WHAT IS THE SHAR PEI FOR ?

Introduction

Like many spectators in the show, I have succeed in picking up those dogs that the judges were going to award. Susana Lai, one of the assistant instructors in the obedience group asked me how could I do that. Since there were so many breeds and it would not be possible for anyone to know all the breeds' standard. My answer was that I would judge the dog according to its' natural function. For example, if I have to choose a German Sheperd Dog (GSD) as best of breed then I would have to consider the following. The GSD is an excellent and a fine model of a working dog, then I must pick up a one that could and be able to work and last for a day. I shall definitely penalize a nervous or aggressive one no matter how fine a specimen it is. Same principle applies when judging a SP, one must judge the SP according to its' natural function. It is for this reason that I have taken up the advice of our former Chairman, the honorable Mr Justice John Rind to comment about the original function of the SP. A breed that is capable of both hunting and fighting. I shall follow this logic as to advise both the breeder and the layperson alike to pick a sound and proper SP according to its' natural function. It is on this basis that the natural function is being reflected in the standard approved by the HKKC and the FCI.

Where do we begin?

I must stress that in the past, there was never any standard written down in Chinese about this breed. Or, in any other Chinese breeds of dogs. Perhaps, except for the Pekinese, there was record of this breeds movement that the Pekinese was roaming within the forbidden city in a rolling motion. Subsequently, this influenced the standard of the Pekinese movement. Western readers would wonder why we didn't it. They must bear in mind that we Chinese, in particularly, the farmers or people from grass root level had very little chance to be educated in the past. Further more, I have to admit in a rather embarrassing manner that we were not an animal loving nation at a whole. So, this is the reason why there is very little record about the canine history including the SP's breed. To judge or to pick up a good SP would only be rely on what have been said about the criteria of a SP by those who have involved with the breed.

What is Shar Pei for?

One of the old and fundamental criteria for a good SP to fulfill was said to be "Shun Dar". Shun means double while Dar means hit in Cantonese. Hence, briefly speaking, a good SP should and ought to be able to hit its prey, i.e., to hunt and secondly, to hit back or retaliate its aggressor. Perhaps, one can say that to hit ones prey and one's enemy or aggressor means the same thing. Should it be the case, then the SP could be described as a game dog. In many other breed's histories, fighting seemed to be their characteristic. It is for this very reason that the SP was being misunderstood as a fighting breed since it had been used for fighting in the past. The term fighting is a word being avoid by western breeders and of course, such illegal activity must not be encouraged. Indeed, this gives the modern type of breeders the best arsenal to fire at the original school and its' standard that the breeds have now developed into a show breed and hence, we can forget one of its' natural function, i.e. the fighting quality in this breed. The prominent person in the modern type of SP, Mr Matgo Law, advocated to me strongly on this point. To a certain degree, I would agree with him but for different reasons stated below.

Firstly, the SP is and never have been a breed involved in fighting purpose alone. There are other functions it is capable to perform. Secondly, all those people who involved this breed for game purpose in the seventies would agree that the SP have never been able to match the Bull terrier or Staffordshire Bull Terrier. The legionary Big Potato who rescued the reputation of the SP by winning several matches against the Bull terriers was only an exception. To me, he was only a lucky dog on those days. To put it more bluntly, the SP is not really very much a true fighting breed although he can handle himself quite comfortably in facing its aggressors.

To sum it up, although fighting is one of the quality of this breed but the fighting aspect has been over stated and badly interpreted. I shall definitely disagree with Matgo's view that we need not preserve this breed's fighting quality. Matgo gave an example of the British Bull Dog who was once used for fighting purpose and is now the symbol of the British and a show dog. British Bull dog breeders would certainly agree with me that the original type of Bull dog looks very much like the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. T he Staffordshire Bull Terrier is now one of the most friendly breed and yet, it still possesses its ancestor's quality to look after himself when being confronted by aggressor. The temperament of the Staffordshire Bull Terrier may have changed or improved as a show breed, yet its' character, body structure and or built maintained that quality as a dog that was capable to defending itself.

I therefore, concluded and also make analogies between the Bull Dog and the modern Meat Mouth type of SP. In other words, the modern Bull Dog is like the modern meat mouth type of SP, its whole breeding programme involved, designed, manufactured with and by human intervention. As a result, it caused so much health problem that has been condemned by vets from all over the world. While the original type of SP is like the old fashion bull dog that resemblance to the Staffordshire Bull Terrier. So, I could only agree with Matgo that we must improve the temperament of the SP. To enable the breed be acceptable in the show rang but it's natural characteristic and conformation as a game dog must and should be preserved. No doubt, readers would recall my constant sparring partner Li Fook Wah who is of course, the sworn enemy of Matgo, would give his life to defend the breed's fighting quality. Fook Wah insisted that this fighting quality must be retained in the breed's standard. Fook Wah's view represented nearly all of the old boy's sentiment of this breed. I have considered the following statements very carefully because I do not wish to defame any person. Hence, I would consider it a fair comment to Matgo. Credit must be given to Matgo in introducing this breed to U.S.A.. He has become a cult figure to many of your western breeders. But the old boys like Fook Wah, have done equal amount of work quietly, to preserve this breed, they are of giant statute or in a way, very much a guru's of this breed. So their view must also be respected by me.

Finally, I believe this should and ought to be the strongest point on preserving the original characteristic of the breed as a semi-fighting or game dog. I cannot see any possible reason for us to forget and not to preserve our ancestor's heritage. In particularly, being Chinese, it would be unforgivable for me to betray my own culture, to abandon our own treasure by adopting what the westerners see fit. To put it in clean term, I am not going to accept Americanism, to change the breed's standard to suit their market. To compromise the whole situation, I could see that the only solution would be that a new standard could be set by calling it American or modern type of Shar Pei. In that case, they can forget the natural game quality of this breed, they can continue to breed the SP with fold skins, hippo mouth that one cannot see the eye, a new breed that cannot either see or feed itself. Let us venture on another scenario. Let us now put an original SP and a modern type of SP in the Amazon jungle to see if they could survive. I would say none of them could but, I am certain that the original type of SP could at least, last for a couple of more days because they could fulfil the other aspect of the criteria, the other "Dar", be able to hit its' prey, i.e., to hunt for e.g. be able to hunt the rats. Any readers would agree that their SP is a good ratter. Couple with its' body odour, it is a warning to the rat of its' presence. Evidently readers may find that while the SP walk against the wall, it leaves some oily mark with its body scent that could drive the house rodent away. So, is it desirable to keep or to breed a SP that could not maintain that Shun Dar quality? Perhaps, I have again drifted off course but readers must forgive my sentiment to this breed and my duty to speak the truth. The SP is a Chinese breed that through so much trouble, had finally established itself in the canine history. How can I turn around now and tell the whole world that fighting is not one of the quality and leave it out and not mention it in the breed standard. How would I be able to face my ancestors when I reach the other side?

Where should it go?

Since I have concluded that the SP must maintain its' fighting quality then, the next step was to decide which group it should go to. In many breeds' past histories, they were used for both hunting and fighting purposes. In such case, then should game, hunting and or sporting dog be the word to describe this breed. Yet the SP is also capable to look after its' household, it can be a good house dog, a watch dog and a good companion, so where or which group it belongs to? This difficulty was reflected on where this breed should be placed when it was officially recognized by the HKKC. Some old boys said that it should be placed in the hound group since it could hunt. Some were of the view that it should be in the utility group because of the reasons that I have stated. Surprisingly, in a much later stage in Dailack county where the breeds originally come from, I was invited to judge in their first show on the 25th May 1996. The original type was then called a working dog. The modern meat mouth type that was introduced to Dailack about five years ago from Hong Kong was labeled and described by us as non sporting and or appreciated type of dog.

So if the original type of SP is multi-purpose's dog, then the utility group seemed to be the answer. However, another problem arises, say if this breed is capable of doing various jobs, then one can argue that what is its' real natural function. What is then that the breed standard ought to reflect. I trust that we ought to commence our journey with a time machine and travel back in time to China, to see how one would pick a SP from a litter. At this junction, I would say that very much I would love to travel in a time machine and to see this breed in fifty years' times or, if I could live that long. Should I see this breed as what I have seen nowadays, with huge and over grown head, muzzle and with heavily fold skins, then I should know that our efforts have been wasted. For it would tell me that the breeder's interest to this breed means nothing but only for its market value. Should I see healthy dogs that would be able to roam around the fields with speed, to accompany its' owners in the barns, to dig holds in the soil and investigate the vermin. Then I know that the true SP is saved. To quote an old Chinese saying, I could then go with my eyes closed. So, let's move back from the future to the past.

In the beginning

When a litter of puppies was born, the owner would pick up the one that suits his own purpose according to different technique or criteria. Some of those techniques to pick up a dog that was suitable to its purpose could also be based on superstitious beliefs but chiefly, according to experience being handed down. Some criteria or functions of the breed were being recited in poetic phrases. All these techniques to pick up a SP whether by experience or by words have been jealously guard. I shall now firstly translate a poem that gives a general description of a SP. This description was cited to me by Mr C. W. Hau, the scholar that I mentioned in my previous chapter. I do honestly believe that it should be the first general simple standard of this breed. I shall only at this stage, give a brief account as introduction to this heading. I shall go into much more detail in the coming chapter.

Head must be Wulo ear like fork,
Tail carries spear while hip like scrimp

I now have to interpret this to the best of my understanding and beliefs and further with my comments.

Head must be wulo

Head must include the interpretation of the skull itself. Readers would no doubt heard about the wulo head of the SP. Wulo is a kind of Chinese fruit that is round in shape. I personally do not and will not belief that a SP should have a grossly over grown big head. The reasons are as follows:-

Firstly, should the original school or the old boys preferred a huge head then they would have used any other kind of fruit that was bigger than that of the wulo. To have such a big head or skull that we see nowadays is simply against nature.

The second reason follows the first one that to have an over grown head is against nature. I must point out that when I mean head that would include the muzzle as well. So now look into all breeds of dogs including some head type of dogs, like the Chow Chows and the Mastiffs. Their heads are so impressive and by comparison bigger than other breeds but, is it natural to have an over grown head. Say, if w have to cut a dog from the middle, I trust I am not wrong in saying that almost 60% of the dog would be in the front while 40% contain in the remaining part of the dog. The head type of dogs would no doubt, be slightly heavier, perhaps, containing 61 to 62% of the total weight of the dog. Let's look into the painful fact of the modern SP, so many that I have see were grossly over that 60% I have said. As a result, we see dogs front quarters too heavy to move, muzzle too big, lips too thick that interfere with its' bite. Then how could this type survive in the wild? I promise readers that I shall discuss in full and lengthily details into the head in due course.

Fork ear

Fork is not the kind of fork the westerner use on the table for dinning. The fork must be the kind of fork that is triangular in shape that Chinese framers used in the pass. I found it difficult to reconcile with the shell ear that have been prised to be the best kind of ear. So which type of the ear should be more descriptive and appropriate to its' breed standard.

We know that there were many different descriptions to this breeds' ear. To name a few, big horse ears, forward charging ear and golden ear and golden flower ear. These three types of ears should be said as open, erect and or standing ears. My own recollections of the SP that were used for game purposes were nearly all with standing and open ears.

Dogs were used for games that have shell types of ears were of a few. I was told that when the old boys were picking up their dogs from a litter, those that were used for hunting would be those of the fork ears, i.e., the open and standing shape.

I then asked myself why shell ears have been praised all this time. What type should be put in the standard. It is of course, possible for this breed to have both open ear and closed ear. For example, the collie breed has standing ear though not acceptable in the show. In our first breed club show, all the entrants were of pure original SP. There was a dog that has very out standing conformation than many other dogs. I have no alternative but to place him fifth if not because of his standing ear. Otherwise, I would have even placed him higher. I understand that we must uniform the ear. Hence, the popular ear, i.e., the shell type must prevail.

But how does the popular shell type of ear reconcile with what I labeled as the first standard, the fork ear? I hope and ask for reader's forgiveness because I cannot pretend to have all the answers. I can only interpret what I know to the best I can. Hence, I placed a fork downward and then upward, i.e. by using the tip of the fork facing down to the ground and found the fork bridge up. Since the fork itself is triangular in shape, then perhaps, it could be said as a shell shape when facing downward. It would now seem logical that when I placed the fork upward where the tip of the fork is facing up, the fork is of open or standing in triangular shape. So, this should be the answer or perhaps, is the fork description a grey area, left by the old boys in their wisdom for us to guess.

Tail carrying spear

The original word spear was some times translated as gun which including rifle. I found it illogical that it should be a gun. The reason since in those early days, how could the farmers and or hunters afford to have guns. Anyway, if one have to carry a rifle like the western solders, then the tail is pointing backwards. While in carrying a spear in a battle like conditions then it must be forward. Hence, whichever types of tail the SP has, it must carry well over its crop. I admit it was an oversight not to put it down in the standard. To my personal experience and I would dare to say it reflects the old school's view that "no good tail no good fighting SP". In other words, I do not forgive any SP with a drop tail. The reason is a simple one. According to the rules in the game, when any dog drops its tail, i.e. put it in between its legs in any meeting, then that dog will loose it's fight. At this point, I must depart from the tail aspect and move on to a slightly different aspect as fighting since we have now touched this sensitive subject, I shall put up my strongest argument that the meetings in the past were no doubt cruel but not unnatural. Because dogs do fight for territory and in mating seasons. Any opponent which barks for submission or puts its tail between the legs is a sign of submission. That is to say, the meetings in the old days were natural according to this jungle rule. That is the reason why I said that the SP is not a breed just fighting. It is not a breed designed to kill in a fight, it will never be a match to those well known fighting breed such as the Pit Bull Terrier. In fact, I am glad about it, for that was the strongest reason I could convince the old boys to forget about the game and take their dogs to the show instead.

Hip like scrimp

No doubt would recall that in the breed standard, the back was said to be straight. So the description of scrimp like is describing a back that is not in level. It would please the readers that the There could be some confusion as to the interpretation as to the hip. The reason is because of the difficulties in translation and interpretation. The hip here including the waist area in Chinese, to a certain extent referring to the loins and back area. Indeed, some old boys actually recited it as scrimp back.

Readers explanation is a simple and a satisfactory one. Again, we must refresh our memories that this essay is about the original function of the breed, which is capable to defend. The hip is the strongest or by comparison, the roundest muscle to produce a springing force. Hence, by touching the back and loin area of the SP, then one can find that the dog should crouch up immediately like a scrimps. We Chinese believe that this would give the dog a more powerful push in a match while standing to wrestling each other to the ground. To further satisfy the other element of hitting its prey, no doubt, the scrimp back description would give the dog a powerful impression of going forward. I would comment that the wulo head, fork ear and spear tail give the description of the dog while scrimps hip or back gives the dynamic description of the breed.

Conclusion

The whole essay reflected the importance of the game or hunting quality of this breed. No Chinese, which ever school he belongs to, could be able to dispute the original description or the simple standard referred gives the general picture of a fighting dog. Hence, this quality must be preserved. I do accept that fighting is definitely not the main and only quality of this breed but without this quality, then I can only see a very inactive and a slow fold skin dog.

 

NELSON LAM
SHAR PEI CLUB (HONG KONG)