Dogs in China have traditionally been kept for herding, food and guard duty and viewed as dirty and willing to eat anything, including refuge and garbage. In the old days they were allowed to run loose in the countryside and were periodically collected and slaughtered. Dogs were shunned during the Mao era when one of the worst insults someone you could call someone was a running dog.

Village dogs are often sorry-looking animals. Skittish, mangy and lacking in self confidence, they aimlessly scavenge and drift around, cowering and darting around with their tails between their legs, being shooed from one place to the next.

Beijing is relatively dog-free. Visitors rarely step on dog poop as they do in other cities. During its campaign to host the Olympics, members of the Beijing delegation accused its rival Paris of being too dangerous and dirty because there were so many dogs running around: "It's plain to see that wild dogs and mad dogs have become a potential drag on Paris' bid to host the Olympics. Wild dogs, mad dogs run wild in the street. Paris must handle its dogs before hosting the games." In response the Paris Olympic committee said, "Dogs are dogs. They do the same things everywhere...It's just that there are no dogs in China because they eat them."

Beijing has a one-dog policy restricts the size of pets. As of 2008, a Beijing city ordinance prevented residents from keeping large dogs that stand taller than 35 centimeters at the shoulder. The ban even applies to guide dogs used by blind people. Violators can be fined $650 and have their dogs confiscated

BrinGing Pets to China question ; One-Dog Policy in China ; Dog and Cat Meat Ban ; Dog Life Photos ; Wikipedia article on Chinese Dog Breeds Wikipedia

History of Dogs in China

A DNA study conducted by a Swedish team concluded that East Asia was the most likely the place that domesticated dogs originated. DNA was taken from 654 dogs from around the world and the scientists found the most genetic variation among dogs in China and thus concluded that dogs were most likely to have originated there. The evidence also suggests the transformation from wild dogs to domesticated ones took place around 15,000 years ago.

Some inscribed oracle bones dating to the Shang period (1766-1050 B.C.) mention the rite of ning, which involved dismembering a dog to honor the winds.

There are several different kinds of mastiffs with dogs fitting such descriptions appearing on monuments in ancient Egypt dating back to 3000 B.C. The earliest Chinese reference to mastiffs is in about 1121 B.C. All of these dogs are thought to have originated from dogs in Asia, with the Tibetan mastiff being the most direct descendant of the prototype.

Michael Wines wrote in the New York Times, “Centuries ago, China’s elite kept dogs as pets; the Pekingese is said to date to the 700s, when Chinese emperors made it the palace dog — and executed anyone who stole one. But in the Communist era, dogs were more likely to be guards, herders or meals than companions. Both ideological dogma and necessity during China’s many lean years rendered pets a bourgeois luxury. Indeed, after dogs first began to appear in Beijing households, the government decreed in 1983 that they and seven other animals, including pigs and ducks, were banned from the city. [Source: Michael Wines, New York Times, October 2010]

Communist Dislike of Dogs

chow with black tongue

In 1949, the Communist party banned dogs as a "symbol of decadence and a criminal extravagance at a time of food shortages" and linked dogs with bourgeois sentiments. During the Mao era few people had dogs. During the Cultural Revolution police had orders to shoot any stray dog on sight. This led to near extinction of some breeds.

The People Daily described the practice of keeping dogs as pets as "uncivilized and unhealthy." "First dogs spread rabies and threaten lives," the paper said, "Second they...pollute the environment. And, third, they bark and yelp, frightening and biting people." Pictures in newspapers have shown police hauling away "illicit" German shepherds and a police jeep dragging a dead dog behind it. [Source: Daniel Southerland, the Washington Post]

Addressing the problem of pets as a symbol of wealth, the Peoples Daily reported: "There is already much complaint about the unfair distribution of income in China. If some earn only a meager sum of 300 yuan [$34] a year while others can lavishly spend thousands of yuan on a pet dog, the disparity will give rise to resentment, which may ferment social instability." [Source: Daniel Southerland, the Washington Post]

After Mao died in 1976 dog ownership was tolerated. Deng Xiaoping reportedly had a couple of small pet dogs, and rich Chinese began buying dogs as a status symbol and "a way of showing off."

Increasing Fondness for Dogs

In recent years the image of dogs has improved as the pet-loving Chinese middle class grows and more and more people are snatching up dogs as pets. Among the popular breeds are French poodles and guard dogs such as Rottweilers, which sell for as much as $30,000 a pair. In some places there are special health clubs for dogs that help the animals lose weight.

China’s dog population is growing fast. There were about 58 million pet dogs in 20 major cities at the end of 2009 and the figure is rising about 30 percent each year, according to a survey by Beijing-based magazine Dog Fans. [Source: AFP, February 2, 2011]

Dog ownership has skyrocketed among China’s growing middle class, raising calls for more regulation by the government. In Beijing owners are not allowed to keep dogs taller than 36 centimeters out of concern they might frighten people. This has led to an overpopulation of pekinese, pomeranians and chihuahuas. In late 2000s caramel-colored poodles were the rage. Despite the regulations there are also many large dogs around and their owners don’t seem to feel the necessity to hide them.

Why Dogs Have Become So Popular in China

shar pei
China’s economic success has created more of an interest in dogs and other pets. “People used to be focused on improving their own lives, and they weren’t really acquainted with raising dogs,” sports marketer named and dog owner Qiu Hong told the New York Times. “But with the improvement in the economy, people’s outlooks have changed. There’s a lot of stress in people’s lives, and having a dog is a way to relieve it.” [Source: Michael Wines, New York Times, October 2010]

Michael Wines wrote in the New York Times, “But there are other factors in dogs’ newfound popularity: Many owners also say China’s one-child policy has fanned enthusiasm for dog ownership as a way to provide companionship to only children in young households and to fill empty nests in homes whose children have grown up.” AFP reported, “As the younger generation wait longer to marry and put careers ahead of having children, parents of only children are increasingly lavishing attention on furry companions as a stand-in for the grandchildren they do not have.” [Wines, AFP, Op. Cit]

Dogs in Beijing

As of 2010 there were about 900,000 dogs were registered in Beijing and their numbers were growing 10 percent a year. Thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, more are unlicensed. Michael Wines wrote in the New York Times, “Twenty years ago, there were hardly any dogs in Beijing, and the few that were here stood a chance of landing on a dinner plate.” [Source: Michael Wines, New York Times, October 2010]

“In 1994,” Wines wrote. “Beijing officials relaxed their no-dog policy to “severely restrict” dogs; in 2003, it was changed again to allow anyone to own a dog, but to limit city dogs to no more than 35 centimeters — a bit less than 14 inches — in height. The rule is widely sidestepped by dog lovers who say it is arbitrary and unfair. Daily, thousands of large-dog owners wait until midnight, when police officers are sparse, to walk the inner-city alleys with their beloved golden retrievers, Labradors and German shepherds. A July proposal to ease the restrictions once more, filed with a national legislative advisory body, has drawn nearly 30,000 Internet comments, compared with a few hundred for most other proposals.” [Source: Michael Wines, New York Times, October 2010]

Not all Beijingers love dogs. The New York Times described a Beijing Internet blog called City Dog Forbidden that moderates a spirited debate between dog lovers and those who believe, as one wrote, that dogs “are seriously disturbing the normal lives of other people.” “The birth of humans needs to be planned, but anyone can raise a dog?” asked one incredulous post. “The resources that you conserve from having less people, you give to dogs” This is a very serious problem. Are you saying that people are worth less than dogs?” [Ibid]

Dogs in Shanghai

AFP reported in 2011: “Shanghai was home to 60,000 pet dogs a decade ago, according to state media reports. Officials now estimate the city has 740,000 pet dogs. As dog ownership becomes more common, the city has proposed slashing the annual 2,000-yuan (US$290) registration fee to a one-off 300 yuan to encourage owners to register — and vaccinate — the estimated 600,000 dogs currently not on the books.” [Source: AFP, February 2, 2011]

In recent years there have been problems with unscooped poop and dog attacks, According to the Times of London, . People alarmed by the rising number of dogs say there is not enough space in the congested, densely populated city. An average of at least 100,000 dog attacks are reported each year, and 2009 had nearly 140,000 cases of dog-inflicted wounds, China Daily reported. [Source: Jane McCartney, Times of London, November 13, 2010]

One-Dog Policy in Shanghai

To keep the dog population under control, the Shanghai government has proposed a one-dog policy limiting families to one canine per household. Jane McCartney wrote in the Times of London. “The law would allow one dog per family and require owners to register their pets at a cost of about $45 a year. Residents would also be required to neuter or spay their dogs, and give puppies up for adoption by the time they?re three months old. If passed, the measure would go into effect next year. But as with many policies in China, it was not clear how officials would be able to enforce their new policy. Many Chinese simply do not bother to pay the licence fee for their dogs even though it is technically a crime to do so.” [Source: Jane McCartney, Times of London, November 13, 2010]

AFP reported: “But the rules are likely to be hard to enforce, particularly for those who cannot resist the puppies in pet-store windows. Angel Wu, a 21-year-old university student, paid more than 3,000 yuan to buy a four-month-old chihuahua even though she already had a cocker spaniel because the new dog was “so cute that I couldn’t help buying it.” “I can dress it up with all kinds of fashionable clothes?, she said, holding the dog, which coughed inside a tiny pink winter coat. [Source: AFP, February 2, 2011]

But some pet lovers are concerned that the new policy could lead to more strays and end up harming the animals. “If you can’t find any adopters and the shelters are full, where would the puppies go?” a dog owner named Huang asked China Daily. “I think the government should improve public knowledge about how to raise a dog and how to prevent them from attacking people and littering, instead of forcing us to raise one dog only,” another Shanghai resident, Wang, told the paper. [Ibid]

On the Shanghai Dog forum one dog owner said, “If my dog gives birth to puppies, of course I will keep one. Do they want me to kill the mother? If someday raising dogs is forbidden I will raise many, many cats and let them have many, many kittens!” Another wrote: “We are prepared to keep our dogs at home. Will they break into my house to take them away? Try it if they dare.” yet another wrote, “We should establish a dog party to fight for our rights. If anyone’s dog is taken we should demonstrate.”

Spoiled Dogs in Beijing

Tibetan mastiff
Michael Wines wrote in the New York Times, “Xiangzi — Lucky, in English — is aptly named. A trim Siberian husky, his owner, a Hong, pampers him with two daily walks, a brace of imported American toys and grooming tools, $300 worth of monthly food and treats and his own sofa in her high-rise apartment. When city life becomes too blasé, Ms. Qiu loads Xiangzi in the car and takes him out for a run — on the trackless steppes of Inner Mongolia, seven hours north.” “It’s a huge grassland. Very far, but very pretty,” she said. “He really likes to scare the sheep and make them run all over the place.” [Source: Michael Wines, New York Times, October 2010]

“Some say dogs have become a status symbol for upwardly mobile Beijingers,” Wines wrote. “He Yan, 25, owner of two small mixed breeds named Guoguo and Tangtang, said young Beijingers like her are dubbed gouyou, or “dog friends.” Dogs, she said, have become a way to display one’s tastes and, not least of all, a way to meet people with similar interests. And for a certain class with more money than sense, owning an especially prized breed has become the Chinese equivalent of driving a Lamborghini to the local supermarket.”

“The pinnacle of pretension appears to be the Tibetan mastiff, a huge and reportedly fierce breed from the Himalayan plateau that, lore says, was organized by Genghis Khan into a 30,000-dog K-9 corps. One woman from Xi’an, a city west of Beijing, was widely reported last year to have paid four million renminbi — roughly $600,000 — for a single dog that was escorted to its new home in a 30-Mercedes motorcade. Mostly, though, it appears that Beijing dogs have, as in the West, become objects of affection — even devotion — by their owners. [Ibid]

Dog Services and Products in Beijing

Michael Wines wrote in the New York Times that in Beijing you can “find dog-treat stores, dog Web sites, dog social networks, dog swimming pools — even, for a time recently, a bring-your-dog cinema and a bring-your-dog bar on Beijing’s downtown nightclub row. Those who board their dogs are guaranteed an hour’s daily dog play, a weekly bath and a Web site where, every Monday, they can see fresh snapshots of their pet. The park, which opened last year, is the brainchild of a Beijing dog lover who amassed a fortune in the refrigerator business.” According to Li Zixiao, the park’s sales manager. “Everyone who brings his dog here considers his dog as a child,” he said. [Source: Michael Wines, New York Times, October 2010]

“The city has even opened its own tiny dog park, with a rudimentary kennel, an agility course and a kidney-shaped swimming pool that is as mobbed in summertime as any urban American beach. ..On a given weekend, hundreds of dog owners flock to Pet Park, a 29-acre canine spa east of Beijing that includes a dog-and-owner restaurant, a dog show ring, a dog agility course, a dog cemetery and chapel, a dog-owner motel, an immaculate 600-bay kennel — visitors must step in a disinfectant vat before entering — and two bone-shaped swimming pools.” [Ibid]

At Simba Pet Photography Studio in central Shanghai, the star of the photo shoot is a Yorkshire terrier named Only — not the dog’s owner, a 21-year-old student who gave her name only as Nina.Owners come to Simba, and other studios like it, to immortalise the love they have for their dogs in whimsical portraits. [Source: AFP, February 2, 2011]

At an upscale pet store in the city centre, a 54-year-old woman, who only gave her surname Shen, waved enthusiastically through a window to Kenny, a white poodle, restlessly enduring a one-hour shampoo, style and spa treatment.”My 25-year-old daughter bought him last year. But since she has to work, I walk Kenny twice a day and bring him here every 10 days,” Shen said.”My husband drives us all the way here because this place looks cleaner and more deluxe than those near my home, although it is more expensive,” she said, waving to the dog. [Ibid]

Describing a dog at a health clinic for pets, AFP reported: “With fast flicks, the vet inserts a dozen acupuncture needles up and down Little Bear’s belly and back. The bichon frise is held still with a cone around his neck to keep him from licking them. Little Bear’s owner Zhu Jianmin brought him for acupuncture after hearing it might help the Shanghai dog lose weight. At 15kg (33 pounds), he is 50 percent heavier than the average for his breed. “Sometimes I’ll be working on business documents until: 4.00 am and he stays with me, eating snacks. But he isn’t satisfied with bread. He prefers cheese cake or cream puffs,” Zhu, 50, a medical instrument company boss, said proudly. Little Bear is part of a new class of pampered pooches who are enjoying privileges previously unknown to man’s best friend, thanks to rapidly rising income levels in the world’s second-largest economy. [Ibid]

Dog Registration in China


As of the 1990s foreign residents were allowed to keep dogs if they were vaccinated for rabies and registered with police, but few ordinary Chinese were able to get similar permits because the rabies vaccine was so expensive and in such short supply. In 1995, Chinese authorities passed laws that allowed Chinese to own dogs but required dog owners to pay large annual registration fees and take out insurance for injuries caused by their pets. [Source: Daniel Southerland, the Washington Post]

Large dogs were banned and small dogs could be registered for an initial fee of $600 and an annual fee of $240. Only early in the morning and after 8:00pm were registered dogs allowed to be walked. Many of these rules were made in the early 1990s under Beijing Mayor Chen Xitong, who reportedly hated dogs because he was bitten by one as a boy.

Because licenses in Beijing are prohibitively expensive, most dog owners never bought one. They tried their best to keep their illegal dogs secret and prevent authorities from taking them. In many cases if they got caught they simply gave up their dog and bought a new one for as a little as $12, a fraction of the cost of buying a license.

There was some resentment over these rules. Dog owners who had their dogs taken away protested outside police stations. There was an angry demonstration calling for the resignation of a police officer who killed an unregistered dog in front of its owner.

By 2007 the cost of registering a dog had come down to around $130 but this was still a lot of money for a lot of people who prefer to keep unregisterd dogs. Beginning in May 2008, in the final run-up to the Beijing Olympics, registered dogs in the capital will be required to have a microchip implanted in them to make it easier to tell them apart from unregistered dogs.

Dog Sales in China

Despite the risks it estimated that there were 200,000 dogs in Beijing and Shanghai in the 1990s. In Shanghai, where only 3,700 dogs had licenses, pet owners could go to the Shanghai Naughty Dog Pet Shop and buy their dog a pedicure and shampoo, a baby-bottle-shaped chew toy or a four-pound bag of Australian pet food (selling for US$15). Most of the dogs on sale in the air-conditioned cages were small dogs, such as poodles which sold for about $500 a piece (or the equivalent of a 1½ years salary for an average worker). Large dogs like German Shepherds were much more expensive and had to be specially ordered for delivery in one month. [Source: Daniel Southerland, the Washington Post]

At the Beijing KPK World Pet Zoo, partly owned by a Hong Kong company, foreigners, wealthy Chinese and movie stars shopped for $1,500 poodles, $2,000 Yorkshire terriers and $10,000 Pekingese. Also on sale were baby black tip sharks from Indonesia, selling for $1,000 a piece. An admission price to pet store kept less wealthy clients from wandering in off the streets.

Dogs sold in the illegal market go for about a fifth of the price as those in pet shops. Owners of small unlicensed dogs are very adept at hiding their pets at home or slipping them up their sleeves when the police approach. Illegal dog sellers always to keep an eye out for police. In the 1990s tourists sometimes saw dog vendors dashing down the street with armfuls puppies and a policeman close on their heels.

Those who want to hang out legally with dogs can go to a dog zoo six miles north of Beijing and rent a dog for $1 an hour and it walk around the zoo grounds.

Dog Bites, Rabies, Car Crashes and Dogs as Food in China

Rabies has become a serious problem in China. It kills more than 2,000 Chinese a year. In 2005, rabies killed 2,245 people. Only 3 percent of China’s dogs are vaccinated against the disease. Experts blame the high rate of rabies on the breakdown of the rural health care system. Dog owners in rural areas generally don’t vaccinate their animals because of the expense. A rabies expert at Guangxi University told the New York Times, “Many farmers are reluctant to get shots for their dogs because it’s not always free... The veterinary system at the township level has become very inadequate. There isn’t much investment into the system."

A total 27,096 people were bitten by dogs in the first six months of 1996, an increase of 5.2 percent from 1995, the Liberation Daily reported. The number of cases of rabies in Guangdong Province there rose from 12 in 1996 to 115 for the first nine months of 2003, when worries about rabies prompted the government in Guangdong to kill 170,000 dogs.

In August 2006, the New China News Agency reported that a woman in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia crashed here car while giving her dog driving lessons. “She thought she would let the dog “have a try” while she operated the accelerator and brake.” the agency said. “They did not make it far before crashing into an oncoming car.” No one was injured.

In some cities stray dogs are still snatched off the streets and sold to restaurants. Michael Wines wrote in the New York Times, “ A formal proposal to ban the eating of dogs has been submitted to China’s semi-independent legislature, the National People’s Congress. The proposal’s sponsor, a law professor named Chang Jiwen, told the New York Times he is not so much a dog lover as a China lover. “Other developed countries have animal protection laws,” he said. “With China developing so quickly, and more and more people keeping pets, more people should know how to treat animals properly.” [Source: Michael Wines, New York Times, October 2010]

Eliminating Dogs in China

Authorities in Beijing have periodically launched campaigns to "beat and eliminate" dogs on the streets — especially before important festivals and international events, such as the Lunar New Year and the Asian Games held in Beijing in 1990.

The police claim that most of the dogs are killed humanely with electric truncheons or by strangulation, but many dogs are beaten to death in front of their owners by police officers with long metal poles. Beijing dog catchers, known locally as “da gou dui” or "dog-beating teams," usually spare expensive small breeds as long as home can be found for them outside the city. In Shanghai the dogs are usually caged and carted away to be used in medical experiments and then killed. [Source: Daniel Southerland, the Washington Post]

Sometimes dogs are killed to keep rabies from spreading. In August 2006, authorities called for a massive slaughter of dogs to stem an outbreak of rabies in the eastern city of Jining. Officials there ordered that all dogs found within a five kilometer radius of an area where rabies was found must be killed. A few days later 50,0000 dogs were killed in similar effort in Yunnan Province. Many of the dogs were clubbed to death in front of their owners. Some were rooted out at night by making noises to get them barking. Only military and police dogs were sparred. Sixteen people had died from rabies over eight months n the Jining area.

In a village in Mouding County in southwestern Yunnan Province, where three people died in rabies outbreak, dog owners were ordered to bring their pets to a village square and hang them from a tree. According to official statistic 54,429 dogs were killed in the Yunnan campaign. Afterwards there were rumors of rabies occurring in other places and more dogs were killed.

Many Chinese were outraged by the slaughter. Internet chat lines were filled with chatter on the topic. Pet lovers launched petitions demanding that the killing be stopped. Humane societies filed law suits against the government for demanding the deaths of animals that had been vaccinated against rabies. The discussions went beyond just pet rights and expanded into a condemnation of government for acting arbitrarily and thoughtlessly. Comparisons were also made to human rights in China.

An order in May 2009 to kill all dogs in the town of Heihe, on the Russian border in the far northeast, media reports suggested, was made by a town official who became irate after a dog bit him as he strolled along a river. Town leaders organized teams of police officers and ordered them to beat todeath any dog who ventured into a public space. China National Radio, a state-run agency, broadcast the citizens’ outrage. When we need to walk our dogs now, we have to first go out and look for cops, one dog owner lamented. [Source: Sharon Lafraniere, New York Times, October 25, 2009]

Image Sources: American Kennel Club, poco pico

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated July 2011

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