Fu Dogs] watching over … even people who are real novices can sense the influence these kinds of things can have on your life.”

Adds Kazmaier, who won the Heisman trophy in 1952 after leading the Princeton team to two undefeated seasons: “I’m not an expert, but I’m a believer.” He doesn’t know exactly what the lions symbolize, but lets his imagination take over. “You have to do this with things you don’t understand that you think can be powerful or beneficial,” he says.

Eternally under the spell of stone lions, I am destined to mull over the pair in storage down by the boathouse path. There is much about them that I don’t know – but it doesn’t matter. To me, those two pairs of fierce eyes have witnessed the rise and fall of dynasties: Ming, Qing, Marcos, Princeton football. In my mind, they were sent across the sea by Ferdinand Marcos to watch over his daughter at Princeton University. Now they’re here, and I can touch them. From behind the fence in the operations yard, they watch me.END