Some of the most frequently asked questions I get are about the size of Chinese lions so I figured I'd add a post about this since there really isn't a straightforward answer except, "It depends."
As you can see, lion heads come in a variety of sizes. Similar to shoes, the size is usually a single number that roughly correlates to a certain size. However unlike virtually everything else, the smaller the number the larger the lion. Size 1 lions are hardly seen these days and need to be custom ordered. Some manufacturers don't even make them anymore because they cost more to ship, and most teams don't perform with them either because they are heavy and don't fit through some doorways. but back when lion dancing was a show of a Gung Fu studio's strength and skill, the bigger the lion the more impressive the performance.
This makes the largest lions in common usage the size 2, but even size 2 lions are not as common as they used to be. In part this is due to lion dancing becoming more acrobatic where having a smaller, lighter head to perform with allows a team to do things like jump higher and further than if they were using a bulkier costume. In lion dance competitions especially size 3 is very popular, but to me size 2 looks the most proportional for the average adult to use. Size 3 is just a tad small and when I was still performing it felt a bit too cramped to maneuver well underneath.
Size 4 isn't a common size, possibly because the Chinese consider the number 4 to be bad luck. For example Chinese skyscrapers used to "skip" the fourth floor, similar to how American skyscrapers skipped the 13th floor.
Size 5 is a kid's size and while I've heard of sizing going all the way to size 9, anything smaller than a size 5 will be just for display or a toy puppet and not really practical for anyone to perform in.
That was pretty easy to follow so far, but here's where it gets really tricky. There are no standards when it comes to lion building so the same size lion coming from two different factories or makers will probably not match dimensions exactly. And to make things even more confusing some sizes, even from the same maker, will change over the years. So since the trend is to make lions smaller and lighter, if you order a size 2 lion today you might get something a little closer to what we would have considered a size 3 in the 1980s. The saying that size is relative really holds true in the world of lion making.
So to help you navigate, I've compiled a list of sizes that different makers have published. One tricky thing though is that different makers use different measuring systems for their lions. You'll see what I mean below. A majority of this information I originally shared on the old liondancing.org forum, you can still see the post through the Internet Archive (Wayback Machine) here. There's still lots of good information there, I kind of wish it were still up and running.
First up, Wan Seng Hang. They're one of the most popular lion makers so chances are if you've been around the lion dance community for any length of time you've seen their handiwork.
In the early 2000s the first version of their website published these measurements. Measured from one corner of the rim where it meets the straight piece around the back and over to the other corner, but doesn't include the straight piece (i.e. just the curved section of a letter "D"), (H=Hoksan, F=Futsan) the second measurement is the length of the straight section.Size.....Curve..........Straight
For a long time this was the largest and most popular lion manufacturer. Located in Southern China, they mass-produced lions and dominated the market because others couldn't compete with their price and speed of manufacturing. The factory has closed down, but the Lai family who ran it still makes lions. They haven't published any official size information that I could find, but one of the stores in Los Angeles that I used to frequent (Sincere Imports) carried their lions and had signs with the following sizes next to their displays. The only dimension given was a width, which I'm assuming is the width across the widest part of the rim (parallel to the straight piece). Or it could be across the widest part of the head, as in from ear tip to ear tip, or from eyelid to eyelid.
This was a pretty popular store in San Francisco for local teams to buy their lions. They're still in business, but a lot of teams are opting for custom orders or purchasing straight from the makers in Asia now and cutting out the middle man so to speak. I'm not sure of their source, but it could have been the Foshan Music Arts Factory as well, or one of the other places that copied their designs. Measured "through" the rim from the center of the straight piece to the center of the back. (i.e. the long part of the "T" if you put it on top of the "D" shaped rim where the short top of the "T" was on top of the straight piece of the "D"), the second measurement is the length of the straight section. They didn't provide any information about the length of the curve. This info was from their print catalog.
Global was based on the East Coast of the US and in the early 2000s was one of the first to really utilize the Internet to market their lions. They mass imported lions so were able to offer lower prices than others since they saved on shipping. Unfortunately they've gone out of business. Measurements are made from eye lid to eye lid.