The Pekingese or 'Peke' is truly an 'IMPERIAL' dog, with a history dating back as far as 2000 B.C. For Centuries the Pekingese was worshipped in the temples of China, and was custom for the emperor to select four Pekes who were to become his 'bodyguards'. These four Pekes would precede the emperor on occasions of state, two of them announcing his approach at correct intervals with sharp, piecing barks, the other two daintily holding the hem of his royal robe in their mouths. THEFT of a Peke, or Injury to one of them was considered to be a crime punishable by DEATH.
In 1898 the first Pekingese came to America. They were admitted to the A.K.C. registry in 1906.
Pekingese has since been extremely popular in the USA, ranking in the top 25 on the AKC's registrations listing.
The following is a history printed in the Pekingese Club of America Yearbook from 1992. It was written by a (now deceased) well-known (both California and Connecticut) breeder, Alice Wilson. I think it has a fair bit of detail in it which I think is interesting: A Brief History of the Pekingese Dog by Alice Wilson
We have all read many interesting histories of our beloved Pekingese, most of them going back to the old legend of the lion who fell in love with a marmoset. In order for him to be wedded to his lady love, the lion begged the patron saint of the animals, name Ah Chu, to reduce him to the size of a pigmy but to let him retain his great lion heart and character. From the offspring of this union descended the dogs Fu Lin, or the Lion Dog of China.
They became the special pets of the Chinese Emperors, and these likenesses were found in art of all kinds - screens, vases, pottery, and sculpture. Dogs of this description were mentioned in the time of Confucius, and in the first century they told of "little dogs"
They were the constant companions of the Emperor, and as he made his way to the audience room, many of the little fellows led the procession, announcing his arrival with sharp little barks for all lesser mortals to avert their faces. (At night they carried little lanterns strapped to their necks.) More little dogs followed, holding their heads high and carrying in their mouths the Emperor's train. They were held in such affection and esteem by their masters that they were often given titles such as "Viceroy" or "Imperial Guardsmen".
It was during the Tao Kuang period (1821-1851) that the breeding of these little dogs - now called Pekingese - reached its height. Records of pedigrees were never kept, but Imperial Dog Books, illustrated with the most admired dogs, were used as a standard, and breeding was the subject of much thought and many elaborate theories. Prenatal impression was the method most in vogue. Mothers were taken several times daily to see pictures and sculptures of the most beautiful dogs, and then colors desired were hung in their sleeping quarters, and they slept on sheepskins to suggest a profuse coat. Spectacle marks around the eyes, in keeping with the huge horn-rimmed spectacles worn by officials and the literate, were desired, as to confer a look of wisdom and learning.
All-white dogs - partly because of rarity and partly from the fact that white is the color of mourning in China - were greatly prized and the subject of much superstition. When one appeared, it was believed to be the spirit of some great man and was generally kept in the Temple and treated with profound respect.
During the reign of Empress Dowager Tsu Hsi (known as "Old Buddha"), in order to gain prestige, she surrounded herself with diminutive "lion dogs," insisting that their resemblance to the lion be as close as possible. The great Lama Buddha was always accompanied by a small pet dog which, at will, became a lion on whose back the Buddha rode through the heavens, with power to call from his fingertips tiny lions which, in the hour of need, became great beasts and attacked his enemies.
It then became even more important that the little dogs have more feathering and a greater width of muzzle. A white spot on the forehead was a feature greatly prized, as the traditional lion was represented as holding an embroidered ball between his feet. Embroidered balls were always the playthings given the young dogs - and so they are today!
In 1860, when Allied troops occupied Peking, five dogs were found in a secluded corner of the Summer Palace beside their attendants, who had committed suicide rather than be captured. Admiral Lord John Hay and another naval officer each took two. The fifth was taken by General Dunne, who later presented her to Queen Victoria, who christened her "Looty." Looty's portrait by a distinguished painter still hangs in Windsor Castle. The two little Pekes who found their home with the Duchess of Richmond were given the prefix "Goodwood" and were the foundation of the breed in England.
In 1896 Mrs. Douglas Murray made a sensational appearance with the two finest specimens yet seen. Her husband, who had large business interests in China, had succeeded, with much patience and wire-pulling, in obtaining them. These two were later famous throughout the Pekingese world as "Ah Cum" and "Mimosa." Knowing nothing of any other kennels, Mrs. Murray was astonished one day to be chased down the street by Lady Algernon Gordon-Lennox who, in passing, had caught a glimpse of the two Pekes. These two ladies later joined forces, and to them jointly goes the honor of producing the first English Champion, "Ch. Goodwood Lo." The next Champion was "Ch. Goodwood Chum," and these two, fortunately, were terrific sires and were an incalculable influence on the breed.
In 1898 a standard of points was drawn up, and in 1904 the Pekingese Club of England was founded. About this time the Alderbourne Kennel was started by Mrs. Clarice Ashton-Cross and her four daughters on a combination of Goodwood-Murray-Manchu and the Broadoak-Goodwin-Pekin-Prince blood lines. It was destined to e one of the greatest English kennels and put the stamp of the Alderbourne name in all the finest pedigrees.
The impetus given by the founding of the Pekingese Club and the establishment of Peke classes at dog shows gave a remarkable value to the dogs. Breeders of all sorts flocked into the game, some either ignorant or indifferent to the standard originally established. The Pekin Palace Dog Club was soon formed to protect this standard.
In spite of the limitations imposed by this Club (a 10-lb. weight limit and a policy of quality rather than quantity), it prospered and has impressed its policy on its members (and even today many English Champions are under 10 lbs.).
With the Empress Dowager's death in 1911, the long reign of the Pekingese in China came to an end. Rather than let the little dogs fall into unworthy hands, the court officials killed the great majority of them; the few that escaped disappeared into private homes, leaving no trace.
But the breed was now firmly established in the west, so it was not lost. In 1921 there began the curious paradox of returning breeding stock to China. But again these were lost during the Communist Revolution. Thus, to the original looting of the Palace and carrying away a few of these little dogs we owe the survival of our wonderful Pekingese breed.
Originally, in old China dogs were kept for what they were intended - either for hunting, guard, sheep dogs or palace pets - yet without the spur of showing and the skill and work of dedicated Pekingese lovers, we should not have the Pekingese of today, far more beautiful and hardy than the original Chinese. "They are a triumph of cultivation; the gardeners of the Summer Palace who curled the chrysanthemum petals and gently coaxed the peony buds into full flower would have understood."
- Alice Wilson was a highly respected breeder/judge
well-known for her WEST WINDS PEKES in Wilson, Connecticut.
Information based upon the FAQ created by Steve Reed and information from others.