The Chinese-Shar-Pei: A Basal Breed

The Chinese Shar-Pei is not just an ancient breed, it is a “basal” breed, a term given to breeds which have far less mixed DNA than more “modern” breeds whose true origins are difficult to ascertain for that reason. Six breeds are regarded as “basal,” and the Shar-Pei is one of them.

The breed is believed to date back at least to the Han Dynasty (c.200 B.C.) as evidenced by fired-clay statues which survive (one such statuette is on display in the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco). The Shar-Pei has its origins in Guangzhou, specifically Tai Li, a small village in Kwangtung Province. It was prized as an all-purpose, general utility dog kept by peasant farmers. For their owners, they protected livestock, served as guardian, companion, and hunting dog when pursuing wild boar (thought at least one Orientalist scholar, Jean Yu, insists that the Shar-Pei’s original quarry was the mongoose based on research of manuscripts). Later, the dogs were introduced to a combat role for the amusement and income of gamblers.

When Chinese Communists came to power, they imposed such an onerous tax on dogs that only the extremely wealthy could afford the luxury of owning dogs as pets. Later, an edict not only declared dogs a “decadent bourgeois luxury,” but banned dog breeding altogether. A wholesale slaughter of all dogs by the thousands put the Shar-Pei on the brink of being lost forever, and by 1950, few of the dogs remained, and then only in isolated villages.

Fanciers from Hong Kong and Macao occasionally came across the odd dog, and some sources maintain that the dogs were rescued from vanishing forever by an energetic Hong Kong dog fancier and businessman, Matgo Law. He happened to come across a May 1971 issue of “DOGS” magazine which carried an article on rare breeds, and included a picture of a Shar Pei described as “possibly the last surviving specimen of the breed.” Fearing that one day, Hong Kong might someday become part of the People’s Republic of China and that the wholesale destruction of dogs would happen all over again, Law appealed to Americans through the same dog magazine to save the breed in 1973. The attention was almost immediate, and couple with the Guinness Book Of World Records listing the Shar-Pei as the world’s rarest dog breed in 1978, and effort to import dogs into the USA and UK was successful.

Interest in the breed increased, and the Chinese Shar Pei Club of America was founded in 1974; The breed was accepted into the AKC’s Miscellaneous in 1988 and accepted into AKC non-sporting in 1992. The breed has rebounded beautifully, and one estimate we saw suggests that breed numbers now exceed over 80,000 dogs.

Shar-Pei by DJ Rogers – k9artgallery

35 thoughts on “The Chinese-Shar-Pei: A Basal Breed”

  1. First time I saw A pei was at a rare breed show in the early 70’s
    I was showing Ibizan Hounds.

  2. I have a Shar Pei and he is my first ever Shar Pei and I want to learn as much as possible about the breed, what to feed him he currently eats what I eat, I read the above and found it interesting to

    • Thanks, Marlene! We never stop learning about our glorious breeds!

    • Don’t give them food with soy bean meal, they are allergic to it, n it will cause skin problems.

  3. Great item on one of the most beautiful breeds. Just think if they had disappeared we would have not known what great animals they are. I rescued mine and she has such a lovely soul.

    • We hear that a lot about Shar-Pei, Teresa – that they have old souls!

  4. Acquired my first Chinese Shar-Pei in 1986 after reading an article in an in-flight magazine in the 1970’s with the headline “rarest dog in the world”. He was registered with the Chinese Shar-Pei Club of America, Inc. at #28716. Moving forward three decades I have now been owned by four beautiful Chinese Shar-Pei. For me this is still a very, very special breed that has been thankfully saved from extinction. Wonderful article!

    • Much obliged for the kind words, Terri. You have been part of the effort to preserve this wonderful breed!

  5. I have been the proud owner of two pei in my life. Although this breed is lovely they are not for everyone. Indeed, I would discourage a novice from adopting a pei pup. I made that mistake and here is what I have learned:
    1)Do Not feed this breed “grocery store” dog food. You will end up with multiple vet bills and a miserable pet on your hands.
    2) This is an intelligent, stubborn breed. Unless trained early and often these dogs simply do not do what they do not want to do.
    3) You must, must, must keep this dog’s wrinkles clean. Check weekly for yeast in the ears.
    4) These dogs are snobs. You must earn their love. They do not suffer fools, or strangers, gladly
    5) The Shar-pei is a one person dog. If you are lucky enough to be that person, you will be blessed indeed.

    • We love hearing the opinions based on first hand experience from owners, Kay, so thank you for your practical advice!

      • Couldn’t have said it better Kay, I have my 5 year old Peanut he is definitely stubborn and a mind of his own. I have been privileged i adore him and him me the rarest and most soulful spirited being

  6. Thank you, Mr. Law, where ever you are. The first time I ever seen a Sharpei I stopped my car and just looked into this yard at this amazing creature. I have had three since then – Georgia girl, who was of the Ling Tree Peaches line and lived over 15 years but is now passrd away, and my JoJo who is now two, and Pooh who is now about 10 weeks. These are my soul mates and I can not imagine life with out a Sharpei to love. Again, thank you Matgo Law 🙂

    • We agree with you, Esther, thank you Mr. Law! How many times did it take just one person to get the ball rolling?

  7. My current Peiby is my 3rd…I can still hear my vet asking when I got my first one in 1996, “why did you choose a Shar-Pei”? I said my kids think they are cute, he said, they are very high maintenance. I had no idea what I was in for! Regardless of everything, I would not have another breed. Be prepared for lots of love and loyalty, but also for heartbreak when you lose them. Each one of my peibies has their own unique personality and lives in my heart forever.

    • A lovely testament to having found the right breed for you, Vicki!

  8. Our first Pei we acquired when she was 6 months old. She was wonderful and never did any business in the house, EVER. We thought it was good training before we received her. We have had a black sable coat who was wonderful and from 11 weeks old never did any business in the house. We now have a blue pei and again from 11 weeks old never went in the house, EVER. Cleanist dogs ever, and such good watch dogs and wonderful companions. Our first pei lived 16 years, second 11 years and our third is 11 now and doning quite well, thankfully.

    • We love hearing from owners with first hand knowledge, Terry, thanks for sharing your experiences!

  9. My late husband showed me a picture of a Pei on the front of a magazine in 1987. He said “this is the next dog we are getting”. My response was “this is the ugliest dog I have ever seen!” We got one a couple of years later and then another and I’ll never have another breed again. Most loyal, loving dogs I have ever owned. We have had 10 of them since 1989 (usually 2-3 at a time)

    • LOL, Cheri, the things we say that come back to make liars out of us, right? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as they say, and to add another cliche, to know one is to love one.

  10. We have had 3 Peis and we initially got our first because we heard they were much better to have if you had allergies. We love dogs, but my husband is allergic to the dog dander. As he indicated above, we have had 3 and all had their own personalities & brought great joy to our household. I cannot find a picture of Xiago (none on this computers) but Xiago was wrinkly & fawn colored and she was quite the “princess”! Sasha was the most wrinkled with a beautiful black sable coat & MaiLei is our blue and is our baby (at 11 years old). They are such wonderful companions and incredibly smart…I’m so glad my husband pushed to get a SharPei back in 1990!!!

  11. This artical made good reading, I am the lucky owner of a shar pei and I’d be lost without him, he is my baby so he is very protective of me (even with people I know) , he is loving , caring and knows when I’m upset, he can suffer with separation issues though which isn’t nice for him or me, I put him in a kennel once while we went away, never again he never ate, he was trying to claw at the concrete floor he was ill when he came home , I vowed he would never go in one again .

  12. My Shar Pei mix, Skeeter. Though he is a mix of Shar Pei, St. Bernard, German Shepard and Pit Bull he looks like ancient Chinese paintings of Shar Pei.

    • Thanks for sharing Skeeter’s photo, Doc!! He’s lovely (and is that a little “attitude” we detect on his face?)

  13. We are now with our third Pei. After we lost our second and were crying in the vet parking lot, telling each other we can’t do this any more. It hurts too bad. Not six months later we adopted our third. We love this breed.

    • We were once told years ago that it is a disservice to the memory of a well loved dog not to bring another dog into the family. Bringing in a new dog means that the old dog gave you so much love that there is enough left over to share with another dog. We always liked that sentiment, and yes, having recently lost our own beloved dog, we know all too well the pain. We write this as a new puppy is shredding the hem of the pants we’re wearing. We love your note, Renaie, because it shows that you have found the perfect breed for yourself.

  14. This is my best mate Teddy Bear. We are from Perth Western Australia. Ted is around the 14 years old. Wr have been together for over 12. He had the breed specfic issues. I spent thousands on saving his sight.

    Now Teddy has gone blind and has osteospondalitis. His legs will give away. Im2watching my only living creature I ever loved deteriorate before my eyes. Every hour is different with him.

    Father, (Matgo Law) I am in your eternal debt for giving me the best years of Teddy’s life into mine.

    Teddy is extremely mellow and gentle. My vet said he was the best shar pei he ever met in his career. Not jumpy, cuddly or kissy but aloof and stubborn. But a truely gentke and beautiful soul.

    Teddy will be saying goodbye soon. He gave me the best years of my life and soon the worst day I will ever have.

    Nothing will ever be the same once he has gone.

    The picture was taken on the 19th of Aug 2019

    • Geoff, we’re more sorry than we can say for the pain you’ll be enduring soon. Having just gone through this, ourselves. we know all too well. The time will come when you can think of Teddy without weeping, but sadly, there will be a lot of sadness and tears before that happens. We don’t have to tell you to be grateful for the time you’ve had with this special boy, it’s obvious in your note. We wish Teddy an easy journey when the time comes, and for you, Geoff, we pray you’ll find comfort in your memories sooner than later. Please stay in touch.

  15. I have 3 Pei. My first is a Traditional Bone Mouth which has less health issues than the more modern Western Shar Pei. All 3 of mine are rescues and I wouldn’t have them any other way than what they are.
    Being a basal and primitive breed the training needs to be firm, consistent and very regular to have a dog that is comfortable in today’s society or they will struggle and you will have hard work later trying to rectify what you should have done first.

    • Sounds like sound advice, Tracy, thank you for sharing it with us!

  16. We adopted a Shar Pei from a local rescue more than three years ago. He had been a stud dog in an Irish puppy mill, and was a very worried boy. Nobody knew his actual age, or anything else about him. Sadly, Shar Pei have a reputation for being aggressive, but our Leo is the softest, gentlest dog you can imagine, despite his past. He has all the health issues of the breed (entropion, tiny ear canals, occasional bouts of Shar Pei Fever and mucinosis) but takes it all in his stride. Our vet says that he’s the only Pei that she has never been worried about treating. Til this day he has never barked, and I actually thought that the breed was not able to, until I met another one that barked constantly! Since he joined our pack we have adopted another two rescue dogs, bringing the total to four. Leo was perfect with them from the beginning, but is particularly fond of the subsequently adopted Chow. These two dogs seemed to instinctively know each other from the start. Ancient brothers:-)

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