Differences of opinion or lack of concrete evidence often complicates the recording of the history and development of many breeds. But, in the case of the Shar Pei everyone agrees that this breed has existed in China for centuries. More than 2000 years ago the Shar Pei was the all-purpose, general utility dog kept by the peasant farmers of the Southern provinces bordering the South China Sea.
Although the Shar Pei mainly served as guardian of his master's home they were also used to protect livestock from predators and to hunt animals such as the wild boar. Selectively bred for intelligence, strength and his valued "warrior scowl", the Shar Pei's menacing appearance also helped to intimidate barbarian thieves against whom the farmers were always at war.
The village of Dai Lek, near Canton in Southern China's Kwantung Province, was at one time known as a gambler's haven. Betting on dogfights was a popular pass time and the Shar Pei became a favorite contestant. Although they had strength, stamina and determination they were given alcohol and other stimulants before a contest.
Fortunately for our breed some fight promoters and gamblers brought in Mastiffs, Bulldogs and other similar breeds from the West. These dogs were selected for vicious temperaments and crossbred to produce bigger, stronger and more ferocious dogs. The native Shar Pei proved no match for these fierce fighters. No longer in demand, breeding was neglected with the result that the number of Shar Pei decreased rapidly.
The Chinese Communists dealt the near fatal blow to the Shar Pei in the 1940's. They imposed such heavy taxes on dogs that only the extremely wealthy could afford the luxury of canine companionship. Dogs were declared a "decadent, bourgeois luxury" and dog breeding was banned.
The result of all this pressure was that the 1950's left only a few scattered specimens of the noble Shar Pei of the Han Dynasty. Fanciers in Macao and Hong Kong were able to rescue and procure the occasional specimen, but the breed was on the brink of extinction.
Just how close the Shar Pei came to losing it's battle for survival is
mirrored in the May 1971 issue of the magazine "DOGS" (published
in New York). This issue carried an article on rare breeds and included a
picture of a Shar Pei, describing it as "possibly the last surviving
specimen of the breed".
Matgo Law, a young, energetic Hong Kong dog fancier owned several Shar Pei. He and Mr. Chung Ching, another fancier, had already conceived the idea of a rescue operation. They feared that Hong Kong might someday become a part of the People's Republic of China and that the wholesale destruction of dogs would be repeated in Hong Kong. The odds seemed hopeless, but reading the "DOGS" article gave Mr. Law an idea.
With the typical Hong Kong flair for intelligent planning and superior execution, Matgo Law composed a letter to Margaret Fansworth, editor of "DOGS". In his letter Law outlined their plans and enclosed pictures of the few Shar Pei they had been able to rescue. He ended with a plea for help and co-operation from interested American fanciers.
Publication of his letter in the April 1973 issue rocketed the Shar Pei from obscurity and possible oblivion to instant fame and star-status. More than 200 letters poured in - most from buyers anxious to obtain puppies or breeding stock. But, the entire number of Shar Pei known to exist at that time totaled only a dozen or so individuals and it was some months before any orders could be filled.
Matgo Law managed to discover a few more isolated dogs in Macao and Taiwan and eventually American enthusiasts began to receive a trickle of pups from him. Within a couple of years of the Shar Pei's premature obituary, kennels had been established in various parts of America and today the breed is loved and owned worldwide.
© Dragon Lady