The Chinese Shar-Pei is a very old breed. Unfortunately, due to the absence of a documented history of dogs developed in China, much of what is known about the Shar-Pei is conjecture and speculation. It is thought that the Shar-Pei was a peasant’s dog for centuries, bred to hunt, herd and protect given its versatility and intelligence. It is also thought that the breed was developed in China specifically for use in organized dog fights for “entertainment,” with its loose skin making it difficult for opponents to gain a tight grip and thereby helping to protect it from injury. Apparently, several misfortunes befell the breed. First, the dog-fight organizers began importing much larger and more vicious dogs from Europe, with which the smaller Shar-Pei could not compete. In addition, after the People’s Republic of China was established, the Communist rulers opposed ownership of domestic dogs, seeing them as a sign of Western decadence, and set about slaughtering virtually any dog they could find. This led to the barbaric destruction of thousands of beloved pets and the eradication of most of the Chinese dog population. A few Shar-Peis survived and were bred and shown in British Hong Kong and in Taiwan (the Republic of China).
The breed was first recognized by the Hong Kong Kennel Club in the 1960s. However, registrations were discontinued in 1968, only to resume twenty years later when the Hong Kong and the Kowloon Kennel Association established a new dog registry in 1988. A few Shar-Peis were imported to the United States from stock registered with the Hong Kong Kennel Club. The American Dog Breeders’ Association registered the first Chinese Shar-Pei in October of 1970. In 1973, a breeder in Hong Kong appealed to fanciers in America to “save the Chinese Shar-Pei,” because he feared that the Communist government would entirely eradicate the breed during its attempt to eliminate companion dogs. As a result of this plea and the breed’s uniqueness, a number of Shar-Peis came to the United States in 1973. The Chinese Shar-Pei Club of America was organized in 1974 and held its first National Specialty show in 1978. The Shar-Pei was accepted into the American Kennel Club’s Miscellaneous class in 1988, was admitted to the AKC Stud Book in June 1992, and became eligible for full competition in the Non-Sporting Group two months later.
In 1978, the Guinness Book of Records called this the rarest breed in the world, with only 60 Shar-Peis still known to be alive. Today, it is well-established in the United States and appears safe for the foreseeable future. In his book called “Dogs,” author Desmond Morris summarizes the Shar-Pei as follows: “It must have a head like a Wu-Lo melon, ears like clamshells, a nose like a Guangzhou cookie, legs like Pae Pah musical instruments, a back like a shrimp, a tail like iron wire, a face like a grandmother, a neck like a water buffalo, a body like a wun fish, an anus that faces the sky, a rump like a horse, feet like garlic, toenails like iron and a mouth like a mother frog or a roof tile.”
The average lifespan of the Chinese Shar-Pei is between 9 and 10 years. The deep skin folds of this breed can become infected, and the heavy skin around the eyes can require surgical correction. Breed health concerns may include generalized demodicosis, allergies, congenital idiopathic megaoesophagus, hiatal hernia, hypothyroidism, patellar luxation, pyoderma, amyloidosis, hip dysplasia, mast cell tumors, entropion (upper and lower eyelids; very common and very severe), “cherry eye”, cataracts, renal and urinary infections, and a number of other eye and skin disorders.