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Pekingese: The Lion Dog Of Peking

Pekingese: The Lion Dog Of Peking

 As published in The Pet Directory NSW & ACT Edition

One of the most popular of Toy Breeds is the Pekingese.

The ordinary person who does not know or understand the Pekingese, quite mistakenly, could think that they are merely stupid little lap dogs. On the contrary, Pekingese are most active and highly intelligent, little dogs who are equally at home in a city unit or a country garden. With a small, sturdy and strong structure, he is affectionate and loyal, full of personality and with loads of character, he makes the ideal companion.

The beauty of a Pekingese is unique, with his dark, luminous eyes surveying his kingdom from his wide swallow face, he is the perfect aristocrat.

His crowning glory is his long, flowing coat, which, like Joseph’s, may be of many colours. After all, Pekingese were raised in Royal Palaces and their coat colour was to blend or match with the colours of the robes of Emperors. The head is a most important feature of the breed, and head qualities must never be seriously deficient in a good specimen. They have a will of their own, in fact a decidedly stubborn nature, constant companionship and patient training is needed to achieve the state, where your demands are accepted as his desires.

In mythical China, a forest lion dell deeply in love with a tiny marmoset monkey. Because of difficulties caused by their difference in size, the lion went to Ar Chu, the Patron Saint of all animals, and asked for his help to marry the little monkey. The understanding Saint agreed to help the lion but with one condition, that the mighty lion be reduced in size to that of his lady love, thereby forfeiting his great strength. This, the lion readily agreed to and was happily married to the little marmoset.

The resultant progeny from this union was the “Lion dog”, who though small in structure, retained the character, courage and dignity of the mighty lion. This according to legend was the beginning of the Pekingese.

Charming as this fable is, the true origin of the Pekingese is equally shrouded in mysticism and though veiled in the mists of antiquity, it has been established that the Pekingese is very definitely an extremely ancient breed. Mention is made of them in the writings of Confucius and dog-like forms appear thousands of years before the Christian era, on Chinese bronzes and other works of art. Through the centuries these same dogs have appeared in paintings, the pottery and porcelain works in which the Chinese excelled. Pekingese have always been a “royal dog”, owned by the Emperors and members of the Imperial family but never by the common folk. They played a very important part in the Imperial households, with almost every Emperor throughout the centuries holding them in high esteem and keeping large numbers of the little dogs within the confines of the Palaces. Such was the esteem held by the Emperor Ling Ti (Chin Hsien period) for his favourite dog, that he conferred on him the Official Order of the Hat. This was a very high honour indeed and in our times would be akin to receiving the Nobel Prize. Nevertheless, they continued through the centuries to be bred to a specific type and great pride was taken in the number and the varieties of colours that were produced.

Pekingese probably reached their peak in China in the nineteenth century, during the reign of the Dowager Empress Tzu Hzi. 

Who was the last of the great Manchu Dynasty to reign in China. At the Imperial Summer Palace, outside Pekin, Empress Tzu Hzi kept huge numbers of the little dogs, supervising their breeding and making certain that their individual pedigrees were specially kept both on scrolls and on the “porcelain beads” which formed the dog’s collars. The now famous “Pekingese Pearls” was decreed by the Empress to govern the breeding of her dogs, and it was this decree that the English Kennel Club standard on Pekingese was finally drawn. To this day, with very little change, that same standard is observed by conscientious breeders.

Nothing was known of the Pekingese in the western world until 1860, for although many in numbers within the sheltered cloisters of the Palaces, to steal a dog to take outside was a crime punishable by death. At the end of the Arrow Wars, during the Boxer rebellion, when Allied troops were approaching Pekin, the Imperial Household evacuated the city and fled to the mountains. In one of the pavilions of the Summer Palace, guarding the body of an old lady of the Court (who had chosen to commit suicide rather than flee from the foreign invaders) two British Officers, Lord John Hay and Lieutenant Dunne, found five of these quaint little dogs. Of these, the smallest one, a red & white parti-colour bitch was presented to Queen Victoria by Lt Dunne. This little bitch, which weighed only three pounds was appropriately named “Looty”, “Looty” became famous in her own right when chosen to be painted by a famous artist of the time, William Landseer. Of the other four dogs, two were given to the Duchess of Wellington and the other two were given to the Duchess of Richmond.

From these four dogs the first bloodlines in Pekingese were developed in the Western world.

Interest in the little Orientals grew rapidly, but it was not until 1890 that further dogs were either officially imported or smuggled into England. It was not an easy task to get the dogs as the Chinese still distrusted foreigners and it was very seldom, that the Empress would “gift” a dog to a visitor.

The “Old Buddha” as the Empress Tzu Hsi was known, died in 1908 and shortly after her death, following the fall of the Manchu Dynasty, the greatest number of the dogs were destroyed, rather that let the revolutionaries have them. In present day China there is very little known (or even admitted) about this enchanting little dog, and the breed is almost extinct in its country of origin.

It was in 1903 that we have our fist record of Pekingese being brought to Australia, when Miss Nellie Cox brought to Sydney a fawn and white dog called, “Yum Yum.” 

To “Yum Yum” went the honour of being the first Pekingese exhibited in Australia, when he made his debut at the Sydney Royal in 1904. It was not until 1909 that the first Pekingese Kennels were established, these being the famous “Yangtse Kennels” owned by Mrs. N. Nesbitt. Some seventy years later, her granddaughter, Miss J. Nesbitt became a Patron of the Pekingese Club of New South Wales.

Over the years many kennels, well established in other breeds, succumbed to the wiles of this small Oriental charmer and as well, there were many new kennels constantly being established, until in the seventies, the Pekingese became the most popular Toy breed of dog. Many are the individual dogs who have achieved outstanding records in the show-ring, and legion are those who have never graced the ring but have equal records of love and devotion to their masters. Equally at home in the care of an elderly couple or being the centre of attention in a young family, the Pekingese would quickly become a most important family member.

But perhaps the most endearing quality of the Pekingese is his temperament, for that supreme independence and sense of self-importance certainly ensures that he is never “owned” by anyone, but rather, those of us who become enthralled with him, remain forever “owned” by The Lion Dog of Peking.


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