Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Dogs in Chinese Culture and Art from Antiquity to Marco Polo

Pekingese Dog from an Imperial Dog Book by an unknown Painter (Collier)
Any modern scholarship of Chinese dogs must depend heavily on two sources, V.W.F. Collier’s Dogs of China and Japan in Nature and Art and Berthold Laufer’s Chinese Pottery of the Han Dynasty.  Laufer’s book belongs in the category of art history, but when he finds that naturalists have missed the significance of a number of relics of the Han Dynasty, which lasted from the end of the third century BC into the early first century, he goes beyond his primary expertise and, very profitably for future dog historians, advances arguments about the shape and uses of dogs in the period.  This blog is largely a summary of these two authors, with a few additional notes on subsequent findings. 

The functions of dogs in China were not detailed until the Han Dynasty, though the wisdom and sayings sources that sometimes go back to the end of the second millennium BC do give solid information about the functions of dogs in earlier periods. Imperial households were often the repositories of the most valuable dogs for each function except being eaten, though even here medicinal uses, and probably religious feasts, involved sacrificing and eating parts of dogs.  The restriction of the Pekingese dog to the imperial household was a matter too recent for this blog, but is no more than an exaggeration of the rights of the highest nobility of earlier times. 


A Chinese dictionary, the Erh Ya, datable several centuries BC, says that the wolf has the feet of a dog, and a later source, the Shuo wen (c. 100 AD) says that the wolf has the voice of the dog. A natural history compiled in 1769 from earlier sources, Mao shih ming wu t’u shuo, shows the dog and the wolf as having a striking resemblance. 

Engravings of a dog (left) and a wolf from Mao shih (Laufer)
In considering that domestication of dogs may have first occurred in China (Savolainen et al., 2002), it is worth analyzing what sort of dog cultures existed in historical times.  By the Han period it is clear that there were a number of functions of dogs—hunting, guarding, being eaten, living in houses, as well as a number of morphological types—sighthounds, or at least sighthound-like dogs, mastiff-like dogs, and small dogs, some with pricked ears, some with lop ears.  Breeding for color and markings was important early, given that certain features were regarded as bringing good fortune, while others might bring evil. 

Were Dogs Imported from Tibet or Turkestan?

Importation of large tracking and guard dogs from Tibet in the 12th century BC was argued by a number of German scholars but disputed by Collier and Laufer.  The German scholarship on this is related to the belief that large dogs in India and Assyria had their origin in Tibet.  Laufer notes that there are comparatively few references to dogs in pre-Han Dynasty literature, and that most are “stories about dogs, dog-spirits, monstrosities, etc., interesting contributions partially to the psychology of the dog, partially to the psychology of the Chinese in their relations with dogs, and valuable folk-lore material.” Laufer concludes that the statement of Albrecht (1903) “that the dog is altogether a foreign import in China, is unfounded, and lacks historical basis.”  Laufer accepts the possibility that some Tibetan dogs reached China in the Mongol period, but that such importation as occurred was probably mediated through Mongolia. 

An emperor of the Chou Dynasty received “ao” dogs as tribute, which Collier considers may have been a type of black mastiff, though he also refers to it as a bloodhound.  The Erh Ya states that the character ao was the name of a type of dog that was four feet high.  The ao dogs received as tribute may have come, according to Laufer, from a Turkish tribe to the west of the provinces that then composed China. 

Collier notes a passage in the Tso chuan stating that, to certain presumably Turkish tribes, the wolf was not dreaded and was accustomed to live near human dwellings.  He cites the scholar of the Tibetan language, Heinrich Jäschke, as reporting that Tibetan wolves cause ravages among sheep, but are otherwise not much dreaded by men, who may easily tame them.  Collier believes that mastiffs were “trained” from wolves by Turkish tribes and notes that dogs played an eminent role in Turkish tribal traditions and creation myths.  Laufer notes a connection between dogs and Huns: “It is noteworthy, too, that, according to the dictionary Shuo wen (c. 100 AD), the land of the Hsiung nu (Huns) possessed a special kind of dog, called chiao, with large mouth and black body, which characteristics are essential to the mastiff.”

Early Depictions of Dogs

Bronze tazza (Laufer)
Collier (1921) takes as the earliest depiction of Chinese dogs a bronze tazza (dish mounted on a stem) described by Laufer (1909).  The tazza shows a hundred figures, which Collier acknowledges as having artistic value but finds “imaginative and probably defective as accurate representations of the dogs of the period.”  There are probably three types of dogs on the piece: “one, diminutive, short-tailed, with erect ears; another, long-bodied and long-tailed, long-legged, also with erect ears; and a third of sturdier build, also long-tailed, and with erect ears.”  
The item, which Laufer dates to the Chou Dynasty (I cannot find a more specific date but presume it is most likely from the 4th or 3rd century BC) is depicted in a work entitled the Hsi ch'ing ku chien.  He elaborates: 

“Its height, according to the text (the measurements being recalculated from the statements in Chinese feet), is 24.4 cm; its depth, 10.8 cm; the circumference of the mouth I9.2 cm, that of the foot I2.4 cm; and its weight, 63 ounces. No further description is given in the ‘Hsi ch'ing ku chien.’ This bronze vessel is defined as a ‘tou with a hundred animals’ (pai shou tou), from the representation of a number of animals and hunting-scenes engraved on it. In this respect it is of primary importance for the study of the reliefs on the Han pottery. It shows, first of all, that the representation of animals, and particularly animals in motion, was a favorite subject of earliest Chinese art, and that it had already adopted at that time a fixed, stereotyped, conventionalized expression. Two typical scenes, which are several times repeated, represent especially the prototype and exact counterpart of a type frequently occurring on the Han reliefs. For brevity's sake we might define these scenes as ‘the hunter and the animal [prey].’"

Look carefully towards the left near the top rim where a letter “a” and a dotted line connects a hunter holding a spear in his left hand, as if to ward off a large but not clearly identifiable animal.  Another hunting scene towards the right edge is also labeled “a” but here the hunter prepares to thrust the spear towards the animal’s mouth.  Laufer argues that the lack of detail on the face makes it possible that the being is a demon or deified hero.  In the scene surrounding the letter “b”, a dog is leaping towards the hunter who raises a fist towards a humanoid figure with an animal’s head.  The animals marked “c” are said by Laufer to be tapirs. 

Laufer believes this particular tazza disproves Bushell’s statement that the human figure never occurs in primitive bronzes, though Bushell (1904) is generally correct in characterizing artists of the period as reveling in a mythological zoology … peopled with dragons, unicorns, phoenixes, and hoary tortoises.” Bushell (1904) was aware of animal depictions, referring to a dog in a large stone relief of the Han period (one of those reproduced also by Chavannes).

Painted Shell of Chase (Lee)
Painted shells that were dated by Sherman Lee (1957) most likely to the 3rd century BC (late Chou period) show two hounds below a chariot drawn by four horses.  Two men are on the chariot, one of whom holds a bow and arrow.  Lee describes the hounds as running at a “flying gallop.”  The chariot is chasing a doe and a tiger.  On the lower register of the shell, another chariot pursues a large doe and a smaller animal, a fawn or rabbit. 

Dogs of the greyhound type are found as early as the Han period in depictions, including a rubbing from a bas-relief found in Shantung Province reproduced by Chavannes, shown below. The dog sits before the chariot, its head turned towards the viewer, a calm contrast to the horse behind it. 

Pope-Hennessy (1923) considers a yellow-green jade from the Han Dynasty or later to perhaps be a depiction of a sleigh dog puppy with a bird of the parrot type on its back.  She argues that dogs are not usually depicted in jade until the T’ang period.    

Significance of Markings

Collier notes:

“The breeding of dogs possessed another incentive to the early Chinese, not known to the inhabitants of the West, for in China considerable importance was attached, on superstitious grounds, to the colour and markings bred in dogs.  Fortunate marking might bring honour to a family and to its ancestors.  This superstitious belief was encouraged, if not originated, by geomancy or ‘Feng Shui.’    The appearance of certain markings, such as a black or yellow coat in conjunction with a white head, or two white forelegs in a black dog, was hailed as sure presage of official appointment…. To the Chinese, saturated with superstition, folk-lore and literary myths, every colour has a value, and every marking serves to crystallize some imaginative thought which can convey little to the foreigner ignorant of Chinese underlying thought.”

Greyhound Sitting Before Horse (Chavannes)
Perhaps not prevalent in the West, such superstitions nevertheless existed among the Babylonians, as noted by Handcock (1912), who, despite the little that is known about breeds of dogs of the Assyrians and Babylonians, states that “we at all events know, that they were acquainted with dogs of various colours, for they derived omens from piebald dogs, yellow dogs, black dogs, white dogs and the rest.” 

Collier quotes the Book of the Five Elements, as providing the results of having dogs with certain markings:

“A black dog with white ears, he shall become rich and noble.
A white dog with a yellow head, his family will become prosperous.
A yellow dog with white tail, his family shall have officials in it in every generation.
A black dog with white fore-legs, many male children will be born to the family.
A yellow dog with white fore-legs, he will have good luck.
The breeding of a white dog with a black head is lucky, and will bring a man riches.
A white dog with a black tail will cause the family through all generations to ride in chariots.”

Breeding for markings and color was also found in early China with regard to pigeons, goldfish, and cats. 

Sleigh Dog Puppy (Pope-Hennessy)
The appearance of dogs distinguished them more than their functions in China.  Collier notes that dogs of the chow type were used in China for hunting deer, shooting pheasants, guarding, production of fur, eating, and pulling sleds. The name of the dog may have originally meant nothing more than the Chinese dog most commonly found in Canton.  It must be noted that in many cultures coat colors of pets influence perceptions about animal personality.  (See Delgado et al. 2012.)

Imperial Dogs

References to early emperors suggest they were often enamored of hunting and that tribute involved obtaining hunting dogs. Collier accepts such canine tribute as possibly occurring as early as 1760 BC.  Another early source from about 1000 BC refers to “short dogs” being received from South China.  The Emperor Fei Ti (973-977 AD) of the Southern Song Dynasty was said to have stolen dogs from his subjects (for which Collier cites Yu Pi T’ung Ch’ien). 

Laufer states that the Emperor Chou Hsin (whose rule he dates from 1154 to 1123 BC) of the Shang (Yin) Dynasty, was said to have a great number of dogs. Collier speculates that breeding of the dogs in the imperial household was controlled more by eunuchs than by the emperor and his consort.  “Each Emperor caused illustrations of his favourite dogs to be made by the Court painters in books or on scrolls, and in this way was set the current fashion of breeding.”  It was high praise to say that a dog could “go into the book,” i.e., the imperial dog book of the time.  Such imperial dog books as have been recovered consist mostly of Pekingese, Shih-tzus, and pugs.

Hunting Dogs

The Book of Rites, which Collier dates to the 7th century BC, states: “At audiences let no reference be made to matters pertaining to the dog and the horse.” A Sung dynasty commentary (c. 1000 AD) concludes that this was because hunting was too unimportant to take up the emperor’s time, but perhaps it was so important to him that everything else would be forgotten. Erh Ya says that following a day’s hunting, one kind of dog followed the master’s chariot, while “those having short mouths were carried in the carts.”

Dog Chasing Boar (Collier)
It is to be noted that even in the Chou period, hunting was not always conducted in open wilderness, but often in confined preserves.  Schafer (1968) describes a Chou king, after taking the throne in 675 AD, seizing a private orchard to be an animal preserve for his own use. Feudal states had their own parks and preserves, independent of the royal ones.  In the third century BC, the Supreme Forest, which Schafer calls a “mega-park” was created south of the Wei River. Such preserves have analogies in Europe. 

Following the pre-Han tazza discussed above, Laufer reproduces a semi-circular relief band from a Han vase showing on each side a hunt divided into four separate stages, which Laufer has numbered in sequence.  In each sequence, a single dog chases a single boar, their angles reflecting their response to the terrain.  The flatter the dog is shown the faster it is running and the scenes provide almost a moving picture of the two hunts.  Although Laufer calls the dogs greyhounds, Collier disagrees as “the tail of the conventional representation is thick, and the body too sturdy for such a breed, which, moreover, would be a type light for the hunting of game of such weight as the boar.”  Another relief not reproduced here shows a hunter on horseback above a dog, which Laufer labels a greyhound pursuing a hare, but again Collier says the animal has too thick a neck, too sturdy a body, and two broad a tail to be a greyhound. 

A different type of hunting dog is seen in a relief band where three short-legged terrier-like dogs surround what Laufer calls a man on a hydra, his left foot raised.  Laufer argues that these depictions establish “that pursuit of the tiger, the wild-boar, the deer, and of the hare with dogs was a pastime current among the ancient Chinese.  The breeds in use were, no doubt, adapted to some extent to counter the ferocity, strength, speed, and elusive powers of each quarry respectively in a land which was gradually being denuded of forests and entering a state of close cultivation.”

Relief Band on Vase (Laufer)
A Han bas-relief indicates that falconry had entered China by the Han Dynasty, probably from the Turkish tribes on the steppes of Central Asia.  Dogs and falcons were used simultaneously in hunts.  

Some dogs clearly fit the sighthound form and have been labeled greyhounds by many scholars, including Chavannes and Laufer.  Dogs with similar forms are found in China today, as shown by Collier’s photograph of Kansu greyhounds at the end of this piece. 

Guard and Attack Dogs

Collier states that “fierce dogs of large size existed in China in early times” as proven by discoveries of pottery figures of guard dogs in graves of the Han period. Laufer accepts that the purpose of such tomb dogs was “doubtless to guard their masters, and keep off from their graves the evil influences of obnoxious spirits.” The figures, as with the Han pottery mastiff shown below, sometimes had a massive collar and body-straps, which Collier describes as a harness by which Chinese were accustomed to hold their more powerful dogs on leash.  He speculates:

“It may be that these pottery tomb-dogs are the representatives of dogs which were in the possession of the deceased, and that at an earlier period the dogs themselves were slaughtered that they might accompany their master’s spirit in its journey.”

Short-legged Dogs Surrounding Figure on Hydra (Laufer)
Collier describes this as a “leading-harness,” perhaps “to provide a guide for the spirit through the darkness of the future existence.”  He also notes that a similar harness “may be seen on dogs leading the blind in China at the present day.”

Another Han bas-relief (below) described by Chavannes shows Duke Ling seated sending his dog against T’I Mi-ming, who attempts to meet it with a kick.  Chavannes relates this to an historical incident where a dog attacked an enemy of its master, but was killed by the enemy, T’I Mi-ming. The dog need not necessarily have been bred or trained for guarding, since such behavior is natural even to dogs that are not a significant threat to anyone.

House Dogs

Collier quotes Confucius:

“I have heard that the discarded hangings of the chariot may be used to wrap the beloved saddle-horse for burial, and that the torn awning (or chariot umbrella) will serve to cover the dear house-dog in his grave.” (citing Li Chi. Pan Kung)

Father Navarette, writing in the 17th century, claims that among the ancient Chinese, “Frighting the dog in the Husband’s presence was a sufficient Cause it seems to discard the Wife; nor was it requisite to this effect that any Person should be acquainted with her failing.” The priest also describes dog’s bread as of a type distinct from other breads. 

By the 1st century AD, sources speak of dogs called “Pai,” which Collier says were explained by later authorities as referring to small, short-legged and short-headed dogs that belonged under the table.  (“Kwong Yun” by Ch’en, and “Shuo wen” of Hsu Shen)  Collier notes that tables at the time were low, those at them sitting on mats, so the dogs had to be very small. 

Hunters with Dogs and Nets (Laufer Grave Sculptures and drawing from Tresors d'Art Chinois)
The official history of the Han Dynasty, according to Collier, records that the Emperor Ling Ti kept in his Western Garden at Lo Yang (Honanfu) a dog of which he was extremely fond, and to this animal he gave the official hat of the Chin Hsien grade—the most important literary rank of the period—as well as an official belt. The hat was 8¾ inches high in front, 3¾ inches high behind, and 10 inches broad.” 

Citing a work from AD 1319 (Tunk K’ao by Ma Tuan Lin of the Yuan Dynasty), Collier says:

“Nearly all the dogs which were reared by the Emperor were given the rank of K’ai Fu (approximately that of a Viceroy); others that of Yi Tung (a rank probably equivalent to the present post of Imperial Guardian).  The females were given the ranks of the wives of the corresponding officials.  These dogs were guarded by soldiers and fed on the best rice and meat.  For their beds they were given the choicest carpets.” 

Small Dogs

Small dogs have been found in prehistoric sites in China.  (Shigehara et al., 1998)

Development of dogs was, in a process not unlike foot-binding, sometimes arrested by enveloping a puppy in a wire cage closely fitting to the body, which was not removed until maturity.  The nose might be massaged daily “with the object of restraining growth of the obstinate organ, which, only too often in Peking, appears to be but little stunted by this persistent snubbing.” 

A particular objective of breeding of small dogs for the imperial household is connected with the Chinese interest in lions after Buddhism reached China from India.  “There is little doubt,” Collier says, “that the lion has never existed in the wild state in China.”  Yet it took on an importance equal to that of the tiger, which is found there, and duplicating the appearance of the lion became an objective of dog breeding.

The first importation of lions from Parthia occurred in AD 87.  Nevertheless, most depictions were inaccurate, often fanciful, as was realized by the Chinese traveler, Sung Yun when, in AD 518, he saw two young lions at the Court of Gandhára. (Yule's commentary on Marco Polo) Laufer considers that lion figures in art were adapted by Chinese artists from Scythian and Siberan representations that came to their attention.  Collier says: “Both Tibetans and Chinese have no doubt bred a race of toy-dogs to resemble as closely as possible their respective ideas of the spirit-lion.”

Various associations between lions and dogs can be documented in many cultures.  Collier notes that in Shantung the natives call the small lion figures that guard the roof-corners of all Chinese temples, and which date from the T’ang period, hai pah kou (small sea dogs).  These dogs, denizens of the deep, can protect buildings against fire.

Han Pottery Mastiff (Laufer)
Collier accepts that an overland caravan route connecting China with the west in trade was established by the Han Dynasty, and argues that pet dogs could have been carried as items of trade.  Turks used dogs for hunting and their women “prized and reared Maltese dogs.”  He quotes San Juo Tien Lueh of the T’ang Dynasty as reporting of the Emperor Kao Wei:

“If 565 AD, the Emperor gave the name of Ch’ih Hu or ‘red tiger’ to a certain Persian dog. He also gave it the rank and privileges of Chun Chun (closely allied to those of a duke).  The dog was fed with the choicest meat and rice.  It was granted the revenue of a Prefecture.  When the Emperor was mounted the dog rode upon a mat place in front of the saddle.”

Being on a mat before a saddle meant it was small.  Sources concerning the T’ang Dynasty report that small dogs of the Emperor Kou Tzu (618-629) could lead horses by the reins, and held torches in their mouths to light their master’s way at night.  Chinese literati continued to call the small imperial dogs by the name Fo Lin, possibly a transliteration of εις την πολιν, Greek for “into the city,” perhaps the original of the name Stambul.  Collier considers it “more than possible that Fu Lin dogs were of the ‘Maltese’ race.” As discussed in a prior blog, Maltese dogs were traded for medicinal uses as well as being popular pets. 

Collier says that it was in the Ch’ien Lung period (1736-1796) that the Chinese began to call certain small dogs Peiching Kou, i.e., Pekingese.  “The cult of the lap-dog in China appears to have reached its chief development during the Tao Kuang (1821-1851) period.”  The first authentic importation into England took place in 1860. 

Edible Dogs

Marco Polo, as noted in a previous blog, recorded eating of dogs at various places in China.  Ibn Batuta, an Arab traveler who reached the east in the 14th century, wrote of markets where dogs were sold for eating. (Ibn Batuta’s Travels, c. 1347)  Fernam Mendez Pinto, writing in the 16th century, saw pens of little dogs being sold as meat. (Purchas, 1906, vol. 12) A representative of the East India Company wrote that “the more ordinary sort of People will feed upon any Carrion, either of a Horse, Mule, Ass, Dog, or any other Creature.”(Nieuhof, Embassy from the East India Company, 1655)

Dog Defending Master (Chavannes)
Father Navarette, coming to China in 1657 and remaining for almost 20 years, called China the country of dog-eaters.  His sensibilities were not modern, however, as the following passage demonstrates:

“The Officer that carry’d me to the Metropolis assur’d me (and I had it from others before) that he eat for his Breakfast every morning 30 Eggs, and a Dog’s Leg, and drank two Quartillos (it is about a pint and a half) of hot Wine.  The good old man looked so fat and fair, it did a man good to see him. 

“Infinite number of Dogs are eaten in China, they count their flesh delicate and nourishing, and have Butchers and Shambles where it is sold’ but more in the Northern Provinces than in the Southern.  It is comical to see what a multitude of dogs pursue these Butchers as they go along the Streets; I suppose the smell of the Dogs’ flesh they carry about them provokes the other Dogs.  When they go loaded with half a dozen or more Dogs to the Shambles, the sport is still better; for the noise those so carry’d make, brings out all the Dogs in the Town to take their parts, and attack their mortal enemy’s.  They also eat Horse-flesh, Buffalo, Cats, and Mice; and other sorts.  I myself eat of a Horse, Dogs, and Mice, and in truth I lik’d them very well.”

Everard Ysbrants Ides, ambassador from Moscow to China, wrote an account of his travels in which he noted that dogs were regarded as a healthy sort of food, particularly in summer, when it was regarded as cooling.  He records that the Tungus tribes of Siberia were particularly fond of dogs and cats, and says that “very few of them are found without several dead young Dogs hanging near them.”  Ides describes a gruesome ritual:

“The Waywode asked the Accuser if he would, according to the Tunguzian Custom, put the Accused to his Oath?  To this he answered in the Affirmative; after which the accused took a live Dog, laid him on the Ground, and with a knife stuck him in the Body, just under his left Foot, and immediately clapped his Mouth to the Wound, and sucked out the Dog’s Blood so long as he could come at it; after which he lifted him up, laid him on his shoulders, and clapp’d his Mouth again to the Wound in order to Suck out the remaining Blood.” 

The use of dogs as food was sometimes an embarrassment to sinophiles.  Father Cibot, for instance, in remarking on the three types of Chinese dogs—watch dogs, hunting dogs, and edible dogs—attempted to argue that edible dogs were really otters.  (Grosier, 1819)  Collier debunks this, noting that otters are not common in China, are not classed as dogs, and have no reputation as a table delicacy.  As some cities began to outlaw dog markets in the early 20th century, the poor who still ate dog meat but would try to call it lamb. 

Dog markets and dog eating continues to be found in the East, among other places in the Korean peninsula, the Philippines, and Indonesia.  Black dogs, according to Collier, are considered to be the most nutritious, while “flowery” dogs, those of mixed color, the most palatable, but white or yellow dogs are the tastiest.  Puppies are fattened on rice, or other grains, and killed at about nine months.  Hair is removed by scalding and the body cut into six to eight pieces and boiled for about an hour before being fried in oil.  Meat is cut into small pieces and cooked with dry mushrooms, preserved bean-cake, onion, ginger, and water chestnuts.  John Henry Gray (1878) says that in Canton in the late 19th century there were about 20 restaurants specializing in serving dog and cat flesh.  Dog flesh was prohibited in Canton in 1915, but remained easily available several years later. 


Hosie (1904) says:

“[T]he most important branch of the skin and fur trade of Manchuria consists of the skins of domesticated animals, the dog and the goat.  Many thousands of these skins are annually exported from Newchwang and Tientsin, and ultimately find their way principally to the United States…. There are thousands of small dog and goat farms scattered over the northern districts of Manchuria and Mongolia, where from ten to hundreds of animals are reared yearly.  When a girl is married she receives perhaps six dogs as her dowry, and it can easily be understood that this comparatively small beginning may be the foundation of a large fortune, seeing that the reproduction of ten per annum would in a few years give an enormous total.  A dog matures in from six to eight months, and the fur is at its best during winter, so that the animal must be destroyed before the thaw sets in.  Nature has provided a magnificent protection to withstand the cold of these northern latitudes, where the thermometer (Fahrenheit) goes down to 25° below zero … and it is doubtful if the dog skins in any other part of the world are to be compared with those that come from Manchuria or Mongolia, either in size, length of hair or quality.”

Hosie explains that the animals were killed by strangulation, as using a knife can injure the fur.  In 1896, 40,723 dog-skin mats and 28,744 dog-skin rugs were exported from Newchwang by steamer.  Large numbers of these skins entered European markets. 

Dogs in Chinese Religion

Dog Sacrifice for Oath (Ides)
Pope-Hennessy (1923) summarizes an archery contest in the Chou period (1st millennium BC) as described in the I Li, Book of Ceremonies:

“The sacrifice of a dog or dogs is an integral part of the rites connected with these celebrations; dogs were chosen because they can ‘discern what men are,’ and discernment is necessary in judging a contest.  We must assume that the proceedings opened with the killing of a dog, for not until the dog bouillon was cooked did the master of ceremonies summon the principal guest.  The actual carcase of the dismembered dog was laid out on a small table or tables, the principal guest being offered the portion of slices from the back, the shoulder, and the lungs.  The lungs also were specially offered to the spirits, as also was wine from a cup ‘shaped like a bird.’”

The Book of Rites specified that dogs were to be boiled on the eastern side of the courtyard "in reverential acknowledgment of the fact that the vivifying and expanding power in nature issues from the east."  (Legge, Book of Rites)

A temple in Peking, which Collier says may date from the T’ang Dynasty is dedicated to the god Erh Lang, famous for exterminating dragons.  Erh Lang is also the protector of dogs.  He owns a dog which howls in the sky and eats the sun.  Erh Lang’s dog became a thin-bodied coursing dog, but as large as an elephant.  Collier attributes additional detail to a popular work on the Chinese minor deities: “Its head is as brass and its neck as iron.  Terrible in battle, its antagonist, however fierce and powerful, is quickly consumed, even unto the last of his bones.”

Erh Lang is considered to be the protector of the canine race.  Collier notes:

“To this day, on the first and fifteenth days of the month, native owners of dogs may be seen worshipping at the altar of the god. If their dogs are in danger of death they bring miniatures in clay and lay them on his altar, so that the god may, through the presence of a substitute, suffer the owner to keep his pet yet a little longer. It is possible that in this may be found a survival of the old idea that not only a curse but also a blessing pronounced upon a dummy counterfeit has effect upon the original.”

Dogs and Death

Philippine Dog Market
Collier refers to a Buddhist practice of placing a pottery dog in a tomb as a way of retaining the dog’s services in the life to come.  He translates a passage from Leon Wieger’s Bouddhisme Chinois:

“At Stravasti, Buddha entered into the house of one Tu-T'i, who was absent from home. Upon the divan a white dog was eating from a bowl. At sight of Buddha it leapt to the ground and barked at the Holy One. Buddha said: 'Miser, how deep is thy degradation! ' The dog betook itself to a corner in dejection. When Tu-T'i returned and saw his dog so sad he asked the cause of its misery. The servants replied, ‘Buddha has done this.' Tu-T'i was angered and asked Buddha for an explanation. Buddha said:  ‘I did but tell him the truth. This animal is thy dead father. Born a dog, as punishment for his avarice, he still guards his riches. Order him to reveal the treasure which he has hidden, even from thee, his son.' Tu-T'i returned to his home and said to the dog, ‘As thou hast been my father in thy previous incarnation, all of that which was yours is now mine by right. Show me thy hidden treasure.' The dog crept beneath the divan and began scratching the earth. There Tu-T'i dug and discovered great treasure. Forthwith he was converted to Buddha.”

Gray (1878) describes a gruesome ceremony performed after a suicide:

“Many Chinese believe that suicides are tempted to their fate by a spirit who presents them with a golden necklace ; and when the deed has been perpetrated in the house, a religious ceremony is performed in it by a Taoist priest for the expulsion of this or other seducing spirits. After the priest has made a great many signs, and performed the kow-tow, he receives from the inmates a small black dog, together with a chopper and a block; and when he has severed its tail from its body with a sharp blow, the wretched animal, with a cord round its neck, is led or rather dragged, piteously howling, by the head of the family into every nook and comer of the house. It is then taken to the front door and kicked into the open street. The bleeding and yelping cur is supposed to frighten away the evil spirits, and to pursue them in their flight through the streets. By way of purifying the house, the priest then walks through it with a brass pan containing a burning mixture made of sulphur, saltpetre, and other inflammable ingredients. He is preceded by one bearing a lighted torch, and at intervals he flings portions of the burning mixture into the air. The ceremonies of exorcism and purification are now complete, but lest the spirits should return, the priest before his departure leaves several mystic scrolls written on sheets of red paper, to be posted above the doors of the apartments. Should the deceased have committed suicide by hanging, the beam from which he suspended himself is removed, lest his spirit should return to rest upon it.”

Does the Late Record of Dogs Hurt the Argument for China as a Domestication Locus?

Dogs Pursuing Tiger (Collier)
Proponents for a Middle Eastern locus of domestication have noted that this “is consistent with the archaeological record that identified the earliest dog remains in the Middle East (12,000 years ago)….” (vonHoldt et al., 2010)  This suggests that the absence of an equally early history of domestication in China is a weakness of the East Asian hypothesis.  While this is a factor, it is to be noted that fairly early Neolithic sites from 3000 to 4000 BC in China show dog bones as evidence of agricultural development. (Shigehara et al., 1998; Needham and Bray, 1984). It is easily arguable that relatively complex dog cultures could have existed even earlier.  Neolithic cultures, such as Native American cultures of the Pacific Northwest, have been described as having several types of dogs for different functions. 

Phyllis Ackerman’s observation, discussed in an addendum to a prior blog, that early representations of hunts in Persian art show greyhound-like dogs, while more mastiff types appear around 3000 BC, could perhaps be correlated with the arguments that mastiffs appeared from the areas west of the Chinese provinces, suggesting that large dogs, perhaps originally guards for flocks, could have come out of nomadic and semi-nomadic cultures in between China and the Middle East. (Pope and Ackerman, 1964). Collier’s argument for domestication of mastiffs from wolves by Turkish tribes thus deserves more study, particularly since the area in which they lived form a migration and trade bridge across Eurasia. See Brown et al. (2011), noting: "Our findings indicated that Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian village dog populations must have originated either from a common gene pool thousands of years before present or from distinct groups of wolf or wolf-like founders....  The Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian village dog Y chromosome haplotypes can be further augmented through expanded sampling in Africa, Central and northern Eurasia, and the Americas, which will provide a powerful frame of reference against which ancient samples can be compared to reconstruct dog migrations through time and, hence, to better illuminate their origins, whether ultimately multiple or singular."

Migration has been suggested as a factor relevant to the distribution of dogs, and a possible alternative to multiple domestications.  See Larson et al. (2012) stating: "Dogs appear in contexts older than 8,000 [years] everywhere else within the maximal distribution of wolves, suggesting independent domestications of local populations of wolves, migration of humans possessing dogs, or the secondary acquisition of dogs by groups that were not involved in the domestication process."  The second and third of these possibilities might apply to the Chinese canine history, though verifying this could prove difficult.  The fluidity of the tribes that occupied the steppes, both in antiquity and afterwards, may mean that dogs would have traveled with the human populations to which they were attached, leaving smaller remnant populations that would no longer indicate the true diversity that could have once existed there. The dogs of both the Middle East and China could represent a sort of aftershock from an early domestication event (or events) in that broad region. At least the argument can still be made.  

Kansu Greyhounds (Collier)
Thanks to Richard Hawkins and Brian Duggan for corrections and comments.  
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