In the time of the Han Dynasty, 206 B.C. ~ A.D. 220, clay figurines resembling a dog have been found in numerous burial sites. Similar depictions have been found in period art work.
Historians speculate that these “tomb dogs” are possibly the ancestors of the Shar-Pei due to the brow wrinkles shown on the statue and the curled tail, height and build depicted in early artwork.
Much of the potential history was lost as Emperor Yuan, during the Mongol Dynasty (1260 ~ 1368) destroyed 140,000 ancient books rather than let them fall into unworthy hands at the anticipation of his certain death.
Further information has been lost as the Communist took over China.
Generally accepted, however, is that the Shar-Pei most likely was a common dog.
A peasant or “peoples” dog kept by farmers to help protect property, guard livestock and general companionship.
In China any and ALL dogs that were used for protection of property or livestock were called “fighting dogs” as opposed to “guard dogs” as known in the USA. The village of Dah Let (Tai Leh) in Kwun Tung Province, located near Canton, in the south of China, bordering the South China Sea was known for the sport of dog fighting. It is thought that this is the birthplace of the breed as gambling men, looking for an edge, may have introduced the Sharp-Pei, or his ancestors, to the fighting ring.
The Shar-Pei, by nature, was not an aggressive animal even though once provoked was a determined fighter and would fight to his own death. Inducing drugs was thought to be a practice to make the Shar-Pei more aggressive as was breeding them to more aggressive species to produce a sturdy, vicious and flexible fighting machine.
Wars and famine ravaged China and the Shar-Pei, as well as other breeds found themselves “on” the table, instead of bringing something “to” the table. Having relinquished it’s role in the fighting ring combined with over breeding gave abundance to the breed to a country that was starving.
Never in such grave danger as the “Chow” some Shar-Pei were selectively chosen as a meal due to a particular dogs lack of strength, character or intelligence.
It was far easier to just eat the dog as opposed to feeding an inferior subject. The basic disinterest in all dog breeds peaked during the Ming Dynasty (1368 ~ 1644) and resulted in sharp declines in canine populations.
The Shar-Pei survived these times and managed a coexistence with man until the Communist took over China in 1940. Pets were considered a luxury and therefore heavy fines and taxes were imposed for their possession. Further, Mao Tse-Tung (Mao Zedong ~ 1893-1976) ordered a mass extermination of all breeds after determining that pets were a symbol of privileged classes.
By the 1960’s the Shar-Pei was virtually extinct. In the early 70’s a small group of interested parties searched intensely for the last surviving members of this breed. Two gentlemen in particular were C.M. Chung, a breeder of Shar-Pei and Matgo Law who had recently become interested in the breed. Their intentions were to try to resuscitate this vanishing breed. They were able to acquire a small number of dogs and set out to develop a plan to re-establish this endangered breed.
Matgo Law bought his first Shar-Pei from a basket on the streets of Hong Kong for 80 Hong Kong dollars. His second Shar-Pei was Down-Homes Sweet Pea, pictured left, which was a gift from a dog fighter. Sweet Pea was his foundation dog and a primary ancestor for almost every known Shar-Pei in existence today. Mr. Chung and Mr. Law were busy assembling a plan for the rebirth of the Shar-Pei and trying to acquire a solid, however small, foundation stock containing the traits of what they thought the breed should possess.
Quite by accident a May, 1971 issue Dogs Magazine fell into the hands of Mr. Law. This issue carried an article on rare breeds which included a photo of a Shar-Pei and claims that it was possibly among the last surviving specimens of this rare breed.
Mr. Law could not have anticipated the tremendous response and only about a dozen dogs were ready to be imported into the USA. Mr. and Mrs. Albright, Mr. and Mrs. Victor Seas, Ruth Fink, Lois Alexander and Mr. and Mrs. Ted Linn eagerly accepted the first puppies imported into the USA by Mr. Law’s Down-Homes Kennel. Slowly they began to trickle in as Mr. Law searched his homeland countryside feverishly for more quality breeding stock.
Summarized by Viera Staviarska
Dogs Likely Evolved From Wolves in Mideast – on line journal AoL News
Chinese-shar pei.com webpage
Data on file Elena Kuleshova
Data on file Viera Staviarska