History of the Shar Pei
Differences of opinion or lack of concrete evidence often complicates the history of the origin and development of some of our breeds. But in the case of the Chinese Shar Pei, no such problems occur; everyone agrees that the Shar Pei has existed for centuries in the southern provinces of his native land bordering on the South China Sea. Over two thousand years ago this was the all purpose, general utility dog kept by the peasant farmers of the area.
The Shar Pei was used for hunting such animals as the wild boar or to protect the livestock from predators, but most of all he served as guardian to his master's home. He was selectively bred for intelligence, for strength, and for the valued "warrior scowl" that would increase his menacing appearance and help to intimidate the barbarian thieves, against whom the farmers were always at war. Nevertheless, because of their strength and appearance, these dogs were introduced to a combat role at a later time in history.
The village of Dah Let, in Southern China's Kwangtung Province near Canton, was at one time known as a gambler's haven. Betting on dog fights was a popular past time and the Shar Pei became a favorite contestant. He possessed stamina and determination, but before a battle, the canine contender was given wine and stimulating drugs to heighten his aggressiveness. But while these developments were taking place in our breed, other fight promoters and gamblers were preceding along a different line. Mastiffs, Bulldogs, and other breeds were brought to China from the West, crossbred, and selected for vicious temperament. The native Shar Pei proved to be no match for these bigger, stronger more ferocious dogs. No longer in demand their breeding was neglected and the numbers rapidly decreased.
But what was to be the near fatal blow of the breed occurred when the Chinese Communists came to power. One of their first moves was to impose heavy tax on dogs that only the rich could afford the luxury of canine companionship. And then a further edict declared dogs a "decadent bourgeois luxury" and banned dog breeding. In 1974 the tax on dogs that still survived was sharply increased.
As a result of all this Communist Party pressure, by 1950 only scattered specimens of the noble Shar Pei f the Han Dynasty were left. From isolated South China villages, fanciers in Macao (Portuguese China) and Hong Kong were able to secure an occasional specimen, but the breed was on the brink of being lost forever.
Just how close the Shar Pei came to losing the battle for survival is shown by the fact that the May 1979 issue of the magazine "DOGS", published in New York, carried an article on rare breeds and printed a picture of a Shar Pei, describing it as "possibly the last surviving specimen of the breed". The story was very nearly accurate, and if a copy of the magazine had not accidentally come into the hands of Mr. Matgo Law, a young and energetic Hong Kong dog fancier, the Shar Pei might well passed into history with out further notice.
But Matgo Law, it turns out, owned several of these dogs and with another fancier, Mr. Chung Ching Ming, had already conceived the idea of a rescue operation to prevent the breed from being lost forever.
These two fanciers feared that Hong Kong might some day become a part of the People's republic of china and that the wholesale destruction of the dogs that had occurred in China would be repeated in Hong Kong. The odds seemed hopeless, but reading the article gave Mr. Law an idea.
With the typical Hong Kong flair of intelligent planning and superior execution, Matgo Law composed a letter to Marjorie Fansworth, Editor of "DOGS". In this letter Mr. Law outlined his plans, enclosed pictures of the few dogs he and Mr. Chung Ching Ming had been able to discover from their diligent search of the area, and ended with a plea for help and co-operation from interested American fanciers.
Publication of his letter and pictures in the April 1973 issue of "DOGS" rocketed the Shar Pei from obscurity and possible oblivion to instant star-status and fame. Over two hundred letters poured in, many from buyers anxious to procure puppies or breeding stock. But because the entire number of dogs known to exist at that time totaled only a dozen or so individuals, it was some months before any sales could be made.
Nevertheless, American enthusiasts did eventually begin to receive a trickle of puppies from Matgo Law and also managed to discover a few more isolated dogs in Macao and Taiwan. Within a couple of years of the Shar Pei premature obituary, kennels had been established in various parts of America.