Although dogs are very frequently depicted in Chinese artwork, they are very rarely mentioned in Chinese literature. Even more problematic is the fact that until very recently, there was almost no interest in canine historical research in China until the last 15 or so years. This lack of evidence makes it nearly impossible to make any definitive statements on the history of the Chinese Chongqing Dog, or any of China’s breeds for that matter. This makes anything said about the Chinese Chongqing Dog’s history prior to the 1980’s little more than speculation, although enough evidence exists to make some general statements. What is clear is that the Chinese Chongqing Dog was developed in China many centuries ago, and that it has always been associated with Chongqing and Sichuan. Based on a number of physical and temperamental features such as a solid blue-black tongue and facial wrinkles, the Chinese Chongqing Dog is almost certainly closely related to two other Chinese breeds, the Chow Chow and the Shar Pei.
Dogs were either the first domestic animal in China or one of the first two along with the pig. It is unclear how the dog was introduced to China and there are three competing theories. Some claim that the dog was first domesticated in China, and that all dogs are the descendants of a small population of Chinese wolves. Others claim that the dog was first domesticated in Tibet, India, or the Middle East and subsequently spread to China through trade and military conquest. Finally others believe that the dog was domesticated simultaneously in China and another location in Asia and the two populations eventually merged. Regardless, the dog was present in China for as long as the Chinese civilization has existed. Dogs were definitely kept by the first Chinese farmers, and almost certainly by their nomadic hunter-gatherer ancestors. The first Chinese dogs probably served the same roles as their counterparts elsewhere in the ancient world, as guardians, hunting aides, companions, and sources of food and hides.
It is unclear what these first Chinese dogs looked like, but most experts agree that they were virtually identical in appearance and temperament to a number of primitive breeds found throughout the world including the Dingo of Australia, New Guinea Singing Dog of Papua New Guinea, and the Carolina Dog of the United States. In fact, dogs which could be classified as Dingoes are still sometimes found throughout Southern China. These early dogs were probably descended from the smaller, less aggressive wolves of southern Asia and were best adapted to life in tropical and subtropical climates. In order to adapt to life in the frigid climates found in mountainous regions and Northern China, the first Chinese Dogs were almost certainly crossed with the larger, more-heavily furred wolves found in those regions. The resulting cross-bred dogs are known in the West as Spitzen. At a somewhat later date, the Tibetan people developed two distinct types of dogs, probably as a result of crossing the early dogs with Tibetan wolves. One was a very large and powerful guarding breed which became known as the Tibetan Mastiff. The other was a small and affectionate companion animal. Both types were brachycephalic, meaning that they had short, pushed-in faces, and possessed wrinkled faces. Trade and conquest eventually introduced both breeds to China where they became well-established. These four types of dogs, primitive Dingo-like dogs, Spitz-type dogs, Mastiff-type dogs, and Pug-like companion breeds, were regularly crossed resulting in all of today’s Chinese breeds.
An image of a rodent-trapping dog exists in rock paintings adorning the Han-era cliff tombs of Qijiang, Sichuan province. Courtesy of Dai Wangyun
At some point, the Chinese developed a unique type of dog, probably by heavily crossing all four ancestral types. This type was typified by loose, wrinkly skin, medium size, a curled tail, a low-set stocky body, and a blue-black tongue. Although it is unclear, these blue-black tongued dogs were almost certainly multipurpose dogs, used for hunting, property guarding, and sources of food. This new type was very well-established throughout China by the time of the Han Dynasty, which ruled China from approximately 206 B.C. until 220 A.D. These dogs were very frequently depicted in Chinese artwork, especially statues, and are known as Han Dogs due to their popularity during that time. These pieces show a dog that is remarkably similar, if not identical, to modern day Chow Chows, Shar Peis, and Chinese Chongqing Dogs. There is substantial dispute among fanciers of all three breeds as to which of those three breeds the Han Dog represents, but the full truth will probably forever remain a mystery. In the opinion of this author, the Han Dog exhibits characteristic features of all three dogs and probably actually represents a common shared ancestor which was subsequently developed into a number of new breeds.Until 1997, the city of Chongqing and its immediate surroundings were part of the ancient Chinese province of Sichuan, which has long served as Tibet’s eastern border. Sichuan is famous for its mountainous terrain, unique culture and cuisine, and speech, which is either a unique dialect or language depending on the expert. A unique dog breed developed around Chongqing, which is considered one of the most important, wealthy, and powerful cities in China. This breed was different from all other Chinese dogs for a number of reasons, including possessing a straight, hairless tail known in Chinese as a bamboo tail. Each valley and municipality had a unique name for the breed, and the Chinese Chongqing Dog has probably been called dozens of different names throughout the centuries. Chinese dog breeders were much less involved than their European counterparts. The Chinese Chongqing Dog was not deliberately bred, although a fair amount of indirect selection was conducted (only those dogs which were most favoured were kept alive to breed). This meant that most of the Chinese Chongqing Dog’s development was the result of natural pressures, and also that the breed was considerably less inbred.
The farmers of Chongqing and Sichuan lived very difficult lives, and they often did not have enough food to feed their families. These men and women could not afford to keep a dog unless it served several purposes. The Chongqing Dog was primarily used for hunting. The breed was used to hunt most of the region’s species including deer, rabbits, antelope, wild goats, boar, ground birds, and even tiger. Unlike most breeds which either hunt alone or in a pack, the Chinese Chongqing Dog can hunt either way. The Chinese Chongqing Dog not only helped provide its owners with meat and hides, but also allowed them to kill and drive off predators which would otherwise have killed their valued livestock. At night, the Chinese Chongqing Dog was used as a guard dog, protecting its home and family from both wild beasts and ill-intentioned humans. The breed also served as a pet for local families, providing companionship and affection. Those breed members that were not skilled at performing the various tasks assigned to them were usually eaten as food themselves, providing a valuable and rare source of protein.
The Chinese Chongqing Dog became very well-known around the city of Chongqing and throughout Eastern Sichuan. However, the breed remained essentially unknown outside of its homeland, even in the rest of China. The breed remained essentially unchanged in its homeland for centuries, continuing to serve as a multipurpose working dog. The introduction of modern technology and farming methods in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries led to a massive population boom, and by the middle of the 20th Century Sichuan province was home to a massive population which at one point exceeded 100 million people. 100 million people require a large amount of agricultural land to feed them, and most of Sichuan’s remaining wild areas were cleared to make room for farming. This left little land for the Chinese Chongqing Dog to hunt on, and the breed began to be kept primarily as a guard dog and companion.
Museum in China depicting an early dog
After a protracted and bloody civil war which was interrupted by World War II, the Communist rebels under the leadership of Mao Zedong took control of mainland China. Official Communist thought held that dogs were the useless playthings of the rich and that keeping pets was an unnecessary strain on resources. The keeping of pet dogs was outlawed throughout China and untold millions of dogs were deliberately killed. Pet dogs essentially disappeared from Chinese cities and vast areas of the countryside. This purge resulted in the total and complete extinction of most Chinese breeds. Most Chinese Dogs which managed to survive were those such as the Chow Chow and Pekingese which had already become established in the West prior to the purge or those from Tibet such as the Tibetan Mastiff which were specially protected in the autonomous region. It is believed that only two breeds managed to survive on mainland China. One was the Shar Pei, which was saved by breeders in Hong Kong, which was actually a British territory until 1999. The other was the Chinese Chongqing Dog.
The Chinese Chongqing dog was saved from extinction by a combination of two factors. The first was that it was primarily found in a remote mountainous region where governmental control was comparatively weak. The other was that it was kept as a working dog and was therefore exempt from the worst excesses of the slaughter. A small number of owners in remote Sichuan Valleys continued to breed these ancient animals, although they were kept essentially entirely as working dogs.
By the late 1980’s, Mao Zedong had died and China’s new leadership had slightly different ideologies. China began to initiate a number of reforms designed to produce a more effective and free-market economy. The keeping of pet dogs was once again allowed after more than 30 years of being banned. The Chinese also began to conduct more research into their nation’s historical past. Numerous statues of Han Dogs were discovered in archaeological digs throughout Sichuan. A few researchers noticed that the local dogs of the region were very different from other Chinese breeds, and were nearly identical to statues of Han Dogs. By the early 1990’s, pet ownership had become very popular in Chinese cities such as Chongqing. Because the only source of dogs at the time was the countryside, many dogs were imported from rural regions. The Chinese Chongqing Dog became increasingly popular in the city of Chongqing and breed numbers began to grow for the first time in decades. Some Chinese Chongqing Dogs were crossed with other varieties, which may have introduced new colours into the breed such as black.In 1997, the Chinese government decided that Sichuan Province had become too populous to serve as a single province. The city of Chongqing and surrounding parts of Eastern Sichuan were separated to form a new province, Chongqing. The Chongqing Pet Association took a major interest in the region’s only native breed. In order to end confusion as to the breed’s name, the Chongqing Pet Association officially renamed the dog the Chinese Chongqing Dog in the year 2000. In 2001, the Chinese Chongqing Dog Promotional Committee was founded. The group’s aim was to promote the breed and increase its population throughout China and the world. The group met with Western experts to develop a written standard which was officially published in 2001 on the group’s website. This website was the breed’s first introduction to the rest of the world and significantly increased global interest in the breed. The Chinese Chongqing Dog Promotional Committee carefully hand-selected a number of breeders in the United States, European Union, and Canada to export their dogs to. Additionally, a number of breed members were acquired by fanciers throughout China. The breed was beginning to show signs of recovery until disaster struck once again. In 2003, a SARS outbreak spread throughout China. In order to combat the deadly disease, the Chinese government killed most of Chongqing’s canine population, including the majority of Chinese Chongqing Dogs. This most recent purge almost resulted in the breed’s extinction. Today, the Chinese Chongqing Dog is considered to be one of the rarest breeds on earth. The breed’s total global population is slow low that it is thought that there are fewer purebred Chinese Chongqing Dogs on earth than there are Giant Pandas, another creature that has only survived until the present day by hiding deep in the Mountains of Sichuan and Chongqing. There are currently well under 2,000 purebred Chinese Chongqing Dogs remaining, the vast majority of which are owned by a small number of breeders and fanciers in the city of Chongqing and its suburbs.
Although breed numbers remain very low, the future of the Chinese Chongqing Dog is looking brighter. In addition to increased interest around the world, there is substantial and growing interest in the breed throughout China. This growing interest closely corresponds to a growing Chinese interest in native breeds. Chinese dog owners covet purebred Chinese breeds as symbols of national and cultural pride. This reached its peak when a Tibetan Mastiff (which the Chinese consider a native breed, much to the chagrin of the Tibetans) sold for more than $1,000,000 in United States currency. This national interest is starting to seep down to the Chinese Chongqing Dog which is becoming desirable across China. In 2006, the Chinese Chongqing Dog club(CCDC) was founded in Beijing, the Chinese capital. The CCDC collected the finest available specimens from around Chongqing to use in its breeding program. Luckily for the Chinese Chongqing Dog, it now has four separate organisations designed to protect and promote the breed around the world, the CCDBC, Chongqing Pet Association, Chongqing Kennel Club, and Chinese Chongqing Dog Promotional Committee. Although this breed does not yet have many fans and owners, those that it does have tend to be extremely dedicated. It is hoped that breed numbers will dramatically increase in the near future and that the breed will become very well-established throughout the entire world.
Until the last 30 years, the Chinese Chongqing Dog was kept almost exclusively as a working dog, especially during the period which lasted from 1949 until the late 1980’s. Prior to the 1950’s, the breed’s primary role was as a hunting dog, but very few breed members are still used for that purpose today. The modern Chinese Chongqing Dog serves two primary functions, companion and guard dog, although many individuals perform both tasks. Those few individuals living outside of China are virtually all kept as companion animals, especially by those interested in rare pets. As interest in dog shows and pet dogs grows throughout China, the Chinese Chongqing Dog will probably become primarily a companion animal and a show dog, which is where the breed’s future most likely lies.