Early History of the Shar Pei

by admin on November 11, 2013

The Shar Pei breed has occurred in China for many centuries & was owned by peasant farmers as a general utility dog. The farmers resided in the southern provinces, which border the South China Sea.

They were loyal guardians to the farmer’s homes & also used to protect the farmer’s livestock &, on the rare occasion it was required, actually hunt the Wild Boar that plagued the farmer’s livestock.

Dai Lek is a village, which is situated close to Canton, this is in southern China’s Kwantung Province. Dai Lek was once known to people as a secret haven for gamblers. Sadly one of the ‘sports’, & I use this terminology extremely loosely, was betting on dog fighting. The Shar Pei unfortunately became a firm favourite due to its powerful build & ability to retaliate due to the wrinkles in its skin, these offered the Shar Pei flexibility enough to turn around & fight back at its opponent & also made it extremely difficult for another dog to grab it.

Luckily for the Shar Pei gamblers & the people responsible for promoting the fights brought in other, stronger dog breeds. There were Bulldogs, Mastiffs & breeds similar to these. They were selected to fight based purely on their temperaments, the nastier the dog the more they wanted it to fight. Due to these dogs competing well they were then crossbred to produce even nastier breeds of dog. The Shar Pei did not rate highly anymore & was no longer in demand, due to this the breeding was abandoned & as a result the numbers of Shar Pei in existence fell rapidly.

As if this was not enough for the poor Shar Pei the communists of China dished out a blow that nearly proved fatal to the breed. During the 1940’s they enforced unbelievably expensive taxes on dogs so that it was only the affluent people that could afford, what was now known as a luxury, to keep a dog. The breeding of dogs was actually banned outright.

A magazine article captured the severity of the Shar Pei plight in 1971, they were included in a feature regarding rare breeds. The picture of the Shar Pei had the inequitable words written beside it, ‘This is very possibly the only living example of a Shar Pei left in existence’.

In a strange twist of fate a man called Matgo Law from Hong Kong who already owned Shar Pei dogs read the article. He proceeded to write a letter to the editor of the magazine explaining how he & a fellow Shar Pei fancier wished to help this wonderful breed of dog. He added pictures of the small numbers of Shar Pei that they had already managed to rescue. His letter concluded was a desperate plea for assistance from the good people of America.

Matgo Law’s letter was published in April 1973 in the same magazine; through this one letter the people’s interest in the Shar Pei was gained. Buyers wished to purchase this remarkable dog; puppies were in high demand. So little by little the Shar Pei bred & the puppies were sold, within a few years of the Shar Pei being threatened by extinction there were kennels set up specifically for them.

The breed had thankfully been saved & was no longer listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the, ‘rarest dog’, as it was in 1978. Somehow though, I have the feeling that the Shar Pei will not mind in the least about having to relinquish this honour!

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