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This edited article about the Pekingese originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 722 published on 15 November 1975.
The Pekingese, weighing a mere ten pounds (4.5 kilos) or less, is a member of the “Toy” group of dog breeds.
According to an ancient Chinese legend, the Pekingese is the offspring of a marriage between a lion and a marmoset! This fable is pure fancy of course, but the true story of this breed is only slightly less bizarre.
The lion dogs of China, as they were called, were holy dogs and the exclusive property of the Chinese emperors. Mentioned in the time of Confucius (551-479 B.C.), these royal dogs were highly revered and never left the precincts of the imperial palaces.
Pampered and cosseted, they lived on quail breasts and woodcock livers and were bred to strict regulations. These are the oldest in the world. Amongst other things, these rules state that “the lion dog’s nose should be like that of the Hindu monkey god, his ears set like the sails of a warjunk and his body like that of a lion lying in wait for its prey.”
Miniature versions of the lion dog were particularly prized and carried within one of their owner’s sleeves.
Towards the end of the Manchu dynasty in 1860, British and French troops stormed the forbidden city of Peking, burning and plundering the imperial summer palace. One miniature lion dog was swept up by General Dunne during the fracas and was later brought back to this country as a gift for Queen Victoria.
Other Pekingese dogs from the looting found their way back to England and created a considerable amount of interest.
Later, in ones and twos, more of these “sacred” Pekingese dogs were gradually smuggled out of China and brought to Britain, but at least one of the men responsible for the smuggling is known to have been put to death for his part in the plot.
The breed was introduced to the general public in Britain at around the turn of the century and soon found favour. After the Manchu dynasty was overthrown in 1911, the Pekingese became virtually extinct in its country of origin, having been destroyed in large numbers by members of the revolutionary movement.
Look out for a small dog, about 9 inches (228 mm) high, with a long, fluffy coat, often fawn in colour, flat face with wide-set protruding eyes and a tail carried close over the back. Its peculiar rolling gait is distinctive.