Chinese websites site periodically publish a list of the country’s top 10 favourite dogs. Amazingly Chinese breeds almost never feature.
Four such lists from the last four years all include: Labradors, Golden Retrievers, Poodles and Samoyeds. Other commonly listed breeds include the Husky, Corgi and Miniature Schnauzer.
But some ask why it is that native Chinese dogs almost never make those lists – after all are there are over 15 breeds to choose from.
The answer is complicated and probably says more about humans than it does about dogs.Recent research increasingly points to the fact that domestic dogs probably evolved in China between 33,000 and 15,000 years ago. From here they migrated westwards, evolving as they went. Over time they migrated back, intermingling with the “breeds” or “landraces” that had branched off earlier.
Over time humans increasingly played a role in the animal’s movements and breeding. But in modern times Europe has taken the lead in ‘creating’ dogs that are best suited to working and living with humans. As European economies developed in the latter half of the last millennium so too did the need for dogs to do specific jobs, such as retrieving game which had been shot, or simply to function as companion animals in the cities.
Meanwhile in China dog development was more glacial. Then fast fast-forward to 1949 when the Communist Party came to power and pet ownership was suddenly considered bourgeois. Breeding largely stopped and many of China’s rare breeds were reduced to the point of extinction (for instance, the Chongqing Dog). This trend was only exacerbated by the collectivisation of farms and the slow removal of hunting as a sport and way of life. The dogs that remained were poorly bred and often treated with ambivalence – they could be guard dogs one day and killed for meat the next.
But as China became richer over recent decades more and more urbanites wanted dogs that clearly played the role of a pet and that had been bred to live with humans.
Chinese see Golden Retrievers and Labradors in foreign television programmes which also adds to their aspirational charm. Corgis and poodles – the most popular foreign-bred dogs in Beijing according to registration records – are also adored for their cute, teddy bear-like qualities.
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