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I find very few ruminations on the canine-human bond in Asian literature, specifically Chinese literature, so I’m always looking for traces of it elsewhere. Some canine representations are to be found at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, where I spent the afternoon.


The Hindu deity Shiva in the fierce form of Bhairava
approx. 1300-1500
“Here, [Shiva] is shown with traditional characteristics of ferocious beings… He is accompanied by a dog, a creature with fearsome associations in India because it scavenges in cremation grounds.”


Chinese dogs, above
Left: Han dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE)
Right: Eastern Han (25 – 220 CE)

Sure we see dogs represented as familiars of deities and in totemic or decorative form. But where’s the dog’s place within a distinctly human world, the world of the artisan? Some evidence to be found here, in this extremely busy carving of fishermen’s daily lives:


(Sorry, period and other attributes missing from my notes. Hopefully I can fill them in later.) If you look carefully, you’ll see a dog on a leash (though I’m not sure why the dog’s caught between two figures waving sticks in the upper right), and a dog apparently mooching for a bite of a fisherwoman’s fresh catch (lower left). I didn’t really see individual figures depicting humans and canines until I got to the Japanese netsuke collection.


I’m no art historian. And it almost seems to me as if representations of canines are seldom regarded as “high art” anyway, given how close we presume these creatures to be to our mundane, workaday life. But I suppose this is all the more reason why I am intrigued by any attempts to materialize and “museumify” this relationship which begins with something so close and intimate, yet ultimately transcends space, time, and cultures.