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The Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival or Lunar New Year, is the celebration of a new year and the end of winter according to the traditional lunisolar calendar. The first of the 15-day holiday begins on the new moon, which occurs between January 21st and February 20th. To celebrate, here's a list of five Chinese dog breeds that have been around for thousands of years.
The Chow Chow, with it's distinctive fluffy "lion's mane" around the neck and shoulders, is one of the oldest dog breeds. Depictions have been found dating back to China’s Han Dynasty around 206 BC, though evidence suggests the breed existed before that. Chows are all-purpose dogs who have had many roles over their long history - from noble companions to hunters to guard dogs to working dogs. Their rise in popularity began after Queen Victoria owned one in the later 1800s. Around the same time, they made their way to the U.S. and were officially recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1903.
The Chinese Crested Dog dates so far back in time that its exact origins are unknown. Educated guesses theorize that large hairless dogs were brought from Africa to China, where they were bred and refined to produce the smaller, hypoallergenic dog it is today. Once perfected, Cresteds were brought aboard trade ships for pest control, as they were experts at exterminating disease-bearing rats. Their travels brought the Crested all over the world, with Europeans recording them in Asia, Africa, Central America and South America. In the late 1800s, the breed made its way to the U.S. and the American Chinese Crested Club was formed in 1979. The breed was officially recognized by the AKC in 1991.
The origin of the Pekingese is unknown because they are also so ancient. A Chinese legend says they were created by the Buddha, who shrunk down a lion - perhaps because they have a "lion's mane" from where their coat is longest at the neck and shoulders. What is known is that the Pekingese were companion dogs to the ancient Chinese ruling class and nobles, who bred them (among other flat-faced lapdogs on this list) for centuries. Supposedly, stealing one was punishable by death. The Pekingese was kept secret until 1860, when Britain invaded Peking (Beijing) during the Opium Wars. The dogs were brought back to Queen Victoria, after which their popularity arose. They arrived in the U.S. in the 1890s and were recognized by the AKC in 1906.
Pugs are one of the more popular dogs around the world today. But the breed dates back thousands of years, when ancient Chinese emperors and ruling families bred Pugs to be their companions and ideal palace dogs. They had an affinity for flat-faced breeds, which they considered highly valuable. Sometime in the 1500s, Dutch traders brought the breed back to Europe, prompting their rise in popularity. In the 19th century, Queen Victoria developed a passion for the breed. Pugs made their way to the U.S. around the same time and were officially recognized by the AKC in 1885. Although these small dogs once lived in large and lavish residences, they're content living in apartments today.
One of the most unique dog breeds is the Shar Pei, also known as the Chinese Shar Pei. This wrinkly ancient breed, native to China's south provinces, dates back to the Han Dynasty. Shar Peis are believed to have been a peasant's dog and thus were all-purpose work dogs with many roles - from hunting to herding to guarding. In the 20th century, political turmoil in China nearly wiped out the entire breed. But a few survived in Hong Kong and Taiwan, allowing for a resurgence. The breed's documented history in the U.S. dates back to the mid-1960s, though interest really began in 1973. That was when Hong Kong breeder Matgo Law appealed to Americans to save the Shar-Pei from extinction. Dog lovers in the country made sure the breed survived and the AKC recognized it in 1992.
Though Shih Tzus are often thought of as ancient breed from China, they actually came from Tibet. It's believed that even older Tibetan breeds, like the Lhaso Apso, were crossed with the Pekingese to create the Shih Tzu's ancestor. Tibet then sent the dogs as gifts to Chinese royalty, after which the Chinese bred them with the Pug and Pekingese to create the modern Shih Tzu. The breed was kept as a royal companion for hundreds of years, believed to be so valuable that the Chinese refused to sell, trade or gift any. This kept the breed a secret until they were imported to Europe in the 1930s. The Shih Tzu then spread throughout Europe and was brought to the U.S. after World War II by returning soldiers. The Shih Tzu was officially recognized by the AKC in 1969.