by Doris Donnerman
(last updated August 17, 2009)
In the entire dog kingdom no breed owns a more romantic history than the Pekingese. The palace dogs of the ancient Chinese emperors were not the same as the Pekingese we know today, for they were undoubtedly much larger. Yet the same distinctive Lion dog type is known to have been well established many, many years ago. The type can be identified in Korean bronze of 2000 B.C.
There have never been any lions in China, yet for centuries the dog we know as the Pekingese has been called the little Lion Dog of Peking. China embraced Buddhism in the first century, during the reign of Emperor Ming-ti. It was natural that the lion of Buddha should become the nation's sacred symbol.
But there were no lions in China and the provision of models for Chinese artists presented a problem. In the belief that the Chinese tigers and the lion were related, artists devised the curious tiger lion which appears in the work of that period. Visitors from other Buddha-worshipping countries, however, called attention to the fact that there was considerable similarity in the appearance of the Emperor's palace dogs and the Buddhist symbols and the problem of the artists was solved. The Emperor's dogs became the models, were forthwith called Lion Dogs, and played an important part in the Chinese Buddhist art of the next 2000 years.
The little Lion Dog became a sacred symbol. He was surrounded by royal restrictions and his breeding was strictly confined to the environs of the Court under the supervision of the Chief Eunuchs. He was treated with the greatest of care, all puppies being brought to the Emperor for personal selection. The Emperor's dogs lived in the sacred temple and it is said that the puppies were often nursed by slave girls whose unwanted girl babies were killed at birth.
Four dogs were personally selected by the Emperor as his own bodyguard. Highest officials paid them honor. They preceded the Emperor to the Chamber of Ceremonials on occasions of state, two of them announcing his approach at correct intervals with short, piercing barks. The other two daintily held the hem of the royal robes in their mouths. Theft of, or damage to, a royal dog was punishable by a torturous death. The efficaciousness of the stringent restrictions placed around them is proved by the complete lack of evidence that any of the sacred dogs strayed beyond the province of the palaces for many centuries.
The looting of the Imperial Palace at Peking by the British in 1860 brought about the first introduction of the Pekingese into the western world. Rather than face the enemy troops in defeat, the aunt of the Chinese Emperor committed suicide and four Pekingese were found guarding her body. Throughout the castle bodies of these little dogs were found, the Chinese preferring to kill them rather than let them fall into the hands of the British. One of the dogs of the Emperor's aunt was brought to England by a Lieutenant and was presented to Queen Victoria, who gave it the appropriate name of "Looty." This dog was fawn and white in color. The others were appropriated by the Admiral, and taken to Goodwood Castle, becoming the foundation stock of the Goodwood strain.
Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the Dowager Empress T'Zu Hsi, then acting as Regent for her infant son, became quite friendly with the American people, showing her favor by making gifts of some of these dogs. Among the recipients were the then Alice Roosevelt and the late J. P. Morgan. Few of these dogs were used for breeding purposes after they came to America and most of the American breeding stock came from England.
The breed is exceedingly popular in this country and now occupies a commanding position in America's dog world. The Pekingese is noted for his courage and seldom shows any fear of anything. On the world in general he apparently looks with a condescending attitude, although in the privacy of the home of his family he seems to like to drop his dignity for the pleasures of a rollicking romp.
The average size of the Pekingese varies. The ratio is usually a three (height) to five (length). The average weight of a Pekingese is between eight and thirteen pounds
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