Has China's imperial dog had its day?

Tue Oct 21, 2008 8:45am EDT
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By Gillian Murdoch

BEIJING (Reuters Life!) - Once the king of the canines in Beijing, snub-nosed Pekingese dogs have fallen from favor, replaced by foreign breeds in Chinese affections.

The squat "lion dogs" with bulging eyes were top dog in China's capital for centuries but are disappearing as imported rivals such as poodles, retrievers and Chihuahuas arrive in Beijing to satisfy surging pet ownership among the 17 million residents.

"They've disappeared from this community," said Beijinger Qingyun Mao, as she watched her nine-year old Pekingese Lily play with a neighbor's poodle and a cocker spaniel in her tenement building's small central garden.

For more than 12 centuries, from the Tang Dynasty of the 8th Century to the Qing, the ancient breed of flat-nosed animals were the favored pet of the Chinese Imperial court.

Legend has it the dogs are the Buddha-ordained offspring of a lion and a marmoset monkey, and only the imperial family and nobles could raise them.

The smallest of the palace dogs, Sleeve Pekingese, were carried in the sleeves of the rulers' silk robes, while "commoners" were expected to bow down to the dogs. Anyone who tried to keep them as pets faced punishment, even death.

The dogs were all but wiped out as their patrons in the last, Qing dynasty fell in 1911. They were sidelined for decades under Mao Zedong's pet-scorning communist rule.

But Zhang Yun, director of the Beijing Pet Hospital, said the Pekingese made a comeback in the 1980s as China opened its doors to international trade, and European-bred descendents of the imperial dog were brought back to the city once called Peking.   Continued...

<p>Beijing resident Zhongxin Liu sits with his Pekingese dog Lily on a bench in the garden of his central Beijing apartment compound October 7, 2008. Beijing's Pekingese dogs were the top dogs in the city they are named after for 12 centuries, but have plummeted in popularity over the past decade as exotic new breeds make their way to China. REUTERS/Gil Murdoch</p>